Love Is the Thing: A Long Answer to a Sarcastic Question

IMG_6046
A gift from my best friend when I told her about my decision to follow my heart and my dreams.

“What are you going to do in Liberia … other than be a good diplomat-wife?” a colleague jokingly asked me recently.

More on this later.

First, I want to address the fact that many women struggle to maintain a sense of self as we move through life.  When I was in college, I had certain phrases in mind for who I wanted to become: journalist, world traveler, international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, UNICEF aid worker, humanitarian, changemaker.  With time, those phrases lessened and were somewhat reordered: writer, partner, educator, part-time humanitarian, occasional world traveler.  Flash forward to the only phrases that fit who I had become: teacher, mother, wife.

Please understand that I arrived at those three words through choices that were made whole-heartedly in their seasons.  However, as the descriptors I had imagined for myself decreased, my sense of the world diminished as well.  Especially after becoming a mother, I actually became fearful of the world — fearful of anything I could not control.  I developed a crippling anxiety that prevented me from participating in activities that spoke to my passions and from developing new and meaningful connections with others.

I had lost myself.  Like in Back to the Future when the McFly siblings systematically disappear from their family photo, I was slowly vanishing from my picture of life and everything I wanted for myself.  (Those closest to me later told me that they saw it happening and that they are proud of me for having the courage to change.)  On a daily basis, I filled my roles, did very well in each of them, and felt proud of and somewhat fulfilled by the life I had created for myself, but I felt disconnected.  It was that “somewhat fulfilled” feeling that nagged at me quite consistently and eventually became too loud to ignore.  Much of the time, I felt like I was coasting on autopilot.  I often thought to myself, “One day, I’ll do all of those things I always meant to do.  Twenty more years of teaching, and I’ll retire.  Then I can do all of those things I always wanted to do.”

Really?!  

Then one day, “One day” just wasn’t good enough anymore.  Things had to change, and when I make up my mind about something, there really is no stopping me.  So, I pushed for change over the past couple of years.  And, without going into detail, I ended up making a leap of faith and taking some huge steps both personally and professionally to get back to myself.  It definitely took time, struggle, and support from people who love me; yet now I feel full of life, in love with myself again, and finally on the path that I was always meant to walk.  Many of my friends and loved ones have told me I am courageous, that I am inspiring and so strong.  I believe to my core that I only did what was necessary to save myself from disappearing.

“They thought I had guts. They were wrong. I was only frightened of more important things.” — Charles Bukowski

Getting back to myself required a great deal of self-reflection.  Although quite the introvert, I am often referred to as a Disney princess by the people in my life.  My friends and colleagues have mentioned how easily excitable I am about new ideas and projects, my fiance loves how animated my facial expressions are, and my students often commented on how consistently kind and patient I am with everyone.  However, for a long time, I scoffed at this comparison because I have always seen myself as more of a do-gooder BADASS!  If wanted to be ANY fictional character, it would be someone like Storm, Rogue, Black Widow, or Wonder Woman.  These are the females who I mimicked when keeping up with the boys in the neighborhood with whom my brother and I played as kids.

There is always a little piece of us that wants to be a hero.  That spirit of adventure and excitement has carried over into various aspects of my personality and brings out the best in me when doing the things I love.  My superhero qualities:

  • I like speed.  When I drive, I fancy myself a Formula 1 driver on the course.  (Hey, being a driver in Atlanta traffic for so many years, one is either part of the problems or finds her way around the problems.)  When I cycle, the freedom I feel with the wind in my face, watching the scenery whiz by, and pushing myself to work harder is addictive.  And when I used to horseback ride, galloping and jumping horses was the most thrilling feeling I had ever experienced.  Few things will ever compare to it!  (I mean, watch this video and look at the joy on the riders’ faces!)
  • I like a shared sense of achievement.  I am a type-A personality.  I like to be productive, I like to have a bit of control, and I am a planner; but I do not like to be the one making all of the decisions all the time.  I’m a collaborator.  I work great alone, but I enjoy working with a partner or a team more, and I enjoy accomplishing a goal and being able to celebrate that with the person or people who were by my side the whole time.
  • I have always wanted to help others and I enjoy solving problems.  The more I can do to help others be more independent, feel a sense of empowerment, or achieve something new, the more I feel a sense of satisfaction with life.  I have always felt —  from a very young age — a sense of responsibility to help others, and I have always known that my life was meant for something greater in terms of making a difference for others.  I am a peacemaker, a guide, a motivator, a facilitator.  I am indeed my best self when I can nurture and create a better life for others.
  • It is important to me to stay active and fit.  There was a period in my life about ten years ago when I was clinically depressed, overweight, and no good to myself or anyone else.  A sweet friend asked me to come along with her to walk on the treadmills at her gym a couple times a week, and I noticed how good I felt afterward.  While we were there, I also noticed the trainers working out with their clients, and thought, “That’s the way I need to do it, too.  I want to be challenged that way!”  And I’ve been working out ever since.  I was trained for eight years with my most recent trainer who, in turn, became a dear friend and very important woman in my life.  I used to tell her, “When I feel like giving up during a workout, I ask myself: ‘What would Black Widow do?'” 🙂 Now I train myself (weights, cycling, running, yoga), and I know beyond a doubt that my inner (mental and emotional) strength is directly supported by my physical strength, so I am committed to a lifetime of health and activity!
IMG_6017
“POW! BAM!” 🙂

On the topic of superheroes, my sister, a long-time friend, and I recently saw the newest incarnation of Wonder Woman, and I was enthralled by the film.  The fierce women and their support for one another, the inner struggle to maintain optimism when surrounded by disillusionment, and commitment to suspending judgment and act instead from a place of love are all experiences I value and with which I identify.  In fact, my favorite quote from the movie became my Facebook status the next day:

“It’s not about deserve. It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love.”

So, let me tell you what I will be doing in Liberia because it all comes back to those original phrases I envisioned for myself and my life, and it all springs from my love of people, culture, and education.

First, I will explore.  This will be priority one in Liberia and each of our subsequent posts as we are relocated every 2-4 years with my fiance’s career with USAID.  As someone who has always been interested in other cultures, authentic experiences, and adventure, it is my aim to become well-acquainted with each location by exploring, meeting people, photographing favorite or interesting things, attending events, and frequenting local establishments. 

Secondly, I will document.  Photographing, reflecting on, writing about, and teaching through my experiences has always been important to me.  This is the main reason I started this blog: so family, friends, and former students could follow along as I document my experiences.  I especially want my son to be able to look through my posts one day to read about the life-journey I’ve made, and I’ll share my photos and stories with him during our visits together now.  Hopefully, too, I make the world feel a little smaller for those of you who tune in and read about people and places I come in contact with.

Third, I will continue to learn.  I have been accepted to an M.Ed. program at the University of Illinois called Global Studies in Education.  The course descriptions immediately made me feel like this program was made especially for me with its focus on case studies of education settings from around the world (often in developing countries).  I plan to complete my coursework for this program in the 15 months that Andrew and I are posted in Liberia, and I am so excited to be a student again!  This degree links directly to my next item.

Fourth, I will plan.  It is my goal to start a nonprofit that will in some way assist in improving education for students in developing countries.  My focus on STEM education and project-based learning over the past few years was the inspiration for this goal.  I saw first-hand what a difference it made in both engagement and achievement when my team and I allowed students to work on and attempt to solve real-world problems in their own unique ways.  For my part, teaching students to improve their speaking, writing, and cultural sensitivity skills through drafting project proposals, presenting final project prototypes and research, and engaging in video cultural exchanges with students in Liberia proved more effective than teaching those same skills in isolation and without authentic connections.  So, as I observe the students, schools, and needs of the education system in Liberia, I will shape my plans for what my nonprofit will be and, over time, figure out how to adapt it to schools wherever Andrew and I go.

Fifth, I will love.  Sure, (to answer my colleague’s question that started this post) I will learn how to be a good diplomat-wife, … but only on my terms and only when I’m not busy doing other things. 😉  My fiance knows this and is admiringly supportive of my choices.  Mostly, though, since he and I finally be in the same physical space, we are looking forward to beginning our life together and sharing all of those big and little moments a cohabitating couple gets to share on a daily basis.  Yes, we will have the challenge and the adventure of embarking upon married life abroad and in the developing world, but we are excited by the prospect while simultaneously understanding the realities of it. 

Suffice it to say, in closing, that love is the thing.  It has a way of making the world brighter and better through a sort of ripple effect.  

So, I learned that I must love myself the best first.  I had to take stock of what makes me happy, ignites my passion, and makes me feel like a hero in my own journey.  Then I had to make it a priority to nurture those experiences for myself so I could be my best self.  I have found that the most incredible things have happened in my life when I was being truest and kindest to myself.

We really do need to be kinder to ourselves.  Along the way, if you happen to find someone (a friend, partner, lover, or three-in-one if you are incredibly lucky!) who lights you up, supports your dreams, challenges you to be better and wonder, makes you smile bigger than anyone else, shares your passions, listens intently to your words, and gives you all the things you never knew you needed, you make sure to fight like hell — like a superhero! — to hold on forever, and the world will be that much better for it.  

Those ripples … they can often reach far beyond what you are capable of seeing.  And the world can always use a little more love.

5 thoughts on “Love Is the Thing: A Long Answer to a Sarcastic Question”

  1. What a great idea — thinking of your own superhero qualities. Is it too Eat, Pray, Love (grimace) that your first adventure as a woman freed from her first life (yes, that’s what I shall call it) will be in a country called Liberia? 🙂 I remember that sign, and I think it represents what humans are at their best. While I don’t always have trust in humanity, though, I do have trust in you. Go kick ass!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Your observation about the name and meaning of Liberia is right on! It’s funny you should mention that. Andrew and I talk about first life (before each other) and second life (our time together before we are elderly). He also mentions 3rd life and 4th life, but I don’t like to talk about those because they make me sad.

      Like

    1. We definitely need to find our own process and what works best for each of us. Our chats have been very important to me. I’m so proud of you and look forward to following your own special journey!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: