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Can You Really Change Your Life in Less Than a Year?

Danielle Dahl, Lead Contributor

How does someone with a Master’s of Science in Management and Leadership become a full-time writer? How do you leave a field you have spent nearly 20 years in, to “chase your dreams?” Can you really change your life in less than a year? You can, by following this simple advice, “Change your mindset, change your life.” 

Everyone has their history, which provides the catalyst for this change of mindset, but it almost starts with one question.

Who are you, really?

When I was younger, I wanted to be a writer. I went through phases where I thought I would go to law school, or maybe veterinary school. In high school, while I was trying to decide what path to pursue in college, I was busy doing three things:

  • reading every book that I could 
  • writing poems and stories 
  • dreaming of the book that I would write one day

Suddenly, four years came to a close. It was time to fill out college applications, and there it was Journalism/Mass Communications. My work had been published a few times already, and I felt such a sense of “rightness” when I checked that box. 

But then… life happened. I ended up leaving my grandparent’s house to move to Montana and live with my mother (that I hadn’t lived with since Kindergarten) who was in the witness protection program. 

One of the first things she said to me was, “They have an equestrian program here.” An equestrian program…as in I could go to college and get a degree in HORSES. I did not know what I would do with an Equestrian degree, but I loved horses! I noticed one of the potential careers was “equine magazine writer.” I could always do that.

Six months after the move, and starting college, my mother was killed in a car accident. I couldn’t live in her house anymore and I couldn’t afford rent. So I did the very opposite of what any grief counselor will tell you. I upended the hell out of my life. 

It started with dropping out of the equine program and (using the extra financial aid I had now) moving into the dorms. They didn’t have a journalism program, so I decided on Political Science. A month or two later, my boyfriend told me he was leaving school to go back home. 

I got in a fight with my grandmother on the telephone that same day. I ended up spending three nights in the psych ward, and when I got out, I looked up my long-lost father in N.Y. Days later, I took a bus across the country. 

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I found my footing within a few months and followed the boyfriend to Hawaii when he asked. I ended up marrying that boy the following year, and we had a baby the year after that. I had worked in retail management but still wanted to finish my four-year degree. This time, I went to school online and earned a B.S. in Business Administration.  

I kept advancing into more complex leadership roles: store manager, restaurant management, and manager at a non-profit. I never felt like I was doing what I was meant to do, so maybe I needed more education. Then I could teach or become a CEO someday. After starting the Master’s program, I realized I didn’t love business and thought, “Danielle, who are you, really?”

Once you ask that question, don’t be afraid of the answer!

The day the answer came, my husband was out of town, and my abandonment issues had kicked in. To top it off, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled at work. One morning, I stumbled across an article about acedia, which felt like they had written it for me. The author, Benjamin Sledge, speaks about the good and bad news of realizing you are suffering from acedia and not depression:

“So here’s the good news. Combating acedia has simple steps that can help you act and combat the feelings of indifference, self-hate, apathy, and keep you from spiraling further. The bad news is that it begins by choosing to take part in little things that may seem repetitive, but make a big difference.”

When I saw this article, I felt inspired to go for a walk and think. For years, I had talked about writing a book about my life, and it was on my mind again. I had even gone to a local writer’s group just a few days before, and I told one writer that I always struggle with how to start the book. She had told me to write something else, and it would come. 

I got to the lake near my house and set off on my walk. It was so pretty out I snapped a quick photo. I imagined how the lake would look if you took a picture of it every day. You could catch the same spot looking completely different. It reminded me of life, and how you could live each day the same way, but the seasons change.

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At that moment, “A Year Around The Lake,” was born. My “something else book” would be about what could happen if you did a seemingly insignificant act repetitively every day for a year, and it would have pictures of the lake to accompany it.

Embrace your failures and realize how valuable they are.

I went to the monthly writing group for four months straight, cataloging my thoughts about the lake journey. I walked for approximately 120 days, including in the middle of a thunderstorm and a blizzard. I drug myself around the frozen lake in -4 degree temperature, and I felt so alive.

I was juggling this task along with a full-time job and family, so I could only go early in the morning or late at night on most days. And then we got hit with the mother of all Montana winters, and I failed. The year around the lake turned into “that time I learned a lot about myself between October 2018 and February 2019.” 

Life will only change when you become more committed to your dreams than you are to your comfort zone. Billy Cox

I learned I needed to be a writer. I grew more confident than I had been in a long time. I realized this would take work and a maniacal focus. I wasn’t sure I was ready, though, and I tried to fit myself back into my old life. I couldn’t, though. It is like taking a door down to paint it and leaving it outside too long before putting it back. It’s the same door that always went there, it fits back on the hinges fine, but when you go to shut it…it catches, and doesn’t close all the way. 

Define success and leave your comfort zone.

Then came August 2019; I realized that writing had always been “it” for me. Whether it was poems, or stories, newspaper articles or blog posts, or even giant papers for a graduate degree, I needed it in my world. My husband was out of town again, on his yearly trip to visit his friends. It was August 6th, and I started “A Year Around The Lake” for the second time.

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In September, I discovered Medium and started writing on there, publishing my first article near the end of the month. Medium paid its writers by the number of claps you received on your work. I ended up making $9 that month, and I cried like I had won the lottery because I was a paid writer. 

In December, I came across a Medium article about a freelance site called Upwork. I got my first client, and the job was writing ‘quote articles.’ These were so much fun, and the client paid me well. I was suddenly earning money writing. I told my husband: Imagine if one day, I could make enough money doing freelance writing that I could quit my job! I didn’t realize that I had already started down the path and was well past day one.

The funny thing about these quote articles was that they were exactly what I needed. I wrote about quotes involving following your dreams, success, failure, motivation, gratitude, and changing your mindset. I read a plethora of quotes from famous, smart, and talented people. And I took their advice. It helped that my client is also one of the most motivational and inspiring people I have met. I kept walking throughout winter, even finding a lake in Denver to walk around, when I was there for my daughter’s dance trip. 

Come the spring, I took a chance and sent my client a link to one of my Medium articles. This led to a phone call and the opportunity to write genuine articles for his website while doubling my old rate. I also got a few additional clients and kept self-publishing my work. This time walked around the lake for seven months every day. I still go, but not every day. Ten months into my journey, I left my management job to pursue writing full time. 

We all have the power to do this same thing and change the course of our lives. Ask yourself the tough questions and don’t be afraid. Embrace every failure along the way and use what you have learned. Reevaluate what success looks like to you, and leave your comfort zone. Find your lake and do one thing repetitively every day, and be prepared for what it teaches you. 

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  1. Maria Weigum

    August 27, 2020 at 10:14 AM

    I love all of this! 🙂

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