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.