You know how they say that a situation will continue to come up in your life until you learn the lesson that it’s supposed to teach you? I have recently arrived at yet another crossroads at which I am required to dig deep within myself in order to figure out exactly why this certain situation keeps popping up, and at last, I think I have some answers. Time after time throughout my life I have heard about opportunities and thought “I should do that” and looking back, majority of those opportunities were not even things I was interested in or truly wanted to do, but because my brain, as well as so many others, has been hardwired to be so caught up in the dreaded “shoulds.” I should do this because it would look good on my resume. I should do this because all the adventurous people I admire would do something like this. I should do this because other people would think it’s a good thing to do. All of these shoulds that took me so long to realize had so little to do with what I thought about myself and what I valued in my own life and more to do with what other people would think about my life and my decisions. What I see so clearly now, and what I am sure so many people can relate to, especially in this social-media focused generation, is that we are constantly fighting the need to compare our lives to everyone else’s (Instagram) stories.
As I sit at yet another crossroads, a fork in the road where I am forced to make a decision, I think back to a very similar situation I arrived at during my sophomore year of college. I had heard about a certain study abroad program through a cross-cultural class, and for one reason or another, I thought that this was it! This was my perfect opportunity where I would find myself and grow and meet some great people. This was the opportunity where I would find everything I was missing and everything I was looking for. I didn’t realize at the time that what was missing was my own self-awareness and self-confidence. I went through the application process, took care of everything that needed to be checked off the list, got a new suitcase, all the while ignoring the nagging feeling inside of me that told me something about this opportunity wasn’t right for me. Yet I carried on, because part of me longed to be this adventurous spirit. I longed to be like so many other people who were doing awesome things. The truth is, I longed for other people to think I was doing something awesome, too. I got closer and closer to leaving at the end of that summer and my anxiety became too much. I could no longer ignore the voice inside telling me this was not for me. I didn’t end up going, and my long awaited plans of adventure fell through. While I dreaded what other people were going to think and say when I was at school that Fall and not halfway across the world, and while it took me a long time to get over feeling like some kind of failure, the truth is I don’t regret not going at all. The only thing I regret is not being self-aware enough to acknowledge that that was not meant to be a part of my path in the first place.
Fast forward to right now, almost a year after graduating from college as I sit writing this and I understand more clearly the reasons why I am finding myself at yet another crossroads. Do I choose to say yes to this opportunity? Or do I listen to my heart and choose a different path? I applied to another program, this time a graduate program, that I thought sounded perfect for me and, of course, like something I should do. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was applying to this program with my main reasoning being that my next steps in life would be certain. It would be planned out for me and I wouldn’t have to deal with the dreaded uncertainty that would come if I didn’t choose to pursue grad school in the next coming year. Not only that, but I thought, how awesome it would be when other people saw that I was doing something more, that my future was on the right track. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great program at a great school and it is an amazing opportunity. However, I simply do not think this is the path for me. When I got my acceptance letter, rather than feel excitement, I was filled with dread. Is this really the path I want to take? Do I really want to pursue this degree?
I am learning to ask these hard questions. I am a chronic over-thinker and over-analyzer to a fault and big decisions are incredibly difficult to navigate. I am accepting that this situation is one that teaches how to look within and listen to your own inner voice, to drown out the “shoulds” and everyone around me that is saying what they think is best for me. I also realize that lately I have felt the constant pressure to be something more than I already am. That I need to be doing more or becoming more of a certain kind of person. It dawned on me that in both of these situations, I had moments of pure excitement where I specifically remember thinking “I could be that person!” and that makes me wonder, who is that person? And why is she so much better than the you that you already are? I am learning to love and accept the person that I am without feeling that I need to be more like someone else. I am learning to listen to my voice and look at my own interests, skills, talents and curiosities without the constant influence of others. I am learning to look my fear in the face, the fear of failure, the fear of never being enough, and the fear of never succeeding, and telling it to be quiet. This has been a very long, and at times, emotional, journey. But I refuse to give up on the journey that I know is my own, and the dreams that I have within me. I will no longer let the voices of others quiet those dreams. I’m in a season of straight-up soul searching, and I can honestly say that I can’t wait to see where it leads me.