Kayla Ihrig of ‘Writing from Nowhere’: “More people will quit than fail”

During the busy days and the late nights, I run this mantra through my head like a prayer. Many parts of building an online business are complicated, but tackling your to-do list isn’t. This sobering piece of advice has helped me through so many of the tired, un-sexy moments of business building. I’m not sure […]

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During the busy days and the late nights, I run this mantra through my head like a prayer. Many parts of building an online business are complicated, but tackling your to-do list isn’t. This sobering piece of advice has helped me through so many of the tired, un-sexy moments of business building. I’m not sure I’d have made it this far without that.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kayla Ihrig. Kayla is the founder of the remote work lifestyle blog Writing From Nowhere. She encourages her readers to explore why they’re bored in their jobs or lives and dig into those feelings to use them as a compass towards a life they enjoy. Kayla helps readers explore how they want to spend their time and navigate off the conventional path in life, often towards self-employment and travel.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

There were mornings where I spent my commute daydreaming of societal “get out of jail free” cards for working in an office. I spent four years in school, got my dream job right out of the gate, and yet boredom and apathy towards how I actually spent my days rocked me to my bone marrow.

At first, I thought it was maybe the job, or the people, or the tasks. I explored many different jobs before I realized that the problem was spending 40 hours (often more) in an office every single week.

Was there a way to leave the conventional path behind without having a good reason? Or was a shocking diagnosis or near-death experience the only way? When I confided murmurings of this with colleagues, everyone assured me that I would get used to these feelings over time. What if that’s the risk, though?

I left my corporate job in 2017 to work as a freelancer and travel full-time. Now, I live abroad and am building an online business that keeps me from having to return to an office ever, ever again.

The tidy bullet points of my story include the labels AmeriCorps service member, marketer, full-time traveler, freelancer, foreigner, blogger, and digital entrepreneur. But the label that’s made the biggest difference is “person who is determined to not sleepwalk through life.”

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

What do you do with feelings of restlessness, apathy, and boredom? You can endure them, or you can fight them.

My website, Writing From Nowhere, is a safe haven for people who thought they were alone in feeling this way. I encourage readers to be fiercely investigative about what kind of work makes them feel alive.

To some people, my reaction to boredom should be discouraged. But centering yourself around the numbness that you feel can turn that experience into a compass.

Where’s it pointing you? What do you think about when you’re supposed to be focusing on work? That direction is a gift, and I think it’s leading a lot of people to self-employment.

When everything went virtual in 2020, an uncountable number of jobs were created. Virtual doctor’s appointments, virtual golf lessons, and even virtual babysitting suddenly became commonplace and in demand. There have never been more opportunities to make money online, on your own terms, and for a much higher profit margin than the time-for-money equation of typical employment.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

In 2017, I decided to quit my corporate job, find freelance work and go traveling. I also had this unexplainable urge to start a blog, but I was so conditioned to only invest time in things that could go on my resume (I hadn’t yet had my full anti-employment epiphany). I had a terribly misguided lightbulb moment that travel could be cross-matched with urban planning, something I had considered getting a degree in.

So, I perused urban design master’s programs and started a blog about urban planning.

I had this idea that I could only justify going traveling and blogging if I turned the experience into a research project of sorts, and then returned to the US and used it as a portfolio piece to get into a top-notch urban planning program.

This was the only way that the puzzle pieces all fit together!

It’s honestly laughable now — the extent of this self-imposed coverup that only existed because I didn’t think it was okay to invest in anything that didn’t go on my resume.

That website — Eager Urbanite (dot com, now expired) had a logo, a content calendar, and a mission statement. It was more thorough than my actual online business that I have now! Not one person ever read it, because I never made it public. It wasn’t aligned with my new life, yet I insisted on its development in my life to fill a divot of insecurity.

It was a massive divot, apparently.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve been happy to have a number of important figures in my life who have helped me in my career and entrepreneurship journey, but the most shocking source of guidance on my entrepreneurial journey has been my husband.

Opposites in many ways, my husband never really thought about self-employment. He’s a high school teacher, had never considered running an online business, and, having no social media accounts, didn’t have exposure to anyone else who lived this way.

Then, there’s me: with several entrepreneurial failures behind me, his advice on entrepreneurial success was not all that welcomed.

Yet, knowing nothing about business, income streams, or blogs, he kept offering one piece of advice: “just enjoy it.”

Can you believe that?! The nerve!

The first dozen times I was served this piece of advice, I returned to sender. It verged on becoming a marital bickering point and seemed to highlight our large gap of understanding.

Find something to enjoy now. Not in a week. Not when the website traffic doubles. Not after the digital shop is launched. Find a reward today. Have one every day.

There is a part of building an online business that feels like a trek in the desert. The landscape was beautiful in the beginning, but now every day is fueled by a parched, desperate need to make it to the other side.

How can anyone enjoy that?

This small, pesky sentiment of “just enjoy it” has made me a question and expand my entire daily capacity for enjoyment.

I was always happy to be working on my blog and attempting to build an online business, but that wasn’t the same as enjoying it. Deep down, I thought that enjoying the process would make me lazy or less productive. Now, every day on my to-do list is enjoying part of the day, and it has honestly increased productivity a lot.

Now, my husband has put in his notice that is concluding his teaching career this school year. He and all of his unrelated wisdom will join Writing From Nowhere full-time in July. I’m always asked if I’m nervous to put so much weight on our marriage, but I honestly expect to enjoy part of every day, and I think that will be enough.

I even have a reminder that pops up on my phone every day, reminding me to enjoy it. Every day when it ‘pings,’ I pick up my phone and feel calm and grateful.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I feel very strongly that disruption without deliberate inclusion is just a continuation of a tired, ableist norm.

All leaders, entrepreneurs, and creators have a responsibility to attempt to make their movements radically inclusive. I find disruptors problematic when they ignore the parts of their field that touch on accessibility issues and expect someone else to pave the way. Why not them? Why not you?

This might sound big and complex, and in ways it is, but it’s also the result of many small choices. Choosing to not subtitle all of your videos is a choice to exclude people with hearing loss, non-native language speakers, and everyone else who needs written text to fully understand.

Choosing to hold your after-hours meetings at a restaurant with only high tables and bar stools is a choice to exclude people in wheelchairs.

Choosing to only use stock imagery or models that are white, young, thin and non-disabled is a choice to maintain an image that only represents a very small, overrepresented percentage of society.

The list goes on.

We all need to choose to make better choices, especially when we’re in any leadership position, and be open to publicly learning how to do better when an educational opportunity arises. I encourage everyone to challenge themselves and their industry to be radically inclusive.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

1. More people will quit than fail.

A travel blogger told a story in a podcast interview once that they were constantly bombarded by people who wanted to be full-time travel bloggers more than anything. Every year this travel blogger would attend industry conferences and said that it felt like nearly a 100% turnover every year. I can only imagine that a large percentage of those people really did feel that desperate to succeed as travel bloggers, but if you’re not even willing to stick it out in the desert for one year, you’re not going to make it.

This piece of advice really framed the risks for me and made a huge impact on my emotional state as I put in the sweat equity to blog without profit for so long.

2. Set unrealistic goals and track everything

I received this piece of advice from a friend at the beginning of the New Year, and it really helped shift my goal setting for my entire business.

For example, I set the (perhaps unrealistic) goal of making one thousand dollars a month passively from my blog by the end of 2021. Many blogs make much more in passive income than that, but my blog recently pivoted niches and I made a lot of mistakes that needed to be corrected. I have no idea if I’ll hit the $1k goal, but I know I’ll make much more than if I hadn’t set that goal at all.

I track my goals weekly in a Google Sheet every Sunday. Even going to my spreadsheet and writing “no progress made” is a win, because in a month, a quarter in half a year, I won’t have to wonder why that goal wasn’t met. I’m very connected to my goals and the process.

This will help maintain momentum as I move into my unrealistic goals for 2022. Currently, I make most of my income by helping other creators with Pinterest (my specialty). By the end of 2022, my goal is to move into passive income completely and do Pinterest management and coaching optionally.

3. Do it and it will be done.

During the busy days and the late nights, I run this mantra through my head like a prayer. Many parts of building an online business are complicated, but tackling your to-do list isn’t. This sobering piece of advice has helped me through so many of the tired, un-sexy moments of business building. I’m not sure I’d have made it this far without that.

I can remember a specific moment where I was so overwhelmed by my to-do list and my total lack of time management. I was feverishly building my blog, had just started taking on a full Pinterest client load, and meanwhile was still working part-time as a nanny. I was almost in tears looking at all of the things that I had to do and wanted to do (two entirely different parts of an entrepreneur’s to-do list), feeling like I didn’t have the skills to manage my workload. But, I remembered, it wasn’t that complicated; it was extremely simple: do it and it will be done.

I worked all night in a creative fever and finished my entire to-do list. I felt like Wonder Woman. And I’ve never felt that hopelessly inadequate again.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

In the first 2 years of building Writing From Nowhere, I was slow to publish and progress because I was so clueless and had to learn everything as I went.

My husband will join full-time in July, and Writing From Nowhere will hopefully continue to grow its readership and keep providing people with better resources to help them to build and scale their income, while still enjoying the journey.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Many people have decided that certain lives are impossible for them. Lives such as making a lot of money doing something that they enjoy, or being self-employed, or traveling. Those people who decided that doors are closed to them are bothered to see people, specifically women, opening those same doors for themselves.

Every once in a while, I’ll hear a comment like “it must be nice to not have a real job.”

Now, it just makes me chuckle. “It’s so nice! You should try it.”

Every time you deliberately veer from a well-trodden path, you will have to answer scrutinizing questions and prove its viability.

Women will face even more probing questions about the legitimacy of our choices, income, and the effects it has or will have on our families someday. People are more inclined to see female-led online businesses as hobbies rather than legitimate businesses.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

One of the biggest influences on my entrepreneurial mindset has been a sailing YouTube channel, of all places.

The YouTube channel, SV Delos, is run by a pair of husband and wife sailing videographers who have been sailing around the world for more than a decade, sharing on YouTube and fueling an ecosystem of online income streams.

They really embody the “unrealistic goals” piece of advice that changed my life: it didn’t happen overnight, but they created their dream job and are living an amazing adventure. Who would’ve thought that anyone could make a living simply by sharing videos of their travels?

They never make it look easy. Living on a boat is a jaw-dropping amount of work. I often start my mornings with a sailing video and let myself be inspired and reminded that I am creating my dream job and that it isn’t all smooth sailing, either, but it was never going to be. My dream job doesn’t require me to fix my own plumbing in the middle of the ocean, so it’s already easier than some.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I wish that more people were motivated by joy. Life can be vibrant and full, while still providing for you and contributing to society in a meaningful way.

Enjoyment and fun aren’t opposite poles to productivity, business, and career success. They’re essential ingredients if you ask me, and you’ll go a whole lot further with them.

And, what risk lies in trying? If you fail to make a joyful life for yourself, then you will be in the same place that you started. Just enjoy it. In the end, “it” turns out to be your life.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

During my senior year of college, six people in my life died. It’s possible that I graduated and entered the workforce with a hypersensitive urgency for living, but I feel this Annie Dillard quote to my nerves:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

I’ve described my departure from certain jobs as simply “not being how I wanted to spend my life.” I was called “green” by colleagues, but Annie’s wisdom sat on my shoulder and encouraged me at every turn.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on my website, Writing From Nowhere (dot com), on Pinterest @writingfromnowhere, or on LinkedIn (Kayla Ihrig, Writing From Nowhere).

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

It was absolutely my pleasure! Thank you for having me.

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