“So, tell me your story.”
“What’s your story?”
“It’s going to be time to tell each other’s life stories.”
I’ve never had a story.. not a story worth sharing or beyond the ordinary. I grew up in a upper-middle class suburb. I had a supportive family. I got good grades, which were expected of me. I got into the best state college, which was expected of me. I was successful in college and enjoyed growing up, which was expected of me. No hiccups. No deviations. Just, life.
I got involved on campus, which I felt was expected of me by the time I was a Sophomore. And I went through the task of applying for positions and trying to get into elite campus organizations. Throughout the years, I got more and more involved as a student leader and it was, like I expected, the best time of my life. I found myself busied by several campus organizations and tasks that became expected of me as I got more and more involved on campus. This included applying for Teach for America. Because by the time I reached my 5th year and had been involved in leadership and service throughout college…well, it was implicitly expected that I apply.
So I did what was expected of me, I applied for Teach for America and I got in. The part of me that loved serving others was ecstatic at the opportunity to do good in the world. And the part of me that was in tune with campus life and what expectations were of campus leaders, well that part of me was pretty happy too. Everything was going according to plan.
Except, there was one little problem in this story of ordinary–a problem that I couldn’t diagnose until this year. That problem was that my whole life has been lived in the way that was expected of me. I just did what I thought I should be doing. I just put myself through what I thought everyone else was doing.
Until this year. Until TFA taught me a couple a things.
- If you’re not living your own goals, your living someone else’s
- Don’t succumb to expectations
- Now I have a story
So here’s how these three epiphanies occurred in just 12 months. First and foremost, this year has been a complete departure from the life I used to lead. I left my comfort zone for the first time in my life. I left my family and a life of success that I had enjoyed. I gave myself up completely for the lives of other. I was lonely as I realized making friends in the “real world” was a lot harder when you didn’t have someone facilitating introductions. And I was doing something I completely hated–teaching. I hated the act of teaching. I hated planning for the act of teaching. It wasn’t for me. Sure, TFA had been the next step in a path of what was expected of me, but I did not give myself the opportunity to realize that who I was as person was not compatible with who a teacher needed to be. To not get into the long story, I’ll summarize. The Alyson who loved the idea that TFA allowed her to do service in a meaningful way quickly became disenchanted as she realized that her TFA experience was not a service to anyone–especially not her kids. And I realized quickly that I had been sucked into a dream–a dream of Wendy Kopp and others–that made me miserable and was a disservice to my students and myself.
So I did something that was completely UN-expected of me. I quit.
I quit at the end of the school year and I planned to go back to grad school without completing my second year of my TFA contract. I decided to live out my own dreams. I decided that I didn’t have to do what was expected of me if it wasn’t the best for myself and for others. I gave myself a voice. I also gave myself a story.
This is a story of picking up the pieces of myself. Pieces that I only became aware of over this school year. And also picking up the pieces of me I shed throughout college because I was too worried about what other people were thinking or doing. It’s about re-learning who I am and what makes me tick. I don’t want to have another mistake where I am drowning in a job or an organization simply because I did not know myself well enough to know that I could not swim.
This is a story of forgiving myself. The other night I had a breakdown because I was failing at playing a card game with my family. Full-waterworks over the slight of hand. But I realized that the complete and utter self-hatred I felt at my own failure during the card game was just the dis-placed self-hatred I felt at my own failure with teaching and TFA. I hated feeling like a failure then, and I continue to hate it now. I have questioned myself and doubted myself all year, beating myself up for not being the best, for not being successful, for not completing TFA. It will take a while and a lot of work, but forgiveness will be a part of this story. It will happen every day that I show myself I am not a failure, that I can do something worthwhile.
This is a story of finding happiness. For too long this year, I have not felt the warmth waking up completely happy, without the tinkering feeling of dismay in the back of my mind or pit of my stomach. This blog is an entry into this new search for happiness. Whether it’s a post about Nashville, my relationships, my dreams–I hope to fill these pages with the joy of life and the bliss of each day. And I intend to seek this happiness actively. I once heard that you cannot chase happiness. Happiness, they say, is like a butterfly. The moment you stop chasing it, it will come land on your shoulder. This is a sweet notion, but I don’t want to wait around. I don’t have a day to waste. I want to chase that butterfly–I want to find that happiness. Why wait for happiness to find you, when you can enjoy the chase?