Photo wall at my friends' baby shower.

On Pivoting. And 2019.

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Earlier this year my friend recommended a book called Pivot to me. I went to the library to find this book and, even though the Chicago Public Library’s website said that it was on the shelf, it wasn’t where it should have been. So I picked up this other book called Pivot instead, because I did find that where it was supposed to be.

Same same, right?

I mean, I’m sure both books covered basically the same ideas, just probably with different audiences in mind. Both were focused on reinventing your life and your career. Both were focused on switching gears.

Anyways, I read this other Pivot book and, in it, the author really drove home this idea that you should stop doing the things that aren’t working for you and that you need to, instead, focus on the things that are. That can.

I’ve always considered this, Choosing Figs, to be my “main blog.” It was the first blog I started back in 2006. It’s where I’ve documented my life, my travels, my thoughts, ever since. I’ve always wanted it to grow, to get more readers, to continue to thrive.

When I started 2019 I had big goals to increase my traffic. And my revenue. I’d never been particularly focused on making money with blogging but the longer you blog, the more money you have to spend on blogging. I have to pay for domain names, hosting, SEO keyword software, several social media scheduling tools because I need each one to function differently, Photoshop, Lightroom, iPhones.

It’s an expensive hobby.

So I made a list of SEO topics to create content for. I was curating my Instagram feed with a perfect checkerboard pattern full of advice and inspirational quotes. I was creating Pinterest pins and pinning every post. I was trying to do everything “right.”

Because, the thing is, I do everything you’re not supposed to do on this blog. I have no niche. I write about me. I write for me. I post 10,000 photos in one post. I neglect most of my social media accounts and just post Instastories of my cats sleeping on top of each other.

I get decent traffic through SEO but most of those posts are bucket list listicles and pudding shot recipes. I get decent traffic through Pinterest but I always wonder if those people who click through are disappointed to find a personal narrative instead of advice on traveling to a city.

But still, it’s my “main blog” and I wanted to focus on growing it, getting it to a point where I was getting even better traffic, steady revenue, before focusing on any of my other projects. I mean, despite the fact that this blog has no niche and is written about me and mostly for me, it had so much more traffic than any other blog I had. It made sense to continue to try to grow this, to get it to a good point, before moving on to the next project.

But then I read this other Pivot book. And I stepped back. And I changed course. And I pivoted.

I have another blog that’s about roadside attractions and road trips. I used to post there a lot but neglected it for a while after traveling abroad for three years and selling my car, making road tripping a much harder endeavor.

But it had a clear niche. It had a focus that made it 1,000% easier to find an audience, to create authority, to rank, to find income-generating keywords. And, despite the fact that the current traffic was a small fraction of what this one gets, it would be so much easier to grow.

So I spent the last 6 months optimizing old posts for SEO, creating new posts about every roadside attraction I’ve ever visited, creating keyword-focused SEO posts, consistently creating content for Instagram and Facebook and Twitter.

This month, on that blog, I had an over 300% increase in pageviews, sessions, and users year over year. I made five times as much income from ads and affiliate links this December than I did last. The Instagram account for that blog is up by over 4,000 followers.

All while on this blog, everything has stayed pretty stagnant.

By shifting my focus, by changing my priorities, by pivoting from something that wasn’t working to something that was, I was finally starting to see progress.

Last week I was looking at the list of New Year’s resolutions that I had made for 2019 earlier this year and, while I hit few of my goals, I did make some progress. And I actually feel kind of OK with where I am.

I didn’t lose 40 pounds. I was actually doing really well with this goal for the first few months of the year. I was going to the gym consistently, I was eating better, I wasn’t consuming as much sugar. I lost ten pounds. But then a project at work took everything out of me and I struggled to get back on track afterwards. I at least kept those 10 pounds off for most of the rest of the year but I’m afraid that they probably crept back on over the last few months of holidays and chocolate.

I didn’t get to 25,000 monthly sessions on my blog because, again, I pivoted my priorities. But I am happy with the progress I did make towards my new goals.

I think I did take more time to relax and have fun this year. I still have trouble, both mentally and financially, pulling myself away from home many nights. But when I did go out I felt more there, more in the moment, most of the time. I felt less like I should be home doing other things instead of being wherever else I was.

And while I didn’t leave the country, I did take that big road trip I had wanted to take, even if it was to somewhere completely different than I imagined going.

I’m looking forward to sitting down this week and coming up with my goals for 2020, the new year, the next decade.

As for this blog, no, it’s not going anywhere. Even though my priorities in terms of blogging have shifted, this will still be the place where I write about my life, my travels, and whatever else happens to be on my mind. I’ll probably even still write some bucket list listicles and pudding shot recipes for traffic.

Anyways. Since I have you here and since this is my blog where I just write about what I want to write about for my own sake and post 10,000 photos in a post. I’ll leave you, the year, the decade, with 10,000 or so photos from 2019…


January started out the year with a doughnut crawl, a multi-day birthday celebration (complete with a magic show, fried chicken, and alcoholic green shakes), and a trip to a massive ball pit.



February brought a Super Bowl party and an Oscars party, a trip to Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder, a little opera, a little karaoke, and some Kurdish food.



In March I went to a Seance, drank a pink squirrel, drank some beer, ate some cheese curds, saw Alan Menken talk about his career, and, other than that, pretty much worked 24/7.



In April I went to the Teach Abroad Film Festival and Art Institute After Dark. I celebrated Easter with my family and the launch of a big project at work.



In May I went to my nephew’s first communion, walked the 606, and took a mini road trip to see one of my favorite roadside attractions under renovation.



I spent most of June taking care of Rooney, my cat, after he ate a piece of string and cost me $2,500 for surgery.



In July I was supposed to travel to New York but I had to cancel my trip to pay for Rooney’s surgery. But instead July brought Square Roots Festival, a visit to the world’s largest rooftop bar, and a new haircut.



In August I went to a Cubs game (and ate Hot Dougs, the only think I care about in baseball) and took a giant 10-day, 10-state road trip.



In September I ate all the burgers at Hamburger Hop and all the dim sum at Duck Duck Goat.



In October I went to a pumpkin farm, Open House Chicago, and a Hocus Pocus trivia night (and, you know, dressed my cats up as llamas for Halloween).



In November I went to a baby shower, saw a couple of operas, ate all you can eat sushi, ate weird pizza slices, returned to skee ball league, celebrated Thanksgiving (with a giant turkey leg just for me), and went to Zoolights at Lincoln Park Zoo.



In December I went to all the Christmas bars, went to Christkindlmarket, and celebrated Christmas.

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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

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