Living in Montana: How We Ended Up Here + What’s Next

Some real talk

I felt an overwhelming feeling of dread this past week. I started feeling like I had abandoned all the reasons why I started blogging in the first place. I started because I love writing – it’s the only way I’ve ever truly known how to express myself. I’m also obsessed with travel.

So, I started a travel blog. I started writing about my adventures in the form of a travel diary and quickly realized that wasn’t really helpful for other people looking for tips and destination inspiration. So, I started writing more informative pieces and somewhere along the way, I stopped putting my heart into my writing.

My titles and articles are all SEO friendly, but they don’t excite me.

I’m choosing to put my heart back into my writing. I’m not sure exactly how this will look yet, but I want a portion of my blog posts to be opinion pieces and pieces that really make my readers think. Posts that make me proud.

I thought a great place to start would be to tell you the story about how I went from getting demoted at a job I hated and partying every weekend to numb the pain I felt Monday through Friday to someone who is living a life she didn’t even think was possible three short years ago.

I can already tell that this will be therapeutic for me, but I also hope it’s inspiring to you. You’re never stuck. It’s never “too late” for you.

Let’s go way back…

All the way back to 2014. I was a sophomore in college and it was really time to choose a career path (or at least a major). The truth is, I never felt passionate about anything and I felt ashamed of that.

My best friends were on their way to becoming social workers and occupational therapists, and I had no freaking clue what I wanted to do. I didn’t care.

I just knew I didn’t want to go to school any longer than I had to. So, I picked the major that would earn me the most money with a 4-year degree: Mechanical Engineering.

It certainly wasn’t easy, but I made friends pretty easily back then and we got each other through it.

Where things started to go downhill

One of my goals before I graduated was to secure a full time position to avoid frantically looking for a job without an income. I applied everywhere and ended up getting a job as a Patent Engineer at a law firm in downtown Chicago.

I was getting paid a $60,000 salary which meant I was RICH compared to the $12,000 I was making at my part time jobs in school.

Everything was going great. I had successfully convinced everyone in my life, including myself, that I was happy. I found myself saying, “I love my job!” any chance I could. I would tell everyone about my plan to go to law school and become a Patent Attorney in 4 short years. “Oh, yeah, sure. Working 8am-5pm everyday and then going to school from 6-10pm at night is gunna be hard, but it’ll be worth it!”

I was trying to convince everyone I was living my best life so much so that I’d shop endlessly, order expensive meals at restaurants, drink excessively with endless bar tabs, and continue digging myself into massive credit card debt.

$60,000 is a lot of money, but it’s also not. It was so easy to spend more money than I was making every. single. month. But I didn’t look at my bank accounts too often, so I didn’t have to deal with that. I was on a path to a patent attorney salary and when I got THAT, I’d pay off all my debt.

The thing is, in between all this shopping and partying, I had to go to work. I remember whenever the bus stopped at the stop before mine in the morning, I’d have an overwhelming feeling of dread. It was like the Sunday Scaries on steroids every single day.

I hated being there. It was draining my soul, but I seriously convinced myself I had it made.

Until one day, I almost missed a deadline.

In the world of law, deadlines are everything. I’m not sure what would happen if a deadline was missed because I’ve never actually missed one…but I almost did.

I caught it just in time, did the work that needed to be done, rushed to the attorney that needed to check my work, and got it sent out.

Then I got called to HR.

“Why did you come so close to the deadline?”

“I’m so sorry,” I explained, “it was completely my fault. It somehow slipped my mind, but I did what I had to do once I noticed it and it’s taken care of.”

“But what about the meeting you had with your mentor last week where you didn’t take notes?”

Now I’m confused.

“And what about the work you did back in June that had to be redone twice?”

“And what about…”

“And what about…”

“And what about…”

My jaw hung open. This man was reading a list of everything I had done wrong since I started the job.

And I started crying. CRYING. at work.

I wish I had asked why no one ever told me I had done anything wrong all of those times. I wish I had asked how on Earth I’m supposed to correct my mistakes without ever knowing I had made one. I wish I had said so many things.

But because of all those things I had apparently done wrong, I was demoted. I was to only work on the non-important tasks and my salary was reduced by $5,000. “You can earn it back once we have trust in you again,” he said.

The turning point

I had actually just started dating Austin at this point and I told him everything that had just happened that night. He looked at me with tears in my eyes and said, “maybe you should think about looking for a new job.”

I hadn’t even thought about that until this point.

I had planned on earning their trust back (and my starting salary). In my mind, that was really the only option.

In the midst of convincing everyone I was happy, I had brainwashed myself into thinking that this job was amazing and I’d be a fool for looking elsewhere.

This is the best thing Austin has ever done for me because I don’t know where I’d be without his encouragement during this time in my life. Probably about to finish law school and hating my entire life.

From that point forward, I was determined to leave. I would go to work in the morning and on my lunch break, I’d go to the cafe across the street and apply to as many jobs as I possibly could.

I applied at my current company to be something called a Cloud Sales Engineer (whatever that was). I had a phone interview and explained my background as a Mechanical Engineer and a Patent Engineer. I also explained that I knew nothing about “the cloud”. They said that was fine – they encouraged on-the-job learning.

The next step was an in-person interview where I had to give a presentation on something called “UCaaS” which I’m now an expert in.

After the interview, one of the engineers came up to me and said, “Don’t worry, you did an awesome job.”

And I felt like I was on top of the world!

I got a call with an offer the next day and immediately accepted.

I walked into the law firm the very next day and quit on the spot. Let me tell you, it felt SO GOOD. I told them that what they had done – keeping track of my mistakes to use against me – was unacceptable and there’s no way I could continue working for them. To my surprise, HR actually said they understood and they’d do the same thing.

On to the next chapter.

It turns out, they had also hired another girl that I went to college with. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t dread going to work.

The part where we move around a lot

About 6 months into this new job, Austin and I had gotten pretty serious. He knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life and knew that he didn’t have very many options around Chicago.

I also knew I didn’t want to stay in Chicago forever.

So, I brought the situation up to my boss in the most casual way I could. I asked him if he thought the company would work with me if I wanted to move to a different state one day. He said he’s never had an engineer under him do that before, but there are employees all over the US, so he doesn’t see why not. We’d talk about it more when the time came.

And then the time came.

Austin got an internship in Texas in the fall of 2019. I actually hadn’t planned on going, but my boss asked if I wanted to and I said “hell yeah!”

So, we moved to Texas for four months and I worked remotely. AND I THRIVED!

I’ve never been so productive, so comfortable, and so happy before in my life. I could wake up, have a slow morning, make myself a nice breakfast, and then start work. I could cook all my meals at home. I was hooked.

Then we moved back and had no plans of leaving the Chicago area until Austin graduated college (2021).

That was until he decided to transfer to Montana State University. I remember feeling so scared and almost mad when he told me until I had the perfect idea: I’ll come with!

I think that idea surprised him just as much as it surprised me.

I brought it up to my boss again and he said, “Well I guess! Why not? You did great work in Texas.”

Here we are in Montana

That brings us to present day: living in Montana! At this point, our entire company has been working remotely for about 6 months due to the pandemic, so everyone’s kind of on the same page.

However, I won’t be going back into the office when everyone else does.

And I’m TOTALLY FINE with that!

Montana has been a huge mental adjustment so far. The biggest issue is the fact that I don’t have a car yet. Our truck should actually be ready to pick up within about a week which will make things SO MUCH EASIER!

We also added a new addition to the family since we moved – our husky pup, Misha.

I think back to that girl who was crying in HR’s office and I just want to hold her and tell here that she’s going to be so happy in a few years.

Heck, she’s going to be in such a better place in just a few months. My heart aches for her, but I truly believe that I wouldn’t be so thankful for the job I have or the position I’m in if it weren’t for that horrible experience.

What’s next for us?

We will be in Montana until December of 2021 when Austin graduates school. After that, we’re not 100% sure where we’ll end up – it highly depends on where Austin gets a job. My guess is that it’ll be back in the midwest somewhere, but I’ve been loving the West, so who knows!?

I have three big dreams I want to accomplish in life which we’ll continue to work toward:

#1 Build a house

This one started off as Austin’s dream and it’s slowly become mine, too. We want to build a house from the ground up! Our plan is to buy a 5th wheel camper to park on the property and live in while we’re building the house. This is also why I JUST bought a truck as my next vehicle.

#2 Move to Europe for a few years

This is a dream of mine that Austin has slowly adopted. I fell in love with Europe on my first trip to Italy and I can’t imagine anything better than living overseas for a period of time and being able to travel affordably to all the countries on my bucket list.

#3 Build a business

This is primarily my dream. I want to create something that will earn me a full time income and give me the freedom to do anything in my life – the ultimate time and location freedom.

If you’ve read this far…

THANK YOU! Thank you for reading my blog and supporting these crazy dreams of mine!

If you’re in a situation similar to the one I was in three years ago, I hope this gave you some inspiration. I hope you know you’re worth chasing your crazy dreams. And I hope that if you’re not happy, you have the courage to start again. You are brave and you can do it.

Whatever it is, if it’s on your heart, you’ve gotta chase it.

Leave a Comment

The Comments

  • Laurel
    September 8, 2020

    SARAH!!! Wow! What a story. You have come so far and I know that you’re just getting started. I’m so happy that you’re happy and thankful that you shared your heart/story here. How inspiring! You are the best. Xx

    • saraharnstein
      > Laurel
      September 8, 2020

      Thank you thank you thank you!! That means so much 😊

  • Emily
    September 8, 2020

    This is beautiful Sarah – thank you! Your posts are genuine, and SEO can kiss it sometimes! Thank you for your words, they are meaningful.

    • saraharnstein
      > Emily
      September 8, 2020

      THANK YOU! And I agree! Not every post has to be written with SEO on my back 😉

  • Emily
    September 8, 2020

    This is beautiful Sarah – thank you!! Your posts are genuine, and SEO can kiss it sometimes! Thank you for your words, they are meaningful.