Maybe I should just do ‘normal’…
It’s been 14 months now since I started doing life a bit differently. 14 months since I said goodbye to the busy city life and the comfortable, regular income and moved into my campervan. I’ve spent the last 14 months living in the moment, taking things day by day. I was happy to only work just enough to cover my cost, using the rest of the time to explore, learn, have fun – and write. It’s been amazing. I’ve loved every minute of it. But as much as I would love to just keep going like this, lately there has been this nagging voice in my head that keeps saying “maybe I should just go back to normal! At least for a while…”
Towards the end of last year, I made the decision that I would look for full-time work over next winter (remember, winter is mid-year here in New Zealand). There are lots of longer-term contract roles going in my field so I should be able to find something. The plan was to settle down in one place (most likely Auckland) for 6 months or so and do the 'normal' thing: work 40 hours a week.
But as I was sitting in my van the other day, watching the sunrise over the ocean, I couldn't help but ask myself: WHY?
I’m loving vanlife! I know money won’t bring me happiness – at least not more so than freedom. And besides, isn’t my dream to be a writer? How will going back to work full-time help me get any closer to making that dream a reality?
I definitely worry about long-term financial security sometimes. Even though I know I won’t need a lot of money or luxury to be happy, I also don’t ever want to be in a situation where I don’t know how I will pay for food or other essentials. I do believe that a certain level of financial security and savings can make life a lot more comfortable and less stressful (at least for me).
I've been lucky (and I'd like to think smart) that I've been able to chase freedom and adventure these past 14 months while still earning enough to cover most of my costs. But I already had to tap into savings for a major van repair and to visit my family in Europe this past Christmas, so I know this way of living won't be sustainable in the long run.
But if it were just about money, I could just work more.
I could go and try to find another client or two. I could do some seasonal work in different parts of the country. I could find other ways to make money. If what I really wanted was merely more financial security, there would be ways to get that without having to give up my lifestyle and while still having the time to chase the dream of making a living as a writer.
It’s about more than money. Somehow, in the last couple of months, the idea of settling down again, of having a permanent home, seemed surprisingly attractive at times. Even though I’ve loved every second of the past 14 months, there is a part of me that just wants to go back and do ‘normal’. But as I write this, I'm house and dog sitting for a few days. It's only been four days of living in a house and ‘doing normal', and already I can't wait to be back in the van. So why is there a part of me that seems to like the idea of settling down for six months or more?
For several weeks, I couldn’t figure out why I feel that way.
I know I want to be a writer – ideally the kind who earns some money with her writing. I know to achieve that goal I need inspiration and time to write as well as the time and headspace to promote and sell my writing (which is actually the hard part). I know I won't be able to do that while working full-time in the city. I've done that for many years, and I know I simply won't have the time, energy or inspiration. On the other hand, I've written more and better in the last 14 months than ever before. And yes, progress towards making money as a writer is slow and frustrating at times but I have sold a couple of articles, and there are other opportunities in the pipeline, so there is some reason for optimism.
And yet a part of me wants to give up on all that and just do 'normal'. At least for a while… Why?
Last week, I sat myself down with the intention of figuring this out. I took a piece of paper, and I wrote at the top "Freedom to write vs. Money". The idea was that I could make a list of the pros and cons of each goal. But as I looked at those words at the top of the page, I knew they weren't right – or at least the ‘money' part wasn't.
Have you ever had one of those lightbulb moments where you can suddenly see clearly and suddenly just get it? I had one of those moments that day. I realised that it isn't about the money but about what settling down for several months and earning good money would enable me to do. What I hadn't realised before is that there is something else other than making a living as a writer that is really important to me right now: Relationships!
Vanlife, chasing freedom and adventure is fun, and you meet lots of people, but most of them are very short and somewhat superficial engagements. For someone like me who needs time to form connections with people, this is not the way to build close relationships. And at the same time, the lifestyle often takes me away from the people who matter most and who I have close bonds with. And when I say ‘takes me away’ I mean both in terms of geographical location as well as general lifestyle, goals, values and priorities.
Building relationships and forming genuine connections with people has never come naturally to me. I'm an introvert and love my own company – a little too much sometimes. Independence and freedom are two of my core values, and I don't think a lot of people would describe my personality as warm and fuzzy. Due to a combination of character, upbringing and experiences, I find it hard to open up and let people in. But over the last few years, I've also been fortunate enough to experience real friendship and connection. I had to work hard on myself to open up more and let people in, but I’ve definitely seen the benefits of it.
But I also know there is more there. I know there is more work for me to do. I know that I want to learn even more about myself and how to be better at forming meaningful relationships. My always curious and analytical mind wants to dive deeper into this to understand why I find it so hard to let people in and trust people's intentions and sincerity. The eternal optimist in me even wants to give the dating game another go to see if maybe there isn’t someone out there for me after all and if maybe finding that person would make life even better.
And this is where the challenge lies. Because for me to really invest in relationships, whether it’s strengthening existing ones or building new ones, I need to stay in one place. Of course, you could argue that you can meet people along the way or even online and you can be in touch with people over the phone and all those other digital communication channels we have these days, but I know it’s not the same. I know I need to spend time, lots of time, with people in person to establish or strengthen relationships.
And there is another piece of the puzzle. I would really like to get some help in figuring some of this stuff out. In a way, I feel like I've taken this as far as I could on my own. I've been thinking that it would be really interesting to spend some time with a professional therapist or psychologist to explore all this further, learn more about why I find relationships so challenging and maybe get some tips on how to work on it. But again, to be able to do that, I would need to be in one place long enough or at least regularly enough. And I'd also need the money to pay for it.
In other words, settling down and doing ‘normal’ for a while would allow me to focus on this area and see where it takes me – But it would mean putting the dream of making a living as a writer on hold for a while (I just know I won’t be able to do both). So which one is it gonna be?
I don't really have an answer yet. But just figuring this part out has been amazing.
At least now I know what that sudden desire for ‘normal' is all about. And it's taught me about the importance of listening to ourselves, of not taking our impulses and desires at face value, but to question them and to seek to understand where they are really coming from and what it is that really matters to us.
I now know the confusion and uncertainty I've been feeling lately is because there are two goals I would like to pursue and I have to pick one. And I know exactly what there two goals are and what would help me work towards them, which puts me in a much better position to make the right decision for me.
Do I want to use this year to focus on improving and establishing relationships which would mean settling down for a while, investing time in friendships and building new relationships and earning more money to be able to afford the support I would like to get? Or do I want to use it to chase my dream of making a living as a writer which would mean continuing the vanlife, seeking inspiration and making time to write (and sell my work)?
To be continued…