South Bound

South Bound on My Kind of Life

Seventeen hours can hold a lot of what the heck am I doing moments. All I know, was I knew I had to do it.

When the journey began, we all walked together through the automatic entrance doors of the Lorton auto train station. Virginia’s February frost kept us bundled in whatever warm layers we had. Inside the station, it was warm enough to make me wonder if the sweat beading up under my turtleneck was from heat or nerves.

I had been working with my family for two and a half years after college. I got my real estate license, was managing net worth portfolios, meeting with Governors, Congressmen/women, Senators, Vice Presidents and Presidents about Green Grid technologies, natural rice hybrids that would increase production for Heartland farmers, selling used cars to foreign nations through a massive US port…to name a few of our projects. We were doing a lot of interesting things. Things that I look back on and forget why I didn’t stay. It all sounds so good to me now.

I can’t tell you why I left home except for I felt a deep guttural desire to be independent. I was curious and pined over seeing the world. And during my time working with my family, I met a modeling agent who said I could do just that, get paid to travel the world.

With a year of hesitation over the financial risk, I finally took the offer. I was young and resilient with an incredible work ethic, which encouraged me to believe the chances were high; if other people were doing it, I could too, make it in a new industry. Later, I learned many of these qualities had nothing to do with the success as a model.

Standing in the train station surrounded by my family, about to head south on my own for modeling season, I dreaded saying said good-bye to my Grandparents. I knew I wasn’t coming back home, though no one in my family knew I had already made up my mind. I said my good-byes to my entire family as we watched my silver station-wagon full of moving boxes drive into the cargo on the back on the train.

I boarded the train and kept pinching the inside of my palm, an unsuccessful attempt to keep my eyes from tearing. I sat in my chair and watched through tears, my family standing together in the station, waving good-bye to their daughter. I was the only one who knew I was uprooting my life in Virginia and planting it in Miami. I felt guilty about not telling them the truth.

The only other person on the train under 80 was the younger girl sitting next to me. Where’s she going? I wonder. Uprooting, too? Running away? Starting a new life? And just as we pull out of the station, she gives me my answer. “Did you bring any drugs with you?” She reclines her chair. “Everyone else here is too old to carry anything hard.” She said the trip was unbearable without rolling. She had done it many times before. I ask her how old she was and I slept with one eye open, watching the only backpack I brought on the train with me. Watching Virginia pass me by like a flipbook.

When the landscape darkened after the sun fell, I thought about the painful decisions I made to break off and feel independent. I thought about chasing this new career and how I feared it could be a dead end, but hopefully, an opportunity. After a mashed potatoes and gravy dinner on the geriatric express, I promised myself, I’ll find it, whatever it is. I’ll find the thing that sustains me. The thing I’m meant to be doing.

What sustains me, I will find over the next eight years, is the very thing that paralyzes me. The thing that makes my knees buckle and forces me to bend over and pray like a child at my bedside. Pray with might. With hope. Even when I I thought I was an atheist for a brief, angsty period of my life. I prayed like a motherfucker.

God please sustain me. Show me what I’m meant for. Guide me in the direction you want me to go in. Work through me. Let me feel comfort in knowing I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.

Sometimes, it was even, God, please let me be skinny. Why won’t you let me be thin? Why do I have to occupy this meat suit? After weeping, I’d declare, I try so hard to follow diets and nothing happens except I spend more money on gimmicks and feel guilty after I can’t sustain the lifestyle. More than anything, God, I just want to be thin and loved. Please, God. I’ll do anything.

The truth is, when you’re going through difficult times, when you’re chasing opportunities that might be dead ends, you’ll very rarely meet an atheist. Most of us are just praying to God we’ll make it, that this leg doesn’t fall under stop, turn around and go back to start.

I pray that I’m running in the right direction, but I can never be certain. I can only trust that it feels right, even if it’s extremely hard sometimes. I pray that I can provide for myself, because I know the world doesn’t owe me a thing.

Before I left Virginia, my Grandfather told me, “Love bug, when you get to where you want to go, stop and smell the roses.”

So on a south bound train, I tried to practice reflection. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I left the comfort of Virginia, but I knew why I was going south, to Miami.


The seventeen hour train ride gave me a lot of time to look out the window: junkyards and retention ponds, a sunset over Virginia tobacco fields and a sunrise over a Florida lake. Most of the senior citizens riding the train for leisure (which trust me, is an awful experience), would stop and ask before they dug into the bottom of their second jello cup, Kid, why are you going to Florida?

Because someone said I could get paid to travel the world? I still wasn’t sure if it was even possible.

Seventeen hours on a south bound train and five more hours driving south, south, south. I knew no one. No Spanish. Had little money and no credit. The world was in a recession. And yet, I knew had to go.

Transformation challenges us to grow in ways we can’t define. When the pressure constricts us, we want to throw our hands up and surrender, believing that what we’re going through is too hard, and if we were doing the thing we were meant to be doing, it would be much easier. 

And though I wish it were true, that what we’re supposed to be doing should be easy, it’s not. The difficulty, the complexity, in closing one chapter to start the next, that’s God’s way (or a higher being) of saying persist and if you can do it, this path was meant for you.

If everything were easy, we’d all be doing everything. Difficult times can test our boundaries, we know this, but no rose comes without thorns. I painfully closed the first chapter of my life and found my husband in the second (he was my neighbor in Miami). I started writing My Kind of Life, I created TOPLESS Yoga, and I’ve found the courage to write my memoir. I also traveled the world as a model. Believe me, there have been thorns the entire way; just this week I nicked myself on two more thorny bastards. Those thorns all have a finish line though and I’m beginning to smell the roses.

What I’m trying to say is, if you’re going through it right now, I’m right by your side. We are all brave enough to find what we’re meant to be doing, and the world needs the one gift that only we have. With resilience, bravery and grit, it’s life’s fulfillment to find it.

Kind Contributor Emily Nolan

Emily Nolan is a professional model, teacher and founder of nonprofit, TOPLESS yoga, a globally recognized empowerment event used as a tool for practicing radical self-acceptance. Emily hosts The Hum, a women’s fellowship retreat which emphasizes listening to our Hum within. Through her mission-based work, Emily has sparked a global conversation around body image.

Nolan is currently writing her first book, Pretty Brave.

Find Emily Nolan at @iamemilynolan //

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this kinda rocks!
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this kinda rocks!
oh darling, indulge a little