I come from sixteen credit hours and twenty-five hour work weeks, coupled with a collegiate sport that took up every other second of my life. I come from late nights, exhausted mornings, and scraping by just to make ends meet. I come from cheap rent that I couldn’t afford, where I lived with a couple just to save money, and a hallway entrance to the complex with mold growing from the floor to the ceiling. I don’t say this for the shock value. And I don’t say this for the pity. I say this because I think we each have our story, our journey, our road to get where we are (often unseen). But if we spend so much time looking at the bad, or the things that hold us back, we’ll never realize all the potential we have to become.
I’m originally from a suburban town outside of Chicago. Growing up, I was blessed with a safe home, a family who loved me, and some help to afford college that I fully recognize as my privilege compared to some of the poverty, instability, and fear that many others have to face. I come from college sports—a choice I made to support my education financially—but a choice I had to begin with. I recognize that these things make my story different, yes, but not any less valid. (And the things that make your story yours aren’t any less valid, either.)
Regardless of where we come from, what matters the most in our success is what we work for.
This life doesn’t hand us our future on silver platters. Even if we come from a place that’s more fortunate than somewhere else, we must still fight for what we want. We aren’t simply ‘gifted’ careers, milestones, or next steps. The people we love can’t simply win or earn things for us. We have to know what we want and pursue it. We have to believe, to push, and to keep going, despite the obstacles. And we can’t give up.
That’s the story I want to share with you today. Not a story that deserves a pat on the back, not a story where I’m looking for praise, not a story that I’m sharing for any other reason than to encourage you. You can reach where you want to be. Fight like hell for it.
When I was five I started writing *seriously.* There was a ‘publishing center’ in my elementary school where we could take our drafted stories and illustrations and get them typed and laminated, then bound with spirals into little books. I was there multiple times per week.
I would hand in stories about guinea pigs living on desert islands and duck stuffed animals saving the world. I wrote poems about broccoli and cheese, and told tales about families who had superhero powers. I was creative-minded, and that, coupled with a fourth grade teacher who gave me my first real journal, started my passion for writing.
I started to write every single day. I went through multiple journals a year and started a rather large collection of gel pens. I began publishing poetry for school-wide competitions, entering local contests, and in high school, working on staff for the literary magazine.
The journey was wonderful, and yet so difficult, too. Writing came naturally to me, sure, but not always. There were moments I couldn’t say what I wanted to say, nights where I wanted to quit because I could find or formulate the right words, and days that I wasted comparing myself to other people. I doubted myself. I turned in draft after draft after draft. I over-analyzed my words until I couldn’t recognize them. But I kept at it.
The serious part of my story came around college. I finally decided, against the better judgment of every single person around me, to pursue writing as a college major. Everyone in my life cautioned me about the reality of my career choice. Well-meaning people said I wouldn’t be able to find a job in the field and that I needed a backup plan. I was constantly plagued by doubt—self-imposed, and from others who loved me—saying that I wouldn’t make it. But I pursued Creative Writing and Secondary English Education as my two majors anyways.
I struggled. The course load was difficult. I bit off more than I could chew. The classes were intensive and with the collegiate sport I opted to play to cut costs, I found myself busier than I imagined. Because I knew I needed to make money, I worked. I did 25-30 hours per week, plus the time I played softball, plus the homework and credit hours—and I was exhausted. I could barely scrape by for rent. I often tried to cut back on meals or spend less, but I was always stressed trying to make ends meet and stay healthy while continuously on the road for softball. I also (accidentally) took too many courses, pushing myself to a triple major. It became my personal (crazy) goal to accomplish all of this in five years or less.
Throughout college, I struggled with my relationships: family, romantic, and friends. I had to isolate myself often to get work done. I spent a lot of time alone because I was working or completing projects. In my junior year, I had a 150-page thesis, three final presentations, and a collection of poetry due, plus a career-shifting injury all within months of one another. And at the same time, a medication I stopped taking for my skin really affected me and I struggled physically (losing hair!!) and emotionally, feeling both vulnerable and alone.
I share these truths not for pity, but to remind you of the reality of ‘chasing your dreams.’ To be honest, I think the world glorifies the chase, makes it seem like pursuing your passions will be this effortless road. But it’s not. It’s messy, it’s painful, and it makes you question whether or not you should give up. But if you want it, you don’t. No matter what.
No, my road doesn’t have death, catastrophic illness, unsafe circumstances, etc. but it has its own challenges. We each do. What matters, again, is not where you’ve been, but how you overcome.
I worked my butt off. I sacrificed nights out with roommates to build my online portfolio. Instead of having fun, I often said ‘no’ so that I could make my blogs and start publishing my writing. Throughout my entire college experience, missed out on a lot so that I could send poems to literary magazines, emails to editors, and submissions to contests and publications.
I was rejected hundreds of times. I had teachers who marked up my work even when I thought I created something near-perfect. And I cried (a lot).
Most days, I stayed up late and woke up at 4 am, just to get things done before my morning practices, cross-country bus rides, or classes. I worked every morning and every night—before and after my student teaching—even though I was so tired I had to call people on my morning commute, just to stay awake. YouTube videos and tutorials became a second language, as I studied how to do simple HTML and CSS coding so that I could build and my website. I kept my plate full, knowing that eventually things would pay off.
And finally, they did.
The First Break:
During my student teaching—while working, developing my ‘side hustles’ of blogging/selling teaching products, and sending submissions to magazines—I finally had my big ‘break.’ A piece I sent to Thought Catalog, an online magazine with 30 million monthly readers, went viral.
This was the first step for everything—an opportunity that led to me sending an application, that led to an interview, that led to a job (one that I almost lost because I didn’t follow up right after my interview and so the company wasn’t sure I was interested!!), that led to my writing career.
What’s important, in my opinion, is not as much that first job as it is the road to get there. I think some people just gloss over the past and think, ‘All it takes is one break, is one miracle, or one good piece of writing.’ I want to remind you of the hundreds of rejected submissions, the hours I spent working on my writing and building a personal blog, the job I almost lost because I didn’t do something that was expected of me—that’s what gets you to where you want to be. The hard work.
From there, I worked on staff at Thought Catalog, published my poetry book (you can read about that right here) and in March, parted ways to pursue full-time freelancing and launching of my business, Be A Light LLC.
Now I work 12-14 hour days reaching out to brands and partners, writing pieces for different places and publications all over the world, hosting video conferences with clients in different time zones, tutoring students of all ages, building my company website, and running eleven different social media platforms. I am busy. But I love it this way because I’ve worked like hell to get here.
My story is different than others—in good and bad ways. I know I’ve been blessed with a lot, and for that I’m so humbled. But I also have learned to acknowledge (and celebrate!) how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am.
That’s what I want to encourage you in as you read this: Your dreams are never out of reach.
If there’s something you want or believe in, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get there. Fight against your upbringing, your negative life circumstances, your ‘doubters’ or ‘haters,’ and most importantly, your own fear. Be your own best advocate and worst critic—push yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of, and keep going.
You will get there. It might not be as fast as you hoped or as ‘perfect’ of a journey. But your dreams are worth fighting for. So fight.
Hey. I love the way you write and reading this is inspiring.
Can you also send me a link to that first post that went viral on thought catalog? That’d be great. Keep on being a light.
Hi! Thank you. The viral piece can be found right here: https://thoughtcatalog.com/marisa-donnelly/2015/11/i-am-not-a-netflix-and-chill-kind-of-girl/ I’ll link it above!
Thanks. I resonate with it.
You know whats my all-time favorite of all times, https://thoughtcatalog.com/marisa-donnelly/2016/03/right-here-is-exactly-where-youre-meant-to-be/ that right there. I think it found me when i was is a situation no words could explain better. It has a way of pulling me in every time i read it. I think i have made all my friends and family read it at least once.
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