The last few weeks have been a blur. I returned from Nepal at 5:00 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon and headed straight into the office the next day. Two days later, I was on a late night flight to Washington, D.C. for two work events as a horrible cold took over my entire body. My time in D.C. was more low-key than expected because I spent half of it in bed, trying to will myself to feel better.
Then I got back to Chicago and got sucked into the busiest I have been at work since I was a lawyer. As director of alumni engagement for a law school here, I am in charge of organizing a large dinner this week honoring a number of our alumni. This is no small undertaking – in addition to coordinating all of the logistics and handling the registration of 600 attendees, I was responsible for putting the dinner program together, which included writing 175-word bios of more than 100 alumni who are being honored at the dinner. I spent the last few weeks working 14- hour days and weekends.
It’s amazing how being incredibly busy can put things in perspective.
While it may not be feeding my passions, I like a lot of what I do for work. I enjoyed researching and writing biographies of all of our honorees. I enjoy pursuing sponsorships and meeting (and surpassing) our attendance goals. I enjoy figuring out the logistics of the event and designing the nametags and picking out the medallions for the honorees. And come Thursday night, assuming everything goes smoothly, I will have a huge sense of satisfaction in putting together a great event.
What I don’t like is how this line of work affects the rest of my life. The fact that the month leading up to a major event is completely consumed by it. The fact that I have to plan my vacation time around when we have significant events scheduled. The fact that we have smaller events several times a month that prevent me from joining a volleyball or tennis league because I know I would have to miss half the games. The fact that I have had to miss my best friend’s wedding and a good friend’s going-away party because I couldn’t skip work events that I organized.
I keep talking about wanting to eventually work for myself so I can have the freedom to travel as much as I want or even live overseas. But when it comes down to it, that’s not my dream – that’s the dream I created after listening to so many voices in the travel blogging community implying that I shouldn’t be satisfied with “just” working 9-to-5 – the voices who claim you can’t be a real traveler unless you’re traveling long-term. There’s this implication by so many travel bloggers that it just isn’t possible to be happy living a so-called normal life and I have felt like a bit of an outsider by going back to working full-time.
But I have always known in my head and my heart that working for myself is not for me. I would never enjoy the pressure of having to chase down clients and I would hate never knowing when my next paycheck was coming. More importantly, I don’t know what I would do if I worked for myself. I like to write but I don’t love it. I enjoy social media but not enough to do it full-time or keep up with rapidly changing trends. I would like planning trips for people, but only to the off the beaten path places I have been to and I know there’s not enough demand for that for me to make a living.
Likewise, I have spent too much time fretting over my blog statistics, feeling jealous over other bloggers going on cool press trips and feeling increasingly irrelevant as other bloggers start to explore and write about the places in the Caucasus and Central Asia that once seemed so unique to me. I never intended to monetize my blog or break into travel writing, so why should I care? I have no real desire to even go on a press trip, so why should I care? In short, I shouldn’t. I need to stop worrying about things that don’t matter in the long run. I started out writing this blog for fun and that’s what I need to do going forward, ignoring what everyone else is doing.
More than anything, I need to focus on the things I really do want: making a home for myself again in Chicago (for now ), finding success and fulfillment in my career, rebuilding relationships that can be saved and building new, meaningful relationships going forward. I need to stop focusing on what I don’t have and focus on what I do have – I need to live in the moment rather than look ahead to whatever else might be.
So I have done what I can to make my condo feel like home again, buying some new furniture and hiring a handyman to fix several issues. I eliminated some of my writing and social media commitments to free up my time for things I enjoy more. I signed up to run the Georgia Marathon in March and joined a running group to train with through the winter. I got together with new “travel friends” I met this fall and I made plans to see old friends in December. In coming weeks, I will likely pare down the list of people I follow on Twitter and Facebook to cut out a lot of the noise that has been too distracting.
Do I have it all figured out now?
Absolutely not. I don’t have a new dream to follow or a long-term goal to pursue, but who says I need one? I have at least figured out what I don’t want and that’s a good start.