Living Your Life: School and Career Focused

School and work. These are two subjects I knew absolutely nothing about. This area of my life was in complete disarray, and with zero guidance due to my complete lack of positive role models, any kind, I had quickly made the transition from cute kid in grade school developing normally, to almost a middle school dropout. And there was no shortage of people helping me along the way to achieve as little as possible. In this post I’ll be going over; the experience I had with my education and how I never learned how to find out what my passions are, how I dealt with the lack of role models, how I stumbled along the way, to me finally coming to an understanding of what career means to me and what I’m doing about it now that I’m behind the wheel and steering my life in a direction that works for me. Hopefully if you’ve experienced any of what I have, you’ll at least know you’re not alone and maybe get some helpful pointers along the way. Let’s start at the beginning of my schooling.

I hadn’t realized at the time, but my disinterest in school started soon after the trauma I experienced, which was between second and third grade. I was doing well until third grade, and it was then that I started showing signs of having difficulty learning to read. I had mild dyslexia, confusing bs for ds, and my overall progress slowed. I overcame the mild learning issues in elementary school, but when it came to middle school, I had completely checked out.

I was in a constant state of fear. Everything I had known about feeling safety and belonging with and around others had flown completely out the window. I was nervous and anxious around people almost constantly. I hadn’t developed any social skills in my early teen years and when I hit high school, I was modeling myself after Jim Morrison. I was overcompensating for my fear of connection by being arrogant and aloof like Jim and this is also when I started drinking and smoking cigarettes. My ambition in life was to be seen by others as someone who was cool. That was it. There was no substance or desire for something more, and I had no idea that these things mattered or even existed. My end goal was to be liked.

This makes me sad now to think about it. I was totally cliche in thinking that if I acted a certain way, I would be accepted and liked by others. It was that simple, what I was going through, and I had no idea that I was even going through it. But of course, if you don’t feel accepted by your caregivers, then who is there to tell you that you belong? For me it was just doing whatever felt good at the time, with whomever was around me probably making the same poor choices. I really felt a sense of homelessness, with no sense of belonging or what it means to belong in a healthy sense of the term. I spent most of my time with friends, drinking way too much alcohol and wandering around aimlessly from one good time to the next. I’m surprised I made it out of adulescentes relatively unscathed. But I did, and I managed to pull a life together too in spite of the adversity I encountered along the way. Though at the time I hadn’t realized how lucky I truly was until I had sabotaged myself.

I say I had pulled a life together, but that was in the loose sense of the term. I may have had a place to live, was in a stable relationship and had plans for the future, but I was really just winging it and was still trying to avoid feeling the uncomfortable, and sometimes traumatic emotions of my past. I also had little to no drive or ambition and spent most of my time avoiding living my life by either drinking or playing video games or both. My future plans felt more like stabs in the dark with nothing to back my efforts and I still had no healthy role models or direction to achieve my goals. I was just drifting, the way I had through my teen years. Only older now and with almost nothing to show for the life I had been avoiding living.

But then something shifted for me. My comfortable and somewhat stagnant life was turned upside-down when I thought I had fallen in love with another woman. Looking back now, I realize I had finally felt as though I could feel heard from all that I had been keeping inside. But I was only recognizing that the woman who I thought I fell in love with was really a reflection of how I felt. Like that Justin Timberlake song, “Mirror”. She was my “mirror”, allowing myself to finally feel what I was covering over for so long with alcohol and anger. The small, vulnerable child that was still waiting to be heard. I ended up quitting drinking while I was with the woman I thought I loved and it helped a great deal towards bringing some order to my chaotic emotional world. But this is also where I had sabotaged myself, leaving the life I had, and could have worked on for the image of the life I eventually realized I was outgrowing.

We had split up shortly after we got together, for the best, but I continued on the trajectory of finding greater focus in my life. During the time I had been drifting through life, I had started school for social work, switched to architecture school, then to journalism. I had no idea what to do with any of this schooling, but felt as though I needed to go. While I was getting my life back together, I finished my degree, this time as an English major and the only take away from my college education was how to write a blog 🙂 So I had something to work with.

But even after I finished my undergrad, I was still a drift with no direction for how my future was going to unfold. Still unsatisfied with my employment prospects and jobs, I decided that something needed to change, but again, with no direction or role models, I was in the same place as I was when I was just winging it. So, I did what I knew. For me this was baking, running, yoga, writing this blog and journaling, building up and nurturing my relationships and paying off debt.

This may seem like a bunch of mish-mash items all jumbled together, but what I came to realize was, that while I was cobbling back together the pieces of my life that had been a drift via the above areas, I began to find greater focus in all areas of my life. I’ve been baking professionally for some time now, off and on throughout my working life. I’ve come to enjoy the process of baking. I’m good at it and it’s something that’s been consistent in my life. But I know now that I don’t want that to be the focus of my career.

I have, however, learned how to hone a craft. As I’ve said above, I’m pretty good at baking, which is no surprise considering how long I’ve been doing it for. But I also have been able to recognize how I’ve build my craft, and how it’s changed over the years. I can tell things about dough just by looking at it or touching it, and have a large index of knowledge to work from, in my personal and professional life. But I’ve also come to realize that baking is not my end goal. It’s something I’m grateful I’ve learned, but also something I’ll be able to part with when the time comes.

Running and yoga have helped me to manage my physical self. I’ve gone through some considerable changes, regarding my weight, physical appearance and overall health thanks to these healthy habits. They’ve also taught me something about dedication. About getting out on the road and pounding out those three miles, even when the temperature is in the low nineties and the humidity is high. Or finding your balance when you flow through your vinyasa to down dog and bring your right foot up to high lunge. When you do them consistently, you build more than just physical strength. You’re building resilience in all areas of your life. You have that extra surge of energy that helps you to get up and do the dishes. Or to get moving at 5am before you’ve had your first cup of tea or coffee.

Writing has been essential in finding and maintaining focus for me as well. First with bullet journaling, something I’ve mentioned before on this blog. Journaling has been a way for me to map out and organize what I have in my head, and put it on paper or a screen. This way I can give myself some distance from my thoughts, find out what the steps are that need to be done, curate some order for the tasks and make a plan to do them.

And the same is true for this blog. Through this blog, I’ve come to understand where my interests lie and how they come together to give me a sense of who I’ve become and of who I want to be. The parts of my life, the personal experiences and how they’ve come to shape the ways I see things and who I’m becoming, has given me some focus and direction as to where I want to put my efforts and energies. Environmental issues and helping those that have been in similar situations as myself being a few of my passions that are on my list.

Building and nurturing my close relationships has given me a great deal of perspective on how I want to be living my life. Before, relationships were something to be feared. I was persistently unaware of where I stood in my relationships with others. Always keeping them at a distance or numbing my feelings so I wouldn’t feel the pain of being rejected by them. Something I was all too familiar with growing up.

Now, relationships are sources of comfort, strength and happiness for me. I feel more secure in relationship now, and now that I know that it’s possible to make the shift from numb and alone, to supported and loved, I want to help others find their path to their connectedness. When I was going to school for social work, I also worked at a residential program for at risk adolescence. This was difficult work, but it also gave me the opportunity to help others whom were in a similar situation as I was.

I’ve recently picked up a second job at a family shelter, that has elements that reminds me of the adolescence residential, but with much less unchecked emotions. This has given me a chance to help pay down some student loans, but also to realign myself with the types of work I want to be doing. Helping people bring their lives back together after what seems like such a hopeless situation, that of being homeless. It’s in these moments, of not so much being the change, but being a part of the support that helps them to change their situation, that makes me feel like I’m helping, by being a part of it.

Paying down student loans has been a huge source of inspiration for me in finding my focus as well. I started out paying down credit cards, but eventually moved on to the largest one, student loans. I took out loans during the height of the lending frenzy that was happening. I was taking out loans for cash I didn’t need, to buy things I really didn’t need. And again, this was a place I had no role modeling to show me how to manage money first of all, and second to show me how to responsibly take out loans to pay for my education. I was racking up credit card debt at the same time I was taking out student loans. Looking back, it’s crazy to think of the financial mess I was creating in my life!

But once I was on the trajectory to change my life for the better, debt also became an area of focus for me. Paying off my debt has shown me, first and most importantly, how to budget, but secondly also how to live inside of a budget. When I was living on borrowed money I had no restraint. I bought and did whatever I felt like, when the mood struck.

Now that I’m learning how to put my financial house in order, I’m understanding the importance of planning for the future, in planning for retirement, planning for down time, like vacations or hobbies, and how caring for my financial situation is in a way, caring for my needs.

I’ve also learned how NOT to take out debt. So when the time comes around for me to pursue a master’s in social work, I’ll be aware of how I budget and manage my money, and make a plan that won’t end up with me being tens of thousands of dollars in debt. My time is now more valuable to me than picking up a second job to pay back the money I was borrowing unsustainably in my youth. I know I won’t be going blindly down that road again.

These are the areas of my life that helped to give me the direction I needed to learn how to move forward with and in my life. Each element had its own piece of wisdom to impart. With baking, it was how to recognize when I’m growing in something, or what it looks like to be good at something while still learning from others along the way. With running and yoga, I was learning how to stay dedicated to a practice, but also enjoy that practice in the process. Enjoy the work. With writing, I was learning how to organize my time and thoughts, and also how to convey them in a way that makes sense to myself and others. And also my love for the natural world and my growing concern for the environment. Also to help process and put a structure to my story. In my relationships in that I want to grow along with and nurture these places and people in my life. But also in recognizing that you can make the switch from feeling hurt and alone to loved and supported. And with paying back my student loans in showing me how to budget for the future in a practical sense of the term.

It was when all these areas came together, that I was able to see how the different aspects of my personality made sense to me in the bigger picture. And it wasn’t easy, but what I found out was, that I care about the neglected areas. I like seeing things be brought back to life after struggle, abuse and neglect. We all go through it to some extent. Some of us more so than others, but we all come to our own understanding of what it means to have different aspects of our life feel neglected, without focus. Sometimes what we really need to do is take a step back and look at the different aspects in your life, to find out what makes you tick, and give yourself some much needed direction. That’s where my work lay. In heling others find that path.

I see it often too. So many of those close into me have been neglected to the point of not even knowing where to begin. And this is a difficult place to be. I feel that everybody deserves the right to feel a passion, to do and be connected to work that is greater than them. It doesn’t have to be larger than life. Just enough to feel like you’re making a difference. That’s what this blog is about, and hopefully soon, what the focus of my career will be.

So I’m here to tell you, if you’ve found yourself in a place where you are lacking in direction, don’t give up hope! Take a look at the things you’ve been doing, listening to, or watching. What have you been interested in lately. If you’re lucky, you may realize that you’ve been leaving yourself clues all along in the direction of your passions. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Commute” by JanneM is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Where We are, Where We Want to Be: Accepting Your Current Circumstance May Help Get You to Where You’d Like to Be

I’m a baker. I have been for a while now. But I started schooling for a variety of different occupations. I began my college career as an aspiring social worker. After social work, I tried my hand at design and went to architecture school for a semester. Then when I heard that architects worked an 80 hour work week, I decided to try my hand at writing, and earned my degree in English with a communications minor. The plan was to become a newspaper writer. I hadn’t given the idea a lot of thought, otherwise I may have looked around and realized that maybe that wasn’t the most stable career choice. With newspapers becoming part of a bygone era, when I graduated I didn’t have a backup plan for what I’d do if my career of choice didn’t pan out.

In my defense, I didn’t have a lot of guidance. None actually. I was taking stabs in the dark at what I thought might bring me a sense of satisfaction. I realize now a lot of the choices I made were ways of keeping me locked in a trauma cycle. Reliving parts of my past, but that’s another story for another time. I still needed to find out how I was going to pay back the federal government for supporting me through my extended college years!

So I baked. It was easy because I was already doing it, and I was pretty good at it considering I had fallen into the job. What got me thinking about it is that I’ve been thinking about what I’ll be doing in the next five years and where I’d like to be in my career and also that I had to recertify for my “serve safe” certificate. I enjoy some aspects of baking, for example when you have a good bake, and the ears, those pockets of dough that rise up during the bake, leaving almost and elegant envelope of smartly creased crust, pop up all in a row down the length of the oven in a symmetrical pattern, it’s a good feeling.

But there are some aspects of the job that aren’t so pleasant as well. For instance, the Serve Safe certificate I had to recertify. In the online course I took, I never heard the term, fecal-oral route, used so many times in 8 hours. Then I was tested on it!

It’s situations like these that are the drive behind my wanting to change careers. And it’s not that I’m squeamish. I just don’t have the memories associated with baking that, I imagine most people do. I never watched my grandmother lovingly labor over baked goods. My grandmother was more the type to slam your thumb in the car door of an old Buick Regal at the tender age of 5.

Which brings me to my most current iteration of my career outlook. I’m planning on going back for social work. I know the pitfalls of growing up in a family that is unstable at best. I feel as though I may have some wisdom to impart and the ability to tolerate horrific stories, more than most. But to make it from bread baker, to social worker, it’s going to take some maneuvering.

When I was getting recertified for the serve safe certificate, I had to take an eight hour long course before I could take the test. I found myself getting a little restless. As though I deserved to be elsewhere, instead of stuck in front of a computer. I should be doing work that matters, but instead I heard the term, “fecal oral route” more times than I could count, and I just wanted to be done with the whole experience. Not just the test, but the early, cold mornings, the stressful environment, not getting any holidays off save for Christmas day, all of it. I was a little grumpy.

Then I took the test and got in the 95% and crossed the task off my todo list, brought the invoice into work to be reimbursed for, and told the GM I would give him a link to the site so we could get other employees trained. In short, I took care of myself, took stock of the small accomplishments I achieved along the way, and helped a few people in the process. It felt good to know that I could count on myself and achieve goals, no matter how small they may seem.

Because it’s in these moments, of understanding where you are, and what needs to be done to move yourself forward, that we build accountability to ourselves, knowing that we are the resource that is going to get us to where we want to be. I could have kept putting off taking the exam, but knowing that I will take care of business, no matter how unpleasant the task may seem, and move forward by accepting where I am and pushing through, makes me feel as though I’m capable of achieving greater things. And I feel that it’s this mind set that ultimately will guide us to the places we’d like to be, while navigating through the here and now.

This may seem common sense to most, and I honestly hope this is the case. But I’ve seen to many friends, people, loved ones, stall in their lives because they had no one model the mindset of accepting where they were by using wise discernment to devise a course of action and follow through with the plan. God knows the role-models I had all complained about how so and so was doing them wrong, or how unfair life is, rather than take some accountability for it (life). That said, when we’ve experienced abuse, it’s difficult to navigate the waters of accountability, and being in that category, I have empathy for those making an honest go of moving forward regardless of how difficult it gets. And it gets weird at times, that’s for sure!

And it may seem a little cheesy, but if you’re constantly wishing things were different, you may miss out on some of the tender moments along the way. I used to bake in Salem MA, so every Halloween, there would be swarms of people descending on the city. My shift was the 3-11pm bake shift, so at the end of the day, I’d be sitting in the bakery waiting for my loaves to finish in the oven, with the door cracked open to let the crisp autumn air in along with the sounds of merriment from the festivities happening around the city. Drunk people would stumble by, asking for bread, make-up smeared in unintended ways while struggling with gravity. It was nice. If I stopped to think about how I didn’t want to be there in the first place or all the negative things that happened during the day, I may have missed those relaxing moments, or how good my bake looked.

Never give up on your dreams, no matter how crazy they may seem, but don’t forget to make room for the present while you’re chasing after your goals, because that’s where life is ultimately lived. Accepting where you are leads to accountability, leads to trust, leads to ease, which leads to living in the present. Long story short, pay attention to your surroundings while you’re on your way and you may have some good stories to tell.

peace, and thanks for reading :]

Image Credits: “Winding Path Draped in Mist” by Moose Winans is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0