Tiny Spark Series: Growth in a Concrete Jungle

Elephant Ears is a blog about youth and freedom, deciding which turn to take and how to look cute along the way. I follow for the adventure, the breath of fresh air each posts blows through, and because so often I’ve been or I am right in the very life spots author Katelyn Garlow writes about.

   This year I’ve cheered and fretted and hugged my laptop as Katelyn ventured out, took big, scary risks, realized herself something braver and better than she could have ever imagined. Her Tiny Spark explores the idea that there is no failure, no hard lesson wasted, and no dream set in stone.


Today is my 310th day living in Washington D.C. It is also my last. 

On January 24th, 2012, I moved to Washington D.C. with a car full of clothes and a mind full of dreams and ambition. Me, myself and I set out on a quest I had spent my entire life dreaming about, working in Politics on the world’s best stage, Washington D.C. This decision wasn’t well thought out, it wasn’t planned and I had no earthly idea what I was doing. This 22 year-old packed up all of her belongings, stuffed her car full of athletic bags (because she didn’t own a suitcase) and decided to chase her dreams in under 24 hours.

 I was accepted into the Washington Scholars Program earlier that year and had several potential internships fall through. As I typically do, I took my future into my own hands, controlled my own destiny and shipped off for a 6-hour drive full of Justin Bieber and Demi Levato. (Forgiveness: I’m only 22!) I was moving! I was doing something most of my small town friends would never dream of doing! My dreams, my goals were all starting to form!  

   Luckily, my mom arranged for me to stay with some of her high school friends until I found my feet. Once I stepped foot into that strange home, with a family I barely knew, put my bags up, I broke down. What the hell did I just do? I didn’t know anybody here. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have any idea where I was going to start. My family was 6 hours away. I wasn’t able to have the one constant thing in my life, my dog. I was completely alone; except for the picture perfect family of four downstairs, all with blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin. Well, the milkman sure did deliver on this one, because I am one tanned, dark haired maiden, confused about life and coming to crash the party.

    I wiped my tears; cowgirl upped and set out to find an internship. In two days I had two interviews and two offers. I chose the one closest to me. By closest I mean an hour and a half commute each way. Every morning I woke up, got ready, drove to the bus stop, rode the bus to the metro and rode the metro to work happily.  I had a great internship. I was doing communications for a political non-profit, exactly what I wanted to do, and was ready to kick-start the future of my dreams. And my job was great, but an hour and half commute each way, being completely dependent on public transportation schedules, doesn’t leave much room for finding friends. I found myself slipping down, deep into extreme unhappiness. I didn’t have the money to move into the city, and I wasn’t about to ask my parents for help. I made this decision to move, and I was going to support myself. Netflix, Hulu and random pictures of my dog got me through those days. Finally, I decided that I didn’t care how long it took me to get home, I was going to join the company soccer team and I was going to go out to happy hours with coworkers who soon became friends. I was making friends and I was again taking my life into my own hands and doing something about my happiness.

 My internship turned into a full-time position; one that a 23-year-old wouldn’t normally get, and I busted with pride. It seemed the discomfort was worth it. My chance taking was paying off.  I felt like I had finally done it. I moved all alone. I had a full-time job. Somewhere along the way I moved into Arlington and was able to walk to work everyday. I began making great friends. The summer was as hot as it was spectacular. 

But those friends moved. Cold crept in. And things got dark again. 

I can see now the cycles swirling through my year in Washington. There were many ups, and so many downs, but I learned a lot about myself, about my strength, courage and personality. Working 10 hour days and going home alone to sit in your room and watch old episodes of Park and Recreations  wasn’t what I expected when I moved here. A lot of my experience wasn’t anything I expected. I didn’t expect how difficult it would be on my own so far away from family in a foreign city full of people all friending with agendas. I love this city, but when you visit DC you see the museums, the possibility, the magic of it all. When you live here you really see it. You see all of the politics, and you see cold stares from strangers. Washington D.C may be full of people, but I found so harshly that I’d never felt so alone.

 I kept pushing, kept working hard and making my dreams come true all the while in the back of my mind new dreams were forming and the stronger, better Katelyn was shining through. I will always owe Washington for molding the stronger, better me. I will be in debt to this city for allowing me to chase my dreams and become somebody who can thrive beyond the fear of being alone. The few good people that worked their way out of the concrete jungle will be with me for the rest of my life, I know this. Still, on my 310th day in this strange home I know now where I need to be. 

 Are there going to be people that say I failed or quit for coming back?  Yes, of that I am sure. The stronger me knows I’m not giving up by returning to my roots. The confidence and grit I found in this place comforts me, lets me know I gave it my all. There were so many times I was going to turn around and run home with my tail between my legs, but I stayed,  forced myself to work through the problems, and became a better person for the struggle.This struggle shed light on my life, revealed that circumstances can bring about unwanted change. Whole dreams can change. So while some might call this a failure, I see now that it was an adventure, a lesson, a character builder.  I plan on chasing other dreams. Those dreams are in North Carolina today. It took a dream of D.C. to help me find the way.  


What have you learned about yourself in the midst of struggle?

How have your dreams & goals changed?





Upcoming Tiny Spark:

Amber at The Usual Bliss

Friday, January 11th


19 thoughts on “Tiny Spark Series: Growth in a Concrete Jungle

  1. Excellent! We all back into finding out who we are and what works for us. And you started early enough that you will be miles ahead of everybody back home who got the safe job that involves no risk.

  2. I feel like you did something amazing, something that will shape your life forever. Congratulations…going back to your roots is the perfect ending to this great adventure! 🙂

  3. And don’t be surprised to find many more curves, turns and switch-backs along the way! What you’ve learned is how to survive on your own. That will help a lot through future grief, which comes to all who chose to truly live–even to those who try to play it safe. Building a sturdy psyche is what you’ve been about. Congratulations! It’s as important as a sturdy body.
    My two worst years of grief were in Philadelphia, on a post-doc at Temple. While I was miserable much of the time, that experience has been writing material for decades!

  4. You not only went out and had an adventure, you had the good sense to know when to end it! That’s a sense I’ve often lacked, and one I’d love to have learned at 22. Or, um, 34.

  5. I could relate to this so much because I’m in a very similar situation. A place can seem so wonderful until you really start living there. And then you realize you really were looking at things through rose-tinted glasses this whole time until now. There’s absolutely no shame in going back home because you can say, at least I tried. At least I did something. And now you know yourself better and are a stronger person because of it.

  6. So proud of you, Little Guest Blogger! This is awesome to be on “The Ramblings” and her “Tiny Sparks Series”… I loved reading this. I, too, am so very proud of the person you are, the person who grew into this amazing young woman so full of potential and pride in an adventure well done! You did it! You chased that DC dream and it was wonderful while it lasted. Like you said, now it’s on to new dreams and there’s something to be said for coming back to your roots. I know. I did it too! 🙂 There’s no place like home!!! You will find your way. I have no doubt. Each journey is a chapter in your LIfe Book. Go forth with confidence and assurance and faith. Believe that your best years are yet to be discovered! Love you so much, Mom. xoxoxo

  7. I wouldn’t call going back home being a failure at all. I call it a success because you were able to look at your life and say, “you know what? I thought this was what I wanted, but this dream isn’t for me.” That takes courage! So, go home and hold your head up high 🙂

  8. Very cool story. You have to chase your dreams, and grow along the way. Going home will offer a change to touch base with your roots as you plan the next steps in your life. Many of us have all been there.

    1. Love your comment. I was never as brave as Katelyn. I didn’t just pack up and set out, but I could relate to her struggle in that I tried new things, chased dreams on a smaller scale and felt that disappointment when they weren’t exactly what I thought they’d be. I’m convinced this is a universal token from that weird transition from young to young adult!

  9. All these sweet words are making my heart so happy! I wish I could press a reply all so they could all know that I am thankful they took the time to say encouraging words! And thanks Tori for letting me be on the Tiny Sparks series (and editing it to make it sound legit) You’re the best!

  10. I could certainly see myself in Katelyn’s words, having moved to the big city and finding the transition difficult, even in the best of times.

    I think it takes a lot of courage to leave a situation that you know isn’t working out for you. Oh, it might be easier to just stay. Or maybe you think you’ve invested so much already, why not see it to the end. But sometimes you just know it isn’t right and it’s better to be strong and follow your heart…but it can be scary.

    Good for you Katelyn! Wishing you the best in 2013!

  11. Late to the party here (again), but I will say this. You learn just as much (if not more) about yourself through failure as through success. And just because things don’t turn out precisely how you planned, doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth the trip.
    Besides, internships are great learning experience, even if the pay sucks…. 😉

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