Beauty in Transformation |
Ever since I was in sixth grade and my teacher told us how we needed to “start preparing for who we want to be as an adult” before entering middle school, my mind would conjure images of a successful cosmopolitan who lived in a big city, had an amazing corporate job, made tons of money and traveled to at least one exotic place every year. I took mental notes of women who appeared to have that lifestyle on TV, in movies and in magazines. I remember thinking, “If I could just get there I will be okay,” or “Once I have that (job/house/etc.) then I’ll know I’ve made it.” What I now realize was that what I wanted was to feel put together, confident and secure – because at that age, that’s the last thing I was.
When I turned 13, my youngest sister passed away on Labor Day 2001. The following year, my oldest sister passed away during Labor Day 2002. Having experienced those traumatic losses (especially in such a short time and at that age), my view of the world became warped and my sense of security was practically destroyed. I remember watching the aftermath and how my family fell apart and feeling devastated at my powerlessness to make things right. And as desperate as I was for things to be “normal” I coped by trying to take on emotional responsibilities that weren’t necessarily mine to begin with. And so as one might imagine, my innocence and self identity were pretty damaged.
Regardless, I excelled in school. I made great grades and even learned how to play the guitar. Music and writing were my favorite things to do and my parents were thrilled that I’d found healthy, constructive ways to channel my grief.
When it came time to go to college, I thought back to my sixth grade teacher who always had stories to tell about her summer vacation trips to places like Greece. I also remembered how she told us (and me when we chatted aside) not to let anything stand in the way of our dreams. Everything she was just made it made it seem like no matter what I could do anything I wanted to without having to be afraid.
So with that, I decided to teach myself how to speak Japanese and promised myself that even if I was 80 years old when it happened, I would visit Japan. I even considered living there at one time, especially since 13 I’d always felt out of place among my peers anyway.
It wasn’t until my third year of college that I realized that, even though I was on the path to study abroad in Japan and get my degree in Public Relations on time, I wasn’t happy like I thought I would be. What I discovered was that I’d been harboring the same guilt and anger I’d pushed down since my sisters passed away. Furthermore, being the perfectionist I was, I never allowed myself to make mistakes and had become very high-strung in my pursuit to accomplish the dreams I set for myself years before.
It took years before I emotionally, mentally and physically burnt myself out. When I finally allowed myself to take time out and gathered the courage to face the painful memories and feelings I’d kept hidden, I decided that I needed the support of a dear friend.
It started with the support of a strong, beautiful friend and it was through talking with her (and having the courage to sit and take a long, honest look at myself) that I was able to discover my inner beauty as a young woman.
Soon after our one of our last conversations, I felt I’d become strong enough to revisit the memories of when my sisters and I were together and happy by visiting my dad’s old house. My dad’s old house was one of the last moments I remembered of being a real kid. It was also a place where only my oldest sister and I had memories, which made it all the more special.
And last, but perhaps the most poignant test of courage, was when I finally fulfilled my dream to study abroad in Japan. While I had the time of my life and met some of the most amazing people, I also learned that I could handle being halfway across the world (10+ time zones away) which helped me develop real self-confidence. I also learned that I’d spent so much time trying to escape that I took for granted the people who really mattered most in my life. When I came back, I was prepared to appreciate the people in my life who had been there all along and feel more secure in who I was. In all, it was a truly eye-opening experience.
When I came back home later that year, I also noticed I carried myself differently than I did before I left. I held my head up in confidence and smiled more freely. And that was one year when I felt truly beautiful, inside and out.
Even now, I’m not a cosmopolitan jetsetter who lives in the big city – but I’m okay with that. Because during that summer, I learned that being truly beautiful or happy wasn’t waiting for me in any movie or magazine – but accepting myself as someone who was worth it and deserving enough to have the courage to heal and explore my dreams.
Jenna graduated with her degree in Public Relations in 2012. Since then, she has gone on to work as a Public Relations Director for a start-up marketing agency and currently enjoys her role as the Marketing & Social Media Specialist for a local healthcare manufacturing company.
Additionally, having grown up in an animal-loving family who always had dogs, she recently decided to adopt her first dog, Nikko, from a nearby animal shelter and is thrilled learning how to live with her new companion.