When you imagine me at eighteen, imagine me wracked with indecision. Sitting in the middle of my dorm room floor, crying my eyes out and feeling terrified that I would take the wrong path, make the wrong choice, and impact my life forever. Begging God to tell me what to do. Begging my heart to be at peace.
Because even though all I was doing was thinking about changing my major from Journalism to English, it felt like a decision that would make or break my world.
You see, I’d always wanted to be a writer. I was illustrating and writing books somewhere around the age of seven. I was sharing poems and stories online in my teen years and building whole websites so that I could fill them with tips for young travelers. My first job was a web content job (though I didn’t know to call it “content” back then).
I wrote every chance I got – and it made my soul endlessly happy.
Still, the working-9-to-5-themselves practical people in my life (not to mention the culture at large) warned me away from my dream. They said that if I got an English degree, I wouldn’t make any money. That I’d be living out of a box or, worse, working at McDonalds. That I needed something to fall back on (e.g. “a real career for the day I finally pulled my head out of the clouds”). That the whole starving artist thing isn’t a joke, young lady.
What my parents really wanted was for me to major in computer science. But our compromise was Journalism – the more respectable of the writing majors – particularly if they could convince me to minor in something more practical (read: boring).
So I entered college as a Journalism major.
…and immediately felt like something in my life wasn’t quite right.
My first class in the Journalism department kicked off with a lecture on how to manipulate people with your words. If you want people to believe that you are the best, you say “nothing works better than X,” my professor told us. It really means that everything works exactly the same, but people think it means your product is the best. This kind of marketing is why name-brands can charge more than generics.
And so on and so forth he went, as I sat there worried that I’d made a terrible mistake. I didn’t want to mislead people about pain killers. I wanted to tell stories that, as Arabian Nights says, “teach us how to live and why.”
My professor also told us to be objective at all times, to take ourselves out of the writing.
And that was the last thing I wanted to do with my writing – to take the human spark out of it. I didn’t read any of that sort of writing, so why would I want to write it? I wanted to read and write about beauty and love and travel and I didn’t see how writing like a court reporter could possibly get me there.
So, there I was after my first semester of college, kneeling on my floor and crying. Begging for a sign.
Because even though I knew deep in my soul that Journalism was a compromise and what I really wanted was to read and write things with a soul, even if it made me almost no money…
I was afraid.
The funny thing is that I wasn’t really afraid that everyone was right and I’d end up living in a cardboard box by the river. I wasn’t afraid of being poor. And I was only a little afraid of failing.
No. I was afraid of something else altogether.
I was afraid of disappointing everyone.
My parents. My professors. God.
I was afraid that I was doing “the wrong thing.” Because at eighteen all you have is the way you were raised and the way I was raised said that the right thing was whatever God wanted and the wrong thing was anything else.
And how was I supposed to know what the hell God wanted?
Which is why I was agonizing on the dorm room floor, tears running down my face and a notebook and pen resting next to me. My mind was a whirlwind and my gut was churning. And so, as I have so many times before and since, I sought comfort in words. I opened the notebook and began to have a conversation with myself.
I don’t have the notebook anymore, but the conversation went something like this:
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do. Tell me what to do.
What do you want to do?
I don’t know.
I think you do. Think for a moment. What do you want?
I don’t know.
Yes, yes you do. Take your time. Take a deep breath. There’s no one here but us. You can say anything. You can say that you want to become an astronaut or a ballerina if that’s your soul’s desire. Just tell the truth. What do you want?
I want to change my major to English. I want to write poems and stories and things that are bursting with emotion. I want to do something that matters.
Okay. Then do all of that.
But what if that’s wrong?
Gigi, If you believe God created you, don’t you also believe that he created your passion and talent? That perhaps passion was given to guide you? And perhaps God’s plan is to let you make your own way? And if all that is true, then perhaps you should trust your passion and keep moving forward. Instead of waiting for a sign to start you down a new path, go ahead and forge that path until you get a sign that stops you.
That moment on the dorm room floor was revolutionary for me.
It was when I realized that life isn’t full of right paths and wrong paths – that, for the most part, all of our options are good. I don’t have to wrestle an angel for every little decision. That I can do what’s right and do what I want. I can trust myself.
And trusting myself? That is the antithesis of my biggest fears.
When I really trust myself to make the right decisions, I can’t also be endlessly worrying about making the wrong ones and I stop worrying so much about everyone else’s disappointment.
Because trusting myself also means prioritizing myself. It means recognizing that it would be far worse to disappoint myself than to disappoint my parents or my professors. And it means trusting that God – whatever you believe about Him – couldn’t possibly be disappointed in a person who relentlessly and passionately pursued her dream of telling beautiful stories and doing work that matters.
So I closed my notebook and splashed some water on my face and went to bed, sleeping the deep and dreamless sleep of exhaustion and determination.
And the next morning, I started the process of changing my major.
Today, I am a writer. A full-time, world-traveling writer who gets paid to do what she loves. I’ve never lived in a cardboard box or worked at McDonalds. I’ve certainly disappointed some people along the way, but it no longer bothers me. And I have never – not for one second – regretted changing my major or making any of those other tough decisions (to move to New York, to quit my job in New York, to go to Europe, to move to Denver, to take a pay cut in order to get an agency job, to quit my agency job, to start my business, to leave a conventional life in the dust).
So this is the part where I leave you with some tried-and-true, hard-fought wisdom: trust yourself, make a choice, and move forward. The more you step forward into the dream, the less real your fears will become.
This post is part of the My Fearful Adventure series, which is celebrating the launch of Torre DeRoche’s debut book Love with a Chance of Drowning, a true adventure story about one girl’s leap into the deep end of her fears.
“Wow, what a book. Exciting. Dramatic. Honest. Torre DeRoche is an author to follow.” Australian Associated Press
“… a story about conquering the fears that keep you from living your dreams.” Nomadicmatt.com
“In her debut, DeRoche has penned such a beautiful, thrilling story you’ll have to remind yourself it’s not fiction.” Courier Mail