Hands down, the most memorable and remarkable college course I took was “Women in the US Criminal Justice System” my senior year. The class took place in the recreational center of the local prison in our college town. Yes, you read that correctly; the course met once a week for 3 hours in the women’s minimum-security section of the correctional facility. No, we were not teaching the inmates, we were all, in fact, students. When we entered the so-called “classroom”, we were all equals; the college students referred to as “outside students” and the women living in the jail referred to as “inside students”, never once using the word “inmate” or “prisoner”. (I know you’re probably wondering right now why the heck I am telling you about this class in a blog post promised to discuss quitting my job on Wall Street to pursue my passion in the kitchen, but stick with me here.) At the end of the semester we were required to write a paper reflecting on what we learned from this experience. As incredibly moving this course was for me, and as much as I learned about the criminal justice system, I walked away from our last session with the realization that the inside and outside students all shared one thing: the fear of the unknown.
Our classes consisted of open circle discussions that often times became very raw, honest, and emotional. During our last class I found myself crying explaining how nervous I was for graduating, moving to New York City, and beginning a new job. I proclaimed how I really struggled with change and adjusting to a new lifestyle and that my anxiety was beginning to bubble to the surface. The inside student next to me remarked that she shared those same feelings about the fact that she was due to be released and move back home next week. The inside student next to her shared these same feelings about the fact that this was only her second day in the prison, and the outside student next to her proclaimed that she was afraid about moving back home after graduation without a job. That is when it hit me: you can take people from two seemingly extreme different circumstances of life at that current moment and they can relate on one simple emotion. The unknown, specifically when focused on one’s future, is frightening. Some may handle change better than others, but to most it is a scary thing. What does my future hold? What will this new life be like? What will people think of me? What if I fail?
The reason I am telling you about this experience is because these feelings were the exact ones I felt, and refused to give into, very recently. After working in finance for 5 years, I knew my time had come to pursue my passion and take on Freckled Foodie full time. For a while, I continuously pushed these feelings and desires to the backburner due to the sheer reason of fear. My life had been so cookie-cutter and structured for the past 5 years, how could I ever go about changing that? My career became such a large part of my identity I felt I wouldn’t know who I was without it. What would I do without the financial stability of this job? How could I be responsible for building my own business? What the heck would everyone think of me? These are some of the main questions that floated through my mind and kept me up at night.
I was extremely close to letting fear win this battle and get the best of me. I was ready to continue the tailored life I had built and enjoyed for so many years thus far. I would continue to enjoy my job in Sales & Trading but also feel like I was living somewhat of a double-life with Freckled Foodie being my alter ego; never fully accepting “her” as the person I was meant to be. Each time I expanded my horizons with this side project and opened a door to a new opportunity, there were 4 more behind it that I, unfortunately, was never able to open. Life is busy, and there are only so many hours in a day. Because of fear, I had accepted that these doors would remain closed, no matter how hard the little voice inside me was screaming to pry them open with all my strength. Then, life happened: I got hit by a car while crossing the street and suffered from a concussion that took five weeks to fully recover from. During this month of healing, I learned a lot (so much so that I wrote a blog post about it). I began to slow down, take a step back, reassess some things, deepen my meditation practice, and gain clarity. My main takeaway: life is short, so why the hell wouldn’t you do what you love. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life, but fear was benching my dreams to the sideline. After many of journaling sessions (laugh all you want, but if you are contemplating something serious in your life I cannot suggest this enough), conversations with my parents, sisters, and fiancé, and reading a handful of inspiring books, I knew what I had to do. It was time to put myself first, tell fear to take a seat, and follow my dreams.
As I write this, I am one day into this new career. Friday was my last day on the floor, and it was an emotional one. It is hard to say goodbye to the people who have shaped the early stages of your career, helped you grow, and been there by your side (quite literally since there is no personal space on a trading floor) through the good days and the bad. Although it was more difficult than I may have predicted, I have never been more confident with a decision. No, I don’t have a structure of what my life is about to look like. And no, I’m not quite sure what I will be doing next month. But I am confident that I am going to figure it out. My future is a bit unknown and unclear right now, and yes, that is scary, but it is no scarier than refusing to allow yourself to follow your dreams. We so easily feed ourselves these excuses to continue on the path we are on instead of taking the turn we so eagerly crave. I’ll do it when I’m a few years older; once I lose some weight; after I get promoted. In the case that someone has a set plan for his or her near future depending on a few “life moments”, there may be a methodology and thoughtfulness behind these reasons. But, if you are simply telling yourself these excuses because you are afraid to actually take a jump off the high dive, it is time to believe in yourself. As Jen Sincero says in You are a Badass, “you are the only you there ever will be.” It’s time to kick fear in the ass.
So yes, I am figuring out my life, and I am taking it one step at a time; and HECK YES, it is terrifying at times. But, with the scariness comes excitement, passion, determination, and overall joy because I finally did my unimaginable. You are the author of your own story; it’s time to get writing.