Two years ago, my life looked very different–I was very different. I was living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and working at a global advertising firm, slowly climbing my way up the corporate ladder. I had all the trappings of a seemingly successful adult life: a 401k, company benefits, a good job, a promising career, a ring on my finger and a circus-sized wedding on the horizon; then I did the unthinkable and left everything to become a travel writer. I went from a 9 to 5 job to this…
Tomorrow, I will be speaking at the upcoming Women’s Travel Fest in New York City and hosting a workshop for 70-100 guests on the topic of “Ditching the 9 to 5 job.” It’s a daunting topic and one that varies from person to person, but for those unable to attend this weekend’s event; this post is for you.
Before I launch into the nuances of my own personal story, let me take a step back and address the overarching question at hand, the question that many have asked me over time: how does one ditch the 9 to 5 and become a travel writer? It’s a question without a single answer. Some travelers balance odd jobs and full time careers to save enough money to afford being nomadic, others have the comfort of family money or trust funds to bank roll their dreams; some struck gold with their travel blogs while many create numerous revenue streams to stay afloat. Unlike the corporate world, leaving the 9 to 5 job is unpredictable–there is no clear path to success, no promise even of future financial gain—just you and your passion for a life that is less conventional.
My story is not meant to be a road map for leaving the “9 to 5” world–it simply is one of many out there–and my hopes in sharing it is that it can perhaps serve as inspiration somehow. So, to anyone sitting in a cubicle and feeling trapped by the monotony of a work day, to anyone stuck in a career path they have no interest in being in, to anyone day dreaming of a life that is different from the one they’re living right now; then this story is for you.
Let’s Start at the Beginning…
I studied journalism at Indiana University and had grand dreams about what I would one day do with that degree. I imagined myself as a National Geographic reporter, as an Editor of a magazine or as a Newspaper columnist in New York–the possibilities were endless. Then came the bloggers–I remember it almost perfectly: one day I was sitting in my journalism class–paying over $40,000 for a journalism degree—when the topic of Tavi Gevinson, an 11 year old fashion blogger, came up. Tavi was stealing headlines and shaking up the journalism world because she was sitting front row at New York Fashion Week alongside Anna Wintour and other respected editors and journalists–all because she had a successful fashion blog. Up until that point, the world of blogging seemed far removed: there were bloggers and then there were journalists, which to us seemed like drawing a line in the sand between home cooks and trained chefs. We saw ourselves as professionals, as certified and then all of a sudden it felt as though our degrees were rendered useless as we graduated into a world where anyone with a computer could call themselves a writer.
When I moved to New York in the summer of 2011, I was directionless. I had spent the months since graduation living in Europe, trying my hand at blogging about travel and post-graduate life with Paris and Normandy as my backdrop, until I ran out of money and had to come back to the states. I started bartending at a restaurant in Midtown until one day I met a girl who changed my life with the flash of a credit card. She was out celebrating her promotion with a friend as I re-filled their champagne glasses, catching snippets of their conversation. When it came time to pay the check, she put her card down and I immediately noticed the Chicago backdrop of her card and decided to introduce myself as a fellow Chicagoan. We struck up conversation and by the time she left I had her email and a business referral to her company, which was hiring. A week later, I was a newly minted “Assistant Media Planner” at a global advertising firm in Manhattan. It wasn’t journalism but it was better then serving more happy hour specials and so I accepted.
My Love-Hate relationship with the corporate world…
Advertising tossed glitter into my eyes; it was an ongoing soiree of free dinners, lavish events, goody bags and presents enjoyed by fellow twenty-somethings who grasped at every “freebie” by virtue of living on an entry level salary in New York. It was odd waters to wade in–on one hand, I struggled to pay rent but on the other I’d eat dinner at some of the city’s finest places. I wasn’t particularly passionate about advertising but I figured the endless networking would serve me well eventually and bring me closer to editorial.
A year turned into two years, turned into three years and I started to treat the corporate world like a speed date. I would stick around one company in earnest, hoping to find career happiness, then inevitably end up leaving for another opportunity that seemed to hold all the promise of a “dream job.” In the end, I would become disenchanted with that job 6 months later and find myself searching again. I tried my hand in public relations, marketing and advertising; trying on job titles and agencies like hats. I couldn’t resign myself to the fact that work had to be this dull parade of routine that was devoid of passion. I refused to accept that we are sentenced to spending a third of our lives sitting at a desk day dreaming about what we wished we were doing. I wanted the “dream job”—that allusive opportunity that made me happy. Finally, I grew fed up with corporate America and my dash through companies and figured if I couldn’t find a job I was passionate about, I would create one instead.
Becoming a travel writer: The Pin the Map Project is born.
Starting The Pin the Map Project was a lot like playing with a jigsaw puzzle and finally stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. All the pieces of my puzzle had been there—the journalism degree, the attempts at creating other blogs, the handful of freelance travel writing assignments I’d done on the side, the day dreams of traveling—I just needed to pull them together into an idea and a travel blog was it. The idea for my site came from a push pin map my mother had gifted me, which I was all too eager to begin pinning. Upon stepping back and looking at my map, I became acutely aware of all I had yet to see and so began The Pin the Map Project, a personal endeavor to refocus my life.
How I managed to grow a website with a readership of just immediate family and friends to the online destination it is today is an entirely different topic and one I cover frequently in my BLOG TIPS section. In short, I was able to leverage the skills from advertising, public relations and marketing I had gained to build my own website and brand. Within 3 years, that obscure blog grew to what it is today–to take me around the world, have a team of writers, its own upcoming print publication and incredible brand partnerships. As the blog began to grow, so too did the work it required. At first, I tended to The Pin the Map Project at odd times–in between meetings and lunch breaks—when I could catch an hour or two to myself in the office; but soon enough the push-pull between my travel writing and my advertising career became too difficult to maintain. On the days where I focused on The Pin the Map Project, I inevitably faced conflict in the office; while on the days I focused on work, The Pin the Map Project was left unattended, and my writing assignments incomplete.
In my personal life, my travel writing ambitions began to weigh heavy on my relationship as the daunting question of our mutual futures were brought to the surface. The last thing I wanted to do was settle down, have kids and buy a home–I wanted to travel the world, become a travel journalist and have my life look like a kaleidoscope of adventures set against exotic backdrops. My fiance and I had hit an impasse as the realization that I wanted wings and he wanted roots created palpable strains on our relationship.
The decision to leave the 9 to 5 job…and everything else.
From the outside, my life seemed to be rocketing in the direction it was “supposed” to be going: I was working in advertising, I had a good job and I was engaged. I could look out on the horizon of my life and practically see it play out like a well choreographed dance: I’d be promoted to Media Supervisor in a year, would be married in a few months, would be promoted to Media Director a few years after that, start a family somewhere in between, perhaps move to a larger apartment in New York and maybe even another city one day. All of it terrified me because it didn’t seem like me. The one part of my life that reflected who I am–The Pin the Map Project– was pushed to the sidelines and relegated to the hours between 9pm and 8am when everyone was asleep. My travel writing became my field of dreams because in that world life wasn’t predictable, it wasn’t routine, it wasn’t a string of planned out events that brought you safely to your grave. In my wondrous world of travel, life was exciting and I was an explorer, an adventurous version of myself. I wasn’t someone’s wife, I wasn’t someone’s employee–I was Nikki, the travel writer.
It was perhaps the hardest realization I’ve ever had: to one day open my eyes and realize that the life I had meticulously built was not the life I wanted. It took solo traveling to Argentina and physically escaping to ask myself the questions I had been avoiding and finally face the answers I had dreaded: I wasn’t in love anymore, I didn’t want to get married and I didn’t like my career. I was at one of those dramatic cross roads in life where I could either continue forward and pocket away my new found realizations or make a change and create the life I did want. I won’t tell you that what happened next was easy or glamorous in any way. I wouldn’t wish the task of calling off a wedding on my worst enemy. Hearts were broken, people were disappointed, friends were lost, family was hurt and lives were forever changed.
I had flipped my life upside down–had managed to tear down in a day what had taken years to build–in the name of restructuring my world to better resemble who I am and what I want out of life. I left my relationship, left my apartment and left my job in the pursuit of a life reigned by passion and happiness. Today, the dust from my decision has long since settled–I am now living in Astoria, am working as a full time travel writer with the occasional week long, freelance advertising gig and am finally doing what I want to do.
As I said, my story is one of many stories out there; all of the “ditching the 9 to 5” memoirs boil down to this one irrevocable truth: you are the only person standing in between you and the life you want to live. You can either be your best friend and help turn those hobbies, day dreams and side passions of yours into a reality; or you can be your own worst enemy and forever keep that part of yourself locked away. There will never be a perfect time in life to leave a job, leave a relationship and make a change—life moves on and it does so quickly, responsibilities build, obstacles are tossed in the way and then old age creeps up like a thief in the night. The old saying rings forever true: Life is too short to not live it the way you want to live it.
FOR MORE PRACTICAL TIPS ON HOW TO LEAVE YOUR 9 TO 5 AND CHASE YOUR DREAMS, CHECK OUT MY WORKSHOP FROM THE WOMEN’S TRAVEL FEST HERE!