“Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving.” (Khalil Gibran)
Many of you may have been wondering where I have been these past few months, as the last entry in my digital journal was an attempt to find solace in the midst of unexpected heartbreak. Perhaps you may be wondering what I have done to recover from my loss, or if I am slated to begin another wild and wonderful adventure. You may also be wondering if my employment situation has improved or whether I will be undertaking the next steps in my education. Not only has this blog been dormant about such topics, but my overall presence on social media has indeed been rather distant and vague recently. The only answers to that “So what have you been up to lately?” question on my social media profiles are photographs of wildflowers and trees caught dreaming in the summer haze.
I could say that I have not so much as looked at this blog since February as I was without a laptop almost all summer. I could say that balancing a new “adult” job at the University of Michigan and my freelance writing currently demands most of my mental energy.
But I could also say that I was hiding. Back in June, I tucked away my dream of at long last gaining my footing after over two years of struggle. I gently folded this vision and put it in a box with the last of the rejection letters I received from potential graduate programs.
During the application process, I looked to these institutions for validation that my voice had power, that my ideas had value, and that my mind was worthy of further cultivation. I believed with all my heart that my life would begin again with a letter of acceptance in my hand, that I could resume my journey of becoming the person I longed to be. However, when I received the fourth and final rejection letter — a letter from the university I thought was invested in me — this vision I cultivated with such care and thought dried up in the summer sun. To say I was devastated is an understatement. I despaired with all the passion I could muster and lost all hope that my story and my ideas were worth sharing.
Revealing this intense dose of educational rejection on a public forum leaves me feeling tremendously vulnerable as I am guilty of romanticizing myself on this blog. I have spun my story as a shy, small-town girl who overcame herself to fulfill a dream of seeing the world. I was the girl who used her insatiable love of knowledge and intense work ethic to surmount the challenges of attending an elite university and graduate with the respect of her tutors. Admitting that each and every graduate program I applied to rejected me outright makes me feel as though I can no longer be an inspiration to my readers, to my friends, or to my family.
I had interpreted the two years of employment rejection and a brief struggle in the Peace Corps as signs that researching stories and writing papers were what I was put onto this earth to do, that my intellectual ideas would be my legacy. I felt a significant loss of self as I read the words, “We cannot offer you a place at this university” for a fourth and final time. My rejection letters found wondrous company in the destructive self-doubt I have struggled with for years. I truly began to believe that if I could not get a job, could not serve as an effective Peace Corps volunteer, and was not worthy of graduate school, then I no longer had a talent for anything at all.
Until one day I realized I could no longer allow myself to be a victim.
No one was handing me these rejections to punish me. When I began to force myself to look deep into myself, I discovered that the only person punishing me was me. I invited the setbacks and challenges to burrow beneath my skin and coddle my insecurities, allowing them to affect me at the root of my soul. I learned that the true issue at hand was a warped perspective. I did not look at these difficulties for what they truly were: opportunities to grow.
So I deleted the rejection emails. I threw out my prospectuses. I even tore the idea I had been researching out of my notebook. And rather than walking away from academia for good, I stared at the blank pages and challenged myself to begin again. In the number of times I described myself and my ideas as “innovative” on personal statements, how many instances had I supported that claim and truly lived those words?
The more I reflected upon my thoughts, my priorities, and my actions over the past year, the more I realized I was not becoming the person I wanted to be at all. I had become a person who ignored the goodness of the present, who took the love of another for granted, and who sought validation not from living authentically, but from a title or an accolade. I convinced myself I was not doing enough and began to drown in that anxiety when all I had to do was simply stop swimming against my own current. I realized that the only thing I need to do right now is relax into the life I am living at this moment, to allow myself to take root and to grow.
I feel as though a great deal of us are fixated with that “So what are you doing?” question as of late. Social media permits instant gratification to our curiosity over what so-and-so from high school or university is up to. I am not condemning social media. However, the more I intentionally simplify my life and its goings-on, the more I perceive a web of busy-ness all around us, in which we all must consistently strive for creating and doing something to make our time worthwhile. Also, the more I strive towards simplicity, the more I realize where my true priorities lie.
Though I have developed a new research topic and have not given up my dream of attending graduate school, rather than allow myself to obsess over concocting a “better” or “more intelligent” research proposal, I put the notebook away from time to time and practice balance. I now read books for the genuine pleasure of reading. I lose myself in each dreamy brushstroke of my watercolors. I listen deeply to the needs of the horses. I bathe myself in sunshine, dandelion tufts, and river water with the love of my life by my side.
Each and every morning I awake with gratitude in my heart for comforts that surround me: I look out my window and see nothing but the country sky, I can pursue my passions freely and openly, and I am able to love and be loved in return. I also take the time to celebrate the various discomforts of my life at twenty-four, like not knowing where next I’ll go or what it is I am supposed to do. For me, this celebration of discomfort looks like dedicating myself to new experiences, even if they may be so simple as a new trail to hike.
So what on earth have I been doing over the course of the summer? I feel an overwhelming urge in my heart to say nothing. I have not been doing anything at all, but rather I have been living.
I would like to take this opportunity to challenge each and every one of my readers. I challenge you to set aside a moment for yourself every day to simply be who you are in that space in time and to ask yourself the following questions: what do you love about yourself right now? What do you think could be improved upon? How can you act with more intention throughout your day? While I am doing nothing remarkable or inspiring in terms of achievements, accolades, or adventures, it is my sincere hope that my own journey towards authentic living at least makes you pause for a brief moment and simply revel in being alive.