When I completed my second year of college, I had to face an ugly truth. I wasn’t going to be a doctor. I didn’t have the grades . .. not even close. Academics had always come easy to me so this was quite a blow. But worse than that, I did not know what I wanted to pursue instead. I thought smart people became doctors. Or at least knew what they wanted to do.
I frankly hadn’t give much thought to what other possibilities there might be. I was following what I thought was a defined path. Hitting this type of brick wall was not something I anticipated. Since I was paying my way through school, all I knew at this point was I didn’t want to continue without knowing where I was going. I felt lost and confused. "Who was I if I wasn’t the good student? How was I going to make a future for myself without a good education?" What did I even want to do . . .. or be? These questions dogged me.
At the time, I was working as an assistant to the director of my modeling agency in Michigan as my summer job. I learned I could build up my portfolio and get good experience in Europe. I had always been the awkward one growing up. Being acknowledged for my appearance was a welcome change and a bit of an escape from the rigors of college. I found I enjoyed the non thinking part of modeling.
With the naiveté of youth, I decided to drop out of college and move to Europe. I could pursue modeling there full time. I had illusions of grandeur including how impressed everyone back home would be if I was wildly successful. In the deeper recesses of my mind, although less acknowledged, I hoped I could somehow figure out what I wanted to do with my life. When I returned to Denver for a visit to my parents at the end of the summer and announced my plans, they were shocked and less than pleased. As a parent myself now, I can better appreciate their reaction than I did then. At the time, I thought they had no right to have an opinion since I was footing the bill.
I originally planned to move to Hamburg after spending a brief time in Holland. My folks are from the Netherlands so I had family and friends there. But after making the rounds to the modeling agencies there and feeling quite lost with my limited German, I decided to stay with my people and signed with an agency in Amsterdam. I did get the occasional job for a print ad or modeling a designer’s new line for prospective buyers. But mostly I got time to think and just be.
"Who am I? What do I want to be?" There was something about being where everything was unfamiliar that provided me more clarity. On long bike rides across the flat Dutch landscape seeing fields of tulips like those pictured, I considered what I enjoyed and what I was good at. I thought about what I wanted out of my life and my career. I always knew deep down that modeling was not a long term option for me.
As I passed the infamous girls of Amsterdam in the windows on my way to the agency, I knew they represented much of what I did not want. Instead, I sought success as I defined it including the ability to control my own destiny. I realized being with people I cared about and who cared about me made me truly happy . . .not chasing the elusiveness of fame and fortune. Europeans are generally better than Americans at savoring the simple pleasures like a great conversation, a perfect meal or a well brewed cup of coffee. Their slower pace and example helped me focus my priorties and breathe.
When I returned to the United States about a year later, I had a few foundational elements to build my path upon. In challenging situations since, I use lessons I learned during this time. The path to clarity for me often lies in changing everything familiar, looking at my life from a different vantage point, and confirming what is true and good.