By Tina Murtagh
You never know what you’re gonna get.
Needless to say, if you read the title, you know where I’m going with this: life as of late has gone in many directions for me, all unexpected–some good, some bad. Overall, the words I’m reaching for are chaotic and unprecedented. In 2015, I was ripped out of my college bubble and into the harsh light of day, also dubbed “the real world.” As I’ve attempted to gain my footing in an arena cold and unknown to me, all while hitting the ground running, I’ve learned some valuable lessons. Lessons that were painful, but nonetheless necessary.
One of the major decisions I’ve arrived at? You really won’t come to understand your true self (and I’m still trying) until the very illusion of the world that surrounds you has been completed shattered. Yes, you heard me. Until everything you’ve learned in life has fallen apart and you’re forced to pick up the pieces and build your own, new, educated perception, little pain will occur — but so will minimal growth. So, at the risk of baring my soul, allow me to tell you why Forrest Gump’s words ring so true to me.
As far as my personal life goes, I’ve made impressive strides at quickly cutting toxic people out of my life. A majority of my energy in college went to people who took advantage of my desire to help them, and left me feeling drained and disenchanted, on top of a multitude of other emotions I won’t get into.
But the work was not done. People who I thought were my friends turned their backs on me. I turned my back on those who drained me too much. My perception of friendship shifted, and the level of sacrifice I provided became slim compared to what it once was. I only realized that by constantly trying to make other people happy, I was left with nothing, and I owed myself far too much to let that happen.
So, who do you let go of…yourself, or others? The answer is pretty clear for anyone.
So, I got screwed over? Fine, screw them. I had a rough time? Tough luck, I spat at the ground and worked through it. People who I hadn’t invested enough time into — people who deserved that time — came out of the woodwork. I turned my attention to them and I was not sorry.
Next came my perception of the world around me, including the socio-economic struggles that others around me felt, and that I finally started to notice. While I will quickly veer away from even giving a specific man the time of day (you know, the one half the country elected into office), I was once again confronted with my very own perception of justice and patriotism being shredded before my very eyes. I was forced to look at myself, and those who do not come from the same place as me, from a 360 degree point of view. People from outside of my country, my religion, my narrow tunnel of vision, etc. I did not like what I found, but the fact is: I found it. That knowledge is there, and now I have a different duty: not to learn, but to aid. A call to arms rather than a call to read. Something I’m working actively to change, even if it’s just in my small circle of those closest to me.
Now, onto the money makers.
First came Graduation Day, or as I like to refer to it, D-Day. No, I don’t consider my college graduation the beginning of a hard road, but I do consider it the death of what I once knew. The version of me that was coddled all the way up until High School thought it had overcome the shedding of adolescence throughout college. While this is partially true, I realized I was just hopping from one bubble to another. The real treat came shortly after.
My first job out of college sucked, to put it plainly. And to be honest, I find that this is pretty common. Though I majored in Marketing, somehow I stumbled into the world of Insurance as a Claims Adjuster. While I had a few hoops to jump through (extensive training, having to learn how to use Microsoft DOS, dealing with the complexities of older workers welcoming a marginally younger female into the office), the job paid well enough, even if a bit of my soul was sucked out of me daily. Too cut and dry, too much of having to deliver bad news to little old ladies–to put it plainly, it was not my cup of tea.
Then came the personal stuff. My grandmother (who I was extremely close with and endeared to) passed away after months of battling for her life. This one hit me hard. I lived across the country from my family, and watched, powerless and feeling utterly useless in the situation before me, while going to an aimless job, day after day, hour after hour, in a field I wasn’t interested in. My company took care of me and my manager was a star, but it wasn’t my place.
I managed to work my way out of the Insurance job and into a job much more suited for my personal preferences. I loved this job, and worked there for a year. I loved my coworkers, my manager, and the level of intelligent people I came into contact with. My time there came to a close when I was sought out by another company. Although it was a risky move and my family disagreed with it, I decided it was high time I made my own decisions and made the plunge everyone told me not to.
They were right. I won’t go into details here, but it was not the right move for me.
So here I am now, roughly a month later, with a few job prospects on the table before me. It’s becoming increasingly more and more clear to me that every year I get older, and with each decision I make, the consequences of my actions go much deeper than they did before. I’d made mistakes in the past, how would I know not to make another?
Because I have experience on my side this time. I know to qualify people, I know myself on a much broader level, and I know what works with me and does not work with me. But I certainly did not think that a year ago, I would sitting here now, typing this. Because I thought I knew all the answers at 23 years old. Let’s all take a moment to have a good laugh at that.
But without those experiences, I would not be who I am, right at this very moment. I would not have learned the lessons I needed to learn to come to the level of self-realization I have now, which surprisingly tells me that I barely know anything at all, and that’s okay. The fact of the matter is, you never truly know what is going to be thrown at you. You will stumble, you will make mistakes, and you will have nights where you sip wine on your patio, listening to “What’s Going On” by the 4 Non-Blondes on a loop and wonder how the hell you went from decorating a float at a Sorority function to cleaning up the pee out of a trashcan of a client who couldn’t handle her obnoxious kid.
You will wonder how you went from worrying about missing the season premier of your favorite show to arguing with a reporter at ABC over the phone. You will ponder on how you ever complained about eating baked potatoes for four days in a row when speaking with a drunk brand ambassador on the phone, trying to get coherent answers out of them after being hung up on four times. And you will definitely long for the days of stressing about that college 5K in the morning when you have to tell a weeping, little old woman that “no, we can’t pay that, we’re sorry you’ll be evicted, but there’s nothing we can do,” because it’s your job to say it.
But in the midst of those seemingly minor setbacks and frustrations, in the big picture I’ve gained true friends, eliminated toxic people, learned how to take care of myself, learned how to stand on my own two feet even when I’m far from my family, and learned how to pick myself off and brush the dust off when life doesn’t go smoothly. I’ve shied away from coddling, I’ve stood up for myself in intimidating situations, I’ve impressed myself on more than one occasion, had a good laugh at myself on too many occasions, embraced my passions, learned to love myself, learned to look in the mirror when something is my fault…and I can make some mean potstickers (no joke, my browning skills will blow. your. mind). I’ve learned it’s okay to cry, laugh, scream, love, leave, and begin anew. I’ve been knocked off my high horse and scraped from my low places. And one thing all of this has in common? I never saw any of it coming. You just have to take things as they’re thrown your way.
After all, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.