Writing does not come natural for me. I am a lifelong reader and consider myself to be articulate and an excellent listener, but not a writer. As women, we are our harshest critics and do not have the gift of focusing on our attributes. As a child, I was painfully shy and did not have the best home life … although you would never know it as our family was the master of making everything look good from the outside. That is a topic for another blog and one I am not yet ready to write. In my Junior year of high school, when my mother and step father decided that they were moving to El Salvador to teach and that I was graduating a year early from high school and coming with them, my life changed. It was a month before we were to move and I made the monumental decision that I was not going. Now I was 17 years old, still painfully shy and very afraid of my parents (especially my step father) … this was back when kids were actually afraid of their parents. I had only a part time job and no other resources but I mustered up all my courage and informed my mother of my choice. Obviously, this did not go well, but after several days of yelling, screaming, and threatening my life … I held firm and they agreed. The conditions were that I was completely cut off after graduation the following month and if I wanted to stay I would be on my own.
This was the start of my evolution as a risk taker. I thought that this was my only chance to become the person that I really wanted to be and take on the world … cue the empowerment music! I graduated from high school (no, my parents did not come back for graduation), rented a seedy apartment for $150 per month (well it was 1987), worked full time, got accepted to college and somehow scraped together enough in scholarships and financial aid as an emancipated student to pay for it. This was also my first venture into failing BIG and there was no one to step in and help out. I made every bad choice … the wrong friends, drinking, men (well boys anyway), and spending money I didn’t have … you name it. When you are 17 with your own apartment and no parents, it doesn’t take long for the word to spread and the party people to show up.
Fortunately, by the time college started in the fall, I was pretty much done with the bad influences and ready for the big reinvention. This painfully shy girl pushed herself to become involved with all the things that she didn’t do in high school. I joined clubs, went to activities, and became involved in student government, eventually serving as student body president. I completely enjoyed college and made lifelong friends. I still made plenty of mistakes and bad choices, but that is what growing up is all about.
Like me, I think we can all look back at our lives and see one moment that changed the course of our future selves. We are all braver than we think and risks come in all sizes and shapes. Women are different than men in wonderful ways, but we do not give ourselves credit for the courage that we exude every day. We need to take stock in the risks that have been taken and how they have shaped your life. I am a firm believer in the fact that everything happens for a reason and that God places the right people in your life just when you need them the most.
As I think back over my life, I am reminded that …
*became emancipated at 17, many years younger than most,
*decided not to go to graduate school and instead moved in with my future husband (who I later divorced after 10 years realizing that we were better friends than spouses,
*Found out at 36 that I was going to be a single Mom … whoops, how did that happen!!,
*Picked up and moved to Illinois from Montana to follow a man that I thought I loved,
*Accepted many positions and responsibilities within community organizations and in my career that I love and have worked hard at,
*And most recently, left a position where I had gotten way too comfortable in and started over in another company with many more responsibilities and challenges.
Where has all this risk taking gotten me you may be asking? Well, I am still not friends with my ex-husband but that is OK as that is his decision. I have an amazing 11 year old daughter, Aspen, who is the most important thing in my life. Being a mother is the hardest job I have ever had, but also the most rewarding, and if we can just get through the next 8-10 years without killing each other, I hope we will be good friends. Still haven’t found the right guy, but that’s ok … maybe someday. I love the organizations that I belong to and will continue to take on responsibilities as they are offered and do the very best job I can. I have made some amazing friends that I cherish. After being in my new position for six months, I miss my old clients, but this risk taking has resulted in a fabulous opportunity and a wonderful continuation of my career.
I hope that you will continue to embrace risk taking and do not be afraid to fail BIG. That big fail just might lead you to something wonderful. Be a lifelong learner and seeker. Continue to take chances professionally and personally. Have your dreams and strive towards them, but have goals that you can achieve every day to keep you going. Keep track of where you are at and where you have been and you will be amazed at what you have accomplished and all the wonderful things you can continue to do.
By: Heather Gottfried