Last year at this time, I was living out of a backpack.
Sleeping in rooms with fifteen strangers. Showering with flip flops and working wherever I could get WiFi. I had no stability, no real goals, no idea what my life would look like in the future — and that was fine with me. As far as I was concerned, I had the greatest friends in the world, a supportive family, a roof over my head and food on my plate every day, and surprisingly, unlike a lot of other backpackers, I actually did have a savings cushion (so, some semblance of stability in that sense). Honestly, every day I still felt like I had more than I could ever need.
But eventually, it was time to come home, back to “the real world,” and start rising and grinding like everyone else. I told myself it was time to get serious — and to an extent, it was. I can’t live with my family forever. I do have some concrete plans to move out early next year, and although I’m not looking forward to scheduling apartment hunting around the holidays, I am looking forward to getting out of my hometown again.
I reached out to new clients. I started putting extra towards my loans every month. I set income goals for myself, I joined a yoga studio, I got up early, I started volunteering — all good things. For a while, it seemed like I had really put my old life behind me. I wasn’t going to be the girl who slept on airport floors anymore. It was fine for that time in my life, a time I had left behind, and I had to move forward. I should focus on landing impressive bylines (ha, definitely not there yet) and making more Money and networking and all of those professional buzzwords.
For a few months, I really felt that way — there are so many people out there with stories about getting into jobs they hated, and then dropping it all to travel the world and live simply. I had done things a little backwards. I ran around with my backpack and figured out what I really wanted to do with my life, and then I was ready to settle down and do it. This is America. Time to hustle. Right?
Well, sort of. I love Writing. Yes, even as a freelancer — after hearing for years that my skills weren’t worth anything, finding out that some companies and editors actually think I bring something to the table feels amazing. I genuinely like all of the clients I work with right now, and I enjoy keeping my own blog going, too. No matter what my job situation is, I’ll be writing for the rest of my life. I’ve been doing it since I learned the alphabet.
But here’s the funny thing about all of this “personal development.” I thought I would develop into the type of person who was super motivated to be “successful” on society’s terms. And that once I was back in the “real world,” I would want to go down that path. But I just…don’t.
I’m not saying, like, money isn’t important. Despite the passport stamps and the rocky career path, I’m actually much more careful with my finances than people might expect, and right now, I’m very focused on paying off my debt and building up my savings. I’m making great progress on both. I’m still pitching new clients regularly, and I definitely want to get to a point where my monthly income is more predictable.
But I also hold on to clothes until they fall apart. I wear shoes until the soles are worn through. I don’t wear makeup, my skincare routine is usually “splash face with tap water,” I eat a pretty cheap plant-based diet and I love cooking, I choose riding my bike over driving most days, and I’m thinking about ditching my smartphone eventually. Yoga, meditation, long walks outside, books from the library…most of the things I enjoy doing are free. Not everything — but my point is, I naturally gravitate towards a frugal, minimalist lifestyle. And I’m happy that way. Plus, it’s more sustainable anyway. Win-win.
In the process of adopting all of these behaviors that I somehow thought would make me more motivated and ambitious, I started getting clarity about what I actually wanted out of life. And it still looks kind of like the lifestyle I used to have. Probably with a little less traveling involved (because it does get exhausting in the long run). I thought it was just going to be a phase — and that could definitely still change in a couple years — but maybe that’s who I am. Maybe I really am that type of person who just needs the simple things.
Honestly, I think I was setting some of my “career goals” for some version of myself that doesn’t really exist. A version of myself I thought I might become one day — but that day hasn’t arrived.
You know what I think changed? When I first sat down to think about my goals as a writer, most of them were solely focused on money — because everyone told me I would never make money doing this. I had to prove them wrong, right?
But now I’m trying to think outside the box, too. Look, making money through writing is fantastic — but I don’t want to write just for money. I get one life, so what do I really want to accomplish? How can I encourage people to think critically through my work?
I don’t know. It sounds cliche, but I’ve seen a lot of people sacrifice their happiness for money — people who could have easily taken a big pay cut and still lived comfortably. Like once they started running in the rat race, they couldn’t duck out. They just kept booking it towards a finish line they didn’t even really care about crossing.
I don’t mean people who took on jobs they didn’t love because they needed to pay bills, or because they were putting that money towards something really important. I mean people who could live off half of what they make now without wanting for anything.
I don’t want that to be me. I’d rather stroll along in my own little outside lane and take a detour every now and then. I guess what I’m trying to say is…I don’t want money to be my primary motivation anymore. And I need to remember why I was motivated to write in the first place — why I really wanted to share my words with the world. I feel like I’ve been looking at success just through the lens of financial success, telling myself I need to grow up, leave my adventures behind, and trade them for more income. And maybe I lost sight of what really mattered for a while. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t feeling so confident in my work for the past couple months.
I guess it’s a little weird to say that as I started achieving some of my goals, I scaled back on others. But you know what? That’s okay, too. Why work towards something that won’t bring you more joy than the life you already have, just for the sake of status?
When Losing Motivation is a Good Thing was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.