I was staring that blank Monday morning stare, silently waiting for my coffee to brew when I noticed the sign, tucked in a box labeled Pick me ups. Stenciled on a bright yellow background, in mismatched lettering, it said: Do What You Love.
I looked around the drab break room with florescent lighting, fake flower centerpieces dotting the small round tables, a meek effort to bring cheer into an otherwise dull corner of an IT office. Seriously? Could anyone reading that sign actually be doing what they loved at the moment? Pick me up? How about pick me up, throw me on the ground, and crush my soul. Thanks for reminding me I’m nowhere near where I want to be right now, stupid notecard. I hope you love being a card, you hypocrite.
Okay fine, maybe I am not always doing what I love…but I do what I love some of the time. Does that count?
From the outside, I might appear like a plucky go-getter, quitting my career, traveling the world, hiking thousands of miles up and down the country, with plans for so many more adventures in all the years to come. And to an extent, I am. But I am also part coward. I took a life leap, but I took it with a parachute on my back and a packed lunch complete with a note from mom. Yeah, yeah, I quit my job and wandered aimlessly for years, but deep down I knew I would be able to pick up where I left off, in a slightly different realm. Maybe I didn’t feel this then, but I see it now: It’s not that scary or hard to jump from a burning boat when a beautiful tropical island is 10 feet away. You feel me?
If I had taken a real leap, I’d being do exactly what that card smugly sat there suggesting. I’d be doing what I love, all of the time.
Even before putting my writing out there, before the blog, but especially after, people innocently questioned some of my career choices. Why are you doing this? Why aren’t you doing something more creative? You should write a book. Why are you working in IT?
My first favorite excuse is, dude, these days, with Facebook and WordPress and Tumblr and the ability to fully operate your own blog and get your voice out there, everyone is a writer. With Instagram, everyone is a photographer. Yeah, of course I want to write and explore, go on awesome adventures and get paid for it. But who doesn’t? Who wouldn’t want to be a travel writer, an adventure blogger? I went to Journalism school with the intention of going into advertising, and got out partially because it was so cutthroat. I didn’t want to compete or outshine; I wanted to be a part of a community. I wanted to work with people, not against them.
My second favorite excuse is, I’m just riding the wave, letting things organically come to me rather than seeking out opportunities. I would love nothing more than to have a career where I travel to remote lands, explore the nooks and crannies of life, hike all the trails, go on all the road trips; but (and this is very hard and rather embarrassing to admit) I don’t want to put myself out there; I want those things to come to me, to just fall into my lap. Me, a person who fully believes in working for what you want, what you get, what you have, all of a sudden just wants these fruits of no ones labor to turn up on my doorstep? And my most embarrassing secret: sometimes I’ll read other travel blogs, articles in Backpacker magazine, listen to podcasts of people doing awesome things, things I want to do, people who have made this their life, who have fully committed, and I feel jealous. What sets them apart? How did they get there? We’re not all that different. I could do that/write that/experience that. So why am I the one staring at a notecard telling me to do what I love, while they are out doing what they love?
Because they took a real life leap and I’m still playing hopscotch. Because I am too scared to admit I am scared, because then I’d have to face my fears. This job is my baby blanket. It’s convenient and cozy and familiar and if you take it away, I might panic. I am still terrified to cut the cord, to take a real chance, to truly put myself out there. Because as I soon as I do that, I can’t make any more excuses.
I figured this out around the time a bunch of shit got dumped right on my doorstep, just like I was hoping, and I immediately high-tailed it in the other direction. Shortly after I got Instafamous while hiking the AT last year, after the Instagram interview and The Guardian picked up my photo of Emily on McAffey’s Knob (and boy did the Brits have a field day with the Knob part), I began receiving a bunch of random emails, requests, people who wanted to collaborate in some way or another. I brushed off most of these as junk mail, bots sending mass emails, people hitting send without doing their research.
Part of me felt undeserving, like a fraud. Like if I accepted anything, they would have the opportunity to dive in and see the real me, see that I wasn’t all that special or different from the next girl doing pretty much the exact same thing I was. It felt weird, like it wasn’t the right time. I knew my ten-seconds of fame would be over sooner than they began, I know I should have seized the opportunity.
But I didn’t. And most decisions I am at peace with. I am honored and grateful for the offers I receive to write for other sites. If I had 24 more hours in my day, I would find a way. But realistically, working 50 hours a week and traveling 20 more, I can barely keep up with The Other Fork in the Road. It has become so much more than just a personal account of my life, and if I am going to write, it’s going to be for me, on my own terms.
Other decisions are harder to swallow.
I turned down an opportunity to speak at a TedX talk at the University of Maryland because I had a wedding conflict. The theme: Transcending Limitations. I read the email offer at least 1,000 times.
We find that your credentials make you a stellar candidate as a speaker for the conference; your experiences and perceptions of life and the world aligns with the values and ideas that TED promotes.
Probably still a mass email, but I was humbled to even be considered, imagining possibilities, picturing myself in front of room of people. Insert scratchy record sound. I tell other people I turned it down because of a wedding, but in reality, I turned it down because I am terrified of public speaking and still can’t quite figure out what the hell I really have to offer to a room full of people without feeling like a fool. In fact, I knew the moment I read the email, I wouldn’t accept. Not a chance, even though I pretended for awhile there was.
Whether you think TED talks are brilliant or believe we’ll all be shaking our heads in a few years, wondering why we made such a fuss about listening to pretentious people talk about themselves, who knows what fork the road it could have offered, what kind of doors it could have opened?
I’ll never know and it makes me kind of sad. Sad enough I decided to change tactics. I decided to start saying yes. Even if it scares me. When Mike Campbell from Live Immediately emailed in request of a podcast interview, I said yes for the first time. Even though I am terrible at speaking in sentences, even though I slur my words, hate my voice, can’t articulate my thoughts, I said yes. When Frambridge offered frames to display my adventures in exchange for a dedicated post and a few rounds of social media shout outs, I said yes. I flipping love frames. When PowerBar asked for a few Instagram posts in exchange for actual dollar bills, I said yes. Maybe I won’t smell like cat urine on the PCT next year with all that protein.
I know I am not a famous blogger with a million followers, but that just means I appreciate the support of those I do have even more. I respect every pair of eyes that decides to read one of my posts, especially if you make it all the way through. I’m grateful for every single Instagrammer that chooses to follow me, even if you’re a Bot, because for having no feelings or thoughts, you clearly have great taste.
So consider this your formal warning. All of my posts to this date have been the product of my mind and my hands making sweet love. In the future, some posts *may* be conceived with a third party involved. Don’t worry, my mind and my hands will still be making the love, the third party is just there to watch, and maybe give us a snack after.
This is getting weird. And pornographic.
But I’ve been riding the wave for so long, it’s time to make some ripples of my own.