This week I got an email from a friend, and a client, who is at a crossroads. An excerpt from her email…
“I’m so lost and here I am at 35 and have no fucking clue who I am. If you pray, please pray for me. I’m leaving my job, security and money for my family in 3 weeks to find what makes me tick. I know you’ll appreciate this and am wondering if you ever went through something like this, where all your world turned upside down and you questioned everything that was “real” I’m so so scared but secretly excited. Any tips on “finding yourself?”
Woman. I feel you.
I’ve talked on the blog before about quitting my (supposedly) secure, relatively prestigious corporate position and about chasing and fanning your fire; but I haven’t talked much about what leads up to that…because that; in honesty, is the shit part. The dark part, the very unglamorous, unsexy chapter(s) that we have to live through to get to the fire within us.
When I left college to join the Marine Corps, I had no real marketable skills. I was 17, attending community college in hopes of majoring in music and literature…with no real idea of what I might do with that. I knew I loved to sing, I was good at it, and I loved to write, and I was good at that. The end. After a year of school and realization that I was indeed, directionless; I decided that I needed to get out. Out of school, out of town, out of the box that I had grown up in, comfortable, supportive, and beautiful as it was. I was never going to be more than I was that day if I didn’t break out and force the situation. So I marched my ass to my computer, signed up on the Marine recruiters website, and exactly one day later a handsome man in dress blues was standing at my dorm room door, waiting to tell me stories of faraway lands and magical opportunities. Insert laughter here….but no, he really did tell me those things…and I bought it hook, line, and sinker. Fast forward 5 years, a few deployments, many countries, 3 boyfriends (1 turned husband), 4 moves, and 1 shiny new black Ford Mustang later – I was ready to depart the Corps and move on with the life I had intended. The problem was, I still had no intention. After 5 years of non-stop movement, I had become an expert at my craft; and I enjoyed my work in the Intelligence field. It was a tangible, pat on the back for a job well done kind of work, and I was good at it. Therefore, upon discharge, I assumed it was only sensible to set out in search of a civilian career in the same field. The war was still raging, and civilian defense contractor jobs seemed to be a dime a dozen…but a move to the East coast to follow my husband’s career left me standing in a place I didn’t love, where I knew no one, and had no connections to the world that I had known. I searched for a year while trying my hand at full time horse training, and after 12 months of making no money and then selling underwear at Victoria’s Secret…I got the break of a lifetime. We were moving back to San Diego, and I got a call for a job interview. This firm I had honestly never heard of wanted to interview me for a position. I almost fell off my chair – and went to making preparations. I researched this company, and became more intimidated by the minute, this firm was the real deal…and I had never even been in the lobby of a place like this; how in the f*** was I supposed to fit in as an employee?
A long drive back to California and 2 weeks later, it was the morning of my interview. Fuck, I had nothing to wear. I was living with friends with my 2 dogs, they were destroying the backyard and all of my shit was in storage. I was literally living out of a suitcase and am pretty sure I didn’t even have a hairbrush at the time. So I borrowed one. I blew out my hair, and I took the last $600 in my bank account, and went to Nordstroms the morning of my interview…thank God it wasn’t until 1. I’m going to admit it right here, right now – that before that day, I had never shopped at Nordstrom’s. I had used the escalator a few times…I think I used the bathroom twice, because they were nicer that the ones in the food court. I had never shopped there though. I was more of an American Eagle meets the Gap meets the Salvation Army kind of gal…and what the fuck was I doing here? Getting a goddamn job, that’s what. I picked up the most beautiful three piece Tahari suit I had ever seen (still hanging in my closet), black pinstriped, and a pair of black patent heels that made me look, quite honestly, like a million bucks. My total was $409.38. I will never forget it. I had never bought an article of clothing that cost more than $40. I changed into it right there in nice Nordstrom’s bathroom, took the sticker off the bottom of my new shoes, and walked out of that place ready to run the universe…now I just had to find the place.
Fast forward again. Nailed interview, landed job, loved job, made friends, was promoted 3 times in 3 years and more than doubled my starting salary, something essentially unheard of for someone my age (I was 25). My work was consuming, and my private office and fancy clothes made me feel important…so did my excellent direct deposit every month. 4 years into my time with the firm, I got pregnant with Brody. I worked through my pregnancy while my husband was on deployment, and my co-workers all praised my dedication to the firm and our team. I was happy. I was also empty. My work was filling my time, but it wasn’t filling my heart. I left the firm on maternity leave, and then the news came that we would again be moving to the East coast. That winter I left a job I was comfortable in, that appreciated me, and that would have supported me financially for the next 30 years. My firm had no office where I was moving to, so I resigned, and found a position with a competing company.
The following year was one of the worst of my life.
My new job, though for another prestigious client for ridiculously excellent pay, was a nightmare. My co-workers hated me, the work was rewardless, and I felt dead everyday entering and exiting the building. To add, my marriage had seen better days, I had a year old baby at home, and no exit plan to support any of it. I would drag myself out of the house in the mornings when the nanny showed up, cry the 20 minute drive to work, and put on some mascara in the parking lot so that the no one would have the satisfaction of seeing how miserable I was. The truth was, they were winning. They were breaking me. I felt worthless, without purpose, and it showed. I was gaining weight, I no longer cared about my looks, my health, or my future. I couldn’t see past the black hole I was living in – but even so…I knew there had to be something else for me. This couldn’t be it, I wasn’t born to live this way. I had a million things to do, to see, to experience….and sitting there in my truck, pulled over on the side of the road, I wasn’t getting any closer to experiencing anything aside from another day wasted in my life, a day and an opportunity I would never get back. That day at work, my ‘superiors’, a man and woman about 10 minutes older than me with zero life experience, sat me down to tell me that my personality was keeping me from being successful, and that I would never amount to anything more than I was unless I made some changes and began emulating my co-workers mindless, drone behavior. They threatened to fire me if I didn’t start sucking ass and playing the game by their rules. I left the office that day wishing I was dead. Dead. Read it again. Dead. I had never in my life wished for such a thing. That day, everything changed for me.
A week later, in September of 2011, I secured myself a business trip to Seattle for some software training that would, in theory, help me with some programs I was running. I scheduled myself some extra time at the end of the trip; Seattle was somewhere I had always wanted to go, and I needed to breathe. The city was like oxygen to me, opening my soul up again. The music and life of the Market, the fresh food on every corner, the coffee, the people creating and composing and just living. My last days in Seattle were spent out on the Olympic Peninsula, tracing the 101 around the coast through Port Angeles to La Push. The second day, I started out early and drove up Hurricane Ridge. I drove the 45 minutes up a winding road through the pea soup fog that morning, having no idea that something so much bigger than me was about to be set in motion. I parked my rental, and lifted my eyes to the sight in front of me, and took in the first breath of the rest of my life.
I had never seen anything like it. I grew up in the mountains, and had always felt like they were quiet friends, like sitting in the rocking chair next to my grandfather on a summer day. The way they rose out of the clouds in front of me, standing in their magnificent space, unapologetic, unyielding to the elements. They were blue and white with snow, even though the hillside in front of me was golden with tall grasses. I sat down on the hillside near the visitors center, and I fell apart. I cried in the quiet of the heavens, and I asked God what the fuck I was supposed to do. Not being a religious person, I equate it to sitting in Zeus’s living room, if that’s something that works for you…that’s what it felt like to me. Here I was, sitting in the presence of the Gods and of Mother Nature herself, and I needed the universe’s help. I was so lost. Sitting here writing this, I can still hear the silence wrapping itself around me, whispering words of love, lifting me out of my darkness. The silence and the light of that morning lifted me off the ground, and I began to walk. I pulled my camera, a point and shoot Canon Powershot, out of my bag, and started photographing this landscape that was changing me on the inside….I didn’t know how yet, but I could feel it. I didn’t know what the direction was, but I could feel the fire burning. I photographed and photographed, falling in love with the way I could look through the viewfinder and see something so much more than a landscape…and then with the shutter click, I could freeze that, and look at it again and again. It wasn’t about creating epic photographs, the world was offering itself up to me, allowing me to stand in this sacred space and take her photograph without asking anything in return of me. I sat on the hillside that day and reviewed my images of those mountains..and I made a choice. This is what I would do. I would create things like this for people. I would create experiences, I would take photographs. Suddenly I felt a surge of purpose in my soul, and the darkness I had been living in literally began to lift like the morning fog, and the light streamed into my heart again, wrapping me up, telling me that I was still worthy, that I was still so alive…and that I was not the sum of my circumstances. The tears still stream down my face as I write this, because the feelings from that day are so palpable. That day in September, I made my way down the mountains to begin living the life I was born to live. I will not tell you I haven’t looked back, because it would be a lie…but I will tell you I have never gone back.
I went home and put my plans to paper. I had a small 401k from my old firm, and I cashed it out and bought my computer and it’s software, my camera, and my first 2 lenses. I had never even shot a DSLR before, and I began sitting up nights and during nap times reading articles and watching CreativeLive videos…and shooting at every opportunity. Entirely self taught and with no money, I launched my business and shot my first session for $100. That year I would shoot my first wedding for a friend for $400. That winter, during my performance review, I quit my job. I walked away and never, ever gave that place, those people, or that money a second consideration. It was the best thing I never thought I could do for myself.
It’s been 5 years, and here’s what I know for sure. I’m never going to be rich doing this work. Some people get rich, and that’s fantastic, but it likely won’t be me. I struggle every month and often rob Peter to pay Paul, I drive a truck with 200,000 miles on it, and you won’t find me shopping at Nordstrom’s…more like Target and TJ Maxx. There are days when I want to quit, when I am tired of not having any money, when I am tired of working at midnight, when I’m tired of wondering if I can cover that check I just had to write. Then there are the days when I walk into Starbucks to hunker down at the corner table and write…and I watch person after person breeze into get coffee during the ratrace to work each morning…looking disconnected and disengaged, and I remember standing where they were….and I am grateful for my simple life that is 100% by design. I’m 32, in love with my life and the possibility of the next day and the next minute, and I adore the human experience. I want to race through the world and connect with as many hearts as I can manage, and I want to feel, feel FEEL my heart loving and desiring until it bursts wide open, and then I will do it all over again. I strive to be honest, to give love and support to the few beautiful friends that have picked me up and held me close when I needed it most. I am a writer, a photographer, a healer, a teacher, a creator. I am an entrepreneur, and it is so exciting! I balance kindergarten drop off and pick up, riding and roping, and every so often cleaning my house with running multiple businesses. I shoot part time, I ride and train horses, and I am a licensed massage therapist. Each of those things feeds my soul. I create. I teach and connect with the one creature on Earth that understands me, everyday, every time. I heal the body and the soul. I bring people back to themselves, the same way the mountains brought me back to myself when I needed it most. When people ask what I do now, it makes me chuckle, because I honestly still don’t know quite how to answer the question. “Little of this, little of that I guess”, has become the standard…and right now, I’m ok with that. I’ll create art and literature and be with animals until the day I die, and along the way, I hope to allow the people that I meet to open their hearts and their souls to what is possible, to what is waiting for them if they only allow the light stream in through the mist.
I found a bio the other day that I had written for my company about 7 years ago. Reading though, I didn’t even recognize the person it spoke of, so I sat down to write myself another. Here is what I came up with. I would invite you friend, if you are searching…to do the same for yourself. Who are you – outside of a job, a family, a provider, a son or a daughter? What does the sky you’re reaching for look like, and what are the self doubts and fearful misgivings that are keeping you from becoming that person? Identify them. Write them down, give them names, and work on them….every goddamn day. Enlist the help of friends…real friends…that lift you up and remind you that you are so, so worthy. Write it all down, everyday, and week to week, month to month, look back and remember how far you’ve come. Keep your goals, and the fire that set you off in that direction, at the top of your menu at all times – because there will be times that you likely can’t afford anything else to eat….and that’s ok. It’s going to be ok. Enlist me if you need to, because that’s what I came out here to do….to bring every person I can up up to the table of life with me. The rest of your life is waiting. Fear not, for things you never believed possible are coming for you, if you will just take that step.
From my current self statement.
“In one run on sentence, I am a woman, a gypsy mama who cannot stand still yet wants it to be quiet and so loud that I don’t have to hear anything at all, I want to run on the back of the wind and race down empty roads and crash into other souls with every ounce of power I have, I am a teacher of life to a beautiful boy that is my greatest legacy, I am a horsewoman, born of english tradition and etiquette and finding my home in dirty jeans and boots and spurs and latigo and the sound of ropes feeding and snapping around horns, I am a creator of photographs and dreams and a seamstress of words and thoughts and endless analysis of the human psyche and it’s inspiration and wild forests, I am a lover of sex and intimate real talk, of all things dark and not spoken of in proper conversation, a lover of men and their beauty and a soul that has been destroyed by them, a strong body that would always rather be naked, a brazen goddess that will not tolerate disrespect in my world, and requires approval from no one. My priorities, my body, and my thoughts are as good as I need them to be, right now, and yet I will wake up tomorrow and be better and wiser than I am today.”
With so much heart.