My husband had driven with my best friend and her two kids to Disneyland where they both awaited our arrival. Kai, my best friend’s new beau, and I didn’t have the vacation days to spend on a road trip, so it was arranged that we would fly down together a couple of days later. Although a practical decision, Kai and I hadn’t yet met and the idea of making awkward small talk for hours in the terminal and on the flight was somewhat anxiety-generating for this introvert.
“So, tell me your life story.”
Although I have a more-than-casual interest in the inner workings of other humans, I said this more out of a strategic move to pass the time with a minimum of awkward silences. A life story would hopefully take up a fair amount of time where I could be in the audience and not on stage, a more comfortable proposition for me. Besides, listening to others is a default mode for me and I like to get right to the good stuff.
He obliged me. Parents, siblings, and growing up in Philly passed the time until our flight was ready to board, the tide of our conversation carrying us onto the plane and into our seats. When the conversation turned to me I gave a few “I was born, I grew up” facts, but eventually turned to the topic I talked most about these days: work. Not my boring, sensible day job, but what I felt was my true vocation: astrology.
As if that wasn’t weird enough, I had been contemplating taking some kind of serious move toward becoming a professional astrologer for years and to me that meant letting go of a day job crutch. I didn’t want to tell people I was an astrologer when really what I meant was that I was a Procurement Program Assistant masquerading as one. At the time, I was too inexperienced with myself and life to realize how little that mattered.
As we buckled and waited for take off, I told Kai about my hopes but, trying to minimize how “new agey” and naive I thought I might sound, I expressed my reservations in the same breath. Nevermind how much money I probably wouldn’t make or how ridiculous most people would think I am, but I wasn’t really sure there was even a place in the world for me. There were already plenty of astrologers out there in the world hanging their shingle out. I doubted I could make any kind of meaningful impact.
“Who knows if it’d even work out?” I said. “I’m sure I’m kidding myself. Besides, the world doesn’t need another astrologer.”
“Who cares what the world needs; what do you need?”
The words stunned me. What an idea: to measure your success not by your place in line, but by your own fulfillment. I was no stranger to doing what I wanted no matter what others wanted of me; I’d done a good job in my post-teen years of standing up for myself. But I’ve always fantasized about being The Best, The Chosen One, The Right Hand Woman. Although I’m not maliciously competitive, I thought being Great needed proof: getting the go-ahead from the Powers That Be, a declaration of my worthiness from a mentor, being the object of throngs of screaming fans, something. But there’s a lot of frantic scrabbling and maneuvering involved when you put the go button under another person’s finger. It never occurred to me that I could, and even should, push it myself.
Epiphanies rippled through my consciousness like aftershocks after an earthquake over the next few days. Insightful dreams and meaningful conversations with my husband over dinner kept the soil of this thought-seed fresh and fertile. But one experience sealed the deal. Having arrived at Disneyland during a volcanic heat wave, we sought out a lot of shows and exhibits purely for the enchantment of their air-conditioning. We cooled off in a small theater that was showing a 10-minute film of highlights in Disney’s life and career. In his mid-20s, he suffered a major and unexpected defeat when the contract he’d had to produce the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit cartoons, his biggest success to date, was suddenly sold out from under him. Ever the optimist, he started creating a new character on the train home from that disappointing meeting: Mickey Mouse. A star was born.
As I watched success after success parade by on screen, it occurred to me that Walt never knew what his accomplishments were going to amount to when all was said and done. Although he certainly had confidence and big dreams, what drove him wasn’t becoming the “Man Behind the Myth” but his dedication to being himself: an innovator, an optimist, a creator. He simply started doing his thing and never stopped.
This epiphany was the downpour the seed needed to sprout. I decided I would make the move to phase out my day job when I got home. A few years later, day-job free and holding my first published book, Astrology of the Moon, in my hands, I opened it and reread the acknowledgements I had written:
“Thanks to Kai for uttering the sentence that shook my brain half away and, surprisingly, to Walt Disney for shaking it the rest of the way awake.”
Yeah. Thanks again, guys. That week, Disneyland really was my “happiest place on earth.”
This article was originally featured at Sweatpants and Coffee.