This is a really exciting blog post to write. Today I spoke a phrase that I, so far, have only been brave enough to write. Speaking these words made them very real, and made me think and rethink everything that I have gone through, that both Jason and I have gone through, in the last two years. I’ll get to those words in a minute.
Two years ago, I was an elementary school teacher. That was my identity. I spent 50+ hours a week focused on my classroom and my kids. Even when I wasn’t working, I dreamt about my kids/school, I shopped for books and supplies to make their learning more fun and fruitful, and planned units and lessons to spark their brains and creativity. I loved my kids, each and every one, and thought about them all the time, especially the ones who came from “at-risk” home situations. This is what teachers do – whether you realize it or not, we live our jobs so much that they become who we are.
When I decided to leave teaching (thanks to the powers that be, not the kids), I didn’t even think about a new identity at first. It wasn’t until I started the next part of my journey that I felt somewhat hollow. My new identity, as a shop owner, brought with it a bucketful of new challenges. – many that I couldn’t have ever anticipated, and when it got right down to it, I didn’t enjoy this new identity. It didn’t fit, didn’t fill that hollow that needed filling up. At least not entirely.
When the shop closed, I had no identity. I shouldered a great deal of shame and regret and blame, and all of those horrible things became who I was. I had a great deal of support from Jason and friends and family, but it wasn’t enough.
As most of you know, we decided to move back to my hometown in Wisconsin last spring. As I reflect upon that, I believe that part of my motivation was to reclaim an identity that felt comfortable. Back in Milwaukee I can be a better daughter, and I can be a friend to people I have known for a very long time. When we moved home, I started to feel better almost immediately. I felt like I fit, and even on my worst day, at least I am home.
During that time I also decided to build a new identity for myself, and make no mistake, you do have to build it yourself. I started to work on my crafty endeavors more than ever before. Local crafty friends helped point me to shops and galleries to contact, and very quickly I was able to find a great shop to sell my jewelry and accessories. It wasn’t long before I was spending 8 hours at a stretch in my craft room. Hours would fly and I wouldn’t even notice. Jason would have to come in and remind me to eat and to go to bed at some point (like 2 AM). I realized that this was now my job. I was creating, people were buying what I made, and I was making a bit of money. Who knew?! And this has become my new identity, the words that I spoke today:
“I am a professional artist.”
And truly, to have gotten here, after everything we have been through, I no longer regret a thing because I know every decision got me here. Every hurdle I had to jump, every lesson that I learned, every tear, every moment when I thought I had hit rock bottom… they all got me here. And yup, it’s all been worth it.