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When Your Passion Doesn’t Fit Into a Plan

I shared this story at the last Live Your Message LIVE and the message really resonated… so I pulled that clip for you to watch (or you can keep reading).

The ELEVENTH Live Your Message LIVE is March 3-5, 2023. Grab your ticket here and I’ll see you there 🙂

I was a planned child. 

My dad had a big plan for me from the day I was born. My dad is a macroeconomic adviser, which means he restructures failing financial systems around the world. He’ll go to a country like Bhutan and figure out how to make it financially viable. 

And he raised me as if I were my own economy. He had this equation in his head: If you put this, this and this together, you’d end up with a happy and successful daughter. 

So the day I was born, he started mutual funds for my college education. He told me that I could go to school anywhere that I wanted to. And I always knew what an incredible opportunity I had, so I was going to take full advantage of it. 

Every month, my dad trained me on everything I needed to do to be a productive member of society. 

He gave me four spreadsheets a month to show me how much he was spending on my education, allowance and health care. 

He even had me keep my bank with him. We called it the Bank of Debt. And he gave me a higher interest rate than the bank. 

So I would keep my money with him up until college, and he tracked every single penny that I spent. So he had a sense of how I was spending my money because that was really important to him. 

Now, I even grew up in the planned community of Reston, Virginia and Reston is considered the most successful planned community of its kind in the entire world. It was built and designed, so every single house was within walking distance of bike paths, a shopping center and schools. 

So that’s where I grew up. 

Now, there was one big problem with this plan. The plan forgot me. Forgot who I was and what I wanted. That just didn’t fit into the equation, didn’t fit into the balance sheet. 

You see, I was a born artist. So I grew up making stationery in a print shop and creating beaded necklaces and origami flowers. And I would spend hours and hours as a girl making and building all that. 

But that didn’t fit into my dad’s plan of how I was going to be financially successful one day, how I was going to contribute to society and have a successful life. 

So my dad had tried to create this one clear path for me to follow. 

But as a child, it felt like that path wasn’t just laid down in dirt — it was laid down in cement. So trying to divert that river of cement as a child felt virtually impossible. And there were times when I built up the courage to crack that cement a little, plant a bud and ask for something I really wanted… 

Dad, I want to drum for Christmas. 

But with just a few words, he would get out these little pruning scissors and shut me down. Fill the cracks. 

Marisa, why do you want to drum? You have no musical ability. 

And I’d give up and go back to trying to follow his plan. 

And then, I found the courage one more time to ask for what I really wanted. 

Dad, I want to go to art school. 

What do you want to go to art school for? It’s a waste of your intellect. 

And over and over and over again, until those little green shoots of hope started to burrow beneath the cement… down and down and down. 

And on the surface, I went forward with the plan. I’d study hard all week long, getting perfect grades and building up my resume and college application. 

But every weekend, I’d go out and party all night, drinking, smoking, anything to feel like I was in charge of my life and destiny. 

I just wanted to feel something because I couldn’t feel myself in this plan. 

But still, I set about following the plan and doing everything I was told to build the perfect portfolio to get into the best college. Because remember my dad started those mutual funds for my college education the day I was born, and I wanted to take full advantage of that opportunity. 

So my dad told me that to get into the Ivy League college of my choice, I had to get great grades, have hobbies and even have a mentor. And he suggested that I follow the life of Hillary Clinton as an example of what a professional woman could look like and what a professional woman could be. 

And he suggested the fields of law or journalism, as I had a gift for communication. 

Now my dad had the best intentions here. He wanted everything for me that he didn’t have for himself. And it seemed that when I followed the plan, the love and the money flowed and my dad was proud. But whenever I started doing something I wanted, the love and the money began to dry up. 

So I learned from an early age that who I was and what I wanted didn’t matter. What mattered was following the plan and that success in life was through what I could achieve. 

And boy, did I achieve. 

I had a 4.0-grade point average. I aced my SATs. I won a half dozen awards in writing and photography when I was still in high school. And my dad was so proud of me that during our family reunion when I was 15 years old, he gave out copies of my resume to all the family members. And I remember just hiding in the bathroom, mortified. I just wanted my family to see me for who I was rather than what I had accomplished. 

But it seemed like everybody else agreed with my dad. My grandfather even sat me down and said, Marisa, it’s obvious that your father has invested a lot of money in you. 

He could only see my life on the balance sheet that my father had created. It felt like he couldn’t see me. 

So those little green shoots of hope went further underground. 

And I continued to follow the plan. 

My dad created a list of the top 15 colleges in the country. And we planned a road trip to visit all 15 of them. And then, I chose the seven that I wanted to apply to, and ultimately, I ended up going to Brown. 

And once I arrived at Brown University, I felt like I had made it. 

But I wasn’t done yet. 

My dad decided to create a new four-year plan for me. He went through all of my course packets and made a spreadsheet of all the courses I should take every semester… the courses I needed to be a well-rounded, productive member of society.

Freedom To Grow

But away from home and away from my dad, I did not continue to follow my plan.

All of a sudden, I felt free to learn, grow and create. And I would spend weeks writing papers, completing projects and creating things just for me. 

I really took off and started to soar. 

I lived in the co-ops, had my first art exhibition and designed my first publication. 

And I took classes like Visionary Fiction and Perception Illusion. I did everything that I wanted to do. I did not follow my dad’s plan, and I was so happy for once. 

I finally felt like myself. I felt like I could even fly. 

Then four years felt like they were gone in the blink of an eye. And on the day it was time to graduate, my dad wrote me a note in the ultimate accountant’s font (Times New Roman, 12-point font): 

Dearest Marisa, I’m so proud of you and your accomplishments. I put $40,000 into your mutual funds. You can use that for a down payment on a house or graduate school education. You’re on your own now. I trust you’ll go work for a well-respected institution.

The moment I read that, I felt like this knife in my gut. 

I realized that I had bought hook, line and sinker into a dream that wasn’t even mine. I had spent 21 years of intense focus to become the perfect college applicant and then to go to college and give it my all and get the best possible grades. 

And I realized that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow wasn’t even what I wanted. So I didn’t want to go work for a well-respected institution. 

But I didn’t know what I wanted outside of my dad’s plan. 

I didn’t even know what was possible. 

So I took off on a road trip to Machu Picchu and climbed all the way up. 

I remember biking on the most dangerous road in the world, all the way from La Paz – the highest altitude city in the world – down to the lowland jungles of Puerto Rico. 

I searched for what it was that I was supposed to do. And, of course, I didn’t find it. 

So six weeks later, I blew through my entire bank account, and the only option I had was to go back home to Reston, Virginia… back where I started. 

And my dad and his new wife, Elizabeth, welcomed me with open arms.

And every single day, they went to work and I’d hit the internet… spending hours and hours and hours looking for jobs. But I couldn’t find a single job that I even wanted to apply for. 

The first Internet Boom had just busted, so all the decent jobs were taken as soon as they were listed. And I felt the Ivy League degree I’d just gotten was about as valuable as a chocolate wrapper. 

And my dad was so furious… he just didn’t understand why his daughter couldn’t get a job. 

He pulled me aside and he said, Marisa, I just wasted $150,000 on your college education and you came out with no marketable skills. 

I felt that knife in the gut again. 

But deep down inside, I knew it was true. I had spent those four years pursuing my passion, doing things that I loved, things that mattered to me. 

I didn’t follow the plan. 

And I started to realize that my passion and love didn’t fit into the world AND they definitely didn’t fit into the plan. 

My dad’s worst fear came true. I couldn’t get a job. And if I couldn’t get a job, I didn’t deserve to breathe. 

So what did I do? 

I lowered my expectations.

Joining The Circus (No Really!)

So when the circus came to town, I jumped at the chance.

Yes, I went from graduating from the Ivy League to working in the circus. 

And my dad was absolutely mortified. 

But that circus family became so much more accepting and fun than my own. And I would work at the circus all day and then stay out drinking with the acrobats and the performers. I even started a relationship with a 6’11 rigger named Peewee. He used to throw me candy from the top of the big top. He loved me for me… for who I was, not for what I did. 

My dad was absolutely mortified with my behavior and thought something was wrong with me. He never came to the circus, even though I invited him week after week, month after month. 

The Letter That Changed Everything

And a few weeks later, my dad wrote me another letter… 26 pages of all the ways he was disappointed and ashamed of me and all the ways he was embarrassed by my behavior. 

And at the end of the letter, he gave me one week to pack up and leave the house. And that’s when I realized I was indeed on my own… that my life was my responsibility. 

Because I didn’t make the choice he wanted me to make — to work for a well-respected organization — I was now on my own. 

And I spent the next 10 years searching for my path (that’s a story for another time). 

But a lot of times, it felt like I was stumbling around in the darkness, just trying to find the next place to put my foot on. It was like I was lost in the forest with just the faint light of a crescent moon… no lamps to guide me, no maps, no destinations. 

And there were many times along the way when I couldn’t tell the difference between the path that I was starting to find on my own and the path my father had laid down before me. 

So many times, I started to give up hope of ever finding what I was meant to do. 

But I kept walking. 

And eventually, I did find what I was meant to do. 

And what I’ve realized along the way is that there’s a part of you that knows what you’re meant to do… regardless of the plan that may have been given to you – by your family, by your teachers, by your job, maybe even by a business coach or mentor.

 Or even a plan given to you by yourself. 

We all have that voice inside.

But far too often, we lose track of that voice or it’s drowned out by outside voices telling us we can’t. 

Finding Your Own Voice

Which is why a big part of what we’re going to do at Live Your Message LIVE (March 3-5, 2023) is to turn up the volume on that voice so you can hear it LOUDLY and then ultimately speak it to others.

Because the more you hear it, and the more you speak it, the louder and clearer it becomes.

And I know that more is possible for all of us than we could have ever imagined! 

So, if you don’t yet have your ticket for the ELEVENTH Live Your Message LIVEgrab it here

And I can’t wait to hear you speak your voice loudly and proudly during our time together 🙂

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