Every day brings something new. It can be as small as waking up to see another sunrise – or as big as starting a new chapter in life. We often let hours pass before we decide to do something, only to realize there aren’t any more seconds or minutes left in the day.
We tell ourselves we’re going to start fresh the next day, but we sometimes look for excuses along the way. Things happen in the meantime – some we expect, others we don’t. Some people might even claim we’re not trying hard enough and we don’t deserve the opportunities we get. At some point, however, we have to stop waiting and stop listening to all the noise.
I’ve never wanted to simply coast through life or ride anyone’s coattails to get where I want to be. I’ve always wanted to live the best life possible, the way I was meant to. In the early months of 2018, I finally felt like I was on my way to doing just that. I was still trying to digest the fact that my childhood dream of becoming a published author was coming true, as I balanced my responsibilities at The Altoona Mirror along with the plethora of other publications I’ve had the privilege of writing for.
Living the life of a writer was no longer a far-fetched fantasy. The moment had come full circle, and it was one of the most indescribable rushes of emotion I’ve ever felt. I didn’t have to ask which hoop someone wanted me to jump through. Nor did I have to question whether or not I followed the right path. In fact, there were several moments where I pinched myself leading up to the publication of my book – which has the same title as my senior project in college: How To Wait.
I realized the path I was on had never been paved before. I was making my own way through this part of my journey – and it was something I could truly call my own. That’s why I was so shocked when I got the call. I had been chosen to receive the 2018 WISE Women of Blair County Award in Arts and Letters – an award presented to only one recipient each year.
The organization, led by a committee of strong, influential women in Altoona and Blair County, annually showcases other women in various categories, who embody empowerment and leadership in a business or philanthropic work in their community. The honorees are treated to a dinner on a special night in April, during which each one is recognized individually – in the presence of family, friends, local dignitaries and businesspeople.
I attended the ceremony in 2016 when one of my English professors at Penn State Altoona received the same award in Arts and Letters. It was one of the greatest honors of my life, along with being selected as one of the 20 most influential in Blair County under the age of 40 by The Altoona Mirror earlier that year as a part of their annual 20 Under 40 campaign. All of this unfolded before I knew about my book – and most personally before I had something tangible to justify my claims that all I’d ever wanted to be was a writer.
I never imagined the tables would turn in such a beautifully unexpected way – one month before the release of How To Wait. My first thought when I heard I would be receiving my WISE Women award was, ‘What contest did I enter?” because I was entering so many in hopes of getting my work in the hands of editors.
I was in the parking lot at Penn State Altoona on a frigid January evening, coming home from a poetry reading, to find out a very close friend of many years had quietly nominated me for the award. My mom was with me that night and we both looked at each other in disbelief, as we tried not to scream with delight before getting in the car.
On April 18, 2018, I accepted my award from WISE Women of Blair County – surrounded by my family, friends, mentors, and faithful readers of my work. I joined an incredible group of women who, like me, want to spread a powerful message of empowerment and service within their local communities. Not only that, but I added my name alongside other women whom I respect and admire. It was a magical, surreal night I didn’t want to end.
It did end, but the feeling of magic and empowerment held strong – all the way to May 4, 2018. It was publication day – the day I had been working towards and dreaming of for most of my life. I counted the seconds, minutes and hours until I could finally hold my first book in my hands, after months of getting frequent updates from the staff at Finishing Line Press.
I tried to distract myself while I eagerly waited for my first shipment of books to arrive. Nothing subdued my utter excitement, however. I went outside several times – hoping to catch the mailman before he got to my mailbox. The mid-afternoon sun was beating down on me, but I didn’t care. I wanted to see my book.
I popped back in my house every few hours before deciding to stay inside and wait. Then, there was a knock at the front door. The sound of something gently being dropped on the porch followed. My Mom opened the door to find a big box.
“This is pretty big,” the UPS man said. “Can you sign for it, ma’am?”
“Yes,” Mom replied with excitement. “I know what this is – my daughter has been waiting for it all day!”
My mom slammed the door and ran downstairs to my bedroom. She put the box on my lap and simply said, “Your dream has come true!”
We both tore the box open and found 35 author copies of How To Wait inside – neatly bound with a black and white picture of me on the front. I reached down in the box and pulled a book out. I felt as if I was holding a baby or a precious diamond. It was real. It was beautiful. It was perfect. Then, I saw my name – Erin M. Kelly – printed on the book and I burst into tears.
I couldn’t speak or move. I was feeling every positive emotion possible, at the highest level. I just sat in my room and held the book to my heart. I quietly thanked every person I could think of before texting my Dad a picture of me holding my box of books. For a moment, I forgot about my Graves’ Disease or even cerebral palsy.
I have no one but the many people who have stayed by my side to thank. The people who saw something in me, and have been brave enough to help it grow and blossom.
I’m honestly still trying to wrap my head around living my dream all these years later, but I’d like to think of it as the equivalent of winning an Oscar. That’s the only worthy comparison I can make now, or years from now. My hope for the future is everyone who’s followed my career since Day One – or those who may have recently come across my work and find any worth in it – will continue on this journey with me.
If anything, I just want to say thank you. I’m glad you’re onboard. The best is yet to come!
Have you read the original anthology that was the catalyst for The Good Men Project? Buy here: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
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