Many years ago, while I was waitressing my way through my first university degree, a customer told me something that has stuck in my (very bad memory) ever since. It’s miraculous that her words turned out to be the rule of life that I’ve adhered to above all others.
Back then, money was (what I considered to be) the most important factor in maintaining my (perceived) happinness. Money would help me pay for university while living in the nice house I shared with my boyfriend, making sure I woke up every day to the car in my driveway which took me to to my classes, and would eventually take me to my future “grown-up” job. That job, in turn, would naturally help me grow my retirement savings account. Oh, and of course, feed our 3 complacent cats. AAAAND… enable me to update our Ikea furniture. I prided myself on being independent, having lived on my own for 4 whole years, since I had been 16. I was 21, and one year away from graduating university. I was (playing) a grown-up. Security and predictability were the natural elements in the “proper” progression of life. Something that we should all strive for. Right?
The problem was that despite having everything I (and society) had been telling myself I wanted or needed, my gut knew better. You know, that gut feeling you have when you first start dating someone and something just doesn’t sit right, yet you’re hoping that nagging “je ne sais quoi” will go away? Especially because on paper the guy seems great, has everything that magazines tell you a boyfriend SHOULD have, and you just bury the the internal alarm bells and blame the constant contractions of your insides on your dinner, your breakfast, PMS, or your cats?
The rumblings of my gut translated into an unexplainable uneasiness about every aspect of my perfect little life.
The fact that each time “good-on-paper” boyfriend opened his mouth to speak of our wonderful and loving future, I felt the room getting a little smaller and a strong urge to lock him in a closet (permanently), or that I would find myself cursing while driving to my classes, and sitting in lectures imagining what it would be like if I just screamed at the top of my lungs what I was really thinking: “Get on with all your theories, since they’ve all been disproven anyways, you dull, dead inside, balding, shell of a man/woman (a.k.a lecturer)!!!!!” Or, the less politically-correct version of “SHUT THE F%#%K UP, you F#$%^king boring moron!!!! Or the fact that I knew the route to my restaurant and campus and the downtown area where I had grown up so well, I could get there with my eyes closed, and sometimes I actually DID drive with my eyes closed for seconds on end, just to see what would happen. Those were BAD. GUT. FEELINGS.
My childhood friends still lived nearby. We were all very close. We ruled the town, oh yessiree. We were cute. No, that’s an understatement. We were HOTTT! Really hot. And smart. And young. We were “girls gone wild”, so watch out world!!! We’ve got you conquered! Don’t mess with us, we’re fabulous. We know everything. About EVERYTHING! In our insular ignorance, we were impenetrable. We also thought our youth and awesome dance moves gave us free reign of the world, which consisted of around 2 or 3 popular nightclubs. To us, that WAS the world. It all revolved around us.
Sometimes you have to start small to see big. Except at that age, you think you’re big, and have no idea how much bigger the world really is. We did the same thing weekend after weekend. And I felt like I was suffocating.
But I was determined. I was determined to make myself see my perfect-life plan through, and I did. I graduated university with an honours in Criminology degree, at the top of my class. Despite the eternal party of my spotless life, I was highly employable, AND I had a nice savings cushion. My lawn was mowed. My cats were fat. And my car was great on gas.
I was a week away from sending out resumes for my first “grownup” places of work. I was procrastinating. Instead of writing my resume, I went out and got hammered. As in, really drunk. Every night. And then one morning, right before leaving my pretty little house to go mail my resumés, I started bawling my eyes out instead. And wailing/screaming. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was a total crazy-girl meldown. The worst part was, I wasn’t used to this feeling of complete and utter despair. AND I wasn’t a crier. And it came out of nowhere.
It was a WTF moment, before WTF was a word in the dictionary.
I immediately called my mother in Holland and she simply said: “Sweetie, why don’t you go teach abroad for a while?” This jolted me to attention and stopped my tantrum dead in its tracks, since for as long as I could remember, my parents had advocated the importance of university, and following the dependable path through to its bitter end, or so I thought. After all, don’t all parents want their children to be doctors, lawyers, professors, etc.? (At least they did then, before the “follow your heart” philosophy really took off for the “Me” Generation.) They weren’t supposed to tell us to go off and have an adventure!!!!
Wasn’t this dependability, this secure future, the reason I hadn’t pursued the Arts, which was what I had a gift and passion for my whole life? I had adopted this idea that creatives could only be artists, writers and so on, and that a life pursuing those career choices would be a life spent struggling. It hadn’t even occured to me that doing something unconventional (like pursuing your passion) was even an OPTION!!
A month and a half later, I left on a jet plane, and moved across the world to South Korea. All my posessions were in storage, the cats had new homes, my friends thought I was insane, and I felt truly free, for the first time in my life. It was the first time I did what I wanted, instead of what I thought everyone else expected me to do.
The pursuit of the unknown, which I had been so terrified of my whole life, was now sitting on my lap, and I just wanted to make out with it. In a BAD way.
Unfortunately, and against all my passive agressive hints against it, “bad gut-feeling boyfriend” followed me to Asia. But that’s another story.
To sum up this chapter, this is how the next 12 years unfolded: I stayed in Korea for 3 years. I taught English and travelled extensively through Asia. I dumped the conventional, Stepford-husband boyfriend and fell in love with someone who made my knees weak. I made new lifelong friends. I began writing, drawing and painting again, and eventually moved to Montreal with my new, fun “up-for-anything” boyfriend. We didn’t know anyone. And we didn’t speak French.
I went back to school for Fine Arts, but decided it wasn’t for me after all. I fell into Graphic Design by a fluke, and I really, REALLY fell in love. I got my second degree in Graphic Design, and this time, I never once wanted to scream at my teachers. I wasn’t bored. I chose a career path that I was truly passionate about, for the right reasons, not reasons I had to talk myself into, or that society deemed appropriate. I worked really hard, but I loved every minute. I was in my mid-to-late twenties, and among the oldest in my classes of 19-24 year olds. And I didn’t care. I was fulfilled.
I graduated and got my dream job as a designer in an ad agency I had been daydreaming about since I started school. Working my ass off for the next few years didn’t feel like “work”. I didn’t swear, I didn’t curse, and I can honestly say I’ve never been bored. I’ve switched agencies a few times since. I now work as an artistic director. It’s not a regular deskjob. I get paid to be creative, and each new project gives me the opportunity to learn something new and create something out of nothing. A new micro-universe. I collaborate with other creatives, and learn new things every day. I can’t say it’s been all roses (more about that later), but my gut approves.
I made new and amazing friends. I learned to speak French. I travel every chance I get (but not as much as I’d like). I don’t own a house, or even a condo. I RENT!!!! I don’t have any cats. I take the subway, and I don’t own a car. I no longer have road-rage.
I broke up with “knees weak” boyfriend when my father died 5 years ago, and it was the most profoundly sad time of my life, yet somehow my gut was at peace. I wasn’t forcing anything, I was following my instincts. After a tumultuous 2 years of dating, my gut and I were aligned when I met the man of my life. He didn’t fit my “checklist” of the idea of the boyfriend I should have on paper, but he was even better. He’s the best one yet. My best friend. The one who, three years later, I like and love more every day. And, I can honestly say, I have never, ever wanted to smother him with a pillow or lock him in a closet….
I started doing yoga intensely a few years ago (the backstory to this will come soon enough) and it too became a passion.
I started to get another gut feeling. This time it was nagging me not to run AWAY from something, but TOWARDS someth
I’ve learned better than to argue with my gut. My gut kept pushing me to pursue this yoga teacher-training thing. What I’ve come to refer to as my yoga bender. I trust my gut. I’m leaving for India in less than 2 months.
And I remember what that customer told me many years ago. She was a woman in her late 60s, who used to come in and have lunch with her husband once or twice a month. She always seemed at peace, and was perpetually exuding joy. Despite being of an age that I misguidedly equated with her being a fossil, she somehow seemed so youthful. I found myself asking her one day, at the time that my gut was rumbling, how I was supposed to choose what to do with the rest of my life. I was trying to defend my very safe decisions, and as I was rambling on, she just put her hand on my shoulder, looked me straight in the eyes (probably to shut me up!) and said: Oh, honey. Just do what you love! The rest will follow.
And so, I do.