I had finally done it.
It was almost a year ago when I first considered cutting it all off. The nagging desire to do it came at a time when I was struggling with so many aspects of life: my relationship, my friends, my health, my job and my purpose. I was unhappy with so much, confused about a lot and downright frustrated with the rest. My hair had yet to become the change I was looking for, but I knew I wanted something different in my everyday life. I wanted to feel fulfilled. I wanted to feel like I was pursuing a passion.
I initially began pressing myself to plan for grad school, thinking that with my love for school that would be the change I needed. Despite the excitement I felt about possibly attending a school in Europe, or at least on the other side of the country, I quickly realized that I wasn’t ready to go back. I didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally (other than my current job), far less what I wanted to study.
So that ended that.
Then my post-college boyfriend and I broke up. And for reasons that would take another post to explain, this opened up my mind to a whole new world of possibilities that I previously wasn’t considering. Most importantly, it brought back a possibility into my life that I hadn’t considered since undergrad: the Peace Corps. It was something I wanted to do since
But life happened. Better yet, two corporate internships, parents who wanted me to get a “good job,” and a college boyfriend who I was considering spending the rest of my life with happened. But the breakup between me and my post-college boyfriend felt like a blessing in disguise. I was ready.
Once I committed myself to the Peace Corps application process, I became more and more excited about the opportunity to spend the two years abroad focused completely on making a change in a community and being challenged beyond belief. I was more than ready to jump start a whole new phase in my life.
It was exhilarating to feel so passionate about a goal that I felt was a complete reflection of me – not my parents, not my peers, just me. I imagined every step of the process, fantasized about the placement I might get and began to mentally prepare myself for the lifestyle adjustments I’d have to make. The possibility almost felt too good to be true. I felt like the character in my favorite book, Black Girl in Paris, was finally coming to life for me. Eden is a young woman who dreams of living in France and meeting her literary idol, James Baldwin. My favorite part of the book is when she finally decides to just up and go to Paris with only a few hundred dollars in her pocket:
"Before I left home I cut my hair close to my scalp so I could be a free woman with free thoughts, open to all possibilities... I didn’t know what I wanted to be but I knew I wanted to be the kind of woman who was bold, took chances, and had adventures. I wanted to travel around the world. It was my little-girl dream."I’ve struggled to adequately explain what this book means to me – especially that excerpt – since I first read the book at 18. And while that paragraph has always had a profound effect on me, it never meant more than during the phase I was in last summer. I was ready for something new. I was ready to “be a free woman with free thoughts, open to all possibilities.” That was when I decided that I would cut my hair before my departure for my service in the Peace Corps. I planned on entering this new phase in life as a new me.
Now if you don’t know anything about the Peace Corps application process, let me give you a brief rundown. There’s an application, an interview, regional nomination, medical forms, medical clearance, financial forms, financial clearance and eventually (you hope) an invitation to serve in a particular country. I submitted my application in August, was interviewed in September, was nominated for Africa the day of my interview and spent the next few months completing the EXTREMELY comprehensive medical and dental forms.
Let me tell you, getting those medical forms filled out was by far the most frustrating experience in my life (and I’m sure my doctors’ offices felt the same way, bless their hearts). But finally, after much back and forth with follow-up information requests, I was told that my application was in full review and that I’d have to wait 6 weeks to 3 months to hear a response about my medical clearance.
So I waited. And squirmed. And prayed. And checked my mail. And whined to my friends. And waited. Finally received the letter. Read it. And cried.
I’d been medically deferred. The Peace Corps told me that they could not continue to review my application for medical reasons and that I was welcomed to resubmit my medical forms if things changed. I was so confused. Why didn’t they want me? It’s not like I was dying or anything! I was so shocked. “No” was a word that I barely heard. And this one hurt more than ever.
About a week later I wrote a blog post about the “pause” I was taking time to think things through a bit and allow for my reality to set in. I’m very much a believer in all things happening for a reason, but I also just was not ready to begin thinking about what would be next. Afterall, I had very much built myself up to believe that the Peace Corps would be my next step.
During that time I got to thinking about a lot of things, particularly about how much personal growth I’d experienced through the application process, my relationship woes and my professional situation. I was proud of myself. Yet I knew there was so much more growth I wanted to experience. Making the decision about the Peace Corps for myself and by myself was the first step in me getting to know me on a deeper level. I wanted to continue breaking out from the fear of other people’s opinions, judgments, plans, expectations and disappointments. So I decided I would still cut my hair.
As a black woman who has been natural all of her life,“the big chop” wasn’t significant for me in the way that it is for so many others. Yet in many ways it was exactly the same. I wasn’t breaking free from the pressure to have straight hair or fit into society’s idea of what I should look like. Rather I was releasing myself from the pressure I’ve placed on myself to be something that I don’t have to be. I was giving myself permission to be authentic and true to myself at all times.
I want to be a free spirit. I want to be bold. I want to take chances. And while I still have a long way to go before I am able to embody many of the qualities that Eden talks about, every day I can take a small step toward becoming that woman. Last week I took a big leap when I cut my hair.