Scary Steps + Non-Negotiables
At first it was fun. I’ve always loved construction sites, and obviously I chose architecture because I had a certain affection for buildings. Working in construction felt like being a member of a private club who’s tasked to build the world.
Growing up in residential development, I’d never been on a commercial site, but things were about the same, only on a bigger scale. The typical crusty men, dirty hands, and outlandish egos banged around the site – it was strangely exciting, at first.
The problem-solving side of my brain earned a gladiator work out, but a small niggling voice inside my ribs repeatedly said, You do not belong here taking orders and doing daily combat. You are a creator, where is the creativity?
I tried to assuage the voice by saying things like, I am CREATING a HOSPITAL. Duh. It’s very important and creative.
Important? Yes. Creative? Surely not.
Then, a couple months in, they gave me a raise, which temporarily silenced the voice. I was 22 years old, making $50k a year, in a profession that, if I stuck with it, would see me well over 6-figures a year before I turned 30.
But I wouldn’t have a life, and I wouldn’t have satisfaction, and that creative spirit, the one I made a promise to nurture before I even came to this planet, would have died.
The fear of leaving something so adult and ‘promising’ anchored me to that site. I mean what dummy leaves a guaranteed career for the creative unknown? At least that’s what logic said.
The stress, the animosity and the amount of responsibility I shouldered was ridiculous, and before long, it overwhelmed me.
Nothing should make you so miserable that you cry every afternoon when you leave it, and weep most lunch breaks as well.
But I felt cornered, and, what’s more, I felt like there was something wrong with me for hating my position so much that I became a human irrigation line at least once a day.
The daily pep talk went like this, You should be able to be happy here, at least until you have another plan in place. But I couldn’t be.
We usually ate lunch at our desks, but, that late May Tuesday, I had to get out. I jumped in my car, drove to PCH, and pulled into an empty beach parking lot.
I didn’t open the door; I couldn’t move. I just sat there staring at the dirty off-white stucco wall until an overwhelming desire to hit something took hold and I slammed my palms against the steering wheel.
“Dammit!” I yelled. Then I dialed my mom. Please pick up, please pick up.
“Hi honey,” she answered.
The tears started before I could get a word out.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, alarmed. This wasn’t the first time we’d had the ‘I hate my job’ conversation, but when your child calls in tears I suppose you never really know the cause and therefore it’s dreadful every time.
“I cant,” hiccup, “do it,” sniff, “anymore,” I squeezed out.
Realizing I wasn’t hurt and nobody was dead her tone stiffened a little, “Ashley,” she said, “we’ve had this conversation I don’t know how many times.”
“But Mom,” I interrupted, “I’ve tried to change my attitude. I’ve done everything I can to be grateful, and it’s NOT working!”
“Well,” she said in her most practical voice, “maybe it’s time you move on then.”
“But I caaaaaan’t,” I wailed. “What will I do?”
Exasperated, she said, “I don’t know Ash. You know you’ve got to support yourself, but life is too short to be as miserable as you are. So you need to do something.” And, in customary form, she landed the responsibility to choose in my lap and said, “Only you know what that is.”
“Yea,” I sniffed, “You’re right. I’d better get back to work. Thanks for picking up.”
“I love you,” she said. “It will all work out.”
“I love you too. Bye.”
Before driving back to the trailer, I walked to the edge of the parking lot, smelled the salt air, and looked longingly toward the ocean. The irony of my proximity to, yet separation from, the boundless ocean was not lost on me.
I’d love to say that I walked into that trailer and handed in my resignation the same day, but that didn’t happen.
It took a couple weeks.
Sometimes you have to leap knowing the net is bundled tight inside your heart, waiting for your flight to unfurl itself.
I didn’t have an exact plan, but I had a desire and enough money saved to float me for a few months. After leaving the office on my final day, I drove straight to ZJ’s surf shop in Venice beach, and bought a wetsuit and a surfboard. I would be free.
Turns out, in that freedom, that salty expanse, I would land my next career.
Leaving the construction trailer wasn’t the first time I’d changed directions, following the still small voice which said, There is more for you, but it was the first where money and survival landed squarely on my shoulders, upping the risk of it all.
While it was the first ‘adult’ transition, it certainly wouldn’t be the last. After that moment, where I proved to myself that following my heart would work out, I’ve changed direction seven times – building business that worked beautifully, some that barely squeaked by, and one that failed epically.
I’ve had more adventures that didn’t make sense, experiences that weren’t logical, and ‘impossible’ manifestations than I can count—all because I’m always willing to take the next right step, regardless of circumstance, opinion, or fear.
And while it hasn’t always been easy (not by a long shot), I wouldn’t trade the uncertainty for suffocation.
The power to choose is the ultimate freedom.
We are all powerful beyond measure.
Love and courage,