Celebrate Get Gutsy Week January 19-23!
Getting gutsy is all about stepping outside your comfort zone to reach your goals and live a life that makes you truly happy. This post is my entry for Jessica Lawlor’s Get Gutsy Essay Contest. To get involved and share your own gutsy story, check out this post for contest details and download a free copy of the inspiring Get Gutsy ebook.
Entry Title: “Reflection on Twenty Years of Gutsy Moments”
I forget my age most days. At times my scatterbrain kicks in and I don’t remember that I am 36 years old. I also do not recall if I closed the garage, bought diapers or paid the gas bill.
On other occasions, I fail to remember my maturity on purpose. I go through periods where I feel stuck, unaccomplished or generally just down in the dumps. Thankfully I don’t allow myself to mope around for too long, a few days at maximum. Then snap! Somehow, some way, I pull myself out of the slump and find a new goal, challenge or purpose to help me get gutsy.
Thinking back to the last year somehow led me to way, way back, twenty years ago. As I reflect to my teenage years, I realize that I’ve actually been a gutsy girl since I was around sixteen. Well, perhaps it could go beyond that if it weren’t for my bad memory (or mommy brain as we mothers call it after having children). I have had some amazing, gutsy moments throughout school, finding love, career, personal challenges, writing and also pondering what’s ahead.
The School Years (1995 to 2000)
In high school, I was both the good gutsy girl (10th and 11th grade) and the bad gutsy girl (12th grade). I was in advanced classes and liked by most teachers. I studied hard and played hard among the popular and nerdy circles. I related to both and liked all of them. I tried out for student council and dance team, receiving positions on both. I joined yearbook and newspaper staff. I had a good time and performed well among my peers and family. Sometime around my senior year, however, I became rebellious. I went to a party on a school night. There I took my first sips of alcohol which led to way too many drinks, a horrible hangover, vomit in the middle of two classes the next day and missing an important football game. Later that same year I skipped school and was caught by the guidance counselor and my parents. I did other stupid things that caused me trouble and time spent in my room, grounded. My gutsy behavior was not taking me down a path I wanted to stay.
By the time high school was ending, I was tired and ready for a change. College seemed like a smart, fresh start. As a new gutsy move, I chose a university where no one from my Alma matter would be attending. I did not know anyone at Southeastern Louisiana University and it was 1 hour and 30 minutes from my hometown. I was going to live in a dorm room and find a roommate. There was no turning back. I will admit, however, at times I wanted to run home after my first roommate left and the replacement I was stuck with, “Mary,” proved to be anything but a virgin or a sane person. Yet that hellish girl and my distaste for her helped me bond with the other amazing girls in my suite. We all became wonderful friends. The conversations we shared and the laughs we had really began to shape the person I was becoming. I never had people point out things to me about my personality or how I could be resourceful or thoughtful. I began to see others and myself in new ways. I was not exposed to theatre, music, events and people like I had access to in my college years. I talked to professors and even knew them on a personal level. I learned to navigate this thing called the Internet and use search engines around 1997. I was becoming a confident and gutsy lady. I was sad when that chapter of my life came to a close in May of 2000.
Finding Love and Myself (2000 to 2005)
After college graduation, I had a difficult time finding work. You mean a degree doesn’t guarantee you a position? Yes, I was shocked to learn this too, at the time. From May to August, I searched the want ads in my hometown. I went on a few job interviews. I was having no luck. I had to extend my option beyond my zip code. I went to career fairs and located a staffing agency an hour away in New Orleans. Those tactics led me to my first professional job. My foot was in the door people. Who cares if my shoes were worn and cheap, they were there!
Meanwhile my long-time boyfriend of four years suddenly dumped me. So like any revengeful gal, I went to the gym furiously working my body and mind into firm shape again. That boy and I went together again a few weeks later. Then I dumped him in September 2000. That was gutsy and smart.
In March 2001, I took a trip to New Mexico with my parents but flew back solo to return to work due to lack of vacation days. That flight by myself encouraged me to plan a completely unaccompanied trip to meet friends in California later that summer – ten days in San Francisco with just us twenty-something’s. I bought a travel book and began planning excursions and places I wanted to see. In June 2001, I boarded the plane and changed planes in Dallas. That plane was feeling gutsy I suppose and our flight was forced to board another plane without mechanical problems. Several hours and delays later, I arrived in San Francisco, not Oakland as originally planned. Despite that rocky start to my trip, the rest of the visit was amazing. I saw more and did more in those ten days than in my entire life. From wine country tastings to taking public transportation to hearing stories on Alcatraz, it was that trip of a lifetime. It was the perfect ending to my single days and the beginning to a happier, gutsier me.
A week before my birthday in August 2001, I pulled a truly gutsy move. I clicked on an online advertisement that led me to an online dating site. It was Match.com and I had no idea what I was getting into or what this kind of site did. For some odd reason, I created a profile and made it viewable. Within a few hours, I had two or three responses. Within a few days, I had over a dozen. Crap, what did I get myself into? I thought. How I can I weed through these weirdo’s or losers? I know, I will create a screening process. So I did. I wrote out four questions and sent them to each person who wanted to be my ‘match’ or get to know me. If I liked the responses, then I would continue talking with the male. By the time my future husband Kirk stumbled across my profile and photo, I was feeling rather cocky. Yet he was a gutsy person himself. He took a chance and wrote thoughtful, long and detailed responses to my inquiries. We spoke through email. We talked on the phone. We met in person and casually saw each other as friends. After five weeks, he was the only person for me. Four months later we were engaged.
I am certain that a few friends and family members probably thought I was crazy. Being engaged after four months and getting married after one year together? I dated a guy for four years, remember? Yes, it’s true. Gutsy and true. Something was different this time, however. He was different. I felt different. Our relationship was going to work. We said “I Do” on a New Orleans Riverboat in front of about 200 people on August 17, 2002. It was a night and spectacular event to remember (with many inner gutsy stories intertwined behind the scenes).
My spouse and I settled into those first years of marriage comfortably and easily. We went on trips to Italy and Tennessee. My husband and I hosted parties, barbecues and casino outings, oh my. Things were going rather well until a few career struggles came our way. My husband was laid off several times when contracts were not renewed for his I.T. role. I struggled with finding a challenging and rewarding position. Then Hurricane Katrina hit our home and community in August of 2005. That gutsy storm changed everything for nearly everyone we knew (and has its own gutsy story by itself).
Finding Career and Home (2005 to 2009)
With our home partially damaged from the hurricane and my husband being laid off again from his job, our family decided to make a gutsy move. This was a literal move to Dayton, Ohio – very far from southern Louisiana and all we knew familiar. In October 2005, we left our home repairs and our old lifestyle behind us for colder climate. The fall leaves and beauty amazed us those first two weeks. Then the first snow began and didn’t stop for about four months. Our first Christmas there, we lived in a small apartment and I contracted a stomach virus. In this instance my gutsy movement was actual stomach gut issues. By New Year’s Day 2006, I was feeling better and resolved to make the most of our new home.
I went on a dozen jobs until finally locating one that seemed a good fit, which of course led me to the next one that was an actual fit in 2006. I tried ice skating for the first time. I joined new groups. I located cool book stores and farmers markets. We immersed ourselves in the community. I found a dog I wanted and talked my husband into letting me bring him home. Once I saw I could handle a pet, I decided I could handle motherhood too. I gave birth to our first child, a daughter named Vivian Rose, in October 2007. We were becoming a family and loving our place.
Then in the spring of 2008, my husband received a call from a former co-worker. A job opening in Montgomery, Alabama was available and may be a great opportunity for Kirk. Would he be interested? It would be a civilian position, no more contract work and no more lay-off worries (hopefully). He applied for it and was accepted. Off we went again, moving to a new city. Talk about gutsy, or crazy, whichever you prefer. Now I had to find a job. We had to sell our home back in Ohio.
Summer 2008 came with a heat wave and our nation’s horrible economy. Our beautiful home in Ohio sat on the market for eleven months while we also paid rent in Alabama. I remember how gas prices shot up to $4.65 per gallon and I was going stir crazy at home with a seven month old. I found a job a few months later but could never find a decent day care for my daughter. By 2009, our family was miserable and in debt.
Somehow our unhappy family grew closer together even during those uncertain, tough times. I began writing about my unhappiness and crazy parenting adventures through a blog. A friend offered me some freelance writing work with the local newspaper. After years of feeling like an aspiring writer, I could finally call myself a writer. I entered a writing contest and won. Things were looking up.
A year later an impromptu phone call about work in Pensacola, Florida found its way to us. My husband eagerly accepted the role. I said, Sure, what’s another move? Five different places within three years only gave me more to write about. We moved to the sunshine state in October 2009. By Thanksgiving, we felt like this area was the home we had been searching for after all.
Personal Challenges and Writing (2010 to 2014)
2010 kicked off with new ideas and personal challenges that I created for myself. This momentum stayed for the next four years and caused a mesh of triumphs, emotional moments and the removal of my gall bladder.
I was a stay at home mom. Then I went back into the work force full time. Then I later stayed home again. I joined a mothers group to keep myself busy and to recruit other wacky moms like myself. I continued writing about our new place and what it was like to be the mother of a diva, pick up pet poop and potty train a toddler. I played tourist in my town. I became friends with a fellow travel lover and together we explored new outings and eateries throughout the city.
In 2011, I formed my own Renaissance movement – pushing myself to do more intellectually, physically and even spiritually. I dedicated a month to literacy, reading four books in one month. I challenged myself physically – running my first ever 5k race. I tried yoga and actually enjoyed it. I began cooking new recipes and trying foods I was too scared to try previously like raw sushi and curry spices. I wrote a cookbook and self-published it.
After one active child, I swore I didn’t want another one. Of course I later changed my mind and began trying for a second kid. I suffered a miscarriage and felt devastated. It took me awhile to bounce back but I later vowed to try again. I studied books on reproduction. I learned more about my cycle and signs of ovulation than I had never known before. I probably drove my husband crazy but I was serious about conceiving. In April 2012 I gave birth to our feisty, red-haired daughter, Lana Jane.
In the summer of 2012, our family completely changed the way we ate. That cookbook I wrote began to collect dust as we gave up sugar and all processed foods. That gutsy move helped save my husband’s gut after he had severe medical issues in May of 2012. Sure I wanted to strangle him at the time but that was only because I was barely sleeping from taking care of a newborn, breastfeeding her, not to mention caring for our four year old. You want me to do what – cook all meals from scratch!!?? Soon though I was thanking him because I had more energy than I ever had. I was truly feeling great. I lost pregnancy weight and even pushed myself further to complete a 21-day sugar detox between Thanksgiving 2012 and New Years of 2013. While everyone else was gaining holiday pounds, I lost eight and welcomed 2013 with stronger, toner arms and spirit.
I settled into being a mom of two dramatic girls and being at home again for a year in 2013. I took up my old personal challenge habits once again trying out even more recipes and volunteering in my neighborhood. I cut my spending habits and kept a tight budget when needed. I met authors, editors and joined a writers group. My writing became more purposeful. I began vigorously seeking opportunities to be published. I saw success and my confidence increase further.
I went back into the work force in early 2014 – employed by the local university’s business outreach center as a marketing and office administrator. I quickly saw a need for my skills at my employer’s and focused efforts on boosting morale and bringing organization back to the office. To avoid being chained to my desk, I sought convenient challenges that were on the campus where I worked. A university has so much to offer, after all. I climbed an indoor rock wall, learned the Michael Jackson Thriller video dance moves and formed my own creative arts club. I applied for a Leadership program and was accepted into the year-long project. I took a leap into business and educational writing, surprised to find I was good at it and publishers wanted to print my articles.
I was also offered a regular monthly column on a marriage website, my first paid, regular writing assignment. Each month in 2014 I shared personal stories on sex, parenting, communication and being in love with my spouse even after twelve years. The writing was effortless and enjoyable. Who knew I had so much to say and could offer marital advice?
Time went on though and I struggled with the terrible two’s yet again with my second child. I still could not find a suitable day care either. I spent nights worrying that I had a good balance between work and home. I love my kids but I love my work outside the home too. I feel guilty and then lucky. Then guilty thoughts and happy thoughts invade my brain yet again – it’s a vicious cycle really.
2014 ended with me having with two weeks off from work. I spent time holding and hugging my little girls more. I managed to squeeze in a date with my husband too, a rare thing indeed. We stayed up past midnight on New Year’s Eve. Even my two year old was still awake and dancing to the music and fireworks. I take that as a gutsy sign for what’s to come.
What’s Ahead (2015 and Beyond)
I feel very hopeful of the many gutsy moments that lie ahead. This is after I lost that monthly freelance writing assignment on marriage (due to editorial changes and budget cuts) and I moped around for two days before the new year began. Yes, I let myself be sad but then I swiftly channeled that disappointment into a new writing venture. I jotted down an improved purpose – including a poetry contest, an essay contest and a collection of stories idea that I plan to explore in the coming months.
One of the first challenges this year will be to successfully potty train my second daughter. She’s the stubborn one, the girl showing no interest in being out of diapers. This will be a truly gutsy endeavor. Can we do it by her third birthday in April? Time will tell.
Another gutsy move happening soon is my preparation to apply to graduate school. After fifteen years of being out of college, I’m ready to jump back in. I’ll be taking the entrance exam in a month and submitting my application by March. I hope to call myself Gutsy College Girl again in the fall of 2015. Why should my first grader be the only one with homework?
For me, getting gutsy means learning to embrace myself. It also means being more accepting of the stage in life where I am and the age I am too. I don’t have specific objectives to accomplish this year, except to continue being me and redefining who that is, as life happens to me.
I am so lucky and I am so gutsy. Apparently I always have been and I never intend to stop. Therefore, 2015 and beyond, let’s have some fun!
Thank you Jessica Lawlor for offering up this opportunity in your essay contest. As I sat and wrote, I was suddenly taken back to twenty years and how it led up to today. It’s been a great journey! Cheers to you, me and all of us for getting, being and staying gutsy!