Finding yourself without a map

Sometimes memories strike at random. Maybe it’s a smell or a taste or an article of clothing or a photo that Facebook shares with you that morning. And sometimes, memories are brought on by thinking about where you were, and who you were, ____ years ago.

Graduation night from Journalism school, thinking I had life figured out.

I was recently thinking about a time in my life that was almost 10 years ago exactly. I was waitressing full time, bobbing from one social event to the next, changing my hairstyle as often as I changed my clothes, and feeling like I was getting deeper and deeper in a meaningless rut. I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do with my life, and I knew I needed to change.

Enter the idea of Journalism school. There was something about going back to school that signified a fresh start in a sharper and more concise way than almost anything else I could think of. School meant direction and purpose. School meant action. So I applied, was accepted, and as the summer drew to a close, I moved out of my apartment and started packing my life into boxes (and into a U-Haul, which would promptly go to my new apartment, in a different city nearly two hours away).

I’m not sure exactly what I expected from Journalism school. Maybe I was looking for the metaphorical flashing sign, some inner voice telling me that I had found my calling. I think part of me expected that since I had made such a big change in my life, the universe would go the rest of the way and let me know that what I was doing was the right path for me. But that’s not what I got. What I got was the bone deep knowledge that I was not doing what I wanted to do with my life, big change or not. I had simply veered from one lifestyle that wasn’t right for me in another wrong direction.

I wanted to quit. I recall a tearful conversation with my mom wherein I entertained the idea of dropping out because I knew the program wasn’t for me. But that didn’t feel right either. I wasn’t a quitter. I didn’t want to be one of those people who only ever saw how green the grass was on the other side.

So I stuck it out. And I actually grew to like it, at least some of the courses I took and things I learned. I convinced myself that I liked it enough to move to Toronto and take an unpaid internship that would hopefully lead to a job. Even though I knew my heart was somewhere else, I felt a sense of satisfaction at having chosen a life path. I felt like an adult for maybe the first time ever.

Fast forward a few months after school ended. I was living in Toronto, doing two different internships. My life had routine and a purpose. I should have felt good about that, but the truth was, I felt more lost than ever. What if I continued along this path and never found out what I wanted to do? Or what if I already knew, but lacked the guts to admit it to myself? 

Then a recession happened with the economy. Entire departments were cut and my internships did not lead to jobs. If I believed in signs, the universe might as well have lit that one in flashing fluorescent bulbs. I made the decision to move back home, and back in with my parents. I felt like I had failed. At that point, although I never would have said it out loud, I knew that writing books was what I wanted to do with my life, but I had no idea how to go about it. So what did I do instead? I signed up for more school, this time an honours specialization in English literature. I convinced myself that throwing myself back into academia would lead to the answer I was looking for.

It took me a couple more years to figure out that my checkerboard lifestyle actually followed a very decisive pattern. I was excellent at looking for distractions and finding reasons to convince myself why I would fail at writing before I could even get a word on the page. I was excellent at talking myself into things I wasn’t passionate about and talking myself out of my dreams. 

To be honest, I’m not sure what changed this. I’m not sure what made me finally open a Word document and start typing. I’m not sure what made me stick with it when I felt like a total hack and when I was sure nothing would actually come of it. There wasn’t one specific moment in time that made me realize I needed to write. There was no bell in my head, no glaring sign from the universe. I think it was the thousand small moments that finally built walls around me and ensconced me in my truth.

It has now been almost five years since I finished that first novel, which is now rightfully trunked. It’s now several hundreds of thousands of words later, some of which are published or will be published, and some of which will only ever be seen by me. But they all mean something to me. They mean I sat down and wrote that day. They mean I had guts. They mean I didn’t let my fear of failure stop me from being the person I want to be.

I still struggle with the fear of failure. I still get intimidated when I open a new Word document. But the difference is, I hold myself accountable. I don’t let fear stop me. If I could go back in time and give the version of me clinging to the idea of Journalism school a piece of advice, it would be to spend less time looking for signs and more time listening to my own instincts. I would tell that girl that she would never regret a single day spent with her butt in the chair and characters in her head. I would tell her that it doesn’t matter what other people think. I would tell her not to talk herself out of her dreams.

Last of all, I would give her a big hug and tell her to be kind to herself, because finding yourself sometimes requires a map that doesn’t exist.

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