I was sitting on a beach in Corn Island, Nicaragua last week, planning my writing tasks and messaging friends and family when I thought: is this how to be happy? Have I single-handedly cracked the code to life at 24 years old???
Well, probably not quite yet.
But, I’d just been invited on another press trip, received a nice, juicy pay-check to write a series of travel articles for a content marketing client (I’d been paid before completion for once — anyone who writes knows how much of a rarity this is) and, I’d had an essay in a major newspaper accepted for publication.
I’d put down a deposit on a studio apartment and had just moved into a perfect space steps from the beach, for a fraction of what I’d be paying for rent back home, (a steal at £240 p/m). I realised that I have enough money to support myself in whatever travel endeavours I feel like doing next. I have no-one to answer to and everything to accomplish.
Being the pilot of my own life
But of course, there was a time, quite recently, when all I could see was despair and hopelessness and pain. So now, when things are going good, I’m going to give myself some credit for being the pilot of my own life (I love this phrase). In fact, I’m going to take credit for creating my own luck and pulling myself through the darkest period of my life, 2015-2016. Because I’m like a lot of other people I know; when things go well, I don’t actually provide myself with a proverbial pat on the back. I don’t stop and think “I did this”.
Maybe it’s a British thing; as I spoke about with our reaction to death we’re all just a bit stoic with our emotions in general at times, whereas Americans seem to be wired to be culturally (and perpetually) wired to big themselves up more. But I think mentally congratulating ourselves for when things are going GOOD is something we all need to do more of.
Generally I notice that we’re all very used to negating our own successes as a mere product of “luck”, “chance”, or “karma”, We feel embarrassed to recognise that it’s the good decisions from our past which help us secure our happiness in the present. It’s easy to forget completely, that WE orchestrate our achievements through a series of carefully measured decisions and life choices, that can only ever be attributed as our own.
So when things are going well in our work or relationships, or elsewhere, it might do us all some good to stop and think about how we have got ourselves to the point of ultimate contentedness. And just, I don’t know…bask in it for a bit?
I’m a firm believer that things don’t simply fall into place – we have to carefully, painstakingly put the building blocks down for a foundation that’s going to satisfy us, long-term. And taking credit for this at the time, is how to be happy (in part, of course).
On the flip-side, things can most definitely fall apart through no fault of our own. The past two years in my life are a prime example of that. I lost my Dad. Then I found out we were never related. People I loved let me down. I found myself living and working in spaces that made me uncomfortable. So I decided to take control of the things I could change. And instead of trying to rebuild the fractures of an old life that would never be the same, I made the decision to try new things and set about on a new quest to find out of this was how to be happy.
I left London. I networked. I pitched a lot. I took myself to countries I wanted to visit and took up invites to events and trips. I began working remotely for various journalism and marketing clients. I started to back up my aspirations of travel writing with some solid articles. And I’ve been doing just that (travelling and writing) for the past four months in Nicaragua, Mexico and Cuba.
I remember before I left a position at a magazine last year, an old boss told me that I needed to intern more if I wanted to build a career in media. This, despite the fact I’d been published in several major publications and had interned for more than a year in total. “You need to pay your dues” she said, which to me, is just the most old-school, hierarchical load of bullshit. (Although with everything going on at home, I probably wasn’t ever going to win Intern Of The Year).
So when I moved to New York from London for five months, I started out by doing what I thought I should do. I applied for unpaid positions and internships that I could do with my eyes closed and which were similar to the kinds of things I’d done back in London years ago. I thought that’s how you “made it” in a city like New York. That — and I needed a visa.
Now, I know plenty of people who have persevered with this route and found themselves in *amazing* careers further down the line. And maybe the route I’ve chosen will cost me, in terms of earnings or career progression later on. Butttt then again, maybe it won’t.
Making it work, my way
I’m incredibly impatient and independent and the recent conditions of my life have left me with a unnaturally high intolerance for bullshit. The prospect of filing and copying in another internship (albeit one in New York City) just seemed like a complete waste of my life, when I suspected that there was a way I could write about the things I actually wanted and see the world at the same time.
So after a few months in New York I left for Nicaragua. I felt like a failure at first because I didn’t get the visa I wanted. So I thought I’d just travel and write the odd piece, freelance. But the networking and contacts I’d made in New York soon came through. Then I had the ones from London, too. I was sent on a press trip to Viet Nam and started writing for lots of new sites shortly afterwards. And then travel content marketing clients started asking me to write for them (and that really pays the bills).
Although I’m still figuring out how to make things work long-term, my motivation is fuelled in part by some of my smartest peers who have recently quit the careers people “thought” they should stick at for a less conventional paths. And I’m excited to see where we all end up, because right now we’re all content with what we’re doing — and that is the first step to making your career work for you (and not the other way round), IMO. These past few years has proved to me that when thinking about how to be happy — really and truly — you’ve got to keep it simple. When you find what works for you, stay there, stick at it and to hell with everyone else’s’ opinions.
Do you agree? Have you got the balance right, do you think? Let me know