She tried to be discreet. But despite her efforts, her voice had carried around the corner to where I was sitting in the den.
“I don’t know what she thinks she’s doing. She worked so hard to get a Masters Degree, but now she’s just wasting her education.”
I’ll never forget the moment I overheard these words being spoken about me. At that moment, so many thoughts and emotions were coursing through my body. I wanted to advocate for myself. I wanted to walk right into that room, look her dead in the eye, and tell her that how I choose to live my life was absolutely none of her business.
But I didn’t. Because deep down there was a part of me that was afraid that she was right.
I can say from experience that making the decision to go against what society thinks you should be doing with your life isn’t always easy. Most of us have been conditioned to believe in this black and white depiction of what the road to success looks like. You go to college, earn a degree, get a good job with a decent salary, stay there as long as you can while you work your way up the ladder and retire at 65 with a nice little nest egg to last you until your time on this earth is up.
Now, I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds incredibly sad and depressing. And from a young age, I knew deep down that I was meant to experience a different path. A more creative path that allowed me to contribute to the world in a way that made people feel inspired.
And at the age of 22, I finally had the courage to listen to my heart and start making that vision a reality.
At the time, I had just graduated from one of the most prestigious schools in the country earning a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work. I worked my tail off for a full year to get to this point and I was certainly proud of what I had accomplished.
But there was one problem: I didn’t want to be a Social Worker.
You see, three weeks into my graduate school coursework I quickly came to the realization that Social Work was not the path for me. Every day I would come home from my internship feeling like my heart had been ripped out of my chest and I just didn’t know how to leave my feelings at work. My anxiety was at an all-time high and it was starting to affect how I interacted with clients and the other clinicians on staff. I knew I wanted to help people, but not like this.
I felt completely trapped. I had worked so hard to get into graduate school–to get into THIS particular graduate school. And I now had clients who were counting on me to help them. The last thing I wanted to do was let anyone down. And I certainly didn’t want to be a quitter.
So instead of dropping out of school, I worked my tail off, graduated with high honors and, to everyone’s surprise, said goodbye to the social work profession forever.
And there I was at square one once again.
It took me a little bit to figure out exactly what I wanted, what I felt I was meant to do with my life. In the meantime, I decided to start teaching fitness classes and working as an online health and fitness coach to make an income until I had a better handle on the direction I wanted to go.
Then, a few months later, the “aha” moment happened.
I had started listening to podcasts and reading books for personal development and while listening to one particular podcast, an important question was asked that stopped me dead in my tracks:
“What is something that you love to do so much that you would do it for free? Because that’s where your passion lies. That is where your focus is meant to be. Because that passion is what is going to allow you to turn what you love doing most into a career. “
I sat there for a moment and a few things started popping into my mind. I really loved health and fitness and teaching classes, but did I love it enough that I would do it for free?
After giving it some thought, I realized the answer was no. But then something else immediately popped into my head. And suddenly, I felt like everything was starting to click.
At the time, I had been pursuing photography as a hobby for a few years and was completely obsessed with it. I was always taking photographs everywhere I went and loved sharing them with the world. I had portfolio books created, a website/blog and was often asked by friends and family to photograph events and special memories for them. Nothing made me feel more in my element than when I had a camera in my hands.
And the funny thing is, I was doing it all for free.
I started brainstorming other hobbies and interests that I had that I would gladly do for free. And I realized that graphic design was something that I had grown to love so much while promoting my own business that other colleagues in my industry were reaching out to me to help them with theirs. For free.
And then the concept of personal development popped into my mind. I loved helping others gain the confidence and motivation to better themselves. In fact, I loved it so much that I was being asked to speak on video calls for teams of people in the health and fitness industry to share my knowledge and insight, again, for free.
Now the wheels in my head were officially turning. And suddenly, I went from feeling like I had zero direction to having a whole variety of options right in front of me that would allow me to do something I am passionate about and turn it into a career.
At the time that the woman I mentioned above made her comment, I had already started the process of building my professional portfolio with the goal of one day having a thriving photography business of my own. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy. I knew that there would be struggle and sacrifice involved. But I was okay with that because I knew deep down in my heart that if I did the work, it would pay off tenfold in the end.
But in that moment, hearing those judgmental words made me question if I had made the right decision.
She went on to talk about how everyone hates their jobs and that is just a part of life. But if it pays well then we should just suck it up and do it because that’s how adulthood works. And had I stayed in the profession I’d be making a heck of a lot more money than I am now.
For a second, I wondered if she was right. Was I being naive? Is this really how life works? Is it normal to be unhappy with your life and the direction it was going but to act like everything is okay because it pays well?
And then it hit me. I was never meant to be “normal”. I was never meant to just follow the crowd for the sake of following the crowd. And I knew there was so much more to life than what this woman was describing. So I decided to ask myself what I truly wanted out of life. What was my definition of success?
And that’s when I decided that for me, success was so much more than how much money I made or the prestige of a particular job title. Success was about living with purpose and having the freedom to do the things you love in life on your own terms. And as long as myself and my husband were happy and had everything that we needed, that’s all that really mattered.
And in an instant, this woman’s opinion no longer mattered to me because I knew what my purpose was.
I knew my truth and that’s all I needed.
I think that sometime’s we get so caught up in what society’s definition of success is that most of us have never really taken the time to figure out what success truly means to us on our own terms. Because regardless of what we’ve been taught, success isn’t black and white. It isn’t the same for everyone and there is no right or wrong definition. Only the definition that you feel connects deepest with your soul and makes you feel fulfilled at the end of the day.
So here I am 5 years later working as a Photographer and Visual Designer, studying to be a Life Coach and gratefully creating content and resources to help people live a life filled with health, happiness, and inspiration. Has the journey been perfect? Absolutely not. There have been many bumps in the road and many moments of fear, heartache, and uncertainty. But that is something that is unavoidable in this life. We wouldn’t be human without these feelings and experiences. And I wouldn’t change any of it because it has brought me to this place in my life where I truly feel like I’m living out my purpose. And it’s the ups and the downs that make every triumph and every positive thing that happens in our lives that much sweeter.
For me, that is the true meaning of success: having inner peace, being excited to get out of bed in the morning, loving hard, doing the things that set my soul on fire and making a positive impact along the way.
So don’t be afraid to create your own path. Don’t be afraid to define success on your own terms. Because we all have a specific purpose in life. We all have a reason for being and we all have our own unique truth that deserves to be carried out. Because life is too short to be experiencing it in a way that doesn’t feel authentic to your soul. Do what feels right in your heart and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise <3