I grew up in a fairly straightforward and drama-free fashion. My parents are still married. My dad was a fire chief in the Air Force. My mom was a nurse. We lived in suburbia and I always had a roof over my head. I got mostly straight A's in school, and then went on to college and graduate school to do the same. I married my high school sweetheart and now we have two dogs and three children. My husband works a 9-5 as an artist and I stay at home with the kiddos while pursuing creative endeavors.

"Forget yesterday--it has already forgotten you. Don't sweat tomorrow--you haven't even met. Instead, open your eyes and your heart to a truly precious gift--today." - Steve Maraboli

As a writer and artist, I don't have a very hard or tortured past to draw upon for inspiration and motivation. I was a fairly uninteresting wallflower growing up. I don't have an upbringing that drops your jaw when you hear my stories. It was all pretty normal. I grew up enjoying writing and art as a hobby, not as the outlet that many use it for when they need an actual escape from a truly hard reality.

I had a mostly "vanilla" life, if you will, until my mid-twenties. And then adulthood set in.

Hard decisions. Unclear paths. Rejection. The pains of following my heart and leaving a PhD program to pursue life as an artist and small business owner. Financial struggle. Living paycheck to paycheck. Secondary infertility and rainbow babies. A son with Childhood Apraxia of Speech. Battles with health insurance companies. Helping friends through impossible tragedies. A quarter-life identity crisis searching for purpose and new career aspirations. Working tirelessly to find your unique voice in the creative community when aspiring artists and writers are a dime a dozen. The list sometimes feels endless.

But, I'm grateful.

Once our honeymoon was quite literally over 10 years ago and real life set in, then I began to experience struggle like never before. It can blindside you when you're not prepared. Things were no longer handed to me on a silver platter. I had to work harder than ever to achieve anything at all. I had to creatively problem solve, set intention with each day, and recognize the need to simplify because somehow life got too complicated.

Ciceraro Family Portrait by Ashley Crawford

And the harder life gets, the more I have to choose how I want my days to play out. I can either feel sorry for myself for my failures or I can keep moving forward and welcome failure because it leads to growth. I am grateful for the challenges and for starting to finally find myself now, in my thirties. The hard days help me grow. As a person, a mother, a wife, an artist.

I can either feel sorry for myself for my failures or I can keep moving forward and welcome failure because it leads to growth.

Life isn't getting any easier, but every new day builds upon my character. And I wouldn't trade this day or who I am now for anything that I was a decade ago. I just have to keep welcoming new experiences with gratitude, straight through the roadblocks and setbacks. Wouldn't I want my children to do the same?

Photo by Ashley Crawford.


Lea Ciceraro is a photographer, writer, wife of an artist, mama to three amazing kiddos, Childhood Apraxia of Speech advocate, parent of two rescue dogs, music loving, vintage adoring, local farmers' market supporting, film photography addicted, wanderluster, lover of life. She takes leaps of faith when she feels a burning passion for a dream that just won't quit, and tries to always live without regret. Life is too short to not do what makes you happy or strive to be the best version of yourself. Check out her website and find her photography on Instagram and Facebook.

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This article is part of our series on the theme of Gratitude.

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