OK, maybe crisis is too dramatic a word for what is going on, but the term identity crisis evokes certain images, and of all of the ways I could find to describe how I’m feeling, that seems to be the most appropriate. It was another 4:30 am morning, I haven’t had one of those in awhile, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what woke me up in the middle of the night. And I absolutely want to say that this all feels vaguely self-indulgent. As I complete each transition task in my current job, say goodbye to another person I have worked with for a long time, or just check off another day, the process of moving closer to my new life continues to move forward. I fully understand that this transition would have happened at some point, regardless of the full-timing lifestyle. So this post isn’t really about full-timing itself. although it is the context in which I find myself dealing with this big change. The desire to downplay the change is strong, and certainly would make dealing with it somewhat easier in the short-term, but two of my good friends, Jo (a psychologist) and Cori (who has gone through this) seem determined to not let me get away with that. It comes from love of course, and I know objectively they are right, but the desire to take these feelings and shove them in a closet, for now, is pretty strong. Good friends are supposed to push you, and I have certainly pushed them in my time, but have to say being on the other end of this is not as much fun. I’m grateful for it, but I really don’t like it, because usually I am a person who faces things head on and deals with them proactively. Well, that’s not always true. I do an outstanding job of dealing with the known, but when it comes to high levels of ambiguity I have never done as well. And, wow, what my life is going to look like in a few short weeks is a whole lot of ambiguity.
And for the first time in my life I am seriously considering a third option that is different than fight or flight. Surrender is the word that keeps coming to mind. Trust there is a higher plan, surrender to knowing that what will be will be, and really allow myself the time to figure out what I want my life to look like. Here’s the thing though; I am not retiring. I’m not saying this would be any easier if I was, but I definitely am not, because we have bills to pay and we need to find a way to pay them. That being said, this whole conversation feels vaguely self-indulgent. People go through this transition every day, many having no choice in when it occurs. They have debt, mortgages, kids in school, divorces, a myriad of other factors that I don’t have to deal with. So I truly realize this could be incredibly worse and I am trying so hard not to start feeling sorry for myself. And yet regardless of the catalyst for such a change, I have to believe the core of emotions people experience are very similar. So as much as I cringe at writing about my struggle in this area, I do think it is relevant to some other people. Thus the post.
I am feeling loss. Loss of relationships, loss of financial stability, loss of being extremely competent at one thing, and loss of who I am now. The loss manifests itself in a variety of emotions, such as anger, sadness, denial, and withdrawal. The feelings are counter balanced by some feelings of interest or even excitement on what lies around the next corner, faith that I am absolutely doing the right thing, and gratitude for the support I have been receiving from friends and especially Lee. Having gone through this with Lee and his job when we first went on the road, I know enough to request space and positivity and he is giving me both of those things. The space is both physical and emotional. There are chunks of time when I don’t want to see anyone or talk to anyone and when I communicate that, he is not only not taking it personally, but also going away. I also need positive energy in order to avoid a negative cycle of self doubt. Although this is normally my role in the marriage, he’s done a very nice job of being a cheerleader for me and reinforces that everything is going to be just fine. As much as I appreciate that,I am working very hard not to rely on it. At the end of the day this is my stuff I need to deal with and I need to make it OK for myself. I can take help from others, I welcome it in fact, but ultimately I need to make peace in myself.
So what’s the big deal? Many, many people would have been absolutely thrilled to have this offer, Heck, a year ago I would have been ecstatic. What has changed? Well, I think I know a lot more about the lifestyle, and about myself. Going full-time led to some serious reflection on ourselves as individuals and as a couple. Seriously in the last year we have done more self-examination that we have done in 10 years. Although painful, the self-examination has led to some amazing changes in both of us, but I would say Lee has probably made the most significant changes; he truly walked away from everything, all at once. I had the consistency of continuing my job. When things got too scary, I could focus on work and feel like my old self. Emotionally, it was a crutch. Is that terrible? Not necessarily, I don’t know if everyone has the fortitude to flip their entire life upside down all at once. Sometimes people “hedge their bets” when becoming full timers by staying close to home, spending tons of time with family, or relying heavily on friends. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things, and who says you need to jump into the deep end of the pool anyway? It’s not that different than easing my way into boondocking. Lee would have started that immediately, but I was having none of it. We eased into it with baby steps, and by the time we had worked our way up to an entire month of boondocking I felt really good about it as an alternative way of living in the lifestyle. So easing my way in works very well for me when I am dealing with something that is intimidating, but in this case I don’t know if that will be possible.
I will have money coming in until March, so definitely there is some transition time there, but as much as I would love to “fiddle-dee-dee, tomorrow is another day” the time away, I don’t think I can really afford to do that. I need a plan. Yes me, who always has a plan, is somewhat without one. I need to start my consulting business and I need to do some significant research and work around getting all the pieces together, website, collateral, marketing plan, etc. I know I need to be prepared to accept work the day after I leave my current job, and there are a certain amount of steps that need to happen before that date. OK, I can do that. I know the skills I have to offer and the types of companies I would like to do business with. These are things I have been thinking about for several years, well before we ever started full-timing. What’s changed? Well, everything. I now know how difficult it is to work full-time and enjoy this lifestyle. People absolutely do it, but I think almost all would agree that is not optimal. Plus my work choices impact Lee’s work choices in an even bigger way. Lee’s been working around my schedule for the last year and that has caused some tension. Not because he is not willing to put my work choices first, but because he was simultaneously trying to get his businesses going. Whenever there was a conflict, my work by necessity took priority, so a big part of making this change is to provide balance to those choices.
So that’s good, right? Well, yes, conceptually, but it may take an already complicated situation and make it more complicated. Before Lee and I went on the road we did an assessment of our skill sets and looked at the various ways we could make money. As I have discussed before they fell into some major categories, work kamping, video production, Mobile Tech service, Project Management Consulting, and online teaching. In a perfect world we would like to be able to mix and match those jobs, using the skill set that works in an area we want to spend some time in. It’s a good plan, and should work, but now that I am more educated I have some concerns.
- Finding a job for both of us in the same place at the same time is going to be tougher than we originally thought. The exception of course is work kamping, but few of those jobs pay enough to cover even our low end budget. Those jobs will need to be augmented with some higher paying opportunities or side work taken during a work kamping job. Flexible hours then becomes a key feature in any work kamping job so we can have side work in our off time.
- The mobile tech services requires not only a bulk of time in an area (at least 30 days to get things rolling and support part delivery), but also the right kind of campground. State Parks with lots of weekender traffic is not the best choice because folks are going back home after the weekend and most issues can wait until during the week or at their dealer. Full Time/Part Timers are a great source of business but in the winter the greatest concentration has been in Mega parks and in the summer everyone is scattered all over. We wanted to combine work kamping with RV tech work in the winter but there is more competition for the jobs and some (not all) park owners are nervous about the service work. We could stay on our own dime and build up a clientele, and indeed we need to try that, but then would need to make a significant amount to cover our campsite, which tends to be premium priced that time of year.
- Video production has a lot of promise, as well as the benefit of Lee being able to edit during his off hours of anything else we might be doing. This is a business in its infancy though, and building a client base will take some time, plus in order to shoot the video we need to physically be located in an area for a period of time. Combining the video work with work kamping would be optimal, but it is not clear yet how much of a market there will be for campground videos. The other alternative would be where a place to stay is included in the deal and I will not work during that time, or maybe do something part-time.
- Teaching project management online is something I have always been interested in but am a little hesitant because you absolutely have to have access to internet. Part of the benefit of not having a full time job anymore is we aren’t held hostage by the need for internet all the time. Don’t get me wrong, I love internet but there is a difference between wanting it and needing it. The good news is, the sessions are generally 8 weeks, the bad news is they don’t pay great and are tough to get. Still, it’s definitely something I am looking into.
- Finally, my consulting. I know I could get contract work immediately, the largest problem is the contracts are generally on the longer side and we wouldn’t want to stay in an area that long. Also, they are almost always near big cities and for large companies. I would really like to market my skills to smaller companies in smaller towns, but in order to get the word out and bring in some clients we will need to stay in a place for awhile, and I could put out a ton of feelers and not really get any work. Contract work is a sure thing, plus you are backed up by another company in case there are any issues. Also, I really need to be careful that I don’t get into the habit of taking one job after another, because seriously, what is the point? That would just be trading one high stress career for another, and I really am trying to slow down.
Hence the identity crisis. The only way to really make this work for us is to explore all of these options, separately and in combinations. Over time I am sure we will find out what works and what doesn’t and I am very aware of how lucky I am to have so many options. Where I am struggling is what it will look like wearing all those different hats. I in no way feel certain jobs are beneath me, but as a person who pumped gas and waited tables in her youth, I do understand that the personality requirements for these roles may be very different. Sometimes people just want you to do your work and keep your mouth shut. As a person who has spent the last 13 years designing how people do work this might be a little tough. Oddly, Lee seems to be making the transition somewhat easily. He has let go of feeling responsible for every detail he sees, and as such is able to just follow direction. He has found other outlets for his creativity and intellect and maybe I will as well. All I know for sure is the me a year from now is going to be different than the me right now. Not a doubt in my mind. I could stay the same if it was all about me and what I wanted, but that’s not what this life is about…heck marriages shouldn’t be abut that, but many work that way. We spent many years with a “divide and conquer” mentality, but that is over now. We will figure this out together, but I have no illusions it will be easy.
And that is where the surrender comes in. Sometimes in life you simply don’t have enough information to make a solid plan. Traditionally I do not handle these situations well, and thankfully they have been few and far between in our marriage. The absolute worst one to date was my first childbirth. You can do all the research you want, but there is zero way to prepare for what that experience is actually like. And instead of surrendering to it, I fought it tooth and nail which made the entire situation much worse. The end result was of course fine, and one of the most magical moments of my life, but getting there was brutal. I’m older now and hopefully wiser, and realize that to some extent what will happen will happen. I do believe in a higher plan which helps some, but it’s still a day-to-day struggle to just relax, breathe, and believe it will all be alright. I’m working on it though.
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