Posts by Stephanie
What is my mountain
Amongst my friends, Neil Gaiman’s speech is famous. You know, the one where he encourages people to make good art. And to keep going towards the mountain. It turns out my mountain got lost along the way.
All my life and growing up, I wanted to be an author. There was nothing I wanted more than to be an author. I wrote all the time, created short stories, novels, you name it, and I’ve done it. And then I stopped.
Life got in the way; I got busy. I never stopped writing, but it turned from writing fiction to blogging and content marketing and using my words to convince others to take action. Now there is nothing wrong with that. And I loved that I could help others with my words. But I became too tired to write for fun. Too stuck in the regime of blog posts that nothing else came out.
I tried it yesterday. Wrote a little bit of fiction, not much, 300 words and they all felt wrong. Nothing came out the way it was supposed to. It felt stiff, uninspired, and there was no story behind it. It seemed I have lost my spark.
I know that a big part of writing (fiction) is pushing through. I am getting over the fear of the blank page. And write. Sometimes when you think about something too much, nothing comes, and you get stuck. Somehow I couldn’t push past the stuckness this time. Not like I can with blog posts.
Since the beginning of January, a writer friend and I have been writing 500 words daily. She writes fiction, and I write blogs. This should be the ideal time to make the transition and to start working on my fiction skills again. Then why am I not doing it?
Part of that is the severe amount of pressure I’m currently putting on myself where I feel like I have to do anything and everything like finding a job and (paid) work and clients. Oh, and on top of that, I also need to write fiction again. I feel stuck in myself and my brain.
So how do you get out? How do I make sure that I love writing again? And that I make the most of these joined writing sessions every morning? How do I make the shift from writing blog posts to writing fiction?
First of all, I need to start reading again. Get more stories in my head and also get out of my head and into the world more. Get more input and find inspiration. That came even be by walking around and getting some fresh air. But getting outside and not staring at the screen will be instrumental in being able to get inspired.
And then I think it comes down to this: get your butt in your chair and write. No excuses and push through. And yes, that is the hardest part.
Don’t be afraid to take a life detour
Being 31 is a difficult age. It’s the age where you’re not ‘young’ anymore. The wild years are behind you, and you should look ahead and think about settling down. You know, buy a house, get a dog, have a kid, get married, in whatever order. But at the same time, 31 is also the age where I start to feel more like myself every day, where I’m finally figuring out what I want to do with my life.
It’s like trying to decide what you want to become in high school. No one knows what they want to do when they are 16. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I just picked something. In my case, it was journalism because I wanted to become a writer. Good choice? Perhaps. But in reality, it didn’t equip me with more skills than I already had. I came away from university with the sense that journalism had set me up for failure. Magazines sales were going down, and the internet was coming up. Everyone said this was going to be the end of journalism as we knew it. I had a lifelong of scrambling for a job ahead of me.
They were right. But not in the way they thought they were.
Yes, journalism as we knew it is changing. But that is not a bad thing. It took me almost ten years to come back around to journalism and writing. I took detours, got another education, worked other jobs and found myself drawn back to freelance journalism.
Truth is there will always be a need for good quality content. It doesn’t matter if it’s for print, digital or anything else. Because magazine print sales are going down, doesn’t mean people stop reading. I see people on their phones all the time. Reading news sites, blogs, watching videos. They are consuming content all the time.
I’m not saying all content out there is great, far from it. But therein lies the opportunity.
Come up with great content, get it out there. Talk to people, inspire people. Be a journalist in your own life and that of others. And I guarantee you; it doesn’t matter which medium you choose. Video, text, photography – everything goes here. As long as it tells a story that is yours, and that makes other people feel something.
When I graduated from journalism school, I knew two things: I didn’t want to be a freelancer, and I didn’t like journalism. I was wrong on both accounts, and it only took me several detours and ten years to figure that out. And that is okay.
Don’t be afraid to take a detour; they are never a waste of time. It’s the detours in life that helped me figure out what I wanted to do. They helped me find what I knew all along: writing is my passion.
Freelancers, work for free!
You die of exposure. And freelancing doesn’t mean work for free. It’s all been said before, nothing new there. Still, there is something about writing for exposure thing that annoys me. And it’s not what you think it is.
See, when you’re starting as a freelancer, you might not have any clips yet. It can make you feel uncomfortable pitching to (high) paying clients right away. I get that. I also get that you want to practise your skills, get your work out there and build up a portfolio. So why not write for a website that gives you a good clip to use in your portfolio? (
Gasp! Yes, I said that out loud.
I’m at a point in my freelancing career that I can’t afford to work for exposure anymore. I have bills I need to pay, and I would very much like to eat. However, if there’s a publication I want to write for and they don’t pay their contributors, I still pitch them. Why? Because it’s fun.
For instance, for the past ten years or so, I have been writing for a little non-profit that helps baby elephants. I love the organisation, elephants and I really want to contribute. Do I care that I’m not getting paid for it? A little, yes, but I love them too much to stop writing for them. It only costs me an hour of my time every other month.
Charge what you’re worth
When the discussion about charging what you’re worth starts, I’m the first one to say you should charge what you’re worth. You should not work for free. But keep in mind this comes from someone in a different place in their career than a beginner.
Does that mean that if you’re starting out you shouldn’t get paid for your writing? Of course not!
Even if you’re starting out, you should charge people for your writing. If you don’t start right away, it will be hard to ask for payment later on. Always charge what you’re worth (and you’re worth more than you think!).
As a beginner, you can try to break into a new market with guest posting. Or if there’s a publication you want to write for because you think they are super cool – do it even if they don’t pay contributors.
However…. watch out that you’re not there ‘collecting’ clips for too long. Get a few clips, get your writing chops validated and then move the heck on to paying clients.
Because trust me: you’re worth it. We all are.
Sometimes, saying no is stronger
We form a line. The seven of us are standing in a darkened hallway in our socks. We move at the rhythm our teacher is setting. Sometimes slow, at times fast. And I’m struggling to keep a straight face.
Round and round in circles we go. Up and down the hall, trying to feel our breath as we walk. It feels surreal walking here. I’m trying my best to stick with the assignment and focus on my breathing, but I have to hide my face, so no one sees me giggle.
I’m halfway through my mindfulness course, and I’m still not sure what to think. I love the idea of not feeding my negative thoughts and not giving the stress any power. But I have a hard time surrendering.
All those years, I have trained my mind to be in control. To be strong, to not let anything else win. And yet, I feel weaker than ever. I’m trying to quit my snacking habit and as soon as the impulse comes up to race to the chocolate. My mind has no control over that feeling whatsoever. So why do I insist this is ‘being strong’?
All my life, I heard not to give up and to fight for my dreams. So when things get hard, I work harder and fight to make the things happen even if that means breaking myself.
At least I didn’t give up. Well, that’s the idea at least.
With a few extra years of life experience, I’m beginning to think saying no is stronger. If it’s based on well-considered thoughts and you made a real effort to make it work, it’s okay to give up. To let go of a dream that is making you miserable.
Mindfulness is a hard lesson for me. Because again, it’s not about giving in or giving up. It’s about living in the moment and accepting how that moment is making you feel. Not to pass any judgement on that. And boy, am I good at passing judgement mostly when it comes to myself.
That makes mindfulness also a valuable lesson for me to learn because I am struggling with it so much.
I’m not sure if I’m going to get the hang of it during the lessons I still have left. It feels like something my mind is and isn’t ready for at the same time. And the trick is not to judge yourself about that…
Life lesson: Always be willing to prove yourself wrong
“We forgot to bring sunscreen”, I said. “Don’t worry, it’s Ireland, we’ll be grant”, my friend answered. It turned out, we weren’t, and we got extremely sunburnt. But this came after I cried on the side of a mountain.
When I say mountain, I mean a little lump of rock with a rocky point. It’s the baby mountain ‘real mountains’ make fun of. But for me, back in 2013, it was a mountain. It was right around the time I started to dabble in running and fell in love with hiking. But the mountains? Those were still a foreign concept to me.
Going up the mountain
The rocky top of the Sugarloaf went steep up, and I had to use my hands to pull myself up the last bit. Looking back, it was fun; at the moment, I was scared out of my wits. Mountains were still new to me, and at that time, I was still afraid of everything. But the view from the top made it all worth it.
But then we had to go down…
My friend, ever the adventurer, suggested taking another path down. Not the standard route everyone else took, but the one with loose rocks scattered on the slopes. It wasn’t long before I was so terrified I had tears in my eyes.
I kept losing my footing and balance, slipping and wobbling on the rocks on the way down, always feeling like I had no grip. My friend had to coach me down. I may or may not have stayed up there if she didn’t.
In the end, we got back down with a hideous sunburn. On top of that, we were utterly dehydrated because we ran out of water.
Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how far I’ve come. When I look at photos from that hike, I see a scared, insecure girl. Nowadays, I’m still insecure, but I also found a lust for adventure. I’ve run half marathons, triathlons and I’m bouldering a lot. If you had told me that day on the mountain what I would do someday, I wouldn’t have believed you.
Sometimes I still don’t believe it. I look at all the things I do, all the sports things I want to do and I’m amazed. I still think like 14-year old me and say: ‘but I suck at sports’.
I guess the bottom line here is don’t believe anything you hear. Especially when you say it to yourself, you will surprise yourself, and you will find a strength inside you, you didn’t know you had. You will do things you didn’t think you could, and you’ll develop a lust for adventure you never held possible.
That is the one life-lessons you need to remember: Always be willing to prove yourself wrong.
This year: I will travel
This year I want to travel. Travel a lot. Sure I’ve done that the past few years too, but this year it’s different. I am tired of being a tourist, of being some white girl who goes to fancy restaurants in some Asian country. I want to emerge myself in the culture.
When I think of travel this year, I see myself going on adventures. Climb outdoor, have a backpack on my back with everything I’m taking with me and camera in hand. I want to document cultures, invoke wanderlust in people and make them dream through my eyes and lens.
I was never an adventurous spirit. I am an introvert who’s perfect afternoon is on the sofa with a book with endless amounts of my favourite tea. Most of my comfort consists of having my favourite things around. The comfort of home is my woollen blanket under which I write this.
That’s precisely why I want to be uncomfortable this year. I tried the comfort zone, and it has gotten me as far as the end of the sofa. Ok, and to the UK and back. That’s where my love of the outdoors started. There I started running, started hiking and even climbed my first bit of rock. I got my hiking boots there and my beloved backpack. And then I went back home to the Netherlands.
The outdoors is different here. Flat. And my heart longs for the mountains. It wants rocks, forests so old it makes you feel small. Dramatic skies that feel like you’ve left earth and entered a place new to ever human imaginable. I long for outdoors that makes me feel like a new person who can do anything every single day.
For the past five years, I have let myself be ruled by fear. By ‘I can’t do this’, by fear of what others would say, and by financial fear. See that’s the thing about fear. It’s so goddamn easy. “Hey want to go and climb?” “Oh no, I don’t think I can do that, I’m not strong enough.” (true story by the way). It’s often the first response when asked to do something new. No, and some excuse. It’s time to call bullshit on this. Time to let go of the fear. Time to stop letting fear being the first reaction to anything and everything.
It will be hard. And I can tell you there won’t be a day that it will be easy. But I hope that it will get easier.
As I am writing this, I’m writing this I’m setting intentions for 2018. I want to be fearless, take risks and push outside of my comfort zone. I want things that 18 years old me never dreamed of doing. I want to write about my adventures and make an adventure to write about. I want to climb real mountains, hike a part of the Chinese wall, and never let fear stop me.
Why I write
I realised something today: I hate how-to posts. Sure, they are useful when you’re installing something or need to fix your hover. But when it comes to real life, you don’t need them.
Today I received a comment from a, to me, unknown reader and it moved me to tears. It wasn’t a comment on a post on how to get the most out of your marketing efforts or how to use light in a photo. It was a comment on an honest story about disliking your job and being burnt out. A story about how I decided I needed a change and personal to me. And my story resonated with someone else. The value of that is beyond words. I realised there and then: this is why I write, to inspire people.
Now don’t get me wrong. How-to posts are great. They have their place in the world. But they are not my cup of tea. I always favoured stories about passions. This comment made it clear I should stick with that.
The blog world
The problem with the blog world these dates is that everyone is trying to sell you something. Usually, that happens through ‘helpful content’. The how-to articles are recaps from someone else’s content and unoriginal. But most of all, it teaches you how to do things exactly like everyone else. Where is the inspiration to get people to act and think as only they can? All we hear these days is to think like everyone else. Especially since we have other people telling us what to do and how we should be doing them.
Blogs are no longer about inspiration, wonder or escapism. It’s only natural; our instinct is to do what everyone else does. I fell into that same trap. I stopped being true to who I was. I stopped telling stories and started writing how-to posts: I wanted to be helpful and relevant like everyone else.
It stops here. I’m not playing this game any longer.
From now on, I’ll focus on storytelling, spreading passion and sharing inspiring stories. How-to posts can quietly take the back door and leave the building. I want you to leave this space, feeling a little more inspired than when you came — inspired to take action and do it your way. Because I know you and I both have it in us to do great things.
That is why I write.
Mindfulness: feel your butt
We’re standing in a circle throwing a paper towel ball at each other. Then a second ball gets added, followed by a third. Suppressed giggles from everyone in the group. It looks like I’m not the only one who finds this both ridiculous and fun at the same time.
On the sidelines, our instructor tells us to stop trying to catch the ball and feel our butt, legs and feet. It feels silly, and I’m very aware that I’m putting extra tension on my rear end. All I want to do at that moment is to throw the ball and keep laughing, which is not the point of the exercise.
A couple of weeks ago, I started a mindfulness course. Burnt out, stressed out, out of a job and on the verge of a meltdown, I felt like it was time for a change. I heard so many good things about mindfulness I was ready to try it. Every week I sit cross-legged with strangers on a yoga mat trying to feel my pain. To me, that seems counter-intuitive. Naturally, I asked about it.
Wanting it now
“So what you’re saying is that you already feel the pain all the time, but that you want it resolved, right? You want it to go away?” Our instructor asked me. Yes, I nod, yes, please. “Well”, he shrugs. “You didn’t sign up for a course to solve all your problems.”
I can’t put into words exactly what I felt at that point. Anger, frustration, annoyance, sadness, perhaps all of it at the same time. Why? Because he was right.
What I didn’t get is that mindfulness isn’t about finding a solution. It’s about everything but the solution. “Your mind is like a little child”, he says. “It wants it, and it wants it now. And if it can’t have it, it starts to whine until he either gets it or gets a lollipop until it’s resolved. It wants a distraction, a form of satisfaction, why do you think we’re all overweight?”
While I said I was not trying to distract myself from the pain, I remembered the brownies and ice cream I had earlier. I reminded myself I was heading to the gym later that evening to take my mind off everything. And I remembered the Netflix binge I indulged in. Everything to not be alone with my thoughts. But I shouldn’t be alone with my thoughts; I should be alone with my feelings.
I should be trying to feel the pain and not think about it. Thinking about it only makes it bigger, feeds it. Feeling it doesn’t make it go away, but also doesn’t make it grow. I tried it this morning, and it was uncomfortable. It hurts, and it feels like something is rotting in my chest, pressing against my ribs and wanting to go deeper. I still want to resolve it, fix it and make it go away. But I like the idea of not making it grow.
So if you see me with a blank expression on my face this week, don’t worry, I’m emerging myself in that ball in my chest. Or I’m trying to feel my butt and feet (and trying not to care how ridiculous that sounds.)
How to be a freelancer
When I first introduced the idea of becoming a freelancer, everyone around me said: “Uhm? That’s not a stable job, right? How are you going to get clients?” And I have to admit; I was a little surprised by my freelance aspirations too.
During journalism school, we were told freelance was the best way to go. The market was too cramped to get a good staff job. Be that as it may, it had no intention of becoming a freelancer. Just thinking about the hustle and trying to get clients made me tired.
Here I am, ten years later, and I’m gearing up to go freelance again. Yes, again.
My first attempt to go freelance as back in 2016. I moved in with my ex, and there were no jobs here. For a brief period, I made it work. I had clients, money flowing in and days filled with writing. I was happy.
But then the low season hit, no customers, clients and no money. By a stroke of luck, I found a staff job or two, and I dove into that. But I didn’t give me the satisfaction freelancing did. Sure I helped the companies complete lofty goals. And yes, the co-workers were a lot of fun, but I felt like something was missing. Something big.
How I got to this point…
Growing up, I was nothing special: an average student, a chubby kid not into sports and a quiet introvert. By any definition, I could disappear into the wallpaper.
That all changed when I started my book review website. I managed a team of 15 people for years as I build it up from the ground. From that moment on, I was hooked. This business thing was cool. Actually, it was awesome.
Now I’m at that point again, the crossroad between taking a staff job or becoming a freelancer again. A staff job will give more initial security and a solid body of work. While freelancing brings the thrill, hard work and opportunity to shape my job in a way that fits me.
Looking at the past few years, I discovered that I am more adventurous than I thought I was. I can work even harder than I thought I could, and I have a dose of determination that will make most people jealous. When talking to a friend she said: “I’m happy with my staff job, the hustle of freelancing scares me. But when I look at you, you thrive on adventure, and you’re so well organised you can juggle all the balls. You should go for it.”
And this is the basis of being a freelancer. Go for it. Maybe you have the right personality for it, and maybe you don’t. There is only one way to find out for sure: just go for it.
For me, it came with the idea of creating a website about books. It made me realise that I’m a person who starts things and that I’m not afraid of trying something new. Regardless of what other people think, say or do. Freelancing is the same for me. I will chip away at it until I find a way to make it successful for me.
So what about you? When will you go for it?
Freelancers: stop looking at office porn
Sitting in a cafe with my chai latte, laptop out and writing the best articles. That’s the dream, right? In reality, I’m writing to you from the sofa in sweatpants and from underneath a comfy blanket. What happened here?
We’ve all seen them, those Pinterest perfect workspaces. Squeaky clean white, super stylish and not a speck of dust on them. Colourful matching pens and stationery and everything seems to fit together somehow. You can get so discouraged looking at your own workspace. I know I did since my workspace (and my blanket!) don’t look anything like the Pinterest perfect images.
But then, why don’t I go out more and work from a cafe or another inspiring place?
The thing with freelancing is that its hard work, and most of the time it feels like hard work too. Sometimes you roll out of your bed straight to your laptop and eat lunch with your laptop too. I know that is wrong from a lot of different angles, but hear me out. When you’re working as a freelancer, the hustle is real. It can mean whether you eat or not that month, especially when you’re starting out. So it can feel very stressful in the beginning.
There are morning when I wake up and feel like every second I’m not working is ruining chances of success. Deep down, I know this is utter bullshit, but I can’t help but feel on edge. Feel like I have to make this work or else…
So that’s why it’s easier to let dust gather around you and throw on a pair of sweatpants. As much as I love looking at those office images, I don’t get where they find the time to create that perfect picture.
Freelancing for me, is bloody hard work and at the end of the day, all I want to do is go to sleep. Not fiddling around with my pens and trying to match them up.
It’s super easy to feel discouraged seeing those stunning images on Pinterest. Seeing all the cool offices that you aspire to work in. Or to keep dreaming about working in a cafe. But the hard truth is that unless you make money that is not going to happen. And that is okay too.
We as humans put so much pressure on ourselves to do it how we’re supposed to be doing. We only focus on that picture-perfect life (especially since social media). Because of that, we forget that we’re looking at an image that someone styled to look their best. We don’t know what it looks like at the end of their workday, or how often it gets cleaned. We need to remember that social media and the internet is a place where dirty laundry gets hidden. Highlight reels are the norm.
It’s time that we’re going to be more radically honest. More honest about all the things that are not as great as we like people to believe. And then maybe we stop worrying about writing rambling articles like these in our sweatpants.