A Padma, or Lotus Flower, blooms while rooted in the mud. I think about that fact almost daily, and everyone else should, too. Right after college, my life changed forever in more ways than one. I had the privilege to care for my grandmother, who had cared for me and had lived with me my entire life, but I only realized that after I’d hit rock bottom.
We called her Mamaw. She and Papaw left the Philippines when my mother, aunts, and uncle were young for a life in America. When she saw a better opportunity, she launched herself toward endless possibilities, learned mountains of new skills, stared poverty in the face and didn’t bat an eye, and single-handedly became the driving force behind our matriarchal family. I like to think I latched on to those vigorous attributes well enough to apply them to my approach to living. Despite all the early adventures in her youth, she lived a simple life. She’d highlight the shows she wanted to watch in her TV Guide each week, and check them off in red pen once she’d watched them. She was an absolute sorceress in the kitchen, and taught me appreciation for native Filipino cuisine, while simultaneously crafting the best southern fried chicken I’d ever had. She also watched more college basketball than anyone I’ve ever met. She was opinionated, strict, and my reason for everything. It hurt to leave her and Papaw for school, but I was excited nonetheless.
When people say college is the best time of your life, they’re usually not lying. I was seventeen and had just moved in on campus. I was in the prime of my life, baby. I spent those years working, playing, and studying, all often leaking into the overnight hours. I loved every messy, clumsy moment of it. At the ripe age of twenty-one, I covered a NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship season as a female sportswriter when the likes of us were few and far between. (Mamaw was enormously proud.) I always liked to joke about that experience, referring to it as the moment I peaked — until I started to believe it.
I thought that line on my resume was going to take me all the way to the top, before I plunged face first into the mud. Post-graduation, I suspended my job search after Mamaw’s dementia took a turn for the worse. I moved back home and took it upon myself to help my family make her as comfortable as possible. I helped keep her medicinal schedule on track. I made her coffee and scrambled eggs, just the way she liked it. I set alarms throughout the night to turn her so she wouldn’t get bedsores. I was there for her on the days she was lucid, telling me stories of my recklessness as a child, and I was there for her on the days she’d shudder at my touch, unsure if she recognized me. She died peacefully in our home three days before Christmas of 2013, and I wasn’t there.
When she was gone, she took a huge part of me with her. I woke up one morning and didn’t know who I was anymore, and I needed to get out of Kentucky. So, I packed up my Corolla, and my dog and I headed south for Music City. I had an apartment, a couple of roommates, but still no job.
I found a gig working retail at the Cool Springs Galleria, and another at a tanning salon, while I continued my search for the elusive full-time job, complete with salary, health insurance and a 401k. I watched from behind my computer screen as former classmates snatched amazing and well-deserved careers with prestigious companies like CBS, NBC, ESPN, MLB, and other organizations so widely popularized you can describe them in four letters or less.
I was lost, I was broken, and I was jealous. I wanted what they had, when I should have been healing and refocusing. It was the lowest and most vulnerable point in my life.
But why did I tell you all of this? I think humans, in general, are planners. Some are more meticulous than others, but people generally have an idea of which direction we’re going. Whether a pebble, a boulder, or full on catastrophic rock slide obstructs your path, you can overcome it, with the right approach.
We learn about the recipe, or process for success at an early age: sow your seeds, nurture them, water them, then reap your harvest. But it’s not linear. Sometimes, you’re forced to uproot, weeds squeeze the life out of your seedlings, and you just have to start from scratch.
But the lotus rises from darkness. Whether you like it or not, your experiences, both good and bad, shape who you are and who you will become. You just have to be willing to be malleable enough to rebuild. The lotus is celebrated for purity, rebirth, and enlightenment of the soul, among other things. It teaches you to love yourself, to bloom from impurity, stronger and more beautiful than before.
Nashville gave me a gift I’ll cherish every day. It allowed me to reacquaint myself with who I was and who I would be. It allowed me to reinvent myself, to find my purpose, and to love myself again. I spent a lot of time outside with my dog. I met new friends, I experienced new highs, new lows, and adjusted my goals. Eventually I wrote more, I ran more, I laughed more, and I cried a lot less. And one day I woke up and realized I wasn’t fragile anymore.
By the way, I did get a great job. My dreams took me across Tennessee and back home, and are always being reworked. I am still utterly baffled by those people who just inherently know what they want to do, and have known since they were five years old, and by the well-connected social networkers who are intelligent and indisputably charming (the whole package)! But that’s not me, and more importantly, that’s okay.
Sometimes, our plans fall by the wayside, and sometimes we don’t have a plan at all. We are always going to face obstacles. Each time I succumb to grief, or deflate, I have to remind myself of the goals Mamaw and I had set for me in the trails of Edwin Warner Park, or high in the peaks of Frozen Head State Park, or on that long jog that led me from Five Points in East Nashville to Rosa Parks Highway. (I had to get a Lyft home after that one.)
We should always be encouraged to try experiences that frighten us, fail them, fail them again, then succeed, and try something else. Nobody has it all figured out, and we all have our insecurities, our flaws, and our shortcomings. Embrace your journey, challenge yourself, try new experiences, and above all, keep doing what you love.
To quote a comedy icon and possible soulmate, Amy Poehler:
“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that — that’s what life is. You might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that’s really special and if you’re not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself.”
Even at your lowest, you are competent, impenetrable, and unique, so stop comparing yourself to others. You are navigating the beautiful, unexplained, and sometimes unforgiving complexities of life, so give it heck right back. Go out and try things, and do so unapologetically, because even when you’re rooted deep in muck and ugly darkness, like the lotus, you will always blossom.
Samantha Brown is a freelance writer, digital content manager, and aspiring entrepreneur. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Kentucky. When she’s not writing, she’s channeling her love of animals into something larger, spoiling her two rescue dogs, playing with her husband, cooking, or reading. You can follow Sam on Instagram or Twitter, @sambrown0923.