"What are you willing to give up, even if you love it, to live the life you keep saying you want?"
Up until the very seconds before hearing this question, my life had been a hurried attempt to keep everything--the pressing list of responsibilities given to and taken up by me and the insatiable list of dreams I had passionately crafted--afloat. Teacher, coach, adviser, PR person and the multitude of other hats I wore were taking a toll on me. Individually, I loved each job. Together, it was chaos. The effort I expelled daily to keep it all from crashing disastrously to the floor was exhausting; even more, not one item on either list was thriving, and I was a mishap away from drowning.
There was only one way I could think of to suppress the growing sense of distress filling up each day: run away. So run I did. I applied for a grant to attend a writing conference put on by my mentor and hero Elizabeth Gilbert in Napa, California, and somehow my plea won over those in charge. I left to find some peace, but I came home with so much more.
On Friday, I was teaching classes at my local high school in small town Indiana, and on Saturday, I was sitting in an audience of 300 when Elizabeth Gilbert challenged us with the quote that now is the basis of all my major decisions. "What are you willing to give up, even if you love it, to live the life you keep saying you want?" The breath was knocked out of me and tears fell from my eyes. I was sitting in a room full of writers and was listening to the one I consider the greatest of my generation. I ached to be a part of that coveted group; that was the life I wanted. I spent any time I could muster up in Barnes and Noble writing away about anything that so much as sparked an interest to me. It was one of my dreams, but I could not give it the time nor attention it deserved because I was running around in circles making sure that all my responsibilities were still afloat, but now every excuse I had made as to why I needed to do everything was instantly thrown out the window.
The truth is that I had kept my dreams safely guarded by all of my responsibilities. It was much easier to say I had too much to do rather than to rid myself of obligations and chase after my goals with the likelihood of being met apathetically by failure. It's a tale too often told, but it was one that had demolished my courage and spirit. For years, I paraded around claiming I wanted this incredible life, but I rigged it so that I could always chicken out by having "no time." The jig was up, and I found myself in California completely drained and desperate to let go of the game I played to stay safe and small.
One sentence knocked down the deceivingly empty life I had built and left me looking around, nothing guarding or holding me back. Up until that moment, I don't think I was ready to hear that message. I needed to be face down on the floor before I could hear what I needed to hear. I also truly believe that I needed to hear it from Liz Gilbert, someone whose words and passion for life and writing show me that I'm not alone. It felt like someone pressed stop on the autopilot I turned on every morning when I woke up, and now I finally had control of where and what I would be doing with my precious gift of time. Life was finally beating in my heart again.
The entire workshop was something straight out of a movie, but when the door swung open to my Indiana apartment a mere 12 hours later, there was nothing in my mind but that question. I plucked my signed copy of Gilbert's latest book out of my bag as I fired up my computer. Exhausted but full of sparkle, I typed out a letter of resignation, cutting the tie to something I passionately loved but had to give up if I wanted chose courage and fight for my goals. I would no longer be Coach Parker, a title I had held from the moment I started teaching and enjoyed immensely. However difficult walking away from this responsibility was going to be, it would forever pale in comparison to living a life with my dreams on the shelf inscribed with "Someday, maybe."
What was I willing to give up, even if I loved it, to live the life I kept saying I wanted? Finally, I knew, without question, what my answer was: everything.