I am convinced that we are born into this world knowing who we are.
When we are young, we are encouraged to dream with a brazen wonder. We are not yet weighted and tethered with the expectations of society as to what constitutes as a successful and happy life. Teachers and parents alike ask us what we would like to be when we grow up, and we always answer with joy and excitement from a place of our inner being, our inner flame. We are not told we are being ridiculous or silly, rather encouraged, lifted, told we can be anything we put our mind to. As children there are no limits to explore all possibilities of where our lives may take us. Unfortunately, as we get older this changes. We are told that you are allowed to dream as long as it follows the traditional path that you go to college, do well, find a career that you don’t hate, get married, buy a house, have children, then spend the next 45 years of your life working saving up for retirement. That you are allowed to dream but only if it fits in this box, and only if it will gain you social and economic success as your life progresses.
Growing up I always knew I was different. Teachers would often times tell my parents I was an old soul, and to not allow people to change the way I viewed the world with magnificent wonder. It was a blessing and a curse. Everywhere I went I was blown away with the austere beauty that encompassed my life. I could from a very young age find the beauty in the simple day to day life. The way dandelion seeds blew in the wind, or the sound of leaves rustling in the trees. The way the leaves were a beautiful, lush green in the spring and a painted canvas of many colors come early October. I would often find myself thinking that God/ the universe or whatever one may believe in didn’t have to make this world so beautiful, but I am sure glad that he did. However, people like me are often told that we are day dreamers, too soft, that we don’t see reality, and that we need to grow up and find our place in the manmade box of the created social construct. Instead of our softness and empathy being viewed as a gift and celebrated, people tend to view it as a weakness and simply tolerate it.
The older we get the more we are told that our dreams of living a nontraditional life are ridiculous. Wanting to travel and write is seen as one’s inability to grow up and that we truly are just silly dreamers.
I would like to say that for a large part of my life I did a good job at fighting back against societal standards of how I should live my life. I left college to follow my passion and found myself in a career grooming dogs, which I adored. I never made lots of money doing what I did, but that was okay because I loved it. I lived a very comfortable life and wanted for nothing. I truly believe that if you are grateful for all that you have you will never find yourself wanting for more. I had a wonderful family and friends that loved me and the best dog that I could’ve ever asked for. However, after 10 years of grooming, the physical nature of the job had caught up with me which was only accelerated a car crash I was involved in during the summer of 2019. I had to make the hard decision to walk away from grooming and explore other career goals.
I was very fortunate to have gotten a job as an executive administrative assistant at Spectrum Health & Human Services. Its mission of getting everyone the mental health help they need is a mission that has always been close to my heart. (We’re hiring! See our Careers page for our open positions. You won’t regret it!) For the first time in my working career, I had weekends off, fantastic hours, and my body was allowed to physically heal after years of heavy lifting. It was around this time, however, that the “not enough” slowly monster crept in.
As I realized I was getting closer to 30, a kind of panic washed over me. Was I successful? Was it bad that I was nearing 30 and still renting and didn’t have my own home? How was I going to retire? (because at the time I had nothing in retirement.) From there it just kind of spiraled out of control fueled by the ugly flames of comparison. It seemed like everyone I knew was embarking on that next stage of life and I was still stuck asking myself what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Friends were getting married and starting families, and my life was much the same as it had always been. No longer able to live in the moment, I lived in fear of the what ifs of the future. For in America, it is taught that you get your primary fulfillment and status from what you do as a career.
Eventually I decided that if I was going to live a happy and successful life, I was going to have to go back to school to find a career in a well-respected profession that would allow me buy said house and invest in said retirement. I had always loved helping people, so I honestly thought that nursing was my calling, and so I enrolled in classes at my local community college. Now let me preface this by saying I do not in any way regret going back to school. The information that I learned was incredible and eye opening. However, during the duration of the semester I had lost the spark that made me who I was. Long gone was the girl who enjoyed playing with her paints and taking long walks with her dog. I came to measure my very worth on my academic success and ability to get into a prestigious nursing program. Now, I would like to say that I went back to school solely with the intentions of bettering myself. However, that wasn’t entirely the case. Now that I look back, I believe I went back partially in an attempt to get the approval of others that I so desired to confirm that I was living a good life. That I wasn’t wasting my intelligence and life away by not having a degree or high standing career. (Which in retrospect is so stupid).
I just wanted people to be proud of me, I suppose.
As the weeks rolled by my need to accomplish nothing less than A’s in my studies had begun to take its toll. When I wasn’t at work I was stressed, anxious, and dare I say even a bit depressed. My dad always did tell me that depression is your mind’s way of holding you down by your throat until you address what feelings you have been ignoring. Those particular feelings in this instance were that I had decided that this wasn’t the path I wanted to follow. I thought I had wanted this, but in the end I didn’t. I was just talking myself into it if that makes sense.
Honestly, I think that I would have kept lying to myself too. You see I did achieve those A’s I so desired, and people were proud, and it felt good. When the semester came to an end, I signed up for the next round of classes that I needed to cross off my list; the entire time feeling as if I was fighting against the truth of what my soul already knew, that this wasn’t for me. However, the final blow came on January 7 at 6am, as my roommate called to me from my door in shock proclaiming that she was going to pass out, that our dear friend Alley had died unexpectedly of COVID complications early that morning.
Alley was young, healthy, full of life, and only 27. Call it grief, call it shock, call it an overwhelming sadness, but something in my soul changed in that moment forever.
For days I mostly just existed. I was there but not really there. I kept waiting for someone to tell me that this wasn’t really happening and that she would be over Thursday night to drink wine and bake cookies with Kayleigh and I. But slowly, very slowly, it dawned on me that this was real, that my friend wasn’t on vacation somewhere tropical with no cell service and wouldn’t be returning next week. It really got me to thinking that if I were to die would I be able to say with 100% certainty that I was living my authentic life? Deep down I knew that the sad answer was no. Did I want to spend the next three years of my life working full time, while going to school, juggling bills as well as relationships, and forget about my sanity? No. I realized that if I died that day, I would not be living my life as was intended. After much thought and many late-night talks with best friend I made the decision to withdraw from school and instead fall back into my love of paints and all things art, my late nights of getting lost in a book, and writing. I gave myself permission to believe that my job title doesn’t define me, nor does the amount of money I make. That rather it is the amount of joy that I bring to the lives of those I love that is the most valuable. And you know what? One month after making this choice I feel radically better!
I am proud of working at a not for profit, of being the first voice people hear when they muster up the courage to reach out for help.
I dare say, I would even call it an honor. For it isn’t the job title, salary, or prestige that makes a good life. Rather the ability to help people and pick them up when they are at their lowest and let them know they are not alone.
Alley’s death was tragic, shocking, unfair, and cruel. But I refuse to allow her death to happen without honoring her life by making a monumental change to my own. To live the life she would’ve wanted me to. To dream big and not let the “adults” tell you that you are being silly. I AM going to write that book I’ve always dreamed of; I WILL paint with a fervent passion even if the paintings aren’t perfect, but most importantly, I have let go of the heavy weight of the expectations of others. I am excited to once again chase what sets my soul ablaze with childlike abandon in the same way I did when I was five. I will take this newfound fire and will run with it into the unknown, and in such a way that no one will ever be able stop me or tell me to slow down ever again.
For I am a thing of spirit, passion, and fire. I am a woman who has (un)-become.