How to decide to say yes or no

by Kim on January 27, 2014 · 66 comments

For the past two years I have been traveling the world, a dream I worked and saved towards for many years. At the same time, I’ve been working hard to build a writing career. I’ve vowed not to return to a cubicle, an environment that felt repressive and unfulfilling to me.

Just a week ago, I was swimming in the Gulf of Thailand in Vietnam. Stretched out before my husband and I were a few months of travel throughout SE Asia. Afterwards, we weren’t quite sure what we’d do. Maybe we’d settle in Thailand for a while? Maybe we’d fly back to the U.S. to walk the Appalachian Trail?

sunset phu quoc island

Sunset on the Gulf of Thailand, Vietnam

A month earlier, we’d applied for a job at BACKPACKER Magazine. The job sounded perfect for us and so we thought, why not give it a shot? Our chances of landing it felt small and, even if it was offered, we knew we didn’t have to take it. Options, we agreed, were a good thing to have.

Six weeks later we were offered the job.

But should we take it?

Let me explain that the last few years of my life have been a massive journey. Originally, I was unhappy with the trajectory of my life. Then I decided to make big changes in order to do what filled me up. And then, eventually, I began to wonder what that might look like long term. Through it all, I have been striving to do what I love and what feels meaningful.

We all know what it feels like to do something true and natural. I want that. Traveling and writing feel that way to me. Back at my desk job I always had this nagging feeling that my real life was out there waiting for me. I felt like I wasn’t fully engaged in my own life. That changed once I took a big leap and set out into the world to write and travel. And now I don’t want to do anything to compromise all that I’ve built and worked for in the past two years.

A few months ago I sat down and wrote out a business plan. I did this because it is important for me to name where I want to go. Aside from my various writing goals, one major focus of my business plan was: develop presentations and begin doing public speaking events. I had no idea how to do that or what it would look like. I only knew that what I love most about writing is inspiring people to live the life that fills them up. If I could take that show on the road somehow and meet people face to face it would be wonderful.

And so when, just eight weeks after writing that business plan, we were offered a job to do just that, it was almost like the universe had opened its palm and presented me with the exact opportunity I’d asked for.

A little bit about the job:

  1. Brian and I will work together as a team
  2. We will work for a great magazine I’ve read for many years
  3. It is only a 7-month commitment per year (plenty of traveling time!)
  4. Brian and I will drive around the U.S. giving presentations about backpacking, backcountry gear, and traveling. The goal is to inspire our audience to get out more.
  5. We’ll give an average of two presentations per week and the rest of the time we’ll spend exploring the U.S.A.

That’s a pretty sweet gig, as far as jobs go.

Still, it was hard to decide if we should take the job once it’d been offered. Were we willing to leave SE Asia early, abandon our travels and work for someone else again?

The answer, ultimately, was yes.

And here’s why. It all boils down to a piece of advice I heard a few months ago about how to decide to say yes or no:

Think of your biggest dream or goal as a mountain in the distance. When you must decide if you should say yes or no to an opportunity, ask yourself if the opportunity will take you closer or farther away from that mountain. If it takes you closer, go for it.

Mt. Hood Oregon

For example, you want to be a writer. You’re offered the chance to write an article for a publication that will expose your writing to thousands of people that aren’t normally in your audience. The catch? You’ll have to write it for free. It sucks to write for free. Still, it will take you closer to your mountain. Say yes.

When we are in the muddled middle of things it is hard to decide what to do. Sometimes we become paralyzed by fear and terrified to make the wrong decision.

But remember that the peak of that mountain is always visible, sticking out above the cloud line. Squint your eyes until you see it’s hazy outline. That mountain is where you need to go. Walk towards it.

And as long as the decisions you make take you even just a tiny step towards that mountain, you can keep moving forward knowing that you have made the right decision.

Do what is true. Do what takes you closer to the mountain.

***

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{ 66 comments… read them below or add one }

Hogga January 27, 2014 at 1:27 pm

yay, congrats!

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Kim January 27, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Thanks Lindsay!

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gigi January 27, 2014 at 1:51 pm

Ooh, I was with you until the write for free part.

I’d argue that writing for a publication for free takes us all farther away from the mountain because it devalues our craft and makes it easier for publications to continue taking advantage of struggling artists while they reap the profits. Any paid publication should pay you for your work. Isn’t anything else just moving us collectively away from being able to make a living doing what we love?

(That said, I’m pro writing blog guest posts for free to expand your exposure. Just not for paid publications who should be paying their writers.)
gigi recently posted..Beautiful Spaces: A Large Studio in Verona, Italy

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Kim January 27, 2014 at 4:39 pm

As someone who is trying to make a living writing, I wholeheartedly agree with you. When I was writing this I was actually thinking about blogging on a big site for free, though I do think that in certain instances it does make sense to write even for publications for free. For example, I’ve written for a magazine for free (a FREE magazine, not one with paying subscribers) just to get the bi-line. Perhaps that hurts us struggling writers, it probably does, but I needed it and I don’t regret it. I think in some instances it does make sense to do that.

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gigi January 30, 2014 at 12:28 am

Ah, sounds like we’re on the same page, then.

I’m all for guest posting, charitable contributions, and so forth that increase exposure and experience. It’s just the big publications who should be paying and instead are offering exposure as if it could pay the bills that I’m solidly against and sincerely hope that even new writers won’t write for for free.
gigi recently posted..Notes From a Beautiful, Difficult Life

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Kim January 30, 2014 at 10:35 am

Agreed.

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Alex January 27, 2014 at 3:39 pm

Hi, I love your writing! It would be nice to acknowledge the person who gave the advice about the mountain in the first place: Neil Gaiman. See his ‘Make good art’ speech: http://youtu.be/plWexCID-kA

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Kim January 27, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Yes, thank you, that’s it! I’d forgotten where I’d heard it.

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Emily January 27, 2014 at 3:52 pm

I agree, it’s important to take those baby steps but also view the big picture to make sure you’re on track (keep that mountain in view!).
Emily recently posted..Islas Marietas: Sometimes Things Don’t Go as Planned

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Kim January 27, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Yep, never lose sight of the mountain!

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Patti January 27, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Fabulous analogy. This epic road trip of ours has brought such clarity to me on several projects that have been spinning in my head like a hamster on his wheel. I knew the potential, but couldn’t quite figure out how to get from point A to point Z or the letters in between. While traveling several key pieces just popped into my head like someone turned on a light switch. From dark to light in a matter of seconds and I asked myself, why did I have to drive 3,000 miles to see the light? Because I did. It’s that simple. I realize I wasn’t thinking BIG enough, I wasn’t thinking outside of the box enough. And I hope no one out there believes age has anything to do with it. It’s just about finding your balance and I firmly believe that balance changes as we move through life. What balanced me at 30, was perfect at the time, but now I need a different balance. This 6,000 mile journey of ours has brought me closer to the mountain and I can’t wait to reach the base, but I know the universe will present us with the opportunity when it is supposed to. Until then, I (we’ll) keep moving forward one step at a time. Thanks for the inspiration!
Patti recently posted..Finding the Balance ~

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Kim January 27, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Patti, yay! I’m so glad that you’ve had time and space for new ideas to pop into your head. I think it’s amazing what happens when we remove ourselves from our element, it’s like our heads and hearts go crazy with new ideas. I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with!

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Jimmy Dau January 27, 2014 at 4:50 pm

Getting a steady income talking about travelling? Hell yeah! Congrats and all the best with it :)
Jimmy Dau recently posted..Having a short break from long term travelling

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:49 am

Yeah, that’s what we said!!! Thanks Jimmy.

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Stef January 28, 2014 at 1:21 am

Hey guys,
I wish you good luck and a lot of fun during your time in the US. What a great opportunity, congratulations! And I love the advice in bold letters. Absolutely true and I will remind myself of it, the next time I have to decide between a yes and no :)
Stef recently posted..Getting a different view of the city: Foto-Ruta Santiago de Chile

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:51 am

Thanks Stef. We’re excited about it. It will be interesting to see what this year holds.

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Aurora January 28, 2014 at 7:06 am

Mt. Hood is always good motivation and inspiration!

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:51 am

Ah, I miss seeing Mt. Hood every day (or at least on the clear days).

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Monica January 28, 2014 at 7:23 am

This is so cool! Congrats on finding the perfect new job. This would never have happened if you wouldn’t have taken that first leap of faith.

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:51 am

That’s true, Monica. We never would have landed this job if we hadn’t followed our passions in the first place.

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Samantha January 28, 2014 at 8:43 am

Love the advice! Thanks for sharing! I am totally going to use that from now on! Also I just recently found your blog, it’s really cool! I am in the saving up/paying off debt portion of my (future) travels. My husband and I are going to do a few working holidays though, so we won’t have to save up as much :) Your blog is inspiring and makes me even more excited to get out there!
Samantha recently posted..List for Exploring My City

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:52 am

Hi Sam, congrats on your upcoming adventure. I think that the saving/dreaming part is one of the most exciting parts of the entire journey!

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Samantha January 30, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Sometimes it is really exciting and fun planning…but not the budgeting part, haha. It’s more depressing than fun at the moment, but once I get closer to my goals I’m sure it’ll be fun too! I’m actually getting excited trying to come up with ideas to make extra money. I think I actually read somewhere that people are happier planning vacations/trips than they are when they are actually on the trip, haha.
Samantha recently posted..Reality Check

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Kim January 31, 2014 at 6:21 am

OH, I loved the budgeting part… actually, the saving part. It is SO FUN to watch that savings account grow and know you’re getting closer and closer to your goals. You’ll be there in no time!

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Tyrhone January 28, 2014 at 8:49 am

Congratulations on the job guys. even though it seems like a dirty word it truly depends on whether you enjoy it or not. And besides, if you decide it is not for you, worst case scenario, you walk away! At least then you will know if it was or wasn’t the right thing for you.

Life sure does throw a lot of curve balls around doesn’t it!
Tyrhone recently posted..No Longer a Dream, I AM going to fly!

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:53 am

Yep, that’s true. Thyrhone, it sounds like you guys have an unexpected adventure coming up as well. Life is crazy!

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Rhonda January 28, 2014 at 9:43 am

Wonderful analogy and what an interesting way to look at making a decision. I believe that this leap of faith will perhaps change the trajectory of your path, just as taking the leap to leave the cubicle and travel did. Life is a series of twists and turns in the road and no truer words were “take the path less traveled, it will make all the difference.”
Rhonda recently posted..Winter Camping at it’s Best

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:54 am

Yes, it probably will change the trajectory of our path (indeed, it already has) but it will be interesting to see what comes of it.

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Sarah Somewhere January 28, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Yes, it’s a great analogy. I always ask myself the same question, “Is this going to take me towards the life I want?” Sometimes the answer is unclear at first, but soon I realise that the choice which both scares me and excites me (I borrowed that too) is the one to go for. It’s not always the easiest choice, in fact it rarely is. I applaud you for taking this leap and putting other parts of your dream on hold. I can understand it may have been a tough decision despite the great perks of the job and I am confident it will open so many doors for you both. How great that Brian is also part of the deal and finding his way in the world too. Much love!
Sarah Somewhere recently posted..Flying into the unknown

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:55 am

Yes, it is great for both of us but probably best for Brian, which is exciting. I will struggle to keep writing through it all. My hope right now is that I have enough time to focus on writing… we shall see. If not I’ll just have to make the time.

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Carmel January 29, 2014 at 2:14 am

That’s a great way to look at it. I will have to consider that question later this year when we will return to “normal” life. But first, probably a good idea to remind myself what my mountain looks like.
Carmel recently posted..PAK OU CAVES

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:55 am

Yep, the first step is knowing what your mountain looks like. I hope you guys are enjoying Vietnam!

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Ali January 29, 2014 at 3:03 am

Great advice, always good to determine if what you’re deciding about will take you closer or farther away from your goal. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on that and make the right choice, but if we can keep reminding ourselves of that, it will help in the long run.
Ali recently posted..Scenes from Poznan

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:57 am

Yes, it does help to make everything a little more clear.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) January 29, 2014 at 6:40 am

If it is a great fit, it sits well in your guts, and you can see the benefits then yes for SURE!! Absolutely! The universe is an amazing ally … once you are clear. Congrats to you both. I will follow your journey because I love your writing style. Even if backpacking is my least favorite way to travel. *grin* I only mention this because it says a lot about how well you write.
Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted..Staying With a Dog at The Sofitel Athens Airport Hotel – Greece

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) January 29, 2014 at 6:43 am

PS – My Senior Fitness Model hubby just shouted: HEY! I use the mountain analogy for my fitness goals! Is this food I am about to eat, activity I am about to undertake, Event I am about to attend … etc. bringing me closer to the mountain! (So there you go!)
Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted..Staying With a Dog at The Sofitel Athens Airport Hotel – Greece

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:58 am

YES! It works for everything!

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Kim January 29, 2014 at 7:58 am

Haha, you don’t love backpacking? ;) Well, I think we’ll be spending a lot of time in the car too! And thanks for sticking this new adventure out with me. I’m sure I’ll find lots to write about.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) January 31, 2014 at 11:36 am

I don’t like backpacking. I DO like … no… LOVE hiking. But the weight of the pack, the sweat, the gear (The obsession with the gear drives me nuts, since none of it ever looks even remotely good in my opinion – I fail to see why form, practicality and design … as in beauty … can’t go hand in hand)…not my thing. I don’t camp either. Again not my thing. And although I love the great outdoors a lot (I do mean a LOT!) I adore history and architecture more.

So I find myself more comfortable renting an apartment somewhere and then taking off for day hikes. Or on a sail boat moving from port to port, hiking on a different island every day. I loved hiking with my father when I was much younger on these amazing trails in the Austrian Alps. For a week to 10 days my father and I would hike, passing through villages, and stopping at castles and then lunch or dinner at some tavern. But the system was such that our bags got taken from sleeping point A to sleeping point B for us. That freedom, that sense of lightness … being alone with just my dad. Fabulous memories. And yes I loved the mountains, the nature and all that – but I remember the castles, monasteries and little towns even more fondly.

Our sailing trip around the Cyclades islands in Greece is one of my all-time favorite experiences. So I suppose you could say that I am not a “real” hiker. But I am totally ok with that. We are however… real sailors and scuba divers (she says grinning). But that is what travel is about in some ways right? Figuring out what KIND of gypsy you are.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) January 31, 2014 at 11:42 am

Hmmm… I feel a blog post: What kind of Gypsy are you? Thanks for the inspiration Kim!
Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted..Staying With a Dog at The Sofitel Athens Airport Hotel – Greece

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Kim February 1, 2014 at 6:38 am

HAHA, yes, DO IT!

Kim February 1, 2014 at 6:38 am

Hey, if you hike you are a real hiker (and if you write you are a real writer- I am always telling people (and myself) this!. We love what we love. I’m glad you’ve found your passion in sailing.

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Montecristo Travels (Sonja) February 4, 2014 at 7:51 am

So true!! Why do we do that to ourselves? Hiker, writer, sailor, traveler … why this need to put “real” in front (or not)? As if there is some sort of measuring point. Thanks Kim!
Montecristo Travels (Sonja) recently posted..Flying Olympic with an In-Cabin Pet

Jessica J. Hill January 29, 2014 at 3:15 pm

Oh I can totally relate to your dilemma, but it never hurts to try it out. It sounds like a wonderful opportunity for both of you, and an exciting new challenge. If it doesn’t work out, Vietnam and the Appalachian trail will always be there. Best of luck in this new venture!

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Kim January 30, 2014 at 10:33 am

You are right! And that is why we made the decision to go for it. Thanks Jessica :)

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Amy January 29, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Congratulations on your new job, it sounds amazing! This post is quite timely for me as I’ve just decided to take the plunge, book a TEFL course and try to get a job teaching in Taiwan in September – an option I had never even considered when I left the UK almost a year ago. Still, for a while now I’ve been wanting to actually settle in one place in Asia and really immerse myself in the culture, teaching there for a year seems like the perfect way to do this. This will also allow me to replenish my travel fund for road-tripping in the US in 2015 – I’m sure your upcoming posts about touring the US will give me loads of inspiration for that!
Amy recently posted..Thoughts on Bad Tourism and How to Travel Responsibly

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Kim January 30, 2014 at 10:34 am

Amy, that sounds perfect. I’m also itching to settle in one (foreign) place and actually live for awhile. Teaching English is such a good option. Yay to your exciting new adventure.

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Rod Austin January 29, 2014 at 11:06 pm

Congratulations on your new gig! I saw your US national parks road trip. I hope this time you take the time to visit Montana and head to Glacier National Park! You will love it. If you need photos to convince you, find them here (visitglacierpark.com).

Congratulations once again, and hope you have the time of your life. Your advice was spot on.

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Kim January 30, 2014 at 10:34 am

Trust me, Glacier is at the very top of our list. I can’t wait to get there :)

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Anthony January 31, 2014 at 1:48 pm

Kim I think this is great and congrats. So excited for you! If you make a stop in San Diego I will definitely try to come.

You will get the best of both worlds. Seeing the US and getting paid for it. And you will get to travel on your off months.
Anthony recently posted..A painfully slower Father Joe’s Thanksgiving 5K

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Kim February 1, 2014 at 6:39 am

I know, it is a really good balance isn’t it? And that was my word for 2014!!! OMG I just thought about that!!

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Sam January 31, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Hi Kim,

I’m a bit late on this, but a big congrats to you and Brian on the job and this next chapter in your journey! And great advice as usual! I finished reading your book while on my recent Mexico trip, and I’m utilizing those steps! So thank you! I’d love to meet you guys if you swing through San Francisco on your tour. And speaking of mountains and backpacking (yes, I occasionally read Backpacker mag!), my next big adventure is hopefully a week-long section hike of the John Muir trail this summer :)
Sam recently posted..Mexico: The snapshot summary

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Kim February 1, 2014 at 6:43 am

Oh, I dream of the John Muir trail!!! THAT will be a wonderful adventure :)

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TammyOnTheMove February 1, 2014 at 9:22 am

Love this post Kim. You are doing the right thing! And congrats again on getting the job. It sounds awesome!
TammyOnTheMove recently posted..Making little friends on the Uros Islands, lake Titicaca

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Kim February 1, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Thanks Tammy!

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Jade February 2, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Congratulations! What an absolutely amazing job! As far as jobs go… :)
It really is amazing how the universe sometimes conspires to present such perfect little opportunities to us and all it takes is saying yes and then taking that leap of faith.
You guys are going to be awesome.

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Kim February 3, 2014 at 6:02 am

Thanks Jade. We are really excited!

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Maddie February 3, 2014 at 11:31 am

This is such great advice, it’s so easy to become overwhelmed when you think about getting to where you want to be. You’re completely right that even just one tiny step at least has you heading in the right direction. Congrats again on the job, I’ve have no doubt that it will be an incredible experience for both of you.
Maddie recently posted..Finding new experiences close to home – Take 12 Trips, January

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Kim February 6, 2014 at 9:26 am

Thanks Maddie. I think it is the perfect job for us– we shall see, and soon!

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Meghann February 4, 2014 at 8:37 am

Congratulations!
I’ve been following your blog for a couple months now, and feel so unbelievably inspired. “Think of your biggest dream or goal as a mountain in the distance. When you must decide if you should say yes or no to an opportunity, ask yourself if the opportunity will take you closer or farther away from that mountain. If it takes you closer, go for it.” As a student trying to figure out myself and my life right now, this really says it all. I love this post, thank you!

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Kim February 6, 2014 at 9:32 am

I’m glad the mountain metaphor will help you Meghann. It definitely helps me.

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Charlie February 10, 2014 at 2:15 pm

Congrats! I understand how it must have been a difficult decision to divert from your path and work for someone else again but, still, the job sounds like fun – doesn’t sound like work to me ;) I’m sure it will bring with it many great experiences and open up more opportunities.

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Kim February 11, 2014 at 6:59 am

Yes, the job does sound fun doesn’t it? That’s why we took it!!! We’re anxiously awaiting the start date.

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Gillian February 26, 2014 at 12:01 pm

I loved this post when you first wrote it and I returned to it today to gain inspiration for a decision I’m labouring over. Your words (again), the sentiments of those who have commented, and my OWN words echoing in my ears (that I may have at one point even said to you!) remind me that this discomfort is what tells me I SHOULD move forward even though the reward is unclear. Why is it that sometimes taking your own advice is the hardest?! Moving closer to the mountain.
Gillian recently posted..7 Essential Pieces of Cycle Touring Equipment

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Kim February 27, 2014 at 6:08 am

Ha, taking your own advice is always the hardest!!! It is one thing to know the truth and another to act on it. I’m excited about your own big decision, Gillian, whatever it is. I’m sure it will be another exciting step (one giant step :)) in the adventure.

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Kim February 6, 2014 at 9:31 am

No idea but I’m definitely guilty of it.

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