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How to Embrace Being a Dark Horse Anti-Hero & Why Stories Matter

[I am participating in the Writing Contest: You Are Enough, hosted by Positive Writer.]


Growing up, my bed time stories consisted of Greek and Roman legends retold by my mother, whose imagination was as extensive as was her knowledge of history, art, and mythology. Heroes and anti-heroes, impossible quests met with grace, quick wit, and an inherent acceptance of self were the norm.

I dreamt of being as observant as Alexander the Great when he tamed the wild steed that was Bucephalus by realizing he was afraid of his shadow and merely turning him to face the sun. I wished I could be as steadfast and loyal as Odysseus, who never betrayed his wife in spite of journeying for a decade before getting home.

These stories made me thirsty, so when my older brother begrudgingly gave me access to his library of fantasy novels and comics, my brain was a sponge.

Main characters were often outcasts or misunderstood, different in some way that was uncomfortable until they understood what their purpose was. Adventures were had, and these characters ended up the best at what they did because they did it body, heart, and soul.

Taking the Path Less Travelled

In “real” life, I graduated from high school, and went on to study biology. Pursuing summer internships in a bank as well as in an advertising agency, I graduated without a clue of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

To be honest, I still don’t know.

My path has been described as “a butterfly, flitting around from one flower to the other with seemingly no logic or pattern” or “incredibly diverse, demonstrating adaptability and outstanding problem-solving skills.”

I worked with the United Nations in Switzerland, then moved to Bolivia to volunteer with the Red Cross and National Children’s Hospital. To justify sticking around longer, I started a communications and web design company. A few years later, I came back to Europe where I got an MBA and worked for the UN again until I found what seemed like a dream job with the Health Team of the World Economic Forum. A few years after that, I moved to New York where I got an actual dream job, continuing my work on health promotion and chronic disease prevention with a focus on the workplace.

Along the way, I met my now husband – a Belgian Dutch watchmaker getting a degree in Sustainability Management from Columbia University. Against all odds, we found each other and were on the same wavelength about loving New York and yet wanting to live outside the big cities, working in something other than the corporate world.

That’s how we ended up traveling around the world for a year on a belated and rather extended honeymoon before relocating to Portugal where we’re renovating an old farm into an ecotourism project.

Embracing the Dark Horse Philosophy

What does this have to do with writing? Well, it turns out I never considered myself a writer because writing was just something I did. From starting magazines when I was young to participating in writing contests in school, journaling almost religiously (and oh so embarrassingly), finding pen pals whenever possible, and starting various blogs to share my adventures with family and friends – I am not sure there was ever a time when I wasn’t writing.

However, it took me moving to Portugal in 2017 to embrace being a writer. As life slowed down and winter approached, two things happened. First, I thought to myself “How cool would it be if I could get paid to write?” and second, I discovered National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo.

Not that long ago, I got into podcasts, and came across an interview with Todd Rose from Harvard University, talking about the Dark Horse Covenant.
It turns out, there’s a whole philosophy that matches my seemingly erratic life choices (from the outside – to me, everything I do always makes sense). Instead of following the standard study-work-retire path, some people embrace the pursuit of fulfilment to achieve excellence.

This entails knowing yourself, what motivates you – truly, not just what you say at cocktail parties – and going for it. In this context, “Dark Horses” (the ones unafraid of taking the path less travelled and embracing their differences rather than ignoring them for the sake of “being normal”) see choices everywhere. And – this is the clincher – it can seem like they make huge decisions on a whim, when in fact to them it is crystal clear, because one choice always brings them closer to fulfilment than the other.

That blew my mind.

Suddenly, my desire to live on a farm and close to nature while writing all the stories floating around in my head made so much more sense, inside and out. The irony is that not having a label for it had not stopped me from doing my thing (thank goodness, and all those Greek, Roman, and fantasy anti-heroes!).

Now… This year is my third year doing NaNoWriMo – and the plan is to get my multiple books out into the world starting in 2020. My husband and I have been living on and renovating an old farm for 18 months. I’ve been working as a freelance writer and communications adviser for a bit more than a year, and I have just wrapped up my first season as a wedding celebrant (storytelling at its best!). It is messy and glorious, and while I have no idea what life has in store, I am ok with that – because every single day, I get to wake up and do the things I love.

So, in case you’re worried about being a black sheep, don’t – black is the new blue, and the world is just waiting for you to share your best self. Not sure where to start? Take a single step closer to fulfilment, and see what happens. Go on, I dare you.

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