Creating a Life Worth Living, Part 1

Copyright 2006 Melissa Galt

It should have been easy. Shoulda, woulda, coulda — those words had been the essence of my life and so many other people’s lives, too. Now I’ve learned that life really isn’t about those words at all, and it isn’t about easy. Instead, each of our lives is about will and won’t and do and don’t, and the rewards that come from taking charge of our lives.

Our lives are up to us, as individuals. We are the ones in charge, whether we take that responsibility or not. So the question is, are we going to live a life by accident, a life by default, or will we have a plan, a path, a purpose? Will we end up where we want to be by intent or nowhere by accident? Will we blame others and external forces for the place we are in, or will we take charge and define by choice who we are, where we are going, and what we are doing? The choice belongs to each of us.

While my life interiors have often been a mishmash of uncoordinated elements, I have finally found my style and created a life of comfort and achievement. So let me tell you how it all began and how you can find your own passion and purpose.

The Lesson: If you aren’t living your dreams, then you are impersonating someone else’s!

Getting There

Overall, it wasn’t a bad upbringing. I’m not complaining. It had tough moments, Mom was gone a lot, and Dad wasn’t around much at all. They divorced when I was about six years old. But we didn’t lack for caregivers. I acquired an early sense of independence and eagerly took on responsibility.

My sister and I, as is typical of many close siblings, fought often. In fact, Mother nicknamed us Poke and Pinch, particularly for those long car rides when she was up front and we were in back acting up. But what I didn’t know and what I didn’t understand was that most of what I was becoming was up to me. I assumed, as so many of us do, that it was up to my parents, or up to my teachers, or up to someone, anyone else. I didn’t realize how much of it was actually in my control.

Therefore, for a long time I thought my life was about external forces and didn’t realize it was instead about my internal dynamics. I was at the “life’s not fair” stage and so nothing was my fault, I wasn’t in charge. What a bunch of baloney!

The Lesson: Life is about going confidently in the direction of your dreams, not anyone else’s. This is not a vicarious experience, but a visceral one.

The Legacy

What is funny about that belief is that all the while I knew that my mother had made her career decision early on. At age seven, if you believe her telling of the story, she had already made up her mind on a career, and then at age eleven she asked her parents to allow her to go to acting school. They agreed as long as she kept her grades up. Her grades soared because she was suddenly on purpose, on fire, and following her passion. Few of us know that early what we want or what will set us on fire.

She was a terrific actress, no less an achiever than my great-grandfather on the same side of the family who was a world-renowned architect. He also knew at a very early age that he would pursue architecture. It was about following their dream, their vision, their talents and their creativity.

The Lesson: It was about giving of themselves to the world and sharing their unique vision.

Temporary Detours

They both endured many obstacles, challenges, and crises but persevered and few knew of those setbacks. They quietly took them in stride. They didn’t complain or moan or lose sight of their goals; they just considered the setbacks temporary detours, another chance for a new experience, as it were. How many of us would weather the storms of life and career crisis better if we reframed them as temporary detours? I remember after I got into college, my mother sharing with me that she had been on welfare at one point and we never knew it. She had been without work for over a year and unemployment had run out, and welfare was next. We never knew it. She was doing everything in her power to find work; she was busy. She never let on, and we were in public school at the time and walked to school, so beyond belt-tightening on meals and no summer camp our lives were protected.

The Lesson: It is in our perception and our processing what our reality is. When we change these, we change our world.

Culture Shock Without Leaving the Country

Being a very academic adolescent, bent on making straight A’s and not in the “in” crowd, college seemed a time-wasting choice to me. I looked at it as four years of partying, and I wasn’t a partier. I was a super square. So it made sense to me to pursue the best high school education I could get, and that choice meant boarding school. Being away from home didn’t concern me at all; I was largely independent anyway. What I didn’t bank on was the cultural shock of going from the West Coast to the East Coast. You would have thought I was in a foreign country. I didn’t wear the same clothes, speak the same language, or even understand the teen lifestyle West to East. I didn’t fit in; I didn’t come close.

Needless to say, it was a very painful experience, made more so by being labeled “someone’s daughter” instead of being allowed to be myself. I got through it, even made it with honors, and, ironically, was the only one in the class not interested in college (this was a college prep school). I had my sites set on working immediately and getting my life off the ground.

The Lesson: Timing is everything, and when we are ready opportunities will appear, sometimes we have to allow the time to be ready.