Last week I wrote about being called, and I mentioned that I would have an opportunity to follow that inner calling soon. I’m very excited to announce that I’ve been selected as one of the few people (most likely less than 30!) to attend the Misfit Conf: Fargo.
What is this, you ask? Well, if you’ve never heard of AJ Leon and Misfit, Inc. then please do yourself the enormous favor of checking them out. AJ is absolutely one of my heroes. Once a “remarkably average” finance executive in Manhattan, AJ had an epiphany that changed his life. Together with his wife, Melissa, and a team of misfit adventurers, AJ currently runs head-on at enormous challenges and simultaneously brings art and chocolate croissants to those in need around the globe.
I could spend all day talking about the amazing things AJ and his team have done, but the real magic for me is that I now get to become a part of their incredible story.
There’s more reason than that to celebrate, though, from my end. For me, this is very much a journey of healing as much as it is one of growth.
Not all that many people know about it, but in December of 2012 I became very ill, both physically and mentally. I had just been through a significant breakup. I had just given up on independent living, and moved in with my family. I’d started a new job, and was struggling with stress, financial worries, anxiety, and insecurity. I fell back on medical treatment for my illnesses, but the medications I tried magnified the problem and made things much, much worse. I was really sick, incredibly depressed, and not at all myself. On December 11, I had a very frightening panic attack, and on the morning of December 12, I was sent to the emergency room with extremely high blood pressure. It was scary, but as it turned out, there was nothing actually wrong with me. The whole episode seems strangely bizarre now.
At the time, though, it was very real, and things looked really dark. During that month, during part of that darkness and illness, I withdrew from the world, retreated from my usual happy social life, and instead, reached out and wrote to many of my heroes and friends in the online world. I received compassionate, supportive, and loving feedback from almost everyone I wrote to, but in this post, I want to single out a couple of people. One of them is AJ Leon. There’s no way to express properly what his comments meant to me, back when I was in the depths of depression and despair:
“Life is a serious of peaks and valleys and precipitous climbs and battles. In the end, any great narrative is composed of all of those things.” –AJ Leon
More than the kind words, though, and as much as I appreciated AJ taking the time out of his busy life to respond to my messages, it was the work that he and his team were doing and have continued to do that inspired me, motivated me, and made me long to get well again.
For a similar reason, another person I would like to thank very seriously is Amber Naslund, who had a a TED talk circulating around the subject of mental illness just at the time of my struggle. I highly recommend her talk. Here’s something she said to me via email that meant a great deal at the time:
“Know this: it takes *strength* to reach out to other people, to let them see you at your most difficult moments, to share your pain. That’s something that helps heal.” –Amber Naslund
There were many people who helped me when I was down, but those two in particular made a big difference when I was having a really hard time of it, and again, I want to highlight that it is not only Amber’s kindness, but her continued bravery and hard work in the face of her own struggle that helped inspire me to get well and move on to better and brighter things.
So next, I will be heading to Fargo, North Dakota. Who knows what will find me, there? Hopefully, something like this:
If ever there was a misfit, though, I’m her. Sure, I have a Master’s degree and was a college Professor by the age of 25, but as of last summer, I couldn’t even get a job at Starbucks. I tried really hard, too. On the one hand, I can generally make friends with just about anybody, and if you leave me alone for more than 30 minutes, I’ll probably have a new romantic date on my calendar, or be suddenly going to Tokyo next week, just because I sat next to the right someone on the bus, or something. On the other hand, finishing what I start? That can be a real puzzle. So, there it is. Here I am.
Leave it to AJ and team to figure out that a misfit’s job is to change the world… (and maybe ride an elephant?).
That’s a big job. And it makes me grin. More or less like this:
So that’s a good place to start, right?