Herstory: Nelressa Monique Stallings
- Born: Livingston, NJ – 1979
- Sign: Cancer
- Blood: African American
- Highest High: Spiritual awakening at the age of 26
- Lowest Low: Same as above.
Have you ever sat at your desk and wondered “What the hell am I doing here?” Ever finish up a report and realize how futile the exercise actually is? Whether it’s your idiot boss, a belligerent cowoker, or the drone of the day, we’ve all had difficult moments when we’ve contemplated change. Afterall, there’s always something more out there.
Not that a bad day’s any reason to pick up your desk decorations and head out the door. We all have lows. Sometimes we just need a change, a new challenge, an impetus for personal growth. And sometimes it comes in ways we least expect it – like a layoff, or worse yet, an ill relative.
Meet Nelressa, a vivacious 31-year old primary school teacher and spiritual aspirant. Currently residing here in the UAE, spending her free time playing tennis, swimming and lounging at the 5* pool, Nelressa is living a life she never dreamed possible. Of course, she’s overcome more than a few hardships to make it out this far.
Our heroine was one of the thousands of Americans who survived the 9/11 employment crisis that followed the attack. With MTV dreams and a solid college degree under her belt, Nelressa was still ill-prepared for the severity of it all. A series of layoffs would soon follow, and just as things were looking good, her father fell deathly ill.
“I got mad at God, at myself, at my family. I sank into depression, cried my eyes out and was just mad at the world. Then, a light went off one day.”
Rewind to 2005. Nelressa was a top performer at Scholastic Publishing. The money was good and the resume fodder unbeatable in the Big Apple.
“I looked happy on the outside. But a lot of it was just survival. I put on my suit and went through the motions. No one ever told me you could actually enjoy life and your job! It just seemed like career was the main focus. A happy life meant a good career.”
Like millions of us out there, Nelressa had been fed the lie that the only way to success, meant walking the career path. But in this day and age, career is quick becoming a simple means to an end. If any means at all! More and more 20 and 30-somethings are putting social and spiritual lives before the responsibilities of long-term employment in any one industry.
And the social phenomenon isn’t limited to the US or Europe. Millions of Japanese men have begun their own not-so-silent revolution – they’re called “herbivores,” as named by Maki Fukasawa, popular cultural commentator in Japan. These men refuse to buy into the idea that a real man wears a suit, eats meat and goes hunting for meaningless sexual encounters – a masculist revolution against the more traditional bushido approach to manhood. Instead, herbivores value leisure time, meals with family, jaunts with friends and the pursuit of unconventional hobbies – like baking. No, really!
But back to Ms. Stallings. Her story doesn’t end there.
Nelressa was soon laid off from a series of jobs. She tried everything under the sun from a brief stint of teaching to corporate pharmaceutical sales. But no industry was safe, and she soon found herself at a personal rock bottom.
Under fire, Nelressa picked up the pieces and got it together, in true diva style. If no wanted to give her a job, she’d make one up for herself! The freelance business was where it was at, and within just a few months, she’d lined up sweet writing gigs and guest list status for all the freshest openings. Kickin’ it in Chelsea, the world at her feet, the now was looking pretty damn good – from the outside.
“It was a great time,” she remembers with a cheeky grin, “I mean, you got all kinds of free competition materials, promo items and samples! ” The freebies almost made the stress worthwhile. Between her writing, marketing, experience behind the camera in TV and on the mic in radio, Nelressa had all the makings of an entertainment maven-to-be.
At this critical time in her career, Nelressa’s father succumbed to a host of illnesses including stroke, heart attack and diabetes. In a split second, she gave it all up to take care of her father. “It’s just what you do. When family’s sick, you go to them.”
As natural as this kind of nurturing comes to some people, it’s not always so easy to practice extreme non-attachment – especially where careers are involved. But in Nelressa’s case, the decision was made that much easier by the underlying feeling: this just isn’t the life I was meant to live.
“I was a Type A planner, a people pleaser, always anxious, detail-oriented, but not happy at all. I just pretended well. That pressure to be successful was intense.”
After months of caring for her father, and much deliberation, Nelressa eventually decided to make a major move and teach abroad. The idea of trying something completely foreign, possibly challenging, and definitely food for the soul gave Nelressa all the confidence she needed to just pick up and go. And off she went, to the home of kim chee, pop star mania, and fashion to the nth degree – Seoul, Korea. For a full academic year she taught English, explored her new surroundings, and made friendships that’ll last a lifetime.
Was it hard to leave her family? Of course it was, especially considering how close-knit a network Nelressa was a part of. “People are always trying to get you to stay, get a job, buy a house, find a husband.” Of course it’s all because they love you – if you’re a shining light, people gravitate toward you. And they’re not awfully happy to see you go! Cutting the cord isn’t easy, but sometimes what’s best for you just doesn’t fit the mold. Which is not to say kiddies or hubbies have no place – but the timing, the order, the geography may not be what your friends or family’s expecting.
By this time, Nelressa’d caught a classic case of addiction to one of life’s natural opiates – wanderlust! The proposition of experiencing such new cultures (which has been proven to increase creativity, according to recent studies), meeting such interesting people and helping society by being a teacher was more than enough reason for this protagonist to take her place, yet again, on the international stage of educators.
Welcome to the UAE! Along with over 1200 native English-speaking teachers from Canada, the States, the UK, Ireland, and South Africa hired for this year’s innovative project – The New School Model. We’re mothers, wives, former corporate types, explorers, adventurers, women of the soul. It’s a sweet life on the Gulf of Arabia, living in a hotel room, having your laundry done and bathroom cleaned – daily, enjoying poolside banter, water aerobics and yoga classes every weekend. With enough money to save, travel – and shop! – Nelressa’s found herself in a comfy niche. And we’re stoked to have her here!
There’s a saying in yogic culture Wahe Guru, ‘from darkness, into light.’ In the west, when we think of a ‘guru’ we think of a teacher, but literally, it translates to ‘disperser of darkness.’ When you look deep enough, without fear of what you’ll find, you see that guru is sitting in the cave of your heart. When the times get tough – and at some point, they always do – just listen to that teacher within, and challenges transform into means for personal evolution.
So what’s your definition of successful now?
“If I can get to the end of the day, grateful for the people I’ve met and the laughter I’ve shared, that’s success.”
You said it, girl.
Check out some of Nelressa’s writing here!