My Story Part II | G is for Grit

My Story Part II | G is for Grit

Grit;    firmness of character; indomitable spirit.

As I mentioned in my "Soul" post, I began attending Interior Designers Institute after high school in fall 2006 in pursuit of a bachelor's degree in, you guessed it, interior design. I was so excited to begin my life in the real world that I decided to take on almost a double full-time class schedule. I didn't have a job during the first half of my college career, obviously because it would have been impossible to stay sane considering the amount of commuting and homework I had. I wanted to get done as soon as possible, at the rate I was going I would have had my degree before I turned 21, however, it didn't turn out that way…. at all.

The Great Recession

It was the end of the spring semester of 2008, just two weeks before finals and I remember being in class when I along with a few other students were pulled from the middle of class and brought down to the office. After a short wait, I sat down with one of the heads of the school as she preceded to explain to me that I had thousands of dollars owed to the school and that unless I could come up with the money, I was not allowed to attend any of my classes.

Immediately following the meeting I was basically told to go home, which you can imagine was extremely upsetting and disheartening, considering I had no idea my tuition wasn't being paid. That was also the first indication that my family was no longer financially able to support the costs of a private design school. So, in a desperate attempt to avoid losing an entire semester worth of hard work, I decided to sneak into (literally) my remaining classes so I could still get my credit for the semester. I recall one instructor asking me if everything had been taken care of and without hesitation said, "yup, everything's taken care of." Luckily, my "plan" had worked and I was able to finish off the semester, but my battle was far from over. 

I must really be writing from the heart here because I've had to pause and walk around several times, these memories are really bringing up some old emotions. Which is a surprise to me, since this isn't exactly a "secret" of mine. I think it's the fact that I'm really baring my soul and telling the unedited story. Inhale...exhale….

In Limbo

The real knock to the face came when I was withheld the opportunity to register for the following semester. After finals, I knew I had to come up with that money somehow, so I talked to several banks as well as looked at ALL my other options. I couldn't get approved for a student loan without a co-signer, so after asking a handful of people I thought could help, my godfather offered.

Unfortunately, the loan was not approved and I was back to square one. I couldn't get approved for financial aid because my parents made "too much" money. So, with after exhausting my loan options I started searching for a job. It took longer than expected to find a job, this was in the midst of the recession where the job market was flooded with job seekers. The money owed was more than I imagined myself being able to raise on my own, regardless, I held onto the hope that I would get my ass back in school and finish that degree one way or another. Even if I didn't have a clue how.

I ended up missing an entire year of school and meanwhile ended up landing a job at a sporting goods company. It wasn't until my parent's officially lost the house that things got interesting. We ended up moving into a much smaller house and my room, which was once surrounded with the privacy of an entire floor, was now snuggly situated between my parent's bedroom and my sister's room.

Out of pure annoyance and rejection of reality (and after an intense anxiety attack that forced me to pull my car over before on my way to the new house for the first time) I abruptly moved out with my boyfriend at the time, but it only lasted a few months. After finding myself in an equally disappointing situation, I moved back to the new house my parents were renting, feeling completely defeated. 

Finally Back

It wasn't until then, after we lost the house, that I was suddenly eligible for financial aid. With that weight lifted off my shoulders, along with the help of one of my mom's oldest friends Lupe, who I am forever indebted to, helped pay off my existing school debt and got me back into school. This was the miracle I didn't know I was looking for, and you would think everything was peachy afterwards but it turned out to be more difficult than I ever could have imagined. Turned out that getting back in school was only half the battle.

I had been out of school for a little over a year before I was allowed to step back onto campus to finish my degree. I was like a fish out of water, a hot mess in every sense. On top of learning new material, I had to relearn everything I'd forgotten over the last year. I also had to balance school with my full-time job, which I had never had to do before. It was a miracle that began like a nightmare, I felt like an absolute disaster that entire first semester I was back.

Confidence Shaken

I never really did get my confidence back to where it was before I was kicked out. I say kicked out because that's honestly how it felt, and after that, it felt like clawing my way back. It eventually got better after that semester, slowly but surely I calibrated to all of the changes happening in my life. Things like losing the house, moving into a smaller place with my parents, then moving out for a few months, then moving back in, ending a relationship, starting a new relationship, moving out again, and then to top it all off losing my great aunt, my grandma, and my grandpa all within months of each other. But let me tell you what a lack of confidence combined with a strong belief in all the lies I told myself resulted in.

In my final semester, I landed a paid internship at LPA, a large firm based out of Irvine. It was a dream working there, it felt so professional and out of my league. In my few months there I had managed to convince myself that I didn't belong there. I remember my last day, the office manager had come up to me and reminded me to forward my resume and portfolio to the firm, and I told her I would. I was lying.

As I left that day and said my goodbyes to the designers I had sat next to for those few months and as I made my way to the exit I got pretty choked up. I knew I would never step foot back in that building, despite it being the exact type of firm I imagined myself in when I thought about my future while I was a still confident eighteen-year-old just before the real world knocked me on my face. I had done a phenomenal job telling myself I didn't belong there, so much so that I never even sent in my resume and portfolio. This a fact that I never told anyone, not even Jeff until just this year. I'll never know if I would have been hired, but I take solace in the belief that I am exactly where I am supposed to be today, despite all the lies I told myself in the past.

Shaken But Not Defeated

I will never again let doubt and fear steal the show and that is the real reason why I'm here sharing my story. I've been truly blessed these last few years and have since managed to land myself a career as a paralegal with an amazing firm that allows me to pursue my life on my own terms.  Although I don't know exactly where this blog will lead me I do know that it feels a lot like a drink of water for my thirsty soul.

With that said, I would love for you to join me in my soul, grit, and champagne story and subscribe to my email list as I head toward the path less traveled. 

Until next time, with love,
Natalie Heel

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