Life seems complicated and daunting when you look at it as a whole. The younger you are, the more magical it is, but it’s easy for smaller things to appear magical. With time, the picture can look scarier and begin to be filled with shadows that weren’t there before who call themselves the Unknown. This fear grows the larger the shadows become. We’re terrified of … well, that’s the thing, we just don’t know. We’re not scared of the shadows themselves, we’re scared of what could be. When I was a little girl, I was terrified of the dark. If you had asked me why I would’ve simply said it’s scary. As an adult reflecting back on that childhood fear, I can see exactly why I was scared. I was scared of the monsters that could have been in the dark, of the killers, scary people, clowns, dolls, and whatever else was haunting my imagination that night that could be there watching me. I didn’t know for sure if they were there, me typing this now is proof that they never were, but in the moment, the chance that they could be there was enough to be horrifying. The fact that I couldn’t actually see what was in the dark to quiet my racing mind only made the intensity worse.
Every time I stop and reflect back on my life, I realize I’ve crossed another hurdle I didn’t think I could. It seems like only yesterday I was twelve years old in the lunchroom at my local middle school with my friends planning our lives out like we had a clue. I had a plan for high school, college, a career, marriage, kids, and even a house. I remember being more horrified when I entered high school and college loomed closer. The thought of applications haunted me for months until I got them done. Fast forward five years and I’ll be graduating from college in just a little over three months. The rest of the plan is now looming over me with a career as the biggest shadow. However, when I take a moment to pause, I realize just how much I’ve accomplished. I have to ask myself, “How did I get here?” and then it starts to come to me. In the middle of trudging through each shadow, I didn’t know I was going through it. I simply put one foot in front of the other every single day and that was it. It’s so simple my brain finds a need to complicate it because there’s no way getting through these big phases of life could be so simple. Simple, but not easy. That’s an important distinction to remember. So many things in life are simple like going to the grocery store, saying hello to the cute stranger, saying I love you for the first time, turning in that essay you’ve been working on, entering any form of a contest, and the list can continue forever. We can nod and agree, yes these things are so simple, but when we get ready to go to the grocery store, suddenly we’re exhausted and finding our keys become difficult. When we try to say hello to the cute stranger, suddenly we forget how to speak. When we try to say I love you for the first time, suddenly our throat closes and we forget how to breathe. When we try to turn in that essay, suddenly we doubt our writing. When we try to enter any form of a contest, suddenly quitting and sitting back sounds much better. That fear of the unknown is so prevalent in each activity. Will I make it to the store? Will I be rejected by the stranger or the person I love? Will I get a bad grade? Will I make a fool of myself? That shadow of the unknown clouds over the parade and releases a rainstorm like none we’ve ever seen. When we stop to reflect back on how exactly we got through that storm without drowning, there’s no answer that pops to mind. I think back hard and realize I got through because I was looking down. This sounds counterintuitive to everything we’ve ever heard about moving forward but hear me out.
Imagine you’re hiking a brand new trail. It’s a mountain with new branches, rocks, obstacles, and looming dropoffs you’re not familiar with. The view is supposed to be fantastic, breathtaking, and the thought of it is what gets you through the moments where you can’t catch your breath and you regret ever leaving the comfort of your home. Nobody wants to fall, trip, or make a fool of themselves so we do the logical thing: we look down. We’re not hiding our faces in shame, we’re not looking down because we’re afraid, we look down because we need to keep an eye on our feet to make sure we’re stepping in the correct places. We look down to avoid each fallen branch, rocks, obstacles and that dreadful dropoff. We look down to put one foot in front of the other on firm ground that we’re fairly positive will hold us up as we continue to move forward. We look down to go forward without stumbling. Every once in a while, you stop to breathe, have a sip of water, grab a snack, or just to enjoy the scenery. The one thing that is always consistent when you stop to breathe is the fact that you have moved forward. The view is different every time you look up and when you look back, pride swells up as you realize you conquered that hill that looked too steep in the moment. It wasn’t so bad when you weren’t staring at how far you had to go; looking at the steps right in front of you and taking it one step at a time is what got you to the top. The small steps may feel insignificant in the moment but when you string together a couple of those steps, you form a few feet, and when you string together more distance you’ve traveled, suddenly you’re at the top of a new hill. Repeat this process and before you know it, hours have passed and you’re standing at the top of this mountain you weren’t sure you could conquer. This is how I get through each of my storms. I look down to avoid the puddles and holes that may cause me to trip so that I can keep moving forward. I look down to find my next step because sometimes, it’s the only thing I can see.
I can feel the clouds looming over this period of life as the Unknown quickly approaches. When my parents think of May, they think of graduation and the end of my college career. I think about May and I see the beginning of a new chapter. This chapter sits blank, the pages are crisp, the ideas are there, and the pen is waiting for my hand. I have days where I don’t want to pick up that pen, I don’t want to be the author, and I don’t want a new chapter. When I’m tempted to close the book and take a break, I realize so many new pages have been added since I last picked up the pen to write. A whole new chapter forms and I flip through the pages, remembering each moment, the good and bad. The chapter holds the things I need to keep writing. There are the moments that seemed impossible suddenly made possible. There are the moments that I thought would never end wrapped up. There are the moments when I thought my world shattered only to be put back together in a better way. And there are so many joyful moments sprinkled across the entire chapter, the many moments that were easy to miss as the clouds of the Unknown darkened the light.
Take some time to pause and take a breath today. Look up at the scenery around you and admire just how far you’ve come. Flip through your previous chapter and look for the sprinkles of joy. Smile at the accomplishments you’ve achieved. You’re in the middle of the process that looked impossible and you’ve accomplished more than you realize. Take a moment to be proud of yourself and the steps you’ve climbed. That hill has been conquered or is in the middle of being conquered. The rain has stopped or is about to stop. The steps you’ve taken have formed a couple feet. The distance you’ve traveled has led you to the top of the mountain or is about to. It’s okay to pause for water. It’s okay to pause for breath. It’s okay to pause simply because you can’t find the next step. Rest assured that it will come, the way it always has before.
Right now, I don’t know what the future holds and I see darkness. The clouds seem bigger than before and the hill is steeper. I won’t be in the safety of school anymore, but I’ll be out there in the real world. When I flip back through my story I realize that I have accomplished some things my middle school self had dreamt about. I applied for college, I’ve worked several jobs, I’ve learned more about myself in relationships, I have a roof over my head to call my own, and have set myself up to take more steps forward. Looking at the things I’ve accomplished, I see that my name is on the cover of this story. Nobody else is writing with or for me. I’m the author of my own story and it won’t move forward without me. Change is scary. The Unknown is scary. The mountains are steep. The distance is great. My steps seem too small. And that’s okay. For now, I’ll look down at my feet and find my next right step. When I stop to breathe again, I know the view will be different and the hill I thought was too steep will be conquered. I will have things to be proud of and new sprinkles of joy. But I can’t have any of that without picking up that pen and continuing to write. For now, all I can do is string together the steps I’m taking and turn them into great distances. I know that even if I think I’ve lost my way, that step will always appear. It hasn’t let me down before and I know it won’t start now.