In the months before I moved to Knoxville for college, I would walk. Nearly every evening, I would put on my headphones (the era before earbuds) and head out the door with nothing but my fully-loaded iPod. I told myself I was walking to “lose weight.” In hindsight, no matter how many times I walked back and forth between my mom’s house and my Uncle Peg’s shop, my diet was crap and while the extra movement didn’t hurt, it certainly didn’t offset my caloric intake. You can’t out exercise a bad diet, as they say.
I was in a weird place in those days. Four years removed from high school, I was more than a little lost. I graduated high school with the intention of becoming an RN, based solely on the job’s earning potential. But after a year and a half, I accepted that I hated nursing. I was too soft-hearted. I got attached too quickly, felt heart-wrenching devastation when a patient passed away. I was indignant over the idea that we had to give a baby born addicted to cocaine back to its mother who still wasn’t clean, livid that a woman refused to give her parents custody of the perfectly imperfect baby she didn’t want, so the child, medical needs and all, was shipped off to the equivalent of an orphanage until a lawsuit could be filed and, hopefully, won. No matter the promise of a good career ahead, I couldn’t make myself keep showing up to those classes day after day, and so, I withdrew.
Bless those of you who are nurses. I truly couldn’t do it.
I happened to be in the midst of a bad breakup at the same time I withdrew from nursing school. In the span of a few weeks, my life was on its ear. No more school, no more relationship, no more plan.
It wasn’t a good time. I struggled with anxiety and depression, to a point that I was on medication and had to take medical leave from my job. I was only 22, and the life I had so carefully crafted in my mind’s eye was no longer within my reach. Of course I was panicking.
From where I sat, life now looked like a mediocre job, a cheap rental house in the middle of nowhere, and my relationship options were limited to the guys that stuck around after high school, at best. In now decidedly melodramatic fashion, I thought my life would forever be mediocre at best. It was what it was. It was the norm where I was from. Graduate high school, get a job, work for the weekend and a paycheck that was spent before it ever hit the bank.
On those walks with my iPod, Sugarland’s song “Settlin,’” newly released at the time, kept coming up on shuffle. The chorus roped me in – I ain’t settlin’ for anything less than everything – but it was these two lines:
Find what it means to be the girl
Who changed her mind and changed her world
that got the rusty wheels to start turning in my head.
That point in time happened to also align with The Secret’s peak popularity. I saw a Today Show report on it one morning while getting dressed for that job I thought I’d be stuck in for the rest of life. That evening, it was all Oprah could talk about.
Change my life by changing the way I thought? That’s exactly what Sugarland told me to do, too. Okay. Sign me up.
I spent the last few dollars in my checking account after work the next day, a Thursday, to buy the book. I gambled on the fact that I had enough gas to make the 30 minute drive home and then halfway back to work the next day, when I would reach the first gas station and my paycheck would be in my account.
It would be dramatic to say that book changed my life, but it certainly helped. Sugarland inspired me. The Secret launched me into action. I realized it really was that easy. I could change my mind and change my world. I didn’t have to accept life as it currently was. A new plan formed while I walked, one that would require me to get really uncomfortable and leave behind a lot of the safety nets I had in place. Within the year, I was moving into my dorm at the University of Tennessee.
As they say, hindsight is 20/20.
Looking back to those days full of tears, doubts, anxiety, and questioning everything, I realize how dangerously close I was to settling. Had that relationship worked out, I would have likely never lived outside of Nelson County. There would probably be a few kids by now, a house full of kitschy decor, a pantry full of easy snacks, and a fridge with cheap domestic beer on the bottom shelf. We’d take a vacation once a year, probably to Gatlinburg or maybe to the Outer Banks, nowhere that involved a flight because who would want to board a plane? It would have been a just fine life, but for me, it would have been a complacent one.
It’s so easy to settle, isn’t it? We stay in the same job for years. It pays well enough. We like our co-workers. Our cubicles are so full of photos and files and knick knacks that it would take forever to box it all up. We can do our work on autopilot, and there isn’t really anywhere left to go in the position without leaving the company, or at the very least, the department, so we just – stay. Why rock the boat?
Our relationship is fine. We get along well. We say ‘I love you’ at appropriate times. We have the occasional date night. Yet, in the quiet moments, we find ourselves wondering… is this it? This simple coexistence? But the other option – being alone – is more daunting than staying put in comfortable companionship, so we continue to co-exist and watch the days pass by, wondering if this okay, maybe even more than okay human, we’ve attached ourselves to is really the one that brings out our best self.
We fall into a routine of monotony without ever realizing it. Wake up, go to work, come home, repeat. We daydream of vacations we’d like to take, businesses we’d like to start, relationships we’d like to have. We may even daydream of the meals we’d like to cook and the workouts we’d like to do as we stir spaghetti sauce from a jar on the stove for the umpteenth week in a row and repeat that tried and true YouTube workout.
I found myself in this very place in Charlottesville. I had a good life. I had a good job, incredible co-workers. Some of my best friends were a phone call and a five minute drive away. I saw my family at least once a week. I loved my gym and my barre studio. It was a good, stable life. But just like I had on those walks so many years ago, I started to think “what if there’s more?” I had thoughts and ideas. Barre studios I wanted to build, online platforms I wanted to create. Places I wanted to go. As much as I loved my job, nothing about it challenged me, there was no room for upward growth, and when I did try to move into a new role, it didn’t work out. I was tired of seeing the same exact people day in and day out, many I had known nearly my entire life.
And honestly? I wanted a new dating pool, one with men I haven’t either known my entire life or already gone on a date with.
I had to choose: play it safe or take a chance.
Taking a chance scared the hell out of me.
Staying complacent scared me more.
I took the chance and moved to Chapel Hill to try my hand at something new. We’ll find out how this chapter of my life goes together.
Whenever someone asks me what I want out of life, my answer is always the same: I want to be happy, give and receive love, and do the work I was put here to do. I want to live my best life. I think that should be all of our goals – to live our best lives. If we remain where we are, complacent and safe, we can still live a good life.
But if we listen to that nagging voice that says “this is not it,” we can do so much more. We can live a great life. Our best life.
Complacency can mean security. But it can also kill dreams and stamp down opportunities. Don’t be afraid to grow, leave jobs, end relationships, both romantic and friend. Travel to that place you’ve always wanted to go. Do that thing you’ve been dreaming of in quiet moments..
Ask yourself what’s scarier: living day-to-day with “what if” in the back of your mind? Or trying out that “what if” to see if it could be something incredible? Even if “what if” turns out to be “never should have,” at least you’ll know. At least you tried. At least you allowed yourself to take action and find out what was on the other side.
Change your mind. Change your world.
And if all else fails, put in your earbuds and walk.