I can’t do this for the rest of my life.
My car windows down and my favorite song blasting, my 21-year-old self should’ve been nothing but happy that August day. I had one more semester until I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. I’d maintained a 4.0 GPA, had been selected for a statewide scholarship for those pursuing the career pathway of becoming a Certified Public Accountant, and had finished my internship. My life’s path stretched out before me — it was steadfast and sure. It was everything I thought I wanted.
Driving home with the gorgeous rays of sun beating down on my car, though, it was this haunting thought that kept echoing in my head: I can’t do this for the rest of my life. After a summer of working on spreadsheets and convincing myself I loved numbers, I’d finally listened to my inner voice.
I wasn’t happy. I saw a life of interminably long, passionless days ahead.
It was on this day I made a decision that was very difficult at the time. I finished my accounting degree, but instead of heading off to the workplace with my peers, I stayed behind. I spent several extra semesters at college earning my teaching degree in a subject I had always truly loved: English.
The thought of spending more money and more hours in the classroom was daunting at the time. I watched everyone else march into the world of accounting with steadfast assurance their journey would be smooth. I was choosing a riskier path, with teaching jobs being at a shortage in my area. I was also giving up precious years, years that I was so ready to use to become an adult and make a salary.
Now, I’m thankful I made that choice. I’m grateful I had the courage to recognize I wasn’t happy. I’m grateful for my family who helped me see passion should guide your life, not safety and rational choices.
I know I was lucky in a way. My realization came at a time when I could still do something about it without sacrificing too much. I wasn’t weighed down by the true pressures of adult life yet or the stability of a path already trodden upon. I was still able to change my mind and my course of life without too much turbulence.
I know for many this isn’t the case.
Finding the Guts to Pursue Your Passion
All around, there are articles, success stories, and even quote pillows telling you to chase your dreams and find your joy. While sometimes inspiring, they also can feel overly optimistic.
In the real world, it isn’t always easy to change your mind or life. The human condition seems to inherently dislike change. We fear the risks involved and the unknown. Thus, keeping the course, even if it isn’t what our hearts truly want, seems like the wisest choice.
In addition, as women we are often taught to put our own needs on the back burner. Selflessness is a quality ingrained in us from girlhood, a quality that sometimes becomes our worst enemy. We’re taught early in life to be caretakers and nurturers—but we’re often not taught that this means we need to be nurturers for our own spirit and needs.
Thus, so many women wake up realizing they’re unhappy in their lives but don’t know how to do anything about it.
There are certainly success stories. Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne abandoned a corporate world that wasn’t making them happy to start Georgetown Cupcakes, which was featured on TLC’s reality show DC Cupcakes. They are only one story of women changing their careers, changing their lives, and chasing their true dreams.
Those women can feel far off, however. Having mortgage payments, children who depend on you, and other adult responsibilities can make giving up a known paycheck difficult. It can also feel like women who chase crazy adventures are probably just lucky. Women like us who step in chewing gum every time we wear new shoes or get every red light in town when we’re late for work certainly don’t feel auspicious enough to take a chance like that.
So what’s the answer then?
I think we need to start being real about two things.
One: Selflessness does not mean you have to put your own passions aside.
This is one of those easier said than done kind of maxims, but it’s so important. We must value our inner voice and what fulfills us. It is passion that makes this crazy journey called life bearable and enjoyable. Without passion, all the security in the world won’t necessarily matter. We need to feel alive, to feel joyful, and to feel like we’re pursuing a purpose. Most importantly, we need to understand we have the right to do this.
Two: We need to recognize chasing one’s happiness is courageous.
Pillows and posters about chasing dreams are nice, don’t get me wrong. But we need to start recognizing that it isn’t as easy as chanting a motto to yourself. To find true happiness, the kind that lights your passion and ignites you at the core, great difficulties must be overcome. It requires sacrifice, risk, and determination. It requires self-awareness and self-value.
It is only when we as women and we as a society start to categorize chasing happiness as both brave and admirable that we can start to find the strength to do it.
Chasing happiness is never easy, and it will often involve risk.
As I’ve come to learn through personal experience, though, waking up to a life you undeniably wanted is a gift we should all be brave enough to strive for, no matter the cost.
Lindsay Detwiler’s eighth novel, Inked Hearts, focuses on the courage to chase happiness through her main character, Avery. Inked Hearts releases on October 21, 2017, with Hot Tree Publishing. Learn more here.