One of the emails I get most often from readers who read this blog is A.) How to know if you’re doing the right thing in life (when paying down debt, going back to school, saving up for a wedding because B.) It’s been a long hard road, and even though you may be doing the best you can month after month, you feel stuck and aren’t sure if you’re in a rut or if you’re actually going to make a dent.
When I started this blog four years ago, it began out of necessity- first, I needed to make sense of a graduate student budget and try and live through my commitment to be as debt free as possible in a very pricey city. Secondly, when I realized that the blog could get me free stuff, and possibly help me earn side hustle money- I knew I had to give it all I had to make it work.
At the time, living was tough. I didn’t seem to have any of the things that other bloggers had- mainly, disposable income (or at least a willingness to put their shopping trips on a credit card, which I would not do) in which to afford a fancy camera, or a pretty apartment in which to take those gorgeous Instagrams of. It was exceptionally tough to be a lifestyle blogger who didn’t have a life. I had to work all the time (a part time job, plus the blog and attend a full load of classes), and a $12 martini seemed to be a luxury I could rarely give myself.
At the time, I dreamed of having a place of my own. I dreamed of having a beautiful life that was nice enough to take pictures of. There was nothing glamorous about the long trips on the EL train with drunk people hustling for change, or nothing sexy about eating rice and beans for dinner when other folks were going out. It was hard work, and often, I wondered what I was toiling for. It seemed everyone else had already arrived, and I apparently missed the boat to the land of glam.
Fast forward to four years later, I’m further than I ever thought possible. I have a career and my blog becomes more and more what I dreamed it would be- both pretty and (hopefully) useful. I look back on those early days, and I relish in how far I’ve come…but honestly, it’s not over. I still fret over whether I’m doing the right things. Years ago, I was a couch potato who accepted a poor body image that I felt was unfixable. I now commit to eating fresh foods and working out at least 3 days a week for only 30 minutes. I’m a work in progress, but the person I am, and how I see those goals, has changed so much.
Financially, I’m still far from where I’d like to be- but those years I was working hard, terrified that I’d somehow missed out, or that the whole wide world was more successful than me, has forged who I am. I luckily have the perspective now, that most people that seem to have it all, usually don’t. Some of the most successful women I know who run their own businesses, make about $5-10k a month with their online empires- they are wildly successful, but you wouldn’t know it by their Instagram feeds. They may make $100k a year, but their life is filled with photos of their family, simple moments in the garden, small milestones, and little celebrations- not designer purses and decked out houses.
At times, what you’re doing will be terrifying. You’ll be working each month- chipping away at a goal or at least, chipping away at the person you don’t want to be anymore, to create something new. You’ll be putting a meager $50 extra towards your debt, and it will feel like a mountain lies ahead of you. You’ll blog in obscurity, wondering if you’ll ever be able to be successful to get noticed or make some money (or get cool invites). You’ll huff through your first mile and wonder how you’ll ever be able to run that stupid half marathon you signed up for, barely able to breathe.
This isn’t a post to tell you I’ve arrived. I haven’t. But if you’re feeling stuck, like I sometimes do- keep going. Feeling stuck usually means you’re doing the same things, the right things, over and over again, and it feels like it hasn’t paid off- and maybe it hasn’t…maybe you’re not debt free yet, or you still haven’t been able to finish that half marathon. Perhaps your job or your blog isn’t at the level of success you think would grant you eternal bliss if you’d just hit that certain, elusive level.
If you’re going through a dip, keep going. Too many of us quit and give up before we cross that finish line- we’re looking down, plodding along, doing everything right within our power that we can do, and we don’t see how close the goal line is…or perhaps there isn’t a goal line (as with health related goals, are you ever truly finished?) but you need to take a minute to look around you and see where you’ve come from.
Stop comparing your raw footage, your daily grind, to everyone else’s highlight reel. Look at where you started, this is your journey, and you have come pretty darn far.
I’m here to give you permission, to enjoy your messy, undone life. I’m here to give you permission to stop looking at everyone else’s Instagram feeds and counting their likes. I’m here to say that sometimes, you will have to look down at the dirt and trudge along, seeing nothing but your worn out sneakers, until much later- you look up and realize you’ve made it to your destination and it is glorious. Focus on your own swim lane.
I hope that my blog never appears to grow away from it’s frugal, hard earned roots. There was a time I was making $800 a month and trying to live in the city and it sucked really, really hard. I thank God frequently, that this is no longer the case. I worked for two years, never sure if my work would pay off, and it was sometimes debilitatingly scary at times. The fear you’re doing the wrong thing, not doing enough of it, or focusing on the wrong things as you work to make progress can be agonizing. You toil in uncertainty- but keep going. There won’t be answers until the work is done, so let the knowledge that nobody- not a single person knows the outcome of your efforts free you, not hold you back.
There is one thing that always helped me get through a rough patch- a good book. Back when I was broke, I honestly couldn’t justify even buying a $4 book from Amazon if I couldn’t get it for free at the library. I still can remember the elation when a book became available for pickup at my local branch, and I would go for a walk to clear my head and go get something to inspire me. I have read so, so many good books- and I continue today, it keeps me learning, it keeps me inspired.
If you’re going through hell- keep going and seek some council with a good book and a long walk. Every day, if you’re doing the best you can, whatever that is for you, the goal will be yours. Keep going.
(All of these I got at the library initially and now own to reference when I’m stuck…LOVE these!)
The Dip by Seth Godin
Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Fire Starter Sessions by Danielle LaPorte
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Uncertainty: Turning Fear & Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance by Jonathan Fields