In my life, I have escaped death at least twice. The first time was before my life had even begun. My parents were weighed down already in their early 20’s with two other children. Having a third was incomprehensible. They made an appointment, went to the clinic and prepared to end my life.
You may be wondering why I know this story. I mean, surly if any parent had contemplated this, they would have never shared the information with their child, right? My parents were odd ducks, what can I tell you? I was more like my mother’s best friend than I ever was her daughter. Ironically, this story was my claim to fame as a child. This story meant, that I was destined for greatness. A bedtime story that I’d requested over and over again.
It went something like this:
“When your father and I found out we were pregnant again, we were broke and living in a one bedroom shack. Your father was 23 and I was 20. We already had your sister, who was 2 at the time and your brother, who was 1. I had a job at Mrs. Fields baking cookies and your father was working the night shift at a printing company. We could barely feed the two kids we already had and so when we found out we were pregnant with you, we didn’t think we could do it. We went to the doctor, I put on that itchy thin hospital gown and sat on the cold table. My stomach was in knots and no matter how much I tried, I could not stop crying. My legs and body were shaking uncontrollably. The doctor sent me out to the lobby to collect myself. That’s when I saw your father, his head in his hands sobbing. His eye were bloodshot and his hands were like leafs in the wind. I dropped to my knees in front of him and said “I can’t do this” to which he replied “neither can I” and I’m so happy you’re here now.”
I became obsessed with this story in my school age years. I’d imagine the dramatic scene and how my life had been given a chance, despite the adversity and challenge I would certainly face. Now, you may be thinking that this is a story to inspire pro-life, it’s not. The idea that my parents “hadn’t wanted me”, was never an issue for me. Because I understood this, hell I was living in it. I looked around my surroundings and thought “yea, I get that”. Most of my meals came from the food bank and I’d learned to cook top ramen and eggs 20 different ways by the time I was 10. Not only that, but had they gone through with it, I’d have been none the wiser, right? In my mind, it was more than that. It was magic. What this story brought me to believe was that I was destined for greatness. That I was going to change the world in some profound way. Because I wasn’t a child who had been conceived by the standards of a timeline, by the preparation and anticipation that other children were conceived in. My life was not planned. My life would make my parents life significantly more difficult, simply because of the financial strain alone. Therefore, I must have been destined for a different plan, a great plan. A plan that was beyond that of my mother and father. A plan, which the universe itself insisted upon.
The second time I escaped death, I was 14. I had been living with a heart condition from birth and up until that point it had not impacted my life enough to warrant any kind of rash action. Aside from my mother never allowing me to play sports or ride roller coasters, but that was not a good enough reason for my doctor to cut me open, apparently. As I was being wheeled into surgery, I made brief eye contact with the boy in the bed across from me. He was around the same age and he was absolutely inconsolable. Fighting the sleep aid with impressive grit and holding onto his mother’s hand, literally for dear life. I smiled at the boy and I fell into a peaceful sleep. I wasn’t afraid of death because I knew that I was meant for greatness and up until that point the greatest thing I’d achieved was middle school. Trust me when I say that was an achievement, I wasn’t exactly the popular girl. I woke up in the ICU, my mother awkwardly sleeping in the chair next to me. I was having a hard time moving, but I felt a warmth on my bed that made me look to my feet. Sitting on the edge of my bed was the boy. He was smiling at me. I was so happy to see him smiling because he had been so terrified going into surgery. I’d wanted to tell him this, but I was still too weak to speak. So, I simply smiled back. Then he patted my leg, hopped off the bed and left the room. The following morning, I mentioned to my mother how happy I was that the boy was feeling so well and had even been up and about last night. My mother starred at me for a few moments in complete silence. She put down the cup of ice she’d been spoon feeding me and left my hospital room without a word. When she came back, she brought the boy’s mother with her and ordered me to tell her about this encounter in every detail. My mother was more serious than I’d ever seen her in my life, so I did what I was told! The boy’s mother sobbed in my lap for a few moments and then left the room in silence. I was worried I’d gotten him into trouble and I asked my mother “what’s the big deal? So, he got out of bed, he seemed fine.” I was barley let out of bed to pee, so I could see why his mother might have been slightly upset at the thought. My mother sat beside the bed and began to cry, she told me in between sobs “the boy died last night, something about a blood clot, I don’t really understand exactly, but there were complications. You’re a very lucky girl.”
Blame the drugs, or the exhaustion, say it was paranormal or a hallucination. The point is, the boy was gone and I was here. The boy who had been in surgery at the same exact moments that I had for a very similar and routine procedure that the doctors had done 1000 times before was gone. He was gone and I was a very lucky girl to be alive, again. So, at the ripe old age of 14, I was even more certain that there was a greater plan for me and I was twice as determined to become something to be proud of. Something my parents could be proud of and something the boy would smile at. I knew that I had something amazing to offer this world. That year, I spent a summer away from home working as a nanny. I started high school and I ran for freshmen class president and won. I was pulling straight A’s in college level classes. I’d arrange the most successful high school dance in our schools history, pulling in thousands of dollars for my class. I made arrangements at the local grocery stores to donate their day old baked goods, which I would sell at bake sales. A high achiever by all standards and well on my way to greatness. That is, until my father passed away. I was 16 and my father was 39. Suddenly, my entire life fell apart. To be fair, my life had been pretty hectic up until that point as it was. My father had suffered from mental illness that went undiagnosed until the last years of his life. This lead to a lot of mental and physical abuse towards my mother. It also lead to my mother saying to me time and time again, “this is not the way things should be, this isn’t right. Never allow yourself to be in this situation”. Don’t get me wrong, my father had his moments and when he had them, they were absolutely amazing. He suffered from bipolar and there wasn’t an in-between with my father, it was either a dream come true kind of day or a complete nightmare.
Just as much as this story is not about pro-life. It’s also not about the dark places of my childhood. This is a story about my destined greatness. The only problem was, having my foundation, as shaky as it might have been, pulled completely out from under me, threw me totally off course. I lost interest in school because I simply could no longer find the joy in a high school football game or the latest gossip. I dropped out, got my GED and went straight to college at the age of 16. I found myself struggling, I didn’t have the skills and I didn’t have the discipline. My mother had been forced to sell our childhood home and her downsizing meant, there simply wasn’t room for anyone else in her tiny apartment. My mother did the best she could with the skills that she had and the emotional loss of having her husband of 20 years taken from her so young was proving to be more than she could handle. She spent the bulk of her time dancing to the song “Iris” by The Googoo Dolls with my father’s old jean jacket in the living room until she collapsed from exhaustion and lack of food. My mother was no longer my mother, she was lost and I had to find a way to survive. So, here I was, 17 now and living on my own. Paying rent, a car payment and when there was money left over heat, water and food in that order. This was not the greatness that I thought I’d been destined for. At the age of 21 I’d had enough, I packed up everything I owned in my little Honda Civic and without a job or any real kind of plan, I moved from my home town in Seattle to Long Beach, California. I landed a temp job answering phones in the marketing department of an employment agency where the owner of the company took a particular shine to me. To be fair, I think that he took a particular shine to just about everyone. He had this inspiring way about him, he was the person who introduced me to the works of Earl Nightingale. An inspirational speaker and author who had a particular way of getting you to think outside the box. One story which truly resonated with me, was Nightingale’s “Acers of Diamonds”. I won’t rehash the story for you, but the gist was an inspiring tale of how we are all sitting on gold mines right in our own metaphorical back yards, but have failed to see this. I listened to those CD’s so often that I’d worn them nearly completely out by the end of the year. Yes, Nightingale was going to show me how to achieve my greatness. How to complete the will of the universe.
I drove around with the quote “what would you do if you were not afraid” taped to the inside of whatever piece of junk I’d been able to afford off craigslist at the time. I dabbled in music as a singer, did some spoken word, a little bit of improv and writing for a stretch, but when those things didn’t pan out, I decided climbing the corporate ladder was my next best option at becoming successful and great. So, I worked hard and was hired full time in that little marketing department. I was promoted about 2 years later and then I took those skills to a giant biotechnology company where I was promoted every year for 5 years straight. In between, I got married, bought a house, ran an inspirational book club for young women that grew to over 500 members, travelled all over the world and by most standards I’d achieved a great and fulfilling life. A fairy-tale life in some respects. A life that my parents could be proud of. A life the boy would be proud of. So, why was I having anxiety attacks on my lunch break and breaking out into hives in the dark parking lot of my amazing job? I was a success story! I was making nearly as much, sometimes more than my college educated friends and without the student loan debt. In fact, aside from the mortgage I had no debt at all and my credit was excellent. I’d had had a 401K since I was 20 and was even building a stock portfolio at my new company. My husband was kind, honest, faithful and supportive. Here I was. I had arrived into the upper middle class, the successful people of the world.
Then one day, during therapy, because every good person seeks therapy as a first defense in these kinds of crisis’s. If only to reassure themselves that they are in fact normal and that their lives are completely on track. Which is of course exactly what my therapist said after our first session, she looked at me, smiled and announce “well, I am impressed, Tiffany. You are a very lovely and successful young lady with an incredible background.” I’d learned what people wanted from me by that time in my life and I knew how to give this to them. By the 5th session, she was asking about my marriage, I went into our current state of affairs, I’d had a few concerns, but nothing major. He and I were very different people. I was the extrovert who wanted to make friends with everyone, while my husband was very much an introvert happy to maintain contact with just me and his mother and father. It worked for us because that gave me the freedom to join every club, cause or hobby that I wanted and I wanted to join a lot! I never knew what to do with myself if I wasn’t surrounded by people and distractions. She stopped me there and asked me a very simple question “So, tell me, why did you get married?” I starred at her in complete disbelief. What did she mean WHY did I get married? I mean, WHY did I have a career? WHY did I buy a home? WHY do I have a 401K? This is what you do as a successful person. She saw that I was struggling with the question, so she rephrased “Ok, how about, why did you marry him?” Well, this was an easy question to answer, so I replied with my prepared answer that I’d given time and time again “he hand wrote me letters and sent them through the mail with little heart stickers, every single day for a month straight! He would drive 4 hours just to see me for 1 wake up at 2am only to drive back to work and do it all again the next day, he would buy me really thoughtful gifts out of the blue and I mean, that is the guy you marry.” My therapist sat back in her chair and I honestly don’t think this was meant to be a particularly profound statement, but it hit home for me. She laughed aloud and said “no, honey, that is the guy that you married.” Mind. Blown. Wait just a minute here. Do you mean to tell me that there is no “kind” of guy that you’re supposed to marry? Does that also mean there is no amount of money you should make or no timeline you’re supposed to be on? No amount of corporate success you’re supposed to chase? Had the greatness that I’d achieved all been a façade? Were the reasons for my parking lot crying spells, my hives and skin conditions perhaps stemmed from the fact that I was… god forbid… unhappy with my perfect life? Everyone loved my life, though. So many times I’d been told I had the perfect marriage, the perfect job, and the most envious travel experiences. I was achieving the greatness I’d promised my childhood self, wasn’t I?
My entire world fell apart in that moment. I realized I wasn’t working towards greatness, I’d been working towards acceptance and there was nothing more in the world that scared me more than the thought of continuing to live rest of my life for everyone else’s approval. I finally decided what I needed to do. The only way I was going to find my greatness, my true purpose, the plan the universe had been whispering in my ear since I was 6, was to start from scratch. I had to begin to rediscover myself and what I really wanted, what my greatness was really meant to be. Because somewhere along the line, I’d lost that certainty in my gut about my destiny and I’d become like everyone else. I knew I wouldn’t accomplish greatness in my current state, which was a fabricated reality. I knew that I would have to put myself in unfamiliar situations and challenge myself in ways that would make me grow. To surprise myself again and to live in a way that was worthy of my greatness. I left my perfect husband. I sold my perfect house. I started to allow myself to make cringe worthy mistakes, just so I could analyze why I felt they were mistakes to begin with. Falling face first in front of everyone and laughing at myself all the way down. I am happier than I’ve ever been in my life and I have absolutely no idea where I am going. As it turns out, my greatness is simply living authentically, unapologetically and one hundred percent on my own terms. My purpose, is to share that journey. My goal, is to have you question what your greatness is, what your purpose is and if your answers are authentic or if their driven by fear and expectations. I’m giving you permission to have a second chance, I’m giving you permission to make mistakes and live up to your own beautiful greatness. Don’t screw it up!