Your purpose as a writer comes from who you are

Not what you do

Over the past decade, I’ve built a writing career on the move. I became a digital nomad in 2013, and I’ve lived in more than 40 countries since then. First, I was a travel writer. Then a foreign reporter. Then a managing editor for Google, leading globally distributed creative teams. These days, I’m an independent creator with a book, a newsletter, a speaking agent, and collaborators who feel like family.

As exciting as all this sounds, there’s nowhere you can go and nothing you can do to escape the emotional challenges of freelancing. My early career was plagued by fear, worry, and dissatisfaction. The more people told me I was living the dream, the more pressure I felt to keep achieving. I spent years ricocheting from one project to another, never getting time to think deeply enough or build for the long-term. No matter how hard I worked or how impressive my accomplishments, I could never shake the feeling that my business might come crashing down around me at any moment. I found it hard to be present in my own life, but I rarely had time to notice.

When the pandemic hit, I was forced to stay still for the first time in years. My world narrowed and I felt the colour fade from my days. At the same moment, my inbox exploded. I was an expert remote worker and a specialist in the future of work. After years at the fringes, my scene and my beat had gone mainstream overnight. Everybody wanted something from me: editors, clients, PRs, sources, family friends, people I went to school with. I knew it wouldn’t be long before the conversation turned to digital nomads. Remote work makes you think differently about location, and there’s nothing like captivity to give people itchy feet. 

When my partner asked me, “What do you want from all this attention?”, I had no answer. I could see a clear opportunity to accelerate my journey as a writer, but I felt completely overwhelmed. 

I decided the best solution was to lock myself away until I had some clarity. I ignored my inbox, drank lots of tea, and covered the living room wall in Post-It Notes.

I’d sought out professional prestige for years, but the personal choices I made turned out to be just as important. The “asks” in my inbox were for more than my expertise: people were interested in who I was and how I lived too. But was that even stuff I wanted to share in public? My writing served to amplify other people’s ideas and voices. If I was going to switch focus and share my own story, I needed a reason beyond the professional prospects.

On the wall of sticky neon squares, I scribbled down everything I thought might be important: the throughlines in my work, the stories that touched me most, the memorable experiences, the causes I believed in, the communities I loved, and the colleagues I considered friends.

I realised two important things:

  1. I had been sidelining parts of my identity, especially in relation to my work. I was an early adopter digital nomad and the child of a refugee. The real opportunity in front of me now was to embrace who I was, and use my voice to move discussions forward in ways that were uniquely mine.

  2. What I really wanted to do was start an overdue conversation about global mobility rights for both nomads and refugees. With this as my mission, I could explore new ways to apply my skills and knowledge, and move from an identity as a writer to one as a writer and activist.

The certainty I feel about the purpose behind my writing has made it easier to navigate the complexities of internet-era freelancing. Clarifying your mission allows you to abandon the aspiration of success for its own sake, and embrace a path you truly believe in. Now, I finally feel in control of my work. When something lands in my inbox, I make a decision quickly. It either advances my mission, or it doesn’t.

By slowing down and delving deeper, I came to understand myself, my work and my context in a new light. I finally figured out the “why” behind my writing. In the end, the clarity I needed didn’t come from the external markers of success I’d been chasing. It came from the internal lens I’d had all along.

Take it from me: Your purpose as a writer can’t come from what you do or any one opportunity. It can only come from who you are. And that’s a blessing, not a curse.

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