I finally finished unpacking two suitcases that sat on my bedroom floor from trips that I did back-to-back with very little time at home. This is the dream life of many travel bloggers and writers I know. It is definitely not mine.
For the past couple of years I have traveled an average of 2-3 times a month. My reason for traveling so much is to get work. To stay busy and always have something to deliver. But somewhere in 2015 I found myself feeling very, very tired. And towards the end of 2015, I found myself less excited about having to pack yet another suitcase.
It was time to rearrange my priorities and avoid burn out. The following is the thinking process for assessing what I needed to remember before I could figure out what I wanted to do. We all have different experiences and journey, but I found that stopping to remember how I got here and why I do this was important. I follow this up with tips for avoiding exhausting yourself out of what you love.
How did I get here? Or rather, Losing sight of my priorities
I often talk about my life before this wonderful career of mine and my struggles as a single mother. I have talked about the time I was laid off from a publishing job because I kept missing work to take my infant son to the hospital or doctor because he was so sick.
I’ve talked about how the company that fired me made me sign an agreement that I wouldn’t sue and in exchange they would extend my health insurance for a few more months – something I quickly signed. I have shared how on that very night of losing my job, my baby had a seizure, the first of many, and while at the hospital, hearing his cries as he was getting a spinal tap that would help decide whether or not he had epilepsy, I was overtaken with a sense of relief that at least I didn’t have to call in to work, again.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more devastating than having to choose work over family. I didn’t have a choice once, and getting fired was the choice that was made for me even when faced with my son’s absolute suffering.
I promised that I would never allow myself to be in a position where I would have to choose work over family.
All of that feels like another lifetime ago, and time has a way of making us forget things.
Back to life
While I grew and changed, so did my family. Now married with two more beautiful children I forgot, for a moment, how much more important my being healthy and my being with them really is. Especially because in just a few years all of them will be adults in search of their own paths and I will be an older woman.
My hard work has been beneficial to all of us. Even my husband will tell you that the work that I started with NYCityMama.com and have continued with GirlGoneTravel.com has allowed our family to have experiences and travel in ways that we never dreamed possible.
My freelancing work helped us to pay down our debt and become credit card free. I continue to grow as a creative, as a writer, and a photographer.
I have been to the White House as one of 100 selected travel bloggers on the issue of diversity in study abroad programs, I have been featured in the New York Times as an advocate for diversity in our national parks, I have been the opening keynote in two wonderful travel conferences where I have shared my overcoming the perceptions others have of me as a plus size, black Latina. I have received awards and accolades and been honored with recognition from the industry and my peers. I have traveled through 38 of our united states and have visited a total of 25 countries in 4 continents, often more than once.
I have a blog and brand that I am proud of and have made friends all over the world whom I love.
And during all of it, my kids continue to grow, and my husband has these handsomely grey hairs on his beard that he didn’t have before. It happened so fast, but I was moving so fast somewhere else that I was starting to feel like I was missing it and I was getting tired and beginning to not enjoy it all as much.
No where in the world is as fun to experience as when I am with them.
Life is moving and though I am enjoying the ride, I am changing the game a bit to fit how I am happiest.
I don’t ever want to take for granted the choice that I was once denied.
So I am slowing down. I am working on some great trips with partners that have been devoted to my brand for years now, but will also be taking a lot of trips with my family in tow. One of the things that I enjoyed the most about my older brand, NYCity Mama, is how its focus was more home-grown and local. I want to go back to that and to that reader who can’t always afford the time or the money for that trip overseas. Look at my older stuff (which I have been diligently working to update and improve) and you will find tons of information about New York City and other easily accessible locations, especially for families with younger kids or those looking for a quick getaway nearby. This is how I am coming back to center, but there are so many ways, regardless of your career, where you can avoid burn out and still be happy.
No Man Is An Island
There is not one successful person that I know that does what they do alone. In new media I can look at the best among my peers who are doing great video work, great photography, running a successful blog, or writing books, and none of them – not a single one – is doing it all alone. Some might have a business partner, whether it be their spouse or a friend, some of them have assistants, whether it is to help go through their email, send out tweets, or manage their invoices and billing. Some hire external services for public relations and media placements. The point is, they have help.
For me, recruiting help has been a very slow process. Letting go of control has been an issue as well as finding appropriate compensation that made me feel like I was being fair, while staying within the means of what I can afford and get quality work.
Trust is important, as is constant communication, mutual respect for each other and the work. Seeking out help and relying on it to balance the load has been an incredible move for me and one where I have immediately benefitted from.
Be Everywhere to Succeed is a myth
One of the worst, most well-intentioned advice that I received at the beginning of my blogging career was that I should be everywhere. At every networking party, in every publication, in every trade show, professional gathering, conference. This way people will know who I am and never forget me.
Granted, there is some validity to this. You can’t successfully promote your brand entirely in your pajamas while sitting at home. At some point you have to get up, get out, and let people talk to you and see you. You have to network and promote yourself as no one else can. But you also have to be selective.
As a blogger and freelancer, time away from my desk to mingle and drink is more of an investment on chance. A hope that it will lead to not just a press trip, but paid work. A gamble that maybe media folks I am meeting aren’t just asking me to join them for a fun night out so that I can then go and promote their client, but also with the intent to meet candidates for future paid partnerships and professional alliances that benefits us both. If this opportunity doesn’t exist, I have very little interest in going because it costs me too much. Not to mention the cost of getting a sitter, or the stress of making sure the kids’ homework is done and dinner is on the table beforehand.
Conferences also cost money. A lot of money. There has to be a serious incentive to invest, such as learning and strong networking opportunities, otherwise it just becomes a really expensive party. Being seen is not as attractive a notion as getting paid for my work. The benefit to any brand that I leave my house for is that I will always deliver my best and work my hardest, because it’s worth it for me to do so too.
I believe in the power of saying no and trust that it will lead to better things.
Social media overload kills
The best brands are learning (or re-learning) to measure quality by level of engagement and consumer/reader loyalty and not by the very fluid numbers games of social likes. In the meantime, being famous is more important than being qualified, and sometimes being famous means being qualified and so people find themselves connected online all the time because being famous takes a lot of work. You have to carefully curate and craft the message and reputation for potential viral-ness and if things shift just slightly from what fans expect then you risk losing everything. It understandably becomes your world.
But not every platform is for everyone. Some people are best suited for specific areas and should embrace that in which they are most comfortable and not try to be great at all of it. Also, huge numbers are like an incredible high because negotiating when you can present huge numbers is easier. You almost have to prove little else, that’s how blinding they can be. But creating, writing, and working for the numbers kills the soul. It doesn’t take long to suck all sense of creativity and love out of what you do. All it takes is a dip in numbers or a shift in audience focus (cause something shinier and prettier came along) to feel deflated. The race is also killer. The race for marketing money, the race for audience numbers, and the race to fame all have a way of taking the joy out of all of it and making it feel meaningless.
FOMO (fear of missing out) is a child’s game. You’re an adult with important things to do. Get over it and focus on what matters.
I love social media. I use my three main platforms – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – differently. I improve it based on what I enjoy and on what I think my audience likes to see more of. I don’t write for the numbers and I don’t curate for the fame. That I haven’t seen that affect my “stats” would be a lie. It has, because I am not in the race. I seem to have a solid, steady audience and I am happy with that. As a freelance writer, I pitch work that will probably never make me famous but it is work that I am proud of, that people enjoy reading, and that helps to feed my family. Most of all, it is work that doesn’t push against my path to health and overall happiness.
Check yourself, believe in yourself
When your work isn’t always validated by fame or accolades, you will have many moments where you wonder if what you are doing is even worth it. This is natural considering that we live in a society that rewards the celebrity more than they do the average personal accomplishments. There will be moments when you will have to check yourself and be OK with the average person in you.
I like to think that the words I write will impact someone in a way that will be life changing or significant. I like to think that a travel story, even to a far away place, will touch the heart of another mom out there or a young working woman, enough to inspire her to save a bit of her salary and some of her vacation time to travel too.
I like to think that sharing my past and journey will give hope to another single mom struggling emotionally and financially, and will let her know that she is not alone and that she can overcome her hardships.
My travel life at its best that I hope inspires others.
These are the things that I like to think about when I write. But I am sure that there are times when I write something and it hasn’t really been as epic to anyone as I had hope. I have to then be OK with the fact that what I wrote was something I am proud of, confident in, and that I believe will maybe be meaningful to someone, someday. At the very least, I often check myself to confirm that I do what I do because it makes me happy and helps my family with work that often comes from it.
More often than not, we will find ourselves, in all our potential and greatness, to be nothing more than just average people trying to make a living in this busy, crazy world. How you deal with that reality will give you an insight on what you need to work on to be the best and happiest you.
Stepping back, slowing down, reaching out for help, and prioritizing again and again doesn’t mean to give up the dream or the work. It doesn’t mean failure or weakness. It doesn’t mean much of anything other than you doing what you need to keep going in the best and healthiest way possible for you and those you care about the most.