Keep Moving Forward

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Wouldn’t it be nice if we received an award every time we achieved something? Or at least a certificate of achievement? Something to mark that “You did it!” complete with balloons and a long-winded speech about how “promising” the rest of your life is going to be, and how “the best is yet to come.” Wouldn’t that be great!?

Unfortunately, reality check: That’s not life in the real world. That’s not how things work when you’re an adult. There aren’t balloons for every occasion, or huge groups of people to always celebrate with you. Sometimes, when you achieve something, the celebration is just for and with yourself.

This week is a week of “lasts” for me, in Paris. It is the last week I’ll be in France, and tomorrow starts off by being my last ever Monday as an au pair. And, as much as the decision to leave weighed heavy on me initially, I can now say that I am very much ready to go.

To quote a phrase born out of Parisian storytelling, this year has been, “the best of times, and the worst of times.” I feel as though I’ve been away from home for a hundred years. When I look back over this year I really don’t know how I’ve managed to hold on this long, but although I’m leaving a couple of months early, I know that it is the right timing and the right decision for me.

It’s kind of funny, you often hear about the nervousness of starting a life in a new place, but you seldom hear about the nervousness of setting out on the path to start a new life in a place you’ve known all your life. But it is a real thing.
For some reason, the thought of returning to the U.S. absolutely terrifies me. What has changed? Who has changed? What differences, no matter how seemingly minute, will be present?

And while all of these questions keep swimming around in my head, I have this little voice in the back of my head reminding me that it’s gonna be okay, and that I’ll figure it out. And maybe that’s the biggest lesson that I’ll take away from this year: The ability to have an inner peace when nothing externally seems to possibly be headed on a track to success.

Because, in all honesty, this year went NOTHING like I thought it would. In fact, I would say it went the exact opposite, in every possible way, direction that I thought it would go. Every plan, every goal, every idea that I had for this year seemed to somehow have been lost along the way of me forging forward along this path.

But that’s okay. Somehow it feels like those directions weren’t realistic, or (perhaps, more importantly) in any way mature. Life does not follow the rule sheet that we write before setting out on whatever road it brings us. It doesn’t take into consideration our wishes, or our safety or our hopes.

Those things are up to us. And throughout this year I’ve had to continually strive toward the ideals, rather than the finite details of what I thought this year would/should entail.

So, let me take a moment to share those with you:

  1. This year I learned to press on, even after being broken.
  1. This year I learned to listen to my instincts and to follow through with them.
  1. This year I learned what true spontaneity means, and how to use it to my advantage.
  1. This year I learned to stand up for myself, and to fight for what I value.
  1. This year I learned what makes me happy (Hint: it has nothing to do with money)
  1. This year I learned how to use social media wisely, and how to disconnect.
  1. This year I learned how to open my heart.
  1. This year I learned to be authentic and vulnerable in the things I pursue.
  1. This year I learned to let go of my plans and ideas of how things “should go.”
  1. This year I learned the importance, value and absolute necessity of friendship.

In 1 week a new chapter will be starting for me. There won’t be any speeches or ceremonies or any crazy rave parties…but that’s okay. I survived 10 months living in another country, with random strangers, speaking a language I was hardly fluent at and living in a culture that seemed completely opposite to what I was used to.

I DID IT. And recognizing that for myself is enough.

This time of year a lot of students are forging forward past the signposts of a new chapter in their lives. They did it! They’re graduating! And yes, there will be the balloons and parties and cards and speeches.

But, if there was one thing I wish that I could go back to tell my graduating self, it would have been that the world post graduation is a whole lot darker, and a whole lot more beautiful than I ever could have imagined in that moment. I would have told myself not to be distracted by the balloons, or to feel like the last four years had somehow made me superior to anyone or anything. I would have told myself not to listen to the speeches – because those were written to make me laugh and to “inspire” me to succeed in a fairy tale world that would be waiting for me with arms wide open post graduation. Life is so much smaller! Life is so much bigger!

I would tell myself that I would never be able to subsist solely off the inspiration of others, and that I sure as hell can’t depend upon it when choosing my path in life. I would say, “Learn to inspire yourself. To light a candle within that no one else can ever blow out.” Because that is what is going to make you ‘successful’ – that is what is going to make you happy. The world around you will always be a roller coaster of missed opportunities and sunny day chances. You will always have goals that are father than you think you’ll ever be able to reach. There will always be seemingly “lost” causes and impossible hurdles to jump – but learn to inspire yourself and you will always have the strength to clear them.

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