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?