I am a ______.

I have finally figured out the perfect adulthood metaphor: musical chairs. Everyone is walking around a small area, waiting for the music to stop, but sort of lingering near a chair just in case the music stops and they’re stuck. Then it does. And everyone sits down, out of breath, and looks around to see what poor schmuck didn’t get there fast enough and has to stand with their hands dangling at their sides in complete disgust.

Now, in your imagination, replace all of those chairs with jobs. Ah. I bet you can see it now, how creepy that music sounds to your own ears when you’re the one walking around those “chairs.”

You see, I’ve realized that everyone is uncomfortable in adulthood because for as long as we’ve been alive, we’re students or dependents. This is how we identify ourselves, how the government sees us on our parents’ taxes. But then, when we drop out or graduate,  when we grow a little older, we’re ____.  Blank.

And suddenly, we’re all asked to fill in that blank with whatever vocation we choose. But how? We’ve been given the profession of student by others. We’re born, and we’re dependent on other people. Why are we suddenly authorized to make this next decision on our own?

And just like that, you hear the music start to play. You’re unleashed into the world, and you start the delicate dance of job and bills. You need money to survive, which is to say you need to sit in a chair. The chairs can be anything you want them to be, but for most people, we arrange a selection of predictable life choices that will define us. Veterinarian. Salesman. Cashier. So, you sit in one profession/chair. And you sit, and sit, and sit. The music never really starts again. But at least you’re in a chair, right? It’s what we tell ourselves, day after 9-5 day.

No one tries to imagine a new fate for themselves, tries to sit in one specific chair. Any chair will do. And in doing so, they fill in the blank that must be filled to talk to anyone at any party. The answer to “What do you do?” is suddenly so readily on their lips, “I’m a ____.”

And that, I’ve realized, is the problem. Everyone wants to sit in a chair and have an answer when someone asks them what they’re doing with their life so that it will sound good enough to their own ears. The problem is that no one wants to just be. They don’t want to take their time, dancing to the music, walking around, trying each chair out, essentially living their life.

What no one realizes is that life is happening in between sitting. Life happens when that blank isn’t filled just yet.

We all need to remember that we don’t discover our lives, we create them. So, turn the music up for now, and don’t be scared when it stops. Whether you have a chair or not, at some point, you’re still going to have to stand up for yourself.

Faith is a Staircase

On St. Patrick’s Day, there is no way that I cannot reminisce about spending this special holiday in Ireland.

I’ve never seen such a display of pure patriotism. Float after float, band after band, dancer after dancer marched down the street in the coastal city of Galway. Feeling like a kid again, I had to stand on tiptoes to see over the crowd of people, to get a glimpse of the festivities that I was suddenly apart of. When it was over, there was another parade–to the pub. Funneling down the narrow streets, we would eventually arrive at our favorite bar. And people would get their beer “to go” in a plastic cup so that they could take their merriment out into the street, to watch performers put on yet another show.

It scares me to think that this may have never happened. I almost didn’t go to Ireland at all.

Let me set the stage. It was my junior year of college. A lot of things were finally coming into focus for me: I was afraid to start a job but at least I knew who my real friends were. Actually, I was with the best roommates a girl could ask for. But still. As is customary in these situations, I wanted more.

I had always been interested in studying abroad, even though I had only left the country once. So, I set up a meeting with my study abroad advisor. With my high grades, she told me I could go anywhere I wanted. Emboldened by her faith in me, I proudly stated that I wanted to go to Scotland. St. Andrew’s, in fact. You may recognize it from the tabloids: Kate Middleton was educated there. But I was drawn to the school because they had a terrific creative writing program (and an excellent golf course so that my dad would come to visit me there). I had done mild research on it, and I felt sure that I would be comfortable in Scotland.

Imagine my surprise and heartbreak when my study abroad advisor flatly stated that I had missed the deadline for that school. Then, imagine the rift in my heart deepening when she told me that I would only have a few more days to submit an application to any school. I felt the experience slipping out of my fingers before I even had a chance to entertain it.

She must have seen the horror on my face because her next reply was decidedly cheerier, “Have you ever thought of Ireland? My husband was an English major, and he loved his time in Galway.” With an enthusiastic nod, a frantic recommendation letter from my favorite professor, and a hurried phone call with both my mom and my boyfriend, it was settled: I would go to Ireland to study in less than a month.

Despite the rocky beginning to my experience (threw up on the plane, forgot my debit card back in the US, broke my finger playing Gaelic football), I had the time of my life. I met some of the best people I have ever encountered. I saw landscapes that were nothing short of unreal. I learned a new language. But it almost didn’t happen.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had not submitted my application on time. If I had let the fact that my dream school was no longer an option hold me back. And, oh yeah, if my family, boyfriend, and roommates hadn’t been so absolutely encouraging and accepting of my decision.

However, it was about the only time in my life that I was able to let go of control completely. Of course, I was in the capable hands of my study abroad advisor, but I still put a lot of trust in her. After all, she was going to decide where I would spend the next 6 months of my life. That’s a lot of faith for a person I considered one baby step above a stranger. An incredibly accommodating and complimentary stranger, but a stranger nonetheless.

And so, if there was ever proof that MLKJ’s quote, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase” is true, I am a living example. Maybe the best parts of life aren’t planned or even up to us to decide. Maybe it is just luck that brings us to the right time and place, where we are meant to be (I’m sure the Irish would tell you that). For me, I think it is a combination of being ready for everything and having everything ready. In the end, if you have a parachute, you still have to muster up the courage to jump.