And the guest blogging series returns! Today my friend Kat will write about defining moments in her life. Kat and I went to college together. We both preformed in the Vagina Monologues and took a few of the same classes. I’ve always respected her opinion, so even though she doesn’t have a blog and isn’t in my graduate school, I figured…. Why not ask her? She has a lot to share, and I think there will be quite a few people out there who will relate to her. Enjoy!
An interesting thing happened when Erin invited me to guest blog about a defining moment in my life. I was eager to write something and flattered that she’d thought of me, but when I saw what the topic was, I felt completely paralyzed. You could almost say I panicked.
Let me give you a little background first. I grew up in poverty. My parents were immigrants to this country with limited education and work experience who worked in factories for most of my childhood. I was a pretty precocious, though extremely quiet kid who always seemed to do well in school with limited parental engagement in my studies. My mom worked third shift at a factory, so she wasn’t the kind of mom that chaperoned field trips or volunteered to run girl scouts (not that I was a girl scout, but you get the picture). I don’t fault her for that – it was tough to raise kids when you had to work as much as possible in a physically challenging environment just so you’d make enough money to have only some confidence that there’d be food on the table every night. My parents worked hard and instilled in me that same strong work ethic. What also got instilled in me along the way, though, was a sense of fatalism – that things just happen to you (and they’re usually bad), that you have to just work with the hand you’re dealt, and that you’d better get smart and get a job or you’ll be poor and working in a factory for the rest of your life. Life sucks and then you die.
I didn’t have the best relationship with my dad. Okay, I had a horrible relationship with my dad. That’s a whole other topic though, so we’ll just leave it at that. So when it was time to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was pretty clear. I think I subconsciously decided that I wasn’t going to waste my time dreaming about being president or a neuro-surgeon. That sort of stuff doesn’t happen to kids like me (and nowhere had I been taught that I can MAKE it happen). But I did have a pretty clear goal before me. Wherever or whatever I ended up, I was not going to be like my parents. I was not going to live paycheck to paycheck, I was not going to do back-breaking work, I was not going to be absent from my future children’s successes. I knew I needed to go to college in order to get a good job and get the hell out of Dodge.
So I did. I got a full scholarship, finished college suma cum laude, got a job in my profession. I met a great guy, had a kid, got a masters degree, got laid off from work, got a new job, bought a house, sold a house, had another kid. I did it all. I grew up. But I never really felt satisfied – something was always lacking. And I was always looking over my shoulder, the demons of my past creeping slowly behind me. I had to be on my A game so I wouldn’t end up like them. Keep going Kat. Stay out of Dodge. Don’t go back. Don’t fuck up.
Then one day I signed up for a leadership seminar my CEO offered to staff. The first assignment was to write the Times News article about ourselves 5 years from now. This was basically a fantasy exercise – time to dream, be crazy, and write about where we could see ourselves (or wished to see ourselves) 5 years down the road. What did we want to be when we grew up?
I couldn’t do it. I thought and though about it for weeks, stared at blank pages waiting for inspiration to hit me. The day of the next class came and we were asked to share what we’d come up with. Everyone around me was excited about what they’d written. Some sat down knowing exactly what they had in mind. Others were surprised about what they discovered about themselves along the way. I had nothing. I had lots of excuses (I’m too busy to think about this, maybe I’m a little depressed so it’s hard to get really excited about something) but no dream.
I had completely forgotten about that assignment until Erin emailed me. A defining moment in my life? I saw this as an opportunity to write about a moment that made me “ME.” But who am I? What is it, exactly that I’m working towards? Where am I going and how did I realize that’s where I needed to progress to? A couple of days later an email went out at work that a coworker of mine was leaving the organization. She and her husband were focused on starting a family and she wanted to give more attention to her passion for writing. So I thought about it. Essentially, she was quitting her job to go be what she really really wanted to be. What if someone came to me and said, “Kat, feel free to quit your job right now and go do what you’re passionate about – go make that Times News article come true!” What would I do? Where would I go? What am I passionate about? Is there a career goal to which I would strive? A hobby I would pour myself into?
You guessed it. I. Got. Nothing. So I started talking to people about it. What the hell? Who doesn’t have a dream? Who doesn’t know what they want? Who doesn’t have goals? Here’s what I found out about myself. Here’s my defining moment (or moments, really). Maybe I had spent so much time knowing what I didn’t want, that I never had the time, energy, or emotional capacity to figure out what I DID want. I spent so much time and energy getting out of Dodge that I never really thought about which new town I wanted to end up in. I was too busy looking back over my shoulder that I never thought to chart the path before me. Not that. Not them. That was my goal.
So now that I’ve recognized this, I have the somewhat daunting task before me of learning to dream, finding my passions, and paving the road before me instead of running from the past all the time. Believe it or not, that feels really hard to do. I don’t even know where to start. One suggestion I got was to think about what I loved when I was 10, as that’s around the age you’re at your truest self. Other advice was to stop worrying about 5 years from now so much and just enjoy the right now. Either way, I think some lying in the grass and looking for shapes in the clouds is in order. Who knows, maybe I’ll start blogging, since this was such a defining process in my life.