We don’t like being put in boxes. We never have, and we never will!
We’re not saying everyone should live outside of boxes. In fact, we understand that most people feel comfortable and safest in boxes with defined edges, defined capacities, and defined outcomes.
But for the rest of us…there is a big world out there…and there are too many things to accomplish.
Our life may not be the life for others, but it is the life for us!
Our adventures started back during the turn of the 21st century when Jared was trading stocks full time, just before the stock market crashed. After losing all of his money, Jared began looking for work. He picked up a summer job in Anchorage, Alaska driving large tourist motorcoaches for a cruise line, and he explored the beautiful corners of Alaska and Northwest Canada. The next summer he requested to be based out of Skagway, Alaska–a tiny town at the top of the Southeast panhandle.
Meanwhile, I (Alisa) was in college studying musical theatre performance, and my roommate begged me to go to an audition with her as moral support. I went to the audition with no interest in the gig, until the director offered me the job (instead of the roommate). A few months later I found myself in the last frontier, performing in a small theatrical production about the Klondike Gold Rush in Skagway, Alaska. I was hooked. But not to the theater.
Alaska spoke to me. And I listened.
Jared first spotted me doing the Can-Can dance for the “Days of ’98 Show” and to make a long story short, we were married about a year later. We returned to Alaska to stake our gold claim together.
Jared continued to drive tour buses, and I began exploring the world of retail management. One day, as I was talking to a business-owner friend, I said, “I’ve always dreamed of opening up my own store.” The friends’ simple response was, “Well, why don’t you?” He might as well have hit me over the head with a shovel. “Hmm….I’ve never thought of that.”
Everyone dreams and aspires, and yet how many of us DO? Why was it such a wakeup call to have someone tell me that I should simply do what I want to do?
We welcomed a beautiful baby girl into our lives after 2 years of marriage, and four weeks later we began building a new retail store from scratch. That summer we opened a Polish Pottery store in a small location off the main shopping street, Broadway, in Skagway. We kept eying the larger retail locations on Broadway, but were scared silly by the rent. And who wouldn’t be? $50,000-$170,000 for a retail location (that you could only operate 5 months of the year) was enough to make anyone quiver in their boots!
Meanwhile, nearby store owners with a location on Broadway decided to go on a weekend trip to Juneau. They closed their store for a few days and covered the windows with sheets. After 4 or 5 days without returning, the landlord got suspicious and opened up the door…the store was empty. They had skipped town.
Our world was flipped upside down when we wiggled our way into a double lease, took over the new prime retail location, and ensnared ourselves in a wicked cycle of working for the landlord. For the next 5 five summers we slaved away doing a job we thought we loved. And I would be lying if I said we didn’t love it! We loved the growth that we experienced. We loved the first-hand experience of building something from nothing, and the personal growth that came from overcoming challenges.
We also loved living in Alaska! Sure, our summer home was a small travel trailer without popouts that we shared with our (then) 2 children. We learned that life isn’t about big houses and mortgages and granite counter tops. Our next door neighbors were RVing work campers that had traveled throughout North America, and they shared amazing experiences with us.
Sure, our typical work day was 12 hours, and we returned home in time simply to feed the kids, put them to bed, and then fall exhausted into deep slumber (after spending an hour or two doing additional work on the computer). But we learned so much! We got a first class degree in business management and operations!
Sure, we never made a dime, but it was fun, we lived in a beautiful location, and we were convinced some day we would manage to get ahead! Who cared if we were no longer able to escape the daily grind and enjoy the great outdoors and unmatched beauty of Alaska? Well, we did mind…but we tried not to think about it.
“Someday we will arrive,” we told ourselves. “Someday things would work out for us.”
We met some of the most wonderful and caring people in Alaska. Many of them were seasonal (summer) “locals.” Each summer we’d return to catch up with friends, and learn what amazing places they had been, and what amazing experiences they had had! Some had been teaching surfing lessons all winter in South America, or attending yoga retreats in Hawaii. Others had been volunteering in orphanages, or spent the winter laying on the beach in Cozumel. It opened our minds to the world!
Us? Well, we were hard-core. We saved our dollars and lived as cheap as we could. The first winter we were in business we moved in with my parents in hometown of Topeka, Kansas and tried our hand at crafts shows (a flop) and mall kiosks (worse). The next few winters we lived in Eastern Washington, while my husband returned to school and we plugged away on our winter business work (catching up on accounting that we neglected each summer and preparing orders for the coming summer). We perhaps escaped to one movie each winter, and if we were lucky, we’d get a dinner invitation or two. Wow, we had a blast (can you sense the sarcasm?).
That second winter in Washington we decided it was time to make a change. We had shopped online to find the RV of choice, and we sold most of our belongings in an effort to rid ourselves of the baggage that kept us tied down. We planned to spend our usual summer in Alaska, and then go RVing to Texas that coming winter.
But then we were reminded of an experience at our cash register a few years previous:
An elderly, but very chipper and sharp, woman stepped up to the register to make a purchase. As I began to ring up her items, I asked her the question I asked almost all of our customers. “Where are you from?” “Mexico,” she replied. I looked at her inquisitively. After all, she was clearly American, and didn’t look an ounce Mexican. I urged her to tell me the details, and she leapt into an explanation about how she retired to a small Mexican village with her husband. Her children thought they were nuts until they arrived south of the border for a visit. They immediately realized the appeal, and also began to make plans to move there, as well. She told me about the grand lifestyle she enjoyed with maids, gardeners, fresh produce, great friends, and all at a fraction of the cost of her former neighbors still living in California. She signed the guest book “Ajijic, Mexico” and told me I had to look it up.
So, amidst our plans to RV, we turned to each other and said, “What if?” We returned to our computers and began to do research on Ajijic, Lake Chapala, and the neighboring areas of Guadalajara. The web pages beckoned to us.They begged us to come. They oozed of warmth, love, and freedom. And we were sold. After all, we could drive all the way down to Mexico, live there for 4 months, and return on the normal (minimal) winter budget!
We gave it our all in our store that summer, and as soon as October rolled around we packed up our van and drove the 5,000 mile trip South, down to Central Mexico. We found a rental house online, made some new friends via blogs (thank goodness for the internet), and enrolled our 3 1/2 year old in a bilingual preschool. Within the first two weeks of arriving, we had several dinner invites and had made many wonderful, lasting friends.
It was the winter we dreamed of.
We explored so many different areas, and absorbed the Mexican culture as best we could. Of course, we did our normal winter work, too…but in the warmth and sunshine instead of holed up in an apartment in snowy Eastern Washington!
Sadly, we had to go back to work. We returned to Alaska refreshed and energized, but part of our hearts were left behind in Mexico (as well as half of our van’s back seat…there simply wasn’t room with all of the products we purchased in Mexico for our store)! Of course we had full intentions of returning to Mexico the next winter, “unless our world fell apart,” we told our friends.
That summer business was down for most, but we fared well. We were learning so much each year, and were simply getting better at doing our business. But we wanted to renegotiate our lease…so…after 5 years, we finally looked at the numbers, and unattached ourselves from emotion. The numbers were clear. We weren’t getting anywhere, except for into more debt.
The next day we met with our landlord and told him we were done. He tried to find a way to make it work for us, offered to lower our rent, and even offered his general managers’ help to evaluate our costs and help us reduce our expenses. We looked at each other and wondered, “How can we lower expenses when our purchases are already minimal and always second-hand, we don’t eat out, and we don’t spend money on entertainment or babysitters?” No, it was a final decision. Our wonderful landlord (also a mentor and father-like figure) then wished us luck and bid us on our way (of course he kept our very hefty security deposit–after all–it was still business).
So, we made the decision to escape the rat race, and moved forward with faith. At this same time we were given the opportunity to become sales reps for the best-selling product from our store. We used all of the sky miles we had saved up over the 5 years of business purchases, and took a two week business trip to Hawaii without children. It was not a pleasure trip–in fact, quite the opposite (I was pregnant with our 3rd and throwing up every meal on the roadside). We packed our suitcases with sleeping bags, a tent and we even spent a night or two in our rental car. We searched high and low throughout the islands for a fitting business for the product, and came home with only one new account.
But we did not lose sight of the goal. Six months after our trip to Hawaii, we managed to convince the dream business in Hawaii to give our product a try. We also began to move forward with plans to develop our own wholesale jewelry product line, and we invested in inventory and printed catalogs, etc. Six months later, that same dream Hawaii store decided to expand the other product line to all of their retail locations. My wonderful sister and her husband, as well as my parents, welcomed us into their homes for the following year as plugged away at our debt. Our wholesale jewelry line had a strong first summer, and for the first time in five years our debt was slowly beginning to melt away.
And then we moved back to Mexico…
And then the debt melted away entirely.
And then life began…outside of the box!