Photo by Preston LittleThis taxing process began around the age of four. I prayed every morning and every night that God would shed some grace and allow me to be what I wanted most in life- a cat. My idea of euphoria. Whiskers, a tail, and napping on window sills were my ultimate end goal and truthfully, I didn’t think I was asking for too much. With the immense wisdom that comes alongside the passage of age four, I moved on from this. I wasn’t seeing any kind of immediate result and I guess that sort of metamorphosis would take more time than I had planned.

Back to the drawing board.

The much more mature, five year-old Haley moved on to an occupation more reasonable- a princess. If I couldn’t be a cat when I grew up, a princess would just have to do. I would desperately beg and pray and pray and beg that this one would work out. I’ve always had a lasting love affair with persistence. Persistence and I are in a long-term relationship it seems. But unfortunately, I had to cheat on persistence with reality. My sparkly, shiny, Lisa Frank senses told me it was time to close the curtain on this one.

Back to the drawing board.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” A grey old lady would bend down and ask me at Warehouse Discount Groceries or the mall or the McDonald’s line. Without hesitation, I would respond “Probably a shoe box designer or a rocket ship painter.” It was time to think outside the box. The reactions to this claim gave me verification that this chosen occupation was right for me. I was destined to do this. Each high-five was crystalline proof. My previous ideas were obviously too straightforward, so creativity wanted to have a turn. In my mind, I planned to climb to the top of a ladder and paint yellow flowers on the sides of NASA rockets. Like the ones I grew up seeing at the Space & Rocket Center. I wondered why something so grand shouldn’t be elaborately decorated. It just didn’t make sense to me. And shoe boxes. What’s up with those things? Shoe boxes everywhere were dying to catch a glimpse of my artistic expertise. But maybe something else.

Back to the drawing board.

Around the age of eight, I spent the majority of my time sketching outfits. Doodles of fur lined coats and lace-up boots filled my $4.99 composition notebooks. My friends would ask me to sketch them a personalized outfit they would wear on an imagined date. Or on stage performing at a concert. Or to a pool party. Fashion designer! That’s what I’ll do. I’ll move to New York or London and make it big. A reasonable request. Maybe this time I plucked my head from the clouds and my feet touched the floor. But alas, I realized that the other girls in my class were claiming things like optometrist, veterinarian, teacher, or nurse. My odd ambition was starting to get worrisome and foreign. I figured I should just put my ideas to rest for a bit.

Store the drawing board on the top shelf of the closet for a minute.

Marine biologist? News anchor? Psychiatrist? Dance instructor? I thought to myself Come on. You’re in 11th grade now. I became enormously aggravated that I couldn’t just stick to something more common and trusted. Why couldn’t I just be normal and stop pin-balling seemingly anomalous lifelong commitments around? Why do I have to continue to live in sheer ambiguity for 16 years now when the ticking of time isn’t getting any quieter? I was coming to terms with the fact that I was the word “confusion” personified in the flesh. My soul would secretly wince with every “I’m just-winging-it” casual, lighthearted, and joking response.

Dust off the drawing board, toss it in the backseat, and hit the road.

I was undecided for a while, but I felt comfort in being a member of an enclosed community of likeminded, addled 18 year-olds. Although I was technically undecided, my plan was law school. I wanted to major in Political Science and do something worthwhile, impactful, and raw. I whizzed through my general education courses so that I could begin my core classes. In this exciting, headfirst race towards the finish line. But this didn’t quiet feel right either. Public Relations? I love people. I don’t know. I love a lot of things, really. At this point, I felt as if I was constantly blindfolded. Spun around. And stopped. Haphazardly and frantically swinging a thick metal baseball bat left and right. Pounding and demanding and sweating for answers.

Hey, drawing board. Are you getting exhausted too?

I was beginning to slip into an unhealthy level of bleak apathy. I had no more energy left to give fuel to my confusion. Classes seemed aimless and unintentional. Until one day, it dawned on me. In this hazy grey fog, I had a monumental light bulb moment. In one of my required literature classes, one of my professors that I REALLY admire asked me if I’m majoring in English. Flattered, I responded with polite surprise and continued forth on my aimless journey. Amidst my overwhelming loss of determination, I remembered and returned to this sentiment. I met with my professor in her office in the English department and talked for two hours. I signed some obscure papers, made a class schedule completely immersed in literature and writing, and went home with a newfound fierceness. I felt like the North Star finally made itself evident as if it were in the darkness patiently waiting for me all along. Reading and writing have been the most underrated passions of mine. And now, they guide me. The idea of pursuing a life teeming with art and creativity and knowledge helped me escape from this version of myself that was undeniably unenthused, undetermined, and unMe.

Drawing board! Quick! Jot this one down in bold letters!

Albeit I was relieved, I became slightly apprehensive. Warning sign/red flag/concern: I answered to my friends, family, anyone, with subconscious timidness. Inside, I was bursting with fervor and uncharted ideas and self exploration and vibrant colors. But I was nervous to externalize this because of the fear of what people might think or say. That brief blank look proceeded with a polite answer is what made me so uneasy. I was certain that in their heads, they were thinking something along the lines of What even are you going to do with that? That’s a lot of work. Are you sure? I can sometimes get stuck between individualism and proving myself. This can raise complications. But with every “What are you studying?” and “What do you plan to do?”, I got more comfortable with the pause. I gained confidence with each recitation of my ambitions. Why? Because why not? I don’t think embarrassment and ambition should belong together. Shame has no right to loom over determination, aspiration, and passion. A much smaller, skinnier, knobby-kneed version of myself once responded in a steady voice, “A shoe box designer or a rocket ship painter”. It seems like such an embarrassing notion— to be on my own team. To be a cheerleader for myself. But if I could once confidently shout Hi here I am! and embrace my ambition with open, unapologetic arms, I surely can return to this. If I were to never receive another high-five in return, I could at least high-five myself. And that is enough.

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