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Charting a New Path

Rise + Wander | Blog

Charting a New Path

Aftyn Shah

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.
— Henri Matisse

The unexpected tends to lead us down paths we might not otherwise consider.

Back in 2013, if anyone had suggested I pursue art as anything beyond a hobby, I would have immediately dismissed the idea. Creative projects had often been an escape, but I had my "dream job" as a government-focused strategy consultant in Washington, DC. I worked long hours, donned the smart heels and Banana Republic suits, and spent most days crafting perfect briefings in PowerPoint. I felt important; I had direction and order. 

I was also miserable. And bored.

The idea of changing careers was an ever-present fantasy, but abandoning my security clearance and the paycheck scared me. It took pregnancy to finally force my hand, as I couldn't imagine "leaning in" to a job I didn't believe in and explaining that choice to my future son. I already knew what I wanted to do - teach. It's something I'd considered since high school, and with the support of my family and friends I handed in my one-month notice, signed up for education-based volunteering, and started researching grad programs. I finally felt excited.

Unfortunately, less than two weeks later, I had a pretty bad commute. Another car lost control on I-495 and slid into my lane, where we collided head-on at full speed, before then hitting the cement Jersey rail. The weeks after remain a blur of trying to work (no, seriously) in-between ER visits and specialists, but it actually took nearly a year before we fully realized the extent of the damage.

Before the accident, concussions were something I only associated with football players, and I had no idea one could cause a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and the overwhelming associated symptoms. Beyond the physical effects, I developed debilitating anxiety. The bold and open travel-loving adventure-seeker disappeared, replaced by someone I didn't recognize - a timid scaredy-cat constantly switched into fight or flight mode. I couldn't drive and didn't want to leave the house. Finally, one doctor in particular very firmly ordered me to get up and get outside, breathe fresh air and exercise, and experience life, rather than stay cooped up with my fears.

Thankfully, about a year after the accident, we moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where things move a little slower and we have access to beautiful local, State, and even National Parks. It's a lot easier to get outside here. That doctor's advice led to Rise + Wander (a little more poetic than "get up and get out," right?).

As I said above, art has always been there in my life, but now it feels more essential, a crucial part of my experience. Not only is the creative process cathartic, the art itself has become a way to connect with community and engage with the world around me. I'm hoping to inspire others through the imagery in the linoprints and papercuttings to get out and enjoy this beautiful life, regardless of what might stand in your way (fear, work, chores, Facebook...).  

I still might pursue teaching one day, but for now I'm making the most of this unexpected redirection as I continue to recover.