Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Looking Back to See Where I'm Going

Three years ago, I felt I had finally come to where I was supposed to be. I was a proud business owner; I loved my clients and couldn’t wait to start each day. I had finally come to terms that I was content with being single and that I had achieved as much as anyone, with my familial, cultural, and educational background, could achieve.
I am happily aware that I am still in the process of learning about myself. I’m realizing, learning about myself will always be an adventure. Just look up “Adventure” in the dictionary! It’s defined as “an exciting or unusual experience; it may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome.” The only thing certain about this process is, the day I stop writing my Developmental Autobiography will be the day that I die.
It’s been a bit overwhelming to realize how much emotions were stirred while re-visiting my developmental journey. I have a tendency to become overwhelmed with too much information, too many options, and without clear direction. When investigating my past, I realized there is so much tied into my relationships with my ability to learn, my relationship with dance, my desire for adventure, and my desire for a stable and loving home. It’s the relationships I have with those components that have gotten me to where I am today, embracing yet another adventure.
I had no map and no one was asking me for directions when I embarked on my personal journey towards being a Fitness Professional, Business owner, and Wife. I had spent much of my life waiting for the future to happen to me, or the end to come. I was content either way. I had no regrets, and figured that my life had already been filled with so many wonderful adventures that I should not want for anything else.
Looking back, just 3 years later, I know I was trying to convince myself that I shouldn’t want form more. I’d been fortunate enough to have experienced glorious amounts of romance during my traveling days. Kisses atop glaciated mountains in Tasmania; 2 gents at one time following me across the country trying to win my affection; flights to Las Vegas for amazing 13 course meals and Jimmy Choos, songs written for me; dishes made for the menus of amazing restaurants in order to woo me; a fine man who hiked 15 miles to bring me a bottle of wine and then sent a Coast Guard boat to bring me back to the island the next week for my dream meal. I knew that none of the married women I knew could say they had experienced such romance. But I wanted more.
I secretly yearned to share a home with a wonderful man who would inspire me, grow with me, challenge me, and be happy eating the wonderful meals I would be cooking with the beautiful things that I would grow in our garden. I had been convinced by my peers that I had set my standards too high and that I would never find anyone who would live up to the expectations I had set for a husband. Many people said that I was setting my sights too high in order to set myself up for failure. Most of what they said I believed was true, because part of me believed that I wasn’t worthy of a man who would be deserving of such a great woman. I never really felt worthy of pursuing the type of man I wanted. Even though I knew I’d be wonderfully loving, devoted, and hardworking, I felt inadequate for not having completed college.
Having been a successful Fitness Professional for over 10 years and by becoming a business owner, many people had assumed that I did have a college education. All of my clients and Fitness Professionals who have read my bio and resume are aware of all my well respected certifications. Many assumed I also had a degree. It was not until I had announced I was going to be enrolling in the LEAP Program that I found out how others perceived me. Many of my clients wondered why I wanted to get another degree. Many of them assumed that I already had a Sports Medicine or Kinesiology Degree considering the knowledge I possessed and the success they had achieved while I’ve been their Personal Trainer. I was flattered with the impression they had of me, and happy with how satisfied they are working with me. But instead of feeling proud, I felt like a fraud.
When I told them I had not completed college, they figured it was because I was a professional dancer. I’ve had no problem letting them believe that. Sadly, the truth is that even though dancing is one of the most demanding things anyone can ever do, it was actually the easy way out for me. The mere idea of trying to go back to college was more frightening than the idea of juggling rabid bob cats.
I’ve always found learning and retaining information to be a very challenging, although rewarding, endeavor. My outward confidence; my ability to articulate ideas and convey information as a well respected, knowledgeable Fitness Professional and (now former) Business Owner; and my broad range of knowledge, betrays the fact that I’m lacking in formal education. It has not been my lack of enthusiasm to seek knowledge that has kept me without a degree, but it has been my lack of degree that has left me with a lack of confidence. I did go to college for a time, but I did not stay long enough to get a degree. I pursued a dance career, but to be completely honest, I really didn’t know what else to do.
I was always on the move but never had a clue where I was going. I had barely realized that I had graduated from high school when I found myself enrolled, with a full course load at Glendale Community College, thanks to the Fine Arts Grants my Photography and Ceramics teachers had applied for on my behalf. I’m sure most kids would have been jumping for joy at this opportunity, considering the praise they would have gotten from parents, family, and friends. Sadly, I had none of those things. The Grandmother who had raised me had suffered a stroke a year earlier, and my mother had gone off the deep end, leaving me with nowhere to live. This situation didn’t leave much for celebration, nor did it help to give me any direction. Not once was I asked by my family, “What do you want to be when you grow up.” I had never considered an option, any options. So when the scholarships came my way, I went to college, but with no clue where I was going.
Not once did anyone suggest I see an academic counselor; I didn’t even know they existed. I was just told to enroll in all the required Fine Arts classes. So I did. Not once did anyone ask how I was supposed to complete these classes while living on my own, working 40 hours a week, managing a retail store in the Glendale Galleria. Not once did someone ask how I was going to manage my time between work, studying, and classes, while not having a car, and not having any roommates, friends, or family to help.
I appeared to have it all in the eyes of my living-at-home fellow students. Looking back, I can see why no one bothered to ask. I’m sure they figured I knew what I was doing, because I was doing it. Little did they know, I was failing. Not just my classes, but personally too. I felt so lost, and so out of control. I had no idea how life was to be done. I knew how to pay bills, how to get up and go to work, and cook great meals, thanks to my Grandma being an excellent example of great work ethic. But sadly, no one prepared me for college and living alone. No one in my family had done that. Still, no one in my family has done any of this, except for me. I was so young, and so alone, and so badly wanted to still be taken care of, but that was no longer an option.
When I realized that I was not going to succeed in the college classes I had enrolled in, I didn’t want to admit it. No one knew but me. I still appeared to be such an “adult.” I had a great job, by the standards of an under 21 year old college student. My bills were paid, I had freedom, I had dates, I had paid to put braces on my teeth, and I could come and go as I pleased. I was independent; something my Grandmother took great pride in. My Grandmother, a very hard working immigrant from Mexico City, who was proud to become an American, and worked for Lockheed for over 20 years, always stressed how important it was to never depend on anyone, especially a man. She was so proud to be the first (and only) woman in our family who got a divorce, lived on her own, and cut her hair, so “I would never be a stupid, subservient, wet back.” I wanted to be as independent as my Grandma since she was no longer around to enjoy her freedom.
I may have been independent, but really, I was just alone. What I really wanted was to feel confident, safe, and happy. I needed some direction. I wanted some direction. I wanted to feel confident, competent, I wanted a home…I wanted to go back to dance class.
Some could easily call it a regression to go back to a safe place. I like to think it was a brilliant survival instinct! What I was really craving was direction and discipline. A great dance program definitely delivers that! Most college students can’t wait to be on their own, but I was on my own without choice, at age 17. When college and my new independence became tough, I craved the structured atmosphere that I remembered from when I was young. I started skipping my academic classes and started going to Ballet Classes instead. I loved the discipline and the learning process. You don’t think, you “DO.” I loved being told what to do. I didn’t have to think, I just had to do well and all was right with the world. By giving up all the control in the dance studio, it gave me the power and the confidence to take control of my life for the first time ever. Or so I thought.
Dance also gave me the perfect substitute for an intense personal and physically rewarding relationship, which was perfect for someone who couldn’t afford to get too close to anyone. I thank dance for keeping me out of “trouble.” Dance class was the parents that I never had. In a dance class I had demanding, disciplined, and beautiful ballet mistresses who were confident and elegant and gave me plenty of attention. In ballet classes I had handsome dance masters that were masculine, demanding, yet unattainable. Dance was the easiest hard thing I have ever loved to do. I danced when I was happy, I danced when I was sad, I danced when I needed attention, and I danced when I wanted to be alone. Dance was my lover, my mentor, and my teacher. Dance became an adventure.
I have always been drawn to adventures. Since I was a young girl, I was always reading adventure and survival stories. I loved reading about new cultures and exotic places; different countries, food, drink, religion, and rituals. As I became a stronger dancer, more doors opened and I was exposed to new styles of dance, new cultures, new rituals, just like in the adventures I had read about. But I was never completely satisfied exploring these new experiences through dance. It was as if I always had a chaperone, and couldn’t really let go to enjoy the journey. Looking back, it was if I were an adolescent finally wanting to leave the nest. I wanted to spread my wings and explore the horizons. I wanted to explore the world without my parents. I wanted an adventure away from dance.
The transition was difficult; probably more difficult than leaving the nest of parental figures. By this time, dance was not only my family structure; it was my identity, my income, my excitement.  At this point dance was becoming my torment. I still loved dancing but I knew that dance careers are short lived. I also knew I wanted something more.
Dance had been the vehicle to so many wonderful life experiences and it had become a great excuse for why I had not finished college, but it was also keeping me from enjoying other things. It was around this time when I became aware that short lived dance contracts weren’t good for setting up great patterns for cultivating lasting relationships. Three months here. Six months there. Hello Goodbye.
Life was beginning to feel a bit creepy and impersonal. I was always keeping boyfriends at arm’s length because the contract could end at any time and I didn’t want to have to deal with goodbyes. Yet, I wanted more. But part of me knew that the “more” I wanted would be a shame to the Grandma I missed and loved so much. I wanted a relationship with a wonderful, respectable man, I wanted to have a stable home, I wanted to cook and care for the ones I loved. I knew I couldn’t have the “more” if I kept the dance. And if I had the “more” I wanted, it would disgust the memory of my Grandmother.
Then, dance was gone. Just as fast as my Grandma was. I was injured. I felt that dance had sent me divorce papers. As if I had been thinking of cheating on it and it found out. I hadn’t planned on my dance career being over before 30. I wanted to tell dance “I take it back! I wasn’t going to leave you! Give me at least 5 more years! Please give me another chance!” But just like when my Grandma had her stroke, I had no choice. Dance was gone, and so was my career, along with my identity, and my income, and my comfort. But this time, I had something else. I had passion, I had savings, I had my work ethic, I had my personality, I had experience and I had freedom. I had the freedom that comes with choice. I chose to be alone.
My solitude lasted a very long time. About 5 years. I learned a lot during that time. I learned to slow down, I looked before I leapt. I started making decisions vs scrambling for the next life preserver. I started spending more time alone in the wilderness. I learned to be still, to be quiet; to observe. When I would come back to reality and spend time with people, I would hold onto the stillness that I found when outside; it gave me the calm and clarity to observe others. I learned from others successes and failures. I chose to observe the people who had the lives I most wanted.
 I began working more hours as a kayaking instructor and wilderness guide. These days were relaxed and enjoyable. One day lead into the other with ease. I had gotten my CPR certification followed by taking an intense 10 day, 80 hour Wilderness Medicine Course, which opened more doors for me to begin guiding multi-day kayak camping trips, and leading hikes and fitness classes for wealthy people who also paid for my fitness certifications. I began creating custom Moonlight Kayak trips for several kayak companies in the Midwest, which included gourmet wine and cheese pairings. I decided that I was going to enjoy these adventures until I figured out what I would do next. I had no idea until about 5 years later that I was already living part of my dream.
The process of writing this paper helped me to see where I made some exciting steps in my personal growth; steps that I am really proud of, and have gotten me to where I am today. I can really see where I brought my dreams and abilities into reality, when I began placing some value on the things I desired. I can see where I finally gave myself permission to strive for the things I valued and desired most.  
Three years ago, I had a friend who I used to think was out of my league. I valued his work ethic; he was athletic, handsome, and so fun to be around. We also had the best group of friends in common. It was around this time that I had grown happy and content with my life, and my accomplishments. I loved having him as a friend. His approval meant nothing to me in a romantic sense since I had already come to the conclusion that I was passed the prime of being desirable as a wife, especially for such a wonderful man.  One night, while out with our gang of friends for a celebration, I decided to give him a kiss. I knew I’d be able to blame it on the champagne if it backfired. We went on our first date two days later. We were married on July first of this year.
The day after I began to write this paper, I left on a two day adventure. I knew the miles would bring movement to my body, stillness to my doubts, and clarity to my mind. I have grown to depend on these miles when I need them the most. My times alone in the wilderness have never failed to bring me to a new awareness.
I’ve enjoyed over 18 years of solo adventures and I never once understood people when they spoke about being homesick. I would usually just dismiss their sentiments as a sign of weakness, or I came to the conclusion that they were boring people who couldn’t be happy alone.  I still believed that until Thursday night.
I smelled like a dirt bag, with random tan and sunburn lines, and a big bruise on my behind. I had just completed a little over 38 miles of Hiking in 2 days, with over 8000ft elevation gain. I had also lost over 4lbs. These accomplishments are usually enough to make me feel as if I had enjoyed a thoroughly productive day on one of my adventures. But something was missing. I decided to walk down to the beach at sunset. I figured, “What’s another 2 miles after 38?” I was really missing my husband and was hoping he enjoyed the meals I left for him before I left. I looked down and found a tiny leaf shaped like a heart. I started to cry. I was homesick for the first time in my life.
I've lived alone since I was 17, it was always just me. When I used to go away there was no one waiting for me, missing me, loving me, and hoping for my safe return. There was nothing to miss. I was leaving nothing behind.
I had left on this adventure hoping to find some academic confidence and clarity in order to help the revision of the paper I had written the night before. Instead, what I found is what I was hoping for all of my life. What I have been working so hard for and didn’t even realize until I was typing it out and crying.
I have a home. I have the man I respect, love, and have always wanted. We work hard, we support each other, we deserve it, and it feels so good. J

-Melissa Adylia Calasanz
Developmental Autobiography for PPA LEAP110 Course

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