Life Doesn’t Have to Be What People Tell You It Is

Alison Preece’s short stories have appeared in The Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Thought Catalog and elsewhere. Stay tuned for her first novel about a tribe of Amazon warrior women in New York City. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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I was always the one making sensible choices. The only girl in a family of six, I would stare in open wonder as my brothers knocked teeth out during skateboard tricks, while I opted for reading books and penning journals in the shade.

Compounding this risk-adverse nature is my fierce independence—I was pushing my mom out the door on my first day of preschool, like I got this.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that I spent my 20s with my head down, building a career and bolstering my bank account. Oh sure, I had big dreams. I fantasized about being on Broadway, despite a lackluster singing voice and about as much rhythm as a rhino. I had some acting chops, enough to get into a prestigious conservancy in New York City at the age of 19, but I turned it down, adopting the mindset of my parents and relatives that the odds of success were too low.

Instead, I finished college. Then, after a year or so of restless searching, wanting to follow my heart but finding it oddly quiet on where it might want to go, I took an entry-level job in The Corporate World. I had always resisted that route, feeling I was much more of an artist than a businesswoman. But I knew the creative life was one of risk and uncertainty, and I dreaded the idea of crashing on couches or—gulp—borrowing money.

So I took the sensible office job. Despite the whitewashed walls and soul-sucking drudgery, it wasn’t so bad, really. I was using my brain in interesting ways, and meeting some pretty awesome people. (We won’t waste any ink on the terrible people.)

Sure, I had a dark cloud that followed me around, telling me I’d “sold out” and lamenting the fact that I no longer dreamt, no longer had a future that excited me. That’s just getting older, right? You put away childish whims to become a proper adult.

And anyway, the steady paychecks sure felt nice. As I watched the numbers in my bank account tick steadily upwards, I felt stable, protected. While some women found comfort in the steady arms of a boyfriend or the power of a killer mini-skirt, I sought it out in all things fiscally responsible. Retirement fund. Dental insurance. Year-end bonus. I wrapped these phrases around myself like giant cashmere sweaters, cooing in the comfort they afforded me.

Alas, it wasn’t enough. Ironically, I think all this stability is what gave me the confidence to seek a different way. As I became pro cient at Excel and mastered the fine art of panty hose, the drifting artist within me started to straighten her spine and speak up again, the wounds of old negligence and doubt having scabbed over, healed. I started doing theatre again, auditioning and getting roles—lead roles, even—in indie theatres around Manhattan. The magic of black box theatre, and, more acutely, of realizing my childhood dream of acting on New York City stages, seemed to have an awakening effect on my soul.

Suddenly, it all seemed so possible. My future became rife with avenues towards happiness and fulfillment, rather than relegated to mundane monotony. I was no longer steering mindlessly down the “easy” path laid before me. I regained a sense of ownership over my time, and my mental focus.

I started writing again—another one of those outlets that I loved and lost somewhere along the way. First, short stories. Then, I had an idea for a novel, about a rebel tribe of Amazon warrior women in New York City. Rather than let the idea float at the edges of my psyche like cotton candy trailing behind a kid at a carnival, I grabbed it. I held it close. I brought it into my inner most recesses to take seed, grow, and flourish. I couldn’t shrink my work hours but I skipped brunches and bar nights, instead researching, writing. I found the time in the nooks and crannies of my life, writing on the subway, brainstorming plot points during my morning runs, and watched with wonder as it expanded.

Breaks in my writing only occurred when I got another part in a play. Then I would really feel the squeeze, growing frustrated at the finite amount of hours in a day. The secure embrace of my sensible day job began to resemble a stranglehold. Gazing at my bank accounts and 401k—a practice which used to calm my nerves—started to provoke a different sort of mindset, nudging something deep within me.

Then, one Friday night I was groaning to my boyfriend about this particularly grueling week filled with work, rehearsals, and not enough writing.

He is a freelance writer, and has a resounding belief in my talents. He said it pained him to hear me so overextended and unhappy, and it occurred to me that I really was.

He was days away from a month-long trip to Thailand, where the cost of living is so low, and beaches so beautiful, and food so good—heaven for a creature-comfort writer. “If you join me, I’ll stay,” he said. “We could travel for months, years. You’ll have space to breath, away from the New York grind.”

We talked for hours and hours. Doubts and worries crept up; we dutifully addressed them all. By the end of the conversation, I knew this would be the next chapter of my life.

I spent the rest of the weekend verifying the pricing and lifestyle in South East Asia. Monday morning at 9 a.m., I gave my resignation.

I remember a little slogan that hung in my 8th grade classroom: “Life doesn’t have to be what people tell you it is.” My parents were upset at my decision. Some co-workers were aghast, and my best friend was nothing short of shocked. But I found that it didn’t really matter what they thought. I knew this was right for me, full stop.

We’ve been backpacking for two months now. I’m shopping my novel with publishers, and have begun work on the sequel. I still carefully watch my finances, and do sensible things like pay out of pocket for insurance. But the real comfort comes from knowing I’m actively building a life aligned with my goals and values. I’m doing it all on my dime, and every minute of my day is dedicated to manifesting my dreams. Above all, I truly trust myself and believe I’m building a future worth living.

And there’s no greater sense of security than that.