Column By Chelsea Murray

   Before I graduated from Marist College last year most adults I knew told me that I would learn more in the real world than in the classroom. Much to the dismay of my parent’s wallets, that has turned out to be true. Why waste time in class when I could have gotten a smack-in-the-face education from the real world all along?

   This past year has been the best and most productive of my life. I’ve  spent every day growing as a person, maturing, and learning to defend myself (physically and verbally). Most people who know me describe me as outgoing, verbal and nice. But too often nice is another way of letting people walk all over me. Being too nice has been my Achilles heel.

  In the past year I have become more independent and capable of speaking my mind. My new direct way of speaking has caught a few family members and old friends off guard, but for the most part it has been well received. One of my best friends, Erika, makes a point to praise me when I’m telling her about something direct that I did, or even when I’m direct to her. One of the things I’ve learned in the past year is to cut back on my people pleasing and try to do what’s best for me. That doesn’t mean that I don’t think of others or have compassion for them, but I’ve learned to put my best interest first.

   Being direct doesn’t mean I get angry or raise my voice; it means that I am attempting to be impeccable with the words that come out of my mouth. In addition to verbally defending myself, I’ve learned a few pointers of how to physically protect my body with a self-defense course, and working out. I joined a local gym of my own accord and have slowly been building my muscles up to feel stronger so I can confidently carry myself and feel safe alone. Since I was a little girl I’ve always relished the social life, but I’m learning to accept solitude, and being able to protect myself has helped me venture out on my own.

   I have never felt more comfortable with myself than I do now. Every morning I wake up it feels like I have a brighter aura pulsating out of me. I’ve started surrounding myself with individuals that have influenced me in positive ways to morph, grow and connect with my inner self. Once I started channeling my own voice and expressing myself to those around me, I started to feel more content and at home in my own olive colored skin.

   This year has been one of self-discovery as I harnessed strength I never knew existed to make it through some emotional situations. In the autumn I ended a two-year relationship by listening to my inner voice and realizing that I needed to find myself, before I became further intertwined in a serious relationship. I’m a people pleaser, so extracting myself from a relationship was emotionally damaging for both parties, but it’s just as important to learn how to get out of a relationship, as it is to get in one. Although I deeply cared for my previous boyfriend, I felt much stronger once I was able to speak my mind and venture off to find myself.

   I’m the person I have to be in a relationship with the rest of my life, so it’s important to get to know myself before my life progresses any further. A relationship can’t be healthy if both people haven’t figured themselves out yet. Relationships are about compromise, and if you’re not sure who you are yet, what’s being compromised is the freedom to explore the wonderful possibilities of life.

Getting to smell fresh tea leaves in northern India.

   Some college graduates get cash, a car or an apartment upon graduation. My father gave me a five-week trip into the Himalayan Mountains in northern India. Directly after graduation I felt like the world was closing in on me. All of my friends were moving off and jumping into careers with benefits, salaries and “grown up lives”. I was happy to be at home with my family, working at the Waterbury Observer, but felt judged for doing so.

Sitting alone in an isolated valley in the Himalyan Mountains gave me plenty of time to think about my future.

While in the Himalayan Mountains I got the chance to meet the Dalai Lama.

And the opportunity to travel for five weeks with my father, John Murray.

   A massive soul searching trip to India was just what I needed to save me from suffering a mental breakdown. The experience re-opened my eyes to the world. The vibrant colors, pungent smells, unique culture and masses of people are indescribable. Traveling along the second highest road in the world, through mud and snow, with a 3000 foot drop staring us in the face, I learned a lot about myself, my limits, and what my body and mind can handle. This unique experience took me out of the American pressure cooker and helped me realize that I didn’t have to have an answer immediately about my future. My life began to open up like a baby bird’s mouth, but instead of worm gruel, I was hungry for real experience away from the safety of the classroom. The experience in India and the people I met along the way showed me that the answers will come to me in time, but I have my entire twenties to explore and figure out my direction in life. 

  For much of the past year people I hardly know ask me what I’m doing now. I tell them that I’m working at The Waterbury Observer for the time being while I sort through myself, and my options. Sometimes I feel like I have to climb on top of a mountain and scream to the world that I have a job, I’m happy living at home, and there is nothing wrong with me. Why on Earth do people – including many family members – feel the need to constantly ask me what I’m doing with my life, or the most obnoxious of all, when are you getting a real job?

   Just because I have decided to work for my father’s newspaper for the past year doesn’t mean that it isn’t a real job. Did people question the seven Jarjura brothers decision to work in the family business? Did anyone think Mike Bergin needed a real job besides following his father’s footsteps in politics and becoming mayor of Waterbury? No one gives Dave Iannone of Ann’s Deli a hard time for working with his parents, Nick and Ann. So, why is it so appalling to see me step back into the family business?

The staff of the Observer – John Murray, Chelsea Murray, Maureen Griffin and Quajay Donnell.

   I’m aware that my career at the Waterbury Observer is not a lifetime gig, but what if it was? Why do people have to constantly assume that I’m off to do bigger and better things? I can’t control what other people say to me, but I can control my reaction to it. I’m absolutely content with my life as it is and I’m excited about possibilities in the future, but I’m learning to let the opinions of others trickle in one ear, and out the other.

  Another lesson I’ve taken from this year is letting go. I used to hold onto the moment like a Gila Monster, so I wouldn’t miss out on anything. I would hang out with my friends constantly to keep myself in the loop. I learned this year that it’s important to let go of that concept and have fun when you can, and realize that you can’t be everywhere at the same time.

  On a deeper level I learned to let go when my father and I put our beloved 13-year-old yellow lab, Dakota, down in April after a short bout with lung cancer. We spent an emotional last day together, telling him how much we loved him, and peacefully let him pass on. The overwhelming sadness of losing such a huge part of your life hits like a tidal wave at the strangest times, but it’s important to move forward instead of digressing. We love sharing stories about Dakota and talking about him with close friends, but it’s important to practice the art of letting go.

   Many people fall into a rut after a loved one passes and never move forward. One of the most important parts of life is learning to deal with and accept death whether it is a dog, a friend, a parent, and eventually yourself. When I was in Thailand several years ago I read an article by a monk. He was rattling off tales about his philosophies on life, but one that has always stuck with me was his thought on death. He said you can only live a life free of fear the moment you embrace and accept your own death.

  I’m still working on that concept, but I’m slowly getting there.

  Practically every person that stands at a podium and makes a commencement speech at a college graduation stresses how scary the real world can be. I’m still sheltered in the sense that I live with my parents, in my hometowns, working at my family business, and spending time with friends. I have more responsibilities and have been treated as an adult, but home is still my safety net. Many of my classmates have taken the plunge into living alone in an apartment, working at demanding jobs and carving new lives for themselves in New York City, Chicago, Boston and Dallas. As independent and worldly as I may seem, I knew in my gut that I was not ready to dive head first into the working world after receiving my degree. I spent this year soul searching and figuring myself out, and home was a safe environment to do so.

  After gaining my footing this year I have begun to explore the possibilities that lay ahead. I’ve submitted an application for the AmeriCorps, and may hear in the next few weeks if I will be teaching English for the year at a local private school in Litchfield County. I have obtained my certification to teach English abroad and have tried my hand in the service and bartending industries.

   Nothing is set in stone, but if I had jumped into a career directly after college, I would be lost. I needed to spend the year exploring myself. I realize that many people do not have the luxury of falling back on a family business, but I fortunately did. Working this past year at The Waterbury Observer allowed me to strengthen myself before heading into the storm.