As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How close or far are you from that vision?
As a young girl, I wanted to be many things when I grew up. I remember the notion I had that the world was completely conquerable with enough will, and that I could do anything, and as many things, as I wished.
My number one dream for many years of my life was to be an actress. I always had quite the vivid imagination, a desire to command attention, and very lofty goals.
I used to try to make my brothers do improvisation with me all the time, and was always disappointed when they couldn’t follow my leads. I played outside a lot, but also by myself most of the time, because it was more conducive to my imagination that way.
The second thing I wanted to be was an author. I think I realized this when I was in elementary school, completely and irrevocably, head-over-heels in love with the Harry Potter novels.
J.K. Rowling stunned me with her gorgeous writing, literally taking a universe made in her head and putting it to paper in thousands of words and pages. Then I first discovered the books, three of them were out at the time, and they had yet to become the phenomenon they would.
I picked up the first book at a Media Play (remember those?!) with my family, and I only got as far as the prologue before we were walking out of the store, but I knew at that moment that I was going to get my hands on those books as soon as humanely possible.
And when I did, I devoured those words like my life depended on it. Of course, I was very young, so when a new book in the series kept coming out every year or so, I never expected that to actually end.
Naively, I stated that when J.K. Rowling died, I would be the one to continue writing about Harry for her. I really believed it, too. But at one point, I undoubtedly found out that she would end the series on her own.
The last novel debuted around my senior year of high school, and the books stayed with me the whole time throughout my adolescence.
There were other things I would want to do as well: pastry chef, hairdresser, clothing designer. I had lots of little dreams, too.
Over time, public schooling combined with the attitudes of adults around me caused me to lose my faith and hope in those aspirations. I auditioned for a school play in high school, after taking my one drama class ever, and almost got the lead, but after that I never auditioned again.
When I was 15, I got a job at a bakery in my hometown. Throughout the six years I worked there I got a pretty good idea of why I wouldn’t be chasing that dream.
When it came time for all of my peers and I to graduate high school and continue on with our lives, I was at a complete loss. How was I supposed to pick a school, choose just one major, and figure out all the financial paperwork on my own?
After procrastinating for too long, I halfheartedly chose UMass Amherst, where most of my close friends were going, and somehow worked my way through the FAFSA.
I never attempted for more scholarships than the John & Abigail Adams one, although I know now it wouldn’t have been too hard for me to do so.
But I was always so busy working my two jobs through school to do any community service or extracurricular activities, so when the financial aid came through I didn’t receive anything from the school or the government.
My parents’ expected monthly contribution was $11,000. I think they paid $50 for my application fee to UMass and that was all I would ever see from them in terms of help for school.
This is Not Going to Work
Terrified of signing my life away to the tune of $20,000 per year, I withdrew my application, got back my housing deposit, and decided to do something else.
In reality, I should have taken some time to really mull over what I was doing and why. Unfortunately, I was listening to what others thought I should be doing instead of consulting myself.
So when I told the older woman that I was housecleaning for at the time that I was considering Westfield State University, down the road from me, I let her influence override my emotions.
She had a connection with the people who ran the school, so instead of potentially going after the coming semester was over, I ended up attending that very September.
And I was so not ready. I will always appreciate her support and kindness in helping me do what she thought was best for me, however, it was not for me.
I began that fall with three jobs and five classes. I was working 12 to 15 hours a day, to pay for the loans that I had accrued now going to Westfield State, as well as the $300 car payment for the brand new car I had recently allowed myself to be talked into as well.
I can honestly say I had never been more miserable in my life than at that point. I wasn’t making my own decisions, all my friends had left for the college life which I was missing out on, and to top it off, my mother became a serious alcoholic that fall.
In November or December I couldn’t do it anymore. I quit my third job, and school, just a month before the semester was over, losing all the high grades I had been working for. I was burnt out, frazzled, and completely disarrayed. Believe it or not, I would go back and try the same thing again the next year.
I continued on my wayward path for quite some time. I was studying business, living on my own, and working as a waitress/bartender (among other jobs) to support myself.
The whole time I was unhappy. I would talk to my therapist about it and she would suggest that I study theater or writing, do the things that I dreamt about in the past.
I would always tell her no, because there was no financial future in either of those things. I was raised to believe that possessions are happiness, and I racked up quite a bit of them in the year I lived in an apartment for the first time with my roommate.
I never wanted to think about what would happen when I finally finished school. I supposed I would just try to never have to use my degree for anything. But I hated business, I resented college, and I feared for my future.
Because I was so miserable with my current life, I figured the best thing to do would be to graduate as early as humanly possible, to escape the trap.
So I did the math, and signed up for six classes for the next semester (which would have begun this January), and figured on taking all the summer and winter sessions that I could. And then it would be over, I thought. I hoped.
Like Whoopi Goldberg, or Something
I don’t even have enough time here to write all of the other bad things that happened in my life when I was moving away from my dreams.
Just know that nothing very good occurred for me from the time I went to school to the time I left, for the second time.
However, things did begin to change for me after a period. I began to really start understanding that my life wasn’t happy because of the way I was living it.
I realized that although I have had all the things that society says I should want to be happy, they have only brought me down.
I discovered that my lifelong dreams of working for no one but myself were being killed the longer I remained in the school system, living the life that others had chosen for me.
The aha moment didn’t come for me, though, till a dinner I had with my grandparents in the winter.
I was talking to my friend via text at the restaurant, and conversing with my grandparents as well.
My friend was one the original group of people that had made me feel bad when I’d left school for the first time, believing it wasn’t for me.
But this time, the same friend was the one who suggested to me that I could always take a semester off and think things through.
I was surprised she said that and even more surprised when the mere thought of doing such a thing made me feel so much better.
Then the tipping point came. When my grandmother was going on about how important a college education is, and how I would be nothing without it.
And then she said the most incredible thing to me. And I don’t believe she ever knew of my acting dreams.
She said, and I quote, “Everyone needs a college degree, unless you’re extremely talented, like Whoopi Goldberg, or something”.
I was shocked that had come out of her mouth. As I said, I had never shared the acting dream I still cherished deep down with her in my life.
Why she would pick an actress is beyond me. How she doesn’t understand the amount of discipline and effort that goes into the level of acting Whoopi Goldberg has accomplished seems hard to swallow.
But when she said that, I made my decision. I was leaving school, and no one was going to keep me from doing so.
I was attending to try to make people like me and please them, when it wasn’t my responsibility, or right, to do so.
Weight Off My Shoulders
Even though that night resulted in a standoff between my grandmother and me, only recently rectified, and I still have to pay $2,600 for the semester I never took this winter, leaving school for the second time has been the best thing I ever did for myself.
Yes, I have spent money on a degree I won’t ever see. Yes, I did waste quite a few years of my life chasing a mirage. And yes, it makes me feel a little unaccomplished when the rest of my friends are graduating this year.
But…I began to sell and donate all the possessions that I had accumulated over the years, in order to declutter my life and my mind.
I used the time I wasn’t going to school any longer to begin this blog and work on my writing portfolio, which I am so proud of.
I got rid of my car, and slashed my repayment loan in half. I left my apartment, and moved in with my parents, giving me vast new opportunities and a way to go back to my roots and make sure they are healthy and strong before I really begin to venture out into the world.
I have done some freelance writing, and even voice over work! To me, both of those things bring me closer to my childhood dreams than any major in business management could.
I’ve become a spiritual person, and embarked on a journey of the soul, following my intuition and higher power to a place I never dreamed of.
And, best of all, I feel happy! For the first time in so long I am the only one in charge of living my life. I decide what I want to do and when I want to do it.
I am independent of material desires and seeking ways to feel numb from the pain of my life.
I think, and therefore, I am.
A New Day
Yes, I still want to be a writer, and yes an actress as well. Do I believe I am on the way to those things? Absolutely.
Do I think they will define myself? Not for a second. A degree will not define me, nor a job title, nor anything I do not allow myself to be defined as.
My real goal? To be happy as I am.
To know that there is always another route that I can be taking. To understand that there are things I may want, but also realize that I cannot be ruled by what I don’t have.
Too many times I have spent my life in the future, worrying about what may be.
Now, I think about the present, and how lucky I am to have it. I don’t think past today, besides a rough outline of some of the possibilities I can manifest for myself.
There is no point in holding off happiness for a diploma, or acceptance from others, or wealth, or any other thing.
I am the creator of my own happiness, no matter what the circumstance.
By calling something a dream, we make it seem unattainable, like the very nature of it can only exist in our minds.
So rather than chase dreams, I am seeking the present moment to help me remember that I am alive, it is a gift, and I live under a boundless potential. The world IS my oyster, and being alive and aware are the beautiful pearls inside.
Thank you to http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/futures-past/ for the inspiring prompt.