I am Disrupting Balance by eschewing a conventional life and forging my own path in this world. I am a world traveler.
My name is Kiyra B. Holt and I’m an expat chemistry teacher currently residing in Dakar, Senegal. I’ve been teaching for twenty years; the past seven abroad. I’ve taught in five countries: the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Senegal. I enjoy teaching and I love living abroad.
I’m a blogger and also an author of five books, published under a pen name which I won’t mention here. I’ve been writing my entire life. I love writing and I love telling stories. I write for women like me because for so long, there was nothing for us on the shelves in bookstores. Things have gotten a lot better in that regard, thank goodness.
When I was a little girl, my mother gave me a globe or a map--can’t remember which--and I learned that the world we lived in was bigger than what I knew and I fixated on Italy because it was shaped like a high-heeled boot. That became a lifelong goal--to visit Italy, and one day actually live there. So my desire to live abroad stems from that.
I had three main goals for my life: to live abroad, to get a doctorate, and to become a best-selling author. I have achieved two of my life goals: I’m a PhD and I live overseas. I fully expect to achieve my third goal at some point, as I am doing whatever is required for it to happen. I’ve been to Italy three times and plan to retire there one day.
I don’t want to get married or have children. Part of that comes from the fact that I spent twenty years being a caregiver to my mother and father, who were older. I started taking on those responsibilities when I was fifteen years old. Being a caregiver is a very difficult task. My focus had to be on my parents and in so doing, I lost a part of myself. At the time, self-care wasn’t the thing it is now, so I didn’t know how to balance my role as a caregiver with taking care of myself. It was very, very difficult watching my friends enjoy their lives; fall in love, get married and have children. All I was doing was working and taking care of home.
Let me be clear: I loved my parents dearly. Without them, I would not be the woman I am nor where I am were it not for their love and support. If I had to do it all over again, I would without a moment’s hesitation. But the responsibility took its toll and when I laid Momma to rest in 2008, I knew I didn’t have it in me to take care of anyone else again. I wanted to be selfish and focus on me and all the things I wanted. But it took some time to get to that point. When Momma died, there was a giant hole in my life that I didn’t know what to do with or how to fill. After all that time, she and I were in a codependent relationship and I didn’t know how to function once she was gone.
I had thought that being a caregiver was my main purpose in life and didn’t know what to do once that responsibility was over. Grief overwhelmed me to the point that I could not progress. I was in a deep, dark hole and I saw no way out of it. This went on for months. Finally, I realized that state of being was not something my parents wanted for me and I got counseling. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Therapy helped me understand a lot about myself and the life I’d led. I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder and when I learned what that meant, everything crazy thing in my life made sense. I was put on the correct meds and for the first time in a very long time (perhaps ever), my mind and my thoughts were clear. At this point, I was able to get my life together and finish graduate school.
The day after I successfully defended my dissertation, I received a call from a principal at a school in China. He read my resume and asked if I wanted to live in Shanghai, and I--struggling to believe that such a phone call was actually taking place--said YES! After a series of interviews, I got the job and left the US on July 29, 2013. And I haven’t looked back.
I am Disrupting Balance by eschewing a conventional life and forging my own path in this world. I am a world traveler. I am living my dream life. I am happier than I have ever been and I don’t have many regrets. Some days I wake up and I think, “What in the hell am I doing here [insert city]?” or “I can’t believe I’m here [insert city]!” We all have our dreams, but how many of them actually come true?
I’m not about to sit up here and make light of anything. I worked very hard and sacrificed a whole lot to get to where I am, and even with that, I am still stunned some days to say I live in--now West Africa--and I can see the ocean from my classroom. I pause when I remember that I’ve published five books and have three more in the works. I am grateful and thankful that I knew enough to get the therapy that I needed to live a healthy and full life. Not everybody can do that.
I encourage anyone who is listening to take the risk and step out on faith. If there is something you want to do, then do it. If there is something you want to be, then be it. Don’t be afraid. Well, be a little afraid, but don’t let fear keep you in place. Go after your dreams. Don’t let anyone get in your way or tell you that you can’t have the life that you want. You can. Do it.
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Hanifa Barnes, JD MBA is a recovering work/life balancer finding harmony in the imbalance of work, well-being & the in between. Once a former professional actor, the education executive, budding entrepreneur, wife and mother of four is holding space for other women doing and seeking the same.
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