The Thing I Let Go Of (My Emancipation)

The Thing I Let Go Of (My Emancipation)
By: Honey B. Baker

A couple of weekends ago I went to a football game at my old high school/former employer. I truly have a love-hate relationship with my hometown and the people there. Due to things beyond my control I have always felt like whatever move I make was overly scrutinized and I was under a microscope, a fact that I was overly aware of.

I knew the questions would come, “What are you doing here? I thought you were in Michigan.” “What happened with law school?” “Oh you didn’t like law school, huh?” Read that as saying, “Oh you must not have been able to hack it in law school.”

Last year I packed as much as my stuff into my Honda Civic coupe and along with my mother I made the sojourn to East Lansing, Michigan to attend Michigan State University College of Law. I would be lying if I said I was excited or enthusiastic. However, I’d try to chalk my growing anxiety up to nerves and nothing more. But in my spirit I knew I was moving too fast and I was pushing myself too hard.

For quite some time I’d known I wanted to go to law school and do law representing athletes. When I set my mind on something I push myself wholeheartedly to fulfill it. However, at that point in my life I knew I wasn’t ready for law school. I had zero money saved up. I was running away from a man who had broken my heart. I was running away from a job that I wasn’t happy doing, teaching. Nevermind the fact that I was crazy over the kids it was the adults that were the bane of my existence. I was using law school as my escape hatch away from my problems.

By the time I walked into the first session of my Welcome Week activities at law school I realized I’d made a grave error. But again, I chalked it up to nerves and I tried to quiet the voices of doubt in my head that were telling me to carry my ass back to North Carolina and get my shit together. But no, I plowed forward and by Labor Day weekend I was absolutely sure making this move was a mistake. I was hating everything about my law school experience and I felt like I was on an island by myself and I knew no one was planning on sending me a lifeboat so I felt it was no need to send out an SOS.

However, I was so caught up in the expectations of others and what people would say that I pressed forward and further spiraled into a dark place of anxiety and a depression that shrouded me like a fog. But I was shackled up in the expectations and opinions of others.

This wasn’t a new place for me. I tried to hide my pregnancy and did so well into my third trimester because I was so worried about what people would say and letting other people down. I have spent so much of my life worried about disappointing others and worrying about giving gossip fodder to people that I had chained myself into miserable situation just to avoid causing ripples. I put the feelings of others ahead of my own and many times this was to the detriment to me or my personal growth.

By the end of my first semester of law school in my heart I knew I should have rented a U-Haul, packed my shit up, came back to NC, and took a job doing something. But instead of putting my own self care at the forefront of my mind I put the thought of “What would people say?” or “What would my family say?” at the front of my mind. So I went back and fought what I consider in my mind to be a David versus Goliath-esque battle. I worked my ass off and then when I had no more ass to give I worked a little bit more. But at what cost? I was having anxiety attacks, my hair was falling out, my skin looks like stirred fried hell, and mentally I could barely function. After my last final, I went back to my apartment and cried for hours in the middle of my kitchen floor. I packed up a bulk of my belongings to head home for the summer. As I drove through the idyllic areas of Michigan into the rolling fields of Ohio then dark mountains and valleys of Pennsylvania, the bustling highways of Maryland, and through the homestretch of Virginia I had 14 hours to go over it in my mind whether or not I would return to law school. I decided that I wouldn’t go back to law school. The next question was how would I break the news to my family the last group of people I ever wanted to disappoint. I thought about all the financial sacrifices my family had made so I could follow my dream and by not returning all of their sacrifices along with my own had been in vain.

Finally, a few weeks in I told my family I wasn’t going back to law school and of course they asked why and I told them with all honesty that I was quite simply wasn’t happy. I was perpetually broke, my health issue could not cover the type of care I needed and my mental and physical health were suffering as a result, I missed my ever growing daughter, my grandfather’s mental facilities were rapidly being depleted due to dementia, my law school experience had been sullied by racial bias, microagressions, and a lack of institutional support. Even though, my family was understandably disappointed but they understood.

I wrote about this to say this for the longest time I locked myself into a cell and the bars of the cell were the expectations I allowed others to place on me and fear of being gossiped about. I had to free myself of this mindset. The only expectations that mattered were my own and the opinions of others could not pay my bills.

I’m sure a lot of the people who saw me at the game gossiped about me dropping out of law school. But I don’t care. I have finally accepted something people talk when you’re doing good and they’re going to talk when you’re doing bad. The only control you have over that is just to keep living, people are going to talk.

Right now, I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time. I’m back teaching but with a new love of the profession because I have people around me who want to see me grow as a professional. I’m back in North Carolina but I’m living away from the negativity of people who want to see me do bad and stumble. Even though I’m not raking in the dough, my bills are paid and I know what it feels to be financially independent again.

A few weeks ago a friend texted me and told me I was looking better than I had looked in quite some time. I told him that I was free! I had made the concerted effort to free myself of the things that I had allowed to control me: expectations and opinions of others.

For us to truly be free we have to free ourselves of these self-imposed obligations to the expectations of others. No, I am not saying purposely let people who mean the world to you down. But ask yourself, are you doing something for them or are you doing it for yourself? If the answer is the former, it may be time to reevaluate your motivation. When we do things trying to live up to the expectations of others our motivating force is off.

I tried to slug it out in law school because I didn’t want to let other people down not because I wanted it so badly for myself. I fought my way through for all the wrong reasons and although it paid off it was a hollow victory because I had disenrolled by the time the final grades were finished being input.

At some point, I want to go back to law school but on my own terms and after I had found true stability in my life not because I am trying to run away from problems. I made myself a promise recently that I was going to put myself first and forget the opinions of others. People and their opinions only have as much control over us as we give it. Yeah, I’m sure me not returning to law school has been a topic of conversation. But ask me if I care? Absolutely not. Because not a single person who has an opinion has walked a day in my eight and halfs. In the words of Drake, they weren’t with me shotting in the gym.

At the end of the day, if you want to be free and I mean truly free you must be willing to break the shackles of expectations and opinions. You have to learn to live life on your own terms.


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