Almost six years ago, I was splitting my time between trying to sneak in naps during the day while caring for my two young kids and clocking in for my night shifts as a labor and delivery nurse. I was pregnant with our third child, and although I loved many aspects of working with mothers and their babies, on the whole, I was really, really struggling. I felt, deep down, that I wasn't doing either of my jobs — as a nurse or as a mom — to the best of my abilities, and the stress of knowing how on earth I was going to juggle even more when baby number three burst on the scene was wearing down my very soul.
Quite frankly, I was kind of miserable.
Eventually I hit a tipping point, ironically and rather fittingly, on New Year's Eve. I'd worked the night before and hadn't been able to sleep at all during the day with the kids home, so I was feeling exhausted, hangry, and grumpy beyond all belief. There were a bunch of family parties going on, but I couldn't bring myself to attend any of them, so my husband headed out with the kids alone, which, of course, only made me feel even worse.
As I lay on the couch feeling completely sorry for myself, my husband ran back in to grab his wallet. He paused for a minute then asked me if I needed anything, which I took as a prime opportunity to burst into tears and launch into a hysterical verbal onslaught of the 10,001 ways I was falling apart and my life sucked. (Sleep deprivation + pregnancy = weird things happen to you, OK?)
While I cried and sobbed, he listened to me rant about things he had heard a million times before. Then he finally lost his cool. (And trust me, it was warranted, because he'd really put up with a lot.) He said something to me that I will never, ever forget. "You know what, Chaunie?" he shouted. "It's time to find your own happiness."
Instantly, my tears stopped and I looked at him, amazed at the fountain of wisdom my husband had suddenly become, because — holy crap — he was so right. If I wanted my life to change, I was going to have do something about it. I couldn't sit around, wallowing in self-pity, hoping that someone else would make me happier. I was going to have to do that for myself.
It sounds so simple, but it was a revelation of sorts for me. I honestly felt like I didn't really deserve to do a job that I loved, and that working a "real" job meant being miserable. I figured that hating your job was just kind of part of the territory that came with being an adult, because that was the script I'd so often heard from most adults.
But I vowed right then and there on that couch that I was done feeling sorry for myself. I was going to take steps, however small, to start chasing my dreams. So I did. And one of the first things I did? I made a vision board for my life.
The Vision Board
From the super official website MakeAVisionBoard.com, a vision board, boys and girls, is "a tool used to help clarify, concentrate, and maintain focus on a specific life goal." In my case, my goal was to create an entirely new life for myself as a writer who worked from home. It started off as just a fun project, actually, just a way to entertain the kids for a morning, and I laughed a little at myself: a vision board, haha, only "weirdo New-Age people" did that. But the girls were excited about a morning spent "crafting" and honestly, it didn't sound half bad to me either.
So I gathered a stack of magazines, scissors, and glue sticks galore and we went to town. The girls created their own vision boards, which mostly included pictures of puppies and unhealthy amounts of glitter, and much to my surprise, I found that there were a lot of relevant pictures and words in our stash of old magazines: Anything that involved coffee was obviously a given, but I found myself gravitating towards "business-y" type words. I wanted, I discovered, to be my own boss. I wanted to be a "career" woman with fresh flowers and a pretty laptop and cute coffee mugs, but more than that, I wanted to make real money as a professional. Was it possible? Could I be a professional writer?
Eventually, I decided to stop taking myself so seriously and just enjoyed the process of putting together the vision board. When I let my mind wander, I actually pulled up a lot of phrases and pictures that I was almost surprised to find out that I wanted. More kids? Why, yes, actually. A smoothie maker? Well, not necessarily, but the chance to make smoothies at the counter with my kids in the middle of the day? Yes, absolutely. Coffee, coffee, and more coffee? OK, well, that one wasn't surprising.
Over and over, again, I realized that there was more to my desire to change careers than some romanticized idea of working as a writer, like it was all fun and games and afternoons in cafe. What I really wanted was an entirely new life, one that would let me be with my kids more, offer me flexibility in my schedule, and still leave me feeling fulfilled professionally. Seeing the images come to life without me thinking about them helped me admit to myself what it was I really wanted out of my own life. Honestly, it's kind of ridiculous how often we are afraid to admit, even to ourselves, what it is we truly want in life, but my vision board allowed me to do that.
Making My Vision A Reality
I made that vision board and hung it up in our home office, where my husband had actually cut down a tree and turned it into the beautiful cherry cabineted office of my dreams, complete with a library straight out of Beauty and The Beast. OK, maybe not that great, but still, there were actual bookshelves with my favorite books on them. It was in this office that I first dreamed of becoming an author, first worked on my book proposal, and first jumped for joy when an editor replied back to me. Hanging my vision board in my office kept me dreaming. Whenever I found the chance to work in there, I actually looked at it a lot. What I wanted was — literally — right there in front of me, and slowly, slowly, I started to make little changes in my life.
I started a blog, put together a book proposal, took writing classes, and surrounded myself with anything and everything I could on breaking into the #freelancelyfe. I put my sights on hobbling together an existence as a freelance writer and leaving the hospital completely. I wanted a job that didn't mean wondering if I would get to be home for Christmas or Thanksgiving or giving up every third weekend. I wanted to be completely and totally flexible for my family, and I wanted to make a good living at the same time.
It took me two full years to make a single dime from writing and when it finally happened, my first check was only for $29.87. But I was so darn proud of that check that I took a picture of it and hung it on my fridge as proof that I had done it. I was a real writer.
The key, for me, was staying focused on exactly what my goals were as a writer. I knew, from the beginning, precisely what I wanted my life to look like. I didn't set out to create a new career for myself and hope that somehow it would work itself out. Instead, starting with that vision board, I was extremely intentional about what I wanted. And slowly but surely, my "visions" started to come true. I started writing for a hospital, I got my first job as a pregnancy writer, and eventually got accepted by more and more of my favorite parenting websites. I got a book deal and saw the publication of my first book. I landed my dream job as a magazine editor and finally, a few months into my fourth pregnancy, I made it all official and quit my job as a nurse.
I'd done it. I was now officially a full-time writer and a published author. There are days that I still can't believe I actually get to lead the life I dreamed of that day I made the vision board — making my own homemade smoothies included. I can't say, of course, with any type of certainty that my vision board had anything to do with helping me reach my goals, but having that constant visual reminder of what I was working so hard for certainly didn't hurt, you know what I'm saying?
Eventually, we remodeled the office and I put my vision board away, hidden in the recesses of a dusty cabinet. But today, when I pulled it out, I was shocked by how many things on that vision board had come true. I even couldn't help but laugh to see how far I had come, from my first goal of getting just one article accepted, to literally having thousands articles under my name now.
I even got to meet one of my writing idols, Emily Giffin, whom I had completely forgotten had made an appearance on the ol' vision board.
Seeing my board also reminded me how much I really love everything that I do. I love my pretty computer and my coffee cups and making goals and writing and I still have so much I want to do, including finishing my first novel by age 30, a la Emily Giffin.
I'm so thankful that I took the time to take myself seriously that day so many years ago and was intentional about the "vision" I wanted for my life. I don't usually buy into a lot of New Age-y things, and I knew then (and even know) that slapping a collage together won't magically change your life. But it did help me realize what my dreams actually were, and writing them down gave me a very literal vision of what my life would look like if I gave way to those dreams and followed them wholeheartedly.
That vision board went right back up on my office wall today. Because the dream is not over yet, guys. Next up? I'm visualizing myself as a NYT Bestselling Author, and I like the way it looks.
Image: Chaunie Brusie (6)