Regret’s a dirty word. But there is something I do regret.
When I was in my twenties, I taught 8th grade English to inner-city kids in Miami. The worst part of this for me was the administrators, who believed I should teach to the test. To me, that lack of freedom in what and how I taught, was a sort of prison.
I spent countless hours every night at a bookstore café, grading papers and working on lesson plans, doing my best to follow the rules and the “shoulds.” It was the closest thing to Starbucks back then.
The tables in the café were in direct line of vision to the travel books. Each night, my attention would wander from the pages I was grading, where I had to decipher the handwriting and misspelled words of half-written paragraphs, across the aisle to those travel books.
Every night, I’d put down my papers and wander into the life and images of the two places I wanted to go more than anywhere else in the world – Prague, and Paris.
You have to understand, there were no iPhones, and the internet was quite new. So books still had an allure and were the place to go for information. I leafed through the glossy pages that held a much more fascinating reality than the one in which I existed.
“I should go. I should go and LIVE there.” I thought. Every week-night I thought the same thing… I read books over and over again by my favorite author Milan Kundera, who was from Prague and lived his new life in Paris.
The days passed, and I kept dreaming about it and escaping to the bookstore, leafing through the pages of my “wish life.”
But I never went. And I didn’t have the awareness or tools back then to understand why I chose to limit myself.
I finally went the year I turned 40.
But it was too late. Sure, it was lovely, and I was finally fulfilling my dream, but it wasn’t the same as it would have been had I gone all those years ago when I had nothing but time to do what I wanted. There was less passion now. I know we should not regret, but I cannot help but regret NOT getting off my ass and just going in my early 20’s.
Instead of living life, I read about it and looked at photos of places and cultures I longed to experience in my life personally. I didn’t need those middle school administrators to make me feel imprisoned – I was doing an excellent job of that on my own.
To this day, I keep asking myself “what was it was that stopped me?” And still, I’m not 100% sure. Maybe I was addicted to tragedy. Perhaps I was addicted to struggle or to feel trapped. Having grown up in a tumultuous household full of dangers and emotional abuse, escaping into books without being able to fly had been a feeling I’d lived with for years.
Over the years I’ve had to learn to loosen the grip of struggle and trauma. And more than anything, I’ve had to learn the art of self-compassion and self-love – something I that still requires work and daily reminders. Reading Kristen Neff’s Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself has helped to completely change my life over the past year.
I now forgive that young woman who looked longingly into those books, alone late night at the bookstore. I feel compassion for her. She was trying to do the right thing, the responsible thing and be like others- have a job, create security. But there was a problem with that.
It wasn’t in her nature, and each day she moved farther from her purpose.
But we don’t always know right off the bat, or we know, but we cannot access that knowledge. We have to go through our ugly process to get there. A process than the glorified versions of how it should be in our minds.
At 46, I left my 13+ year marketing career and started my own business. Didn’t matter that I was a single mom raising two kids on my own. The risk was no longer something that would stop me.
And this won’t be the end of it. There’s so much still to do, buy armed with the knowledge that if you want something, you have to step in and take action, helps. Sitting on the sidelines is just like me sitting in that bookstore every night.
Today it’s Starbucks that I see us enter and find a little too much comfort. Maybe we write our blog posts there. We also surf the internet, dream of the things we want to do and the places we want to go.
Starbucks has a place in my heart, but…
I challenge you to get out of Starbucks and GO DO those things. Otherwise, you’re creating your own prison; it’s just cushy, smells like delicious coffee, and has a cool vibe.
It means getting clear on the path you most desire and learning how to take those first steps on that path.
If you’re in your forties, like me, and have teenagers, it doesn’t mean you have to pack your bags and say “good luck raising yourselves.” But it does mean you can teach them what it looks like to honor your purpose, not follow the crowd, and live fulfilled.
What will it take for you to stop hiding behind the things you are “supposed to be doing” and start doing the things you WANT to be doing?
Maybe you want to run your own business, become the writer you’ve always wanted to be, or live in Europe. Just start small… one step. Meet new people, get out of your comfort zone, find a group of like-minded people who will support and inspire you.
Get clear on what you want, what you don’t want, and put your dream into words, diagram it, create a vision board… Whatever helps you to see it every day.
Then take the first step. Then the second…
And before you know it, you’re living on purpose.
What would you do differently right now if you could?
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