On Buckets and Lists


In May of 2012, I quit my job. I was a teacher and a coach at a great school. I was making around $56K a year and living comfortably in a nice apartment, without a car payment, and a boyfriend who I only saw three times a year. Even now, looking back, there are days when I scream back through time and space at that girl and say:

“Don’t do it! Don’t quit! It’s going to be so hard! You are going to be sad, and depressed, and lonely. You are going to question your self-worth and your abilities. You are going to doubt your judgment and regret your decisions. It’s going to be scary and you are going to fail. So. Many. Times.”

I quit my job because I wasn’t happy. I know what you’re thinking, old people: millennials. But it was true. I enjoyed aspects of my job but I wasn’t fulfilled. I was frustrated and I felt trapped. I kicked myself for not running off to New York City to be a writer. I was jealous of people travelling the world. I wanted an adventure and growing up I’d been too scared to find one.

When it came time to apply for college, I picked a safe school. When I got in, I picked a safe major. Well, I picked chemistry, and it wasn’t always safe the way I was doing it, but it should’ve been. When I graduated, I picked a safe job and five very safe years went by.

And then one day at work I got yelled at by a parent. They were frustrated, and disappointed, and they questioned my abilities over their athlete’s performance. Loudly. It wasn’t the first time I’d been yelled at but standing there I realized something. I kind of didn’t care. Not about the kid. I adored the kid. I was sad and disappointed for her. But I didn’t care that I was being criticized. That publicly someone was yelling at me. I didn’t care.

Five years before, if I had been yelled at like that I’d have cried. I would’ve been embarrassed, and ashamed, and scared. But now? I didn’t care. I knew I had done what I thought was best. I knew I gave that athlete the best of what I had. I had confidence in my abilities and one upset parent wasn’t going to make me question myself. I had confidence.

When I got home, this new “confident Liza” sat down and made a list. What did I want to accomplish in my life? I spent each day telling my girls to chase their dreams, but I was a hypocrite. I wasn’t just scared to chase my dreams, I was too scared to say them out-loud.

So, I wrote them down.

Some were so specific (live in NYC), some were very vague (yoga. Do yoga? Try yoga? Teach yoga?), and some were even misspelled (Machu Piccu). But they were mine, and I was going to accomplish them. Hell, maybe I’d even hang them on my wall.

So, I quit my job. I decided to travel with my boyfriend-turned-fiancée and spend the next year writing and finding myself. What was one crazy, unstructured year in the grand scheme of things? If things worked out–great! If not, I’d just go back to work refreshed, or even better: I’d find a new job! A new adventure! Our first year of marriage would be exciting, and full of new experiences, and a story we would tell our children.

But it fell apart, and it fell apart fast. We got married and then my husband’s team went bankrupt. The economy tanked, and no one wanted to pay for his experience or talent, when they could get two younger, disposable players for the same price. We moved to Los Angeles with the idea that he could train there and I could find temp work while writing until the next season, but I wasn’t happy and neither was he.

After six months, he decided to move back to Texas to get a job. I’d stayed to finish my sketch-writing class, but the first night without him I couldn’t sleep. I was alone, and scared, and on the wrong coast, so I started packing. The experimental, risky year was over in seven months–a horrible failure. I went back to Texas and we moved in with my dad. I started work as a Realtor and hated it. I hated selling. HATED IT. And then one day before work, I sent a pregnancy article to a friend who was about four months along. After I pressed send, I realized I couldn’t remember my own last period, and that possibly my upset stomach and exhaustion wasn’t just depression coupled with an ulcer. I took three pregnancy tests that afternoon. All positive, and I cried.

I hated my job. I had lost financial freedom. I was fighting with my husband, and now I was about to have a baby. There would be no more of this “dangerous Liza”. “Impulsive Liza“ was a dumbass who couldn’t make a right choice if it was dangling right in front of her.

I decided to go back to nursing school and convinced my husband to finish his degree. We took a loan from my father, which turned into an annuity, and went back to school.

I worked hard for the next year and thought desperately about what would happen in five. In five years, we’d be back on track. We’d have a house. We’d have savings. We’d be financially secure and we wouldn’t fight as much. The baby would be fine. We could afford childcare and I’d be back at work. I’d stop parking at the mall by our house and crying on the way home, and everything would work out. Everything would come together. I wouldn’t have to worry so much. I’d be happy. We’d all be happy.

Six months later, I was diagnosed with cancer and I had to quit school. I couldn’t stop crying. The surgery hurt. The chemo hurt. The failure of everything around me hurt. I called out to that girl living in a nice apartment with a safe job and no car payment. I said, “Don’t do it! Don’t do any of it! It’s horrible, and it hurts, and we’re so sad. Don’t quit!”

I stopped sleeping. I started sneaking into the bathroom to cry, and think about what dying would feel like. I thought about my daughter and my husband. I thought about how much I would miss my dad and how I’d already disappointed him so much. I thought about that stupid girl and that stupid list, and one night I went into the garage to dig it out.

I dug through the papers I’d saved from college, passed my awards from high school. I’d failed all of them. I wasn’t “The Most Likely To Succeed” that they all thought I’d be. I was leaving my baby, I’d stopped being nice to the people I loved, and I was dying. I dug through all the sweet notes from the kids I’d coached and passed their pictures. I dug deep into my past for that stupid list. That horrible list that I thought one day I’d frame. That awful list that had ruined what was going to be a good life. A good, safe, productive life. I dug for the list that had ruined it all.

When I found it, I ripped the page from the pad. And then I ripped it again. And again. I ripped and stacked until it was too thick for me to tear. I took inside to the trashcan, my hands overflowing with scraps of yellow paper. I yanked off the top of the trashcan and stopped. My hand hovered over the bin, but I couldn’t get it to open. I couldn’t drop the pieces. I couldn’t let go. I was sad, and angry, and terrified, but…

…I still wanted to learn Spanish.

I still wanted to live in New York City. I still wanted to do “something” about yoga. I still wanted to go on adventures. I still wanted to be that person. That person with a list of goals, with a list of accomplishments framed on their wall. It didn’t matter how sad I was. How broken. I wasn’t ready to let her go.

So, I taped it.

I taped my list back together. I taped my life back together. I started writing a children’s book and now I have three. (Children’s books. Not children. Children are expensive.) And I’m freelancing. People are paying for stuff I’ve written, and I’ve even been invited to speak at a few things. I’m a writer. I’m a writer with a beautiful daughter and a happier, more forgiving marriage.

Things aren’t perfect and they never will be, but perfect doesn’t have to equal happy. Happy isn’t a destination. It’s not a state, not even New York. For me, happy is a process, happy is a journey, and happy is a goal. In fact, happy is on a list hanging in my office. A list covered in tape and safely behind glass. A list that every time I look at, I hear a girl’s voice, through time and through space. A girl with a comfortable life, and a good job, and so much free time.

“Don’t quit,” she says.

“Don’t Quit.”

Sell a screenplay, Be a writer, Learn Spanish, Run a half marathon, Go to Europe, Live in NYC, Give a TEDTalk, See the northern lights, See a Whale, See dinosaur bones, See the Pyramids, Go to Machu Pichu, Yoga, Start a Business, Make A Difference, Stress the Importance of Good Science, Be Interviewed on TV, Go Camping, Inspire Others, Help Kids, Be Happy




Liza Dora is an author, illustrator, teacher, mother, wife, blogger, and the owner of the eponymous Liza Dora Books. Her writing has been in publications around the world and her books have been featured in both media and print. She’s sold books in over ten different countries and her titles have been both Amazon Hot New Releases and Amazon Bestsellers in their respective categories.

You may also like