It is absolutely mind boggling that just 366 days ago I graduated from the life of academia I had known for 16 years. Seeing my Instagram and Facebook feeds filled with posts from my Pepperdine friends' 2016 commencement photos just two days ago really made the craziness sink in (keep in mind, it's been snowing every day for the past three weeks in Crested Butte, so I am thoroughly convinced it is still February...WAIT...it's May?!). Walking across the stage to receive my diploma seems as though it happened in a dream long ago. Even the blistering sun beating on my black graduation robe doesn't burn quite as much as it did throughout that two-hour ceremony. It has become both a grand moment in my memory and history and a small nugget of la vie quotidienne de Leigh.
Graduation, like many other significant moments and days in our lives, seems like such a momentous event in the preceding days. I remember stressing about not having a job with a $40K salary lined up out of the gate, worrying if my degree were really worth all the money my parents and I poured into Pepperdine's pockets. Would there even be life after Pepperdine? Surely life had to end before May 2, 2015 came - academia was all I knew, after all! Funnily enough, I remember getting sucked into ring-by-spring antics and the brief disappointment I felt when I realized halfway through my senior year that I was as single as a nun when it seemed as through everyone I knew was on track to getting married tomorrow.
366 days ago I was still in my California state of mind, basking in the Malibu sunshine, celebrating graduation with some of my closest friends and family. I had grand plans for my life, and if I knew where I'd be today I would have been confused, wondering how my life got so off track so quickly. In a nutshell, the only facet of my current life congruent with my aspirations and plans drafted around graduation time is that I live in Colorado. Everything else has been completely overwritten by the plans of God. And though my career-driven self occasionally wishes I'd started my career a year ago and worries that I'm screwing myself over by taking yet another internship (perhaps my career will be in professional interning...), life in the Rockies is too good to give up for a 40+ hour workweek in a cubicle somewhere in corporate America.
What I'd never anticipated in my dreams for my future was that God would provide everything I wanted in a place I'd never heard of, or even wanted to be. I never would have thought I'd befriend women more than twice my age, find an incredibly supportive community in a small church, or live in a place so focused on outdoor recreation that I'd actually be surrounded by friends willing not only to take the plunge into extreme fitness conditioning and adventuring, but also to challenge me to push myself further than before. I never thought I'd become a CrossFit junkie determined to go through hardcore performance training or ski over 100 days in a given season.
A year ago, I was content with my idea of starting a corporate career in Denver, doing yoga on the regular, and being a member of a nice church. When I took this internship, I was worried I was settling if a company in California was going to offer me an actual salary and benefits; however, the more time I work and spend time in the company of incredible friends and co-workers in Crested Butte, the more I'm convinced that to move away from the vast expanse of nature, adventure, and deep community would be to sell myself short of the life I've secretly been too ambitious in the conventional sense to pursue.
I visited my parents in Albuquerque this past weekend. During breakfast on my last day in town, we started discussing my choice to stay in Crested Butte for another year and a half rather than pursue a career opportunity in California. My dad (dubbed Weepy Willy) looked at me with tears in his eyes and told me how proud he was of me to opt for the less conventional choice. With very little immunity to others' emotions, my eyes started to trickle a couple tears. In perfect timing, my mother joined in the sobfest and we all took a moment to contemplate the gravity of my decision. Despite all my worries that I would make the wrong choice, it turns out that I had, in fact, chosen the right one for my life at this time.
If you had asked me where I would be in a year on my graduation day, I can assure you my answer would come nowhere close to the reality of my life today. I wouldn't have dare dreamed I'd be adventuring in the mountains with a loving community, pushing myself to try new things and become stronger, or befriending some seriously amazing people of all ages. Even though those dreams were pushed aside by my usual career-minded ambition, I'm beyond grateful they assembled in perfect formation to create the life I'm thriving in today. Life keeps getting better.