The more I put myself out there, the more I start realizing that I'm constantly attracting more people with similar thoughts, perspectives, ideas and attitudes that are similar to my own. I used to wonder if I was crazy, if I was drinking the proverbial punch, if I was the star of some "Truman Show" of the 21st Century.
How could it be possible for my life to change to drastically, so seemingly seamlessly, in such short periods of time?
It all started back in my sophomore year of university when I stopped listening to what society thought about what I should do with my life. I stopped being concerned with whether or not there would be a job or significant money for me waiting at the end of my degree, and I started listening to my heart. I kept thinking, "What use is a well paying job in a field that I hate?" That's when I realized, it's of no use at all. Why go through four years of misery, which is only going to inevitably lead to more misery?
I remember the day it all hit me. I was going to a leadership retreat in the south shore of Nova Scotia with Tim Merry among others, for a session called "The Art of Hosting" which focused on facilitating meaningful conversations through more organic methods of communication, like Circle and World Cafe. On the way from Halifax I carpooled with a young woman, not more than a decade older than myself. During our ride she asked me about what I was taking in school and when I told her Business Administration she asked me, "Why?" It was the first time anyone had asked me that. Most people just accepted it as a socially responsible course of education and moved on. The worst part was, when I thought about my answer, I really had no idea why I was taking Business Administration - not a good sign! And the more I thought about it, the more that bothered me.
I ended up being roommates with two older women - around my mom's age - that weekend. I wish I could remember their names so that I could thank them, because they're really the ones who inspired me to follow my heart, not my head, which was so infiltrated with other peoples' opinions and expectations that I'd forgotten how to follow my own dreams. These women spoke to me about their opportunities, or lack thereof, when they were my age; forced into adulthood, being a wife, a mother, a provider. They wished they had the freedom that I had and they encouraged me to make the most of it. It took them another 30 years to get to where they wanted to be at my age - to be able to listen to their hearts, follow their dreams, and live their passion. They assured me that no matter what, if you're pursuing your passion the opportunities will present themselves.
As the weekend progressed I felt empowered and liberated by this new perspective on life. At midnight that Saturday I sent an e-mail to the registrar's office at St. Francis Xavier University, requesting that I be transferred from the BBA program to the BA stream, majoring in Anthropology - the one course I felt a driving passion for.
I called my mom, who is typically endlessly supportive of any choice I make. When I told her that I was switching programs, as a mother, she was obviously concerned. She hesitated, "Well, Allie... what kind of jobs can you get with a degree in anthropology? I mean, what kind of salary are you going to be making?" And although I understood where she was coming from, I couldn't help but feel a tinge of disappointment. But I reassured her, "Mom, we've never had money and we've always been happy. So would you rather me continue my education in the Business program and become rich and miserable? Or would you rather me follow my passion? Maybe I won't have much money, but I'll be happy." She sighed and knew that my happiness was more important, though she just wanted to make sure I was secure and not suffering in the tight grip of poverty, which can cause so much stress.
Since then I've adopted the mentality that following my heart will yield the most positive results, for me, for my work, for my life, and that will help me to be the best individual I'm capable of being. And if I'm my best me, I can be a better daughter, sister, cousin, friend, lover, employee, citizen, etc. After transferring to Anthropology I became a more involved student - I was a student assistant and liaison for a semester, I founded and was the president of the Anthropology Students' Society for two and a half years, my grades skyrocketed, I completed two field seasons working as an archaeologist, and was invited to participate in a field season with my Thesis Professor in Panama after graduation. Things seemed to just fall into place.
The key to this strategy, for me, is being attentive. If I know what I want, I make sure I do everything in my power to get it. I decided I wanted to go to grad school for journalism, so I did my research, decided on the school I wanted to attend, and began drafting my application. I had friends help me to edit my letter of intent, so that it could be the best version possible, and I put my heart and soul into it.
But then there are other things, decisions that aren't quite as clear, ones that don't have a definitive answer. How could I possibly decide what to do in a situation where there is no clear choice? I do what I now like to refer to as "putting out the feelers". I come up with a variety of solutions to said problem.
For instance, when I moved back to Nova Scotia after my southern adventures, I didn't know what to do. So out went the feelers - some went to Ottawa, some stayed in New Glasgow and some went to Montreal. I made sure to stay aware and attentive and before I knew it I had my answer: Montreal was calling me, via loud speaker! I had 5 job interviews, 4 job offers, a free place to stay until I got on my feet, and the support of tons of my family and friends.
Now, I know it sounds easy, right? Not so much. I often hear the whole spiel about "luck," and while luck has a little bit to do with it, if that's what you want to call it (I prefer to call it fate), it takes a lot more hard work than that. To tell me I'm just "so lucky" is almost insulting really - it suggests that I did nothing to achieve the experiences I've had in my life.
I didn't come from money, I've never had anything handed to be on a silver platter or a silver spoon, and I certainly haven't surfed any coattails to get to where I am today. So, yeah - I am insulted when people suggest that I'm lucky. I've worked damn hard to get where I am today. I've overcome hurdles of poverty, discrimination, stereotyping, sexism and just about any other barrier you can dream up. I'm an underdog, and a loud, tough one at that, so don't get me wrong. Following a passion isn't for the faint of heart - it's for the courageous, the determined, for those who are willing to sacrifice everything they've got for everything they want.
Firstly, you have to trust in yourself that you know what's best for you. No one else knows better than you what's best for you, but sometimes our own opinion gets clouded. We need to clear away all of the external influences and listen to our hearts. Once you hear your inner voice and trust yourself, you'll know what path to take.
Secondly, you have to be open to change, which isn't as easy as it seems. We all get comfortable, complacent with our current situations, by the familiar, the safe, the known. The unknown is scary as hell and facing it confidently is a challenge! To be truly open to change you need to be open to giving up things you've already worked hard for, in order to trade them for things that are going to make you even happier. But often times, people are too afraid - afraid that things won't work out, afraid that they'll make a mistake or regret their decisions - to welcome change with open arms.
Third, you need to watch for the signs. Often times these signs are right in front of us with big flashing LED signs saying, "Hey, you! Over here! I'm your lifelong dream and all you need to do to achieve me is forget all the rules and just do whatever is in your power to make me reality." But we're often too busy listening to what other people have to say, or we're too concerned about what we're supposedly giving up (really though, when you think about it, what is the value of giving up something that doesn't make you happy?). When I make a choice, or put out my "feelers", I wait for an answer, and usually it manifests in a matter of days. Oddly enough, it's usually the path of least resistance that ends up being the most fruitful. And although that doesn't equate to the path being easy, it does mean it's the most obvious answer to get you from where you are to where you want to be. It's almost like the path chooses you and it's up to you to take on the challenge, dodging the road blocks and pot holes along the way.
You can't just sit there, think about what you want, do nothing, and expect to get results. Life has never, and will never, work that way. The only way to make progress is to take action, responsibility, and stewardship over your own life.
After living my life like this for the past 7 years, I'm still making progress and working toward my goals. Life hasn't always been rainbows and puppy dogs, but I've always been able to look at my life and think, "I'm pursuing my life genuinely and passionately." And that feels pretty good.
While it wasn't so common for me to find people at the tender age of 19 who shared in my perspective, it seems to be getting easier now that I'm getting older. So maybe I wasn't drinking the punch after all. Maybe there's actually something to this. Maybe everyone else is drinking that proverbial punch, sentencing themselves to a life of masqueraded misery.
I guess I'll never really know. I can only know what works best for me and keep working toward that inner happy that I can feel radiating from inside of me. I seem to have figured out the equation to the meaning of my own life. What's your equation?