Moving Forward || A Testimony of Never Giving Up On What's Yours

By Sam Alder

Like everyone, my life has had extreme ups and downs. There is nothing about my life story that is even remotely special or unique. But it’s mine, so when Kirsten asked me to write about a hardship that I successfully overcame I took a reflection period to really focus on what I wanted to share. This by far is going to be the rawest piece of writing I have ever composed, the following words are thoughts and feelings that I have only expressed to my inner self and to the closest people around me. 


I was recently listening to a podcast interview and the interviewee described a significant but also traumatic period of his life as his “underwater moment.” I loved the phrase so much I’m basing this entire submission on that phrase. We all have those events in our lives, and this is mine. I’m not asking for sympathy or attention from this piece. My only hope is that my writing brings some form of comfort to those of you currently venturing through your own underwater moment. I believe that a large portion of the triumphs that I have achieved thus far in my life have been obtained entirely on luck, my fiancé whole heartedly disagrees. He believes that my success is attributed to my determination and fear of failure, characteristics that he says not many people can adopt because they haven’t had to endure hardships of their own, himself included. I’m not so sure about his opinion but nevertheless my life events/choices got me to where I ‘am today. So, here it is, a glimpse into my underwater moment and how it ultimately was a blessing in disguise. 


I was raised by two blue collar workers with only highschool diplomas to their names, Rob and Sally. They were childhood neighbors, and I grew up in the same house where my mother was raised. Rome, NY is a small town outside of Syracuse, a city that remains haunted by the better days of economic success. The Airforce base is no longer active and the warehouses that use to house booming steel mills and factories are now just antiques lining the street. I didn’t have a fantastic high school experience, shocker who did? I was extremely active in after school activities and had an extensive group of friends. I was an adventurous kid but not a problem child. I was deeply insecure and I found refuge in humor, making other people laugh came natural to me and I saw it as a form of therapy. However, after my father was convicted of dealing drugs my senior year I started tobecome heavily labeled as a bad seed. 


The most fascinating aspect was that I didn’t receive ridicule from my peers, but instead from adults. Teachers, parents of friends, adults in my neighborhood all associated me with my father’s illegal actions, as if I was somehow involved. After the news broke about my father’s arrest it was as if every good deed I have ever done was stripped away as soon as his mugshot was printed in the local paper. Teacher’s looked at me with disdain and made comments about my personal life, my guidance counselor ignored my desire to attend a four-year college in NYC and instead supplied me with community college pamphlets. Even when my friends and I all applied for summer jobs through our town’s public park program I was denied every time while my friends were always hired and rehired each season. It doesn’t take a psychic to understand why I was always rejected. I was being out casted, almost as if I was marked with a scarlet A that was only visible to the locals. Being targeted in such a way feels incredibly isolating and degrading. Even more so because at the time I was an anxiety ridden teenager with crippling self-confidenceissues. I knew I needed to attend college and never move back to the small-minded town that I once called home. Not only did I want to start an amazing life for myself but I also wanted to prove to everyone that the daughter of a drug dealer can be something more than just a stereotype.  


I would be the first person in my family to go to college. As I intended, I enrolled in a four-year college in NYC. The summer before leaving I still faced scrutiny. My aspirations were highly criticized by parents of some of my friends. Even worse, this criticism was done directly to my face. Ignoring everyone’s comments four years passed and I graduated with a B.A in History and International Affairs in 2014. I graduated with no job prospects in sight, coming off fresh from interning in Maxim magazine’s editorial department. 


The thought of me returning to my hometown gave me incredible anxiety. I didn’t want to be labeled and ridiculed all over again. My fear and distaste for personal failure was so strong I would have done anything if it meant not returning home. After graduation, I moved in with a family member in CT to save money and look for work. I freelanced when I could for an author/activist, handling her blog and email marketing. Interviews came and went, but I didn’t want to settle for any job, I wanted to hold out for something that was more than just an assistant based role. It wasn’t until that I found myself in an altercation with the family member that I was living with that I was forced to leave their home in the middle of the night with all my belongings in the back of my Jeep. At that time, I only had $200 to my name. I could have drove home to my mother’s house but to me that was a sign that I failed. 


Instead, I couch surfed with friends and waitressed for a few months until I received my first full time positon as a marketing manager for a healthcare company. I stayed with the company for a year until I was recruited to join a new firm that offered me better pay and more responsibility. At this point, my life did become increasingly better, I was fully employed, far away from my hometown and the people who tormented me for years. However, I would be lying if I didn’t mention my experience with ageism, and sexism during this period, it was anything but perfect. I stayed focused, quiet, and alert over the course of those three years. Still making my way through my underwater moment. Fast forwarding to present day, I’m now a marketing manager working for an international market research company, responsible for their North American market. I completed my MBA, graduating with a 4.0 all while working in tandem. I also share a home with my fiancé and our rescue pitt mix Lainey and I’m so happy that I have found safety and unconditional love, aspects that I have not seen or felt in quite a while. 


If someone told me four years ago this was going to be my life in 2018 I would have laughed in their face. From my senior year of high school in 2014 all the way up to 2017 I experienced some deeply uncomfortable feelings of absolute despair and worry for my future. Returning home to work at our local Wal-Mart was never going to be an option, I wouldn’t allow it. But I would be lying if I told you I didn’t consider leaving everything behind to move out West, live under the radar for the next thirty years and teach yoga under a different name. I truly believe that my underwater moment was a blessing, for without it I wouldn’t be the person I ‘am today. Enduring that period taught me that those god fucking awful rough times do not last forever, eventually you come out on the other side. Several times during that period I felt so low I didn’t think my life could improve, let alone get to the place where I wanted it to be. It sounds so cliché but taking things one problem at a time, one day a time, and embracing each opportunity as it comes into your life is so important. Most of all, it feels really fucking good to not care what other people think. The amount of energy my younger self wasted on caring what people think could have powered the Manhattan skyline for the next fifty years. Not giving a fuck is truly a great feeling and Idon’t think I will ever be able to describe it well. 


If you learn anything from my experience know that your underwater moment is only temporary, and some people are completely unhappy with their lives and feel the need to project that sadness onto you. If I listened to even half of what was told to me by adults in high school god only knows where I would be now. Not successfully living out my dream of being an independent, and educated business woman that’s for damn sure. Keep your energy field clear and don’t let anyone’s cruelty and judgement stain your path to a more promising future for yourself.