I don’t want to speak for anyone else here, but when I look back on the last three years of full timing, there have been distinct phases to this lifestyle for us. We may be different from many people in that respect who have a hard line between their old life and their new life and just jump right in, but for me it definitely has been an evolutionary journey. And since I like to look forward to a new year with a goal in mind, I thought I would take a moment and try to recap the journey so far. I have written extensively about this in various posts throughout the year, but it never hurts to summarize things a bit, plus I have all kinds of free time right now since I am
working sitting around doing nothing all night gate guarding.
It is worth noting that I believe Lee has undergone a progression as well, but because our circumstances and personalities are different it is not the same as mine. I hope he decides to jump in here and share a little (I may actually learn something) but he gets to decide how much he wants to share. So this is my distinct journey and before I start I do think it’s worth saying that I seem to be a little unusual in this respect. Most of the people we meet have been older and closer to retirement and they seem a bit perplexed by why I don’t just settle in. My common response is I am only 50 (well actually 51 now but you know what I mean) and I have at least 15 years left before full retirement. So to me it’s very much a journey of personal growth and for me the only way to achieve that is through some reflection.
Looking back, the first year was all about Overcoming Fear. I was so out of my comfort zone that issues that seem relatively small now caused a significant emotional impact. More than anything else Lee and I learning how to live together in a small space was challenging. Add to that moving frequently, the basic mechanics of camping (we were relatively inexperienced), staying with friends for weeks at a time, and figuring out how to maintain my professional career as we traveled, and it was a lot. Consequently the first 6 months were a whirlwind of new experiences and at times I felt assaulted by all the new. Don’t get me wrong, there were some amazing moments in there, but it definitely took me that long to “settle in” and thank heavens I wrote this blog, because when I look back on that time it is all a bit of a blur.
I characterized that first year as having more personal change than I had ever experienced in my life, except for when I became a first time parent, and I still think that is absolutely true. Some people thrive on change and enjoy the rush, but that’s rarely been me, and instead I often felt like I was flailing wildly in the deep end of the pool. Finally things did settle down and I really started to feel the constraints of working a full time job within the lifestyle. Lee left his job before we went on the road and since he settled into the lifestyle so quickly I thought the job might be the reason I was struggling so much. As my friend Linda put it, I had a foot in both worlds, and I found myself having a hard time emotionally committing myself to the life. To be 100% clear I know several people who have kept their jobs and acclimated just fine to the full-time lifestyle but for me it was a crutch, and was actually holding me back.
This became very clear when we spent some time in Glacier National Park with friends and I took 10 full days off, away from the stress and requirements of my job. For the first time in years I was completely disconnected from my old life and the combination of good friends and gorgeous surroundings finally flipped a switch in me. And to prove God has a plan, the day we left that park I received an email with an offer for a professional buyout. There was no pressure behind the offer, I simply had enough years of service to receive it, but to me it seemed like a sign. So after some thought I took the offer and within 6 weeks I was unemployed for the first time in my adult life.
It’s worth saying here that for anyone that is a ton of change in one year. Let’s recap: Youngest daughter left the home (empty nest), sold our home, moved into an RV, and quit my job. In all fairness most people (like Lee) experience all of that change all at one time, but I spread it out over that first year. It might have been easier to do it all at once, I can’t really say, but I personally wouldn’t change anything because although it may have lengthened the transition time for me, it also allowed me to some extent to deal with each change as a separate thing, which I think was good for me in the long run.
The second year was all about dealing with no longer being a professional, and Alaska. The first was a very difficult transition for me. My identity was very much wrapped up in what I did for a living and I truly mourned that loss. Unlike people who go through this change in retirement, I knew I had many working years left so I needed to figure out what that looked like for me. Alaska though was a great distraction. Our trip to Alaska wasn’t just checking a box on a bucket list, it became a symbol of the new freedom we were experiencing in our life. I never could have spent an entire summer there working my old job, and the experience of living there for several months really gave us an idea of what our future life could be.
None of this was a surprise for Lee, he had a clear vision of what he wanted his life to be like, but I truly lacked the imagination to understand the possibilities. The sheer size and beauty of Alaska was beyond anything I had ever experienced, but the summer also included the realities of making money in a “low level” position. Again, except for parenting, I don’t think I have ever experienced so many extreme highs and lows in such a short time period, but on balance we felt very lucky to be able to have the experience.
One thing I firmly realized that summer was our life was not going to be like many other full timers that we knew. The phrase “that is not our reality” became a common one for me, as we watched (with some envy) many people who didn’t have to work spend the summer exploring. I think at that point Lee was still hanging on to the idea that we could “work a little, play a little” to maintain the lifestyle, but I knew from the numbers that it was more likely we would “work a bunch, play not so much”. We had some conflict about that concept in Year 2, which was heightened by taking on two difficult jobs at the end of the year when we worked the sugar beet harvest and Christmas trees. By the end of the year I was rethinking everything, but Lee was dug in on the idea that our financial situation was due to the special circumstances of Alaska, and things would level out and look more like other people we knew.
Thankfully year three started out with gate guarding, which was a much better fit for both of us, and I made a mental commitment to try one year working Lee’s way. My only caveat was that I wanted to make sure we tried all the different major types of work, so I scheduled us for Amazon at the end of the year well in advance. I gave quite a bit of thought to finding a consulting job, and even spent a significant amount of time looking for a position, but the timing never quite worked out and we ended up spending the entire year supporting ourselves solely with work kamping revenue. Overall I felt that was a very good thing, and proved to me once and for all that the lifestyle was actually financially viable. We both agreed that we didn’t have the money to deficit spend year after year, and year three was all about seeing what it actually looked like to earn as we went.
Ironically, I am pretty contrary that way, once I decided to just “go with it” in year three, things became much easier for me. I largely stopped twisting myself in knots, well at least as much as I am capable of, and just went with it. I was more surprised than anyone when it turned out we largely broke even. Yes, we chose to spend money on some extra things, but as far as day to day living, we did pretty well. Lee, on the other hand, I believe had a larger transition. He realized that his work a little play a little life probably wasn’t going to happen and instead focused on finding ways to earn money that were the most palatable.
It also became crystal clear that we were very different when it comes to what matters in living this life. Lee is one of those people that flipped the mental switch when he left his career, and as long as our bosses don’t micromanage him, he is generally fine with pretty much any kind of work. I, on the other hand, really solidified the fact that I need a work purpose. I discovered I don’t need to make a ton of money, but I do want to feel like the work I do has some sort of meaning. Working for two large companies in year three, albeit in the lowest level positions, had a big impact on me, and helped me come to terms with what I wanted long term, and really start to explore how to make that happen.
More than any year prior it was about revenue and budgets, but what was interesting was even though we made less than we have made since we were “kids”, we actually felt more successful. And I finally felt comfortable. By the end of the year I was owning who I was, and what I wanted, in a way that had been missing since we went on the road. Since I didn’t have a clear vision of what this life looked like when I started, I fell victim to taking other people’s experiences and superimposing them on my own life. Not surprisingly my life often fell short using that criteria, and it took until year three for me to truly define my goals based on my unique reality. Letting go of the fantasy was a major breakthrough for both of us and the Amazon experience went a long way for both of us towards finally making that happen.
So knowing all that, what does year 4 look like? First and foremost we finally have a travel plan that involves jobs and a “route” that hopefully will work for both of us. I stretched myself and applied for a position where I can use more of my professional skills and feel very hopeful about what that looks like long-term. We also are being completely realistic about what free time we will have, and this year is all about using part of that time to explore Utah between gigs. In the past three years I judged my life based on how many firsts we experienced, and the beautiful pictures I took, but I have made my peace with the fact that the quality of our life is based on more than those two factors. For those of you who jumped right in and got there quickly, you are probably nodding your head, smiling, and wondering what took me so long, and that’s completely fair. I will say that if I had to go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t choose to do it any differently.
For me it is definitely about the journey and not the destination, and one of the beautiful things about this lifestyle is we all travel differently. Some of us take a little longer, but that’s totally OK, because we see extra things along the way. And along those lines, my feelings about this blog definitely need to change in year four. Over the last couple of years to some extent this blog has written me rather than the other way around. Sometimes that is a good thing, because it forces me to get off the couch and go out and experience things, but overall I think it hasn’t been healthy to feel compelled to have experiences so I can have something to write about.
Interestingly, Lee went from finding the blog a bit of a nuisance to being concerned about what will become of it when I talk about my feelings regarding what and when I write going forward. He likes providing regular content and has promised to write more to help to help with the workload going forward. I know you guys are probably excited about that, and I feel less pressure. It’s a win-win. Speaking of that, I did use the term workload on purpose. When people ask how I manage to post so much, I always say I have treated it like a job, but as much as the blog has helped me over the last few years, sometimes that additional pressure hasn’t been good for me.
Talking about my feelings and the positive impact that has on people matters very much to me, and whenever someone reaches out and tells me I made a difference it truly makes it worth it. But it is important to note that I am not making my living from this blog, and I need to get back to writing about what I want to talk about, rather than writing about what I feel I “owe” the readers. Especially when I feel like I owe it on a schedule. I think this has become especially clear to me over the last couple of months as I have experienced several negative comments. I’ve been pretty lucky in that this blog feels like a conversation, and I truly enjoy hearing from people, even when they are thoughtfully critical. But I have zero interest in trolls. Simply put, I’m not being paid to take a bunch of shit from people, and since this blog isn’t paying my bills, I don’t have to.
Actually, I am trying to let go of feeling like I “owe” people in a larger context, and this blog is a good place to start. I would like year four to be about living a life that makes me personally happy and fulfilled, and I really want to focus on that. In the past, I have spent an awful lot of time and energy worrying about other people’s well being instead of focusing on myself. It’s a difficult balance, because I do believe that a good person puts others in front of themselves, but I also realize that ultimately I only have one life to live and I should definitely make the most of it. Hopefully I can maintain a balance this year by letting go of unproductive emotions and focusing on the positive ones. That’s a tall order, I know, but definitely worth spending a year on. How that looks from a blog perspective I have no idea. I guess we will all find out together.
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