The Test of Fire

For some reason, I’ve been seeing a lot of side-by-side success stories from people who I have admired for their openness and vulnerability. People have been posting extreme highs and lows at a point in time on their journey – photos of them with swollen eyes and splotchy faces as they wrap up a mental breakdown caused by a mishap in their life, sitting next to a picture of them with a toothy grin and gleaming eyes as they have accomplished some great feat. I would always look at these photos with an understanding that no goal is reached with ease and even the people who seemed to have it all have felt the most humane feelings: loss and failure. So, when I sat in my bed last night after only two days’ worth of an exhausting week with an uncontrollable fit of tears, I couldn’t help but think whether or not this was only a part of my own success story.

For a second, though, before I go on, I’m going to explain something:

I am, in every aspect of the word, a dreamer. Sometimes I think it’s my greatest quality, other times I think it’s my most detrimental quality. Regardless, it’s the most prominent thing about me. My mind runs a mile per minute, but it’s not always wandering frantically, worrying about this or that. Often times, it’s off in its own world thinking about the exciting “what-ifs” in life. But when it comes to dreams that mean a lot to me, not only will I seriously dream about them, but I will seriously pursue them. Whether it’s the travel I’ve done, the school I’m attending, or the job I’m trying to get, I have dreamt hardcore about making these things happen and you can bet that I didn’t stop until I made them happen. But you can also bet that while the accomplishments of each of these things were great, sometimes that fallbacks felt greater.

I say this because as I was sitting in my room looking like the before photo of a before and after success story, I knew that this was a feeling I had recognized: it was the feeling of walking through fire. It was the heat of a flame instilling the fear of failure into my mind, a fear that I had no idea how to work through. But I also knew that if my dream was serious, if it’s meant to be, then it’s golden. And as the Chinese proverb goes, “Real gold is not afraid of the test of fire.”

I think in so many parts of our lives we experience the test of fire. For me, I experience it most in regard to my goals and plans. For some, it may be experienced most in relationships or other personal circumstances. But I knew that no matter how I felt last night or any other time where I’ve felt lost or hopeless, I had no choice but to push deeper into the flame. I am confident that who I am and what I want at its very core is golden. While I may feel the heat every step of the way, and some parts of my life that were disguised as gold may melt away, I will ultimately walk out unscathed because the test of the fire is nothing compared to the grit in my heart.

The Moment My Life Changed

I remember specific moments where my life had changed. The minute I bought that plane ticket to go halfway across the world; the time I chased a dream despite the many obstacles in my way; the moment I kissed that boy knowing the only two possible outcomes were happiness or heartache. I knew. In every moment I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that life would never go according to plan, and no matter how much you try to bribe your way into a better outcome, the dice have already been rolled and there’s nothing you can do but play the cards you have. I knew that they were course-altering moments and if I were in a movie, they would be the scenes that can be identified by a change in music, forcing the audience to feel one way or another. I knew.

I knew that in all the emotions I could have felt in every moment that my life had changed, the only one that pounded its way across my head, knocking into my skull time and time again to make itself known, was fear. It wasn’t the type of fear that held me back – binded at the wrists and ready to succumb to the innevitable outcome that I had no choice but to follow. Nor was it the fear that boiled my blood and left adrenaline coursing through my veins like a drug that couldn’t be stopped. It was a different kind of fear. It was fear that caused my heart to pound just a beat too fast and my mind to quiet like the world around me as it focused only on the moment I was in. It was the feeling you get when you explore a new place on your own – afraid of what could happen but curious and thrilled at the possibilities ahead. It was the moment on the track just before the gun is shot; the intensity of the musician as the conductor lifts their arms; the readiness of the actor as the curtains open in front of them. In every moment there was fear, but it was the fear of the beginning that puts everything else into action. I knew.

I knew that this fear, while not blinding or adrenaline-inducing, was one I would come to know and love because it meant my life was moving forward. While I never knew if that direction was one that would end in a triumphant roar of the audience or a defeated fall on my knees, what I did know is that I would be better off because of it. The victory would inspire me to go even further while the defeat would teach me to hold my head a little higher.

I have learned not to be afraid of being afraid – an irony that took me more time to learn than I’d like to admit. My mind has been trained into understanding that the greatest type of fear is the one you feel just moments before a change; moments before you push past the comfort zone you once set for yourself and fly into a new territory that has been waiting to be explored by you. Because the only two reasons that you can be uncomfortable with where your life is at is because you’re either staying in your comfort zone where you don’t belong, or you’re pushing past it where you’re not used to. And I would rather feel the fear of moving forward than experience the loss of standing still, and this is something I know.

The Hardest Part

I have always had the mindset that getting started is the hardest part because that’s a cliche I’ve heard my entire life. But lately, as I feel my life slowing down, I’m starting to take on a different perspective.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been someone who’s had a difficult time “starting” things. More often than not, if I have an idea and I know what I want my outcome to be, getting started is pretty easy. Besides, beginning has always been much easier than mastering, but the path between the two is long and windy. With that being said, once the initial excitement that drove me to start fades away and life starts throwing in unexpected outcomes, that’s when things get difficult. That, to me, is the hardest part.

When I was in high school, my band director would always tell us “the devil is in the details.” She wouldn’t say this when we first got a piece and were learning the ropes, but rather, when we had spent months practicing and still had ways to go. Music wouldn’t be nearly as interesting if you didn’t have the details of crescendos and accents or any other musical elements. In life and everything we pursue, the devil is in the details as well. Just as the excitement of a new idea fades and the comfort of where we’re at sets in, the devil creeps around the corner to tell us there is nothing more that needs to be done. But just like those details in the music make it musical, it’s the details in life and our ideas that make them beautiful. 

Starting something is always easy once the “starting” actually begins. But like I said, it’s when the initial excitement fades into something normal and the ideas just become more paths to choose from that the “hardest part” kicks in. The reason getting started is easy is because our eyes are set on the big picture. But like my director said, the devil is in the details. So how do we move from the big picture to the details while still maintaining that level of thrill that pushed us forward to begin with?

To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that one out myself. I’m doing my best to keep my life – my goals and aspirations – from coming to a complete standstill only because I have failed to keep looking for the details, but that is easier said than done. My advice to you (and to myself) is to never stop digging for something more. Even when you think you have it all figured out and the picture is complete or the song is perfected, keep looking. I would be willing to bet that there’s something more – something better – that you have yet to discover.

If there is a devil hiding in the details, hunt that sucker down.

New Beginnings

When I was preparing to come home for the summer after my first year of college ended, I cried knowing things wouldn’t be the same next year.

When I was packing to move back in for my second year, my mom cried knowing that me leaving this time was different.

When I was talking to a friend after a week or two of being at school, she cried knowing things felt different.

The routine and steadiness of this past year became so comfortable that the new beginnings everyone was experiencing became overwhelming rather than exciting.

But the problem didn’t lie in the newness of what I was experiencing, it lay in the comfort of what I had experienced.

The overwhelming sense of “new” that was surrounding my life as I left home to go to college where nearly everything had changed from the year before had sent a shock to all my senses. While I was consciously aware that things were going to be different, it didn’t register until I actually felt the differences. But as I was in class writing a reflection of my week I realized that this shock to my senses was exactly what I needed to get out of the content mindset I was in.

There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable, but there is some danger in being content. I had gotten so comfortable in my way of life last year that I had also become content, not feeling the need for or even wanting change. So much so that when change happened I didn’t know how to respond.

But the new beginnings that are taking place in nearly every aspect of my life have served me well and reminded me not only to be careful about becoming content, but to appreciate change as well.

I know that with all the new things I am experiencing I will continue to grow into the person I want to be and learn each step of the way.

I hope you learn to appreciate and see the beauty in change as well.

Extremes

I’m not sure what’s in the air lately, but I have a lot of friends who are going through the most extreme parts of life and experiencing things in highs and lows with no middle ground. Be it marriage or heartbreak, love or loss, loneliness or fulfillment, everyone I know seems to be experiencing so much. Once is a coincidence. Twice is a coincidence. But three times is a pattern. And this summer seems to have a pattern of extreme emotions.

I love to listen to podcasts to hear what other people have to say about life. One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is called “Ladies Who Lunch” (LWL) and while they’re no longer recording anything, I still listen to their old episodes somewhat frequently. A few weeks ago while I was donating plasma I turned on one of their episodes in which they talked about moving on and letting go and, while they said a lot of really great things, there was one thing in particular that stood out to me. They got a letter from someone whose father had passed away less than a week before, and the person in the letter was asking how they can move on from the hurt they were feeling. LWL gave the typical responses of surrounding yourself with friends and family who love you, doing things to keep yourself busy, etc. But after giving all of those suggestions they stopped for a second to let the person know that it’s okay to simply feel, and something about that really resonated with me.

Throughout the summer as I’ve watched my friends go through all different emotions (or even experienced them myself) I’ve noticed how we’re always trying to move on to the next emotion. If we’re sad, we want to stop being sad and feel something else. If we’re happy, we’re questioning our happiness and anticipating something else. Very rarely (particularly in moments of negative emotions) do we just let ourselves feel. I think this lack of accepting our emotions is another byproduct of our need to constantly desire more. But I also think it’s time for that to change.

If you’re sad, be sad. Let yourself feel. Let yourself hurt. Go through the motions and roll with the punches. I’m not saying you should wallow in self pity and go about life feeling miserable forever, but what I am saying is that sometimes it’s harder to move on from an emotion if you don’t fully understand what you’re feeling. Get comfortable with the pain so you know how to work through it. When you break a bone, you don’t just ignore it and hope it works itself out. You straighten the bone and look at x-rays and wrap it up in bandages and casts which will be full of pain and annoyance but by doing this, you’re understanding the injury so you can enhance the healing. You have to allow yourself to feel your hurt to understand it, and once you understand it you can heal from it.

The same goes for positive emotions. Stop questioning the way you’re feeling. Stop thinking the higher you go, the further you fall. Stop falling in love only thinking about the potential heartbreak. Stop feeling joy only thinking about the potential sorrow. Let yourself feel good. Even if the worst thing happens, at least you were able to truly enjoy some of the best parts of life.

We need to stop fighting things. Time is always on your side and it will keep moving even when you think you can’t, so it’s high time you just roll with the punches and enjoy the ride.