The last weekend in May has always been an important benchmark for me. For many in the U.S. it marks the inauguration of summer, celebrated with barbeque and beer with friends and loved ones. This was a part of my tradition too, however, the spring and early summer also tended to be times of year when I became introspective–more so than usual. I’m not sure why, but every year, like clockwork, I go through a “phase”.
And that’s how the next chapter in my life began–367 days ago today.
Some of it you know the story, some of you don’t. So today, to commemorate surviving a tumultuous, agonizing and beautifully surprising year I’m going to share it with you.
But to really get where I’m coming from we have to go back a little longer.
Never For Money, Always For Love
That’s a line from one of my favorite Talking Heads songs. If you’ve ever visited my house, you’ll find a beaten up bit of paper with exactly that phrase scrawled across it, precariously perched on my bathroom sink. Stained from years of water and toothpaste splatter, I keep it there as a daily reminder. Because four years ago, I briefly forgot (or chose to ignore).
Four years ago, I took a job I knew was wrong for me. Even before my first day, I secretly hoped something would go wrong and the offer would fall through. But it didn’t, and after the second day, I knew I was screwed. I immediately started looking for another job, fully aware how terrible that would look to any prospective employer, but I didn’t care.
As if suddenly clairvoyant, I sensed danger and misery ahead. Unfortunately, I started at the inception of the recession, and finding another job turned out to be a fruitless search. So, I sucked it up as best I could.
It was awful. For the first two years, I dreaded waking up and going to work so powerfully, I spent most morning commutes in fear I’d yak all over my suit. Not the best way to start your day.
My drives home weren’t much better. I’d experience a minute or so of complete bliss as my hands pushed open the office door and I was free, only to realize the ending of this day, just meant I had to do it again tomorrow. The next 90-9,000 minutes were spent mired in the most miserable traffic in Northern California. All I could do was cry.
I’d made a horrible, horrible mistake.
I was fairly new on the dating scene, after breaking up with someone I’d spent the past eight years with, and my entire “life” in the Bay Area. My old office was filled with energetic twenty-somethings, among whom I was the mature, responsible one. That was fun. The new job, however, was filled with pretentious assholes with unbelievable egos. Of course, not everyone in the office was like that—there were a few individuals I truly liked, but for the most part, my days were spent either getting yelled at, or ignored. I had left my pretty sweet gig in San Francisco—one in which I had authority, and managed a team of 13 people and had my own budget—to a dark, isolated office where I was the only person under 35, single and not driving a car that cost more than my house.
Now, as someone with a history of depression, I should’ve known better–this was a pretty dangerous combo. Not surprisingly, I spent the next few years shutting down and detaching myself from anyone, or anything that reminded me of the life I left behind. That was the only way I knew how to survive—any glimpse of happiness, success or even everyday mundane tasks, conned me into thinking there was hope.
Of course, I knew better. Hope was gone for good. I fucked it all up, and now I had to pay the price—this was my fault.
Fast forward about three years to Memorial Day weekend. My friends (amazingly, I still had a few) had a tradition to all hang out that weekend for the past few years, and I had been mentally preparing for the next 72 hours of performing as a cheerful, successful and well-adjusted single woman in her early 30′s. Everybody knew I was miserable, but like I said, I was lucky anyone wanted to hang out with me, so I’d be doing my best to be fun and cheerful, no matter how much it pained me.
If you’ve ever had to pretend you’re something you’re not for any period of time, you know the special hell this is. By the end of the weekend I was completely drained, and absolutely desperate to go home and hide in bed.
My friends are amazing, and while those closest to me had some idea of what I was going through, none of them could really understand, and to this day I wonder if some of those friendships were irreparably damaged because they just couldn’t handle being supportive and understanding every single time they saw me. And I don’t blame them. I hated to be around me, so I can’t imagine what it was like for everyone else.
There was one friend however, that for whatever reason, could see from miles away how much I was suffering. If you’ve been reading a while, you’ll know him as my good friend, Kevin. Kevin hitched a ride home with me that weekend, and we got to talking—you can read that story here.
From that day forward, everything was different.
I teetered between joyful hope, and devastating defeat on a daily basis. I knew I needed to do something but I had no idea what, or how.
Kevin gave me a list of blogs he was reading at the time, and suggested I check them out. I agreed, but in my head was thinking, “I don’t need any of this fluffy, idealistic bullshit—from a 25 year old, no less.” So, I went home and sulked, and cried myself to sleep, too tired to confront my dread for the next day at work.
The next day, I spent the first few hours staring blankly at my screen, doing my best to pretend busy so no one would talk to me. I could feel tears welling in my eyes—I don’t know why—and I decided to give in. I would follow my friend’s advice and read through all the blogs he suggested.
First on the list was Hey Amber Rae. When I first saw Amber’s tumblr, I immediately thought; awww, she’s so cute! And so positive! How nice for her. I want to throw up.
Not because I didn’t like what she was saying, but because I pretty much loathed anyone on the planet that I even suspected might be happy. It just wasn’t fair. I had 10 years on this girl. She should be reading about me.
Of course, it took me all of about 30 seconds to get over myself. I read through her posts and found myself smiling at the sentiment, connecting with all the little snapshots from her notebooks, and eventually, appreciating the optimism. Then, I saw a link to another site of hers, revolution.is. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, stop reading right now and check it out. This is a requirement–you need to understand where my head was at.
So, assuming you just read a story about some kick-ass person who’s beating the odds, making a difference or just doing her own thing and loving it, that alone is pretty inspiring. But what struck me that day, was that despite how vastly different each of these individuals were, they all had one thing in common—they weren’t afraid to find out who they really were.
I, however, was terrified.
I was also miserable. Whatever ego issues I had about gleaning any words of wisdom from this spunky girl completely dissolved when I read Dave Radparvar’s story. Dave is the co-founder of Holstee–a company I’d never heard of before that moment, and has been a part of every day of my life since. (If you’ve read the Holstee Manifesto, you know what I’m talking about. I have one copy on my fridge at home, and one prominently displayed by my desk at work.)
After reading the Holstee Manifesto for the first time, something clicked. I continued reading each revolution.is story with increasing urgency, certain that within these stories, my own would become clear. I struggled all day, poring through everything on Amber’s sites, waiting for my life to just magically change.
Instead, something far better transpired. I was just about to give up, when I saw a link to something called “The Passion Experiment“. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Amber was offering the opportunity to work with her one-on-one. It was as if Amber had sensed my anguish and suffering–my need to find some meaning, any meaning. I knew this wasn’t the life I was meant to be living, but from where I was standing, there was no way out.
I had no options, no mentors, no champions.
And here was Amber, a complete stranger, offering to help me find all those things, and more.
So, I applied. And I felt like a pathetic asshole the entire time.
As I wrote out my answers to the questions on the application, I was burdened with doubt, and fear. What was I doing? I have no clue what I’m looking for, why would someone as well-known as Amber Rae have any interest in talking to me? And besides, what the hell could some chick who doesn’t even know me, tell me about my life?
But, like I said, I was out of ideas so I clicked “send” and waited for the nausea to pass.
Exactly one week passed, and by then I assumed my application had been passed over, because, of course, in my mind it was uninteresting, or worse yet, ordinary.
My alarm went off at around 4:30 am and my daily dread for the workday set in. As is my custom, I reached for my phone to check my work email so I’d be prepared for whatever disaster was waiting for me. No work emails, that was a good sign.
But I did have one personal email. It was from Amber.
My heart sank, and I hesitated for a moment before opening what I expected to be a rejection letter. A canned response, thanking me for my application and essentially telling me “don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
That wasn’t what it said.
The next thing I knew, I was talking to Amber on Skype (my first Skype by the way). We connected immediately, and before I even knew what was happening I was telling her my life story. My defenses kept threatening to revolt and shut me down, yet something kept me talking. And she kept listening.
When she did speak, after all the surprisingly positive and non-nauseating things she had to say, there were two things she said that have stayed with me every day since.
First she told me how much she liked my writing. My writing? What?
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I’d always loved writing, sure, but never thought I was any good. Besides, after eight years with a “real” writer, who had a ridiculous vocabulary, and had memorized all every book ever written, I’d always assumed I’d never make it in that club. I never let even the possibility tempt my imagination.
And then, she said “writer” and something within me awoke. Although still plagued with doubt, and pretty certain nothing tangible would come of my work with her, I suddenly knew what I wanted to be doing. Right at that moment, I just felt it. I knew. Of course, knowing, at the time, was not nearly as powerful as self-doubt, and I immediately tried to stuff that hope back down into the depths of my subconscious, until it was safe for it to come out–if that ever happened. Of course, I could’ve tried the rest of my life and it wouldn’t have changed what had just happened. For the first time, I recognized something within myself that had potential.
The second thing she said to me, was that I was a beautiful girl. She said it with such sincerity–yet with confusion in her eyes. I didn’t know it then, but already, Amber could see who I was. Underneath all my fear, doubt and exhaustion there was a beautiful woman–inside and out. She could see it, but she could also recognize I couldn’t.
I didn’t believe either of her comments then, but I know them to be true now.
We worked together for several weeks, almost immediately focusing on my writing. I found myself enjoying every little assignment she gave me, and relished in writing every email. One day, I shared with her how an acting class in college had changed me, eventually setting me on a path that led me to San Francisco, and giving me the first glimpse of the confident woman that was hiding within. She loved it, and what she said next, was the catalyst that sparked a fire I doubt will ever be extinguished.
You are an incredible writer. Would you be comfortable sharing things like this online? The entire read I felt deeply moved and connected with your story. The climax, uncertainty, fear, and triumph at the end.
It was as if I was only waiting for permission. Despite my absolute and complete horror at the thought of anyone reading something I’d written, within 24 hours, my first blog was up.
After that, I was writing every day, and , and I soon knew I was ready. Ready for what, who knows? But I knew something had to happen. I couldn’t possibly continue on with my current job, something had to change.
And, once again, I felt I had no options. I couldn’t possibly quit my job. How would I survive? Suddenly, the honeymoon was over. It was ending up just like fear and doubt had assured me it would. The jig was up. It was good while it lasted.
Of course, Amber wasn’t about to let that happen. Despite the fact we were no longer technically working together, we were still in seemingly constant contact. And then, Amber started introducing me to people.
And that’s how I met Sean.
I had started reading Sean’s blog, Location 180 before Amber had mentioned him, and was impressed with him from the start. Sean’s story sounded pretty similar to mine, so I related to him immediately. When Amber mentioned he was a close friend, and suggested she should introduce us, I was beyond thrilled. Why? Well, for one thing, this is one of Sean’s mottos/resume:
Currently doing the stuff most people just talk about doing…
This guy was no joke. He’d done things I wouldn’t even allow myself to dream about. Yet, there he was, starting a business while oceans away from home. At a minimum, I’d hear about some great travel spots–even if my work would never allow me sufficient vacation time to visit them.
I was super nervous when we had our first chat–I knew he was only talking to me as a favor to Amber, and had no clue what I was going to say. But, much to my delight, Sean was engaging and supportive, while still maintaining a certain level of understanding of what it’s like being chained to a desk. He’d been there too. He understood where I was coming from, and what I would be giving up if I tried to turn my writing into a career.
His understanding was comforting, but what was most powerful about Sean was his refusal to accept excuses. Whether it was for himself, or others, Sean wholeheartedly believed (and still does) we have no excuses to not be living the life we desire.
There are only seven days in the week, and someday isn’t one of them. – Sean Ogle
So, although he could sympathize with my situation, he wasn’t there to coddle me–he was there to challenge me.
Sean soon joined Amber as a mentor. I couldn’t believe my luck. But Sean never saw it as luck. Like Amber, he saw something in me and wasn’t afraid help me show it. After chatting with him one day about the emotional roller coaster I’d been going through as I deliberated quitting my job, he suggested I write a post for his new venture, Location Rebel. As one of the inaugural members of Sean’s new community, I couldn’t have been more honored. People were going to read this. People I followed on Twitter, people I considered talented and inspiring. Reading something I wrote. For days, I was simply too excited to sleep. This was too good to be true.
He asked me to write about embracing fear, a topic with which I’d become intimately involved over the past several weeks. I’m not sure if he truly understood how much the opportunity meant to me. That post was my first published piece outside of my own little tumblr.
Oh, yeah, and there was one other tiny little side-effect. This blog.
Yep, this blog was inspired by and created as a result of writing that post for Sean and Location Rebel. As I contemplated how fear impacted my decisions, I realized how much it was impacting my entire life. Not long after that, a list emerged of all the things I’m afraid to do, and about 24 hours before the article went up, FearLess Jenn was born.
Same Same But Different
Several years ago, I visited Thailand. My first trip completely solo, and my first trip as a single woman. I was terrified, but excited. I knew it would be one of those experiences that would suck at the time, but I’d look back on fondly later on. Which is pretty much how it went.
One of the phrases I heard often by the locals (usually around tourists) was “Same, same, but different”. I thought it cute, and endearing but didn’t really give it much thought.
But after meeting Sean and Amber, I started to get it–or at least, I had my own interpretation of it.
I was the same person. My genetic makeup hadn’t changed, my personality was the same, and all my victories and vices remained uniquely mine. But something was different. I realized it the first time I saw one of my close friends for dinner, not long after I started working with Amber and Sean. I was struggling, my writing felt like it wasn’t going well, and I still didn’t know what I was going to do about my job.
In other words, I felt like dogshit.
And my friend, upon seeing me in this shitty state, simply beamed. Jenn! You look great! You’re actually glowing!
Huh? How is that even possible. But there it was, and who am I to argue with my closest friends. I was the same, which was great. But, I was also different, which was fucking incredible.
If either Amber or Sean ever had any doubt about what I would do with the guidance and support they so willing shared, I was over the moon excited to show them. In November of last year, you may recall my drooling account of my very first article for The Daily Muse.
In case you didn’t read it, let me sum it up for you: I’m a fucking writer now. A WRITER.
When I think of all the heartburn and preparation for rejection I made before I contacted TDM to apply as a writer–well, it still conjures up a lot of uncertainty. But here’s the thing: At the time I first reached out to them, I actually had proof I could write. Of course, that didn’t make it any easier for me when I met the Managing Editor over beers one afternoon. I’m surprised I could even form a coherent sentence, let alone convince her to give me a chance.
Which, by the way, she totally did. We’re also great friends now, imagine that.
Now, I write every, single day. Every day. I recall maybe a day or two here and there where extenuating circumstances prevented me from putting pen to paper, but they were always for good causes, eventually serving as fantastic inspiration for some story either already told, or in the works. I went from sheepishly launching a tumblr under a pseudonym so no one could possibly ever read my work, to having a bi-weekly column for an online magazine that grows in popularity every day (because it kicks-ass, trust me). Oh, and some of those articles? They’ve been published other places…like this little outfit called Forbes. Have you heard of them? How about The Huffington Post?
I still have to pinch myself every time I see them go up. How did this happen? Well, by now it should be obvious. Yes, I love to write, and I’m practicing every day to improve. But without the people in my life who saw something in me I couldn’t at the time, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
Writing this post was difficult. Not because it was hard saying any of the things I’ve shared, but because I was so worried I wouldn’t say enough. Or the people I mention won’t like what I wrote. Or the scores of other people who have been instrumental in my metamorphosis will feel left out that they weren’t mentioned.
I’ve been worrying about this for a long, long time.
And then I hit the one year mark, and realized I needed to live up to my new identity as “FearLess Jenn” and just fucking say what’s on my mind.
This, of course, is just the beginning, and I can’t wait to share even more stories about all the wonderful people who’ve inspired, motivated and supported me—you know who you are. The mere fact that your eyeballs are reading these words is proof you have been a crucial factor in encouraging me to pursue my purpose. No matter how frightening it may be.
So thank you Amber.
Thank you Sean.
Thank you Daily Muse.
And thank you.
© 2012, FearLess Jenn. All rights reserved.