Figuring Out What I Really Want

Chicago, Illinois

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.

23 thoughts on “Figuring Out What I Really Want”

  1. Isn’t it funny when you deliberate about writing something which you aren’t sure others will relate to and end up with a chorus of voices saying ‘me too!’

    I don’t think anyone should feel pressure that there is anything ‘bad’ about the 9-5 if it’s something you really like doing. Although that comes with its own challenges as 9-5 turns into 7-10 and it dominates everything. We all let that happen though, its no different for freelancers, entrepreneurs etc. It serves those of us who live a location independent lifestyle to make it seem at times like its all fun with a bit of passive income thrown in, but those of us who have done it know the reality is much more likely to be sweating over a hot laptop in SE Asia, only to suddenly realising after a month that you haven’t even been to the beach yet!
    If your choices are working for you right now, perfect. If they begin not to, you know you have it in you to change it up again. Win win!

  2. Love this post! I can completely relate. I had different thoughts about the direction I would take my life when I was in ‘travel mode’. Now that I’ve been back from traveling, I’m gaining new perspectives/balance and have a different focus. Your last statement is particularly refreshing, about not having it all figured out. Traveling for an extended time taught me to go with the flow more and appreciate the plan I have ‘now’ – knowing that it may change tomorrow. I’m kinda in the same thought process with Andrew about the freelancing route.

    One of these days I’m gonna have to meet you in person. It’s been a long time since MPG boot camp; I wasn’t able to get to the 2011 TBEX in Vancouver and our dates didn’t match well in Barcelona last year. I’ll be coming to Chicago next April – so hopefully our paths will cross then 🙂

    1. Thanks Jannell! I definitely am able to go with the flow more now than before, although I still have an internal need to have a plan. 🙂

      And yes, we do need to finally meet in person sometime soon! Let me know when you’re here in April!

  3. Katie-I enjoy reading your blog. I read those travel blogs in which people travel full time and do RTW, its fascinating to learn about all the cool and different places they travel to. But I also read how they go through the feeling of wanting to settle down and set up a sense of normalcy. I also love reading your blog, because you are so honest and to the point of the good and bad of long-term travel. I’ve come to realize I would never be able to travel long term. Like you, I get great satisfaction of working a 9 to 5 job, sometimes a 60+ hour job during tax season. But I love being able to take a few weekend trips and one or two long vacations a year. I think you are writing a fabulous blog, and love how you are so honest! Keep writing-you have great supporters and readers out there (including me!)

  4. I can so relate to this! You and I have talked about some of it before, getting caught up in the blogging world. I really do like a lot of the people there, but we have such different goals. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not trying to turn my blog into a business and it doesn’t matter if I don’t have the same numbers as everyone else. I’m now at a weird place where I’m trying to figure out what it is I want to do and how to do it (and how to make it work within the German bureaucracy) and it’s frustrating. It’s definitely important to filter out all the things you know you don’t want in your life. I think life is always a work in progress, frustrating as that is at times. Sounds like a good move eliminating some things in favor of other things you enjoy more.

  5. Life is an evolution, a constant, constant evolution, and thank goodness for that or how boring would it be? A good friend of mine has been going through some tough life decisions and I’ve been trying to help her by telling her to focus on what she DOESN’T want in her life. Sometimes, it is much easier to start there, I think, or it is for some of us. It sounds like you’re on a good path, and even if that path forks in another direction a month from now or a year from now, so what? That’s evolution, baby. 🙂

    1. I think you’re right – sometimes it is easier to figure out what you know you don’t want and go from there! It’s like a process of elimination. I kind of feel like that’s where I’m at now. 🙂

  6. There are a lot of things I love about the travel blogging community. But feeling like you have to be doing things a *certain way* to be doing it “right” is not one of those things. I totally understand how you feel, and I’m glad you’re taking steps to take back your life and do things your way.

    I’ve been trying to make working for myself work for me since May. And I’ll admit that it’s stressful and sucky most of the time. I’m not ready to give up on it completely yet, but I get the feeling that eventually I’m going to want something more stable. Does that mean I’ll stop traveling? Hell no! It just means that I’ll keep listening to what’s right for ME. And you should keep doing the same!

  7. Well said, Katie! It is so easy to get swept up into other people’s aspirations. . . and before you know it get so far down that path you don’t know what hit you. Stay true to yourself, and if you continue your blog, THAT’s what will make it worth reading!

  8. I debated this a lot before we just purchased our house. I do really wish I could travel more, but I’ve made peace with the fact that I’ll never be a full-time traveler. I have a good job, one that gives me a month paid vacation each year, but consumes me with stress the other 11 months. I feel like down the road, if we continue to grow the company the right way, I may be able to travel even more. I guess that gives me something to shoot for.

    Since TBEX, I’ve cut back big time on my blogging. I was initially disappointed after meeting all the fantastic bloggers that I couldn’t force myself to work harder on getting posts out on a regular basis. I’m much happier having it be a hobby again, and I feel no guilt when I don’t feel like writing anything. It’s ridiculous that I go weeks at a time without a post, but it is my blog and I really do it mostly for me. If some people enjoy it, great. If not, I do 🙂

    Thanks for writing this- it makes me feel better to know there are like minded people out there. I am enjoying, and looking forward to more about your Nepal trip.

    1. Good for you Erik! I can definitely relate and I find that now that I’m taking the pressure off myself to post a certain number of times each week, I am enjoying it more and just posting when I really have something to say.

  9. Everyone has to find their own path. There are a lot of bloggers out there who manage to work full time “normal” jobs and still see the world, they just do it on their own terms. I think sometimes when we make the choice to just let go and see where the universe leads us, we often find ourselves on the right path – we just need to recognize it and it seems that is what you’ve done.

  10. I totally get it! Hey, I’m 45 and still wondering what I’ll be when I grow up!
    I too wanted to be an adventurous woman and travel all year long and go with the flow. But I’ve discovered that knowing when I’ll get a paycheck is what helps me sleep at night so I’ve now accepted it.
    Good idea to improve your home. I think you should always make an effort to have a nice welcoming place to go to. It’s just too depressing otherwise.

  11. I can relate to a lot of this. A month ago, I stopped freelance writing entirely and cut back on my blogging frequency. My stress level has dropped about 90% since then and I’m aggressively seeking a 9 to 5 office job since that makes sense for me right now.

    I’ll keep traveling and blogging, but no more obsessing about blog stats or forcing myself to publish 3x a week. Your posts have been helpful in terms of contributing to my own brainstorming process about these issues.

    Good for you for dropping some commitments to make time for sports and hobbies and cultivating relationships – that stuff is so important when it comes to keeping your sanity!

    1. Thanks Scott! Sounds like we’re kind of in similar places – good for you for realizing what makes sense for you now as well. I feel like there’s this overwhelming sentiment in the travel blogging world that 9-to-5 jobs are somehow evil when really, there can be a lot of good in them.

  12. I can completely relate to this, as I started my blog as just a casual thing for myself, and my love of writing waxes and wanes – where I once thought perhaps pursuing a freelance writing career might be the answer to my woes, now that I’ve been on the road 6 months, I find myself longing for the classroom, where although stressful I knew was I making a difference. I also really like living abroad, and although I may not be out on the road exploring continuously, I enjoy the balance between new and old living in NZ. I’m tuning out that noise on what I “should” be doing from everyone else, and focusing on getting back to me too.

    You go girl! Knowing what you don’t want seems like you’re already winning half the battle 🙂

    1. Thanks Kate! Yes, figuring out what you don’t want is half the battle. And tuning out the noise from everyone else is so important to figuring out what ou really want as opposed to what you feel like you should want.

  13. The million dollar question. I’m not sure any of us have it all figured out. We look at what others do and wonder why we can’t have that too. Good luck in your marathon training. I would be intimidated to train for a spring marathon while living in Chicago. In the winter.

  14. Definitely agreeing with Andy when he says “Figuring out what you want to do often seems to be way harder than actually doing it” — I’m still trying to figure out “what’s next” more than 2 years after returning home. I have ideas, but MOVING on them and trying to keep up with the present is challenging!

    And along with Maddie, you’re echoing several thoughts I’ve had and struggles I’ve faced.

    Well said, Katie. I needed to hear from someone like minded today about this sort of thing!

  15. Ah Katie it’s like you’ve plucked all the thoughts out of my head and managed to put them into something cohesive! I completely agree that you’re figuring out what you don’t want which is half the battle. It’s just difficult being in a time of your life when you feel you should have it all figured out but are still struggling.

    Andrew is right that we get glimpses of other people’s lives, usually the best bits, and it makes us envy them or think that’s what we want. It’s completely ok to want to travel but also have a 9-5 stability and not everyone wants to travel full time for the rest of their lives, if you feel like a bit of an outsider then I’ll be right there with you 🙂

  16. Figuring out what you want to do often seems to be way harder than actually doing it. The filtering of all the voices is difficult and when one voice is finally discarded and discounted others replace it. Especially when these voices come in the internet, we really see a view into someone’s life and not the whole thing. Sometimes we don’t see the trials that lead to a goal and other times the passion of the voice is there to convince themselves that the decision was right.

    Umm.. so a rambling way to say, good for you. 🙂

    The freelance life is really stressful we are learning. Tons of extra things we never expected, but I am really enjoying Friday’s off to try to go after the goals I really care about. I totally see how this life is not for everyone and I am not even 100% convinced it is for me, but it has a lot of benefits I want to explore before I give up. I am beginning to find that satisfaction with a job is a lot harder to find than I once thought. That is what I feel I am missing at the moment in the freelancer world.

    Glad you are settling into Chicago and your condo again.

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