climbing out of the swamp

What did you tell people that you wanted to be when you “grow up”?

For me, it was a doctor. Briefly, a tap dancer on Broadway topped the list, and later a forensic scientist, but quite consistently through the years my answer to that question was a doctor. A pediatrician, to be exact.

I held on to that dream all the way through college… Right on through the first 6 weeks of my freshman year.

It about that time I realized that I was drowning, and barely keeping my head above water. Drowning in school work, drowning in confusion, drowning in doubt. Sitting in a BIO 240 lecture one Thursday afternoon, the most terrifying thought an 18 year old who has had this plan, this vision, can imagine crossed my mind – “This isn’t what I want to do with the rest of my life. This path I’ve spent my entire life believing was my path isn’t. And I have no idea what to do.”

A few (thousand) tears, a couple of anxiety attacks, and a handful of meetings with an academic adviser later – I realized I had found that passion elsewhere. Quietly, going almost unnoticed, was a burning desire to learn everything I possibly could about the law. While I struggled with my biology courses (both academically and to hold on to any strand of motivation), I excelled in my political science courses – and just like a valley between two mountain heads is bathed in light at sunrise, my new path opened up in front of me.

My path in political science took some winding turns, and a few short detours. I thought law school was my calling, and then public administration, and then politics.

I was given the opportunity to work in a law firm, gaining hands-on exposure to the law that has become some of the most invaluable experience I could ever ask for.

I took a chance on a budding academic program, and completed a minor in Peace, Justice, and Conflict Transformation – where I became a registered mediator and had a hand in drafting legislation to include restorative justice practices.

Eventually, I got involved in politics – working on campaigns ranging from student government to state House of Representatives, gubernatorial races to the campaign for the (now) Senate Majority Leader. I was hooked.

I was a late bloomer when it came to my political involvement in comparison to my politico peers – but when the chance to take a position with a political non-profit came my way, I knew I would be the perfect person for the job. I dove in head first, moved 500 miles away, and landed in Greensboro, NC.

Working on college campuses, with students not all that much younger than me, was a dream come true for me. I was at a different campus every day, promoting free speech and individual liberties and capitalism, helping students find their voice and place in politics much like I had just a few short years earlier. I loved the organization(s) I worked with, I loved the mission, and I loved the work they were doing nationwide – and those things still hold true to this day.

But, along the lines… Something changed. Slowly, I began to feel a build-up quite similar to the one I had my first 6 weeks of college. Election season was in full-swing, and I was drowning, barely keeping my head above water. I was seeing a side of people I’d known for years that was so foreign to me, I was seeing divisions down party lines – and within my own party. I was losing my footing, and I was burning out. Quick.

It had been a long time coming when eventually the day did come, when I found myself thinking, “This isn’t what I want to do with the rest of my life. This path I’ve spent the last four years believing was my path isn’t. And I have no idea what to do.” That same pit of panic ensued, and it took all that I had to stay grounded. Politics was no longer healthy for my mental health, my friendships, me.

I didn’t leave politics and the political world because I no longer liked the organization I worked with, or the people I was fighting the good fight alongside, or because I didn’t believe in the message anymore. In fact, I didn’t leave politics at all.

I took a step back – a breather, if you will.

I took some time to evaluate my beliefs, why I believe in them, and why I continue to fight for them.

I took a new career path, and found a passion in working with people. I like to joke that as a recruiter, I’m basically just a professional sorority girl during rush week. (Rush always was one of my favorite times of the year.) I stayed active in keeping up with the news and current events, but not so active in engaging in the negativity, the arguments, the downright nasty that can all too often accompany the political realm.

And a funny thing happened.

I found a passion for the issues again. The whole reason I fell in love with politics in the first place.

These days, I tackle my political involvement with deliberate hesitation. I engage in meaningful discussions and debates, and actively avoid the black hole of Facebook arguments. I have learned to put principal over party; as I register as a voter in South Carolina this month, I’ll be registering as an independent for the first time in 5 years. I have learned to listen, really listen, to what the other side has to say – and I’ve learned that we agree on a lot more than we all care to admit.

I guess what I’m trying to say is… Politics are a serious business.
I get that, believe me.
(When reporters from the NYT call you – you know shit has gotten real.)

I imagine that maybe some day I will end up being actively involved again, however my eyes are set on a much more local level these days. I’ve tossed around the idea of school boards and city councils, maybe even a state congressional seat, as I am a strong believer in the power of state and local governments.

But I’ve learned that living your passion, while not always a yellow brick road, shouldn’t come at the expense of your mental health. Or your relationships. Or your happiness, damn it. There are so many different avenues and ways to stay connected and be involved – and I think all too often we lose sight of that.

Maybe it isn’t politics for you.

Maybe yours is sports, or a climbing the corporate ladder in search of a C-Suite. Whatever it may be, do yourself a favor and be sure that it isn’t consuming you. Make sure that you have a balance, and that it isn’t keeping you awake at night.

For me? It was.

Politics became an all-consuming world, and I lost sight of anything else.

So, I climbed out of the swamp and breathed in the fresh air – and for now, I’ll settle with just dipping my toes.