Guess what? You’ll never be ready.
At one point in my life, if my mother had asked me if I would jump off a bridge if all my other friends were doing it, I would have said yes.
Actually I did just that. Literally. I was eighteen years old and found myself one hot sticky summer day in Livingston, Texas, gazing down with trepidation from about thirty feet above the murky water.
And I knew that I would never be ready. And I admit it, I was scared. How not?
There was talk of freaking snakes in that water, and no surprise there. I was in the Deep South after all, home to all kinds of unsavory wildlife.
Snakes were no exception.
All the boys had jumped, so that left three of us girls hovering on the edge of the bridge, hesitating as we surveyed the lake below. So after a round of chanting from our friends “Jump, jump, jump” because you know, everybody else was doing it, I waited for a slight distraction, took in an enormous gulp of air, and when nobody was looking, I just stepped off.
I still remember it felt more like sixty feet at the time as I braced myself for the inevitable rush of cold water all around me. And the possibility of alligators.
And it may very well have been one of the most terrifying and satisfactory things that I have ever done.
But you know what? I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Funny thing is, I already did, seven years ago. That was when my husband and I decided to finally take the plunge and move our little family across the country from Houston, Texas to Seattle, Washington, fulfilling a dream that we had both envisioned together.
So after waiting for seven years for my step-daughter to graduate from high school, we took off with her and our little boy, who was four at the time.
No Jobs, no relations. No clear idea for what we were going to do once we got there. Just an early cashed out 401k to fund our trip.
Boy we blew through that fast.
And you might ask, “Were you scared?” Hell yeah we were. And were we ready? To be honest, we realized early on in our marriage that we were never going to be ready.
But the mere idea for both of us of staying permanently in a town neither one of us could wait to get out of, we knew that it was something that we would have to do, ready or not.
Well, after seven years of planning and seven years of living here, I can’t help but ponder if we have made a success of our time up here.
But how do you define success? I think it’s different for each of us, but there seems to be a common thread.
We all want to feel free to live the life we choose for ourselves. And it’s that one quality, freedom, that I keep coming back to.
Do I have enough freedom to do what I want to do in my life to feel successful? Well, yes and no. Unlike when I lived in Houston, I feel free to step outside my house and I’m able to breathe in the Northwest air, always cool, even early in the morning on the very hottest days, and that’s something I don’t take for granted.
Not after living in Houston my whole life, where even as a kid I spent plenty of the summer enclosed in my house with the AC blasting in the low seventies to block the sweltering heat outside.
Even as a kid I sometimes felt like I would literally pass out when I first stepped outside before my body got accustomed to the oppressive jungle heat. “Africa hot,” my stepdad would always say.
So yes, I have freedom in that I can wake up in the morning and really enjoy the weather outside.
For me and my hubby, we love the cool,misty rain, watching the fog roll in, and basking in the glorious fall days before the rainy season settles in.
And then of course there’s all the gorgeous shoreline, and crystal clear lakes to swim in when it’s summer, and what a glorious summer it always is up here, too.
Because of our courage to move here, I have the freedom to love the place in which I now live, with the Cascades Mountain Range visible right out of my living room window.
But back to my question — do I feel like a success here in the Pacific Northwest? To be honest, not really. Not to say that I don’t absolutely love my life, because I certainly do.
But when I moved up here, I had planned on getting back into working for a school district again, maybe not going back into teaching necessarily, but perhaps as a para educator in a special education classroom. I used to teach severely autistic kids, after all, so I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.
And so about three months after we moved up here, I was already employed at two of the local school districts and proving myself as a substitute teacher. By that time we had spent a shocking $25,000 traveling across the country and into Canada over the course of two months, and then buying a car for my husband to get back and forth from whatever job he was going to have.
In the fall of 2012, for the first time in our lives, we found ourselves on food stamps, something I didn’t realize would ever happen to us. But it was just a chapter in our lives together and it sure saved us when my hubby was desperately trying to find work as a computer technician in a much more competitive market than Houston ever was.
For what felt like the longest time, the only work he could get was a service center desk job for deplorable pay, helping people troubleshoot their computer problems, while he searched for the “right” job, which to this day has still never really materialized. But eventually he did get a better job with much better pay, although we are still living paycheck to paycheck.
But at least we’re no longer on food stamps. I do consider that a success.
As for me, I’ve been a stay at home mom all over again after we we both got the surprise of our lives when I got pregnant with our daughter only six months after we moved. Still on food stamps at the time, I immediately joined WIC and was ever so grateful for government support from the state of Washington.
By then I was working as an assistant at a Montessori school, having decided that it would be a much more suitable place to work instead of the very physically demanding work of the special education classrooms.
Well, I had to quit that job about six months into my pregnancy because walking around on the hard floors every day was killing my back. I would go home every night and literally cry from the pain. And after my daughter was born, I never went back.
So in regards to feeling successful, I must say that it’s been a mixed bag. I accomplished my dream of living in the Pacific Northwest. And this may sound odd, after four years back in Texas of desperately wanting another baby, I feel from the bottom of my heart that I would never have gotten pregnant again if I hadn’t moved to the Seattle area.
It’s as if I was given this gift of another baby when I faced my fears, took the plunge, and embarked upon this crazy adventure.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m just healthier in this environment and that triggered the right things to happen to make another baby possible, late in my thirties.
Yet at the same time I feel like a total failure at this whole adulting thing.
You see, we have spent our entire fifteen years of marriage living paycheck to paycheck and we don’t have the freedom to go see our family in Texas or take vacations or realize other big plans that we have had all of these years. Finally I feel like I’m in a place where it’s time to change all of that.
I’ve been feeling nostalgic this Thanksgiving because it was our first major holiday that we celebrated without family when we moved up here. And I have to mention that I have a very large extended family in Houston.
And now seven years later, I feel so grateful for this experience, which has been full of more joy that we have realized our dream, yet more loneliness than I ever imagined away from all my family.
It’s been harder and yet more beautiful than I ever even thought possible. And we haven’t failed, not really, because we DID it. The question is — what are we going to do next?
And strangely, now that it’s been about twenty-five years since I’ve surreptitiously stepped off that bridge in Livingston, I find myself in the same situation, hypothetically speaking.
And if I close my eyes, I swear I can feel those boys chanting “Jump, jump, jump” just like all those years ago, and once again I know I’ll never be ready. Because when are we ever ready to embark upon new adventures in life?
For me it takes that surprising and frightening element, trust, to prompt me to finally step off that edge again. I just pray like crazy going down that the universe will be there to catch me.
I don’t know about you, but that’s a terrifying proposition to me. It means that I have to admit to myself that I really don’t have any real control over the future, I just have to take it on faith that I’m doing the right thing for my life at this moment, and then just go all in for it.
That I can do essentially whatever I want, if I could only figure out what I wanted to do.
So the real question isn’t whether or not I’ve been successful the last seven years. The real question is — what am I going to do with the next seven years? Because the world is wide open, it’s just a matter of finding the next bridge to jump off of.