How to Show Up for Your Future Self, Today

What 7 years of freelance writing has taught me about self-transformation

Hiking in New Zealand on a worldwide trip funded by freelancing, January 2019.

But what does it really mean to forge a new self? What does it look like to instill habits that lead to meaningful change?

Every day, we follow patterns that reinforce our current identity. We continue walking down the same path simply because it’s the one we’re already on. We act in ways that others expect us to — even when, deep down, we long to be someone new.

When it feels like everything we’ve ever done has carved us into a permanent mold, finding space for a new identity sometimes feels impossible.

Unless, of course, we recognize our day-to-day habits as opportunities for transformation.

One of the biggest changes of my life occurred three years ago, when I left my full-time content marketing job to pursue a freelance writing career.

My best friend met a man on an airplane who said his company was looking for a full-time freelance writer (befriending social butterflies has its perks — thanks Lauren!). I went in for the interview and took the job the next day.

On the outside, it looked like I’d simply dropped everything, threw caution to the wind and took a huge risk.

But the reality is this: I already was a freelance writer.

Writing My Way From Habit to Career

To change of our own volition is a slow, steady process; the culmination of deliberate action.

My slow and steady journey to freelancing full-time actually began in 2012, when I was a junior in college.

At first, the work was neither interesting nor lucrative.

My first blogging job was writing for a company called BlogMutt (now Verblio), which paid $8 USD for a 500-word post. (That’s about $4–6 an hour, depending how fast you write and how much you have to research). I wrote about things like home improvement, medical equipment, and senior living.

It was sometimes questionable in nature.

Here’s something most people don’t know: That same year, I found a job on Craigslist writing five-star reviews for services I’d never received at businesses I’d never been to. Unethical? Yes. Illegal? Not sure. But do I regret it? Nope.

It gave me hope and cultivated my future self.

When I graduated from Syracuse and moved to Denver in 2014, I got a job at a restaurant to make ends meet.

Still, I wrote. I interviewed musicians and reviewed shows for free, in exchange for concert tickets at the Bluebird Theater. I also found a paid journalism job where I got to write about local businesses and food systems and sustainability—things that inspired me greatly—but it just wasn’t enough to pay the bills.

When I finally landed that “real” job I spoke of earlier, I could finally stop worrying about making rent. But I kept freelancing on the side because it wasn’t a dream I was ready to give up on.

To change of our own volition is a slow, steady process; the culmination of deliberate action.

I did what I had to, to make it work. Sometimes, that meant getting up at 5:45 to call a source in Hawaii before riding my bike 5 miles to my day job. Other times, it meant cranking out freelance articles on my lunch break, or spending my Sunday afternoons at coffee shops — even though I’d already worked six days that week.

The point is this: my freelance side-hustle gave me something to be proud of when I felt the darkness of my more mundane job kicking in. It was my little spark of light and joy. It gave me hope that someday, it would all amount to major changes in my life.

Eventually, it did.

Thanks to all the work I’d done already, I had nothing to lose when the opportunity to freelance full-time finally presented itself to me. I had experience finding jobs and meeting deadlines. I had clients I could turn to if the job didn’t work out. Most importantly, I knew I had the work ethic to research and write outside of the typical 9 to 5 schedule.

I didn’t just get lucky. I committed myself to this path — then I worked for it—even when for years it felt like I was going nowhere.

Taking notes at the beach in Sicily, Italy, July 2018.

The Constant Evolution of Self

Perhaps the greatest lesson I’ve learned from writing is this: true self-transformation is a lifelong commitment. Our needs and desires are complex and ever-evolving; they change as we do.

Shortly after I made the switch to freelancing full-time, I had the idea that maybe if I could support myself through writing, I could work remotely and travel the world. I’d always wanted to travel but never had the money (or the courage). I prioritized this goal, then worked, saved, and worked some more.

Fast-forward to 2019, and my around-the-world trip—entirely funded by freelance work—is nearing the end. But my evolution as a writer and as a person has really just begun.

Today, I’m sitting in a cafe on a rainy day in New Zealand, readying for my next transformation.

The mountains are shrouded in clouds and there’s a chill in the air, but my dreams and goals are clearer than ever.

This time, change starts with saying goodbye to all the work that no longer serves me. It’s au revoir to the ghostwritten articles I penned under other people’s names on Inc. and Fortune — helping them gain more success and fame while feeling sorry for my own no-name existence. It’s adios to the self-help book I edited, because I signed an agreement that says I can’t put it on my resume anyway. It’s bye-bye to all the sales copy that doesn’t inspire me creatively.

Our needs and desires are complex and ever-evolving; they change as we do.

Following My Heart into The Darkness

I’m moving on from all these things because I now know the difference between what I think I should do, and what I truly want to do.

The things I think I should do fill me with a sense of security; a familiarity that I and others can accept without explanation. On the outside, these things sound great. But inside, they’re stewing with a murky layer of complacency. They feel like a dull ache; a week of cold and cloudy days.

As for things I want to do? These are the dreams that feel like sunshine. They feel like the great open road, and my entire long life stretched ahead of me. They feel like light and opportunity and walking through the woods on a warm day.

Once I realized the difference between these two things, I found it much easier to face the changes that were already brewing inside.

Now, I see glimpses of my future self everywhere. They drift through my dreams at night, then return to my waking mind in the shower, on planes, and in the checkout line. They tap quietly on the door to my heart, waiting until I’m brave enough to open the door and embrace them like an old friend.

These imminent changes are equal parts overwhelming and brimming with possibility, and I love them all the more for that. Writing this piece is my way of casting the door open, acknowledging my future self as a writer, and saying hello, come inside.

Because self-transformation requires that you show up everyday for two people: yourself and the person you want to be.

Small-town girl turned world explorer. I’m a freelance writer passionate about wellness, wilderness, and the intersections between. @shellykait

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