This morning I was thinking about the past year of my life, and how much has changed, when it hit me that a year ago this week I made the most difficult speech of my life to date. I stood before a group of students and their parents, all who were loyal followers of my dance studio business, and had to announce to them that at the end of that school year, the studio would be closing. I explained through broken words and tear-filled eyes that after exploring many options, I was left with no choice but opt out of a lease renewal and close the doors in May. Most of these people had been with me since my doors had opened 5 years prior. I watched their families grow, and I watched their families break apart. We shared stories of school, boys, family, life, love, heartache, business, birth, and death. Most of these students and their parents knew more about my life than my own family and friends. R.E.A.C.H. had been a second home for all of us. In the months that followed before the closing, the reactions were mixed. Some of the people I was closest with stopped speaking to me. I suppose they resented me for not telling them sooner, or for abandoning them, or for failing. A huge part of ME felt like a failure, as I packed up the 3,000 square feet I had built from scratch, giving away pictures that hung on the wall, selling equipment at a sickeningly reduced rate, closing down accounts and shutting down services. Each time I checked one more item off the list I felt more and more like a traitor to myself. This was supposed to be my dream… it was the only thing I knew I wanted to do with life and the only thing everyone else knew me as- Christina, the dance studio owner. Now what? What was I qualified for? How could I be successful in another field with no prior experience or training?
I needed an escape from Philadelphia, because I no longer felt comfortable with my life there. 27, single, and miserable, I spent 3-4 nights a week driving or taking the train to NYC to see friends and check out live music shows. I started a blog about the arts. I networked, I interviewed, and I wrote. I wrote away the pain of my heartache. I wrote away the pain of my failure. I wrote away the pain of my loneliness. I lost myself in the lives of others so I no longer had to focus on my life. And that made me happy. In this escape, this therapy, this avoidance of who I was at the time, something crazy happened….
I found myself.
I found friends who completed the missing parts of my heart. In less than a year we’ve been through some of life’s most difficult ups and downs, and I finally understand the meaning of unconditional love in a way I had only seen with family.
I found an apartment that is the smallest place I’ve ever lived, and on the day I moved it was hands down the filthiest place I ever lived. I made it home. It is now more “me” than any other dwelling I’ve inhabited.
I found peace with my parents, and my guilt that I had let them down after all the opportunities and support they provided me with the past 6 years.
I found a city that accepts me for who I am. Where it’s OK to have a different career path every week, and it’s OK to go a month (or several) without a steady job. Where you can be accepted and loved for who you are and not who people expect you to be. Where everyone understands what you’re going through because they’ve ALL been there… literally.
I found a life. It’s a hard life, it’s an ungrateful life, but it’s a beautiful life. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to let go of who I was, grab my parachute, and take that blind leap, hoping there would be ground to land on. There are days when I feel like the parachute is definitely NOT working.
But I know that ultimately, whether I was floating gently or dropping recklessly, letting go was the only thing that saved me.