Lucky 27

May 28, 2019

Just a little over nine years ago, I was a high school senior, sitting in AP English class, when a friend on the yearbook team popped in to ask if anyone was interested in contributing to the senior class's "Where Do You See Yourself in 10 Years?" yearbook page. I happily obliged, and my response ended up making it in the yearbook several months later. My answer, which I partially believed and partially contributed out of humor, will be forever ingrained in my memory:

"I'll be a physician assistant, living on Star Island with my gorgeous doctor husband." 

Yeaaahhh ..... I'm 27, single, living back at home, and dividing the majority of each paycheck between my savings and paying off my credit card.

None of that happened. Not one single part of that happened.

And, honestly, I couldn't be happier that it didn't happen.

Granted, that life sounds pretty great - especially the part about living on Star Island (a gorgeous piece of property housing mega mansions in the middle of Key Biscayne, Miami; I was always ambitious...) 

It's been ten years since I wrote that response, and the truth is my life turned out to be vastly different from what I imagined it would be in my late twenties. Now, I won't go through every life-altering decision I made over the course of the last decade. But what I will say is this: sometimes, having certain elements of your life turn out entirely different from what you originally planned is the best and most exciting thing that will ever happen to you.

Shortly after that yearbook contribution was read by my family and classmates, I went off to college fully planning on fulfilling the part about becoming a physician assistant. Never mind the fact that I was never a great math and science student, and that I had a passion for communication and writing (hence the AP English class). I was blinded by the fact that I loved working with people and wanted to make a difference, and should do so in a "practical" and "smart" way. And so, I spent two and a half years as a health sciences major at The University of Central Florida, until numerous anxiety attacks and identity crises woke me up to the realization that this wasn't the path for me, but rather, the one I thought was expected of me. Halfway through my junior year of college, I changed my major to communications and reminded myself that I could always help people by volunteering (as fate would have it, my first internship and first full time job were supporting the public relations efforts of nonprofits). I never once regretted changing my major, and graduating a year late - something I was initially embarrassed and ashamed of - resulted in one of the best years of my life.

That gorgeous doctor husband? Sure, he sounds fun - but the older I got, the less I cared about the career behind the man and the more I cared about the personality, heart and humor inside the man. On top of that, a serious romantic relationship was simply never a priority for me during college and I still don't feel the need to chase one now, which often comes as a shock to those who know the depth of my love for romantic comedies (although, I have to say, I think my self preservation is a direct outcome of the hopeless romantic in me knowing that what's meant to happen will happen organically.) I've never been in love (though I tried to convince myself I was at one point and even claimed I was), and I haven't had a boyfriend since the one I had in high school when I wrote that yearbook post. Oh, and he wasn't a doctor. He probably wasn't thrilled with my response ...

The mansion on Star Island? HA. I very happily lived in an apartment in Downtown Orlando for three years after college - with roommates that, over the years, included my best friend, a sorority sister, a friend from work, a straight male friend and a gay male friend - and over time, I grew less interested in making Miami or South Florida my permanent home again. That still remains true, but even so, nine months ago I made the tough yet worthy decision to move back to my South Florida suburb hometown - a place I loved growing up in but never imagined (or truthfully, wanted) to return to - and I now sleep in my old bedroom, with my parents, sister, dog and five cats as roommates (more on this decision below.) There are days when the desperation to get out of my hometown literally makes my heart race, but I remind myself to be thankful for this place, which gave me beautiful memories, kept me safe, and taught me so much about culture, friendship, community and love. We should all remember that, while it's totally normal and okay to realize you no longer belong in the place you grew up, it's important to respect and appreciate all of the positive things it gave you.

So, here I am. 27. Ten years ago, I thought I'd be married with at least one kid by now, living it up on an oceanfront mansion. As I type this, I'm a husband and child-less single gal sitting at a coffee shop just twenty minutes outside of my hometown, waiting for my acting class to start.

And that leads me to ... acting. Forget my 17 year-old self. This dream goes back to 7 year-old Stephanie. 

Some of you know this story by now. After years of working in public relations, I realized that, while I enjoy my career, there was a lifelong dream I was denying myself for far too long. What they say about getting older is true: you stop caring so much about what others think of you, and you realize how precious life is. After a scary car accident a little over two years ago, I signed up for an acting class in Orlando and fell in love with the craft more than ever before. Fast forward two years after that first acting class to this past August, and I decided to make that aforementioned move back to my childhood home - again, something I thought I'd never do - to save money while trying to get my toes wet in the acting industry. Since signing up for that first class nearly two years ago, I've done things I always dreamt of doing, but for whatever reason, assumed were out of the question. I got head shots taken. I got signed to a talent agency. I booked my first paid acting job, and went to several auditions. A year ago, I performed in a live play for the first time in over ten years. And now, I'm finally making significant moves towards the next step in that dream - but more on that later. ;)

The truth is, getting to this point of satisfaction and self-assuredness took a trip through Hell. The first half of my 26th year was one of the most difficult times of my life. Despite some fun, adventurous and beautiful moments, it was riddled with emotional, mental and physical pain and distress. Parts of 22, 23, 24 and 25 felt similar; but the entire first half of 26, for nearly eight consecutive months, was difficult in an entirely different way. I experienced a bout of anxiety and depression I hadn't experienced before. In a frightening way, it felt mature. And even though I knew there was a worthwhile reason for it, moving home and back to my hometown, away from the life I had built for myself in a city I had grown to love and away from my best friends, with no job for the first few months, left me feeling lonely, broken, lost and terrified. Plus, it doesn't make it any easier when you feel lost in life and purpose, and you constantly have addictive access into everyone's best social media lives, where it's all a gorgeous array of images portraying success, glamour and peak joy (or, on the contrary, you're constantly reading about all the terrible things going on in the world.) The one positive that came from that low I went through was knowing how badly I wanted to pull myself out.

And over the months that followed, that's exactly what I did.

I chased what I wanted. I wanted to work with kids again, and I did. I wanted to get a job at a PR agency with a fun and progressive office culture, bosses I admire, creative work I enjoy and the flexibility to make it to castings, and I did. I wanted to get signed to a talent agency, go to castings, take classes with a casting director and get a paid gig under my belt, and I did.

I always knew I would pull myself out of that mental fog. It just felt like it was taking an eternity to get there. Thankfully, in my experience, it's true what they say: This too shall pass. In moments of darkness and uncertainty, when you feel lost, disappointed with yourself, and unsure of who and where you are, I beg you to remind yourself that you have the power and permission to ask for help if you need it, change your life whenever and however you want, and pull yourself out of a funk. I promise. I did it myself, and I'm truly happy, grateful and excited about what I've accomplished so far, what I'm doing, and where I'm going.

On May 19th, I turned what I'll refer to as Lucky 27. Because, for perhaps the first time in my whole life, I've learned and digested these invaluable lessons: It's OK for your life to take a different course. It's OK to do the "impractical." It's OK to make a decision based on what you want, even if others tell you it's risky. It's OK to be scared. It's OK to feel lost and confused, or behind on life's "milestones." It's OK to feel jealous. It's OK to ask for help. It's OK to experience hardships and heartbreak, or to be the one to break another's heart. It's OK to celebrate your successes. It's OK to be openly you. It's OK to be single because you haven't met someone you truly feel connected to, and you refuse to jump into dating simply because it's "the next step" or "what people do." It's OK to get angry. It's OK to cry and feel sadness, despite knowing all you have to be thankful for. It's OK to feel ridiculously happy and proud of yourself. It's OK to enjoy being in the spotlight. It's OK to create and live your life on your terms. It's OK to be vulnerable. It's OK to be flawed. It's OK to love who you are. It's OK to put yourself first sometimes. And, something very important to remember in this social media driven world: It's OK to not be riding on a life-high when it seems like everyone else is. 

In fact, it's all more than OK. It's part of life and what makes us human. It's beautiful in all its uncertain, exciting, tragic and messy glory.

Here's to this 27th trip around the sun; to the unknown; to the dreams, people and moments that keep us going; and to all of the possibilities that lie ahead.


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