Life, Love, and Audacious Joy

Written by Ashley


 “I know I can’t just sit here hoping that life will one day make me happy. It doesn’t work like that. “

An over-sized mug warmed one hand while the other gently tucked a stubborn strand of hair behind my ear, fighting the persistent breeze. I slid a foot out of my well-worn shoe and tapped it against the cool sidewalk, as if slowly counting the undeniable stars in the sky.

My 22nd birthday was spent sipping hot chocolate in front of the Eiffel Tower. That evening I realized how alive I was. An unforgettable moment accented by the twinkling lights around and above. That moment.

Somewhere over the past two years, I lost sight of my dreams, my moments, and began to settle into a “normal” routine.

And that is not okay with me.

The first 18 years of my life were relatively uneventful and the definition of by-the-book. I graduated at the top of my high school class and attended a medium-size, private university because I thought that’s what you did. Four years later I was left with a fancy piece of paper, but no set plan for the future.

So, on a whim I accepted a teaching assistantship in France. The experience was full of culture, self-exploration, and travel. I wandered through tiny European towns and I ate gelato like it was my job. I learned that I adore red wine, that I’m happier with friends close by, and that I can push myself further than I ever thought possible. Through all of this soul-searching, I also discovered my passion for counseling children. You know that feeling when fireworks are exploding inside you and you can’t wait to share that energy with everyone around you? That’s how I felt about this discovery. I applied to graduate school feeling confident that I had my life perfectly mapped out.

That fall I packed up three suitcases and moved to New York City to begin working on my master’s degree in Psychological Counseling. I felt like I was stretching myself, in a good way. I traveled through Europe, was on the right track professionally, living in the most vibrant city, and my relationship with my then-boyfriend of five years was becoming more serious. It seemed like the pieces were falling into place.

And then all of the sudden my life began to crumble.

In 2008 my dad passed away. Four months later, my boyfriend and I broke up. When I graduated in May 2009 and could not find a job, I moved back home and into my childhood bedroom, unemployed.

Now, I’m no expert, but I believe this is what they call your Quarter Life Crisis.


Slowly I began picking up the pieces and putting together a life that wasn’t part luck, part shame, and part embarrassment. I wasn’t creating a life I was in love with, but one I could live with.

For now.

I found a job in my field that barely pays the bills and have settled into that unfulfilled routine over the past two years. Last July I began dating an amazing guy who makes my heart smile, but with over 2,600 miles between us, it can be challenging. A few months ago I signed a lease on my very first solo apartment and am learning that I’m pretty good at cleaning the bathroom, but will do anything to avoid taking out the trash.

Considering where I was two years ago, my life doesn’t seem so bad today. It’s perfectly fine by many standards, but it’s still not full of that audacious joy I’ve heard so much about.

I have big goals, things I want to accomplish and memories I want to leave a mark on my life, but I realize I can’t keep waiting for these next steps to just happen. I’ve had some curve balls thrown my way, and I know I can’t just sit here hoping that life will one day make me happy. It doesn’t work like that.

This is MY life.

I need to be brave, take ownership, and start living on my own terms.

This is the year I create my own happiness and make my own dreams come true.

I think I’ll start by making some hot chocolate.

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