One of the best things about writing this blog has been all the responses I have received from people around the world. Some said “thank you for sharing so openly, it has helped me realize I am not alone”. Some have told me their stories. Others have asked for advice, questions such as “I am over my head in debt, how do I pay it off” to “I am not happy in my life but I don’t know how to change it, can you help”. I am not qualified to give anyone advice. I can only tell you how I dealt with similar problems.
One of my greatest take-aways from sabbatical is that I don’t just have to be who I think I am. I can be who I want to be. All my life, I have wanted to be this adventure girl. I wanted to be joyfully spontaneous and just willing to try things on a whim. I wanted to be athletic and participate in adventure sports such as mountain biking, kayaking, skiing off-piste, paragliding, climbing… you get the idea. I also wanted to be the sophisticated urban dweller and world traveler. I put those dreams aside when I had children and raised my family. I was responsible, a great high school teacher, a good university professor, a decent mother and wife. I took care of everyone. When I got divorced an moved to Seattle, I was a frumpy, middle class, 44 year old housewife from a small town in North Carolina, and I thought those kind of adventures were behind me. If you have read this blog, you realize that moving to Seattle was when I met Matt Tony, Ken, Rachel, Shaun, Deloa, Melinda, Rachelle, Keri and so many more great friends.. the list goes on and on here as well as all my friends from the Lounge and my own children, Patrick and Jessica who have cheered me and encouraged me every step of the way.
My friends opened my world and my mind to all the things that were possible, regardless of my age, weight, marital status, debt, … none of that matters. Those were all excuses to keep me paralyzed to whatever dysfunctional fear I happened to be harboring at the time. The one single thing I needed to learn was that all I had to do was try. I didn’t have to be perfect or even successful the first time, or the 27th time, I just had to keep trying. It didn’t matter if I was laughed at, judged, or taunted. I have learned that those kinds of limiting comments from other people aren’t about me, they are about the shallowness and fears of the person who is uttering them. I don’t take those kind of comments personally anymore. I am a different person. I am the person I have always wanted to be.
I set out on a journey to carve out a new identity. I thought that meant discovering who I am. It didn’t. I realized that it meant creating who I am. It is funny, as I have been reflecting on sabbatical and all the years since I moved to Seattle, my train of thought started with “I didn’t”, and “I am not” until about a month ago when trying to write this blog post and I asked myself, “so what HAVE you done?”. It was a perspective altering question.
I have rolled a kayak, climbed mountains, and jumped off those mountains in both a harness and with a wing on my back. I have skied through powder, down fall lines, under chairlifts and on glaciers. I have ridden bikes on several continents, in varied conditions with incredible people. I have ordered great wine and decadent food in restaurants all over the world. I have met new people everywhere I have gone and listened to their stories, learned about their lives, and shared the fires of the passions that light up their souls. I gave away all the trappings of my former life, my furniture, clothing, and emotional baggage. I have lived without a home or safety net to return to. I have fed endangered vultures from my hand both on the ground and while gliding in the air looking out over the Himalayas. I have traveled alone, with no plan and no itinerary, going where I wanted, seeing what interested me, meeting new people. I have faced loneliness, fear, isolation, sickness, different cultures, ostracization, and just about every human condition you can imagine.
When I read that list, what is clear to me is that I am not the person that I was anymore. I am strong, courageous, adventurous, athletic, urban, classy, loving, compassionate, giving, open… in other words, I am the person I have always wanted to be. How did I, a non-athletic, frumpy, boring, small-town, middle-class housewife do it? How did I learn to roll a boat, ski off-piste, order great wine, solo travel, talk to strangers, and give up all my possessions? The answer is simple, I tried. I set out on a course that was hard and just kept going. Overcoming obstacles, wanting to quit (many, many times), I learned and grew. I refused to stay in the dysfunction I was in and did the work necessary to have the life I wanted. Even though that sounds simple, it was the hardest, yet most rewarding thing I have ever done. I have no regrets.
Before I left on sabbatical, I had a chance to change course and stay in Seattle to be able to get the perfect house. I wanted that house so badly, I almost didn’t go on my journey because of it. The house was just an excuse to hide my fear however. Instead, I listened to my advisors and went on sabbatical anyway knowing that there would be another perfect house when I returned. I have thought of that house many times while I lived my homeless, nomadic life. In the last couple of weeks I started house hunting again. Guess what? THE house, the same one, was available and now it is mine. So for all my worry, I took the chance anyway and walked away from the safe choice. Now I have a house again or at least I will on Sept 15 and not just any house but the house I dreamed of. Until September 15, I am hanging out with my beautiful granddaughters waiting for their brother to come into the world any day now. So at the end of this incredible year, not only am I a new person but I will have a new home, a new job, and a new grandson.
It makes me happy to know that I am setting a great example for my grandchildren that life isn’t about limits, it is about challenging what limits us. Our biggest limitation is believing that we can’t change who we think we are.