i received an e-mail over the weekend from a sweet reader who asked if i would post about how i went from "point a to c", enduring hardships and remaining upbeat along the way. i thought about her request for a while before replying. i find that while i remain completely true and open here, i do shy away from certain things. i tend to consider where my readers are coming from; some may be struggling, some may be in the best time of their lives, some may be looking for a career shift or a life shift, some may be finding love and others may be losing it. it's a fine balance for me to consider all of these things when writing, and choosing what i will and will not share.
i've had a whole dialogue on the Facebook group for this space about this very post. so many people are waiting for it! so many people can't wait to read the thousands of words that follow, and all i can say is...thank you. thank you for being here and if these words can help just one person see things in a different light, then i've done my job.
there's a subtle line between seemingly "bragging" about your happiness and just being extremely grateful for it. and i think that's where i get tripped up in a post like this. my current life and my happiness have not come after an easy life, or just by luck. it has arrived because of faith, determination, hard work, hope, and above all, a constant choice to focus on the good.
everything in life is a choice. we choose to remain sad, angry, happy, lazy, productive, etc. sometimes external events or circumstances force us into any of these, but it is always solely our responsibility and choice in not only how we react, but what we choose to do going forward.
ten years ago i was lost. i didn't know who i was, what i wanted, where i wanted to go. i was fumbling around looking for anything to grab to just get me out of the misery i felt stuck in. i grabbed onto the wrong thing, or so i thought shortly thereafter. and i felt stuck. now, of course, i know there is no such thing as "the wrong thing." good and bad, right or wrong...everything happens for a reason (key #1 to letting go and moving forward in your life towards happiness). if i had chosen anything differently i would not be where i am today, and more importantly, i would not have the people i have in my life today.
so, feeling lost. that's where we were...i felt lost for years. no direction, no goals, no light at the end of the tunnel. i was losing myself IN myself. how is that even possible? i was most certainly depressed because of life circumstances, but i knew that would shift as soon as i got out of it. i started keeping a journal of things i wanted to manifest. (key #2 to letting go and moving forward in your life towards happiness.) i would write down all the things i wanted to happen from looking and feeling more beautiful, to being financially secure, to having a happy marriage, to finding my purpose in life. i wrote in it almost every night. just shifting my mindset into what i wanted to happen (which were all positive things) instead of focusing on my current situation which was miserable made a HUGE difference.
i started coming out of my shell of misery. it was a constant choice, it didn't just happen effortlessly. it's so much easier to stay unhappy or angry at a situation. it takes a lot more courage and strength to choose something else. i felt so weak, like i was nobody and nothing. i didn't think i had a chance at any of my dreams, even if i didn't yet know what they were.
now, mind you...i was born an extremely motivated person. i work hard, push myself, never give in or give up. i believe if something is not challenging, then it's not worth doing. i like to work, i like to push through hard things because i love to learn and acquire new skills. i am bright and focused and i know my capabilities. i was in the top ten of my class, even after being absent most of my senior year due to a hospitalization. i always tried harder, even when i thought i was doing my best. i'm a perfectionist (or was...now i'm a lot easier on myself), and always felt i was destined for more than what i had grown up with. not to say i wasn't well taken care of and had a loving family (however distorted the dynamics were!), but i was different. very different. i wanted different things.
so when you put a lot of that together, i suppose i would never have been the kind of person to hang out being miserable for long. i see obstacles as opportunities. hardships as ways to learn how to be a better person. and i'm always up for a challenge. it's just a matter of getting out of my way first.
i guess what finally did it was realizing that i had the choice to be happy. (key #3 to letting go and moving forward in your life towards happiness.) there i was lacking direction, feeling awful about myself, and i just decided i had enough. my life needed to change. i realized that the whole time i was manifesting ways to make what i had work, and really...what i had simply didn't fit. it wasn't what i needed or anyone else for that matter. the universe was pushing me forward. propelling me into a great unknown and i just decided to go along with it.
so i trusted the universe ((key #4 to letting go and moving forward in your life towards happiness). i became open to a whole world around me. i let go of the control i thought i needed and just let the universe guide me. i began listening, opening up myself to new experiences, and trusting that everything would work out. it kind of takes the heat off of oneself, you know? i started living in the mindset that there are no wrong choices, as long as you move forward with good intentions and love in your heart. and it is liberating to believe that, because you soon realize that life twists and turns and bumps along the way are all part of it, and necessary for us to grow and evolve.
so with all that metaphorical and spiritual talk down first, i guess i'll just tell you what that means in real life...
i remember the night everything just went BAM! i was sitting on the couch after a particularly sad day and suddenly my head felt like it became a balloon and just drifted off. after that, everything was light. i felt love for everything and everyone, including myself. i realized that i had to take care of myself and that meant making changes. and changes can be scary, but if you embrace them and move forward with nothing but faith that it will all work out, i believe it typically will if it's meant to be.
i have found myself in a very dysfunctional relationship, and although i was young, i knew even then that love should not be that way. learning those lessons of love and standing up for what i believed before i had any sense of self was a feat in itself.
i thought i found love again, and indeed i did love again, giving it my all only to find out that where i was going and what i wanted wasn't the same as the other person. and oh my...what an incredibly painful process that is. to love so much and then to realize that you're not what they wanted. and that's okay, but it still hurts. and i suppose they were not what i wanted or needed because of where i was headed too. but that hurt, big time. giving so much to something that in the end seemingly turns to dust. i thought i knew what i had and what was next, but actually i had no clue.
i remember facing the moment where it all came to an end. realizing i had just spent my last bit of money on renovating two rooms downstairs and knowing i had no where to go. the home i had made, the one i wanted my daughter to have fond memories of as an adult would be gone forever. i mourned that place before i had even left. but i had a choice: either break down and fall apart and fade away, or come back stronger. i chose the latter. because really...i also had a child i wanted to teach all of this to. i wanted her to see that even in the face of adversary and struggle, all you have to do is be creative, motivated, upbeat and positive, and work hard and good things will come.
i left a home i had loved. i left a love i thought i would be able to love forever. and i moved what little possessions i could and a 5 year old child into a two room studio with nothing but a toilet and a minuscule bathroom sink. i immediately sold everything i could (my beloved Bernina sewing machine, my best clothes, and anything of value) to get money for the security deposit and first month's rent. i later sold more things to pay for a plumber to put in an old sink so i could wash my dishes. i washed my hair in the sink and scrubbed down with a washcloth and i bathed my child in a galvanized tub that i filled by heating hot water on a 2-burner camp stove because the hot water only lasted for two minutes. i then would empty it out by hand, bucket by bucket.
i watched her intently, waiting for the sadness or the struggle. but she loved it. she loved our little space, she loved my upbeat attitude, and the morning we sat down for our breakfast by the window overlooking the river and she said, "Mama, do you remember when this was just an office? And now look! You made it a home!" that was it. that was all i needed. i showed her anything is possible. i knew we were exactly where we needed to be, and that little office space that i turned into a home became the home i will miss and cherish the most. a piece of my heart will always be there.
the person i had been holding back previously because i knew it wasn't what the person i was with wanted, was finally able to surface. my dreams, my hopes, my passions, my goals....all were at my fingertips. i had nothing. no money, nothing of value. i struggled with affording food and putting gas in the car. all of these transitions were during the winter, when a photographer in maine has little work. i had no income other than little things here and there, but i somehow made do.
all of this just motivated me more. jumping into the unknown was never scary for me. i somehow knew it was all going to work out. but i knew i didn't want to live like that long. i began taking the little dreams and goals i had started manifesting and turned them into BIG ones. i wanted to aim for the moon and nothing less. why not?!
but...there was just one problem. my car had just broken down and i was forced to buy another one. i had paid for half (and well, it was already cheap) but put the other half on a credit card, and if you know me, i despise debt. so i decided i had to get rid of that debt, so i could focus on what my life right in front of me required financially. so the eyes open e-course was born. so many people had been e-mailing me requesting information about my photography and what resources i knew of to teach them the same. and i never had an answer for that. so i decided to put together a course myself.
i contacted heather who was running a course to see if she'd be willing to help give me some information to get started. she was incredibly gracious and kind and walked me through much of her learning process. from there, i took another leap. i announced the course date, started taking sign ups, and then began the incredibly lengthly process of writing it all, all with a deadline and a bunch of students looming. but it was so motivating and i was so grateful for the positive response, so i enjoyed the process even after the 8 hour days of non-stop writing.
i made enough that first course to pay off my debt and put a little in savings. every course that ran, the money went into savings. during this time, mark came around. he and i were friends before, so we already knew each other. he became my cheerleader, rooting me on. the romance and love was an added bonus. such a different experience than anything i'd ever felt before. i was me. i knew my worth, i knew what i was capable of, i had confidence and direction. i was motivated and wouldn't let anyone stand in my way anymore. and he got that. he supported that. so i continued along, pretty intent and focused and what others would say completely driven, and i had this sweet guy who loved me and i loved him by my side rooting me on.
i started modeling to help pay the bills. i would model when the little one was at school and the money bought our food and paid my rent. i saved every penny i could and pretty soon had a shoebox filled with money from selling more things i no longer found i needed. i was still not even close to where i wanted to be, but i was happy and content with where i was in the process.
but that little space i had loved started to feel a little bit too small. its limitations were more pronounced now and i knew it wouldn't get us through the winter. i had no storage space, the line between toys and workspace was nonexistent, and as much as i loved it, i was ready to sleep without a 6 year old beside me. with rentals far out of my reach financially at the time, i started looking for small pieces of land. i was all set to build a one room cabin with a loft by hand. yup, by hand. i had it all worked out and i wasn't scared a bit. but while on a realtor's website looking at land, i came across the cutest and cheapest house i had ever seen. i got all excited and contacted the realtor. it was small; the perfect size for a single mother to take care of. i could do it, i knew i could.
i was desperate to move on and i felt this place was just the ticket. i went to see it in person and i fell in love. i could immediately pictures the little one and i there; garden, chickens, and all. i made an offer, without even knowing if i'd be approved by the bank. eventually, an offer was accepted. i went to the bank, made my plea. they went back and forth and then went for it. i was approved! but then i discovered the house needed a new septic system and i couldn't afford that too. i was crushed. for a moment i thought i may be stuck living in an office with no proper way to bathe forever.
but then mark grabbed me by the arm and said, "come on...there has to be more!" and so, i looked. i visited the dreariest, darkest, most in need of TLC houses i had ever seen. BUT...they were in my price range. all of them needed work. a lot of it.
then there was a church. a vacant church that had been turned to offices some time ago. a church on a busy, busy road that everyone drove by that had been for sale for years. mark said, "go look at it." so, i did. i walked into the first room and i turned to the realtor and said, "i'll take it." i didn't need to see anymore. it was home. my home.
but it was a commercial property. the bank wouldn't give me the loan. another bank turned me down. people told me it would be impossible; i had been a stay at home mother, slowly building a business with an unimpressive income to prove it. then someone told me of a small, local bank. i went. i sat down with my folder full of comparisons and tax returns and all the info i could get on the property. i was "buying into equity" i told them. she was upbeat and seemed hopeful.
but then i got an e-mail saying i was too much of a risk to loan the money to. i was crushed. me, a risk?! do they have any idea how responsible i am? how i have perfect credit and hate debt? how i always pay my bills on time? how hard i work? so instead of giving up, i wrote an e-mail back. a heartfelt one explaining what kind of a person i am, how i live my life, and how i would not be a risk at all.
i was shuffling between hopefulness and fear. and then the next morning i was out on a run. i had just climbed to the top of the biggest hill and i got a call. i stopped the music and answered, completely out of breath. it was the bank. "you're approved!" i jumped up and down, i cried, i laughed. i thanked the universe. i called mark and told him the good news. but then, they informed me that because it was listed as commercial, i needed to come up with 20% down.
well, i never once thought i could go to flat broke to coming up with 20% down to buy a church in 8 months. never. but i never questioned the fact that i couldn't either. so i counted all the money i had saved, sold some more things, put my car on craigslist (yup, the one i had just paid off. who needs a car anyway?!) and sold it, and within three weeks i had 20%. all of it. and some extra to put in a kitchen and bathroom, which we would obviously need.
now i am living my dream. i am confident, know that i am capable, i'm financially secure (although it's easy to let the fear of that changing suddenly in, but i choose to believe it will all be okay), i feel beautiful no matter what i "look" like, i am in a mutually supportive relationship and give and accept love, i live in an amazing home that i never thought i could be so lucky to own, i own a business and do what i love, and most importantly...i am happy. why? because i choose it.
sure, i have so called "bad" days where things are seemingly impossible, or the world seems to be crumbling around me, but i fight back. i always fight back. rallying is a necessity in this lifetime. at least for me, at any rate. and you know what may be funny, but what really always helps put things into perspective for me? the fact that this is it. this is our one shot at life. why spend it doing things that don't fulfill you, or with people who don't make you happy, or just plain being miserable? you should never let anyone else judge you for making choices to better your life because they are not living it. they are not you. YOU are the only one who knows what's the best for you.
i believe it is our obligation to live fully, to be happy, to understand that all kinds of obstacles can try to hold us back, but they are the things that make happiness possible in the first place.
so i suppose it's not about so called "obstacles" or "hardships" but about the way you look at them. we all want a happy life, and it's up to each of us to allow that to happen.
there is not a day that goes by that i don't think about how grateful for the life i have, and the journey of getting here. and it's not over. there will be more bumps along the way, more exciting adventures, more days that are harder than others, more chances to wake up each morning so thankful for what's around me. life is one big adventure that is meant to be enjoyed.
so go on...enjoy it. it's all we've got.