The idea to make a bold move and change up your life has always appealed to me. During my 16 years at People magazine, I kept a quote by Mark Twain taped on my desk: Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.
My career at People allowed me to explore and discover for many years. I grew up in a small town in Sweden, and working at the largest weekly magazine in the world was beyond my wildest dreams. I still remember waking up every morning and feeling such gratitude. At times, it literally made me jump with joy. And every time I moved offices — from the research bin to a beautiful office with a view of the Pacific Ocean — that quote was taped firmly to my new desk. The piece of paper grew pretty ragged, but the message was always clear.
But as the years went by, the landscape within and around me evolved. The subject matters I felt passionate about changed. And when I gave birth to three children in a span of five years, my focus shifted. Those three pairs of eyes left me with no choice: I quit my job, packed our furniture and car in a container, flew across the Atlantic Ocean with my husband and kids and settled down on the coast in Sweden. I had no other professional career on the horizon. To say that I was scared is an understatement.
One thing that helped me through this process of change was my monthly subscription to Yoga Journal. The magazine, run by editor-in-chief Kaitlin Quistgaard, inspired me to trust my instincts and sort through the noise. And every month, reading Kaitlin’s editor’s letter, I imagined what it would be like to be in her shoes, making such a positive and empowering contribution to the world.
Shortly after I made my own big leap, I opened up Yoga Journal and saw a new face in the editor’s column. I wondered what had happened to Kaitlin. How could she leave what, to me, was a dream job in publishing? Had she moved on to an even better job? When I found out she had simply left, not knowing what was next, I had to know why.
Kaitlin’s leap is not her first. She’s made many bold moves in her life, not knowing where life would take her. Her wisdom, from avoiding a foolish leap to trusting your own instincts, is what I needed to hear the most. If you’ve ever thought of changing your life — to finally make that big leap that will take you in a new direction — this interview is for you.
Kaitlin at her home in Marin County, California, where she lives with her daughter and husband.
Ulrica: Why did you decide to leave Yoga Journal? To me, it seems a dream job.
Kaitlin: Ten years is a long time to be any place, and as much as I loved the content and the people I worked with, it was time for a new challenge. It was hard to quit, but I felt very clear that I wanted a different set of opportunities. Also, the media business is going through so much change — the old models are not working so well and the new models are yet to be figured out. I thought it was a good time to step back and understand where the future opportunities might lie.
Ulrica: You’re taking a step into the unknown. Is that scary, not knowing what’s next?
Kaitlin: The thought of “what’s next” is always a little daunting. But that’s true every day, whether you have a job or not. Every step forward requires moving into the unknown. What I find strange is that I’ve only been away from work for a few months and there’s a part of me that thinks I should already be doing some big new thing! After decades of working hard, a six-month or even 12-month sabbatical is such a short break. But our way of thinking is sort of like, if you’re not busy right at this moment, are you valuable? My whole life, I’ve left a job without another job lined up or knowing what the next thing is going to be. I’ve always felt confident I could take care of myself. And it’s always worked out.
Kaitlin’s light-filled living room is centered by a couch perfect for large groups of friends or quiet Sunday afternoon reading.
Ulrica: Still, the thought of not knowing what’s next must’ve been uncomfortable. It’s like diving off a cliff not knowing if you’re going to fall into the abyss or be able to fly!
Kaitlin: I had to recognize that I can’t go where I want to without making a change. Even though it’s uncomfortable and leaves me in a vulnerable place, it’s okay. Life is often a vulnerable place, anyway, and it really doesn’t matter if our discomfort stems from an external or internal situation. Peace of mind comes down to accepting the reality of our life’s situation, and in that acceptance it’s possible to take actions that lead us in the direction we want to go.
Ulrica: What’s your advice to someone who wants to make a leap?
Kaitlin: First, there’s a big difference in making a leap away from something and making a leap towards something. I’ve found I’m a lot more likely to succeed if I leap towards something. If there’s something I want to escape, I find it’s better to deal with it where I am and try to solve the problem rather than running from it. This might seem contradictory in this case, because I’m not leaping towards a specific job, but I didn’t leave Yoga Journal to escape it. I loved many aspects of that job and if I didn’t have the opportunity to take some time off, I would’ve found a way to create new challenges there. Also, in order not to leap foolishly, you have to understand the consequences of the leap you’re taking and be prepared to deal with the worst-case scenario, or facing even greater challenges than you faced before making the leap.
Ulrica: Once you make the leap, if you don’t have a clear plan, how do you explore what’s next and then make it happen?
Kaitlin: I’m a firm believer in setting intentions and having a clear idea of what you want in life. Then, if you want to make it happen, you have to act on your idea. It’s not enough to have just thought it up. At the same time, you don’t want to have such a rigid idea of what’s next that you can’t see all the possibilities that might open up for you.
Ulrica: What tools do you use for this process?
Kaitlin: I think it’s helpful to meditate or do a yoga practice or go for a walk or a bike ride — whatever works to stop thinking and be in the moment, because it’s those quiet moments when you’re most likely to really know yourself. If I come out of a state of meditation and ask myself what I want to do next, or how I want to be of service, I have a lot more clarity than if I ask myself after spending time on Facebook or reading a magazine. I also write down my ideas in a notebook. I consider the specifics of my next job — how to use my skills, what my daily work life will be like, how much money I want to make — but I am really aware that being of service to people and doing something I find valuable is really important to me. I know that to be happy, I need to feel good about the contribution I am making through my work.
A sheet with words of wisdom is tucked into a vintage typewriter.
Ulrica: How has yoga helped you with this transition.
Kaitlin: I often think about a yoga class I took a few years ago with a teacher named Michele Hebert. She taught really challenging poses and every few minutes would ask us to take Child’s Pose. She told us to give ourselves fully to these breaks, saying, “When life gives you a chance to rest, take it! You don’t know when you’ll get another opportunity.” That idea has really stuck with me. About 12 years ago when I had my daughter, I took several years off of full-time work, and after a while, I got so concerned about what I would do next, I stopped enjoying the privilege of not working. I had no idea that the next ten years — at Yoga Journal — would be so intense and so incredibly fulfilling. So now, when my mind gets anxious about the future, I try to trust that everything is just as it should be. I go for a bike ride or I get on my yoga mat — I try to stay in the moment, because why waste this incredible opportunity to have a beautiful, free Monday! It might never come around again for a while.
Kaitlin with her daughter.
Ulrica: Do you meditate every day?
Kaitlin: I often sit for 20 minutes first thing in the morning. But, I don’t meditate every day, which is strange, since I always feel better when I do. Research shows that meditation makes us happier and more creative when it becomes a regular habit, and it creates a well being that makes it a lot harder to push ourselves off center. Still, I find it hard to commit to as a daily thing.
Ulrica: So bottomline, don’t worry so much about what’s next?
Kaitlin: Yes, if I had any advice, relax and enjoy yourself rather than worry. Enjoy what you’re doing while you’re doing it. When you’re required to do the next thing — when you’re required to make a leap — you’re able to know you gave all of yourself to this moment and you can give all of yourself to the next moment.
• Ulrica Wihlborg