Hello everyone! I want to talk about what happens when life doesn't go as planned. In the moment, when everything is falling apart and doors are closing left and right, the world may seem like a dark and utterly confusing place. But, I am a firm believer that it will lead to something AMAZING in the long run. I went through this process to find my passion for photography, and I know those who have followed a similar path. One of them is my dear friend Kelly Doran, and because she is also a writer, I asked if she would like to share her story for all of you! If you are going through period of transition or uncertainty right now, don't despair! We are both living proof that you can use your situation to really figure out what you want to do in life, not just what you "think" you want, or what others are trying to tell you to do, and it might even end up being something you didn't expect!
I'm going to pass the virtual page over to Kelly now! Enjoy!
When you are in school, it is possible to predict what your life will look like for the foreseeable future. When I was in college, I knew what classes I’d be taking in the next quarter, and the quarter after that, and what plays I would audition for, and what my audition material would be, and where I would live, and what I’d be doing at my on-campus job. I could plan every part of my life and be confident that things would play out more or less exactly as I had planned them. I am a Type-A Virgo with generalized anxiety disorder, so as you can imagine, I like to have a plan. It did not particularly occur to me that life after graduation would be any different. You made a plan, and then you made the plan happen. That was just how things worked. My plan was to graduate, move back home to San Diego for the summer and save money at a temp job, and then move to Chicago with my best friend. We scoped out neighborhoods where we might live. I looked up rent prices and calculated how much money I’d need to make, and what theatres I wanted to audition at. I had made what looked to me like an excellent plan, accounting for all the unknowns, and I was wildly excited. A little scared, of course – who isn’t when they graduate college – but I knew I’d have my best friend with me when things got difficult. But around the week of graduation, things started going off track. I got a vicious stomach flu and nearly couldn’t walk at my own graduation. The temp job I thought would be solid let me know that there was a lull in business, and they didn’t have any work for me. And then, a few weeks after graduation, my best friend called to let me know that she wasn’t going to be moving to Chicago. She’d changed her mind. At that point, I couldn’t find anyone else to move in with. The temp job hadn’t taken me on, so I didn’t have the money to move alone. And I didn’t really want to move halfway across the country only to live with a stranger, someone I didn’t know and couldn’t lean on when things got difficult. This had not been the plan. I didn’t want any of this.
If I had been older and wiser and done more therapy, perhaps I would have taken some time to mourn that life I wouldn’t have, and then I would have picked myself up and remembered that life can’t be controlled, and I would have kept on going. But at 21, the realization that plans could go awry in ways you never expected, that I was not in full control of my life or the path I was on? That sent me into a full on existential crisis. I was having panic attacks and night terrors, which hadn’t happened to me since high school. I was living at home in my mom’s house, unemployed and utterly terrified.
So I made a decision. If the first plan hadn’t worked, that was because it hadn’t been a good enough plan. I would make another plan, one with fewer risks, and one that involved only me. I wouldn’t rely on anyone else who could pull the rug out from under me at the last minute. I thought about the last time I had felt safe and happy, and remembered it had been when I was in school. So I decided I would go back to school. I had graduated with a degree in drama, but I knew grad school for acting could be unpredictable and risky, so I didn’t want to go with that. I needed something I could count on. I knew I was good at tests and I was a good reader and a good writer and a decent speaker. And I had heard a million people say over the years that if you graduated with a degree in arts or humanities and found yourself unemployable, at least you could always go back to law school. So that’s what I did. I had a new plan: I would go to law school, I would graduate, and then…I didn’t know. Did I want to be a lawyer? Not particularly, but it seemed responsible and low-risk, and anyhow, it would take three years. Three years of a plan seemed better than nothing. I got into a law school in San Diego just a few miles from my childhood home. I got a scholarship, even. Things seemed to be back on track. The plan was working. I was safe again, and my anxiety calmed down.
I was supposed to start school in August. As I remember it, the panic attacks started up again in July. All I had ever wanted was to get out of my hometown and live a big life and do exciting things and now I had stuck myself with three years of school in a subject that, now that I thought about it, didn’t actually interest me, and I was spending money on a degree that wouldn’t take me anywhere I wanted to go? Why had I done that? What was I doing? I had nervous, nauseous conversations with my friends and parents, hashing out all my fears. But they reassured me that I would be fine, law school was a great opportunity, and I had gotten such a good scholarship. I should be grateful for that. If I didn’t want to be a lawyer, I could do something else, but I should get the degree first. So I pushed down my fears and I tamped down my uncertainties and I went to orientation, and I went to my classes and I powered through. And it felt safe, I guess. I was doing something that other people found impressive. I was making responsible choices. I had health insurance and a regular schedule and a track I was on. But I didn’t feel happy. I sat in my car sometimes, late at night, heart racing, palms sweating, too anxious to make myself walk into my house and act normally. I was having panic attacks a couple times a week, I was losing weight, I was crying all the time and I didn’t know why. One day, on my way to campus I pulled over and vomited on the side of the street, and that seemed like as good an omen as any to confirm that I was not happy here. It wasn’t just that it was hard (though it was) or that reading cases was emotionally taxing (though it really really was – I read about more child deaths in one semester of law school than I ever wanted to know about). I was always good at working hard. But I couldn’t work hard at something I didn’t love. And I didn’t love law school. I didn’t want to be there. I felt like I was putting myself on an unalterable path towards a life that would make me miserable. And that was scarier than anything else. So I dropped out after one semester. I finished finals and waited out the holidays and then I went in and signed the paperwork and left, against the advice of my parents and my friends and particularly the law school admin staff. But I knew I was right.
Now I was going to move on with my life the way I should have done when I found out I wasn’t moving to Chicago. I had gotten off track by acting on my emotions. I was going to go back and start over. I was going to be an actor, like I’d always wanted and like I’d always planned. And since there was no one for me in Chicago, I would move to Los Angeles, where so many of my classmates had settled. I got a part time job nannying and saved up money and started asking around to see if anyone knew of a place I could move into. But something unexpected happened once again to get in the way of my plan. I met a boy. And he was funny and kind and smart and loved dogs and looked a little like James Potter, and I had not planned on him at all. And I meant to stick to the plan. So I found a place in LA to sublet and I moved up there. And I lasted about two months. I missed my city and my friends from back home and I really really missed him. So, I gave up on the plan. I moved back home and I stayed with that boy and life kept playing out, in ways I expected and ways that I didn’t expect at all. I tried to stop thinking about my life as a series of steps in a plan, and instead just focus on what I was interested in and what I wanted to do next. And sometimes that’s amazing, and sometimes it’s terrible, and often it’s scary. My life doesn’t look the way I thought it would and it’s certainly not the life I originally planned. But I think I’m finally okay with that.
To read more of Kelly's writing, you can check out her blog here!
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