We are hardest on ourselves. This is especially true when we’re living in that uncomfortable space between where we came from and where we are going. This is the space where we feel burdened by the tension between all the things we should do and the things our hearts really desire. Sometimes the mere idea of change brings with it an array of fears, but on the other side of that change is where freedom waits.
From a very young age, I was forced to learn how to survive. I learned how to fight through the pain and how to build walls around my heart. I learned how to hide my brokenness from the rest of the world and how to exude perfection in the face of destruction. I saw it as my responsibility to hold my family together, to save my mother, and to protect my younger brother. I told myself that I was strong enough to do it alone.
When I graduated from high school, this will to survive gave me a new identity: the girl who always leaves. At the time, I couldn’t find anyone who could understand my pain at home, so I decided to go places where I knew my pain would be understood. I needed to go places where I could leave behind my relationship with my mother, my broken childhood, and my cynical outlook on love. In these places, I was free. I was alive. In South Africa, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and Barbados, I met people who replenished the love and grace that was drained from me when I returned home. The catch, however, was that I could only seem to stay in these places long enough for me to love those people. I never stayed long enough for them to recognize the brokenness and need for love in me.
However, when I was 23, things changed for me. I found myself wishing I had a place to call home. Still, what would happen if I refused to live up to the idea that other people had of me? I couldn’t imagine anyone understanding that, despite the years I had spent focusing on my work, all I really wanted was to go home and have a family. I was ready to be loved, but I didn’t know how to say it. I thought turning down another contract overseas would make me a failure.
Year after year, I found myself searching for the courage to tell the world that I wanted to put roots down. I wanted to start over – I wanted to stay – but I felt like I would be letting everyone down if I did. I was so afraid of what everyone else would think that I couldn’t let myself press the reset button. I was afraid my friends who were used to me missing their important events would reject my constant presence. I was afraid my mentors would see my change of heart as giving up because the work was too hard. I was afraid my family would think of my experiences and education as a waste of time if I switched paths now. I just kept praying someone would just whisper to me, “It is OK to stop running and stay right here. No one will think any less of you. No one will love you any less.”
When I finally let down my walls and was honest with myself about what I wanted, I realized it wasn’t up to anyone else to give me permission to go get it. I needed to give that permission to myself; only I could give myself the permission to press the reset button. I had to accept that people change and that change isn’t always bad. I needed to accept that we all deserve a clean slate. We deserve to shut doors that no longer make us feel alive and open new ones that give us inspiration. We deserve to leave behind the people who won’t allow us to grow, and we deserve to hold on to the people who will love us no matter where our journeys lead. We deserve new dreams, new goals, and new hopes if we want them. We were made for change.
For me, that meant trading my passport for a collection of deep relationships. I wanted to give up my travel stories in favor of stories of best friends’ weddings and baby showers. I wanted these changes not because my life before was wrong but because it was no longer what I wanted. I no longer felt complete from leaving.
I will never regret facing my fears and pressing that reset button. It is where I found freedom, hope, and uninhibited possibilities. I started over by taking one conscious step at a time, by pursuing the things that brought lightness into my heart. I closed doors on people who couldn’t see me as anything other than what I used to be. I started making good friends and family a priority. I started looking for opportunities that would allow me to put down roots while pursuing my passion. I realized how incredibly important it is to be brave enough to follow the yearnings in our hearts and to be bold in taking a different path. I realized how important it is to be courageous in saying no to the things everyone expected us to do. I hope you find that same courage, too. I hope you click your reset button when you need to, and I hope you find the freedom to live the life your own heart desires.