35yo + Accidental Gap Year(s) = Well, That Was Unexpected, But I Ain’t Mad

Warning: LONG story NOT short Synopsis: Well, that was unexpected, but I ain't mad because now I understand. 87 weeks ago I took a leap of faith. I NEVER saw where that leap took me coming. And neither will you.

52,832,826ish seconds ago, I quit a stable paycheck to take a leap of faith and follow my dreams.

880,547ish minutes ago, I took my last (infuriating) call from an angry truck driver.

14,675ish hours ago, I said goodbye to co-workers that had kept me smiling for 6 years.

612 days ago, I unplugged my work laptop and drove it back to the office to hand it in.

87 weeks ago, I walked away from my last call center job and the corporate world.

1 year, 8 months, and 2 days ago, I had dreams that couldn’t be grounded.

20 months later and the leap of faith I took, changed my life irrevocably.

Putting Myself First

Strength (For sale on Etsy – just click photo)

On June 25th, 2021, after handing in my 2-week resignation notice 67 days early, I decided to put myself first and we officially became a one-income home.

Selfish? Yes. Needed? Fuck yes.

While I say that I quit my job because I wanted to follow my dreams, I quit my job because I couldn’t work there anymore.

I couldn’t wake up before the ass crack of dawn anymore. I was barely functioning as a human, let alone as a mom, too.

Dreams of writing and adventuring, eventually, one day, were the only strings of hope I could barely hold on to on a good day.

Hindsight, I lost myself working at that job. I gave up on living. I hated whom I was becoming. I couldn’t even tell you who I was, other than a sad sack of depressed potatoes.

Leading up to my final day there, I had numerous talks with my family about this next step. And to their credit, they supported me and whatever I needed to do. I am truly thankful they didn’t squash my ideas.

I had grand ideas of starting my own business, of how AWESOME it was going to be because I would have clients coming out of the yin and yang.

I was going to be so busy and raking in the money because there was no way my ideas would fail. I am a writer. Copywriting is just an extension of that.

Hindsight, I may have dreamed a little too high, probably because I was a little too high.

But hey, I was putting myself first for once. Damn the consequences.

Timeline Time

The Buoy Tree (For sale on Etsy – just click photo)

My best friend died in April 2020. When I learned of her passing, it’s a well-known fact to those that know me, that I metaphorically died with her.

At the time, I couldn’t see my nose through the darkness. I stayed in bed one day in September 2020, not able to do anything but roll from side to side and wonder if I could just disappear under the blankets forever.

Shortly thereafter, still in September, I was given an ultimatum by my company. I can’t remember the details anymore. I probably wrote about it. The details aren’t important for this story. But, I do know, however, that it had to do with something regarding my kids and work.

THAT conversation kicked me off down a road where I eventually had a spiritual awakening.

I ended up going on a search to figure out who the fuck I was. I was desperate.

Did I actually like red? Do I even like music? What kind of music do I even like? Am I a night owl or an early bird? Am I anything but a failure?

Let’s just say, I went deep. I dug deep. I searched in uncomfortable, awkward, angry places. Places that had been hidden from me for 3 decades.

All because the death of my best friend rattled me to my core and made me rethink EVERYTHING.

Whom did I want to be? What did I want to leave behind? How do I want people to remember me? What is my purpose? My mission?

At some point in the search, I discovered somehow that I could be a Copywriter. Hell yeah. I love to write and edit. Count me in. Easy. Clients. Boom. Money. Freedom. My own hours. Sign me up.

Origin Story: My Living List

This is JUST 41 of the almost 120 (so far) on my Living List. Not for sale but please feel free to add some of these to your Living List

In 2018, I almost died on the operating table during an Emergency Surgery – a well-known fact if you know me. Go back in my stories and you can find at least one I have written about that scary day.

Soon after, my idea of a Living List was born. So, I guess you could say that my spiritual awakening started way back in 2018, but didn’t “grow legs” until 2021 because I did nothing about it.

Not a single thing, other than add a few things here and there.

I didn’t mark a single thing off that Living List between 2018 and 2021.

I lacked the courage, the bravery, the follow-through, the self-love, the confidence, and the adventurous spirit I have now. So, my Living List just remained a bunch of words and dreams, scattered amongst different places.

It wasn’t until my best friend died that my Living List finally became my beacon of hope. Sometimes, my ONLY beacon of hope.

Yes, even after I quit my stable paycheck, I still held on to that Living List like it was going to transform my life if I stared at it long enough.

I was going to make those dreams come true and the only way I could figure out how to do that was by quitting my dead-end job.

Copywriting sounded like the perfect fit. I could write damn well. I could move masses. At least, on paper – copywriting sounded like the perfect fit

Hindsight, I would have done just about anything to get out of that job before it consumed me whole.

Hindsight Knows All

Shaded Light (For sale on Etsy – just click photo)

Once I latched on to the idea of Copywriting, it was the only thing I could think about.

No way in hell was I even remotely considering the idea of selling my photos or putting them someplace the Universe at large could see them.

So, Copywriting was the best choice. It would allow me to stay home, unschool the kids (p.s. failed that), and take care of the chaos that was our home, all while working my own hours.

And, honestly, I had no clue what I wanted to do when I grew up. I just knew I loved to write and take photos and go on adventures.

At the time, my Adventuring was extremely minimal, even pre-pandemic. In fact, adventuring then used to end in a #AdventuringIsAHazardousOccupation shout-out.

Now, adventuring is who I am. It is my tagline – Adventure on with Curiosity – and it is what I do, what I seek, what I need. And I’m pretty fucking good at finding adventures in the everyday because, as it turns out, adventuring is just a mindset.

This brings me back to why I needed to quit with just hopes and dreams to fall upon.

Ditching The Corporate Life

Hanger Door (For sale on Etsy – just click photo)

Yeah, I was going to start my own business. No, I had no clients. Yes, I made a backup plan

My backup plan was – if after 1 year, my business was not successful – I would go back to the corporate world. At that point, I figured I would have no problem going back because by then, I would at least know what I wanted to do with my life: write for other people.

Heh. Hindsight, again, poor naive Kelly.

So, I quit. I took a couple/few months off to reacclimate to life without needing to wake up before 5 am. I had to readjust to learn how to set my own schedule and routines. I had to relearn how to be with my kids 24/7.

I was on the struggle bus for a while there while I took control of my life.

I dibbled and dabbled, catching up on life that I couldn’t catch up to while my soul was being sucked dry at that call center.

Then, I started getting a little more serious about my business.

But something wasn’t right. Something wasn’t clicking. No, scratch that. Nothing was clicking. I had these ideas, these words, but when I put them all together to build an online presence, I couldn’t sell it.

I would open my laptop, look at the list of things I knew I needed to do to find clients, and just draw a blank. I couldn’t put my fingers to the keys. I couldn’t get the words to flow. 

And then, because I had a hard time selling myself, and a hard time even believing in the package I was selling, I realized that I couldn’t get out of my own way to find clients and I had ZERO clue how to get the fuck outta my own way.

Yeah, I may have an MBA, but apparently, at least at this point in my life, running a business by myself is not my strong suit. Like, not at all.

Managing and organizing and strategizing a business? Heck yeah. But finding clients and selling myself? Fuck that.

Rebranding and Realization

Around the time I realized that running my own business was probably my stupidest idea EVER – which is saying something because I have a TON of GRAND stupid ideas – not only was the shame and embarrassment of how I am – yet again – still a failure, I went through my 3rd rebrand, hoping that would FINALLY make everything click.

And it did. For a minute.

Then, out of nowhere, around mid-April 2022, I hit a 6-month-long fog that completely immobilized me to the point where I could only drift from book to book, completely ignoring and ultimately escaping reality.

Laundry piled up. Dishes piled up. Doom piles everywhere ignored.

As a bonus, this fog contributed to the fact that I read over 300 books last year (never again).

Looking back, it started when my girls went back to school in February 2022, because that is when everything outside of them readjusting to school – ceased.

When my girls went back to school, my whole body went back into survival mode. It was a self-inflicted survival mode. But I couldn’t get out of the spiral if I wanted to.

I couldn’t start anything because I just knew I’d have to stop in the middle, right as I was getting in the flow, to go pick up E from school or help negotiate her surrender. So what was the point of even starting anything?

At least with reading, I could read anywhere and it required zero creativity flow.

This is why I am so glad that E is at a new school this year, with resources and staff that can help her.

Although, it took until November 2022 for the immobilizing fog to recede before I realized that I don’t have to put my life on hold just in case I get a phone call. They have it handled. She is OK. B is OK. And therefore, I am going to be OK.

Immobilizing Fog Be Gone

Not for sale, but one of my FAVORITE random screenshots and POTD

During those 6 months, I hit the 1-year mark that I put forth in my backup plan. I passed that day and didn’t even pause to acknowledge it.

I am thankful no one in my family brought it up, but there was still a negative vibe surrounding me that was nasty, waiting for someone to make a teeny tiny remark.

Every time I realized the one-year mark passed, the idea of going back to the corporate world pushed me further into that immobilizing fog to a point where I was suffocating, only excited when I finally hit numb.

For 5 of those 6  months, I let myself drown with the knowledge that not only did I not have a successful business, but I also didn’t stick to my backup plan pinky promise.

AND I didn’t even finish my first novel. I was an all-around failure of a human being. A disgrace.

Then, something happened.

I posted a photo on my Instagram and gave it a title. Nothing else.

The next day, I posted another photo. And then another the next.

I posted one of my all-time favorites, and I posted photos that I had just taken that day.

I started posting a Photo of the Day (POTD), every single day.

At first, it was just to try something new, switch things up. I was numb. Something needed to change.  I couldn’t commit to much, but posting a photo of the day was something simple that I could do.

A photo and a title. Maybe a caption if I was feeling a little more creative.

Learning How To Become Unapologetically Me

Don’t mind me just chillin’

I logged back into my Habitica app.

I started not caring about what people thought of me.

I stopped thinking about my business, stopped dwelling on my failures.

I started having fun and wholly embraced becoming unapologetically me.

I was (still am) working with a Holistic Health Coach who helped me upgrade my beliefs and self-love.

I found the umph and I created a brand new-to-me office space that I fucking love and look forward to working at every day I am not sick.

I could feel my confidence growing tiny bit by teeny bit.

I broke down the chaos and embarrassment that was my home into doom piles and then organized those doom piles into sections.

I spent the next month, and every single day of Winter Break, cleaning and organizing and purging every inch of my home except clothes and closets.

I rethought how we were interacting with our home and organized it in a way that we WOULD use our home. For instance, our bonus space upstairs transformed from the catch-all and my old office I never went to, to our Creator Space where the kids (and daddy) can work on Legos and art projects and science projects.

Now, I am in love with my home again. I am in love with my space. And the future is just getting started.

Can’t Stop Me Now

My Scouter name is Beast for a reason

After setting up my new office space, and in between clearing doom piles, I also sat down and finished my fucking book.

That’s right, I finally published my first novel. When I finished my book – everything changed. I felt my world shift.

Somewhere between starting to post a POTD and finishing my book, I was alerted (somehow, but can’t remember now) to a Call for Art for our county. I saved it. Even put it on my Habitica.

I wasn’t ready to sit down and submit anything, but I did look at the requirements and was surprised at how easy it would be to submit. It definitely was not as hard as my brain made it seem it would be.

Soon after finishing my first book, I decided that it was finally time to submit my photos to be featured in that Call for Art.

But, this time, I went in with realistic hopes and dreams grounded in reality.

I didn’t submit my work to be chosen, but to press send and mark something else off my Living List after publishing my first book.

This would be my first foray into the “professional” side of photography and I was scared and intimidated. There are SO MANY better artists out there. I was OK with the idea that, if I don’t get selected, no loss. I am just gaining the practice I need to hit submit again.

The practice of stepping out of my comfort zone. The practice of going after what I want, no matter what.

Full Moons And Passions

My FAVORITE office I have ever had. Kind of makes it all worth it.

The night I finished my book, I went to my first Full Moon Gathering, not knowing what to expect, just that I wanted to experience it at least once. I even added it to my Living List after the fact.

Attending the Full Moon Gathering not only kickstarted a deep dive into my spirituality but also helped me realize that I finally arrived where I didn’t know I had been heading since June 25th, 2021.

That Full Moon Gathering and all the ones since have become invaluable kid bonding time with my girls because something about Full Moons and New Moons and Imbolcs and Winter Solstices speaks to their souls too.

I took a leap to put myself first, and somewhere in that immobilizing fog, I lost myself.

That first Full Moon Gathering in December – re-sparked a piece of me that I thought was lost forever.

Slowly and surely, my confidence soared, my soul reignited, I started writing again, I fell in love with photography again, and then I realized that I can’t write for other people.

That’s not where my passion lies, and since I was learning how to be unapologetically me and holding to my values and beliefs and needs and wants and desires – unapologetically, I had to come clean and I had to acknowledge that writing for other people, chipped away at the passion I was trying so hard to already hold on to just a few weeks post-immobilizing fog.

Staying true to myself, I realized that my passion is in editing other people’s words to help their stories come to life.

Staying true to myself, my passion is in writing my own stories and sharing my own views, experiences, adventures, and perspectives.

When that realization happened, it felt like the ground finally solidified underneath me for the first time. I was taken aback while this overwhelming since of calm and contentment washed through me.

It was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

All cylinders started firing in sync. Something I have only felt once before at the beginning of the pandemic. As everyone around me was panicking, it was like I was waiting for that moment for my time to shine. 

Everything Clicks

Tree Dancer (For sale on Etsy – just click photo)

side note: Just recently, this has become one of my top 2 FAVE photos of all time and I just want to DANCE with her whenever I look at it. THIS is what was unexpected. This feeling of being wild and free… and happy, has made EVERYTHING work it, and then some.

All of my past trauma and pain and anger and resentment and embarrassment and shame – melted away when that ground solidified.

Since June 25th, 2021, I didn’t realize that I had been healing. I thought I was just chasing a rotten dream, too stubborn to give up or admit failure at least.

That Full Moon Gathering in December was the catalyst for how I got here, to the idea for this post, and to the realization that I have been living through, most likely, what most teens experience before going to college – A Gap Year.

And because of that realization, I finally admitted to myself that I was ready to go back to the corporate world. Only, on my terms, and this time, I AM NOT settling.

Because, for the first time, ever, I know what I want to do when I grow up.

I know what I want my legacy to be.

I know how I want people to remember me.

I understand my purpose. I know my mission.

Mandatory Side Quest

This was a completely accidental capture and has quickly turned into something I am experimenting with

And that, my friends, is when I truly understood, that I am not a failure because my business failed. My business failed because it wasn’t right for me. My business failed because it was just a mandatory side quest as I went on this journey.

And, I am not a failure because it wasn’t right for me. Quite the opposite. This journey has been a journey I needed to go on to get to this moment where I am writing how I ain’t mad that I have spent the last almost 2 years putting myself first.

I needed to metaphorically die. I needed to have a spiritual awakening. I needed to follow a dream. I needed to take a leap. I needed to crash.

Because I needed to learn how to persevere through the fog, the darkness, and the failure in order to see the light, the happiness, the fun.

These past almost 2 years were not a failure or something I will look back upon with shame or embarrassment.

These past almost 2 years were exactly what I needed.

A break and time to learn what matters to me. A break to find balance between all the pieces of me, time to dedicate to me, and time to learn what things NEED to take priority in my life.

I spent the last 2 years learning how to live life on my terms.

I spent the last 2 years healing physically, emotionally, spiritually and I am the HEALTHIEST I have ever been.

Would it have been easier if we were not financially struggling hard because of my need to leap without guarantee of income? Probably, but that wasn’t what I needed on my journey.

If I had the comfy cushion of money to lean back on, I would have taken this next phase I am about to embark on, for granted.

I wouldn’t have forced myself to sit down and get us on a budget. I wouldn’t have forced myself to prioritize the non-negotiables and the essentials.

All the rest, I have learned, is noise. Noise I don’t need in my life. Not anymore.

That’s why I have called these past almost 2 years, my gap years.

For Lack Of A Better Metaphor: I Am A Phoenix

Fire Skulls (For sale on Etsy – just click photo)
Since I don’t have a photo of a Phoenix, Fire Skulls will have to work

I have been going going going, and an overachiever, since 2nd grade when my family sat me down for an intervention because I wasn’t turning in my homework.

Graduated high school. Went straight to college, but ended up at PCC for a couple of years because I fell in love. Found a job, went back to uni, still working. Have 1 kid, add a minor, graduate college. Take 6 months off, and then straight to grad school all while working a part-time job. Had a 2nd kid on the night of my Financial final. Finished my Financial final with a 2-day-old on my chest and a 2.5yr old raging toddler. Graduated with my MBA. Got married. Work work work work work. Almost die on the operating table. Pandemic. Death of my best friend. Metaphorical Death. Burning to ashes.

Just typing that all out was exhausting. Try living it.

It was a perfect storm really, that finally got me to this point where I didn’t know I was headed. Where I have rebuilt myself from the ashes.

I still love writing, photography, and adventuring.

But even more so these days because I am having FUN and placing importance on fun over following rules set forth by society because fuck ’em.

My writing, my photography, my adventuring – has all taken on a life of their own, coming to life rather than sitting on the sidelines, waiting waiting waiting for their turn that never came.

As of now, I am still an avid reader, but am no longer reading 24/7 like I was during those 6 foggy, numb months.

I am also actively tying up loose ends so that when I do find my perfect job, I am not also burdened with all the shit I have to get done on top of the neverending to do list.

I am making lifelong-lasting changes. I am ditching the bad habits. I am taking care of my health. I am loving my kids. I am happy.

I don’t care if I go viral. I don’t care about how many likes or comments I get on any of my things. I am doing this all for me. And if I inspire someone along the way, or change someone’s life, or make someone thing about the world a little differently – those are bonus cherries on the top.

For once, in my life, I am writing, taking photos, and adventuring for me, and no one else. I am all the validation I need.

I Know What I Want To Be When I Grow Up

Power of Silence (For sale on Etsy – just click photo)
I want to help people find their strength, their self-love, their voice.

And I know, without a single doubt, that I want to write for myself. I want to only write my own stories. I want to inspire people with my words. I want the Universe to hear me. Because I am not hiding anymore.

Though, I will edit your words and strategize with you if interested. Just as a side hustle and only if someone reaches out to me. I am not going to actively pursue that side of my life. That is not where my strengths are.

I am going to find an editor job. I know I don’t have most of the qualifications, but I know that someone, somewhere, is going to take a chance on me and I am NOT going to prove them wrong.

One day I may be a publisher helping authors with big ideas and dreams to change lives one word at a time yet can’t find a publisher because their story, their words, “probably won’t sell.” If you want to write and publish a book – I want to help you.

I will have to outsource or hire an in-house marketer though. But I am not going to turn down your story. It’s YOURS. Only YOU can tell YOUR story.

But for now, I am either finding balance in all things or making balance happen.

And, when this post is published, I will have already announced the Grand Opening of my Etsy store where I will be selling digital prints!!!!!! (Update: I MADE MY FIRST SALE!!!!!! Item #74 on my Living List: Sell ONE of my photos!!!!)

Oh, and guess what?

Remember that Call for Art that I submitted to with no expectations and grounded hopes?


It will be Nov – Dec 2023. I am beyond living on cloud 9. Cloud 9 is my bitch.

I do worry that my photos won’t print well, but that’s a problem for Future Kelly.

Here Comes Etsy

SorryNotSorry that this has a date that will expire. I may run another sale. Ya never know.

After I finally came down from Cloud 9 to give it a break from my insanity, I realized that it was finally time to sell some of my favorite photos.

It’s been something I have been thinking about doing since 2018, but every time I sat down to do some research – I got frustrated. There was no easy BUDGET FRIENDLY place to just upload and sell.

But, I went back to R&D. I figured I wanted to have a place to send people who may come to see my photos at my SOLO SHOW.

I don’t know why it never crossed my mind OR my research before, but that night I decided to get serious about figuring out how to sell my photos, Etsy popped up and I swear on my soul, a freaking lightbulb turned on.

In my brain, but still.

So, I set up my Etsy store, and let it sit there for a while with just one photo. I didn’t set a grand opening date until after I sorted through over 79 THOUSAND photos to find the ones I felt to be of “professional” quality.

When I was done with categorizing 36-40 THOUSAND photos because my photo sorting system was a HOT MESS on a runaway train, I had about 1,000 photos that I had been collecting for this exact day to come that needed to be edited.

AND THEN, I had about 3,000 photos that needed my WATERMARK!!!!

It was a long, tedious, and a much MUCH needed process. At the end, I had finally organized EVERYTHING. All my google drives, everything on my computer, and some other programs whose files I hadn’t organized, ever.


The Sage of the Photographer’s Curse STRIKES AGAIN!

Whether or not people buy them, this is a HUGE step for me. I HAD to organize all my stuff anyways. If I get a handful of bucks, then I am winning.

Because again, my internal validation is so intense, I want to be OTHER people’s internal validation.

Opening that Etsy shop is just PROOF that I am leveling up. PROOF that these last almost 2 years weren’t wasted.

Vibe Time = Positive Vibes + Fun Times (and some Stoicism)

The Eye Beholds (For sale on Etsy – just click photo)

While I coined “Vibe Time” way back on January 4th, 2023 after I pulled the Rune Kaunaz – “Torch/Light, insight, enlightenment, wisdom” – I just made that heading up a couple of hours ago and now it is forever lodged in my brain, never to part me.

I will definitely be writing this heading down in my journal during Vibe Time tonight after writing this story.

I might even want that etched on my gravestone.

“While she lived, she lived fun times with positive vibes only.”

Nah, that will need to be worked on….shh brain, we will figure this out! patience.

However, Vibe Time…..OK FINE!

“She lived with fun times and positive vibes only” NOPE. Happy now brain?

What I am trying to say, is that one of the lifelong lasting changes I have made during these accidental Gap Years – scratch that – the MAIN lifelong lasting change I have made, is what I am wrapping up into a beautiful black, shiny, silky bow with the words “Vibe Time” on a matching label.

Ok brain, one more and then you need to go take a break. “Fun times and positive vibes only was her motto. Vibe Time her North Star.” eh…

“A stoic who was a fun times and positive vibes only…” no “Here lies a fun time and positive vibe only stoic, may she rest in fun!” Ok ok ok…we will spend time on this later.

Yeah, these past almost 2 years haven’t been a failure. These past almost 2 years have given me the space to wholly become who I have always been meant to be, I just wasn’t ready yet.

I had to go through the fog to truly understand what it means to be a Stoic. To truly understand the meaning of being in charge of how I react. To truly understand that, no matter WHAT happens, no matter the situation, I will be OK.

That feelings are fleeting. Powerful, yes, but also fleeting. And I don’t want to be doom and gloom anymore.

I have been looking for all the silver linings for a decade at least, so the idea of finding the good even in the suck isn’t new to me.

But during my accidental gap years, I leveled that shit up.

I kicked Negative Nancy out, and welcomed Positive Polly.

I went from dead inside to having fun no matter what. No matter what. I am constantly laughing and smiling and finding the fun or making the fun.

But the BIGGEST thing that has come from this whole Vibe Time thing, is that I freaking love myself. I am proud of myself. I know I can do it because I AM doing it. I am strong, courageous, brave. I have fun. I make fun. I listen to my soul. I listen to my gut.

I trust myself.

I am happy.

And because I am happy, truly happy, I am not only spending more time with my girls, getting to know them, I am spending MEANINGFUL time with them that isn’t filtered through darkness and anger and resentment.

And because I am happy, truly happy, I am not only spending more time with my husband, rekindling and deepening our 17-year relationship, I am spending MEANINGFUL time with him that isn’t filtered through self-loathing and shame and trauma.

And because I am happy, truly happy, I am not only spending more time writing, excited about writing my stories, I am spending MEANINGFUL time with myself that isn’t filtered through fog and numbness and anxiety.

And, because I am happy, truly, truly happy, I am well on my way to making all my dreams come true and bringing my Living List alive.

What’s Next?

Grow Your Own Way (For sale on Etsy – just click photo)

Will I ever have my own business? Only if I have the clientele already or if I can hire someone to find me clients, but if anything, these past 2 years have taught me that I am not a business owner and I am no longer ashamed to admit that.

I am not a failure.

I am a 35-year-old mom of 2 kiddos who just needed to have a MUCH needed gap year, or two.

Not a gap year to travel, but a gap year to burn, rebuild, and heal and an extra gap year to find, understand, and believe in herself.

I can’t wait to see what my next midlife crisis brings! I hope it’s travel. I have a Living List to live after all!

In the meantime, Adventure on with Curiosity and take that leap, you never know,

~ Kelly Steele

333 555

p.s. I totally just started a new thing by including photos that are on my Etsy shop AND THEN LINKING TO THEM!!!! Mind. Blow. Mic. Drop.

Share the Post: