I firmly believe that we design our lives over time by the decisions we make every day. I distinctly remember the exact week, more than half of my lifetime ago, where this way of living became crystal clear to me, in what felt like a lightning bolt from above. Seems kind of simple. Decide on the type of life we want to have and then make decisions that will get us there. Here’s how it happened for me:
I’m 26 years old. My boyfriend of two years proposes and we start planning our wedding. We set a date; I shop for a dress, we make an appointment with the wedding photographer. On our way home, my fiance turns to me and says, “I’m not sure that I’m ready to get married.” He goes on to suggest that I move out of his house and into an apartment, with a six-month lease. Several days later, I discover that he’s been seeing someone else.
I’m heartbroken. Devastated. I don’t know what to do with myself, so I sign up for a six-day, life-transformation program (with a ropes course) being held three days later in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York. Participants were to meet in New York City bright and early on Saturday morning; then we’d take a bus together to the mountains. I book my fight – no problem. But at this late date on that weekend there are no hotel rooms.
It so happens that the organizers had a list of participants who offered to put out-of-towners up for the night. They gave me a woman’s name and address. I am out of my comfort zone. I worry that I’ll be staying in a five-story walk-up and sleeping on the floor with an apartment full of strangers.
I fly into the City and give the taxi driver the address. He says, “That sounds like it’s near The Dakota.” (You might remember The Dakota as the building on New York’s Upper West side where John Lennon had lived.)
We drive up, and it turns out, it is the Dakota!
No five-story walk-up for me, instead I am staying in a penthouse apartment, with mid-century furnishings, exquisite artwork, and a fairytale view of Central Park. Every, single element of this home was deliberate, chosen with care.
My hostess led me upstairs to a gable bedroom, with one side floor-to-ceiling windows. I get into a perfect bed with the full moon shining on me.
The next morning, my hostess made breakfast in her pristine white, galley kitchen that could have been straight out of a magazine. She poached eggs to perfection, placed them on a toasted English muffin, and squeezed oranges for my juice.
So here I was, the oldest of seven siblings in a Navy family that moved around a lot. My mother had her hands full with my father being out at sea. Suffice it to say, there wasn’t enough of anything, including attention, to go around. I left home at age 17 and somehow put myself through college. There in that apartment in the Dakota, taken care of by a stranger, I began to realize and trust that I could have love and a beautiful life of my design.
So, I get to the Six-Day course, which is like boot camp and therapy rolled into one. I meet supportive people from all over the country. We lift each other up through our shared experience, which includes the Tyrolean traverse between two mountain peaks. I didn’t think I was going to make it to the other side, but very slowly I did, with cheers to keeping me going.
At the end of the week, we set a direction for our lives and made a list of values and goals we claimed for our futures. My list included having my own company, being married and having children, and creating a home that would be my version of that Dakota apartment.
The miracle was that in that one short week, I had gone from the brink of despair to a place where I knew I could make decisions that would facilitate my living into that future.
Upon my return to Atlanta, I did not get an apartment with a 6-month lease. I chose not to waste my time with someone who was ambivalent about spending his life with me; instead, I took the money I saved living together, and bought my own small but, perfect house.
Six months later, I met the man who would become my first husband. We married six months after that. Shortly after that, I had my daughter, Amanda. And my life has continued to go like that.
So, none of this was going to happen if I hadn’t decided to step outside of my comfort zone to stay overnight in a stranger’s home and register in the six-day training. During that week, still crystal clear after all these years, I claimed my direction; I found my north star. And, in all this time, more often than not, despite roadblocks, detours and devastating loss and crazy bliss I’ve stayed the course to my dreams.
What I know for sure is that if you find that you’re not where you want to be, it’s never too late to look at what’s important in your life and begin to make choices that align with your goals. There’s help along the way; I’ve had my share. But no one else can do it for you. You have to be the one to take a stand and stay the course.
Along the way, you’ll find roadblocks that will divert you from your path. Just take a detour to get back on track. Your life may not look exactly how you thought it would, but it just might be better than you could have ever imagined.
Where would you like to be your life? Are you on course for those dreams?