Have You Ever Felt like a Fish Out of Water?
Photo courtesy of Caroline.

Have You Ever Felt like a Fish Out of Water?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Northwest Quest

You know when you can feel your brain expanding at a rapid rate? Perhaps too rapid for comfort, certainly too rapid for any sustained periods of sleep. It’s how I imagine it would feel to sign up for some volunteer program in Africa. You leave the world you know so well, you’re on the plane for a million hours, and then BAM new culture, training begins, 24 hours later you have no idea which way is up.

Ever since arriving in Portland at the beginning of September, I’ve been scoping out campers for my Northwest Quest (#nwquest). The plan is to live in the camper in someone’s backyard for a few months before I take off. This will allow me to prepare for my trip, save on rent, and learn the intricacies of living in a camper full-time.

As soon as I started looking at campers, I began to realize how much I didn’t know. Just a walk around the outside reveals multiple tanks (“gray” tanks, “black” tanks, fresh water tanks, propane tanks), hose requirements having to do with pressure, enormous batteries with voltage numbers I don’t understand, cables, and electrical outlets that require adapters. Inside there are switches and levers and pumps to get the water flowing. I’ve learned that fridges need to stay open when a camper isn’t being used, and that humidity is the main problem in these things.

I felt like a sponge. Like a sponge at full capacity, that desperately needed to be wrung out.

But after looking for a couple weeks, I did find an amazing camper. And a place to park it.

And then I lost it.

After paying and hauling the thing over, it turned out that the alley leading into the backyard wasn’t wide enough to accommodate the truck. Rookie mistake.

I was upset, but when I lost that camper, something changed in me.

Everything I had been learning over the last few weeks began to crystallize. I now know what questions to ask. I know what the infinite tanks are for, and I feel a lot less like a fish out of water.

I know the dimensions of the alley and backyard gate. I’ve cut models out of paper to simulate various campers turning into that gate. I also know that I will probably need to get something on wheels– a small trailer, and have a few friends help me push it into place. That this is the only option for actually making that turn into the backyard. I’m looking at restored vintage trailers and fiberglass trailers. They both have pros and cons, which I’m sorting out.

I also know how quickly things get snatched up on Craigslist (roughly 4 days for an awesome find), what a reasonable price is, how to negotiate, and that I need to be ready to pounce when I find something I love.

As a multipotentialite, I’m used to steep learning curves. But this one felt steeper than most.

If you find yourself in a similar situation with one of your new interests, try to absorb all you can and stick around for a bit. Give yourself time, and soon the concepts will begin to crystallize and feel more familiar. That’s when the fun really begins.

Let the hunt continue.

Your Turn

Have you ever felt completely and utterly out of your element when moving in a new direction? How did you handle it?

em_bioEmilie Wapnick is the Founder and Creative Director at Puttylike, where she helps multipotentialites integrate ALL of their interests into their lives. Unable to settle on one path herself, Emilie studied music, art, film production and law, graduating from the Law Faculty at McGill University. She is an occasional rock star, a paleo-friendly eater and a wannabe scientist carpenter. Learn more about Emilie here.


  1. Lorna says:

    I get that feeling of being like a fish out of water on doing many new things Emily :) Like today – writing my first online class – I’m trying to learn what the steps are to creating this NEW thing. It feels like a ton of firsts for me… just in the past 2 years alone it’s been tons of new stuff like starting a blog, beginning Podcasting, publishing a novel, learning how to get a business going with the IRS(scary for me), and finishing Life Coach training. So I get it as you shared about steep learning curves.
    Thanks for the tips – like you said I need to “try to absorb all you can and stick around for a bit.” I think sometimes I’m too impatient, wanting to understand everything now… when it takes a little bit of time to become familiar with new concepts and ideas :) Love this post – just what i needed today Emily :)

    • Emilie says:

      Wow, that was super inspiring to read. Good for you, Lorna! It’s seriously awesome that you’ve pushed yourself and are doing such big and meaningful work.

  2. I bought a house 6 months ago. I was in apartments and condos before. There are dozens of new topics to learn about – home maintenance, remodeling, gardening, landscaping, fence construction, city planning ordinances, tools…because I couldn’t just *live* in a house, I have to become obsessed with every part of the experience. :-)

    As I get older it seems to takes longer to absorb things, maybe because I have other ongoing commitments that take up time/energy every day so I can’t just become completely obsessed about something and forget about everything else. But I have learned to appreciate that learning takes time, and that’s OK. And, if I don’t get it perfect that’s OK. If I prune something badly and it dies, well, there are more plants in the world. If it takes me two years to figure out what kind of fence I want and where it should go, well, that’s OK too. I guess I’ve become more patient, and more interested in if I’m enjoying the process of learning vs hurrying to get to that place where it all “gels”, the place where you have enough information and experience to feel competent in a domain. I feel soooo far from competent in this domain, but that’s OK. :-)

    • Emilie says:

      I think buying a house is the closest thing I can conceive of to what I’m doing. They both have “systems” (electrical, gas, etc.) and they are both big commitments. A friend of mine was telling me how terrified she was when she bought her house and how she was praying that it was a good decision. And then the day she was set to move in, she arrived at the house and her key wouldn’t work. She had to call a locksmith. But after that, it was more-or-less smooth sailing. Sometimes you just gotta go for it.

      Patience is something I’m working on. You’re right. Incredibly important.

  3. Lori says:

    Yup. My FBA biz feels a lot like that. Every day is an adventure in learning something else I had no idea was coming my way. Or when I buy new inventory I haven’t carried before I feel more like I’m gambling or trying to win at investing in penny stocks than feeling like a business owner.

    In my latest adventure, I feel like I’m trying to win at a game of strategy as I try to maneuver in and around my competition and sell my product at a much higher price than they do when they happen to be out of stock…but then have to sit and wait when they come back in.

    I’m sorry to hear about losing your camper, though. That had to be extremely disappointing. I thought you were going to get one of those campers that fit into the bed of a truck for some reason. Have you considered one of those van type campers? Kills two birds with one stone of needing to get a vehicle to haul it and should be easier to drive than learning how to haul a separate vehicle (let alone figure out how to back it into places).

    Man, and I thought it was tough figuring out how to set up a tent!

    • Emilie says:

      Hey Lori,

      Yeah, I can see the similarities. What you’re doing is pretty awesome though. Definitely feels like uncharted territory and a fun experiment (perhaps a good way of looking at it when it feels scary?).

      Thanks Lori. Everyone has an opinion on what sort of camper I should get. Not going to get into my reasoning here, but I think made the choice that is best for me. :)

  4. Dave says:

    Know that feeling of being like a fish out of water only too well – and as someone once said ‘Expecting me to swim is like expecting a fish to climb a tree.’

  5. Deb says:

    Check out Tiny House Blog, Tiny House News and related newsletters. A lot of tiny houses are meant to be towed on the back of a truck. Ask for help and they will lead you to helpful sources!

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