Woah. It’s been a hell of a year – 2021. I need to get myself to write one of these self-validating or self-discovery posts for 2020 but that’s an entire bucket of worms I’m not yet ready to open. One thing is for sure, in 2021 I was left cleaning up the mess 2020 left behind, and then some.
This year, was a whole new chapter of self-discovery. I thought I was done with that work in 2017-2018. I had done a lot of self-growth then and grew into my skin. I just didn’t expect that skin to grow old and begin to shed, needing me to grow a new set of skin. All of this sounds weird, I’m picturing a snake or other amphibian that sheds their skin, and I’m not liking the image, but I’m also okay with it. One thing is for sure, snakes are everywhere. And I guess I’m one too. A shedding snake.
After 2020 left me feeling raw and new, I set onto a new challenge when I decided to move back home from living abroad in China. To be honest, my time in China was amazing and then it wasn’t. My core foundation was challenged and dismantled into loose rocks and dirt that walking on it never felt safe again. It reminds me of that hiking trip on the ruins of the old Great Wall, not the new and rebuilt touristy section, but the old, worn, and torn part that doesn’t get much or any action from visitors. That was me as I moved back home. Only I pretended to be the new part, rebuilt and fresh, ready to host visitors and accept tourists. I was “okay”.
I spent the first half of my return in 2021 learning how to be again in old spaces. Technically, how to fake it in spaces and around people that knew me before my foundation cracked. So I tended to pretend I knew how to walk when I was internally tripping all over the place and nearly falling to my unspoken fate each “confident” step I took.
Side note: if you fell while hiking the old Great Wall, you would roll down the high mountain, most likely break a few bones and possibly die. No cell service, no near town or shop. In the middle of nowhere essentially. Cries never to be heard. Very dramatic I know but it is a crazy experience. I still would recommend it.
Verdict: it did not go well. The pretending. I had no patience for myself let alone anyone who challenged me or asked a simple question. That means every time my parents would question my future – what are you going to do now? Why don’t you do this, do that? – I would lose it. Because I felt like I knew what I wanted to do but the trail to get there was not ready. It was broken, I was broken and so I had a lot of work to do but didn’t want to share any of that. I fought so hard to pretend to still be the same old me that they knew years ago. When I came back from Korea I was glowing, this time it wasn’t so honey-like. But I could never let anyone know. So, I faked my death and pretended I was still alive, the same quirky, glowy, and confidently wild Natalie everyone knew and loved.
My first week back I saw a new therapist. This was my second time around seeking therapy. The last one was good but I was too broken and too out of place with myself that nothing that was being said sat well and to be frank, I didn’t want to deal with it. I was still heavy in the rut and it was all too heavy to begin doing any of the liftings.
She, my new therapist, was amazing. Is amazing. I continue to see her, every week and have been for the past 9 months. With her help, I am working on clearing out the loose, unusable rocks and pebbles on my road and beginning to gather new material needed to rebuild it. I learned how to engage with people while in this state, learned how to stand up for myself, again, and this time stick to it. Learned how to not be afraid of potential “undesired” outcomes. And currently, I am working on building my boundaries and claiming them, something I lost back in 2020 and never really had a good grip on before then. My relationship with myself has been in the polishing process “which will never be perfect anyway” and I’m learning one great piece of this never-ending puzzle. Self-Validation.
You see, this past year, 2021, I’ve been focusing on reshaping my career. I started school again in mid-2020, this time in a Master’s program that honestly is bringing everything home to me. It’s called Humane Education and it’s this and so much more. It’s the answer I’ve been looking for since I first started looking for a Master’s program back in 2017. After 2 failed attempts and about 400 dollars down the drain in failed application submissions, I found my holy grail.
I planned to move back and focus on these studies – full-time while choosing not to work so that I can dedicate all my energy to learning and cultivating. I had worked full time and studied part-time while I lived in China and it just wasn’t working for the learning’s sake. So, I saved enough to sustain myself for the remainder of 2021, back home.
During mid-year, while I’m studying and “working from home” as I set myself to do, the questions began to roll in. “Are you working? What are you doing now? Have you found a job yet? What are you going to do next? You should do this? You should do that? I think it would be best if you do this?” and it goes on and on and on for months to follow. I didn’t realize it then, but this was the beginning of a new plummet. I didn’t keep in mind the way I would feel combating and validating myself and my choices to others. We live in a go-go type of world and if you’re not doing something everyone else is – working for money – then it’s an open invitation to interrogate. It’s just not the norm so the questionable thoughts roll in, “if it’s not the norm then what the hell is it? And what does it look like? And well, what’s your plan, still!?”
This is not to say that I haven’t been “working”. I work every day. I study full time, I volunteer part-time with a start-up non-profit. I write articles every month and help with media campaigns and now I’m building a curriculum and writing my first book. Yes, it’s all unpaid at the moment. But I like to think of it as working for my self. This year I’m planting seeds, watering seeds, picking out the dry leaves (premature ideas), and finding plant food to enrich my soils.
The only thing is, I didn’t see it this way until a few short weeks ago with the help of my therapist. I realized that I was beginning to feel inadequate in the social and cultural spaces that surround me. Everywhere I looked I saw people going to work, coming from work, talking about work, and most obvious, spending their hard-earned money. And well, I forgot why I was doing what I was doing. I’d see friends leave jobs and find new jobs rather quickly while I was still here, not obtaining a “real” job.
The reality is, I’m still not finished with my degree. I need a little less than a year to complete and in that time I still don’t want to be caught up with work because this degree is very valuable to me. Not only is its value a lot of dough $$ but the learning experiences within them are priceless. I’m slowly learning to accept this plan and goal that I’ve set up for myself. I have the privilege of great savings meant for this specific time in my life and family and a partner who help support me in other ways. It’s a luxury to take time off to self-prepare for the future and I need to remember not to feel guilty about not matching my lifestyle with those around me.
After countless back and forths and talks, I’m choosing to stick to this: only you can validate your dreams, goals, accomplishments, etc. Do not compare your own goals to others’. If today you woke up and showered and that’s a huge accomplishment for you then, celebrate! Don’t feel inadequate because others shower every morning with little to no struggle.
For me – if I am working and not earning money I must validate that goal because it’s my goal and I’m taking this time to work on other things important to me and my future. Like my mental and emotional health, my studies, my career, my passions. I’m cultivating who I want to become so that I can harvest things that will make me happy and sprinkle positive influences wherever I choose to go in the world, a little more prepared this time.
And that is okay.