Marrying my best friend on the island of St. John
Part of the trouble with "starting over" is that your loved ones are forced to adapt to your needs and changes. It can feel awfully selfish, and in some ways, it is. But there's good selfish, and there's bad selfish and, sometimes, there's a real struggle with which is which. Frankly, more of us need to be selfish...the good kind of selfish. The pursuit of personal happiness should never be looked at as a bad pursuit.
My husband did not marry a wilderness guide. He didn't marry a wannabe entrepreneurial self-starter. Nor did he marry a freelance writer or someone who cobbles together a career out of a hodgepodge of jobs and passions. He didn't sign up for...this.
If you follow my blog, I previously discussed marrying a man I met when I first moved to California in 2001. Like many young loves, that marriage ended. I met Brian in 2010 and he was the answer to the question: who am I supposed to spend the rest of my life with? Throughout our courtship, I never imagined I would be in the place I am now. But here I am. Here we are. Maybe I should have foreseen this, but I didn't.
I've been struggling with the question of "what do I want to be when I grow up" for a long time now, and the answer to this question matters a lot to me. About a year-and-a-half ago, the intensity of my struggle increased 10-fold. I had discovered backpacking, my business was closing and I was coming to terms with the notion that a regular desk job wasn't going to work for me.
Brian was very supportive at that time. I had the idea to start a backpacking blog and I knew that a few, fortunate souls made really good money blogging. I thought maybe I could blog and start a freelance writing career, and Brian loved that idea.
But starting a writing career of any kind is daunting. It's tough to make it in that world and I had a lot of self doubt. Plus, after making no money for 3 years running my dog training business, I was craving a real, steady pay check. And so I gave up on my writing career before it even started and back to a 9-5 job I went.
I was miserable almost immediately. I blamed it on my commute, and I blamed it on the ineptitude of the startup I was working for. But it was more than that - I just wasn't happy. I gained weight. I was eating (cheese) to feel good. I started feeling depression inching its way in - an unfamiliar feeling for me!
Then, I thought I found the answer. Last fall, I decided I wanted to hike the entire Pacific Crest Trail. But how could I convince Brian that this was a good thing? How could I leave my 10-year-old stepson, Atticus, for almost 6 months?
I came up with a damn good plan: I created the framework for a school program that would allow Atticus' fourth grade class to follow along on my attempt, from planning and training through to my actual time on the trail. I would visit the class once a month before I set out, showing them gear and talking to them about what I was doing and why. From the trail, I would send weekly short videos where I answered their pre-submitted questions from the week prior and then discussed one topic or another for a few minutes (what kid doesn't like hearing about peeing and pooping in the woods!).
In this way, Atticus could be involved in my journey AND he would feel a sense of pride as his schoolmates followed along. Plus, I really wanted children everywhere to follow their passions, not a pre-determined trajectory. I wanted this to be an early source of inspiration.
And, I thought, maybe this would help get buy-in from Brian. It didn't work.
He could not understand why I would want to spend 6 months away from him and Atticus. He felt like I was being selfish. He thought it would be too hard on Atticus. He worried about the financial cost. He didn't want to be away from my side for that long.
And so we fought. We fought quite a few times. I wrote him desperate letters outlining my reasons and how we could make it work. I tried to get him to embrace it. I would email him these letters, and then we would fight some more.
An excerpt of one of the letters I wrote to Brian at that time.
There were more than a few times I fantasized about leaving him and doing the PCT anyway. But he is my best friend, my partner and my lover, and I simply do not want to live life without him or Atticus. He wouldn't give in, and so, reluctantly, I did.
I never could understand any of Brian's reasons for not wanting me to go, but I could understand his feelings. I put my PCT trip on the back burner, to be looked at again in retirement (bummer!). I think I made the PCT a symbol for all of my discontent and struggles, and so when I put it on the back burner, I tried to put EVERYTHING I was struggling with on the back burner with it.
And so I continued on, trying not to be miserable, struggling to find a reason to go to work in the morning, and only finding one: the paycheck. We were finally making good money; more than we needed. And that felt so good. We bought a house. I got a new mountain bike after having mine stolen four years earlier. I bought new furniture and decorated my new house just the way I wanted it. I sunk my heart into painting the rooms the colors I wanted and finding deals on knick-knacks and artwork. I thought about the trips I could afford to take now and the outdoorsy toys I wanted to buy. The money would solve everything and the weekends would be my salvation.
Finding temporary happiness after finally getting a new bike.
But weekends are short and the work week is long. Nothing in me changed. I had put my wants and needs on that backburner, but they didn't really go away. I was still struggling to feel any sense of passion about my work. I was struggling to get up each morning. I found myself fantasizing about anything and everything under the sun that didn't involve me sitting behind a desk. I was scheming and day dreaming and trying to figure out how to balance my needs with that of my family.
I used Google Earth as a form of escapism. One day, during my lunch break, I pulled up the John Muir Trail on Google Earth and zoomed in on it as tightly as I could. I followed it, via satellite, from the trailhead in Yosemite Valley all the way to the top of Mt. Whitney. I found the places I had camped at night and the lakes I swam in. And I dreamed and schemed and plotted and planned all sorts of fantasy careers for myself. And the more I dreamt, the worse I felt about my situation. We are animals; feeling trapped is terrible.
Then, a few months ago, I found some accidental inspiration. My cousin-by-marriage is a sports blogger. She's also a lawyer by day. Her blog is very popular and she told me that writing one post per week had netted her $43,000 in 2016. That's a significant amount of cash to make writing just one blog post per week! It fired up in me a new desire to start blogging again. And so I dusted off my original blog, Beginning Backpacker, and started posting regularly.
Like a domino effect, things started happening within me. Writing the blog brought me great joy and a feeling of purpose. I resurrected the idea of being a wilderness guide, but framed it in my own mind as a part time job that wouldn't take me away from home 24/7/365. Then I added in the idea of coaching as a way to make decent money doing something I would enjoy while having my feet still firmly planted in my home, with my family. I came up with the idea for this blog. I started a backpacking Meetup group for like-minded women. A fire was raging within me, and there was no stopping it this time.
This is my happy place.
I sat my husband down one Friday evening not so long ago. We both were feeling that end-of-the-week bliss. We cracked open some beers and sat outside in the spring weather. We didn't have Atticus that night and got to talking. As we sat in the fading light, I told him: something had to change for me. I was worried about slipping into depression and resenting him if nothing changed, but I was also worried about losing him if I pushed onward without his support. I knew, truly knew, I would not find that sense of self-worth, purpose and joy I was craving (needing), unless we came to a place of understanding. Couldn't we find a way?
I showed him a letter I had written to Outdoor Project. In one of my moments of desperation (there had been many), I had sent them a letter along with my resume, practically begging for a job doing something, anything, in their awesome organization. It was a well-written letter; written spontaneously and with a passion you could practically taste. It was well-received by one of the founders of Outdoor Project. He was impressed and touched by my enthusiasm and, although they weren't hiring, he gave me some tips for breaking into the industry and genuinely wished me luck.
Snippet of desperate letter I wrote to Outdoor Project
Brian read the letter and I saw tears in his eyes. Although he wouldn't really talk about what was going on in his mind, I think I know. I think it sort of hit him at that moment: this is who I am, this is what I need, and it's not going away. I think he could sense all my frustrations in a different way than he had before. I think it sunk in just how desperate and miserable I've been. And I think he decided to stop fighting me quite so forcibly. He opened his heart and mind to my ideas.
And so we talked. We schemed. We planned. We worked though some of his fears about me being a guide, even if only part time. He became my partner instead of my roadblock. Something changed that night. Something clicked. And now my best friend is (mostly) standing with me, instead of pushing against me.
We still have a ways to go, but now he is my sounding board for new ideas, even ones whereby I own my own guiding company. He edits this blog as well as Beginning Backpacker. He is encouraging me to take backpacking trips whenever time allows. He is even coming with me on his first backpacking trip at the end of this month, with another one planned for July!
And now that he and I are aligned, the world is my oyster. I'm not going to go hike the PCT (yet), but I am going to follow my dreams and allow myself to find a workable path to self-fulfillment.