Whose Stars Are You Reaching For?

By Katie, 5:04 am

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” – Henry David Thoreau (emphasis mine)

From elementary school all the way through college, I had a reputation of being a bit of a teacher’s pet.

It wasn’t that I was a brown-noser, at least not exactly. It was more that I genuinely enjoyed school, and teachers tend to genuinely like students like that.

Not surprisingly, my love of school combined with my people-pleasing tendencies meant that I cared a lot about what my teachers thought of me.

Fast forward to senior year of college. I’m applying to graduate programs in literature, hoping to become an English professor someday. I’m thrilled when I get my acceptance letter from School A, which I always had a good feeling about. Then I find out I’ve also been accepted to School B, which is considerably more prestigious and yet didn’t give me the warm fuzzies like School A. Better school + no warm fuzzies or slightly less prestigious school + warm fuzzies? Which would you pick?

Unfortunately, I chose School B. Why? Because it was where some of my professors thought I should go. They worried I’d have trouble finding a job coming out of School A (the competition for English professors is fierce, believe it or not). They thought of me as a high caliber student, so of course the high caliber school was more appropriate. One professor actually balked at the notion of my attending School A.

So to School B I went. And I was miserable. Within three months I was so unhappy I was practically hunting for a reason to leave; I high-tailed it out of there as soon as I could.

Why do I share this with you?

Because the whole experience taught me one of the most important lessons of my life thus far: that the message shouldn’t be “reach for the stars”; it should be “reach for your stars.”

You see, I was constantly letting other people’s expectations of me get in the way of my own dreams and goals. I was less concerned about fulfilling myself and more concerned with making sure everyone else approved. The fear of disappointing someone – even just a little – drove me to make decisions I never would have otherwise.

Now I realize that no matter what anyone else said or thought, the decision of where to go to school was ultimately mine. I was the one who got accepted, I was the one who had to move to a different part of the country and then back again. I packed the boxes, I took the tests, I wrote the research papers. While my professors certainly cared about me and were trying to be helpful, in the long run I was but a blip on their student map. And yet I let them decide for me.

I’ve learned my lesson. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says or thinks or does, because they’re not the ones standing in my shoes. I need to follow my dreams even if other people want me to do something else; I need to pursue my goals even when people tell me I should take a different direction. I need to reach for my stars.

Have you ever reached for someone else’s stars instead of your own? Whose stars are you reaching for now?

28 Responses to “Whose Stars Are You Reaching For?”

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Katie. I know it resonates in one way or another with a lot of people.

    The backgrounds of our stories are pretty different – I didn’t really like school and sort of bucked the whole ‘system’, so even if I cared what teachers thought, I never would have done what I thought they wanted.

    Fast forward to all these years later, where I did make my own choices (I thought), yet I have certainly found myself wondering if that was true, what I actually want, whose expectations I’m trying to meet, etc.

    I totally agree with you though, that experiencing it, as painful and messy as it can be, is really the best way to ensure that future decisions are YOURS.

    • Katie says:

      Yes! Sometimes the bumpy road is necessary, and I’m definitely better off because of it.

  2. The timing of this couldn’t be more perfect. I’ve been struggling with this very thing for a couple of months now. Even though I have done a ton of work in building boundaries and going after the life I want, there are still people that I seem to allow to make my decisions for me. I’ve made some serious progress in that regard in the past few days and honestly, it feels scary. It is also very freeing at the same time to know that my decisions are my own and that I get to make the choice that feels right for me and that isn’t always the choice that feels right for others.

    • Katie says:

      That’s so awesome, Christie! I commend and admire you for making the decisions that you feel are right for YOU. I still struggle with this because I still look to others a lot for validation. It’s a continual challenge.

      • It is a challenge, that need to please is a deep part of our psyche and for many women, it can be really hard to even touch base with that innate wisdom that allows us to even see our stars!

        • Katie says:

          Definitely. I have to keep asking myself “why?” Why do I care so much if someone disapproves? Why do I feel so good when someone does approve?

          • I find it helpful to work through those things with someone else. It is funny, because it is really easy for me to turn on my healer hat but can be difficult to work through those “personal religion” (as my coach calls them) thoughts on my own. Which, is why I love having my coach – and I truly think that doing this work allows me to be better at serving my greater purpose.

  3. I did spend a good amount of time in life trying to be someone I was not. Now, I reach for my stars and I have found that they are much easier to reach. :)

  4. I love that quote, even better with the emphasis.

    What did you end up doing, transferring or just leaving? I am just curious. Either way, leaving was a way of following your own stars.

    • Katie says:

      Good question! I left, worked for the remainder of the year, and then went to a different school the following year – getting my master’s in Women’s Studies instead of English like I originally planned. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had gotten my degree in English from my preferred school, but overall I am very happy with the way things turned out!

  5. Alina says:

    I love this post! I think there is no wrong choice, except the one that feels wrong to us. And that’s not someone anyone can decide for us, although it can be hard work to figure it out for ourselves!

    This is the issue I am in the midst of destuckifying right now.

    • Katie says:

      YES! I’m always turning to other people for advice, but the truth is that they can’t know what’s best for me.

  6. bubu says:

    Great post, as usual. Someone I worked with once made a very smart comment along these lines: “No one ELSE is lying awake at night wondering if you made the right decision.”

  7. Tamara says:

    I’m sorry you had a bad college experience, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? My parents were actually the opposite. I was accepted to some really prestigious schools–Amherst, Wellesley, UCLA–but my parents were both in the higher education business and they knew that the $100k of debt I would be taking on wasn’t worth it. They sent me to a public school in the Midwest instead, and I think I turned out a much better person for it.

    I’m not sure whose stars I reached for all those years, but thankfully a few years ago I started to open my mind to different paths of life. I finished my Biology BS, but abandoned the escalator to that PhD and hopped over to library school instead. I hold traditional education much less dearly, to the point that I advised my brother not to go to college because it just wasn’t for him. He did anyway, and I think those years are ultimately going to be wasted when he enters industry.

    • Katie says:

      I’m glad you found a path that suits you! I hope the same happens for your brother.

  8. This is the story of my life…well, not so much any more :-)

    I think the reason many people (well, at least it was true for me) reach for other people’s stars is because they don’t necessarily know which star to reach for! In my case, it was a combination of not knowing and not having the confidence to figure it out. And so I just went with the flow, no real direction.

    I have often seen this with people who are losing weight…they sign up for other people’s goals (especially fitness-related) because they don’t know what they really want in terms of fitness. They see other women running races and so they too want the high-fives and the “you go girl”s that come with it. Then, when running turns out to be the wrong thing for them, they feel bad and beat themselves up.

    It’s hard to know what star is your star. But it’s worth figuring it out!

    • Katie says:

      Such a great point, Karen, thanks for bringing this up! Figuring out the right star for you is perhaps the most difficult piece of the puzzle, but – like you say – it’s definitely worth it.

  9. I think it’s very hard, especially as a young adult, to really know what YOU want, so it’s easy to make decisions that “look good on paper” or that others (often with the best of intentions) are pressuring us into.

    As I get older, I realize that every time I’ve “trusted my gut” on some decision, I’ve never regretted it – and when I’ve overruled my gut and made a decision based on somebody else’s opinion or what looked good on paper, I’ve ALWAYS wished I haven’t. Not that you can’t second guess ANY decision, or make the best of whatever you choose to do – but trusting your gut is the way to go, IMO.

  10. Katie, love this post! Wow, can I relate to this 100 percent. I have always looked to others for validation and still do. I’ve also let other people make decisions for me in some ways. It’s really something I’m still working on. I also wonder why the heck someone’s opinion of me is that important to me? Why it has to change my mood or color my self-image?

    Either way, I think your experience taught you a key lesson, and ultimately, you were able to make a great choice for yourself.

  11. Shawnee says:

    I am still learning what my own stars are. They have definitely been shaped by everyone but me. Great post!

  12. Sometimes I find myself doing things only because someone else wants me to — not because I want to. Now, I am striving to find my own stars and reach for them. :)


  13. I reached for someone elses stars all my life . . .

    Not anymore!!

    Im so proud of myself that I have the confidence to go after what I want in life NOW :)

  14. Sarah says:

    Great post! I’m in a similar situation. My father pushed me into my major at college and now in my career (we are both in the same small field). Unfortunately I’m in a situation where I’m making good money without being miserable so making the decision to switch careers is daunting! But I’m reaching for the stars in my personal life, maybe when I have the courage I will tackle the career.

    • Katie says:

      I totally get what you’re saying. It’s one thing to change course when you’re absolutely miserable; it’s another thing to do so when you’re relatively comfortable with where you currently are. I’m a big fan of baby steps!

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