Most of my memories of profound transformation are tied to transportation. Literally.
I have sharp, visceral memories of packing my car to the brim outside my college apartment, hugging my friends, and crying before I made the ten-hour drive from Georgia to Maryland. I was moving to follow my on-again-off-again boyfriend, to start a teaching certification program, but mostly, to get out of Georgia for the purpose of trying on a new life.
Another vivid memory is of the drive in another packed car down I-270, from Frederick, Maryland to Arlington, Virginia. I had been teaching high school for a few years in Frederick, but was moving to Virginia to start my Masters at Georgetown.
I can also remember the walk from my Arlington apartment to the bus stop near the Key Bridge, where the bus would pick us up and drive us to campus. The walk didn’t have the most interesting scenery, and thus most of the time I was submerged in my own thoughts. Many of those thoughts were negative during the nine month span that I made that walk to the bus stop; the work for that degree was difficult and I felt a keen sense of impostor syndrome, although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time.
And finally, I can distinctly remember the drive from my Georgetown basement apartment to Chapel Hill, North Carolina in the summer of 2014. I think I cried for the full first hour of the roughly five hour drive. I was pretty sure I had made a mistake in leaving DC and forging ahead with a PhD program. I was sure that I had successfully dislodged myself from the south, and here I was, getting sucked back in, to what felt like an old life and old dreams. I had really started to wake up in DC and make choices that felt like my own, and the drive to North Carolina seemed like some kind of terrible regression that I had imposed on myself for the sake of follow-through.
On these drives and walks, I had so many unanswerable questions. What will this next thing be like? What will it do for me? Will I be good at it? Will people like me?
I know now that these were not the questions I should have been asking. Now, I ask myself, How do you want to feel? What do you need to do to feel that way–in your career, your love life, your friendships, your personal life? In this very moment?
Back then, I thought achievement was my answer. If I could just achieve another milestone, I would be happy. Once one thing started to feel sour, I jumped to another. Granted, I love moving around. As much as I complain about the actual physical acts involved in moving–the packing, the distilling, the reduction of life to objects, the moving of boxes on and off the truck, the unpacking, the decisions–trying out new places and vocations is actually my favorite. I think this is because moving so much and trying so many new paths has taught me that achievement is not my answer.
Let me explain.
Every time I would get to a new city, I would be faced with the daunting task of making it my home. You know, you have to find a bank and a grocery store you like, and figure out the roads, and find new bars and restaurants to call your favorite, and figure out who your friends are. Those are the tangible things. You’re also trying to figure out who you are in this new place in this new role. Can you reinvent yourself? Will the person you were in the previous city keep nipping at your heels?
The sense of alienation you feel in a new place can be overwhelming. But then, slowly, you do find a grocery store you like, and you make a friend, and life kind of starts to develop some regularity and security again. You start letting go of your initial worries.
And then you look up and it’s been two years and you call this place home.
You might live happily ever after. Or, if you’re like me, you realize that you might not be able to find your happiness in the role you’ve built for yourself, but you’re sort of unable to walk away for various reasons.
This is how my latest transformation started.
My latest transformation has taught me that it’s not achievement that makes me happy. It’s not a regimented to-do list that I can breathe a sigh of relief over every night when I check off the last thing. My latest transformation is happening right in my own brain. I didn’t have to move anywhere or start over in a new role. I’ve just learned to feel joy in my everyday life. It has a lot to do with letting go.
I’ve learned that it’s better to be present than to be prepared sometimes. I’ve learned that ease feels better than force. I’ve learned what it feels like when your spirit is actually in your body. Being alert to what’s right in front of me, letting go of control, and asking how I want to feel has led to the greatest transformation of self I could ever hope for.
And I didn’t have to go anywhere. I just had to return to myself. I had to learn how to hold space for growth right here in my own body. I had to learn to live with unanswerable questions. I had to have the courage to ask myself who I really am. Not who I think I want to be or who I want others to think I am, but who I really am at my core. I had to trust that I’m in the right place, and I had to give meaning to my path.
I learned that I am surrounded by positivity and wonder, if only I care to see it. I learned that my body will always tell me what it needs, and most days that’s vegetables and exercise, but some days it’s donuts and a nap on the couch. I can be okay with both. I learned that there is nothing more powerful than the present moment, the rise and fall of my chest as I breathe in and out. I learned that moving slower, consuming less, and expecting the best fills me up way more than doing and having all the things and letting anxiety run the show.
In all of this, I have learned how to watch, with a funny, interested disinterest, my own transformation. I am aware of each moment that I inhabit, and I see how it changes me.
I can’t convey how profound this daily feeling is.
I used to be a person who tracked her transformations through memories of interstates, packed cars, and walks along dirty sidewalks, with a blend of tears and blurry nostalgia. But now I see myself transforming every day, in little moments. I feel how little these moments are, yet I also see how they string together, and I can imagine that if you put a-year-from-now me next to now me, it will be amazing.
Do you trust yourself? Do you trust the universe enough to make changes in your life, to follow your impulses? When is the last time you were in a situation that didn’t feel right, so you made moves to get out of it, got out of it, and found something better? Is that proof enough that you know how to change? Is that proof enough that if you turn off the GPS, you’ll still find your way home? Is that proof enough that the unfamiliar eventually becomes the familiar?
If you’re unhappy, why do you think you’re unhappy? What are you holding onto that’s preventing you from making a change? What will happen if you let that go? What will you lose? Gain?
I used to have a totally fixed mindset. I thought if I failed at something, that was the end of the line for that path. I thought I could either be good at things or not, I could do it or I couldn’t, and the only way to experience transformation was through great, painful struggle that would hurt so much I’d be blinded to my own growth until I was on the other side of it, and then I could look back with a vague sense of paradoxical terror and fondness.
Now I see failure as one of many steps on my path. I’m probably going to not be good at things a lot. But I will keep at them until I am good at them. The same way you have to keep going to get groceries somewhere to avoid starving and then you are just a person who gets groceries there. I think anything can be figured out. I see challenge as something to handle with ease and lots of positive self-talk. I see how my attitude is tied to my happiness, and how the success of others is not a threat but an inspiration.
How do you want to feel? Do you want to feel mowed down, like you have to force everything, over-prepare over-prepare over-prepare, answer every question you have right this second, block it all out, put your head down, and work to break the door down until you’re bruised and bloodied? Or do you want to feel light and buoyant, loose, receptive, easy, joyful, present, and conscious of your growth?
What can you let go of to feel the way you want to feel?