6 Things I’ve Learned About “Living Off My Lifestyle”

“How do you make a living out of your adventures?”

This was a recent question I got from Marissa over on The Campsite during the latest Stoke the Fire, a post in which I ask readers to share what’s on their minds about any and every topic to do with outdoor adventure. “How do you pay your bills? Is it selling articles to publications? On your blog? With videos?” she asked.

Working in Boghara, Nepal. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

I let out a deep sigh of “if only you knew!” when I first read these questions. We all have people we admire or perhaps even envy in life. From the outside their arrangement seems so perfect. They seem to have found “the way,” the ideal equilibrium in which their playtime becomes a source of income and they have endless amounts of time to pursue adventure.

But I think that’s an illusion, at least partly. And it definitely doesn’t describe my personal arrangement.

To answer Marissa’s question, I make a living out of my adventures by working extremely long hours; being self-employed; learning to cope with an unknown future; networking the heck out of social media; choosing projects that will develop me professionally, even if they aren’t for pay right away (like Mountains in Motion and The Adventures in Parenthood Project); and learning how to be rejected over and over again.

On the plus side, the rewards are well worth it: I get to write about topics that inspire me, get invited to cover stories or events that are outdoor or adventure-related, seek opportunities less and less and instead wait for them to come to me (which they often do!), meet and interview amazing people, and control my own schedule so that I can make time to pursue my outdoor passions.

Without divulging all my secrets of how I pay my bills, I’ll offer up a few things I’ve learned along the way. Keep in mind that our career paths are ever-evolving. These lessons are based on my experience in the here and now.

6 Things I’ve Learned About “Living Off My Lifestyle”

1. The process is never completely linear for me. I based my niche as a writer on what I love to do, but sometimes it will be years before a trip I take turns into content for a story or lands in a brochure. For example, an article I recently wrote about Nepal was something I pitched in November 2010, submitted March 2012 and won’t see published until at least this July. Also, the many years of hiking and exploring Banff National Park have enabled me to write and suggest content for my local clients, particularly for the marketing materials I produce for the park. It could be four years between the time I meander my way down a trail and a description of that trail ends up in a hiking brochure for Banff or Lake Louise.

2. Many writers have their passion projects and ones that they do for pay. After learning the hard way, I now choose projects that I will enjoy and that align with my own values. If I do something only for pay, I end of compromising majorly on my happiness and lose motivation. Words come more easily when I’m not trying to fake them.

3. Ask and you may receive. If you don’t you’ll never know. I attribute some of my bigger successes to the times I took a big leap of faith and put my head on the chopping block only to discover that it actually never gets chopped off! Every query letter, request and idea is a stepping stone, even if the person on the other end has to decline or say a flat-out “no.”

4. If you want to love what you do for work, you may have to let go of certain types of securities and comforts (having health benefits provided by an employer, vacation pay, a pension, regular pay checks).

5. I have learned so much about the industry by joining a variety of associations, including the Professional Writers Association of Canada, Alberta Magazine Publishers Association and the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition. There are resources, and other people, out there to help you achieve your work and lifestyle dreams.

6. Last but not least, giving back to the outdoor/writing community, providing feedback to other writers, volunteering my skills, commenting on blogs and articles, and engaging with people on Twitter and Facebook have all helped me grow and learn as a writer, outdoor enthusiast and a person. Supporting others in their work is the best way to grow in your own.

Any other writers out there have some lessons they’d add to the list?

28 thoughts on “6 Things I’ve Learned About “Living Off My Lifestyle”

  1. Ross says:

    So cool to hear these kinds of things from someone working in it. I’m not quite there yet but hope to be soon.

    I do have one questions: If it’s years from when you travel in an area or hike a trail till you write about it or get it out there, how do you remember what it’s like? Do you keep it all in a journal or keep very detailed pictures and notes? I feel like I need to post about adventures I have right after I do them so they’re fresh but maybe I just need to journal about them and then I’m free to write about them when I can.

    • Meghan J. Ward says:

      Ross, those are great questions. It of course depends on what I’m working on. My photographic memory takes me pretty far, and that combined with some supplementary research by using books, etc. will give me the content I need if I’m writing something years later. I can at least work the more experiential aspects from memory or from photographs. Often I do hike with a notebook, a Netbook, or a digital voice recorder. This helps me keep track of things if I need to take some solid, detailed notes.

      I never forget about the places I fall in love with.

    • Meghan J. Ward says:

      I should also add one of my favourite quotes, which I’ve had in the footer of this website for some time:

      ‎”Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” ~ Ben Franklin

      • Ross says:

        I love the quote Megan. Often I feel stuck for something to write about and I used to try and force it. Now I just go do something cool.

        I like the idea of a voice recorder, it seems like an easy to way to get those thoughts out on the fly and remember them for later.

        Do you find you have to hike with the right people that will give you the freedom to stop and record a few things when you need to?

      • Meghan J. Ward says:

        I’ve never found myself in the situation where I needed to stop and record, Ross. But if I did, I have great hiking/climbing partners, one who is a professional photographer (ie. my husband), who uses us as models all the time. I say just let it flow and enjoy the experience. If you really immerse yourself in the experience without worrying about remembering it, you’ll probably remember far more because you’ll be paying attention.

  2. Jonny (@jonathan__c) says:

    Great post! “Words come more easily when I’m not trying to fake them” Really strikes home with me. About 4 years ago I quit a very secure, stable, well paying job to pursue a similar avenue. Unfortunately, it ended up as a failure. I ended up doing the same thing as before, just for less money and on my own time. I ended up working all hours of day and night, barely making by, and spending far less time in the mountains than I was before.

    For the time being, I am back to a steady paycheck job for the time being, but i’m taking my first failure as a hurdle. If anything, I’m more empowered than ever to continue on, with the goal even clearer than it was before. I’ll probably fail again, or maybe a few times, maybe i’ll never succeed. But, i’d rather die knowing that I spent my life pursuing my dream rather than avoiding it.

    Thanks for your great post! I love reading your stories and articles.

    • Meghan J. Ward says:

      Hi Jonny,

      Thanks for your feedback and for reading my articles. I think you’ve really nailed it with “I’d rather die knowing that I spent my life pursuing my dream rather than avoiding it.” Isn’t that what underpins all of this? You prove that these things aren’t easy, and I can’t begin to tell you how many times even in the past few months I’ve just wanted to throw in the towel. But I know that things happen in season and I am entering a season of really good prospects. It’s all about holding on when the ship seems to be sinking. :) Eventually, you’ll have your hands in enough things that something will always keep you afloat.

  3. Brian says:

    This rings true for us; especially #4. I previously described working as a freelance writer this way: “You don’t get paid for just showing up and doing what you’re told. Instead, you get paid for figuring out what someone needs, convincing them that they need it from you, and then giving it to them in a way that exceeds their expectations. If you do that successfully, you’ll earn exactly one paycheck. If you want another paycheck, you have to start the process all over again.”

    It’s not for everyone, but it allows us to follow our pasions every single day.

    • Meghan J. Ward says:

      Thanks, Brian. Your website and adventures look really fantastic and I’ll be following from now on!

      I really love what you’ve written here. You’ve managed to capture the ‘art’ of what we do in a way I have never been able to express. No doubt, I’ll be passing that along at some point. Thank you!

      • Brian says:

        I’m glad I found your site. You seem like a kindred spirit. I’ll be following along here as well as on Facebook.

        Happy travels,

    • Meghan J. Ward says:

      It is an exciting journey. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when I started writing. I had no formal training in the industry whatsoever and taught myself/sought out learning opportunities to help me grow. Perseverance and a willingness to learn are essential.

  4. Melissa Tremblay says:

    Bonjour Meghan,

    J’espère que tu vas bien, j’ai beaucoup aimé ton article. C’est très intéressant de mettre de l’avant cet aspect de ton travail.

    Je sais que vous tavaillez très fort pour poursuivre vos buts et vous être une source de motivation pour David et moi.

    Bravo !!

    Mélissa Tremblay

  5. Kim Kircher says:

    Great post Meghan. Writing, for me, has never fully paid the bills. But it is a nice supplement. My “real job” is working in the outdoors (as a ski patroller currently and previously as a guide, kayaking instructor, outdoor educator, etc. etc.), which provides me with adventures to write about. Having said that, I’m always interested in how others just write without the added income. I’m still learning how to pitch upcoming adventures to magazines in order to turn my trips into potential stories.

    • Meghan J. Ward says:

      Thanks for your comment, Kim. Learning to pitch is a never-ending journey, at least for me! My issue is trying to find time to do it amidst contracts and other projects. I have some stories I’d love to pitch. You’ve reminded me to get that train going again.

  6. Meredith ward says:

    What an exciting read! To see you living sacrificially at times ,because you are focused and passionate about what you want to do, is an inspiration and a true illustration of living by faith. You maintain your integrity, and at the same time plunge into the unknown, regularly, as you seek and constantly look for the opportunities that resonate with you. It is a great reminder to all of us that we really should love what we are doing; life is short!

    • Meghan J. Ward says:

      Thanks, Meredith (Mom!). I feel so privileged to have had two parents that gave me my wings early on (or at least when I demanded them!). I really appreciate your words and it motivates me to keep working towards my goals. Life is short. Make it amazing.

  7. Marissa says:

    Yay for you & your mom, Meghan! Two thumbs up on Meredith’s comment!

    Thanks SO much for answering my questions, as well as Ross’. I appreciate your candidness around the challenges you face. Taking that leap of faith is harder than it looks, re: unstable job. But, the last year has taught me a lot, and I hope to leap once more when I’m healthy physically & emotionally. At least I’m laying a foundation now, building skills & tools hopefully to make Leap #2 happen…

    Your other points, especially #2 really make sense. This foundation building I’m doing often feels scattered. If I choose the areas that will help me focus on the video project again, that will lead to great things. This is fantastic experience you’ve shared. I’m deeply grateful.

    Thanks, as always, for your great inspiration & willingness to help others like me. It touches me so much, Meghan!

    Your soul sister in Homewood, IL

    • Meghan J. Ward says:

      Thanks for your comments, Marissa. Your comment about ‘building a foundation’ reminded me of something. A friend of mine once explained it to me like this: Right now I’m building the foundation, but I don’t even know how tall or wide the building is that will go on top of it. To me sometimes I just keep laying rocks, one on top of the other, and next to each other, without a sense of when the foundation-building stage will end. At some point, I’ll get a clear vision of what the building looks like and know that my foundation is complete, at least for a time. Keeping the big picture in mind is one of the greatest motivators.

  8. Raj says:

    I always knew that traveling makes a life. It changes life, thinking, and everything. Nepal is an incredible place. But for many Nepali people, it isn’t and this is very sad. You can learn how nature and culture and bounded together. More importantly, it is the best way to find yourself in the middle of nature and culture and know yourself better. Congrats on your experience in Nepal.

    Adventure Bound Nepal

  9. hame0595 says:

    that is a really interesting blog post. I’m only twenty and I might not know much but after backpacking New Zealand for half a year I always wondered if you could live just like that. By traveling and going on adventure. It’s not the typical way how people usually life their lives but definitley a cool one. I truly believe that as long as you love what you do, everything is possible.
    Your blog is amazing by the way!

    • Meghan J. Ward says:

      Absolutely, Hannah. First and foremost we need to love what we do. “Living off your lifestyle” certainly has its sacrifices, and we each need to decide if those are worth it. Build a skill-set around your passions and persevere!

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