A Climbing Spirit

Updated: Jul 7, 2020


| This is the 193rd story of Our Life Logs |

“I’m kicking you out. Come get your stuff.”

I was 16 when I read this devastating text from my stepfather. No money. No job. And now homeless.

Mountain Divider.png

I grew up in the 1990s in the countryside of Latvia, we had herds of cows, three dogs, and five cats, and for days and days I reveled in the rich, green farmland. My parents split up when I was very little, but it did not break the peacefulness of my childhood. My mother remarried when I was five, and we continued our life in the deep countryside until I was about 14. Then we started our family business in the nearest city where my stepfather opened a pub, and we, as a family, shared in the success of his business.

So, I was making good money (for a 14-year-old) as a waitress and bartender (you could get away with a lot in Latvia in those days). While I was an (increasing) pain-in-the-ass, I always was at work on time and kept up with my studies. My parents seemed happy, and I lived like any normal teenager. I thought life would stay like this.

I guess things turned south when I was about 16. My mother and stepfather decided to get a divorce. My mother didn’t have money for her own place, so she moved into her friend’s small apartment, and agreed to let me continue living with my stepfather. I didn’t think this would be a problem, but when my stepfather said that he would adopt me, things became complicated. Knowing that his intention was to get government aid, my father gave him a big NO.

So then what? My father had stopped the adoption, but he couldn’t take me in, either. He had his own family to take care of and things were complicated on that side too! I didn’t feel abandoned because I knew life was not easy for anyone (I commend my 16-year-old self for being surprisingly understanding!).

So, there I was, 16 and homeless. All the simplicity of my adolescence, gone in an instant.

Mountain Divider.png

That time in my life was painful. When I look back on all the change and loss, I feel nothing but gratitude for my friends. They took turns letting me sleep over at their houses until I could find a place to live. And eventually, I did. I found a student hostel that was cheap, costing less than two Euros a day, with a bed, a place to wash your clothes, a kitchen, a toilet—everything you need to live. So, while my mother tried to make herself a life, I, too, was just trying to do everything right.

Some of my great friends (I’m in the middle).
Some of my great friends (I’m in the middle).

If you can imagine, I had every opportunity to create a mess for myself. I ran around with a group of older friends, I didn’t inherently love school, and I had no one telling me to be my best. However, I did have a picture of what it was like to be stuck in a problem, and I did not want to drown in it for the rest of my life. I just decided that I would have to make wise choices every day.

It is much easier to simply tell you what I learned than it was to actually learn it for myself. I was no longer making or spending money, rather, I was scraping the bottom of my wallet so I could put a meal on my table and build a savings for university. When I didn’t want to study, I studied. When I was too exhausted to work after a long day of school, I went anyway. When I didn’t think I could survive if I worked another job, I applied. It was hard! But life could be a lot harder if I didn’t start climbing now.

Mountain Divider.png

I stayed in the student hostel for the rest of my school year, taking any job that I could to make a living. After high school, my mom was finally able to afford a small two-bedroom apartment for us to live in together. Time to rest, right? Well, after two years of fending for myself, I had forgotten what “rest” really meant.

Furthermore, my time at university changed me. It made me think differently, it gave weight to my dreams, but even that wasn’t without a fight. In the beginning, I was denied financial aid (unbeknownst to me, students had to pay for their first semester before receiving any funding—crazy!) and the amount they were asking was way more than I had saved up. You had better believe that I burst into tears. That day in the administration office, I felt the world was surely ending. I cried, “This is what I want to do! Everything is awful! Now I’ll never get a higher education!” What I meant was, Now I’ll never get out.

Finally, my father stepped in and paid my first fee, but then I was back on my own—and I vowed to pay it all back. I worked days, nights, and went to classes in between. I would get home at 4am, sleep an hour, and then get up and do it all over again. It was a miracle I passed my classes, and it was more than a miracle that I managed to keep a social life and have a boyfriend!

By my last year, I was completely burnt out. I dropped all the jobs I had—sans one low-stress position I had in a quiet little shop (this was my idea of “rest”) where I could work on my thesis and make a few euros. During my last year, I was also required to do an internship (read: I had an advertising company agree to sign off on me learning from them when I never actually worked with them, as was the Latvian thing to do due to lack of resources). This fit in fine with my schedule, and it made for a confusing surprise when the company offered me a job after I graduated in 2012. I guess they wanted to make up for lost time! Anyway, I was so thankful to get real-world experience.

Working at my first job.
Working at my first job.

I learned (though I should have guessed by this point) that the “real-world” is a lot of figuring out how to do everything on your own. I also found out that “theory” learned at university doesn’t cleanly translate to the day-to-day workings of a business (go figure). Thankfully, I loved these challenges. I loved the adrenaline of advertising, moving from project to project, and particularly, the happiness I felt while working on the graphic design parts of projects.

Mountain Divider.png

I had worked so hard all my life to climb out of a problem that I had never wished to create. I had learned to hope when things were dark, to fight when no one was in my corner, and most of all, I learned how to get dressed and ready in record time! So, when I realized I longed for what was beyond the ground level, I knew I had to keep going.

I applied for a couple schools including The Latvian Art Directors Club, a very prestigious advertising school. While I was ranked 18 on the list of applicants, I had done so in a year they only accepted 15. At that time, I was actually studying in another school to gain a degree in multimedia. At the end of the school year I found out that The Latvian Art Directors Club decided to accept more students and offered me a spot. If the best school in the country wanted me, I must have been doing something right!

The next few years was another classic juggling act for me. Trying to balance my multimedia program, the Latvian club school, and my advertising job was impossible! I would have to complete projects for school, then present new ideas to real clients through my job, and remember to breathe all along the way.