Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

The older I get, the better I get at trusting my instincts. I’ve also gotten better at saying no. To say that the building of these skills has been lifechanging is the understatement of the century. Its been so impactful that, while my daughter is only a few short weeks from birth, I’ve read twice as many books on instilling confidence and autonomy in children as I have about the actual logistics of taking care of a baby. (I know I need to familiarize myself with common ailments and care as well. I can’t help but obsess over my ability to guide her in the direction of fully-functioning human first, though.)

I was a people pleaser well into adulthood. The first time I remember consciously turning inward and asking myself why I was always stuck doing something I’m miserable doing and daydreaming I was on another path in life was when I was 25-years-old. (I can put an age on it because I remember it was right after I moved back to the United States from Okinawa, Japan. I was desperately trying to decide what I wanted to do when I separated from the military because there was “no way in hell” I was staying in.)

I’m going to take you back a little further.

There were three things I knew that I wanted when I was graduating from high school: freedom, financial independence, and the ability to travel. I didn’t want to go to college. I wasn’t ready yet (and now, at 29-years-old, I understand there was nothing wrong with that). I contemplated getting a job locally and working until I saved enough money to travel. I figured that after traveling, I could come back and start school. I’m very fortunate in that I’ve always had a place to land – if I needed to go home, my dad wouldn’t turn me away or make me feel like I’d failed somehow. (This was another safety net I felt like I needed for a long time. I used to have a habit of burying myself in guilt every time something didn’t work out, and other well-meaning people in my life gave me an underlying sense of, “we knew she couldn’t do it” or “we knew this would happen.”) 

That isn’t what happened, though. Around September of 2008, with graduation looming and a deep sense that if I didn’t go to college other people were going to think of me as a failure, I applied to one school: Western Carolina University.

I applied there because my brother and my sister-in-law went there and they had a music program (which, by the way, I didn’t apply for because I was terrified of failure.) Instead, I auditioned for their acting program, because an acting coach in high school told me I had a “natural gift” for it. 

I got accepted – I had good grades in high school, a handful of awards to brag about, and frankly, Western Carolina wasn’t a difficult school to get admitted to (at least as of 2008/2009.) I lasted one semester. I didn’t take a single acting class (just general education). I auditioned for their vocal performance program around December, was accepted to begin in the spring, took less than three weeks of classes, and dropped all but two more general education classes. And then I dropped out.

There were a lot of things going through my head when I got accepted into that music program and dropped out.

  • “I always said I was going to be a singer if that’s not the path I take, I failed, and everyone will know it.
  • Someone told me once that I never stick with anything, which I didn’t understand because, yeah, my interests shifted a lot, but at that point, I’d been writing for ten years already and busting my ass to sing and perform well for five years.
  • I started to understand that performing for me was a form of validation and feeling loved, because I was higher than a kite when I performed well. If I didn’t perform well, though, I wouldn’t want to get out of bed for days. I realized that if I wanted to be a performer, I had to have a more robust backbone then that. I had to have a purpose beyond trying to get people to love and accept me.
  • “I have an underlying sense that this isn’t what I’m meant to do.”
  • I wanted to start over and try again.
  • I thought that the version of myself that was a singer and an artist and sensitive would never have a place with my family – that I wouldn’t be accepted if I didn’t mold myself to be less of a black sheep and to fit in more.

And that last bullet, my friends, is what ultimately lead me to drop out of college my freshman year. I wasn’t honest with myself about what I wanted. Instead, I focused on what my family would think of me if I decided to do what I wanted.

The years that followed were full of similar patterns: I applied to UNCG, was accepted, and never went. I worked for one summer, got an apartment, got scared because I was having trouble finding another job, then decided on a whim to move to Nashville to go to school to be a mechanic. (I don’t even want to think about the financial fallout of this. My dad should’ve slapped me instead of paying rent on an apartment I wasn’t living in until we could find someone else to lease it to.) Not to mention, I based that decision on the fact the aforementioned summer job was at a local marina, and the men thought it was cute that I’d want to learn to work on things. (My boss laughed in my face and warned me I might break a nail, the cretin.)

The result of this Nashville excursion? I wasn’t fulfilled by what I was doing. I ended up in a one-sided relationship with a guy I should’ve walked away from in the first week. I briefly worked a security job after graduation because I didn’t want to work on cars for a living (I just wanted to be a cool chick who could work on her car and maybe be a hobbyist, but that’s just not my thing). Then said boyfriend and I broke up, and I came home broke and heartbroken with no intention of getting a job at any type of mechanic shop.

My sister-in-law tried to get me a job that I walked away from ASAP…like in the first week. I quit and had a meltdown on New Year’s Eve, 2011, just three weeks after I’d gotten home from Nashville. My brother and sister-in-law helped me get a cute little apartment near their home, and I got a job at Subway that barely paid the bills. (I could scrape by if I used dollar candles and kept the AC turned off.)

This is not the life I imagined myself living as a young twenty-something. (I didn’t mind being broke, but I did mind feeling trapped. My wanderlust was killing me, and to deal, I started making excellent friends with Jack Daniels, wine, and Marlboro Reds.)

So at this point, I’m sitting around thinking about all the things I want to do.

  • Be a writer.
  • Maybe go to college and major in Creative Writing or English.
  • Travel.
  • Sing.
  • Work in a coffee shop.
  • Live on the road.

I wanted to go to college because that was the only way I believed I could make any money at that point. Still, while I love to learn, I’m not much for the academic lifestyle, and anyway, whenever I thought about applying for what I wanted to go to school for, I felt so guilty I couldn’t follow through. All I could hear were echoes of, “you should go for ____________.” Fill in the blank. I was so worried that people didn’t agree with the life I wanted to build for myself. (Most commonly, I would hear my brother telling me to get a business degree every time I told him I wanted to do something else. I felt guilty about doing anything else. After all, I aimed to please.)

Still, when I imagined going to college, I imagined being stuck in a nine to five, never seeing the world, and falling into the trap of letting individuals with very limited imaginations tell me on what terms I should be living my life. (There are still people in my life who try to do this. The only thing that’s changed? I finally realized their opinions honest to goodness do. Not. Matter.)

Instead, in the summer of 2012, I joined the Marine Corps.

When I came home with a packet from the Marine Corps recruiter and told my family I was joining, they gave me a look that was somewhere between extreme levels of doubt and like I was a corpse back from the grave.

That sealed the deal. I thought I had to prove myself to everyone. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do hard things. So I picked the hardest thing I could find.

I won’t bore you with stories of my five years in the Corps. I still can’t decide whether they were the best or worst years of my life. Maybe a little of both. The only thing I know for sure is that they changed me. They transformed me into a version of myself I didn’t know before I joined the Marine Corps, for better and sometimes for worse.

At the end of my five-year stint, I decided that something had to change. I told myself I’m done living for other people. From now on, my decisions would be my own, and I didn’t care what anyone else thought. After all, trying so hard to make other people happy/believe in me hadn’t yielded me a damn thing but absolute misery.

Except I didn’t mean it yet. Not really.

I also still had some personal problems to work through that inevitably brought on the wave of judgment and doubt from others. Number one being my lack of discipline with money.

The beautiful thing about the military? Guaranteed paychecks, twice a month.

The not so beautiful thing about getting out? If you haven’t practiced some fiscal responsibility, not getting those paychecks is a real kick in the ass.

I applied to UNCW. I got accepted. I renewed my lease in a (very shitty) apartment in Jacksonville. I was going to UNCW to major in business (I felt a little lackluster about it still, but I was going to school.) I got a job at Starbucks on campus. I was a little broke, but the GI bill gives allowances to veterans that help pay for housing and books (and by housing, I meant rent, so I didn’t have to live on campus.) I waited too long to apply, though, and I didn’t have any savings. So my dad picked up my rent (seriously, dad, if you’re reading this, the amount that I owe you is unfathomable at this point.) Dad’s money lending was only supposed to last until the spring when I would start school. My dad was supportive. Every time I worried over the phone to him and assured him I was going to get my shit together, he would tell me, “just let me know what you need. Stay employed. We’ll get you through until school starts, and your GI bill kicks in.”

But then I’d get on the phone with people who weren’t my dad, and their doubts about my follow-through (and general decision making) crept into the conversation. Before my last official day in the Marine Corps was over (about a week before), I talked to an Air Force recruiter. And my family gave me that ever spirit-lifting pat on the head that I’d done the right thing, they were genuinely excited for me, and told me I made the right decision.

At this point, I know people just worry about me, but while I skillfully pretended to be excited, deep down, I kept thinking to myself, “you’re taking the easy way out. You’re trying to convince yourself this is going to make you happy but is it?”

And so my life continued with three years in the Air Force instead.

Guess how that panned out?

hated it. I was proud of my time in the Marine Corps. The Air Force didn’t offer the same gratification. (Frankly, it’s an over-glorified government contracting agency.) Not to mention, I experienced a demotion in rank, status, and respect in an organization that treats those things very, very differently than the Marine Corps does. I was not mentally or emotionally prepared for this. I was still doing a job I hated (the Air Force messed up my contract and then said fuck it, we’re going to leave her there. Literally. Not exaggerating. It was a financial decision, according to administration.) It also takes a while to acclimate, going from the Marines to the Airforce (although in fairness, this is something my Marine Corps superiors talked to me about to prepare me. “Don’t go in there kicking down doors,” they said. “The Air Force doesn’t like that.”)

The Air Force can be an excellent choice for a great number of individuals for a lot of reasons. It just wasn’t the right choice for me. Eight months in, I turned inward again. This time, I had a different question for myself.

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life miserable, living your life for other people, or do you want to live the life you always wanted?”

I changed my mindset. I applied to Arizona State online and changed my major a couple of times. (I’ve just requested to change it again, this time to a degree in digital marketing/audiences.) I started with a business degree, but finally found some intestinal fortitude and changed it. I decided that if I were going to put all this time and effort into my education, I would be learning about something that I was excited to learn. Job opportunities be damned; I was separating at the end of three years. I bought my web domain and spent money on a class that would teach me how to make money blogging and freelance writing. 

Those choices were the first step.

The next step was a lot of work, internally, because I had to get used to speaking my truth. I had to start learning to set firm boundaries and, more importantly, to hold the line when people tried to cross them, even if it caused conflict. When I had an instinct to run with something, I ran with it. If my instincts told me nope, get out of dodge, I jumped ship without even thinking about it (or worrying someone would call me a quitter.)

It was exhausting. Sometimes it was emotional. It was very uncomfortable. And I’m not perfect at it yet.

But when I shifted my focus, when I started trusting my instincts and saying “no” to things that weren’t important to me, saying “yes” to things that are important to me became, all of a sudden, much more manageable.

This is what my last year has yielded:

  • The actual love of my life.
  • A daughter (a sort of unexpected but welcome surprise).
  • Separating from the military, and when people ask why, I tell them, “because I hate it,” not some other bumbling lie to (hopefully) make them accept my decision.
  • Progress on a degree I’m actually excited to pursue.
  • The beginnings of a lucrative online business that includes this blog.
  • Paying off 3/4 of my credit cards and cutting my other debt in half.
  • Traveling! And not just to my home state, or because of deployments.
  • Buying my first home with my now-husband (that’s right! We’re married now!)
  • A genuine sense that I’m doing the right things right now.

That’s a lot of rewards. That’s a lot of rewards, and it’s only been a year since I finally started taking my advice. 

I have found that there is so much power in speaking my truth, in saying no, and in trusting my instincts. There is so much power in holding my boundaries and giving pushback when pushback is due. It’s freeing.

Because, friends, at the end of your life, it’s just you and the mirror.

At the end of my life, I want to know I lived a full and happy life that I created for myself, not a life that someone else envisioned for me.

And the three things that I wanted most more than ten years ago now, freedomfinancial independence, and to travel? That hasn’t changed. What has changed is that now, they’re in the palm of my hand. I can feed my wanderlust, do a job I love, and I’ve even started my own little family (and that little family is taking the leap right along with me.) The life that I’m living is a life that I love and a life that feels like my own.

The only terms I’m living on are my own, and anyone who can’t accept that can find a different ship to sail on.

After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained,

Am I right?



Change Your Life (It’s Possible)

If you’ve ever been on any type of social media that circulates cute, quotable graphics, then you’ve probably read or heard the phrase, “change your thinking, change your life.” (This may also sound familiar if you’ve read the book Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life by Brian Tracy. I have not personally read this book, but if you’re curious, the link will take you to it. From what I’ve been able to gather, he coined the phrase. I’d hate for him to not get proper credit from me.)

The idea that you can change your life just by changing your thinking is powerful.

Let’s consider a different quote for the moment. A quote by Maya Angelou:

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

So how can a change in your thinking and your attitude effectively change your life?

It certainly isn’t going to make you a million dollars overnight or solve all of your stressors or problems. It’s not going to keep your in-laws at bay or make your boss easier to work for. I’m not here to make any false promises or profound, unbacked claims.

I want to talk to you about why I believe these are both such powerful statements, based on my own experiences and what I understand about our self-concept.

Self-concept is precisely what it sounds like. It’s your self-image. According to the professor of psychology, Mark Leary, “You filter the cues that you get from others through your self-concept.” (Flora, 2005)

In other words, each and every one of us sees the world through a prism of sorts. The view that you have is based on your individual experiences and your beliefs about the world around you. It’s also based on the beliefs you have about yourself. This includes beliefs about who you are.

It’s challenging to see the world through someone else’s prism. For example, someone else’s rough day, which may have left them a complete trainwreck, may look like a stroll through the park from your perspective. You’ve seen worse. You’ve been through worse. What do they have to cry about? Maybe the guy in the cubical next to you at the office comes off as a total jerk. They’re continually offending you, and you avoid talking to them at all costs. That individual genuinely may not realize that they’re a jerk. Or maybe you don’t know you’re just overly sensitive. I encourage you not to overthink this too much. Your reality is as valid as anyone else’s, and you don’t owe me or anyone else an explanation about why you are who you are. What I’m getting at here is that the way we view ourselves can be biased, especially if we don’t have good self-awareness.

We tend to find what we’re looking for, and sometimes we self-sabotage without even realizing it because we can’t get out of our own heads. Like brilliant actors, we live up to the expectations we have of and for ourselves. We attract people and things and events into our lives that align with the prism through which we see our world. Our self-concept is everything.

Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life

To change your thinking, you have to be willing to have an honest conversation with yourself. I do this by journaling for twenty to thirty minutes every morning. If that’s not for you, you can do it in your head or on your computer. Whatever works.

Start by writing down (or considering) the beliefs you have about yourself. Get brutal.

Smart. Charming. Ugly. Useless. Worthless. Fat. Loved. Poor. Trapped. Incompetent. Capable. Incapable. Christian. Wiccan. Buddhist. Atheist. Smarter than most people. Stupid…

What do you believe about yourself? Which of those beliefs is yours? Which of those beliefs are beliefs that someone else gave to you, maliciously or not?

Whether you realize it or not, you are shaping your life around your beliefs about who you are and what you can (or can’t) achieve.

You have to plant the seeds for the life you want. Then you have to water those seeds. If you persevere, one day you’ll wake up in awe of the beautiful garden outside your window. Don’t water the seeds that other people planted. Pull them b*tches out and cultivate the garden you want to have.

If you have a lot of negative going on inside of you. If you’re holding on to negative experiences and allowing them to fester inside of you. If you believe that you are undeserving or not enough or that what you have is all you’ll ever have or deserve. Those are the obstacles you’re going to keep running into. Those are the anchors that are pinning you to the bottom of the sea you are drowning in, and you have no hope of coming up for air until you’re ready to try.

Just try.

One small thought. One small change. Watch your world shift.

I do not promise you magic, but I’m gonna be real with you, it’s kind of like magic.

This day and age, there’s a lot of talk about manifesting the life of your dreams. It’s made its way into the mainstream. I read somewhere once that the idea of manifesting the life of your dreams is planting the seed. If you’re embracing the vision (and allowing yourself to have the vision in the first place), if you’re putting the work in, if you’re making an effort to change your inner story, then you are planting the seed to build the life of your dreams. Once you’ve planted the seed, once you really start to believe what you’re selling yourselfyou’re more likely to consciously align your actions with the life that you want.

That’s when you start seeing results. And it feels like magic. But it’s all you.

You did this.

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

While you’re learning to change your thinking (because it’s not going to happen overnight – you have to put the work in), take a minute to check your attitude.

There are a lot of things in this world and in our lives that we have absolutely zero control over. If you are stressing and agonizing and complaining about something that either isn’t going to change or that it isn’t in your power to change, then let. It. GO. If it’s something that you do have the ability to change or contribute to change, but you’re too busy complaining about it to make or help make a change, is it worth the energy your spending complaining about it?

If you are wildly unhappy with a situation in your life, or the people in your life, or whatever it may be in your life that you have identified as a thief of your joy, sit down and have one of those serious conversations with yourself: how can I change this? What will make me happy? What kind of people do I want in my life? What kind of person do I want the world to believe I am? What will help me sleep peacefully at night?

I think one of the best nonextreme examples of this, and one that people I know (and myself, for a while) have struggled with, is working a soul-sucking job.

I like this example because quitting your job comes with obstacles. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have the luxury of quitting just because they don’t find their job fulfilling.

If you hate your job, if it’s sucking the life out of you, ask yourself, if I could do anything in the whole wide world, what would I do?

Once you’ve said it out loud, or written it down, don’t waste any time thinking about why it’s not possible. That’s probably what’ll go through your head first if you have bills to pay or a family to take care of, or you’re already struggling so much financially that you’re not even sure where your next meal is coming from.

Make a list, or at the very least, just consider all of the ways that you can start taking small steps towards doing what you love while still juggling your day job and all of your other responsibilities. If it excites you, if you’re passionate about it, find a way to fit it into your day – even if all you have is five minutes here and there, or thirty minutes before you go to bed, or whatever it is. You don’t have to make big changes all at once. You don’t have to quit your day job. Give yourself something to work towards. Make a goal for yourself. “In five years, I want the income from this side project to completely replace the income of my current job, and this is what I want my life to look like once I’ve achieved that success.” You still have your income, because, you know, basic needs like food and shelter are essential too. But you get to go to bed at night knowing that you’re doing something to change your situation. You’re investing in you.

Don’t be a victim of the mentality, “if I can’t do it all right now, then I can’t do it.” If you’re miserable and you have the power to change your situation, exercise. That. Power.

You are the artist of your own life. You get to write your story. Don’t let anyone else write it for you.

So often, when we think we don’t have a choice, we absolutely do. You just have to get it into your head that change is possible.

The hardest thing you may ever do is step outside of your own prism, your own comfort zone. Facing down your demons. Accepting and embracing your faults. Admitting to yourself all of the horrible things you believe to be true about yourself that I want you to know are. Not. True. Learning how to change your internal narrative and how to love yourself.

There are going to be people out there who don’t believe you can do it. I’ll tell you a secret: it’s because they’re trapped in the cage that is their own mind. Don’t let that detract you from what you know is true: that you can change your life and live the life you’ve always dreamed of.

Your reality is in your hands.

So…what’re you gonna do next?