I purchased Darren Rowse’s 31 Days to Build a Better Blog program yesterday. The Day 1 activity nearly convinced me to quit blogging. By the end of the night, it would be Twitter and not the ProBlogger that saved this blog and helped me identify why I’ve felt so adrift lately, and what I needed to do to feel grounded again.
The first lesson in the 31 Day course asked me to define what “real need” this blog helped fulfill for people. A few hours of brainstorming left me with no answers, a few tears, and a rising fear that I was spinning in circles.
I thought back to the last six years I’ve spent online and all of the things I haven’t accomplished.
At least, that’s what I thought I was thinking about. I didn’t really have a list of things I’d wanted that I hadn’t achieved. In fact, if I had been in a better frame of mind I could have filled entire notebooks with amazing things I’ve done, experienced, and achieved since I first began writing for an audience. But I wasn’t in a better frame of mind. I was swirling without an anchor, coming back to the same sad question over and over again.
“What’s the point?”
It’s a fear I’ve been wrestling with for a few weeks now.
What’s the point?
Where am I going?
Am I headed in the right direction?
Shut up and trust the dots to connect.
I’ve tried to shut myself up with admonishment to just enjoy the present. This trip, after all, is what I was working towards last year. I need to learn to live in the moment I worked so hard for. Do not think about the future. Do not listen to your doubts. But not listening didn’t make them go away, and yesterday afternoon all of those questions and fears came tumbling out in a river of tears and despondent tweets.
My friend Vikki caught wind of my sadness and sent me a few direct messages, surely unaware of what an impact she was about to have on my life. In an effort to help, she asked “What are your goals? What are you looking to have happen?”
I cringed as soon as the words came on the screen. I knew where this was going and I was certain the validity of my concerns was about to be challenged.
I admitted I didn’t have any specific goals at the moment, that I had tried to set some but kept getting hung up because I no longer cared about achieving some set dollar amount in income.
“Aye. There’s the rub. How can you be falling short if you haven’t decided what you want?”
I knew she was going to say that, and I instantly hated her a little bit for trying to infuse logic into my frustration. I explained to Vikki that I was having trouble coming up with specific goals.
“You have to set the goals that matter to you, not the ones you feel should matter. Easier said than done, I know.”
And then I wrote the truth I had been trying to ignore for weeks.
The only goals I care about, besides finishing this trip, are going to Southeast Asia and living in New York City.
I could breathe easier before I’d even typed the period. I opened a new tab on my browser and began researching daily costs for travel in Cambodia, international flight prices, and apartment rentals in Midtown Manhattan. I pulled up my budget Excel sheet and typed rounded up figures into new columns.
I felt the frantic fear recede, slowly like a retreating tide.
Within fifteen minutes, I had a goal that meant something to me, a number that represented hopes, dreams and values capable of propelling me.
I looked up from the laptop to tell Jared, and instantly realized one of the factors that had contributed to my recent fear.
I am always looking to the next project.
Jared hates that.
It’s this difference between us that keeps our family grounded and moving forward. It’s why he doesn’t live in his parent’s basement and I don’t live under a bridge somewhere. I’m grateful for his tempering and his ability to help me live in this moment at least as much as I push towards the next. But…
While it is good for me to be able to enjoy an afternoon or a week-long vacation, this adventure is a year of living on the road. I can’t survive a year without a goal. Furthermore, this isn’t a temporary break from a lifestyle I plan to return to, it’s part of the overall journey. My ability to enjoy the journey relies, in part, on my knowing what direction I’m heading.
“Jared, I need to tell you something, and you’re probably not going to like it.”
“I’m not saying we have to go to Cambodia and Thailand when we’re done with this trip. I’m not saying I’m not keeping my options open. But I did sit down and figure out what it would cost and it did give me a goal to work towards. I am working towards at least making that possible, even if we decide to do something else. I have to.”
“OK. That makes sense.”
Why does it always sound so obvious after the dots have started to connect?
Part of me hates to admit that I’m the kind of the person that can’t just take a year off and chill with my family. I worry that it’s a sign of immaturity or discontent, an inability to be happy where I am, a need to always have a carrot to chase.
But a bigger part of me, a kinder part of me, knows that this is just the way I am made. I was made to swim rather than soak. And while I have gotten a lot better at recognizing when it’s time to rest, I also need to remember that happiness comes from living as the person you were made to be instead of as the person you think you should be.
I was made to dream. Always.