Updated: Feb 12, 2018
I remember when I was 17 years old, my friend, Katie, told me I should quit my after-school job at the mall CD store to become a lifeguard. I was a good swimmer, but I never imagined I could hack it at saving people's lives. The good thing is, that at 17 years old, the little ol' voice of Fear hasn't gained enough strength to hold you back. I went with her to the local YMCA and took my first of many tests, the swimming test. I didn't even own a Speedo swimsuit----the only one-piece I could find was a hot pink Target suit. I definitely didn't look the part, nor did I feel the part, but I did it despite my worries and awkward wardrobe. I had my first "pull-out" on my second day. Shit yeah, I saved a kid!!! I worked that job every summer through my sophomore year of college. By the end, I was the head lifeguard and basically living at that YMCA.
Post college with a Liberal Arts degree and not even the beginning of a plan, I worked in a restaurant for the first time in my life. I had no effing clue what I was doing. When the time came for me to actually walk up to a table, I felt like I was playing pretend. "Hi, my name is Courtney and I'll be your server" all while wearing an apron with a pad of paper and a pen in my hand? Hahahahahaha--it all seemed so foreign. Not only that, I was HORRIBLE at first. I dropped an entire tray of schnitzels, which slid in a grease-soaked fury throughout the dining room, all while my co-workers pointed and laughed (in good humor, of course, but not willing to help their mortified friend), I sucked at opening bottles of wine (I was used to chugging cans of Coors Light), and I honestly just had no clue what I was doing. By my 20s, Fear definitely had a louder voice, but I was able to push it away, with a little help from my friend, Tequila. By the time I hung up my apron, I could wait on 15 tables, joke with my friends, eat my own dinner, and take shots all at the same time (not that I ever did that). I no longer felt like I was playing a role, rather being a server/bartender was a natural part of my identity. It even allowed me to flow confidently into a career path of event planning.
When I turned 28, I had the genius idea that I would be a kick-ass teacher. How hard could it be? I WILL FOREVER EAT THOSE WORDS. This was the biggest case of playing pretend everrrrrrr. I had to walk into a classroom at the ripe ol' age of 30 and introduce myself as Mrs. Reece. I had never been called that in. my. life. To tell people (even teenagers) what to do was way harder than I thought. I couldn't believe kids had to ask me if they could go to the restroom. Of course you can! Who am I to deny you? It's a basic human right! If you are a teacher, you can just imagine what kind of shit show that mentality created! At this age, Fear is the loudest voice in your mind. It takes over, tells you that you can't, tells you not to take risks, tells you to take off your most professional button up and flats and mosey back home because YOU are not cut out for this. But, just like every job before it, I became that which I was seeking to be. By the time I turned off my classroom lights for the last time, that school had become my home, the classroom was my refuge, and my co-workers and students were my family. No more costumes. No more playing pretend.
Isn't it funny how everything new starts as terrifying and foreign, and you want to run screaming back to the comfort of your old life? You feel like you aren't yourself, that you are just playing a role, wearing a costume, and feeling uncomfortable the entire time. But then months pass, and sometimes years, and that once new adventure becomes your reality. It becomes your identity. It actually becomes your place of comfort, instead of a place of anxiety and fear.
More than anything, I guess I want to say that it's never too late to learn something new and BECOME something new. In spite of the fact that Fear gets louder as we age, telling us that we can't, that we will fail, that we will look stupid, that it's too late to step out on a limb, we still have the potential to create a new life for ourselves. If we are audacious and tenacious, we can wear any costume that we choose--no matter how uncomfortable it might fit at first.
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