The Conversation that Changed My Life
A few sentences from a friend made me rethink my whole life. Then I made an instant decision. I never looked back.
Twelve more cents and I could have had dinner (which would have consisted of an ice cream sandwich from the convenience store across the street.) I had looked all over my side of the low-rent, old house I lived in with my roommate, who always had food in the refrigerator. I was so tired of struggling. And it was my own fault.
This is the story of a day when a conversation changed my life.
I was wallowing in self-defeat. Over the last five years, since graduating high school, I had started at six different universities, satellite locations, and community colleges. That time in my life is a bit of a blur, but as I remember, I started at Ohio State, then went to University of Cincinnati, Sinclair Community College, Miami University Middletown, Franklin University, and back to Ohio State. I worked at Denny's, a tanning salon, I was a cocktail waitress, and finally got a great job at Ohio State University Hospital.
I was working my butt off to pay rent, tuition, books, and food, but it wasn’t working. I would go to the first class, get the syllabus, and then I wouldn't appear again for weeks. When I could get myself to go to class, it was like walking into a party that had been going on for hours. Obviously, I had no idea what was going on in any class. How could I? The professors would be talking about a midterm (that I hadn't taken) or a project (that I wasn't working on). It was a nightmare, yet I kept doing it. I literally wouldn’t do the work because I was determined to fail. But I didn’t understand this at the time.
Since I knew I was of no value, why should anyone else see value in me?
I didn't make many friends, except my last stint at Ohio State. You have to involve yourself in class–and in life–in order to meet people. The friends I did have, had no idea how I was feeling. I was good at putting on a happy face.
To this day, I don't understand why I just didn't stop trying to go to school until I was ready. It was like proving to myself over and over that I wasn't worthy of success in any way. I had left my brothers and I was going to see to it that I suffered. And did I ever. My heart was broken. It was torture. I am quite lucky that I never drank or did any drugs, or I probably wouldn't be here to tell this lovely tale. My "parent" mentality wouldn't allow me to feel out of control. But I WAS out of control, and desperately terrified.
When anyone asked me how things were going, I always said "fine," and they would move on. I didn't harbor any anger toward anyone during this time, or after. It was all on me, and since I knew I was of no value, why should anyone else see value in me?
I jumped from school to school thinking that when I found the "right" place, that I would just spontaneously start doing better. I would stop the self-sabotage. But what wasn't right was me.
But what wasn't right was ME.
In high school, I had a role. I knew who I was, Now, I couldn’t find my footing. Our family struggled through my parents' crumbling relationship starting around 8th or 9th grade, culminating in their divorce when I was 17. After that, things got worse. My dad was really not around at all, nor did he give us help. Neither of them were able to be very present for us, so I took over a parenting role the best I could. This meant missing most of my social life, but I don't remember minding that part at all. I had many friends, and I was in band ( I know, nerd alert, but hey! We were super cool and I adored my band buddies). My two brothers were four and eight and a half years younger, and the three of us were home while my mom worked and tried to find herself.
After high school graduation, I was expected to just go off to college, and pick up my life. I went, but there was no "picking up." There was quite a slide into a depression (I see now–at the time I just thought I was a loser). I sabotaged everything wherever I went, whatever I "tried" to do. Years and years of worrying about my brothers and not being able to worry about myself put me in a terrible place.
One beautiful early September afternoon, my friend and I were sitting at Zantigo's
on North High Street near Ohio State. I had gotten paid, and having paid my rent and utilities, I was splurging on 2 bean burritos. I sat there on the patio in the sunshine. It was the end of summer, and the days were getting crisper. The sun on my face felt warm and comforting.
I said: “Man, I wish I were somewhere else.”
He said: “Why aren’t you?”
I laughed and said: “Yeah, I know, right?”
Then he said “You know, I’m serious, Teri. I watch you ask people what they are passionate about and encouraging them–hell–-challenging them to go for it. You tell them things like: Someone’s going to do it, why not you? But you…you are lost. Why don’t you use that motivating speech on yourself? So, Teri, why not YOU?”
After my friend issued the challenge, I got very quiet. I sat there thinking about my last years and how I was wasting my youth in a loop that was a downward spiral with no way to stop it.
I have no money, I thought. How can I POSSIBLY go somewhere else?? I keep working my butt off to pay tuition, but then I don’t even go to class. I have no motivation to succeed. I want to help my younger brothers. That’s where I should be. But my parents expect me to just move on, after helping them parent when things in our lives fell apart.
Someone's going to do it, why not you?
Within the next ten minutes, I decided to move to Paris. I had no money, and didn’t speak French, but it had to be a better situation. I would be too far to help my brothers, so that guilt would be off my back. At the very least, it would be an adventure.
I actually had a pretty good job at Ohio State University Hospital as a unit clerk in Labor and Delivery. It was the only place I thrived. I was smart, and the nurses and doctors depended on me.
I took every shift I could get, including double shifts. By mid-October, I had saved enough money to buy a one-way ticket (which I did), and live in a hostel for one month while I looked for an au pair job. After that, I would still have enough to buy a ticket home, and if I stayed beyond that point, I would be homeless and penniless. The amount I left with was around $300.
I put myself in a situation where I HAD to succeed. It was ON.
Six weeks after the conversation, I had put my few belongings in a friend’s basement, packed one bag, found a friend to sublet my side of our house, and I boarded a plane to Paris with absolutely no idea what I would do when I got there.
It was the best thing I ever did.
(And yes, more on this to come...)
I would love to know...was there ever a time in your life when you just JUMPED? A time where you felt scared but took a chance? Please scroll down a few inches and comment!
Please share this story, especially with anyone who might be struggling.
And PS...the moral of the story is NOT to buy a one-way ticket. It is to STOP LYING about feeling "just fine." I'm happy with the way things turned out, but I never gave my family or friends a chance to help me. It could have turned out much differently.