At 31, I had to face the hard reality that my dreams of academia just weren’t going to happen. I’d applied twice to my one and only choice of school, heard ‘no’ twice and I was more than done. I had originally said that I would try three times in the spirit of my favourite sport, baseball. But after the second rejection I knew it was over.
I spent the next few weeks (not months, thankfully, like the first time) in a dark funk, wondering if anything in life would ever excite me again, and if I’d ever have a goal I yearned for so deeply.
When I was rejected the first time I checked out for months. It was all I could do to just get myself to the next application and get to a place where I knew I’d be happy.
In the meantime I was taking Oprah’s advice about finding happiness through journal writing. It was the only thing I could think of to do so that I wasn’t swallowed up by my shame and dejection.
And, turns out, journalling was the only thing that brought me joy – and that’s not even really an over-dramatization.
After being told that I was basically banned from having the life that I had always dreamed of, I was left in limbo. I couldn’t look back at the previous eight years that I had spent in preparation for going to grad school. It was too painful and I was too full of shame at my stupidity and naiveté.
But I couldn’t look forward either. Every time I tried to imagine a new goal or a new possible life, I saw nothing – the future was dark and closed off. Even imagining who I could talk to about it the next day was too far off in the future to plan. And why make a plan when the Universe could just deny you it anyway?
But my journal could just be about the present. I wrote a lot of fragments until I got going. Here’s one of my first complete entries that, at the time, I was pretty proud of:
It feels weird to write again. Hope I can do it again tomorrow.
And my second entry, which I think really shows how obsessed I was with the present:
Right now I feel like a giant loser. Right now I’m 30-years-old with no future. Right now I wonder if others feel like me. Right now I wish I knew what a real grown-up would do.
And eventually one, two, lines turned into three and six lines and I was on my way to writing myself to the happiness that Oprah promised.
Over that year I just kept exploring the questions that started in that second entry:
What does it mean to be over 30?
What are we expected to know as grown-ups?
How are we expected to act and react?
How much money should i have in the bank?
When should I have children and how many do I need?
Am I the only one wondering these things?
Am I the only one who doesn’t know the protocol?
After a year of journalling and working on my new application I applied to grad school for the second time. Then,on my 31st birthday I got my second rejection letter.
But this time was slightly different.
I now had explored my desires much more. I had questioned the Universe and my path and I had made peace with being rejected. I was even a little bit sure that I would be okay without graduate school now because I was more sure of my place.
Journalling led me to remember that I loved writing and it’s what attracted me to teaching and academia in the first place. And after that second rejection letter came I knew it even more. And I was starting to already face the scary truth: I didn’t really want to go to grad school.
I really just wanted to write and research and teach. That’s what I was attracted to. And when I got right down to it I had no desire to memorize a bunch of historical facts, write grant proposals or journal articles and then stress about the application process for all those things. I was super-done with that.
I just wanted to write and research and teach.
And then, one day while I was writing out my goals, I realized I was already doing that. And for the first time in over a year, I really laughed at myself. Like really laughed.
And even though I knew I was doing it, I figured I could do everything more or harder. I wanted to commit to being a writer.
So I Googled “How to be a writer,” and Google said, “To get established as a writer, you should have a blog.”
So I got a blog.
But what should I write about?
Hmmm… Well, how about all that journal crap you’ve been doing this past year? Maybe you could answer your own questions about being in your thirties and see if anyone else out there feels the same.
And now, here we are.
It’s been three years since I began writing and reaching out to all of you and it’s been amazing. As you may or may not know, my blog has turned into a coaching business and has given me the opportunity to speak about self-development and the trials and tribulations of adulthood to people one on one, in online summits and at live events.
I’m so grateful for all of you that read and share and email me your thoughts. I’m so thankful to my clients that took a chance and did the work to prove that coaching through this perspective really works.
I love when you leave comments and keep the conversation going because that’s what this is all about – a conversation about where we all are and how we can help each other.
It’s not just me and my journal anymore and so I always love to hear what’s going on with you!
Last week I posted a revised version of my first post that was about where I was at 30. I’d love to hear more stories about where we all were, what we were thinking, doing, expecting when we “crossed over”. Did you freak out or was it smooth sailing? I wanna hear it all.
And if you are journalling or thinking about it, I’d love to know how you’re doing. If you’d like more journalling tips, I’d be happy to share mine. Send me an email or DM on Facebook or Twitter.
And as always I ask that you please leave a comment either here or on the Facebook page and let’s keep the conversation going!
And if you’d ever like to chat about where you are and where you’re going, I’d love if you’d get in touch. Reach me at email@example.com and find out more about what I do now at my site ashewoodward.com.