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The weight of freedom a.k.a. what am I going to do with my life?

I have been freelancing fulltime for 10 months now, and I ain’t broke yet! Working for myself has been fun/exciting/freeing and stressful/boring/frightening. Regardless of what adjectives you use, it has also required math skills and free wifi.

I have learned how to prepare estimates, to charge what I’m worth, and to keep detailed records. I bring up work at any dinner out so I can write the meal off on my taxes. I’ve overcome my telephone anxiety (for the most part), run a meeting all by myself, and I’ve pitched my business in ten seconds or less at networking events.

I still haven’t figured out a long-term health insurance solution, and sometimes I get lonely or bored and don’t work as hard as I know I should. But I also get to shop for groceries in the middle of the day in my flip flops. And I can jet down to Louisville to meet friends on a weekday without having to ask anyone’s permission to do so. It balances out.

Overall it has been a great decision, the right decision, and a decision I’m proud I was brave enough to make. However, it has also induced a minor personal crisis. Once you realize you are free to do anything with your life, it becomes pretty damn overwhelming to figure out what to do with your life. I feel like I’m reading a menu with a thousand entrees and I’m paralyzed, not knowing what to order.

When I was working for THE MAN, I would often sit at work wishing I were not at work. And when I wasn’t at work, I was often too exhausted from work to do the things I’d wished I was doing when I was at work. It was easy to think that if I had complete control over my life, this paradoxical problem would be solved. However, now that I call all the shots, I’ve found that this isn’t so. I still have moments when I glare at my computer, frustrated by a Javascript bug. Some days I feel unmotivated to complete jobs which I have chosen to take on. I am happy for a greater percentage of the time, but I’m not happy 100% of the time. Except now there is no corporate headquarters to damn, no misguided leadership to bash, and no one to blame for anything but myself.

The Buddhist dieting book, “Savor,” which I recently reviewed, said that many people are carried through life by their “habit energy,” like a rider on a runaway horse. I’ve certainly felt trapped by the force of my habit energy at times, which might manifest itself as a job or a relationship or another element in my life. But it can also be comforting to be trapped, because you don’t feel the weight of responsibility that comes when you have to make choices. Sometimes the best thing about a mindless job is that it’s mindless. If you’re not in control, nothing is your fault.

So, here I am, ten months later, and I feel like I’ve already begun to slip into a new stream of habit energy. This time it is the habit of my self-employment. I wake up at 8:30, make coffee, eat oatmeal, and watch the end of Good Morning America. I push Java Bean out of the office and close the door. I check emails and figure out what I need to do today. I’ve become comfortable communicating with clients, keeping the books, and getting work done. For the first six months it was exciting and interesting and new, and now that it’s more comfortable, I can’t distract myself with it as much. I find myself asking, “OK, now what?”

I’ve always hated that question. “Now what?” I don’t know what! Stop asking! I KILL YOU! In high school, it was, “Where are you going to college?” In college it was, “What’s your major?” After college it was, “Do you have a job?” It just never ends. Once, I literally started hyperventilating when a friend asked me what I was planning to do after I graduated. One of the things I liked about my weight loss was that it gave me a project to focus on for two to three years. I killed time at work during the day, but all I really cared about was walking, cooking, and blogging about it. After the weight-loss, I made book writing my big project. And after the book writing I got a never-ending headache and had a bit of a breakdown, partly because of the pain and partly because I didn’t really have a project. I suppose visiting doctors could be considered a project, but it was a crap project, like a book report a teacher had assigned on a topic I hated. Then I got my shit back together (mostly), and made book writing and freelancing my projects.

And now…I am project-less again. I turned in my book manuscript in January, but it’s not due to be published until next year. I’m still blogging. I’m still freelancing. I have one or two ideas simmering on the stove. But I don’t really have a project I feel passionate about like I have at other times in my life. I miss that sense of forward motion. I miss feeling fired up about something. And I’m not really sure how to get that back. I guess you don’t go back, you go forward into something else. What? I dunno.

I’ve asked myself the old question, “If you could do anything without fear of failure, what would it be?” My answer is: Travel, meet interesting new people, and build a supportive community of friends. I’ve been traveling more this year, but I’d love to travel around the world. Sadly, that costs money I don’t actually have. So I’ve been turning that idea around in my head, thinking that if I were only a bit more clever I could figure out a way to make that happen without declaring bankruptcy or working a well-paying job I hate or abandoning my cats. So, that stands as a puzzle that I am still pondering, trying to fit the pieces together to make the picture I want. And even if I do get the picture I want, I might discover I don’t actually want it when I get it. Or I might want it for awhile and then need something else. Always something else.

I’ll be turning thirty in late October, and I’m quite proud of how far I’ve come this decade. It’s been the personal-growth equivalent of running an Iron Man. I used to literally stare at walls instead of chatting with people, but now I can make small talk and network like a socially competent individual. I used to be super-fat, and now I’m just sorta-fat. I could not fathom the possibility of running my own business when I was in college, and now I’m working for myself. It’s been good, but now I’ve got to figure out what to do with the next thirty(?), forty(?), fifty(?) years or more.

Any boredom I’m experiencing can probably be blamed on lack of imagination on my part. Sometimes I think, “Life has been good, but how am I ever going to fill the next few decades?” I know this is a stupid question because it is a big huge world and I’ve only seen an itty, bitty piece of it. There is enough stuff out there to fill a hundred lifetimes. There are over six billion people I could meet. But when you have that many possible choices, it can be hard to choose just one thing at a time. Sometimes it’s easier to blame a job.

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35 Comments

Amy • May 6, 2010 at 8:34 am

I totally understand what you are saying.I am in my thirties (GULP!!) and still wonder what I am gonna do when I grow up? Was this what I am suppose to be doing? Is this IT?? I do look forward to reading your blog….its something anyway!

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Amy • May 6, 2010 at 9:20 am

You have come so far in your nearly 30 years. I imagine you’ll find more and more excitement to come! (And don’t worry, I feel the same way you do. Well, maybe worry a little bit. :) lol)

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Larkspur • May 6, 2010 at 9:22 am

Well, children are the ultimate project. They’re never done.

Freedom is unnerving. It is sort of stunning when you set out to do something and then, yikes, it’s done. But a better feeling overall than spinning your wheels.

I think you have great traction for a twenty-something. Looking forward to hearing about the next project.

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Jen, a priorfatgirl • May 6, 2010 at 10:00 am

whew – sounds like it definetly has been a rollercoaster the past couple of years. I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like when things start to settle down. But…as much as I know of you (which isn’t a lot), I am confident you’ll figure out that ol’ question, “what is next?”

In the meantime, maybe a road trip to Minneapolis is called for? You would have a guest room here to stay in, no need for money besides gas! COME ON!!!

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Danielle • May 6, 2010 at 10:00 am

Great post. I’m in my 30s, going through the “is this it” phase now. I have a good job, but feel trapped. I need a job without meetings.

I really enjoy reading your blog… any way to parlay writing into your next career… as a travel writer? Two birds, one stone.

I think that what you’ve done in your 20s is prove that you can do whatever you set your mind to do. Excellent lesson.

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scone • May 6, 2010 at 10:21 am

I’m in my fifties, and I ask myself the same questions. Although I’m pretty sure real happiness is not about excitement and change, per se. A temporary palliative, at best.

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Carbzilla • May 6, 2010 at 10:25 am

It may be a myth that sharks die if they stop swimming, but I sorta feel that’s the deal with folks like us, if we stop asking “what’s next?” we wither and die. This is an amazing time for you!

Here’s some random suggestions and you can tell me to shove them up my heiney:
1. Walk or exercise first thing in the morning. For me it boosts my mood and energy and takes me out of that deep place (in a good way)
2. Plan a cheap road trip. I’ve known bloggers (I am Bossy) who’ve just hopped in a car and gone to visit other bloggers. You can work from the road I assume. You’d be more than welcome in Seattle

For me, going through a graduate school program fired me up (no pun intended – since I did just get fired from my cushy, stare-at-the-computer-screen job), and it’s lead to some amazing opportunities.

I think “What’s next?” is an awesome question, and I’m so excited for you!

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Sacha • May 6, 2010 at 10:58 am

Do you need to meet clients face-to-face, or can all transactions be conducted via phone or computer? If physical presence is not critical, then move. Go to Europe, conduct your business from there, and see the Continent a few days at a time. Have a home base in an apartment with a roommate and travel on weekends, or travel all over for a while without setting down roots and work on the move. It will be hard to have kitties while living a nomadic lifestyle so that might factor into your decision. Use your situation — no partner, no kids, no mortgage, youth, desire, initiative, discipline — to your benefit and take advantage while you can.

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Julie • May 6, 2010 at 11:12 am

“It can be comforting to be trapped, because you don’t feel the weight of responsibility that comes when you have to make choices. Sometimes the best thing about a mindless job is that it’s mindless. If you’re not in control, nothing is your fault.”

Jennette, that is so well said and something that I really relate to. I also tend to feel this way about my dating life- when I’m single (which is usually), I may feel impatient to get on that path of dating-love-marriage that so many others seem to have already been on, but largely I feel that in due time I’ll meet the right person and it’s kind of out of my hands. But when I start to date someone, I am wracked by stress because now I have to make a choice, weighing the pros and cons and considering the potential for love and happiness vs. the potential for heartbreak. Kind of off point, but just wanted to say thanks for your insight- I think lots of people feel this way, whether it’s in relation to a career, love life, etc., but it’s not always easy to express why you feel this way or identify how you might move past this feeling.

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Kyle • May 6, 2010 at 11:33 am

Two things. 1st, I have to say that I don’t think you should ever expect to have a job that makes you 100% happy 100% of the time. Our society is so focused on people being happy but really, is there anything wrong with being sad, being mad or experiencing another emotion once in a while? I don’t think so.

2nd, have you ever considered moving abroad. Since you’re a freelancer, you have that freedom. Expat living definitely isn’t for everyone, but if you’re serious about really wanting to travel, it’s a great option because A. you’re already outside your comfort zone so taking more trips comes naturally and B. If you move to a third world country you could save SERIOUS money as long as you keep up the income you have in the U.S. and would have much more disposable income to travel.

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Sharon • May 6, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Jennette I love your blog!

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Cheryl • May 6, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I am considering going freelance myself, and this is something that I worry about, so it was nice to read this today. You might like “The 4 Hour Work Week” – that guy does a lot of traveling and discusses “lifestyle design” in the book. I just started it, but I think you might find it interesting.

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Meagan • May 6, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I think you should become a travel writer! Then you can travel and write at the same time!

My mom always told me “It’s not about what you do. It’s about your relationships.” And she was SO right!

Start traveling so you can meet some of those elventy billion people!

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schmei • May 6, 2010 at 1:55 pm

1) You’re my hero. You’ve published 2 books, lost half your body weight and run a half-marathon before turning 30. Oh, and you run your own business. And you’re very funny. You rock.

2) My mom still tells me she doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up – and she’s in her 60s. I’ve always liked that. Being slightly dissatisfied is a gift not everyone has. Or at least, I think most people think they have to “settle” and just decide they’re satisfied with what they have, even if they’re not. Which is sad and I hope that’s not what I do.

3) What if you move? There’s no reason (OK, other than kitties and some family) for you to stay in Indianapolis. Even if you just move to another part of the US (Rocky Mountains? Ocean? Something more interesting than Indy), it might give you the change of place/perspective to help you stay creative.

4) You’re my hero. Am I being redundant? :-)

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schmei • May 6, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Also: perfumed toilet paper? WTF?

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Fern • May 6, 2010 at 2:06 pm

Have you ever looked into the minimalist blogosphere?

Whether or not you’re interested in minimalism, a large part of the focus of the movement is location independance and freedom.

http://www.farbeyondthestars.com/ is a good place to start – you might like to look around there and other minimalist blogs.

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Jen @ The Short Years • May 6, 2010 at 2:12 pm

You SHOULD be proud of what you’ve accomplished. I’m still working on the book-writing thing. And although I freelance a tiny bit, it’s nothing I could support myself on. Getting to a place where I could be self-supporting with it is a big goal of mine. Way to go for achieving those things.

As for needing to have a project, I completely understand that. Right now I’ve got three small kids and I stay home with them. But in a few more years, they’re all going to be at school, and I’m already stressing about THEN what? Do I have to actually go back out and get a real job? Will I be able to have a freelancing career by then? Go back to school and learn something completely new? I’m both anticipating and dreading the day I have to answer those questions.

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PastaQueen • May 6, 2010 at 2:47 pm

@Fern – Thanks, Fern, I have now been sucked into a blog vortex and it’s all your fault! I have been pursuing a minimalist lifestyle and didn’t even now it was called that or that there was a whole movement. Thanks for the link! I have lots of reading to do.

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Dee • May 6, 2010 at 3:10 pm

I love this post, because this is something I think about as well. I am contemplating a career change, and the thing that is holding me back is the sneaking, evidence-based suspicion that once I change, I will quickly become dissatisfied and begin looking again for the elusive Something Else.

You describe this mental space very eloquently, if you come to any conclusions or amazing solutions, please let us know!

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sherijung • May 6, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Just a few thoughts from an older (hopefully wiser) perspective:

Think about doing a formal career/life assessment. It might help you focus on what’s important to you, and give you clues on how to spend more time towards those things. Even something like the Franklin/Covey system helps with this (it’s not strictly about time management, more like life management).

Do you have a mentor? I was considering how much impact my better bosses had on my work life, and you don’t have that opportunity when you are self-employed. Try to find someone much further along in a similar career to pick their brain and foster a friendship.

If you are just trying to find *something* to spark more passion in your day-to-day life, try to find something that makes you really uncomfortable. That is the path to growth and discovery. Even if you fail at it (maybe only if you fail at it).

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shauna/dg • May 6, 2010 at 6:22 pm

can so relate to this post dear comrade. maybe a change of scenery would be good? moving to a new place and immersing yourself somewhere new can be so invigorating. new sights, sounds and smells… with your highly portable job the world is your oyster. rock on Jennette :)

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Jenny • May 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm

Wow, you totally rock sharing all this stuff. Its a huge step I might be taking in the foreseeable future and you’ve really given me some good stuff to think about. I might hate it!

I found myself riding my bike to work this morning and I saw this old dude who looked like he really shouldnt be driving, and I started hoping he might run into me so I wouldnt have to go to work. So I’m pretty sure its time for a change!! I really hate that I live most of my life in the future, I think you put it very eloquently that I may continue to do that even if I do leave my job…

My lovely friend beth is a freelancer, this is one of her websites:
http://www.cheapskatefreelancer.com/
and I keep up with lots of foodie freelancers all trying to make ends meet.

I hope you find a fun new project, I cant wait to hear all about it!!

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Jill • May 6, 2010 at 6:51 pm

Love this post, Pastaqueen! It took a lot of courage to make the move you did, and I have so much admiration for you. I’m considering making a similar move after 20 years of working for ‘the man’ and it’s heartening to read someone else’s experience. Even though it might not always be sunshine & roses, it sounds like you feel you made the right move? Or at least have the freedom now to really explore your capabilities? I look forward to reading about the next phase of your journey (and your next book of course – absolutely LOVED Half-Assed!)

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ChrissyS • May 6, 2010 at 7:26 pm

First, I so appreciate that you keep blogging “even though” you aren’t working on a big project (such as your initial topic of massive weight loss) to share with us right now. We still love to read your posts, ok?

I will say though, that the travel blogs you have done here have been very interesting. We readers are always excited to hear you announce another trip. And the fact that we find your travel so interesting is certainly something to consider regarding another project/focus. I’m sure that is one of the things you are thinking about; combining some of your talents/interests. (It certainly occurred to ME while reading your post, and obviously to others.)

What Carbzilla said about a book on travel and she also mentioned visiting bloggers, got me to thinking that travel stateside could be achieved cheaply by making arrangements with your blogging buddies to be your own personal ‘hostels’. You know/have met a lot of ppl, and it would make for an interesting book. [Or fellow WL achievers, or fellow headache sufferers]…sorry, jk about that last one.

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Deanna - The Unnatural Mother • May 6, 2010 at 10:13 pm

My sister sent this to me yesterday and I loved it, thought I’d share:

“Know that where you are right now is exactly where you’re supposed to be and learn from the experiences you are having right now, in the moment, don’t put the cart before the horse, because then you’re going nowhere fast. “

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Jolene • May 6, 2010 at 10:24 pm

I love this, “it can also be comforting to be trapped, because you don’t feel the weight of responsibility that comes when you have to make choices.”

That’s such an important statement and I think it’s the way most people choose to live.

You’ve not only chosen differently but you’ve succeeded (a lot of people aren’t able to say that). And still in your 20′s, Whoa! You’re doing great.

I identify with your thoughts in this post so much. I remember when I left my day job six years ago, it took a good 1.5 years to establish my rhythm, and I felt much like you do. I totally get the “next project” syndrome. For me there are times when it really is about creating and doing and finding. But other times the angst is about me remembering to just sit and be and enjoy.

You have the basics (good business sense, professionalism, book keeping, good risk taking vs. follow-through, responsible and you created a space where you’re NOT trapped) which is so important. From here just trust you’ll catch the waves when they come in – not knowing which wave you want/need to catch is okay – trust!

I still can’t believe you’re not even 30, I’m going to be 40 this year and I didn’t even start freelancing until I was 33. I can’t wait to see where this next decade takes you, I think it will be more than you could ever imagine!

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Deb • May 7, 2010 at 9:46 am

Dearest PQ,

Uh oh! I think I’ve just figured it out (for all of us)! Ready . . . ? Here it comes: figuring it out IS the job!

Smack!

In other words (not mine), enjoy the journey without worrying overmuch about the destination.

I have confidence (from all the evidence your actions so far have presented) that you will figure it out (again and again throughout your life). Embrace the unknown and the excitement of watching your own life unfold.

I have children in their 20s, and they hear this from me a lot too. No one else knows what the hell they’re doing either, BTW. (I mean they do [or look like they do], but not really.) We’re all just works in progress.

Progress . . . not perfection.

I so enjoy reading about your journey! Love!

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Quix • May 7, 2010 at 4:36 pm

I definitely relate. While circumstances have made me hate my job a lot less (actually quite like it), I definitely suffer from the “enjoying being trapped by working for the man” thing because it’s easier. I thought for a while I wanted to work for myself, and still might someday, but honestly? It’s overwhelming to think about, and for now, I’m ok letting someone be the man (even if I am boss lady).

For a long time I’d make no personal progress because I’d get too overwhelmed with the choices and then just watch TV so I didn’t have to pick. Now, I’ve picked just a few things to focus on (work, triathalon training, blogging) and gave myself persmission to ignore the rest for a while (the novel, making necklaces, running a marathon, martial arts).

There is still way too much I want to do, but I’m slowly learning that I have more than 5-10 good years left in me if I take care of myself. Or at least that’s what I’m choosing to take from all the greyhairs passing me at races…

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Mom Taxi Julie • May 7, 2010 at 7:13 pm

Pretty awesome you have another coming out!! Congrats!!

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Sheri • May 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

I long to be full time self-employed, yet the income need doesn’t yet match. However, I can relate to what you are saying about sitting at work. I do work from home too, and I can also relate to your Ackmed statement ‘I KILL YOU!’ That mental procrastinator when I am home, the one who feels like they’ve already put in a full day’s work before working on the jobs at home, WANTING to catch up on YouTube videos I find entertaining or just reading blogs I enjoy, yet KNOWING I have to get the work done to both build my business and get caught up.

When there are no excitement blasting projects on my agenda I have been focusing on the fact that the last mouth watering project was great! But, that means that I’m open to even better projects, and I KNOW a better project is on its way down the pipeline to my desk where once again I will be busy and energized on learning, helping and sharing. While I wait I look at things I’m interested in learning but knew I didn’t have time when I was so busy but want to get in before busy comes again. Unfortunately, in the meantime I work the full time job wondering when the day will come that I can walk away from that and work full time for ME. I’m an independent Avon Rep and building business writing, editing and transcribing. I’ve called it Aspiration INK, and like my email address it’s because I’m Aspiring 4 More!

Jennette I hope you find the next project that tantalizes your work bug, fulfills your work drive craving and blasts you to successful new heights. You never know, maybe it’s time to write that biography about all you’ve learned in the last ten years and how it changed your life, something incorporating the weight loss and learning the publishing world that took your from that mundane full time job to personal freedom – From full time frump to full time freedom.

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Bobbi Jo • May 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

We were stuck in Venice (I know, one should not use the term “stuck” when one has a gelato in hand, but you get my drift) last month because of the volcanic ash cloud and I chatted up the lady behind me in line at the train station. She’s a Canadian who quit her job and was traveling the world for a year. I wish I could hook you two up. She made it all sound so EASY.

Except I didn’t think to ask where she stowed her cats…

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Susan @WhyMommy • May 9, 2010 at 6:09 pm

True, true — but this is such a time of adventure!

If you can work for yourself, you can work for anyone. :-)

A friend mentioned you today, and I was so happy to shout out — hey, I know her! We met by accident at BlogHer, and she was delightful!

Wherever you go, I just KNOW you’ll succeed.

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Katharine • May 10, 2010 at 8:48 am

PQ, you are intellectually curious, so something will come your way. Just stay mentally present through this akward-feeling time and let your mind roam where it will, and your next adventure will show up, I promise you.

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Zandria • May 13, 2010 at 11:54 am

“The weight of freedom”…I like that. And I, like yourself (and many other people), have asked myself this same question over the years. I turn 30 in June and like you, I feel proud about what I’ve accomplished in the past decade. The difference is that, when I think ahead to being in my 30s, I think to myself: “Look at everything I did in my 20s. I’m really looking forward to seeing what I accomplish in my 30s, because I know it will be even better.”

I read your newer post about moving to North Carolina, and I think that’s really super. Good for you for making another big change! Moving to an entirely new state can be nerve-wracking, but also super exciting (and for the next few months, moving itself will be your “project”).

Best of luck to you. Can’t wait to see how it turns out!

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Sonya • May 26, 2010 at 1:55 pm

One of my writer friends bought a little RV and travels the country with her cats. A bit extreme and some people prefer to put down “roots” somewhere and become part of that community, but it works for her.

Checking out Fern’s links too…. Thanks, Fern!

Love your blog, PQ!

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

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