What a powerful question this article by David Brooks with the New York Times discusses using Lady Gaga as an example of someone pursing their passion without fear. This article really resonates with me at this stage in my life.
So, a little over a year ago, I was packing up my apartment and on my way to graduate school at Tulane University’s School of Science and Engineering in New Orleans, LA. I had just gone through a difficult break up and was feeling a bit lost. Graduate school seemed like a great way to start anew. I was ready for a change in every possible way. A change in location, a change in career, a change in life rhythm, a change in myself. New Orleans was the perfect location as I would be closer to my beloved grandparents whom I was very close with and was looking forward to being near them. It seemed as though everything were falling into place for a new chapter for me!
And then the universe came crashing down.
A few short weeks before the moving truck was scheduled to pull out of Asheville, NC my grandmother passed away. I was devastated. I had just packed up my hair rollers in anticipation of doing her hair for her (I’ve been a hairstylist for the past decade). This couldn’t be happening. I was almost down there!
So I travel down to Cajun country to lay my sweet granny to rest. Little did I know that my grandmother’s passing was just the tip of the iceberg in the major waves the universe was about to pound me with. At my granny’s funeral, I saw my father for the first time in years. We’ve been estranged for almost a decade. It was a very emotional experience. I almost didn’t recognize him. A decade can do a lot to one’s appearance. My mother attended the funeral and it was the first time her and my father had seen each other in over a decade. They do not have a rosy past and those two being in the same room again after all these years brought back all sorts of childhood anxieties for me. It was intense.
Then the big boom happened. The day of my grandmother’s funeral arrived. By this point my period was late but I kept rationalizing that it was because of all the stress I was under. A few weeks prior, Michael (my then ex) and I went on a camping trip for my birthday. It was a bittersweet goodbye of sorts. The evening after the funeral, the whole family went out to dinner at Don’s Seafood Hut. I ordered an Abita Amber, my favorite, but couldn’t stand the taste of it. The waiter brought out our aromatic seafood dishes and I about hurled all over the table. I excused myself and went to the bathroom. That’s when I knew. The next day I slipped away and bought a pregnancy test. Four positive tests later it was confirmed. Life just slapped me in the face with a for real game changer and shit just got real.
Terrified and unsure as I was, I made the choice to embrace this game changer the universe threw at me. Michael and I moved back in together and began the difficult and tumultuous road towards parenthood together and working out our differences to become a family and be together. It was a lot of unexpected change. There was a lot I lost. However, there was a lot I gained. I’m still processing all of this. I’m still in shock even though my daughter is already 8 months old! There is a lot of unresolved grief. Grief for my grandmother. Grief for the loss of graduate school. Grief for the loss of my independence. Grief for the loss of who I was pre-baby. There is also a lot of joy. My daughter has already proven to be my greatest teacher. Her arrival was supposed to happen – that I’m sure of. My world was supposed to come crashing down only to be built anew.
Which brings me to my greater point. The arrival of Amelia has opened my eyes. I was not living a fearless life. I was choosing the Tulane graduate school chapter out of fear. Fear that I wasn’t taking enough chances in life. Fear that it was my only chance to do something unique and different. Fear that I would be judged if I didn’t pursue graduate school. I was motivated by my ego. I was motivated by my industrious, practical side. I was motivated by the potential financial security a Master’s in Applied Mathematics would provide. I was not motivated by passion. My passions lie elsewhere. Since becoming a mom, I’m realizing that I stifle my passions because I’m afraid. My type A, always responsible and organized self won’t allow me to pursue my passions because they are “impractical” and “risky”. Our society encourages such thinking. We are all about practicality. Hence why the arts and humanities are struggling in the face of our technological age. Students are being told to pursue “useful” degrees. Public schools are cutting music programs and art programs to greater fund the math and sciences. Historical sites all over the country are losing their funding to stay opened or be properly maintained because it’s viewed as a waste of money. We are becoming slaves to practicality and we are losing. We are making decisions about life and happiness based on financial gain. What degree can you make the most money with? What degree can you get the best jobs with? What happened to the pursuit of knowledge and passion for sheer exploration and the collective betterment of ourselves and the world regardless of financial gain or practicality? I firmly believe that if you pursue your passion you can find a way to make a sustainable life from it because where there’s a will there’s a way.
I’ve been spending much of my time wondering where has such fear gotten me? Such fear has kept me in a never-ending cycle that I desperately want to break free of. All of this was shown to me by an infant. Bringing this fresh, clean, new life into the world made me realize that she is a clean slate. She hasn’t been tainted by the world yet. I don’t want her to go through life acting out of fear. I want to teach her to pursue her passions no matter what. How am I to teach her that if I don’t embody that philosophy myself?
So I am exploring my answer to the question “what would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?” It’s a terrifying endeavor because there are many patterns that I have to face and change in order to find my truth. I’m willing to do it though. For my sake and for my daughter’s sake.
Now I ask you, what would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?