Rising After the Fall

By Jade Emerson
Illustration By Amber Davis

Growing up, I savored the task of picking out a new and yet-to-be-filled planner at the beginning of every school year. With covers of deep blues, emerald greens, or soft pastels, patterns of bold prints, stars or florals, I felt the power within this one simple decision. On those clean, empty pages of my new planner, I would write my next year into existence by day, week, month and year. As simply as I penciled in my schedule, I penciled in my life. Between homework assignments and after-school rehearsal, I coordinated all of the grand things I thought I would see and do and become.

Somewhere I still have all those out-of-date planners tucked away with half-filled journals and annotated schoolbooks. And sometimes I miss their simplicity and the surety I believed plans once held. Who would that girl have been if life unfolded the way she had written it out? Who found success and never doubted it. Who never had to worry if she was on track with everyone else. Who had her whole life planned out on dated pages. 

Instead, I became the girl who always lost track of her planner after the first few weeks. Who had a to-do list scribbled on her hand and left Post-its everywhere. Who learned that no amount of planning can ever really prepare you for what’s still left unwritten. 

We are taught that life flows in a straight line. Alongside our peers, we pass our milestones. We take our first steps, we learn to read, we go to school, we go to college, we get married, and have kids and a house with a white picket fence. And we learn to constantly look around to make sure that we aren’t moving too fast or too slow, leading the way or trailing behind. 

We are not taught that life, more often than not, doesn’t stick to a plan. We are not taught what happens when we stare at a dead end, a goodbye or the end of the line. When we are left to rebuild after the smoke has cleared. When we learn a new word not written out in our pretty little planners — resilience.  

The beauty of resilience is that it is something you are forced to find within yourself. It’s a refusal to call the game before it’s over. And it can mean trying again, or it can mean walking away. It can mean holding on or deciding to let go. 

Resilience is rebellion. It’s a redefinition of what it means to be successful, happy or at peace. It’s a redefinition of what it means to be an artist, a mother, a survivor or a woman. 

There is no such thing as too late, too old, or too far gone. Abandon the notion that success must come before 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 or 80. 

Refuse the idea that we are only given a fraction of our lives to live them fully. You can get a degree at any age. You can be successful at any age. You can start a family at any age. You can find love at any age. You can start over at any age. If you are unwilling to give up. If you are resilient. 

Yes, it’s brilliant to achieve in your 20s what you thought you wouldn’t achieve until your 40s. But it’s just as brilliant to achieve in your 40s what you thought you’d achieve in your 20s.

Take a second act. And then a third, fourth and fifth. Strip away every expectation. Forgo the plans. Discard the schedule.  

No feeling, situation or experience is permanent. Everything changes. And you’ll change with it. Adapt. Fall. Evolve. Panic. Grow. Break down. Begin again. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “For what it’s worth: It’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing…I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”

I started over with every reschedule and every fallen-through plan. I learned that my life is so much more than an itemized list in the calendar. I’ll never know who the girl with the plan would’ve been, who untouched strolled down her perfectly planned path. But the truth is, I hope I never know her. 

I’d rather know the girl I am now. Who has learned to find love within herself when she can’t find it from others. Who has learned to embrace the possibility within uncertainty. Who trusts the unknown and has found strength in insecurity. Who has learned that life is nothing more than an unending beginning. The girl who rose after she fell. 

No one can finish your story but you. What comes next? 

How will you rise? 

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