Over the past several weeks I have given the impression to many readers that this is the perfect job for me. It isn’t, and knowing there was a misconception has weighed heavily on me as I have tried to figure out how to write about how I have been feeling, without being disrespectful to my employer. I’ve never felt it was appropriate to write on social media about problems with a job, and since in this case that job is also tied up with completely personal feelings about my life changes it’s even more difficult to sort it all out. Since I have been here a month, I am going to give this a try though, for two main reasons. First, I have always written this blog with the goal of providing information. I write the blog I wish I could have read. Second, I use it as a form of self therapy. When I am struggling I share what I am feeling, because the process of writing it down helps me to clarify where I am emotionally, and when I am lucky it helps me figure out what to do about it. I have always been somewhat cautious about writing about work aspects, trying to stay on the positive side, and hoping folks could read between the lines on the more negative aspects. Striking that balance was easier to some extent when I had a corporate job on the road because that was a huge and largely faceless corporation. It is much more difficult in these circumstances. All that being said I have come to the point where I feel I need to give this a try. Partly because of comments I have received about previous posts and partly out of concern that the beautiful pictures from our days off will completely skew the readers perspective on this experience.
First of all, it’s a perfectly nice campground and Alaska in general is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. I have limited experience working in a campground, but I think the environment here is typical of what we will find in campgrounds in general (with the notable exception being we don’t have any seasonal campers here which I have seen does change things). Most campgrounds are small businesses. They have limited funds, are designed to maximize profit in a relatively short period of time, and use the work kamper force to fill a temporary labor need. The work is generally divided into male/female roles, with the man doing maintenance work and the woman doing office work and/or cleaning. For Lee this has been great. He is given a list of projects, and allowed a large amount of freedom throughout the day to complete those tasks. Once he proved to them that he knew what he was doing, they have largely left him alone and have been very generous in their praise for what he has accomplished. It’s well deserved as he really has a terrific skill set for this type of work, and largely it is a good fit for his personality, although I should mention that if you are a guy and not mechanically inclined by nature this could definitely be a struggle. My job, on the other hand, is helping guests, administrative tasks, and baking for the three “free dessert nights” each week. After the initial training and reorganizing this involves a significant amount of downtime. I really enjoy helping the guests, and since they tend to come in batches throughout the day those busy moments come the closest to how I used to feel in my previous professional position. The downtime however has been more difficult. I have tried to fill this time with small maintenance tasks outside that are located near the office, but to do anything more complicated requires someone else watch the office which negates my primary function. The office tasks can easily be done by either of the owners (not all maintenance tasks could be), so the value I provide is primarily relieving them of the need to do it themselves. Lee on the other hand routinely saves them money by performing tasks that they would need to hire an expensive outside professional to perform. So in a nutshell I am performing a task of low value with lots of downtime. Historically not a great combination for me.
I have never been a person who just punched a clock. Whether I was pumping gas when I was 18, or running multi-million dollar projects in my 40’s, I rarely phoned it in. Don’t get me wrong, I’m human and certainly had my slacker days, but I can honestly say almost every day of my life I have felt that I have given more than I received in a work environment and I liked it that way. Add to that I was mostly lucky enough to work jobs that I felt passionate about, and my jobs ended up being a huge part of my feelings of accomplishment in life. Between working, raising three kids, and completing my education, I always had plenty of activities that both kept me busy and made me feel good about myself. Looking back on that period, I feel almost exhausted by the pace of it all, but as exhausting as it often was I rarely felt adrift. As a massive overachiever I put myself in positions where I knew my value and felt confident in what I was contributing, both personally and professionally. It’s as if I was working from an invisible “success” checklist and I was checking all the boxes. Occasionally during a brief “down” period I might start to feel restless, and then I would amp up my workload in one of the three pillars of my life. Take extra classes, volunteer for an assignment at work, or get more involved in my kids’ lives (which I am sure in retrospect they were thrilled about) and I would feel like I was back in the “win” column. This also had the dual benefit of reducing the amount of time I had for self- reflection (which I have no doubt was subconsciously intentional) and my personal equilibrium such as it was would be restored.
What’s truly interesting to me is how when I wasn’t working at all how this was largely a non-issue. I was very close to being content and we filled our time with lots of travel, friends, and personal hobbies to the point where those things in a way became my job. I loved blogging more frequently and the experiences that fed into the content were very precious to me. Plus the travel pace we set for ourselves certainly kept me very distracted. Now, with lots of time in one place, and lots of time to think, I am evaluating what I am doing with my life. Lee says that is a pretty dramatic way to put it, and maybe it is, but that is the question that pops into my mind at least once a day. The mental tone of that question varies depending on my feelings in the moment (sometimes derogatory, sometimes merely quizzical), but the core of it remains the same and it needs to be answered.
I do have this vague list of things that I wanted to get to someday; write a book, travel, learn to do something artistic, and in the past that list was mostly placed on hold to deal with the more immediate needs. But now there is no immediate need, and the only thing standing in the way is my fear. It’s ironic that here I am with more time (and to some extent resources) than I have had in my entire adult life, and I am struggling. All that choice is somewhat scary, and actually trying things opens yourself up to the possibility of failing at them. For all of my hard work, to be honest I never was what I could consider a brave and adventurous person. Diving into something I knew little about was always extremely intimidating and somewhat painful. There were some moments of bravery of course, but these were almost always attached to a necessary step in my career path, marriage, or parenthood. Even this lifestyle, which is arguably one of the bravest things I have ever done, was directly related in my mind to my maintaining my marriage. I could look ahead and see what our marriage might look like long-term if we didn’t make a major change, and this lifestyle seemed like a good next step. I have said many times, and absolutely know it to be true, that left to my own devices I would never have had the courage or frankly the imagination to do something like this. But Lee did, the timing worked out well, and here we are.
The last couple of years has been a flurry of activity. Keeping my existing job and then leaving that job, adjusting to and learning how to live in this life, and dealing with both “empty nest” and learning how to manage family relationships from afar has kept me pretty busy. Add to that some wonderful new friendships and at times what felt like an unrelenting pace, and there wasn’t much time to sit back and really think about what I was doing. Well, that’s not exactly fair, I spent tons of time reflecting, you’ve all been privy to some of those thoughts through posts and my friends have been privy to so much more, but the reflecting was largely about dealing with the moment or near future. Overall, I know the last two years have been very good for me in so many ways. I have grown as a person, expanded my awareness of the world around me, and had experiences I could never have dreamed of. All of that made answering the question “What am I doing with my life?” pretty easy. It was self evident.
Now things are different. For the summer at least, we have settled in and settled down, except those feelings of being settled are mainly making me feel unsettled. I’ve always been contrary like that. The job is largely fine, but certainly not enough for me to completely throw myself into. At least one day off a week is pretty amazing, and the fact that we managed to make it to Alaska at all is still pretty amazing, although the realities of limited services, small town living, and being held to one place do mitigate that some. And of course there is just day-to day living; cooking, cleaning, sleeping, shopping, all take some time. This is where it gets interesting. I recognize that many, many people would be perfectly content, maybe even most people. Life is just life, and those rare and small moments of absolute wonder are more than they need to feel content. That has just never been who I am, and apparently the full time lifestyle has not really changed that.
I thought maybe at first that I was out of practice on how to relax. Then I thought I needed constant activity, sort of like a junky needs their next fix, and over time that would change. Maybe both of those things were true to a certain extent, but I have definitely learned how to just “be” in the last two years. Not that I don’t still stray into the melodramatic and high strung areas on occasion, I haven’t changed that much, but I truly do know how to just exist, and I have made huge strides in learning to live in the moment. And having experienced those things I can truly say, at least for right now, that it isn’t enough for me. I’ve met plenty of people who it is more than enough for, to the point where I thought maybe I wasn’t doing it right, but after a ton of thought that’s just not who I am and never has been. That may change as I get older or do this longer, but for right now I really need to own where I am and who I am. Actually, what has made me feel OK about that is my relationship with the Xscapers group. They are a group of RVrs who are largely Gen X and Millennials and their approach to this lifestyle is very different than those who are retired. Almost all of them know they have to generate revenue of some sort, and most are finding a way to do that on their terms. I admire that. I don’t always get it, to be honest, but I admire it. But I definitely feel that that is where I ultimately need to end up, if I am capable of it.
As a person who is on the very top of the Gen X age range it is easy to look at the younger generation and think “Wait until life teaches them different.” I know I have certainly been guilty of that. But the more I experience this lifestyle, the more I think they have some things right. They seem to take more risks, and in general accept failure as a natural consequence of doing so. Money isn’t the main driving factor, something I share in philosophy, but they also don’t seem to allow fear of not having money drive the bulk of their choices. This is an area I have been sorely lacking in, although I am coming to this mindset later in life. Plus, there is just this quirky, fun outlook that I really appreciate. Nowhere is this more evident than a Facebook group I am involved in called RV Interiors. The page is largely a group of younger people who have bought old, old rigs and are gutting them, and recreating them in their own image. The before and after pictures are striking, and what’s even more impressive to me is that many people are living in these rigs. They decided what they wanted, worked within their financial means, and created something really beautiful and unique. They didn’t seem to spend tons of time creating the perfect circumstance to pursue their dreams, they just jumped in and figured it out. There is a lot for me to learn in that.
So to get back to the original point, “What am I doing with my life?”, well I know it needs to be something more. I need to work at something that has intrinsic value to me, and if I am lucky that thing will also generate some revenue. To achieve that I have to take risks, and most importantly, I have to learn to accept failure with grace.
Choose a thing, be prepared to fail, and try another, and hopefully along the way discover my passion. At almost 50 I would say its about time.
To end on a positive note, I have been waiting a month to receive some sort of customer review for our work here, and here is the first one we have seen, on Trip Advisor. Definitely worth the wait, and I was glad to see that despite my personal turmoil we are getting it done and having a positive impact on the guest experience.
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