I was accepted into Harvard. I didn’t go. That was ten years ago.
I’d taught public school. I’d completed a fellowship as Dean of Faculty with a national educational organization. I’d transformed High School programing as college prep director for an Atlanta nonprofit.
Graduate studies at an Ivy League in educational leadership was clearly the next step in my pursuit of excellence and “making it”…. right?
When I received that “acceptance” I was both exhilarated and terrified.
When I looked at the page, all I saw was “Congratulations “what do you really want Octavia? Who’s life do you want to live?
I’d finally come to the fork in the road that Robert Frost had told me I’d find.
I stood there. I looked back wards. I saw our trailer home, long rides on yellow buses, my mama’s continuing education program that she’d facilitate for me and my sister every summer, and so much else. I saw the challenges and struggles I’d silently endured as a first generation college student during my undergraduate experience. I thought about the education denied to my Ancestors and felt profoundly guilty that this wasn’t an obvious yes to me.
Yet, what is freedom, if not the right to choose, honestly.
I looked ahead and saw my life if I accepted.
It looked Empty. Fragmented. Distorted. I was shocked. What did that mean?
Was it fear? Was it self-sabotage? Was I so devoted to my story that I couldn’t accept this narrative change? I mean, wasn’t this “acceptance” what I wanted when I applied? I sat with so much for the weeks leading up to decision deadline.
The truth came for me. I didn’t ever actually want to apply, be in the program, and get that degree or the job(s) that would come after.
I wanted the approval I thought it would get me. The perception. The status. The “in” it would grant me- even if I couldn’t define that “in” because I had always been “out.” The entire application process had been to appease a faceless crowd that I’d gotten caught up and lost in.
I shared my inner battle with a few people. Some said “ummmm… who says no to chance like that? “ One person told me I was “throwing away my best option to come up.”
My first teacher, my mama came through with the wisdom, “Ask for the courage to listen to your heart, not the expectations. Not even mine. Ask God to show you the yes after the no. No matter what you choose.”
At my core, I’ve always been an unassuming, nonconforming, creative, questioning, quietly rebellious. Risk- taker.
I deeply appreciate that for some, saying yes would have been the honest and courageous thing to do.
For me, saying yes would have further committed me to living a life that looked incredible, got me the part, and checked so many boxes; except, it wasn’t my own.
A decade has gone by and I’ve looked back at that fork in the road a few times.
My “No” in that moment revealed:
Saying yes to our own life will ask us to defy many expectations. It may not always make sense.
There are many paths to freedom. Sometimes the thing that promises to make us free is nothing more than shiny chains. Only when we walk some distance, can we see that what’s glittering could never be the gold that we already are.
My Ancestors are proud of my courage and actually were the elements of the fork in the road.
The greatest opportunity for each of us is the one that aligns us to our soul’s work.