How to Not Vanish

via Daily Prompt: Vanish

There are some places I go where I feel whole, where nothing else seems to matter and I can escape from worries for a bit.  I can be in my own head, alone with my own thoughts.  These are places near where I have chosen to live, out in the country, usually when I am out riding my horse, or on a walk in the woods or hike in the mountains.  Places where the rest of the world just vanishes.

There are other places I go that are the opposite.  These are places that are busy, loud, and usually obnoxious.  Cities and areas with a lot of people, all bustling to their next appointment, all completely focused on themselves, in their own little bubble, not caring about the world around them or the people around them.  It is in those places, although there are so many people, that I feel the most lonely.  I interact with machines more than I do people, as everything has become automated.  I pass by people who do not even look at me, do not see me.  I may as well not exist.  When I am in those places, I begin to shrink, to vanish.

This is why I have chosen the lifestyle I have now.  I work outside in all weather, long days for little pay.  I am not in an area with a lot of opportunity for better jobs.  I would have to move into the city for that.  I would have to get a job where I sit in an office all day, invisible to the world, to the sky and trees and sun.  I would have to sacrifice more than I am willing to: I would have to sacrifice myself and who I am.  I would have to live my life feeling like I don’t exist, like I don’t matter.  I refuse to do that.  I can’t do that.  The person I am now can’t do that, because she would vanish if she did.

So, this post is about self-care.  What places make you feel whole and happy?  What places make you feel like you don’t matter?  Spend more time in the first places.  Because you are real, and you deserve to exist.  You deserve to feel complete, and not vanish in a sea of dissatisfaction.

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On Which Track

The more I think about my life, my future, and what I want to do with it, the more I find myself reviewing my past.  Recently I have been thinking about times that I have felt like I was on-track, happy, useful, and successful, versus times that I have felt the opposite: off-track, stressed, disordered, useless, and, you guessed it – like a failure.

I started feeling like my life wasn’t where I wanted it to be when I was a teenager.  I compared myself to my friends a lot, and felt like I was slipping behind.  I was homeschooled, so I could go at my own pace and wasn’t actually behind; I was ahead in some subjects and behind in others, but guess which ones I focused on?  Yup, the ones I was behind in.  So, although everyone said I didn’t need to, I decided to do something about it.  I started taking classes at my local community college, and suddenly I didn’t feel behind anymore.  In fact, the fact that I was taking college classes at sixteen made me feel pretty cool.  I whizzed ahead in math and other things that I cared about, and put myself exactly where I wanted to be.  On track.

When I was in college, I had some major medical issues that sent me way off course.  I had to transfer schools so that I could move home to be closer to my doctors and, honestly, be taken care of.  Instead of take time off school, I stayed in, because I didn’t want to ‘fall behind’ again.  It didn’t matter, though, having a serious illness for years doesn’t let you do anything but fall behind in life, since you are spending most of your energy just trying to survive.  I ended up making myself miserable trying to stay in school while sick.  I took five and a half years to finish, got lower grades than I ever had in my life, and by the end had no direction or passion for what I was doing.  I ended up graduating with a degree I didn’t care about and an overwhelming desire to never be in school again.  Which was a shame, because as a homeschooler I had always had a passion for learning.  Forcing myself to stay in when I was that miserable, just because I thought that was what I was ‘supposed to’ do, had taken that away from me.  I also later realized that in order to do something I actually enjoyed, I would probably have to go get another degree in that field anyway, so all that time being miserable was probably a waste anyway.  Off track.

When I graduated, I had decided that I owed it to myself to do something I really enjoyed.  I immediately got a job with horses, determined to make that my career.  It was a rough, overworked-and-underpaid entry level job, and I worked probably an average of sixty hours a week.  Six days a week I would wake up at the crack of dawn, work outside in all kinds of weather, do manual labor, and stay pretty much on-call at all times.  I loved every second of it.  I learned so much, both with my riding and about taking care of a barn, and got some amazing opportunities to ride some nice horses and meet with the best riders and trainers in the business.  Also as hard as the work was, it was twice as fun.  Most of the time.  I had the rest of my life together, too.  Since I only had a little bit of time to myself, I used it wisely, to clean my place, do errands, etc.  For the year and a half I worked in that job, I got more accomplished than I had in all those years in school.  On track.

When I left that job, it was because of two reasons: one, I needed more money, and realized that working only with horses was not going to cut it at this point.  Two, my horse was lame, and so I was getting less out of it anyway, since I couldn’t ride and get lessons.  Those two things, along with a lot of people telling me that I should grow up and become responsible, led me to the decision that I should get a more grown-up and responsible job.  The problem was, I was underqualified in a lot of areas.  So for the last year and a half, I have tried, and failed miserably, to do something more acceptable with my life.  I tried to work in a vet clinic, which gave me so much stress I started worrying about my health again and quit.  I tried going back to school to be a technician, realized that was not what I wanted to do, and left after one very long and painful semester.  I have cut down on my time working with horses, and have had to move back in with my parents.  I have been searching for something that I can do as a job that would make other people happy, and in doing so have realized something: that is an impossible task.  That is probably why I am still searching after more than a year and a half.  Off track.

Do you see the pattern?  I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.  Every time I try to live my life according to what I think others want from me, to succeed by their standards, I fail.  That is not because I am a failure, but because I have been setting myself up for failure.  I have been paralyzing myself by listening to every single voice other than my own.  The times I have gone after what I wanted to do, despite what others said, I ended up working harder, caring more, and becoming genuinely happy and successful.

So, my point to this is simple: I truly believe that the key to success is to not be afraid of failure; to listen to yourself over others and do what you want.  This does not mean that you are lazy, or stupid, doing something wrong, though that’s what many will tell you; it means that you are brave, and willing to work harder than ever for something you sincerely care about.  Passion leads to success.

The Space Between Dreams

Dreams are funny things.  You can dedicate everything to one, make your entire life revolve around it, and then in the blink of an eye it can disappear and everything you’ve done was for nothing.  It leaves you with nothing but this heart-stopping, soul-crushing disappointment that is seemingly impossible to recover from.  How do you recover from something like that?  You pick yourself up and move on with life, because you have no choice.  One foot in front of the other, you learn how to survive, even if it is in a different way than you are used to.  It is true that nothing will ever be exactly the same again, you may never find that same passion again, but maybe you will come close.  Other things take the place of that love you once had, and you begin to love something again.  You get new dreams.  Slowly, you begin to live again.

Then something happens.  You get another chance at your dream.  You can try again.  The thing is, this has happened before.  You have tried again, and again, and again, all to the same disappointing end.  You have been ‘trying again’ your whole life.  Now you have just begun to build your life again, this time with a safer dream.  You are afraid of letting go of this new dream in case this old one dies…again.

Yet this old dream…this old passion…you know in your heart that it is not really dead.  It is like a lover who broke your heart long ago, yet you never stopped loving; not really.  It has been a part of you for too long.  It has shaped you, built you, made you who you are.  It is as much a part of you as your heart is.  You do not know how to exist without it.  This life you have re-built, this half-life, are on the ashes of this old dream, so unstable.

So the question is, what do you do?  How do you try again, after so much heartbreak?  How do you trust that things will be okay, after you have seen how badly it can go?  How do you go back to believing in a dream that you have long since given up on?

Should you?

♦ ♦ ♦

I guess I should let you all know what I am rambling on about so melodramatically.  As anyone who has ever known me, met me, or even heard about me in passing from a friend knows, I have loved horses my entire life.  I was born into a horse family, so it is in my blood.  Sometimes I feel like that is more than a figurative saying, that there really is some sort of ‘horse gene’ or at least a strong genetic instinct that pulls me towards horses like a magnet.  Suffice to say, I developed a passion for riding, and some very big dreams, early on in my life.  Since then, nearly everything I have done has been dedicated to moving myself closer to those dreams.

Unfortunately, life (and horses) had other plans.  The thing about choosing horses as your passion is that it is a terrible idea.  I mean absolutely terrible.  I mean, I would probably recommend a passion as a target girl for a knife thrower over a passion for horses, it would be less painful.  (Probably physically safer, too.)  Not only do horses take all of your time and money, and then some, but they break easily.  Or they decide to be stubborn and difficult, which makes the process all the more frustrating.  Then they usually break anyway, probably right after you’ve finally made a little bit of progress.  This has all happened to me, multiple times over.  I know I’m not alone in my struggles, not by a longshot, and everyone has their reasons for giving up on horses.  Over the years I have seen friends and co-workers, all just as dedicated (or more so) to horses as I was, drop out of the sport like flies.  It is never because they can’t find another horse; it is always due to heartbreak.  Even so, every time it happens you still feel alone.  I am no exception.  Here is my most recent reason for (almost) giving up:

After struggling to keep horses in my life for years, and finally making some strides towards building a career with them (i.e. working with them almost every waking hour for a year and a half of my life) I decided to buy a young project horse to train and sell.  I spent all of my money on a young horse – the first one I had bought myself, that was truly mine.  Guess what happened?  You’re right!  She went lame.  Permanently.  I tried for a year and a half to treat her, rehabbed her a number of times (a very frustrating process that takes months) only to have her still be broken at the end of it all.  I was finally lucky enough to find her a home for her as a breeding mare, and though I still lost all of my money on her, I know it could have ended a lot worse if I hadn’t been able to find her a home and was stuck with paying her bills for the next ten-to-twenty years.  Even so, although I thought I had prepared for the worst (something like this) nothing could have cushioned the blow.

Since then, I have ridden some horses when I could, but always other people’s horses, situations I didn’t have to invest myself completely in…though they didn’t usually end well either and I ended up getting screwed over, which is still pretty heartbreaking.  I have gotten very frustrated, and little by little I have found myself giving up the fight to keep horses in my life, since it constantly proves pointless, and not worth the work without any reward.  Instead, I have invested my time and energy into martial arts.  Clung to it, really, as my only saving grace while the rest of my world fell apart (horses, job, school, living situation, friends leaving, etc.).  So now I’m pretty invested in it, I spend the majority of my time working on it, and have plans and goals…and I might even go so far as to call them dreams.

Now, I am in a bit of a conundrum.  I was approached about a horse that seems perfect to help me reach some of my goals.  A little while ago, I would have snatched her up in a heartbeat.  Now, I realize that I am scared.  Terrified, really, about what it would mean.  I know that if I buy a horse it will take most of my time and energy, and my martial arts will suffer.  Once I get a job (in this mystical future where I am actually a functional person) it will be even worse, and I am worried that everything I have put into martial arts in the last two years will go to waste.  I am worried that I will lose that new dream for an old one that may be impossible.

So, I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know if this is even an example of following your head versus your heart, because I do believe it is all my heart, pulling me in two different directions.  I am in love with two different things, and though hearts seem to have an unlimited capacity for love, lives do not.  I think I must make a choice, as to what I love more, and it is not an easy one.  This is not an easy place to be at all, stuck here, in the space between dreams.

How to Defeat Yourself with an Arm Triangle

In the sport of jiu jitsu, there is a submission called an arm triangle, where you put your opponent into a choke hold by trapping one of their arms and neck with your arms.  When I first learned it, the guy who taught it to me briefly explained the position, but said it probably wasn’t important for me to know because most of the time girls don’t have the strength to finish that submission.  There are so many problems with that entire situation I can’t even point them all out in a reasonable amount of time, but I have faith that most people can see how that mindset, statement, and refusal to teach someone something because of their gender is all very problematic.  As much as I would love to go into a feminist rant over it, my point is surprisingly not specifically feminist (though it might be able to fit into the agenda somewhere).  My point is that at the time, yes I was annoyed and refused to believe that women lacked the ability to do that submission (jiu jitsu was, after all, invented to give small people an advantage in a fight) but eventually forgot about that incident and moved on.

However, last week I was in class, rolling (sparring) lightly with a friend of mine who outweighs me by a hundred pounds, and got a good setup for an arm triangle on him.  Then I let go, and tried to transition to something else, though I didn’t have a good position for anything else and ended up opening myself up for an attack.  Instead of taking advantage of that, my friend just stopped, and asked why in the world I didn’t go for that arm triangle.  It took me a minute, because I honestly didn’t know how to answer, and had to think.  I knew the setup was good.  I told him I just didn’t think I could get it.  He asked me why not.

Why not?

What a heavy question.  Well, remember how I said I didn’t believe when that guy said I didn’t have the strength?  How I’m a feminist and refuse to think there’s something a woman can’t do?  Well, I was wrong, because it turns out that despite how much I acted or thought differently, subconsciously there was a part of me that did believe him.

It makes me wonder, first of all, what else I haven’t gone for because someone told me I can’t?  How many times have I believed people when they have put me down?  Believed something I didn’t think I believed?  It makes me realize how problematic even the smallest little put-downs are, what in feminism and social justice we call microaggressions and how much they can affect someone, no matter how thick your skin is.

Lastly, it makes me tired.  Silly, I know, but let me explain.  I wonder how I am supposed to keep doing this – how am I supposed to keep my head up and keep believing in myself when I am constantly reminded by others of my weaknesses, exaggerations of my weaknesses, or beliefs in weaknesses that aren’t even there?  When I am continuously told, in different and subtle ways that I don’t always even notice, that I will never good at this because of something I can’t change?  I don’t think the advice “just believe in yourself” quite cuts it anymore after a while.  When you are repeatedly told that you can’t do something, it wears you down.

This happens in the rest of life, too.  We are constantly told by others what we can or cannot do, what paths we are able to take, or what risks we cannot cope with.  We are told that we cannot handle more in our lives, yet at the same time we are told that we should be able to handle more.  (No wonder us twenty-somethings are stressed out and confused!)  We are told we are clueless, we are told we are entitled, we are told we are lazy.  Where does that leave us?  Feeling pretty badly about ourselves, if you ask me.  Feeling pretty small, and inadequate.  It’s hard to live up to your highest potential when you feel this way.

So, if it is so difficult to deflect the negative things people say, what’s the solution?  Most likely, the entire world is not going to change overnight, and people are still going to say negative things.  How, then, do we keep ourselves from believing these bad things about ourselves?

Beats me, kids, I sure don’t have an answer.  You think I have this whole ‘life’ thing figured out?  Ha!  Have you even read the name of this blog?  I’m out, have fun thinking you suck at everything.

Just kidding.  Kind of.  While I am still trying to figure out how to keep myself from being caught in that same trap again, I do know one thing: I know better than to give up an arm triangle now.  That is one step more confident than I was before.

My mom told me once that she used to meditate when she was younger, but that she was terrible at it because her mind would wander so much.  I have heard similar things from a lot of people.  Recently, I saw this video on meditation that was basically saying how the whole point is for your mind to wander, but to focus on bringing your thoughts back from that.  This re-trains your mind to catch itself sooner and more often, and over time your thoughts wander less.  I think these self-defeating thoughts can be treated the same way, the more you catch yourself and change your views, the easier it becomes.

So, the lesson I have taken from all of this is that I for one need to be more active in challenging ideas that “I can’t” do something.  So, here is my vow to you, readers: the next time someone else tries to tell me that I am going to struggle with something, I will not hesitate to try it out, so I know where I actually stand.  The next time I catch myself hesitating to try something, I will ask myself why, so that I can pick out and challenge any hidden self-doubt.  And lastly, the next time I have an opportunity for an arm triangle, I will go for that submission like no one ever told me I can’t.

Olympic Games and Effort for Foolish Things

Am I the only one who gets into a bit of a funny mood around the time of the Olympics?  I mean, I love them wholeheartedly; to me it’s as exciting as a holiday that only comes around once every four years.  When the Games are on, just about all I do is sit in front of the television and cheer on our athletes.  I can’t help it; I am an athlete myself, I live for sports (and literally make my (meager) living because of them) and this celebration of friendly competition makes my heart swell.  I get goosebumps when I think of the unbelievable amount of work, dedication, and sacrifice these athletes have given in order to get here, and am truly inspired; I know how much it takes to get good, and to get that good seems nearly unhuman.  I’ll even freely admit that the Olympic anthem almost brings tears to my eyes.

However, I also must admit, less freely, that there is another part of me.  A tiny, nagging feeling that seems to grow every year, with every major sporting event (at least, every one that I care about – luckily I’m not into popular ball sports or I’d be in trouble).  Try as I might, I can’t seem to curb that feeling.  It’s quiet, but incredibly persistent.  That feeling wears on me, reminds me of my ever-increasing age[1], of my past failures, of sports that I have quit or times I could have tried harder but didn’t.  That feeling also creeps into my current sports, and tells me that I’m not very good at them, that I am making a fool of myself by working so hard when I’m really not going anywhere.  It tells me I will never succeed, not really, not to a good enough degree – so I shouldn’t be trying.  It leaves me questioning why I do these things at all.

I attempt to find that feeling and stop it, but it is very sly, very sneaky, and though it can be weakened (with a lot of effort) I imagine it is impossible to actually kill.  That feeling has popped up throughout my entire life, and I have a bad suspicion that it will continue to do so.  I think the feeling is called doubt.  I know I’m not the only one who feels it.

In fact, I think most of society feels it, and repeats a similar message over and over and over: things aren’t worth doing if a) you’re not the absolute best (or close to it) already, or b) they’re not moving you forward in life.  We tend to believe that things seen as ‘leisure activities’ like sports are a waste of time if taken too seriously, or done more than recreationally; especially once you are an adult.

So, that has led me (the long way) to my main point: why do sports at all?  What do they really get us?  We are spending such a large portion of our lives on something that does not move us forward, in the eyes of society: for most of us it does not make us money, or further our careers, or help us raise families.  Why do something that we do not feel we necessarily should be doing?[2]

Well, I’m still trying to figure out that answer for myself.  I am still trying to justify dedicating so much time, energy and money to things that most people deem ‘useless.’  I still have not found a satisfying answer.  Maybe there is no answer, no justification, and sports really are a waste of time.  I refuse to actually believe that, however.

Instead, I believe this:  Life is more than mere survival, more than filling the basic needs of food and shelter.  People have more needs than that.  I feel that some of these needs consist of competition, of setting goals, and of bettering ourselves.  And most importantly, having a physical outlet.  We need sports for the same reason we need art, and music, and dancing, and games: without these things, life would be bland and dull and boring, and in my honest opinion rather sad.

However, I dare say that most of these needs could be fulfilled by recreational sports.  So what about those of us who have more of a passion than that?  Who decide to throw our entire lives, heart and soul, into our sports?  Who take competition seriously, even at the lower levels?  Is it not pointless to train hard when we will probably never be the best, and something like the Olympics doesn’t seem possible?

I could make the point that even Olympic athletes were not born Olympic athletes, knowing the possibilities, or where they would end up.  That they were just like you and me, and questioned themselves, yet did their sports because they loved them, the greatness came later.  We only see the end result, we do not see the hours they have put in, over days, over years, that led to that result.

However, I don’t think you have to be an Olympic athlete to be worthwhile as an athlete.  I don’t think you need to be great in order to justify how much your sport (or whatever you do) means to you.  In fact, I don’t think hard work needs any justification at all.

The lesson I choose to take from the Olympic Games is this: these athletes are not only to be respected because they are the best, as they have not always been the best.  They are to be respected for the work they did when they were not the best.  For the times that they felt stupid for their dreams but kept dreaming anyway.  For the times that they were beaten but tried again.  Mostly, for finding the quiet and persistent strength to ignore that nagging voice of doubt.

 

[1] Though 41-year-old Olympic gymnast Oksana Chusovitina proves that age doesn’t matter as much as we tend to think!

[2] As my friend said in How to Fail at Life: An Introduction: “don’t should all over yourself.”

Baby Steps

Well, three weeks have gone by and, lo and behold, I still haven’t gotten my life together.  Really though, it’s a lot to ask to sort out an entire life in three weeks, so cut me some slack, alright?  I think it’s a much bigger commitment than three weeks.

I just want to share with you what I have done in the last three weeks.  It’s pretty huge.  Ok, it’s actually really not, but the point I’m trying to make is that every step adds up, so bear with me.

This idea came up last week after my dad asked me about my life plans, and I got rather quiet and mumbled something brief, trying to shut down the conversation.  I was feeling pretty embarrassed and discouraged about where I was in life, where I was going, and how to get there.  You know, the normal stuff.  I didn’t want to admit how behind I felt, or that I was so overwhelmed that I had basically just put everything aside and didn’t want to think about it.  However, my dad, with his mystical dad-instincts, picked up on it anyway.

There are many times I am reminded of how amazing and supportive my parents are, and how lucky I am to have them.  This was one of those times.  My dad did something that I think takes a lot of courage: he admitted something to me.  He said that he wanted to start working out again, but was scared, because of how long it had been since he had done any sort of exercise, he was worried about his health.  We made a deal to start meeting every morning, Monday through Friday, and go to the library and gym together.  We have done it for two weeks now.  Who knows how long we will keep it up, but so far it has been working fantastically.  I’ve already gotten more work done in these two weeks than I had for the last two months before that.

I think the reason this deal worked out so well is that for one thing, we had a solid plan to stick to, and for another we suddenly both had someone else to hold us accountable.  I all too often keep my plans quiet, because I am embarrassed about the possibility of not sticking to those plans or reaching those goals.  I think this is a mistake.  I think it is good to involve other people in your plans, as long as they are supportive of them.  I may not have been able to pull myself out of bed that first morning (or any of the following mornings, for that matter) if I didn’t have someone waiting for me, that I knew I had to go meet.

The other part, having a plan, I think is even more important, however.  It doesn’t even need to be a full plan.  I have no idea how long this will take me to finally finish this semester, I haven’t even looked at everything I have to do.  My plan isn’t that complex.  It started out as just putting aside a few hours that first week to work.  Then the next week.  Viola, I’ve already made more progress than I would have otherwise!  Now I just need to keep it up.

I still don’t know if it will be ‘good enough’ or not, or if this whole school thing will even work out.  It is overwhelming, trust me.  It seems like I will never be able to catch up.  I can’t even see an end to the work right now, and it doesn’t seem like what I’m doing will be enough.  But I know it’s better than nothing, and that at this point I need to just keep my head down and focus on those baby steps each day.  Something tells me that when I look up again I’ll be farther than I thought.

An Introduction

How to Fail at Life, With Passion:

It’s pretty easy, actually.  Find something you’re passionate about, and let it take over your life.  Better yet, find two things.  The more the better, actually.  See, the more things you love, the more time you will spend on them rather than things you should[1] be doing…like work or school.  However, in my opinion you only really fail at life if you have no passions, take no risks and infallibly follow your brain before your heart.  That’s what I like to tell myself, at least.  You probably shouldn’t listen to me.

The point of this blog is mostly (hopefully) to convey the idea that there is no such thing as actually “failing at life.”  Even if you feel like you are, which I think quite a lot of people like myself (young, recently out of school, trying to figure out life but really just having a constant crisis) feel about themselves.  I think it’s easy to feel like a failure when you’re just starting out, in a society that tells you there’s one single way to be a success, and you’re nowhere near there yet; that in fact, you may never get there, especially if you don’t follow these specific steps that you’re probably not following.  It’s really easy to feel that way if you choose a non-traditional life path – i.e. chasing after a passion.  It’s easy to look at “everyone else,” meaning your more “successful” friends who seem to have their lives together, and think that you should be more like them: doing something different, something more, something better.  Obviously yes, our goal is to not end up homeless and hungry – but hey, even if you are, if you’re still alive you haven’t failed yet.  I really believe that there is a place for everyone in this world, even if it takes some people a longer time or a different route to find theirs.  (Just look at what J.K. Rowling says about failure)

Most of the time, I think people only share the good parts of their life with others.  How many Facebook posts do you see about your friends getting married or having kids, or getting a new job or car, or moving to an exciting new city?  Well they didn’t tell you about that last fight they had with their husband, did they?  Or how their kid threw up on their new couch, or that they were fired from their last job, wrecked their last car, or had to move because they couldn’t afford rent?  Of course not, people are much more reluctant to share those things.  They might be judged harshly, ridiculed by their peers, seem like they don’t measure up.  This makes it easy for anyone with struggles to feel like they’re the only ones having such a hard time.

They’re not.  We’re all in the same boat (most of us, anyway) and we should support each other.  I will do my best to be completely honest here.  You can judge me if you want, but I promise I won’t judge you.  There’s enough of that out there for my taste.  We’re human.  We’re allowed to be imperfect.  We’re allowed to make mistakes and bad decisions.  That’s what being young is for.  Heck, that’s what life is for; there’s no age limit on failure.  (But that means there’s no age limit on success either, right?)  So, for everyone who feels like their life is a mess, I want to share my messy life with you, too.  I don’t know if it will help, but maybe you’ll at least see that you’re not alone.

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A bit about myself – I’m obviously quite a success.  I’m twenty-six, jobless, and just moved back into my parents’ basement.  Oh, and I spend money like a rockstar.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t spend on material things like clothes or cars that much, I really couldn’t care less about that stuff.  I’m a simple country girl in that regard, and hardly ever dress better than old boots and jeans.  Instead, I spend money on my passions.  My sports, mostly – horseback riding and martial arts.  Of the two, the horses are the biggest spenders; and of course they’re also my biggest passion.  In fact, I’ve been pretty set on making them my career, even though they are not really a viable career path, since they often like to cost more money than they make.[2]  Still, I have found myself (and for some reason continue) traipsing down that non-path, hell-bent on the idea that I can bushwhack my way through, fueled by passion alone, to somewhere financially sustainable.  I know, young people and their crazy ideas, right?

After I graduated college (a year and a half late, by the way), I was pretty happy that I had a job right away.  Of course, it didn’t pay me any money.  I got to be a working student for my trainer, which was the coolest job I could have asked for.  (For the non-horsey folk out there, working students are common in the horse world; though usually they are just out of high school or on summer break from college, not twenty-four-year-old graduates, but that’s beside the point.)  Working students help take care of the barn and horses in exchange for their own horse’s board and lessons.  If you think it sounds crazy, I’ll explain it to you the same way I told my non-horsey friends who thought the same thing: it’s like an internship, the idea is that you learn about taking care of horses and running a barn, and get experience for future jobs.  And yes, it’s crazy.  A lot of people don’t last; they think it sounds fun, until they start doing the work, and decide it’s too much.  They’re right, it’s too much work for too little pay, but for those of us who are really passionate about horses, it’s worth it.  I even considered it fun.  In fact, the almost-year-and-a-half I was there was one of the best parts of my life.  I had a blast and learned so much about horses and riding I could hardly believe it; I was getting to live my dream.  However, at the end, I found that I didn’t really feel that I was any further along in the rest of life than I had been when I started, and I began to question what all those skills I gained from that experience had gotten me, in the long run.  As I said before, horses are not really a viable career path, no matter how much I pretend that they are.

Anyway, the point of this post is not for me to rattle on about horses (trust me, I’ll probably do that enough anyway), the point is to explain what has gotten me to this spot in my life.  It has been a little over a year since I was a working student.  Since then, I have gone back to school to get licensed as a veterinary technician, worked briefly for four months at a small-animal clinic, hated it, and quit.  I’m still in school, with the hope that the knowledge will help me in my imagined future career with horses, and that being in school means I can at least pretend I’m doing something others might consider productive.  I am often quite hard on myself.  I said before how I felt like being a working student hadn’t gotten me anything.  Well, that is just not true.  That is the rest of society talking, telling me that anything you do that doesn’t fit into their nice little squares is a waste of time.

I told you I am writing this blog for you, for anyone who is having a hard time figuring out life.  That isn’t completely honest, and I said I would try to be completely honest here.  So, here is the whole truth: I am writing this for me, too.  I need this reminder as much as anyone, and seeing it written down somehow makes it feel more true than when I tell it to myself in my own head.  The only time I have ever wasted was in doing things I didn’t care about, trying to meet other people’s expectations.  The skills I got from the experiences I have had so far have gone well beyond the obvious, and I learned a lot more than just some stuff about horses and animals, more than I have room to go into now.  I gained things I would not have gained had I followed the more acceptable path out of college of getting a 9-5 job in the city.  I need to remind myself of this every time I start to panic that I have messed up so far, or that I am not where I should be in life, or that I don’t know exactly where I’m going.  I’m sure others in a similar situation can relate, it’s hard to keep faith that everything will be okay, when life right now seems so shaky.  So, for what it’s worth, here is my life advice, terrible as it may be: true success is what you make it, not what others tell you it is.  Think about what you want out of life.  Then go for it.  I know this phase of life is scary.  One step at a time.  You got this.

 

[1] One of my favorite quotes in the world was something a dear friend of mine said to me: “don’t should all over yourself.”  Wise words.

[2] A common saying in the horse world is: if you want to make a million dollars with horses, start with two million.