I received my bachelor’s degree when I was 23 and, at that time, the world seemed like it was mine for the taking. The feeling lasted seventeen days before the shine wore off. I lived in Toronto and there weren’t a lot of jobs in my field. I sent out countless resumes but couldn’t catch a break, and it made me feel stuck. Stagnant. I’d spent 12 months juggling night classes and various jobs to cover student loans and tuition.
Copyeditor. Bartender. Administrative assistant. Hostess. HR analyst. None of these jobs inspired me (although the bartending gig remains one of my most memorable). Tired of splitting my time between a studio in East York and my father’s place in Little India, I was unfulfilled and burnt out. During that period, I retreated to a daydream-state where I lived out alternate versions of this life, whiling away hours thinking about what I would do once things were different.
Part of my problem was thinking of existence as an architectural sketch—if you’re erecting a building you need to make sure the foundation is sound before construction begins. I stalled when making decisions because one choice ruled out a dozen others. When I wasn’t busy agonizing over that I let fear punch me into submission because I was certain I couldn’t act unless conditions were perfect.
I was confused because I thought my ambitions were the problem. It took me a while to figure out they weren’t. I was stuck because I clung to a storyline that wasn’t mine plus an accompanying timeline of when all the things should unfold. The A to Z trajectory included securing an interesting 9 to 5 in a progressive company by 25, and a series of promotions by 29. I’d marry and have kids by 30. At 40 I’d be made Director, and by 56 I’d be able to consider early retirement. At 62 I’d be spending the bone-chilling Canadian winters in a second home on some Caribbean island.
What a joke! I think about my youthful objectives and pat my younger self on the head with kindness and amusement. That 23-year-old had big ideas but really no clue. Like many of us, she was unaware that life is a wavelength and not a bell curve.Period. Every journey, each new chapter, is filled with ups and downs. Situations that will test us until we think we’re about to break into a thousand little pieces. And when those hard times pass we get to enjoy a few moments in the sun before a new storm moves in from the northwest, and the cycle begins again.
I thought about younger me after a dear friend, inadvertently, pointed out how I have come full circle. She started by referring to boxing but brought the analogy around to other things. Listening to her made me realize how much road I have, in fact, travelled. It also brought to light the fact that I’ve spent close to a year loitering around the junction of Fear and Procrastination.
Stuck in a “waiting place” of Dr. Seuss proportions, I’ve been afraid to take a step forward because it might mean being pushed five back. I know I need to shake things up but have fallen into the trap of overthinking and believing I need to go back to the drawing board to tweak my sketch. At least it’s different this time around because I know better. Mind you, that doesn’t make things easier.
I still itch to make plans for the plans I have planned or to talk, ad infinitum, about what I want to do instead of putting myself out there, taking the hits, and just damn well doing it.
See, getting out of stagnant cycles takes some doing. It calls for fumbling around in the dark where the territory is unfamiliar and things don’t make sense. That is why I still make time to run, do yoga, invest in strength training, and haven’t hung boxing out to dry…just yet. If I’m moving in some way there’s a chance it will prevent me from being a deer stuck in the proverbial headlights. At some point, I’ll be inspired to make broader, much-needed, life-altering changes.
I started running at 26, got on the yoga mat at 31, and allowed boxing to enter the picture at 38. It’s ironic how each one shifted my trajectory and saved me during some of the most challenging times of my life. What I pick up while logging kilometres on the road makes sense in the boardroom. The things I learn when eating punches and gasping for air translate into lessons I apply outside of the ring.
And while I sometimes miss the abandon and uninformed innocence of my 20s, I don’t yearn for all the other shit that came with those years. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back in time and do it over again. I actually find it comforting that many of the feelings, doubts, and questions that crop up now are similar to the ones 20-something me managed to face. If that girl was able to get a grip given her limited resources, imagine what she can do now.
I’ll be fine as long as I keep moving. Stop adhering your standards. Keep rolling with the punches. Complete the circle. Take up space.