Rock Star Squad: Heather Rae Murphy

20 Jun


The newest Rock Star in my squad is Heather Rae Murphy. I “met” Heather through twitter and instantly fell in love with her blog, In Search of Squid. When faced with her quarter life crisis, Heather went through a thorough process to figure out where her true passion lies and took bold steps to live that life. She’s truly an inspiration for others who are feeling a bit stuck.

Tell us a little bit about yourself

I’m 32 years old and live in Pasadena, California by way of Las Vegas. I moved to the area seven years ago to pursue a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Southern California. I had an amazing experience in the program, and I graduated in summer 2005. Since then, I’ve worked in both medical research and the non-profit sector. I’m passionate about healthy living and have a particular interest in diabetes prevention. Recently, I decided to take time out from the traditional workforce to pursue a different passion – writing. These days, I call myself a writer. I’m working full time toward finishing my first novel. It’s been one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever worked on. I have an amazing fiancé that cheers me on every step of the way. Some other things that make me swoon: making a difference in the lives of others, travel, education, women’s issues, reading, dance, art and checking items off my life list. At present, I’m packing up my apartment, preparing to move to Seattle with the fiancé.

Did you go through a quarter life crisis? How was your transition into the “real world?”

When I finished grad school I started work at a non-profit that I thought would be my dream job. I was making great money and was doing work I hoped would make a difference in the community. Unfortunately, it turned out to be just a job. I found myself feeling frustrated more than feeling I was changing lives. It was disheartening, and I questioned my own goals and motivations.

In some ways, I felt defeated. I was tired all the time from the energy I expended trying to make that job work for me. I started looking at other jobs in my field, thinking I should make a transition. I tried to get excited about the opportunities that were out there, but I realized the work just didn’t inspire me anymore. I had been working in that field for ten years (I started early). I loved parts of it and hated parts of it. One day I realized that I had stopped following my dreams and was simply following what seemed like the logical path. That’s when I knew I needed to make some changes in my life.

How did you overcome your 20-something crisis?

Once I decided to make change, I realized this: at some point, I had lost myself. I didn’t know what I enjoyed doing anymore. I spent so many years focusing on school and work, I wasn’t even sure what I liked doing for fun. I didn’t know how to fix this, so I picked up every career guide and self help book I could get my hands on. I read through them all. I actually made an excel spreadsheet, outlining every career path I found potentially interesting. I typed up every piece of information I could find about each. I interviewed people working in the various fields, and I set up job shadows. At the same time, I also started pursuing hobbies. I took classes at my local city college just for fun (dancing, drawing, anatomy — you name it, I did it).

While doing all of this, I started my blog, In Search of Squid, to chronicle my adventures and keep track of my growing Life List. It was then that it hit me. I love to write. And thus began my foray into the writing life.

I took writing classes and outlined a few writing projects that interested me (both fiction and non-fiction). After much pondering and many late night talks with the fiancé, I started work on my first real manuscript, a novel. I worked on my novel before and after work and during breaks. Finally, I decided it was time to step away from the traditional workforce and pursue writing full time. In February, I left my secure job in exchange for an unknown outcome and a little adventure.

Mind you, all of this soul searching took a while. Because of this, my twenty-something crisis carried itself right into my thirties. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It’s been amazing.

You recently quit your job to pursue your dream of writing a book – can you tell us more about that transition? How long did it take? What did you do to prepare, etc.

Once I realized I wanted to make changes in my career path, I left the job at the non-profit that had me constantly stressed and working crazy hours. I accepted a new position with virtually no commute and no need to work overtime. This gave me the time I needed to pursue other interests.

At the same time, I worked out a savings plan. For two years, I stuck to a very strict budget and saved every penny I could. At the end of that time, I had enough saved to stop working for at least a year. Of course, not working has also meant that I’ve had to cut out a lot of extras. I don’t have cable, I cancelled my home telephone in favor of my cell phone, and I rarely buy anything I don’t absolutely need. But these have been small sacrifices compared to the opportunity to pursue a dream. Every day, I’m happy about the choice I made. I make my own schedule, and I’m doing work that I love. I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

How are you now living life on your own terms?

I’ve stopped doing things just because other people expect them of me. I used to think I had to follow a certain path in life just because that’s the way everyone else did it. Now, I realize that’s not true. I take the time to really consider what it is that I want, and I make decisions based on what’s best for me. Like with grad school. At the moment, I may not be practicing what I studied in school, but I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. It was exactly what I needed to do at that time. Now, what I need to do is write – so that’s what I’m doing.

What’s the hardest part about following your dream? What was the easiest?

The hardest part has been watching many of my friends from grad school as they make advances in their public health careers. I hear about their exciting jobs and new promotions, and I sometimes feel a little jealous. There are times when I wonder if should go back to following a more traditional path in life. But then I wake up in the morning without the alarm clock, spend my time writing and getting excited about structure and plot and characters, and I realize that I made exactly the right choice for me.

The easiest part is doing what I love. I love to write. And I love to learn about writing. It’s been an amazing growth experience, and I’m excited every time I meet a writing goal.

Do you have any advice for anyone trying to conquer a quarter life crisis?

My biggest piece of advice is to take your time. It may seem like you have to have all of the answers right now, but the truth is, you don’t. Do lots of research, look into all kinds of things that interest you, and don’t stop looking until you feel truly inspired. It doesn’t matter if it takes three months or three years (or even more). The time is going to pass anyway. You might as well spend your time enjoying the journey and searching for what you absolutely adore.

Anything else?

Through this whole process I’ve discovered that I really do have many varied interests. I love to write. But I also love to dance. I love to make art. I love to teach. I love health and medicine. Right now, I choose to pursue my writing full time. That may not always be the case.

I’ve found one thing to be certain – everything changes. There’s ebb and a flow to all things. What I love doing today may not be what I love doing tomorrow. And I think that’s 100% okay. One of the most important things I’ve learned is to accept this in myself. I now allow myself space for change and growth, and that has truly made all the difference in how I view my life.

Awesome! I love Heather’s methodical approach to figuring out what makes her happy and then creating a plan to get there. Figuring out your passion can be tough and it can take time. Thank you Heather for sharing your story with us and really going through each step of your process! Want more Heather? Her blog is a great source of inspiration and you can also follow her on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook.

Are you taking your life by the reins and living on your own terms? Then I want to feature YOU! Email me – nblades[at]gmail[dot]com – if you’d like to be the next Rock Star in our Squad



3 Responses to “Rock Star Squad: Heather Rae Murphy”

  1. Fabulously Ever After June 23, 2010 at 3:33 pm #

    Very inspiring! It takes a lot of courage to leave the stability of a traditional job for the uncertainty of pursuing your passion. I’m sure Heather’s story will trigger some to go ahead and take that leap of faith!

  2. Chai June 23, 2010 at 8:06 pm #

    One of my favorite interviews, her honesty and discovery is sooo refreshing! Thanks for the wonderful insight;-)

  3. Nailah June 23, 2010 at 9:00 pm #

    FabEverAfter – You’re absolutely right, it takes a lot of courage to leave the comfort of a 9-5 job. But Heather shows that it can be done if you plan for it and take the necessary steps to create a safety net for yourself. Chai – Yes, I loved her honesty as well. It’s always refreshing to have someone give you a true account of their feelings.

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