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Harry Potter was a tremendous part of my adolescent life.
Growing up, fantastical thoughts of attending Hogwarts excited me. I wanted to eat in the Great Hall, learn magic spells, create potions, wear the Sorting Hat, and defeat Dark Lords. In the early to mid 2000s, I was so obsessed over these books I was even an active member of the fandom on livejournal.
That’s love, huh?
I’m not gonna pretend I’m a “special snowflake,” though. My love for the Harry Potter series isn’t unique or even mildly interesting. Lots of people, tons of people, in my generation went absolutely bonkers over the boy wizard series. Midnight releases, anyone?
J.K. Rowling inspired millions of children to read again. Which is amazing. But doesn’t make me unusual.
And to be brutally honest, I eventually “outgrew” Harry Potter once the final book exploded onto the scene. It’s not a popular opinion but I tell the truth here.
Fast-forward to mid-May 2015. My innocent high school self, a free-spirited book lover, was a figment of my imagination.
I was a stressed young professional navigating a troubled teaching career.
I had received a pink slip. I was laid off. My position no longer existed.
Within a matter of hours, my secondary English certification was worth less than a penny. I had no choice except to embrace an uncertain future (yet again). Pity party for one, please.
Not to mention, this “oh crap!” moment of epic proportions happened after I’d already spent two years working lousy and underpaid temporary contracts in public schools for scraps of experience, supposedly meant to improve my resume.
Oh, and I’d already booked my Central Europe backpacking trip so I had no time to apply for new teaching positions in the summer. Unless I canceled my journey. Which, apparently, I needed to or else forego my health insurance, “gapless” resume, and steady income.
I sat next to my best friend in the family room. Empty coffee cups on the table. Buzzing in my ears. Her reassuring me that life is impossible to control and we all need to do our best.
My family had gone on a trip to Austria (yes, we’re all nuts), and I didn’t want to be alone, because I didn’t trust my anger. Only my best friend could calm me down.
Still, bitter thoughts raced through my head: Why me? Why does everyone else in my graduating year have an apartment or house, spouse or fiance, and a thriving job? People are being promoted left and right, and I can’t even work as an English teacher.
I mentioned on my “about me” page that around the same time I’d graduated, English teachers took an absolute financial beating in NJ. Our state budget was a mess, and education was on the chopping block.
Hmmm, what subject is often among the first slashed? You guessed it!
You had roughly the same odds winning the mega millions lottery as finding an English teaching job in 2011, 2012, 2013. Not even kidding.
It took me until 2014 to find a real teaching job and it was gone in a year.
My best friend couldn’t stay forever. Her adorable puppy understandably needed her.
Once silence settled throughout the house, I changed into fuzzy pajamas, googled “inspiration,” and pinned a few ~uplifting~quotes on my pinterest board. Talk about cliche.
Then my fingers stumbled onto youtube. I did a general search for inspiration, I can’t remember what I typed, and aimlessly roamed through the results.
My eyes – instantly drawn to Rowling’s name – fell onto a video about halfway down hundredth page.
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. A commencement speech given at Harvard University? Really? As if listening about Harvard graduates and their perfect lives would untie the acidy knots in my stomach.
But I watched anyway.
In minutes, tears formed in my eyes. J.K. Rowling’s speech focused on “failure.” Boy, I could relate.
Like any Harry Potter fan, I already knew about J.K. Rowling’s “rags to riches” story but actually listening to her discuss her short-lived marriage and near homelessness existence made me realize I wasn’t the only person who had dreams and goals crash, burn, and die. So had my childhood role model.
Then my tears dropped onto my cheeks (embarrassing but I’ve gotten weepy in my old age), as soon as J.K. Rowling said the following words:
“You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”
My professional life failed.
I never admitted it to myself. Not even after working for sickeningly low pay, despite my Masters, with a substitute teaching company. Nor after receiving many “post-interview” rejection letters if the administration bothered to send letters at all. Most of the time, they left me guessing and ignored my follow-up emails.
Yet now, in my hushed and empty house, I quietly admitted I failed a lot and needed to change.
To clarify: I won’t say I failed at teaching itself. My students loved me and to be honest, their opinions were the only meaningful ones. Nor did I have any resentment against my co-workers. Stuff happens.
However, despite my caution, which consisted of earning good grades, never once confronting a co-worker/administrator/parent, and being clean as crystal on social media, I had been laid off anyway. I toed the line, like a good little teacher, and never took big risks.
Once I watched J.K. Rowling’s speech, I realized I wanted far more out of my life than the scripted play I had been performing in.
And now, released from my duties, my failure granted me the freedom to live however I wanted. “Cautious” didn’t have a place in my vocabulary anymore.
Before being laid off, I’d wanted to create a travel blog so I could share my passions about jetting off alone and exploring cities, mountains, and beaches.
I never had the confidence to create a wordpress account, though. Not once.
Why not? My excuses could fill a Victorian novel.
I wasn’t pretty enough, skinny enough, fashionable enough, eloquent enough, talented enough, popular enough, tech-savvy enough, brave enough. Who would want to read about someone who’s mind fearfully races on a plane?
The next morning, I drank my coffee, took a deep breath, and created the domain, “Blond Wayfarer,” on Blue Host and the rest was history.
I refused to cancel my trip to Central Europe, too. It might’ve been a stupid financial move, especially if my school didn’t decide to restore my position and hire me for a second year (yaaaay!), but I was done playing it safe.
THANK YOU, J.K. Rowling, for inspiring Blond Wayfarer.
If you want to check out J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech, check out the attached video. She is an amazing goddess. Enjoy!
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