On my 25th birthday, I asked myself if I was happy. If I was fulfilled, accomplishing what I’d hoped. If I was satisfied with the life I had.
It didn’t take long to realize that the answer was no.
I was certain that the apocalypse was about to happen, or that my world would cave in on my quarter-life crisis.
It all started after I graduated from college with a B.A. in Music and moved back to my hometown of Sarasota, Florida. I kept wondering, “what am I going to do with my life?!” I felt really lost. I didn’t know what I wanted.
I’ve been a musician my whole life, but the voice in my head along with those of others kept saying, “It’s too hard.” “You’ll never make it.” “What are you going to do with a music degree…?”
I decided I should find an easier way to make a living. I figured it was time to start “adulting,” get a stable job and give up my silly music dream.
I wanted a steady paycheck. I wanted an office and business cards with a title that made me sound important. I thought that was what twenty-somethings were supposed to be working towards.
After four months of searching, applying, and negotiating, I accepted a job as a non-profit professional that I bet all of my happiness on. I moved out of my parents’ house and got my own place. My first apartment out of college, paid for by myself, all to myself! (And my cat, of course). I had it made. Right?
A year in, I started to realize that something wasn’t right. I developed some unhealthy coping mechanisms, seeking comfort and control.
Many of my friends were getting married and having children, but I was in a different place in life. Those were things that a typical nice Jewish-American girl from Canada should do, but settling down seemed like such a suffocating, boring thought. I didn’t want to get too comfortable. I didn’t want to settle for anything.
At work, I found myself trying to change who I was to fit in, move up, and get a raise. And I did. That, combined with other aspects of my socially acceptable life, was what I thought success was.
I was miserable.
I vented about all of this to my friend Dan, and he said, “Amber, you have one year. One more year in Sarasota, and that’s it.” So I made myself a deadline – August 31st, 2014. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I had to do something.
I started searching for something that felt right. I went to Boston to visit a rabbinical program. (Oy). I went to Orlando to check out audio recording schools. I went to a couple of other places on a whim to see if I could just move somewhere and start from scratch. I made a huge list named “Paths” of Master’s and technical programs, which included everything from Women’s Studies to Dental Hygiene.
I also had a longing for adventure, an insatiable wanderlust, and a crazy dream about going on a road trip to Wyoming. Going out West and being embraced by nature. Pure, real beauty. I needed to feed my soul.
When I shared this with other people, they would say, “Why do you want to go to Wyoming?? There’s nothing out there.” I said, “Exactly.”
I longed to drive on an open road surrounded by mountains and sky. It was partly the nothingness, the stillness and serenity, that I wanted, but also the fullness, the vastness, the majesty of the natural world, the knowing that there is so much greater. I wanted to be so inspired by the land that it would take my songwriting to the next level.
It was one of those things you put on a bucket list and write off as a distant fantasy. So in my time of searching, I applied for a few jobs at national parks in the West, thinking, “What the hell?”
I felt so overwhelmed. There were too many choices. But I needed to go through every possibility, entertain every idea and fantasy to see if there was any potential. What stuck?
Then it hit me.
When I visited the recording school in Orlando, I cried the whole way through the president’s speech. He talked about being afraid – music is a scary business – and how if you choose your “plan B” (the “safe” option), you never really get to work on plan A (what you really want).
I realized that was EXACTLY what I’d done.
It became obvious that music is my calling. I knew I had been afraid to really pursue it, that I never really tried.
But I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off or what the next step was. I wasn’t rolling in dough or anything (remember, non-profit professional over here, getting paid mostly with the satisfaction of helping people and saving the world). I took some side jobs playing gigs, singing in a choir, and teaching Zumba.
Just as I was feeling desperate, my now-mentor and guru, Cherie appeared in my life. I heard that she helped people figure out their life’s purpose. Within 24 hours I had a meeting scheduled.
When we first met, she told me she had done an astrology reading about me. I did an internal eye roll and chuckled to myself about the absurdity of it, and then she said, “Amber, you’re a wild horse.”
“You need to run free,” she said. “You’re trapped by all of these institutions.”
And it just made sense.
One day at work, I got a phone call from an unknown number. I hesitantly answered and the person said, “We have reviewed your application and have one more question for you. Why do you want to work at Yellowstone National Park?”
“Well,” I said, “I’m at a point in my life where I need to do something new. I have dreamed about going out West, especially to Wyoming, for a long time. I’m also in the process of becoming an American citizen, and with that milestone, it would be amazing to explore my new frontier in Yellowstone.”
She said, “Thank you. We would like to offer you a job.”
I was shocked. I never thought it would actually happen. But it clicked. I knew it was right, and I knew I was going.
Yes, I had doubts and second thoughts. My brain told me, “there’s absolutely no way you can go alone. You should just wait – maybe one day when you’ll maybe have the opportunity to maybe go with maybe some friends or maybe a partner you’ll maybe meet.”
I had to process the idea that I was going to really do this, that I was going to bring up the courage to go out on my own, leave my hometown, quit my cushy job, break my apartment lease, sell most of my stuff, and separate myself thousands of miles from my family, my cat, my few good friends in Sarasota, and my comfort zone.
So this, in a nutshell, brings me to where I am now: on the brink of a solo road trip across the country to live and work in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, and to work on my music. And I’m really, really scared. But I am tired of living in fear.
It’s nice to be comfortable, but I’m tired of that too. I want to feel alive. I want to live my dreams without letting fear hold me back. I want to do all of those seemingly crazy and unrealistic things; why wait? As seriously freaked out as I am, I know I have to do it.
My name is Amber Ikeman, I am 25 years old, and I am taking my life by the reins to live my truth. My wild-horse spirit will finally run free.