When I was 21 and thinking about moving to Alaska, I paid my bills by waiting tables at a local sports bar. I had a very wise manager with whom I occasionally butted heads, due in no small part, I’m sure, to my stubbornness. I spent months waffling endlessly on whether I should apply for this teaching job or pack everything up and make for Anchorage, and one night, as I begged him to please cut me from the floor so I could go home and study, he dropped this major bombshell on me:
“When you don’t know where you’re going,” he told me, “Any road will take you there.”
I rolled my eyes, in that way all-knowing 21-year-olds do, and told him I was collecting my tips and going home. I’m pretty sure that’s from the TV show Northern Exposure or maybe a George Harrison song, but wherever he got it, he was right, and it stuck with me. Turns out, when you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, you just have to do something, and it doesn’t always matter what it is.
I’ve had a few big transitions since then, but at the beginning of 2017, as I looked to the future, I came back to this quasi-advice, as I so often do.
In the middle of this month, I quit my office job and started writing full-time. Next week, I’m headed to Mexico to climb a very tall volcano.
Let me rewind a little. For the last year and change, I’ve been like a really nerdy superhero, minus the heroics: office manager by day, writer by night. And weekend. And a lot of early mornings, too. In 2016, I averaged about 70 hours of work a week, not including the ten hours I spent each week commuting.
So. At some point, when I came home tired and cranky and not having exercised and staring down the barrel of another five or six hours of work for the umpteenth time, Bix gently suggested that, if I really had this much writing to get done, maybe I should just do that full-time, instead. I’m sure I took it very well and didn’t jump down his throat or anything.
A few circumstances lined up to make this easier, and then more difficult, and at some point, too impatient to wait for the Exact Perfect Time, I just did it. I put in my notice at work, and then, a month later, I walked out the door for the very last time and got in my car and drove to Moab.
I also ended up signing on to climb Pico de Orizaba, which, at 18,491 feet, is the third-highest peak in North America (just thinking about the altitude is enough to make me lightheaded, which totally counts as training, right?), with a group of really badass women. We’re climbing to raise money for Big City Mountaineers, which I’ve written about pretty extensively because I think it is one of the best organizations around. The BCM mission is to teach critical life skills to urban and under-resourced teenagers using experiences in the outdoors, and as a former BCM instructor, I can tell you that it works.
Sidebar: At this point, I’m just going to shamelessly plug the climb and the fundraising model, Summit for Someone, because it’s an excellent cause and because this is my website so I get to write whatever I want because The Internet. But really. If you feel compelled to donate, you can do that here:
You can even click on my name and donate there so it looks like I am a Super Great Fundraiser, but you don’t have to. I’m not a narcissist or anything.
Anyway. I work from home now, and so far it’s awesome. This week, I woke up every morning feeling like Sleeping Beauty: birds chirping, cute little cartoon animals helping me get dressed, lots of cheerful whistling. I drank coffee from an actual mug as I read my emails in the morning. I took breaks to do things like bake muffins (really) and throw in a load of laundry because I am totally a contributing member of my household now.
As much as I love not commuting and spending most of the day in my sweatpants and having time to do things like exercise–and I do–I don’t have any illusions that this is going to be easy. I’ll tell you something: I have no idea what I’m doing. None whatsoever. I have a few primitive systems (spreadsheets, mostly, with lots of color coding to reassure me that it’s all going to be okay), but for the most part, I remain mystified by things like taxes for the self-employed.
Weirdly enough, this is okay with me. I’m used to worrying about money, first of all. Thanks to a combination of seasonal employment, graduate school, and nonprofit work, I generally haven’t had enough of it for most of my adult life, so I know all about how to endlessly perseverate on whether I’m going to make enough of it this month.
I’m also bolstered by the knowledge that my Impostor Syndrome (wherein a voice in the back of my head tells me, at regular intervals, that my inadequacy will soon be revealed to the world at large) keeps me from cutting corners and generally motivates me to strive for excellence, so there’s a silver lining. You can’t be an artist, they say, without being at least a little tortured.
Transitions are always a little weird, but this one felt like a no-brainer. Of all the things I am excited about and simultaneously terrified of, here is the one I like best:
Now, when I introduce myself to someone and they ask what I do, I get to say: I’m a writer.
So far, it feels pretty good.