Have you ever wondered, “How did I get here?” or my favorite, “Is this really my life? Is this all I am ever going to be?” Well, if you haven’t asked yourself these questions, I sure have. It was like I blinked and my life had morphed into this amorphous blob of mediocrity. But the worst part of it all was that I had no idea how I this life had become mine.
I was thirty-one, single, getting an environmental science masters degree that I hated, and working full time as a nanny just to pay my bills. To say this was not the life that I had hoped for would be the vast understatement of the century. I mean, I had graduated from college Kum Laude, with a double major, and having completed an honors thesis on sea anemone behavior. On the surface, my resume of college overachievement looked amazing, but then how did things get so turned around?
I mean, I was brave. I used to take chances, just not recently. In the past, I had taught English in South Korea and had traveled the world alone. Usually, when I mentioned my solo escapades to people, they would always stare back at me with a gaze of bewildered admiration and remark on how “brave” I was. But now it was different because a solitary question kept turning over and over again in the hamster wheel of my mind. This question kept murmuring, “Is this really it?”
That’s when I knew I needed to do more. I couldn’t just sit there and let an office job eat away at the essence of who I really am, an adventurer. My vivacious spirit means that I constantly need to meet new people and explore the farthest reaches of the globe. I must continually be challenged by the discomfort of assimilating into a culture that is not my own. Otherwise, I feel as though I am floating around in a sea of wasted time.
But it is not enough to do this for myself. No. Keeping all these gorgeous and soul-enhancing experiences to myself would be selfish. I need to share my soul in the words on this page. This is the only way that I can encourage others to let go of the fear that held me back for so long.
This fear was not of travel but of disappointing others. For example, I so desperately wanted the approval of my family that I registered for a master’s degree that I loathed. I literally would have pulled out all my toenails if it meant I didn’t have to complete this degree. So why did I do it? I just wanted people to love me, be proud of me, and tell me that I am good enough.
I convinced myself that if you told me how great I was, then maybe I would start believing it. But the more I did this, the worse I felt. My soul ached for authenticity that never came. As time passed, fear took over more and more of my life since societal pressures, to get married and have kids, mounted. Eventually, The fear ate away my whole of my personality until I became unrecognizable. I looked in the mirror and couldn’t see the girl that my mom admiringly said was, “Sweet as sugar, tough as nails.”
Where was my grit and zest for life? In that moment, I knew I had to make a drastic change. I needed to create a life that I could fall in love with. A life where I could share who I really am and help people in the process. And I yearned for this life not just for me, but for a mom who just wanted me to be happy.
My mom had died 5 years ago of ovarian cancer. Over the course of a year, I had watched this disease eat away at my mom’s body and soul. Her eternal spunk and excitement for life was replaced by the agony of regret and the bitterness of an un-lived life. She tried to smile and ooze a façade of peace and contentment, but I could see the cracks in her emotional armor. There was pain in her smile. Not a physical pain but a grief that sprung from a life of playing it safe, and doing what you were told. A life where she tried to make everyone else happy and just hurt herself in the process.
And I started to remember things, things that she had told me a long time ago. Things I thought I had forgotten but that now made perfect sense. Like the time she had told me she had always wanted to be a nurse but couldn’t because her mother, “didn’t want her changing bed pans for the rest of her life.”
I also remembered all the chances my Mom was too afraid to take, like traveling abroad. She had always wanted to travel outside the United States, but life just kept getting in the way. She had conceived children young and there was never enough time or money to travel.
But even though she never got to travel, my mom instilled in me a curiosity to see the world. And I did. I traveled all over Asia and Europe and when I came home, I could feel the endless envy radiating off my mom’s body.
My heart bled for her discontentment and so, I decided that we would go to Rome, a place she had always wanted to visit. We would help one another realize our dreams by traveling the world, but it never happened. Those memories became fantasies that I played over and over again because my mom got sick before we could go to Rome. So, she just never got the chance to live the life that she wanted.
Thinking about the life my mom never got to live hurt, and a lot more than I expected. It wrenched my soul because I had always admired my mom as an example of how to live life. She had taught me the difference between right and wrong, showed me how to be brave, and demonstrated for me what a woman of dignity and grace really looks like. And while she could do all these things, she could never just follow her heart.
The pain hit me right between the eyes when I realized that the person I loved most in the world had died unhappy. She never created the life she wanted to live. My mom had played by society’s rules and all that she got for it was the haunting phrase, “if only.”
That’s when I knew that I had to be different. I couldn’t give into the fear of the unknown and not being good enough, because all it got my mom was a broken heart. I had to let go of the fear or it would rule my life and turn me into something I did not want to be. I needed to look into my heart and find that little girl that was as tough as nails and scared of nothing. She was in there, but buried underneath the debris of pain and grief that life piles upon us all.
And the funniest thing happened. I found her. I found that little girl, just not right away. She slowly started to emerge as I let go of the fear in my life. I replaced the fear with the faith that if I try hard enough, anything is possible.
Through my words, I began to figure out who I really was. I could finally show the world the real me. But then, I started to see that it didn’t matter what the world thought of me, or if I was monetarily successful. I mean don’t get me wrong, that would be awesome, but I wasn’t really writing for anyone else or trying to please other people anymore. I was writing for myself and for the happiness that I had lost for so many years. I was writing to show my mom that I was still her brave little girl. I wanted to show her that even though she couldn’t realize her dreams, I could realize mine, for the both of us.
Her life would no longer be in vain because she showed me how to live mine. I just needed to be true to myself and write about the life that I love and that my mom always wanted to live. But she is here with me, deep down inside, cheering me on; a thought that makes me smile because I know she is proud of the travel blogger that I have become.
You can find my website here.