In this episode, I have a wonderful conversation with Kate Sully as she discusses the many curveballs life has thrown her and how she has learned to accept unexpected changes throughout her personal and career endeavors. Kate takes an unconventional approach to discovering new passions by being open minded and willing to give anything a try.
Kate Sullivan (also known by her pen name “Kate Sully”) is an avid reader and writer who focuses on young adult fiction. “I’ve always been a huge fine arts person. I was a dancer, I’ve done theater, I’ve played a multitude of instruments, I used to do cheerleading in high school,” Sully began.
Even though she’s done so many things in the fine arts field already, she shared that the path she’s on keeps showing her more and more parts of the fine arts world that she’s interested in and passionate about. As a child, Sully explained that she never really expected any of these things to happen because she thought she was going to be a dancer forever.
Kate began dancing at a young age and initially went to college for dance. By this point, she had started having knee and back problems that required surgeries and half way through her freshman year, she fell during dance practice. After multiple consultations, her doctors told her it was in her best interest to stop dancing sooner than later at the risk of serious irreversible injury.
Up to this point when people asked Kate who she was, her answer was always I’m a dancer. Now suddenly that was gone. “For the first few months, it was really hard to accept because I didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t know what major to switch to, if I should even switch majors, or if I should just drop out altogether. I had a hard time letting go of that part of myself because I wanted to dance. I saw other dancers’ performances and wished I was up there with them,” Sully shared.
Kate ended up coming home for the summer because she didn’t know what she wanted to study and didn’t want to waste the tuition money. “For the next year, I did some soul searching. I made some new friends. I strengthened my relationship with my then-boyfriend and now-husband, and worked a couple of different jobs.” Through this soul searching, Kate eventually realized that she’d also always wanted to be a writer, but had viewed writing as something she would enjoy as a hobby rather than an actual career.
“I didn’t even start showing anybody else things that I’d written until high school, and even then I would only show teachers or extremely close friends that I would trust not to make fun of anything that I’d written because I was sure it was terrible,” Sully laughed. “I kept it on the backburner just because dance was such a bigger presence in my life, and it felt like something I didn’t want to pursue as a career. It felt like something that I wanted to keep more of a personal interest in. I was afraid that if I made writing my career focus, that it wouldn’t be as personal to me anymore,” she explained. “I was afraid to put myself in that situation because I was afraid to find a happy medium between what I want and what the industry demands.”
Writing became a form of therapy for Kate the year after she stopped dancing. “I started writing a lot more and realized how much I really did love it, and maybe I should just bite the bullet and pursue it because I don’t know what else I want to do,” said Sully. Being forced out of her mindset of “this is what I have to be” allowed Kate to consider what she could be.
Kate decided to go back to school and pursue an English degree, figuring that even if writing didn’t work out, she would have plenty of options and that it was a good next step. “I found my element and fell in love with it,” she shared. “Up until that point, I hadn’t realized that I was that passionate about anything besides dance. Once I really submerged myself into the world of writing, I realized I’m way more passionate about this than I ever was about dance and I didn’t even let myself know that until I was older.”
“I think people often don’t realize they have other passions because of that fear that holds you back – we all have it,” said Sully. For so long, Kate had put herself in a dance bucket, eliminating the opportunity to pursue other passions. “Now I can look back at my dance days – I can look back fondly – but also realize that it’s not where I was meant to be. Writing is where I was meant to be.”
“The one thing I swore I was not going to do with my English degree was become a teacher,” said Sully. Now, a few years later, that’s exactly what she’s about to do. Kate had never considered teaching at the college level during her undergraduate career. “My teachers and parents encouraged me to go to grad school and of course I loved that program, too. I’ve been out of school for almost a year now and I miss it! Becoming a professor made so much sense.”
In life, we’re forced to grow through challenging steps to become who we’re meant to be. These steps often include drastic changes and failures. Sometimes it’s an injury like in Kate’s situation, other times it’s moving or losing a job. The writing is often on the walls and we don’t see it because we ignore our gut feelings for one reason or another and in doing so, suppress a lot of who we are.
“If somebody had told me where I’d be at age eighteen, I would not have believed them,” said Sully. “It’s so funny how things change without you being ready for them at all, and yet you are. When I think about where I’d be if things hadn’t changed so drastically, I’m so grateful that they did, even though at the time it felt like the end of the world.”
Through her experiences, Kate has found a way to try new things and to take the curveballs as they come instead of fighting them. “I’ll try it for a bit and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. And we’ll move onto something else,” Sully stated. “We tend to categorize ourselves and when things don’t fit in that selective category, we shun them away. Even if it’s interesting, that doesn’t fit on this current path I’m on and I can’t take any detours. The thing is, the detours are going to happen whether you want them to or not.”
“I’ve learned that through those hard steps and unexpected curveballs, you can find silver linings, you can find the next passion and opportunity. You can find different paths and they don’t all have to align,” said Sully. “I now understand that not everything I do has to have something to do with being a writer. I enjoy theater and painting. I want to pursue those passions as well, and who’s to tell me I can’t?”
“I had this image of what my life was going to be my whole life and at 18 when that path was suddenly blocked off and I was told to turn around, I didn’t immediately know where else I could go,” Sully shared. “A lot of it came from deep rooted fears. A lot of it was fear that if I tried something new I would fail. I was afraid that I wouldn’t love anything as much as I loved dance.”
We all experience self doubt to some extent. Whether we doubt our talent or our ability to succeed, we all experience these bumps in the road on the way to our goals. We can combat some of this doubt by trusting our gut and staying open to new opportunities.
“I start teaching this Fall for the first time ever,” said Sully. “I remember the day I got the text from the Dean offering me the classes. My first thought was, yes, you have to do this! My second thought was, no, you can’t do this. I almost let the fear take over, but I paused for a moment and realized that my gut reaction was to say yes immediately, so I did. I got really excited after that instead of scared.”
Kate shared that moments of fear and imposter syndrome still creep up. “I’m learning to focus more on my excitement and to acknowledge and accept that the anxiety about it is there, and that that’s normal because we all have those self doubts,” Sully explained. “I’m now trusting my heart and gut, which is something I didn’t necessarily know how to do as an 18-year-old.”
Kate’s different career paths have taught her a lot about herself and about what she loves doing. She’s realized there’s no reason to hold herself back from fully embracing the things she enjoys doing if she’s able to.
“It’s one thing if life literally will not allow something to happen, but if I’m able to take a chance and try something, I’m going to try it,” she stated. “If it doesn’t work out, I’ll figure out what to do next because I always do. I’ve made it through every single one of my worst days ever, so I’ve got a 100% track record.”
Through hardship, Kate is now able to look back and recognize that she came out stronger on the other side. “I’m ready to face the next one when it comes because I know it will, and it’s an evergoing journey. We’re always going to continue growing,” said Sully.
Kate is very naturally passionate. When I asked her what advice she would give someone who struggles with having a passion, she said that she would first ask them where they’re looking. Passions don’t always look like hobbies or activities. You can be passionate about people, animals or even experiencing an emotion. Maybe you’re passionate about your kids, your significant other or your dogs. It might seem silly or simple when it’s not a big grand masterpiece or career choice, but that doesn’t mean you’re not passionate about it, or that you can’t love it with your whole self.
“People want to attach an identity to their passions and you can do that, but you don’t have to. Everybody’s passionate about something, they might just not be looking in the right place,” she said. “Be open minded and try things that you’re interested in, you might love it more than you think you will. I’ve discovered new passions every year and I’ve discovered how much more passionate I am about certain things than I once realized.”
Until next time my friends – Arastasia
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