Letter to a novice expat wife: The surprising truths of expat life that no-one warns you about

Letter to a novice expat wife: The surprising truths of expat life that no-one warns you about

Expat life can be a wild ride filled with fun, laughs, adventure, good times and perhaps most of all – challenge. It’s guaranteed to push you out of your comfort zone, confront you with your own shortcomings and force you to grow in ways you hadn’t expected. I realise now in hindsight how naïve I was coming into the whole experience six years ago when we embarked on our expat journey. It would have been helpful to get some advice from a seasoned expat wife beforehand, hence my reason for writing this ‘Letter to a novice expat wife’, in the hope that my words might help other women setting out on their new adventure. I’ve travelled extensively throughout my life and lived and worked in several different countries, including Paraguay, the USA, Italy, the UK and The Netherlands. So it’s not that living overseas is new to me. But being an expat is …. different … for reasons I’ll explain.

Expat experiences vary greatly and it seems the kind of experience you have depends very much on the company your family is relocating with and the size of the project. We left Australia six years ago for our expat adventure involving two years in Paris, France followed by four years in Geoje, South Korea. Our first two years in Paris were very different to the past four years in Korea, not only because the countries are so different but because in Paris the project was still in the design phase and therefore the foreign staffing requirements were much smaller. The work was being done predominantly by French staff with a small number of expats like ourselves. We found a rental apartment in central Paris and set about immersing ourselves in French life, language and culture, grateful for the opportunity to experience French life firsthand.

In Korea, the project moved into its construction phase and hundreds of expats were brought in to complete the mammoth project. To provide enough accommodation for all the foreign employees and their families, the company had no choice but to rent out whole apartment blocks in Geoje. As a result, it’s felt at times like living in an expat bubble on the fringes of Korean society, in a microcosm of the United Nations together with families from all different cultures and nationalities. At times you could even forget you’re in Korea, until you go into town to do the grocery shopping and remember that you can’t read the packaging on anything and often have to guess what you’re buying, you can’t ask questions or communicate with shop staff and can’t read any of the signposts (challenging when there’s big red letters and you don’t know what they mean!). While all this can be overwhelming at first and you feel like a fish out of water, it gets easier with time as you adapt and adjust.

The opportunity to live as an expat is truly a privilege. You’re able to experience another way of life, travel to countries you might otherwise never visit, make friends with people from all over the world and expose your children to a truly international community at a young age, helping them cultivate understanding, compassion and inclusivity. And yet as an ‘expat wife’, things are particularly challenging. I must admit I don’t like that label; like so many women these days I’ve always taken great pride in having my own independence, my own career and my own salary. And yet when you choose to temporarily leave your career to follow your husband’s work, ‘expat wife’ inevitably becomes your new identity. Many families choose to be expats at a time in life when the children are young and more flexible with schooling, and the wife is either happy to take some time off to care for the children full time, take some time away from her career to complete studies in a new direction or work from home (which is becoming more prevalent in this digital world). In some cases the wives are fortunate to be able to work on local projects too, if their skills match a project need. In a few rare cases, it’s the husband who moves overseas for the wife’s job and takes on the primary child-carer role, however they’re definitely the rare minority (yes gender roles are still very traditional in this demographic).

Things become particularly challenging when:

  • All families live in the same few apartment complexes available, sharing the same facilities and open spaces;
  • All the children go to school together and share the same school buses, teachers, social and sports activities;
  • The wives share the same limited number of English-speaking babysitters;
  • The husbands work together on the same project and often bring their frustrations home to the wives;
  • Most people are connected by Facebook and other social media channels, which adds another layer of interaction on top of the already intense social situation;
  • Due to the difficulty of communicating with the locals, it’s very difficult (if not impossible) to integrate into local society or expand your social circles beyond the expat community.

Your life becomes inextricably intertwined with the other expats. The radical intensity of day-to-day interaction with people you barely know leads to some difficult and often very challenging interpersonal situations. It can bring out both the best and the worst in people (myself included). Having been through some challenging and often very painful situations myself, I felt compelled to share this insight in the hope that it helps other expat wives as they set out on their journey. So here goes…

Dear friend,

Congratulations on your decision to embark on your expat journey! What a wonderful decision you’ve made for you and your family. You have an exciting adventure ahead, one where you’ll get to discover a new culture and way of life, meet people from all different nationalities and backgrounds and expose your children to a beautiful international community with different cultures and lifestyles. It’s a unique and rare opportunity, an experience that I know you’ll treasure forever. You will learn a lot, possibly more than you bargained for. It will test you in ways you probably couldn’t have imagined. You may experience not just wonderful highs but perhaps many deep lows as well. And that’s the part nobody tells you about before you leave.

When you move overseas, you leave all your friends and family behind. And because we’re social beings, it’s in our nature to want to find new friends quickly. When you arrive in the community, there’ll be many different social circles forming or already operating. Try to float among different groups and activities in the beginning. You’ll perhaps feel an enormous urge to fit into one of them as soon as possible, but try to resist that temptation. It will become apparent over time who your people are. Just be patient, friendly and approachable and start getting to know the people around you. If someone invites you over for a coffee or lunch and it feels right, be sure to go along. But don’t divulge too much too soon and keep your guard up politely until you’ve had a chance to get to know them properly. It takes time to build trust and intimacy in friendships.

Friendships often form (too) quickly in the expat environment. You can end up sharing your lives at a very intimate and personal level without having had the chance to get to know each other. It’s in my nature to be very open and I’ve had to learn the hard way that it’s important to build trust first before you open your thoughts and heart to someone. As you float among different groups and people, be observant and try to get an understanding of the different groups out there and who’s included in them. In this phase, be sure to listen to your gut and trust your intuition. Don’t ignore those little alarm bells in your head for the sake of trying to fit in somewhere. If you have an ‘off’ feeling with anyone, be sure to listen to it. Don’t judge them for it and cut them off, because sometimes our judgments can be wrong, but be extra vigilant. Don’t share anything too personal before you’ve taken the time to get to know the people around you.

The expat community would make an interesting study in human psychology, because when a group of strangers ends up living together, working together and socialising together, it creates an unnaturally intense social situation, and well – strange things can happen. When social situations become stressed, it’s natural that our insecurities surface and we fall into default coping strategies. As women we often unconsciously play out a certain ‘role’.

Over the past six years I’ve experienced, observed and witnessed particular roles that emerge in stressed social environments (and I’m sure I’ve been guilty of falling into some of them myself). To avoid potentially difficult situations, be aware that you might come across these characters (they’re exaggerated in some cases, but you’ll get my drift):

 

The Queen Bee The Queen Bee likes to be at the centre of social circles and control who is included and not included. They’re often the ones organising many events and get-togethers as they thrive on social influence and control. They demand loyalty and respect and will do anything to get it, even if it means spreading untruths about others. While they’re charming and very social extroverts, just be careful as they can have a nasty sting if you upset them or threaten their position somehow.

 

 

The charmer The charmer can appear seemingly out of nowhere, suddenly showing a lot of interest in you and wanting to spend lots of time with you. They’ve seen something they like about you and decided they want to befriend you. Although it’s very flattering and feels great to our humble little egos, just be careful. Charmers can reel you in with abundant attention, affection and kindness, and then drop you like a hot potato when you don’t live up to their expectations or someone better comes along. This is hard because they made you feel special and it hurts when they move on. You might end up wondering what you did or what’s wrong with you and beat yourself up. But chances are the flattery caught you off guard and you didn’t have appropriate boundaries in place. Remember, it takes time to build genuine friendships and as tempting as it is, be sure to take your time to get to know someone before you open your life and heart to them.

The Smiling Assassin Unfortunately, the intensity of the social scene in the expat environment can heighten the insecurities of many women. You might unknowingly trigger jealousy and resentment in certain people and find yourself suddenly on the receiving end of passive aggression. It’s confusing and upsetting when someone is lovely, smiling and friendly to your face and then you find out later they’ve been quietly assassinating your character behind your back, especially if it’s someone you considered a friend and it’s completely unexpected. This is another reason why you must form friendships slowly and carefully.

The fair weather friend Often in the expat situation people end up unknowingly getting drawn into conflicts that cause all kinds of drama and tension they hadn’t expected. In future, they might try to avoid conflict at all cost, which means they won’t stick around if you find yourself unwillingly drawn into a conflict yourself. If you end up going through a challenging situation and turn to your friend for help, you might find they’re not there for you. This can be very disappointing if it’s someone you thought was a good friend. However, remember that in the challenging expat social environment, people go into survival mode and will do everything they can to protect themselves. You even might find yourself doing the same in future (I know I have to some extent). While of course it’s painful to realise you can’t rely on a friend in a time of need, just use it as an indication that this person might not be friendship material in the long term and remember to build your friendships slowly.

The Ice Queen One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn on my expat journey is that it doesn’t pay to stand up to what you perceive as bad behaviour. While you may feel noble, indignant and a little self-righteous in confronting someone for how they’ve treated you or someone else, it never pans out well. They’ll probably vehemently deny what you’re accusing them of, tell all their friends how unreasonable you’ve been, and then target their hostility towards you instead. They might turn into the Ice Queen, openly ignoring you at every opportunity, throwing you ice daggers with their eyes and perhaps even turning others against you in an attempt to isolate you. If you see someone behaving badly, just take note and keep a safe distance. You can always show your support for the person who’s being treated badly by meeting with them privately and telling them you’re there for them if they need you. But otherwise, avoid confrontation and retreat.

‘My-child’s-never-in-the-wrong’ mothers It can be very challenging if your child is involved in a conflict of some kind and you have to deal with a mother whose child is never to blame. Most of us know conflicts arise between children as a natural part of growing up, and sometimes our child’s to blame and sometimes it’s the other child. Or sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding and no one’s to blame at all. But if a situation arises where your child is very upset and you try to talk to the other mother about it, you might be confronted with the default position of “My child is never in the wrong” (perhaps not in those words). There’s no opening for discussion, your child will be given the blame and you might even be labeled a bad parent. I’ve seen many a friendship break up because of this type of conflict and it’s sad when mothers let this ruin an otherwise good friendship. Again it’s particularly hard when it happens with someone you thought you could count on as a friend.  

And of course there will be many genuine, truly lovely people who don’t have an insecure or unkind bone in their body and are just fun, beautiful people to be around. They will be the ones who take delight in building you up and encouraging you to follow your dreams, not tearing you down. Those are the keepers.

Advice for a peaceful and harmonious expat journey

Remember that it takes time to find your ‘people’. Resist the urge to rush into friendships. You can let your guard down once you’ve gotten to know people over time and they’ve proven themselves trustworthy to you. Trust your intuition and simply retreat from anyone that feels out of alignment. Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself and especially those whose eyes light up when you talk of your goals and aspirations. Some women will take delight in building you up and encouraging you to follow your dreams, while others might feel threatened. In finishing, here’s the most important advice I feel necessary to pass onto you:

  • Believe nothing of what you hear and only half of what you see. Things are not always as they seem and you never know what’s going on in someone else’s life. Never make assumptions and always take everything you hear with a very large grain of salt.
  • Avoid gossiping. In small expat communities where everyone knows everyone, gossip is sadly inevitable. It usually gets embellished with small (sometimes large) untruths that the person at the centre of the gossip has no chance of denying or defending. This can be very damaging to their integrity and reputation. As tempting as it can be at times, never engage in gossip. If someone starts talking negatively about someone else, just smile politely and make an excuse to move away.
  • If you hear something bad about someone else, reserve your judgment. There are always two sides to a story. Resist the temptation to believe what you hear about someone else and continue to give the person the benefit of the doubt. It’s not fair to treat them differently, because you have no way of knowing whether what you heard is true (it probably isn’t).
  • If you’re the target of gossip yourself, hold your head high and let it go. As painful as it is, you’re often not in control of your own reputation in small expat communities. If people decide to spread untruths about you, there’s sadly nothing you can do and it will test every inch of your self-worth to not react and hold your head high. We all make mistakes and sometimes do things we regret, but gossip makes us pay for them unfairly and in excess. Be gentle with yourself and with others, and extend the benefit of the doubt wherever you can.
  • Guard your privacy on Facebook and social media. While it’s wonderful to be connected with others through social media, in small expat communities it can add another dimension of invasion into your privacy. Based on my experience, I would recommend being careful of your privacy on Facebook until you’ve gotten to know someone well. You can be ‘friends’ but just limit what you share with people through your privacy settings until you know someone well.

On a positive note, having warned you of some of the less enjoyable types you might come across, this article wouldn’t be complete without recognising, acknowledging and appreciating all the amazing women who have made my expat journey so rich and wonderful (thanks Jane Fitzer O’Shea for the inspiration for some of these types!).

There are The Rocks (the ones who are always there for you no matter what), The Warriors (the ones who have been through extremely challenging situations and come out the other side positive and strong), The Funny Girls (the ones who make you laugh so hard your sides ache), The Dancers (the ones who can rock out all night and have endless energy and dance moves), The Helpers (the ones who are always there for everybody in times of need), The Girls Who Took Up a Cause (the ones who dedicate their time and energy to abandoned pets, orphanages, hospitals and any other cause that breaks their heart) and the No Nonsense Ones who aren’t afraid to offend and tell it like it is. These types will be your saviour and get you through many a challenging period!

Treasure them as they will become your friends for life. It’s my sincere hope that this insight and guidance helps you have a harmonious and fun-filled expat journey, and avoid much of the struggle myself and others have gone through!

Being an expat is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will treasure forever.

Sit back and enjoy the ride!

With love,

What’s your bliss? How to love what you do so you’ll never ‘work’ another day

What’s your bliss? How to love what you do so you’ll never ‘work’ another day

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”
– Confucius

We’ve all heard this saying, and most of us aspire to doing exactly that – build a career you love so that we look forward to each day with energy and enthusiasm and feel fulfilled and happy at the end of the day – but the hard thing most of us struggle to answer is  – “What’s my bliss?” And then shortly after that, how do I make a great living out of my bliss?

At Whispering Heart coaching my goal is to help people “be true to your heart and joyfully bring your unique gifts into the world.” However, this is the biggest challenge I find I come up against when trying to help people work through this – most of us have troubles figuring out what it is exactly that we love doing. What is it that brings us joy? What brings us that deep feeling of fulfilment and love for life? And then how on earth do we build a career around that that allows us to thrive? It’s not generally an easy question to answer, and many of us can spend years, if not a lifetime, trying to figure out exactly what makes our heart sing, and how we can spend our lives doing more of that.

The largest barrier I tend to come up against when working with others on this inquiry is the expectations we feel others have of us, the conditioning of our childhood and formative years that led us to believe that certain things are possible, or not possible; that we’re not allowed to build a life around things we love doing, because that’s not practical, possible or even responsible. It’s not easy to let these beliefs go; they’ve given us security in life, boundaries, a map through which to navigate life so that we’re safe, secure and have our needs met. In many cases we’ve built an identity around these beliefs and so if we decide to let them go or change them – then who are we exactly?

In my own quest to find my bliss, I’ve come across a technique that’s helped me get closer to my true essence and authentic joy. It’s a process of reflection that I call: Those blissfully happy moments. The key lies in reflecting back on those moments in life where you felt ecstatic joy, aliveness and connection, where your heart literally did overflow with happiness. Most of us have experienced at least a couple of these moments in life. The key to our heart’s joy and true passion lies in those moments if we’re able to feel back into them and understand what they represented. They’re not random moments of happiness that you just happen to remember as highlights of your life, but rather they give us insight into the depth of our unique joy and the values we hold most cherished. And they contain the seeds of our true calling. Here are some examples from my own experience:

Blissfully happy moment #1

I’m on a road trip up north in the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia with friends and we stop at a roadhouse somewhere to have dinner, in what feels like the middle of nowhere. Behind the roadhouse there’s a small hall where some locals are doing Karaoke; we decide to join them. Several drinks and many cheesy songs later, we walk outside to find our camper-van to sleep in. We come across a group of beautiful little Aboriginal children playing outside on the grass. One of them comes up to us, beaming with her big white teeth in an ear-to-ear grin. I strike up a conversation with her and we laugh and connect. Such a beautiful, innocent little girl who is a victim of circumstances – born into a race of people who are judged, mistreated and looked down upon in White Australia, living in poverty and a world of limited opportunities.

I ask her if she likes dizzy-whizzies and she says “yes!”. I pick her up, swing her around and she squeals with delight. I do this a few more times at her request, and we swirl around and fall down, laughing from dizziness and fun. Finally I tell her I have to go (or my drinks are going to come up!). My friends have already left. As I leave I give her a big squeeze and she grabs me back in a beautiful, giant hug. I feel her heart and her warmth, her beautiful, radiant soul. We stay locked in this beautiful hug and in this moment it feels like the world has stood still; two strangers locked in an embrace, sharing our humanity and love. I never saw her again, but she taught me so much and in that moment I knew: I want to be a vehicle for everyone in this world to be seen and heard, for everyone to be able to step into their full light and brightness, regardless of their background, skin colour or social setting. This was a seed of my calling.

Blissfully happy moment #2

I’m boarding a plane at London Heathrow airport where I’ve been living, bound for Milan, Italy for a three-day weekend to go to a concert of Italian rock icon Vasco Rossi. I have nothing with me but my small backpack containing two changes of clothes, my wallet, my camera and my toilet bag. I’ll be staying with a good friend in Italy for the weekend, both of us huge fans of Vasco and what this rock legend represents – rebellion against the system, full expression of everyone’s uniqueness and individual identity, living life to the fullest in all its pain and glory. The exquisite, joyful feeling starts at the check-in counter when they ask me if I have baggage to check in. I say ‘no’ (travelling without baggage feels like a true symbol of freedom for me). I walk through the security area, sit down at a bar to wait for my flight and enjoy a large beer – just me and my small backpack. The feeling of freedom and joy is indescribable.

It’s not until later many years later that I realise what the joy in this moment was telling me: that freedom is one of the highest values I cherish. Freedom of expression, freedom to live life according to our own agenda, gifts and talents, freedom to contribute to the world in the way we want, freedom to allow others to be their own exquisite selves. Freedom from shame, expectations and internally or externally-imposed limitations. Freedom to be ourselves, fully and unashamedly. Another seed of my calling.

As you can see, they did not give me direct answers. But they helped me understand more about my heart’s passion and joy and about the values I hold most cherished. And there are many more moments I could allude to; all pieces of the puzzles that have helped me get closer to my ‘bliss’, even though it’s an ongoing journey that reveals more and more of itself as life goes on. We need to look beneath the feeling of joy we experienced in those blissfully happy moments and ask what they were trying to tell us. Were they random moments of happiness or was there a message in there for us? I’ll bet you there was.

So I wonder, what are those moments in your life that have made your heart overflow with joy? What were they trying to tell you about what you value and cherish most in life? And what guidance were they giving you about your true purpose and highest calling? I invite you to spend a few minutes reflecting on those blissfully happy moments and ask yourself what’s hiding in there. You might just find the next clue that will light your way on the road to following your bliss.

Need help in identifying your true calling? Download my free eBook “PATHFINDING: How to find and start living that special calling that YOU are uniquely designed for” and learn all the tips and strategies you need to build a life you truly love.

In service to helping you live your fullest and brightest life,

Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Professional Coach & Founder
Whispering Heart Coaching
katie@whisperingheartcoaching.com

The moment of clarity: How do you know when it’s time to follow your heart?

The moment of clarity: How do you know when it’s time to follow your heart?

I remember the moment so clearly. It is what has become “my moment of clarity.” I was sitting on the terrace of a beautiful outdoor cafe in a leafy green suburb right on the beach. The warm sun was kissing my shoulders and there was a gentle breeze in the air. I had just been for a swim in the crystal clear, blue waters of the Indian Ocean, the underwater visibility so beautiful as I swam to the edge of the pier and back, watching the ripples of sand on the ocean floor and fish swimming by in small schools. Stepping out of the water I had felt cleansed, nourished and uplifted. Now as I was waiting for my coffee and breakfast to arrive I glanced over at the waitress serving our group of tables outside on the peaceful terrace. She looked relaxed, happy and sun-kissed, as though she’d had a fun, long summer, probably stopping to work for a few months here on the West Coast as she backpacked around Australia, gathering by the Irish lilt in her accent. She looked focused on the milk she was frothing for the cappuccinos she was preparing, in a joyful and contented way. She laughed and tossed her hair as a passing colleague made a funny comment. I was suddenly struck by an enormous feeling of envy at the ease and joy she exuded, of the deep sense of peace and happiness she seemed to feel.

How long had it been since I had felt so at ease and in love with life? I had once been like that, just like this carefree waitress, I remember it well; that feeling of light-heartedness, spontaneity, ease and joy. How had my life become so difficult, dark and heavy? Since those uncomplicated and carefree days in my late teens and early twenties, it felt like my life had been slipping deeper and deeper into an abyss and I had no hope of clawing my way back out. I had been through a five-year battle with chronic fatigue, my parents’ heart-wrenching divorce, enormous struggle to establish my career, struggle setting up my life in another country and in a new language, difficult relationships, the pain of ‘unexplained infertility’ and most recently, two devastating miscarriages that turned my whole world upside down. It took all my willpower just to get out of bed in the mornings and to face another day, when all I wanted to do was pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep, or better still – never wake up.

I had recently walked into my manager’s office at work and told him that I needed to take two months off work. I couldn’t go on any longer. I was on the verge of a breakdown and I just could not keep up the facade. I needed help, I needed time out. Until this point, I had pushed through every difficulty of my life, never giving up, always pushing on, always struggling through. I had been intent on never letting anyone down, of fulfilling my duties and obligations no matter what state I was in. I had no more strength to do this. I was drained and depleted. My cup was empty, every last drop.

This was the first time in my life that I had put my own needs first, by deciding to take time off work and just be for two months. Even though I was exhausted and felt so incredibly run down, I drove down to the beach each morning to enjoy the soothing calm of the waves lapping the sand and to watch the birds frolic in the waves, to try to instill some peace and comfort within my being. I had never before felt entitled to take time out of the rat race to honour my needs, to listen to my body and heed the whispers of my heart. I had always felt a sense of duty to go on, a responsibility to keep contributing my salary to our household income and fulfill my work obligations, to put on a brave face and soldier on no matter what inner guidance I may have been getting. But losing our second pregnancy, after trying to create our family for so long, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The sense of grief and anguish was so deep and heart-wrenching, the pain touched every part of my being in every single waking moment. I was heart-broken and depleted. It was simply no longer possible to muster the energy to pretend everything was OK. It was not OK. After almost fifteen years of pain and struggle I had finally realised that this was very far from OK. Something had to change.

In that moment on the café terrace at the beach, as I sat in silence enjoying my coffee, it suddenly dawned on me that I had the power to change my life. Until now I had felt trapped in my chosen career path and life circumstances. I had invested so much in my career, I couldn’t possibly abandon it … could I? Is it possible to leave something behind when you’ve invested your sweat and tears in it, when you’ve depleted and drained yourself to achieve it, when you’ve spent more than fifteen years pursuing it and dedicated every cell of your being to it? And you’ve finally got there? When you’ve finally built up the career and reputation you’d been working so hard to achieve all those years? Could I leave all that now and finally admit that I had been barking up the wrong tree? That this is absolutely not how I want to spend the rest of my life? That this life I’ve been living is not me?

There was something inside me in that moment that changed forever. I finally opened to the possibility that perhaps I could decide to leave my career behind to pursue something closer to my heart, more aligned to my strengths. Perhaps I could do something that brings me real joy and flows naturally and easily to me. Until now my career and way of life had been nothing but struggle and an uphill battle, I’d been desperately trying to prove myself in a world that was not authentically mine. I’d always felt a little like a fraud and a square peg in a round hole, in my corporate career that valued logic, rational thought and ladder-climbing. While deep down I knew my strengths are creativity, linguistics and human relations. The only way I felt I could be accepted and respected in my corporate career was to be outstanding at what I did. That way no one could detect that I was putting on a facade. What would it feel like to let down that facade, to drop the act and discover the real me?

And that’s when a voice deep within me said “Yes. Give up. Listen to your heart for once and follow its guidance. You’ve been ignoring it since you were a teenager. Look where it’s gotten you. Sure, you’ve climbed your way up the academic and corporate ranks, you’ve gathered nice titles behind your name and achieved great things, but at what cost? Is this what living life is about? Being forced to take time off work because you’re on the verge of breaking down completely; living life in a heavy fog of sadness, exhaustion, depletion and anxiety? Your life is not meant to be this difficult!”

As I let the thought “give up” enter and permeate my being, something happened. It felt as though a veil was slowly lifting around me and light was slowly seeping in. Suddenly the colours around me seemed brighter, the sounds became louder, I could see a beetle on the tree a few metres away from me and appreciate its intricate beauty. A lightness filled my being, a feeling I had not felt in a very long time. In that moment I knew. This was a turning point. It was time for me to reclaim my life. It was time for me to listen to my heart, to be true to myself, to acknowledge that I had been living my life according to other people’s expectations, that I had abandoned the desires of my heart to pursue a life that was not authentically my own. And now I had the power to change that.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy to give up my career and pursue something closer to my heart. There would be many people surprised by my decision and perhaps many who would be disappointed. There would be many who would laugh. But now that I’d felt the connection to my heart’s desires and the subsequent energetic lift that it created, there was no going back. The “good girl” in me no longer cared about what others thought; it was time for me to like the life I live.

“Listen to your heart. It knows all things, for it came from the Soul of the World, and it will one day return there”
– Paul Coelho, The Alchemist

You can read my full story in Authentically Me: My journey of coming home to myself.

In service to helping you live your fullest and brightest life,

katie-signature

Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Professional Coach & Founder
Whispering Heart Coaching
katie@whisperingheartcoaching.com

Over the hill and loving it! Six ways to embrace life after turning 40

Over the hill and loving it! Six ways to embrace life after turning 40

Like all big milestones in life, my approaching fortieth birthday has really had me thinking and reflecting. Unlike the months leading up to my 30th birthday that were filled with dread, resistance and melancholy, I feel strangely at peace about turning 40 and even a sense of excited optimism…. mingled with a small but definite dose of denial.  

I remember when my Dad turned 40 when I was a young girl and thinking wow, now my dad really is old. It was a scary thought that my dad was now considered to be ‘mid-life’, with everybody telling him “It’s all downhill from here, buddy”. And now seemingly out of nowhere it appears I’m about to turn 40. This one has definitely snuck up on me from behind.

It seems like only yesterday I was graduating from high school, feeling like the future was vast and limitless. We buried a time capsule on the school grounds in our final days that contained a letter to our future selves ten years down the track, saying what we hoped to do in the next ten years. Ten years seemed so long and far away back then. I had so many ideas about what I would be and have by then. And yet here I am all of a sudden, out of school for more than twenty years, wondering how it all went so fast. Sure, lots has happened in that time – I’ve lived in eight different countries, had lots of fun and adventures and weathered many turbulent storms – but still it’s hard to fathom that I’m now considered to be mid-life, relegated to the ranks of “old farts”, the ones who  have to scroll down for ages to find their birth year.

Given how quickly the past twenty years have gone, and how suddenly my fortieth seems to have come around, there’s only one conclusion I can come to about all of this, and that is:

LIFE IS SHORT.

And it goes way too fast.

They’re standard old clichés, but it’s finally sunk in that they’re true.

Seeing this clearly has made me re-think how I want to live my next forty years, if I’m blessed to live that long or (hopefully) longer. Here are my suggestions for those of us entering the post-40 years.

1.       Enjoy the journey, there is no destination

We will never ‘get there’, wherever ‘there’ is. When I was younger I thought I’d have my life all nicely wrapped up by the time I’d be forty – the perfect career, perfect family, perfect home, perfect lifestyle. I hadn’t realized how much I still had to learn about myself and about life, and that the only way I’d get to know all this would be through riding the beautiful yet sometimes ugly and brutal roller coaster of life. I didn’t know that despite which destination I had in mind, life had a mind all if its own. I had no idea I would spend the first 35 years of my life trying to live up to the expectations of others, deaf to the whispers of my own heart. I didn’t know it would take a crisis to wake me up to my authentic desires and to have the courage to follow them.

My point is, it doesn’t matter if we don’t get it ‘right’, whatever that is. There’s no one keeping score. The journey of life has an infinite number of paths it could follow, each one taking us through unknown terrain, but each one teaching us something about ourselves – what we value, what we love, what we want, what we don’t want. And I believe that’s the whole point, to get to know ourselves, to grow and develop, to appreciate every experience life has to offer, no matter how good or bad, messy or perfect, painful or joyful. As Aristotle said more than two thousand years ago: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”.

And rather than working hard and yearning to ‘get there’, if we can give up the chase and relax into life, being open to its ever-changing and unpredictable nature, we can be more at peace with allowing it to unfold in its own way. By having no attachment to how things should go, we suffer less when things don’t go how we want and are able to better appreciate whatever comes onto our path. I’ve come to believe that the only thing that matters is to be true to our own hearts and to be our genuine, authentic selves.

The optimism I feel about my forties comes from the freedom of deciding to live life on my terms, in alignment with my heart, and nothing less. 

2.       Do what you love and do it often

Life is short as we know. You only get one shot at it. So why waste time doing things you don’t enjoy? Why not find out what you love doing and do it often and if possible, all the time? We’ve all heard the saying “If you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life”. That seems to me the ultimate joy, turning your passion and joy into your day job.

But it can also be just in the small things. Find out what makes your heart sing. Develop a relationship with your heart and hear what it’s trying to tell you. Maybe it wants to finally to go those dancing classes, or take walks on the beach at sunset, or move to the country. For me, a big one is travel and exploring the world. The more I can do of this, the happier my soul feels. Or maybe your heart wants to do something more bold – give up that job, move cities or start that business you’ve been dreaming of for years. Whatever it is, find your passion and make it come alive. My biggest fear is getting to 80 and wishing I’d done all those things I love while I still had the health and ability to do them. My favourite singer as a teenager, Anthony Kiedis, got it right when he said “It’s better to regret something you did, than something you didn’t do”.

But it takes a lot of courage to follow our hearts, to take that leap of faith out of our comfort zone and into the unknown. We shouldn’t expect the path of the heart to be easy; it will by necessity shake things up in life. Any big change requires a period of upheaval, and that scares us. As Gregg Lavoy says in his book Callings: “Generally, people won’t pursue their callings until the fear of doing so is finally exceeded by the pain of not doing so, but it’s appalling how high a threshold people have for this quality of pain”. This was definitely true in my case. It took more than ten years of emptiness, heartache, chronic illness and finally two miscarriages for me to surrender to the callings of my heart that urged me to leave my old corporate career and pursue my love of working with others through the field of coaching. And while I’ve never felt better in my life since following my call, it still feels very uncomfortable at times as I try to find my way, my voice and my identity in a field that is all quite new to me – at times I feel super vulnerable and exposed. As Levoy says, “Saying yes to the call tends to place you on a path that half of yourself thinks doesn’t make a bit of sense, but the other half knows your life won’t make sense without”.

I know now from personal experience that when we’re aligned with our hearts, we experience the flow and joy of life. Even the difficult and challenging experiences make sense because it feels like they’re part of the growth and development we need to make our callings come true. The discomfort is somehow easier to handle when we know we’re finally on track, because we’re lit up and inspired with the excitement and optimism of finally being aligned in our body, mind and soul. As Howard Thurman says “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

3. Make more time for good friends and loved ones

Life is busy and before you know it, months can pass without spending much time with good friends and loved ones. We all need to spend more time with those special people who bring us alive, who make us laugh and who love us no matter what we say or do. There’s a saying “It’s not how we feel about the person that matters but rather how we feel about ourselves when we’re with them.” Some people just make us feel good about ourselves. They inspire us and support us to be a better person. I think it’s because they remind us of our true, beautiful essence. They mirror back all our good qualities through their unconditional love and space of non-judgement. And they’re just fun to be with. If you’re blessed to have at least a few of those people in your life, spend more time with them. Plan the next catch up and make it a regular thing. After all, the true beauty of life is not in anything we can do or achieve but in enjoying the connections we have with others.

4.       Be present with your loved ones

Given the hectic nature of life, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos, with our minds either on what needs to happen next or what happened in the past. It’s a challenge to be right there in the moment with our little ones, but in a way they’re a perfect example of showing us how to do it. I love the way my little boy can be totally engrossed in what he’s doing, so totally focused in the here and now. And I see how his eyes light up when I’m right there in the moment with him. He loves nothing more than for me to be fully there with him. He starts playing up when I’m busy doing other things, or have my eyes glued to my telephone, or I’m asking him to be quiet so I can listen to the news. When he starts playing up and acting out I can usually see how it’s linked to my lack of presence with him. Of course we can’t always be there fully with them all the time given the busy nature of life, but we owe it to them – and to ourselves – to be there fully as often as we can.

5.       Feel genuine, heartfelt gratitude

One of our dear friends recently passed away very suddenly after running a half marathon. He was only 40 years old, very fit and very healthy. It was such a terrible and tragic shock for all of us, one that we’re still coming to terms with. He left behind his beautiful wife and two young daughters, who won’t have the joy of his presence as they grow older. This shock of losing someone dear to our hearts brought the finite nature of life even closer to home.

It’s a privilege to grow old, one not afforded to everybody. Next time you cringe at your wrinkles in the mirror, bless them instead, for at least they mean you’ve lived long enough to earn them. And wrinkles around your eyes are a sign of how much you’ve laughed. Don’t get me wrong, I still find it hard to accept the first signs of ageing in my body (was that really a grey hair? Are my hands really starting to look like my Granny’s? Is that really the start of a varicose vein on my leg?). But at the same time it means I’m still here and growing older. Which means I’m able to be with my family and watch my boys grow older, and that right there is a blessing to be grateful for every day.

6.       Laugh, sing and dance more

Laughing is a tonic for the soul. There’s nothing as good as laughing so hard that your tummy or cheeks hurt right? Or singing your lungs out when that favourite old song comes on the radio and you can turn it up full bore, feeling all the emotion and joy the song brings as memories come flooding back. Or dancing freely and letting your hair down, feeling care-free and alive. These are all things I hope to do more of as I grow older, because I want to enjoy this wild and beautiful roller coaster ride as much as I can.

“Sing like no one’s listening
Love like you’ve never been hurt
Dance like nobody’s watching
And live like it’s heaven on earth.” – Mark Twain

Amen to that. Bring on the forties, let’s try to embrace this getting old business with open arms!

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In service to helping you live your fullest and brightest life,
katie-signature
Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Professional Coach & Founder
katie@whisperingheartcoaching.com
Parisian luxury & Korean chaos: A tale of two radically different birthing experiences

Parisian luxury & Korean chaos: A tale of two radically different birthing experiences

From the luxury and comfort of a French maternity hospital to the hustle and chaos of a South Korean birthing clinic, my two birthing experiences couldn’t have been more different!

I hadn’t quite realised at the time just how spoilt I was to be giving birth to our first child at the American Hospital in Paris. We’d been posted to Paris for my husband’s work for two years when I was six months pregnant back in 2011. Moving to the City of Love, home of crispy baguettes, aesthetic beauty, fashion and delicious pastries was a beautiful opportunity that we were super excited to undertake. When we first arrived in Paris our highest priority was of course finding somewhere to give birth. My husband’s colleagues all highly recommended the American Hospital (L’Hôpital Américain de Paris) and, not knowing any alternatives and having limited time to explore them, we promptly booked ourselves in for an intake appointment with a lovely American obstetrician at the hospital. She made us feel completely at home and comfortable with giving birth there, which as nervous first-time parents was a huge relief. Despite the fact that we sometimes had to wait in her waiting room for up to three hours for appointments and that it was a one hour bus ride from central Paris where we were living, we felt it was worthwhile sticking with her given her impressive track record of delivering babies, her friendly and comforting style and the positive word of mouth feedback that we consistently heard from friends and colleagues.

Our mastery of the French language when we first arrived in Paris was sketchy to say the least, so it was a relief to find a native English speaking obstetrician. She was the only such native English speaker we were to come across at the hospital, despite the name ‘American Hospital’. The hospital was formed in 1906 as a place for American residents to get American-trained medical care in their own language. The hospital treated Allied soldiers in both World Wars I and II, with many surgeons and doctors playing an active part in the underground Resistance in WWII, helping soldiers recover from war wounds and then be smuggled out of German-occupied France with the help of Resistance workers, instead of being held as POWs in Paris (the hospital played a fascinating role during WWII, rich with both inspirational and tragic stories). However, over time the hospital has evolved into more of a ‘standard’ French hospital, with predominantly French physicians and nurses and these days English speaking service is hard to come by. It is however one of the best maternity hospitals that can be found in Paris these days and we were very lucky that our insurance covered our stay there.

So, during the birth of our first little boy Jack, we struggled by in our limited French and the mid-wives struggled by in their limited English, but luckily the similarities between French and English are just enough to be able to pick up the jist of what’s being said. While at the time we thought we’d struggled with a large language barrier in France, we later came to realise in what a real language barrier was while giving birth in South Korea!

The French have quite a beautiful birthing philosophy. Not having given birth anywhere else before I have nothing to compare it to of course, but now having given birth again in South Korea I realise that the French approach is centred around immediate bonding with the newborn child. Directly after I’d given birth, our baby boy Jack was put on my chest and allowed to stay there for around 20 minutes, giving him a chance to try suckling for the first time, which he took to like a natural. When we’d had a chance to spend some quality time with him, admiring his little hands and beautiful face, the nurses asked if they could take him to give him a bath and do some quick tests. After that they dressed him and put him into a little bed on wheels and we were all taken back to our private room, where we were left to enjoy ourselves as our new little family of three. The staff did their best to allow us maximum privacy and family time. We had a buzzer we could press if we ever needed anything.

The service and after-care at the American Hospital resembled a hospital mixed with a five star hotel. The rooms were large, spacious and modern, with a super comfortable reclining bed with remote control, making it easy to adjust your position up or down to sleep or feed. The bathrooms were spacious with a large, hot shower. We had a television in our room, a fridge, a space to change and care for the baby and a mattress was organised so my husband could spend the nights with us in hospital. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the stay in hospital was the food. We all know the French love their food, and this hospital was no exception. We were brought three course meals three times a day, including exotic dishes such as Cordon Bleu, roast beef and vegetables, steamed salmon and roast potatoes, always with a delicious soup and dessert to go with it. And on top of that, the kitchen staff provided the breastfeeding mothers with an extra supply of yoghurts and cheeses to keep us going during the night feeds – so good.

We were allowed to stay in hospital for five days and with no extended family around in Paris to help (my mother would arrive two weeks later), we decided to take full advantage of these five days to rest and recover. We were definitely in no rush to leave, given the amazing care we’d been receiving from the sweet and caring nurses, the regular follow up visits from our obstetrician and the excellent food. Then nurses took great care to help me get my breastfeeding established smoothly during those five days which was a great help, given some of the initial teething problems I had. Both my husband and I felt strangely sad on the fifth day when we had to go home, after such a sweet first birthing experience. It was maternity heaven.

Fast forward almost three years and now we’re based on Geoje Island in South Korea, a small island with a large shipbuilding industry, containing two of the largest shipbuilding yards in the world – Samsung and Daewoo. Given the high demand for workers here, many thousands of expats have flocked here to support the fast-pace, high-tech engineering and construction projects under way on the island. So despite its fairly remote location (located off the south-eastern tip of South Korea), there’s a surprisingly high number of bars, cafes, restaurants and facilities for foreigners and a thriving expat community, which makes it quite fun to live here. Not to mention the beautiful scenery and easy access to great hiking trails, cycling, kayaking and picturesque beaches.

But perhaps the nicest thing about living here is the friendly, kind and welcoming nature of the South Korean people. Always smiling, nodding and bowing, the South Koreans are an innately happy and friendly people, seemingly always ready to welcome foreigners into their world (a different experience to Paris on that level!). They love children and are always offering treats and cuddles to our little two year old Jack. Their tolerance of our inability to speak their language is amazing, but also makes most of us very lazy and give up too easily on the language lessons, given how easy they make it for us to get away with not speaking Korean (again, different story to France!). I feel incredibly guilty about this. It’s the first time in my life I’ve lived in another country and made very little effort to speak the local language. In my international adventures so far, I’ve lived in South America, Italy, Holland for many years and finally France, picking up the languages of Spanish, Italian, Dutch and French along the way. However this time, due to life circumstances (a small toddler, a busy study schedule, and frankly a good dose of laziness), I haven’t put in any time to master even the basics of Korean, which feels quite disrespectful to the local people. So I only have myself to blame that the language barrier during our second birthing experience was even harder than we’d expected…

I gave birth to our second baby boy Lio in a birthing clinic called Elle Medi in downtown Gohyeon (one of the two main towns) on Geoje Island. It’s quite unique how things are set up here. The birthing clinic is on level 5 of a multi-story building on the main, busy shopping street. On the ground floor is a large electronics shop selling Korea’s famous brands such as LG and Samsung, on the second floor is a pizzeria and a dentist, on the third floor a dermatology and skin clinic, and then on level 4 a post-birthing clinic where mothers can go to rest and recover while having their babies cared for in a nursery as needed (the Koreans pay top dollar for this service, which includes pampering services such as massage and pedicures for the mothers). So in contrast to the western world where maternity wards are generally part of a larger hospital on private hospital grounds, here in Korea the birthing clinics can be found on the main shopping strip, mixed in with a host of other non-maternity related shops and services. It felt quite bizarre to be stepping into the lift to go to give birth while others were entering the lift with their hot pizza boxes or heading to their dental appointments.

Perhaps the first experience that let us know things were going to be different was when we were led to a small room behind the reception area of the birthing clinic to be admitted as an in-patient, once it had been confirmed I was officially in labour. This tiny room was where I would eventually give birth later that evening. The first thing my husband noticed was the hair all over the floor. Bless the Koreans, I love them so much, but their hygiene standards definitely are different to ours! My husband insisted that someone come in straight away to clean up all the hair on the floor as we prepared to bunker down for delivery. A cleaner appeared immediately with a wet mop, and seemed to push the (now wet) hairs around rather than actually clean them up. Sigh. But it was going to have to do.

The midwives were lovely and spoke a couple or words of English; enough to communicate the main substance of what needed to be said – mostly. I’d been told previously that it wasn’t part of standard Korean procedure to put the baby on the mother’s chest straight after delivery and that I would need to ask specifically for this to happen. After asking, the midwife went off to ask someone if that would be possible and she came back saying it should be OK. As labour progressed I was cursing and wishing I’d spent more time attending Korean language classes so I could communicate better or at least understand what was being said around me, as the situation started heating up and our baby started descending down the birth canal.

Given that it was our second baby, things went very fast and before I knew it I was 10 cm dilated and the obstetrician was being ushered in quickly, all sterile birthing equipment was brought in quickly and I was being asked to push. Within minutes (of extreme pain!) our beautiful second baby boy was born. After my husband cut the umbilical cord I was allowed to hold our little Lio briefly. But within two minutes he was whisked away off to the nursery for testing and the standard Korean procedure for many birthing clinics: 4 hours in a 37 degree Celsius incubator. Even if the birth has gone smoothly and there is no reason to suspect any issues, all babies are required to spend the first four hours of their life in an incubator. We couldn’t quite understand the point of this (that language barrier again), and we were told they would bring our baby to our room at midnight (he was born at 8PM). Given that I’d only seen him for 2 minutes, I couldn’t bear the thought of not seeing him for four hours. And it felt wrong for him to be in an incubator by himself when he’d been snug in my womb for nine months. We were allowed to look at him through the glass window of the nursery, and we could see him lying in the small Perspex incubator, flapping his arms and legs about and seemingly searching with his head. It broke my heart; I wanted and needed to be holding him.

We approached the nursery staff and asked them if we could take him out of the incubator, at which point we were told “no” – we could have him at midnight. My husband entered a full-blown negotiating procedure, trying to bargain his release at 10 PM. They insisted that the hospital procedure required them to keep him there for 4 hours. We walked away and discussed the situation, gradually getting more and more angry that we weren’t able to hold our precious baby. We agreed to walk back and insist we take him out; he was our baby after all! After more resistance on behalf of the nursery staff, I think they sensed I was going to explode or make a scene if they didn’t release our baby. After lots of emotional sign language back and forth, they finally agreed to let us have him within 10 minutes. The relief I felt when I could finally hold him again was huge; it even seemed like Lio breathed a big sigh of relief himself, his short, quick breathing settled down and he quickly started purring with satisfaction.

The night in the hospital was tough. After delivery we were transferred to a tiny room where we would spend the night. It had a bed, a small table, a tiny bathroom with a toilet and a shower hose next to it that you couldn’t use without drenching the entire bathroom (which was probably 1 x 1.5 m wide). It’s Korean tradition to sleep on the floor in their homes, with only a small rubber mattress under their bedding, so they’re accustomed to very hard beds. The hospital bed was a simple single bed, rock hard, with a single hard pillow, making it almost impossible to prop yourself up to breastfeed. After the pain and discomfort of labour I was in need of some deep rest, but I couldn’t find a single comfortable position on the bed to get myself into sleep at all. So I spent the night listening to our baby boy’s breathing and purring, feeding him every 2-3 hours propped up uncomfortably on my hard bed, and being interrupted every few hours by nurses coming in to check blood pressure, temperature and take blood samples. I was an exhausted wreck the following morning.

I realised the next morning that I was one of many mothers who had given birth in recent days. It was a small birthing clinic with probably only around 10 small rooms, and it seemed each room was full. The clinic was hustling and bustling with post-labour mothers walking around with their saline drips attached; it’s custom in Korea for everyone admitted into hospital to be hooked up to a drip no matter how mild their condition, so it’s a common sight to see patients walking around pushing their drip poles in front of them. It makes it really hard going to the toilet and changing clothes while being constantly attached to a drip.

Lio was taken for several tests the following morning, and we were even required to take him in the car for an appointment with an English speaking paediatrician several blocks away for more tests, given that the in-house paediatrician spoke no English (damn that language barrier again!). So we bundled him up and prepared him for his first car trip at only 12 hours old. My husband took him off to his appointment while I stayed behind and watched some of the scenes in the nursery. Given how soft, courteous and friendly the Koreans are in public life, I was surprised to see how rough the nurses were with the newborn babies. They picked them up and roughly propped them on their shoulders, pushing a bottle in their mouth if they fussed, and pulling their clothes on and off with no tenderness. To settle them they thumped the babies on their backs with what looked like considerable force.

We’d experienced this style previously when our two year old son Jack was in hospital here in Geoje with a broken leg; there was no cooing or gentle sweet-talking before the required interventions they needed to undertake. They would simply launch into a blood test or medical procedure without any of the friendly and comforting communication we’re used to from staff in western hospitals, leaving Jack with quite a bit of trauma and dislike of doctors and nurses. Hospitals here and the medical profession seem to be very business-like, with staff getting on with their jobs as fast and efficiently as possible. Efficiency seems to be the most important goal – not patient comfort.

Needless to say, we wanted to get home as fast as possible after delivering Lio, back to the comforts of our own home. In contrast to Paris where we didn’t want to leave the hospital, we couldn’t get home fast enough this time around. Fortunately our birth went smoothly and I was recovering well, so I was able to be released within 24 hours, even though I was warned that Korean insurance would not cover me for medical problems if I left before the required minimum of 48 hours. We considered it worth the risk.

So how would I summarise the Korean birthing experience? In one word – interesting. The most important thing was that the level of medical expertise was high and our baby was delivered safely and smoothly. The doctors and nurses were highly trained and knew exactly what they were doing. At the end of the day, that’s all that matters. All the rest is of secondary importance, and well – not important at all really.

We’ve had beautiful weather the past 10 days since our beautiful little boy was born, and so we’ve ventured out a few times already for a walk and a coffee, with our little man rugged up in his winter clothes. We’ve definitely shocked a few of the local Koreans, getting out and about with such a small baby. In Korean tradition, all Korean mothers should stay indoors for at least 49 days, eating only seaweed soup and rice, with the indoor heating turned up high. While the new mothers are allowed to bathe their lower half for medical reasons, they’re not allowed to shower for at least 49 days. The baby isn’t allowed out of the house for at least 100 days. So when the locals see our little less-than-two-weeks-old baby out for a walk or sleeping in the cafe while we sit and enjoy a cup of coffee, we get many surprised looks ranging from shock, disgust and disbelief to amazement and wonder. It’s definitely a big point of difference between our cultural conditioning! I find it so interesting to observe what’s considered ‘normal’ within different cultures, depending on the traditions and practices we grow up with.

So from Paris to Geoje Island, my two little boys have come into this world in completely different ways within contrasting cultural settings. It’s been fascinating to observe the way things are done so differently in different places. In closing I extend my heartfelt gratitude to our wonderful obstetrician Dr Lee at the Elle Medi clinic for his great job in delivering Lio safely into the world, and all the other staff who helped us with his smooth arrival into this strange and fascinating world. With an international start to life, I wonder what other adventures await our little boys as they grow up. Time will tell.

With love,

Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Life Coach & Career Strategist
Whispering Heart Coaching
katie@whisperingheartcoaching.com

Embrace the chaos: How to survive when life throws you a curveball

Embrace the chaos: How to survive when life throws you a curveball

“The landscape of our lives … changes by the minute. You find your balance one day and think, ‘Hooray! I have solved it’ and then five minutes later the world utterly transforms again, and you’re knocked on your ass one more time”
– Elizabeth Gilbert

Yep – that’s what happened to me recently, again. I’d just gotten into a groove with things, my little boy was at school five mornings a week, I was finally in a position to do more writing, finish some courses I’d been working on and tick off all the things on my to-do list. I could perhaps even have some down-time and just enjoy being pregnant with our little number two who’s on the way this November…  ah the curse of making so many plans with such optimism!

Because then as many of you know, our little boy Jack fell off his scooter shortly after and broke his femur bone in two – I wrote about the trauma of this horrible episode in my June blog post ‘Looking for that silver lining’. The poor little guy was promptly put into a full body cast to give his bone the best chance of recovery, which meant that he was bed-ridden and stuck in the same position for five long, whole weeks. At the age of only two and half years old, they were five looooong weeks. There were two positions he was able to lie in; either on his stomach with pillows propped under his chest, or on his back with pillows propped under his leg. And he needed us to turn him over each time he wanted to move from one side to the other. For a little toddler who loved the joy of independence – he could run around by himself, play football, fly around on his scooter, feed himself, play with whichever toys he wanted when he wanted – this sudden reversion to complete dependence on us to do everything for him again, including moving and feeding him, was a big shock to his little system and a big frustration for his young little psyche. How do you explain all of this to a toddler so that they understand what’s going on in a way that makes sense to them?

We were overwhelmed in the first week by all the support we received from our little community here in Korea. Our friends brought in home-cooked meals each night to the hospital, we had many visits from Jack’s little friends who brought along new toys, to Jack’s temporary delight. This buoyed our spirits and helped us get through that tough first week of shock and disbelief at the situation we were now confronted with. And then the long recovery period set in. Each day seemed eternal and was spent watching movies, playing with toys and gadgets, in between turning him from one side to the other. Nights were horrendous, the poor little thing couldn’t get comfortable and woke every two to three hours in discomfort from not being able to move and needing us to help ease his discomfort. My husband and I began to feel like parents with a newborn baby again, surviving in a haze of sleepless nights and stress.

My mantra became “one day at a time”. Each night I would collapse into bed and sigh with relief that we were one day closer to the end. We still received the occasional visits from friends, but as with all chronic, long-term illnesses or situations, people have to get back to their own busy lives and you’re left to wallow in your own miserable situation alone. I’ve experienced this before in life with losses; the high of friendship and support when something bad happens, and then the loneliness and desperation when everyone gets back to life while you’re still stuck with your suffocating grief, with nothing to do but endure it alone. It was just Jack and I here at home alone while my husband was at work, toughing it out together, crying and sometimes laughing together, like two mad hatters; riding the extreme emotional roller coaster that it was.

We had good days and bad days. And let’s face it, the bad days really sucked. Some days he would have an outburst of anger and frustration that could last up to an hour, desperately trying to release the negative emotion that had pent up in his little body. He would throw things and bite, hit things and scream with flailing arms and legs. The more I tried to comfort him the more angry he would get, so I would just sit next to him and cry myself, feeling completely powerless to help him, except try to explain again that he would be better soon and to let him know I was here for him. It was always a matter of letting him ride it out, express his anger and frustration, and be there for him to cuddle once he calmed down, which he always did, like a duck that’s shaken off the frustration after an angry encounter with another duck. I learned a lot from his ability to rage and rant, express the furious emotion that’s present, and then revert back to happy acceptance shortly after. Amazing.

It’s now seven weeks after the incident and he’s wearing a full leg splint now, the awful cast has been removed and his hips and other leg are now free, giving him some mobility again. His mood has improved out of sight since he’s been able to roll around on his own, crawl and even walk a little. His little face lights up with delight when he manages to stand up by himself, it makes our heart melt. He’ll be so happy when he’s able to walk again by himself.  Each week at the check-up with the surgeon we secretly hope the surgeon will say he’s ready to walk freely again. And then at the sound of “perhaps one or two more weeks” my energy drops, I cry inside, and then I muster up the energy to get through another seemingly eternal week. With any luck they’ll be able to remove the splint this week and he’ll be back to normal, with a little rehabilitation.

In the midst of all this I was unable to do any work or any of the many things I’d planned before the incident. At first I resisted this enormously, trying to squeeze in a work module while he was watching a movie, even though I would be interrupted every five minutes when he wanted a cookie, or a different toy, or just to feel my presence and not my distracted half-presence. Eventually I had to give up hopes of achieving anything and surrender to the situation. I was being asked to let go and be with what is, as hard as that is for many of us. We have to let go of the ideal goals or future we had in mind and accept the situation that’s right in front of us. The easiest days in this past seven weeks have been those where I’ve surrendered to the day ahead and embraced the chaos. There were days where I screamed into my pillows myself and beat the hell out of them in sheer anger and frustration, or where I spent half the day in tears feeling so sad and powerless to make Jack feel any better. And then there were days where we both felt peace with the situation and even had fun together, laughing at silly videos or his dad’s funny evening dancing episodes. The more we embraced the chaos, the easier things seemed to be. Perhaps that was my lesson in all of this? Don’t fight it. Surrender and go with the flow, as undesired as that flow in life may sometimes be.

As Elizabeth Gilbert wrote in her blog recently:

“My life gets the most painful when I try to set the entire mess (myself, other people, life itself) into order”.

Yep – that’s painful. Been there done that too. It sure is painful and it never works.

Is surrendering any easier? Not really. It’s tough and challenging too and frankly just sucks sometimes. But it’s also strangely liberating when we realise we can’t actually control any of this, so why bother?

As Elizabeth Gilbert says so well:

“If you can get some stuff done in the chaos sometimes, God bless you. If you can basically hold it together, propping yourself up with duct tape and glue, rock on. If you can manage to stay upright even one hour a day, you’re doing pretty great, as far as I’m concerned. And if you can be kind to the other stumbling fools around you half the time — well, that’s just heroic.”

Amen to that.

If you enjoyed this article, you can sign up here to receive email notification of new blog posts and to receive our community newsletter. I’d be honoured to have you join our tribe!

In service to helping you live your fullest and brightest life,

Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Professional Coach & Founder
Whispering Heart Coaching
katie@whisperingheartcoaching.com
Looking for the silver lining: How to find the goodness in difficult times

Looking for the silver lining: How to find the goodness in difficult times

Every once in a while when life seems to be sailing along pretty smoothly, we can get thrown a curve ball that stirs things up a little … and well, sometimes a lot. We’ve all encountered those really difficult, uncomfortable situations where we think ‘oh no… not this, not now…’. We struggle to see how we’re going to cope with the situation and start wondering what on earth we did to deserve this awful hand of cards. And if someone tries to offer us a compensatory thought such as ‘it could be worse’, or the one that can really get up my nose if I’m in the middle of one of these situations: ‘You’re exactly where you need to be’… it can really take all your willpower to not pull your hand out and slap them.

We’ve had one of these situations recently. A little over ten days ago my little two year old boy had a nasty fall from his scooter and broke his femur bone clean in two. It was nasty and super painful for the poor little guy. We rushed him to emergency at the nearest hospital here in Geoje, South Korea, where after a fast set of X-rays the doctors determined they needed to undergo a rapid procedure to put his leg in a traction device to stretch the leg and pull the contracted muscles back out, to give the leg the best chance of re-aligning before surgery. The trouble was, we couldn’t communicate with the doctors given that our Korean is really very poor and their English not so good either. Before our eyes they started pulling out all kinds of horrid looking tools and equipment, including a hand drill that they proceeded to use to push a metal pin through Jack’s knee. As I was jumping up and down in panic and yelling ‘anaesthetic!, anaesthetic!’, our poor boy was screaming in pain and asking me to stop it, as the doctors pushed on with the procedure, nodding their heads giving some kind of indication that the drill they were using somehow contained anaesthetic and would numb the pain.

After placing about 5 kg of weight onto the end of the traction device that was pulling his leg from the knee, we were ushered back to a waiting bay, where we were told that we would have to stay in hospital overnight, and probably for weeks. Weeks! For some strange reason I’d thought they would fix us up and just send us home. At this point our poor little boy was in raging pain, with the enormous weight pulling on his fragile and broken leg, while a doctor mentioned something in jilted English about surgery the next day. We had no idea what the surgery was for and if it was necessary, or what on earth our options were to help our little boy. Fortunately we were able to call in a translator from my husband’s work who was able to converse with the doctors and explain everything to us in detail. What a relief, that someone was taking the time to slow down and explain the whole rationale behind our hospitalisation, the surgery that would follow, why it was necessary and how he would recover from here on in. They explained they would send his X-rays away to get a second opinion on the treatment options. Phew. He was going to be OK.

That night as poor Jack lay in his horrendous traction device resembling something out of a middle age torture chamber, he struggled to find any comfort and every small movement he made sent shudders of pain through his body that made him scream in agony. We were fortunate that the lovely old Korean lady in our shared room was very understanding and tried to comfort us in her sweet way as she made her way to empty her bedpan several times that night. Neither Jack nor I slept a wink due to his pain. It was one of the most awful things I’ve experienced and broke my heart to see him hurting so terribly and to be so powerless to do anything about it, except give him the occasional shot of paracetamol and stroke his head telling him he would be OK.

Fortunately his surgery went well and things started improving. His hips, legs and one foot were completely enclosed in a full cast to avoid any movement in the thigh area. We were moved to a lovely room and we began the week of waiting, going off for X-rays, taking blood samples, chatting to doctors and nurses in broken English, waiting, waiting and more waiting. It was during this time the reality of the situation started to sink in. Jack would be in a cast and house-bound for 4-6 weeks. He would have to lie in the same position for that entire time. For an incredibly active young boy who loves nothing more than being outside and playing, running around, riding his scooter, playing football with his dad, this was going to be tough. This was the ultimate challenge on so many levels. How were we going to get through this? How was he going to cope with this situation? How were we going to entertain him and keep him stimulated six weeks long while he lies on his back? How was I ever going to get any free time to work?

As the dust started to settle from the initial shock of the situation and his healing process was progressing, I started to see the silver lining. Jack would recover from this; we had been told he should make a full recovery. Suddenly my heart went out to all those parents of children who are suffering from terminal illnesses. I felt the deep grief of their situation, the despair that must penetrate every waking moment of their lives. Suddenly our discomfort seemed irrelevant and I felt an enormous wave of gratitude that our son was healthy and happy and would get through this.

Since then we’ve made a conscious decision to see the positives of our situation, taking one day at a time. We’ve relaxed into a space of acceptance and gratitude that sure, while this is challenging, it is also temporary and like all uncomfortable things, ‘this too shall pass’. The silver lining is becoming more and more apparent. This is an amazing opportunity to bond with our little man. Jack hasn’t had so many kisses and cuddles, skin to skin contact, one-on-one attention and dedicated play time as he has this past week. I’ve never had the opportunity to spend every waking moment and such quality time with him as I have had since the accident. I’d never noticed such minute details in his face, hands and feet before. Usually we’re rushing to get to school, playing with friends after school, getting ready for dinner, getting ready for bed. While he usually gets kisses and cuddles, love and attention aplenty, this is different. I actually know I will look back on this time fondly as a beautiful time where we had the amazing opportunity to be next to each other all day long, simply enjoying each others’ presence. He’s had so many visits and help from caring friends that have made us realise how lucky we are and what a lovely community we have here. I’m even managing to get some work done while he watches a movie.

We all know the quote about the glass being half empty or half full. When we choose to see it half full, when we choose to see the benefits of a situation, it’s as though we’re changing our reality simply through the way we’re choosing to see it. The more I’ve focused on seeing the positives, the more positives I seem to be seeing. I’ve been amazed at the ease at which we’ve been able to adapt to this situation, simply through holding an attitude of gratitude and optimism. Is it really true we can influence our reality by changing the lens through which we choose to view it? Maybe. Maybe I’m just having a good couple of days. Perhaps in two weeks time I’ll be tearing my hair out and swearing and ranting and raving.

Maybe then I’ll have to come back to this blog and remind myself to look for that silver lining again.

If you enjoyed this article, you can sign up here to receive email notification of new blog posts and to receive our community newsletter. I’d be honoured to have you join our tribe!

In service to helping you live your fullest and brightest life,

Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Professional Coach & Founder
Whispering Heart Coaching
katie@whisperingheartcoaching.com
Fate or coincidence? Reflections on the random or not so random nature of life

Fate or coincidence? Reflections on the random or not so random nature of life

I’m currently in the process of writing my story — my life journey so far — as a way to process my thoughts and feelings, to further heal and integrate myself and to put my journey in perspective for myself (and perhaps others down the track). For many years I felt a lot of pain about certain aspects of my life, the way certain things had unfolded and how many things had happened, or not happened. And somehow writing it down helps me see things from an entirely different perspective, and to feel that there is perhaps a benevolent reason for all the things have happened along the way, and that everything has led me exactly to where I’m supposed to be — right here, right now. I’ve recently been writing about a time in my life when I was 23 years old and at University finishing my year-long Honours research project. Writing about this part of my life got me thinking and pondering the random or not so random nature of life.

Have you ever had one of those moments in life where one minute you’re moving along in a certain direction, thinking you know where you’re headed and what you’re working towards, and then boom! Suddenly something comes out of left field and not only changes your direction, but changes the entire course of your life? And afterwards you’re left thinking “Wow?!” Imagine if that certain event or interaction hadn’t happened? Where would I be now? Out of the infinite different possibilities and paths that my life can follow, how did I end up on this particular one and was it coincidence? A random accident? Or the hand of something larger than ourselves forcing our life onto a path it is meant to follow?

I had one of these moments in 1998. It changed the course of my life forever. It went like this:

I was working in my lab one afternoon, finishing some experiments that I desperately needed to finish in order to finish writing my Honours thesis, when a guy knocked on the door and said his name was Mark, and asked if I was Katie. He’d heard about me through one of his lecturers, who happened to be one of my supervisors. When I said yes that was me, he said he was finishing his mineral science degree and had just returned from Reno in the U.S.A, where he had been doing work experience for a big company who was doing exactly the kind of research that my Honours research was about. He said “You’re working on bioleaching right?” (a biological process for breaking down minerals to free up the precious metals for those who are interested!). When I confirmed that yes I indeed was, he said that this company was looking for graduates with specific experience in bioleaching, and that I should ring this lady to see if I could apply for one of the roles. He gave me the number of the lady I should call, wished me good luck, gave me the names of a few people to meet up with when I got there (if I got the job), and then said he had to go and left. I never saw him again!

The opportunity sounded super exciting — who wouldn’t want to be paid to move to the United States straight after Uni for a great job? I spoke with the lady he recommended, and the next thing I had a job offer in my hands. This was October 1998, and I was being offered a job with the company starting in November. At the time I was in a destructive relationship that had been on and off for at least four years, which I’d tried leaving several times but without success (we loved each other but you know how these first loves can be, we also hurt each other a lot). Life had been hell for at least a couple of years as I struggled with this relationship while juggling the incredible demands of my full-time studies, two part-time jobs, my parents’ divorce and a hefty social life. This was my opportunity to start anew, to get great experience and to travel to amazing places I had only dreamed of. So I said yes!

That decision changed the course of my life forever. While in Reno I had an amazing time, worked hard, partied a lot, learned to snowboard, made amazing lifelong friends. And I met my husband Bas with whom I now have two beautiful children. Bas is from Holland and so we spent many years living and working in The Netherlands. I learned to speak fluent Dutch, I worked as a consultant with a Dutch company for many years, we lived and partied in Amsterdam and other cities in Holland, and I’ve inherited my beautiful Dutch family-in-law and have some amazing Dutch friends. That one visit from ‘Mark’ in the lab that afternoon in Perth, Australia changed the entire course of my life, with a unique set of ups and downs, good times and dark times to follow; all that have shaped and molded the person I am today.

I’ve since often wondered who was this guy Mark? I don’t even remember his last name so I wouldn’t be able to look him up and to tell him how much his short visit changed my life. I’m not able to thank him for the incredible impact he had on my life direction. And sometimes I even wonder if he was real? Since I’ve never been able to find him again, was he some kind of angel, sent to get my life on the path it needed to be? It seems too surreal and impactful to be ‘random’ or ‘coincidental’. What if he’d decided not to drop past my lab to tell me this company was hiring? What path would my life have taken then if I hadn’t rung them about the job? Was it coincidence? Or divine intervention? I really don’t know the answer to this. But something deep within me believes it was meant to be, that perhaps it’s not so random. All the good — the really good & beautiful — plus the bad, the ugly and heart-breaking that followed as a result of me taking that specific life path, all seem to have been perfectly designed to get me to right where I am now — warts, miracles and all.

Have you had a moment like that that’s changed the course of your life forever?
What’s your verdict? Is it random? Coincidental? Or not so random at all….?

In service to helping you live your fullest and brightest life,

Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Life Coach & Career Strategist
Whispering Heart Coaching
katie@whisperingheartcoaching.com
Authentically Me: My journey of coming home to myself

Authentically Me: My journey of coming home to myself

What does it mean to be authentically oneself?

This question has fascinated me since I had a recent epiphany on this very topic. I realised suddenly that so many years of struggle and pain I had endured were because I had been living an inauthentic life. It was Katherine Woodward Thomas who came up with these words during one of her coaching calls and they were a true ‘ah-ha!’ moment for me. It’s not that I hadn’t known this before, that I had been living in a way that was inauthentic to my heart’s desires, but more that I could finally name it and see clearly in how many ways I had been inauthentic to my heart and soul throughout the course of my life.

I have since been on a rampant search for my own true, authentic voice. Who am I really? What do I really want? What does it mean for me to be authentic?

We receive so many messages when we’re young. So many messages that are not necessarily true for us, yet we take them on as if they are, because who are we to know? We’re young and parents and teachers know better, they’ve experienced the world. Of course, the messages we receive are radically different depending on our cultural background, our gender, our parents’ social class etc. And how we react to them also depends on our own individual personality. In my case, a middle class white family in suburban Australia, I received messages like: You’re a good girl if you do this, you’ll get far if you do this, you have to work hard and struggle to get anywhere but it’s worth it, success takes sacrifice, education is the most important thing in the world, particularly science & engineering as those fields will always have jobs, corporate careers are the way to make money, we have to sacrifice what we love to do what is best, financial security is paramount, creative talents are for hobbies, not a real career, there is no money in the arts, humanities studies are not real studies, you will never make money as a linguist, you are loved and valued for what you can achieve… . As an impressionable young girl, desperately wanting my parents’ love and approval, I took these messages seriously.

I ignored the whisperings of my heart, telling me…

You love writing, you love languages, you love creative expression, you love people, community and connection, you love stories, you love dancing. Because the messages I received allowed no room for these whispers. They simply didn’t fit in my world of parental expectations. I was fortunate that I did not ignore every whispering I received from my heart. I’m blessed with quite a stubborn, rebellious and adventurous spirit that urged me to spend 12 months in rural Paraguay (South America) as a cultural exchange student, which was a life altering and heart-opening experience, and to take 12 months off university after my second year to backpack and work my way around Europe. I learned the art of living off the lowest wages, of doing any job that came up to cover the next train ticket, of feeling at home in all kinds of squalid accommodation, befriending people from all walks of life and all different countries and lifestyles. Each of these experiences cracked me open in some delightful way, allowed the light to flow into my heart and reach the furthest corners where my true essence was lying there waiting for me to tap into it. I discovered my love for people of all cultures, all races, all backgrounds, a deep compassion for those born and raised into poverty and difficult circumstances, a deep compassion for the planet and all the damage we are inflicting upon it, a deep joy of connecting with other human beings and listening to their stories.

But somehow the childhood messages were deeply ingrained.

I remember the exact moment at which I made the decision to ‘sacrifice’ my heart’s joy for the noble good of earning a decent living and setting up a financially secure future. I was sitting in a plane on the way back from Argentina, having travelled there over the university holidays on money earned from working three part time jobs (yes I had a tendency to burn the candle at both ends), and savouring the delicious experience I had just had. My heart opens in an indescribable way in South America, there’s something about the way they value family, fun, community and dancing above all else, and live a seemingly uncomplicated and joyful life. At that moment I was on my way back to finish my final year of university, which I knew would be tough, and I knew I would have to do post graduate degrees after the basic degree to find a good job in my particular field. If I’d had the courage to put aside my childhood conditioning when deciding what to study at university, I would have chosen to study languages without a doubt. Learning and speaking other languages brings me so much joy, I absorb them quickly and easily, with almost no effort. Wouldn’t that be a sign of your heart’s purpose, if something is so joyful and effortless?

But my childhood conditioning and parent’s advice urged me to pursue a career in science & engineering, given the increased job opportunities I would have. In that moment sitting in the plane, coming back from my overseas holiday, I knew the fun times were over. From now on it would be hard work, sacrifice, and time to build that much coveted financially secure future…. my heart sank and I knew I was making a choice that was perhaps not authentically me. But what choice did I have? A financially insecure future was no option in my mind of beliefs. I knew that a secure future would require sacrifice, hard work, sweat and tears, right?

And so I embarked on the journey of being an inauthentic version of myself

…seeking financial security, job opportunities and deep down, my parent’s approval. I knuckled down and finished my degree with Honours, then on to completing my Doctorate (self sacrifice is honourable right? And we’re seen and loved for our achievements right?). This is where I started unravelling at the seams. While I was passionate about my chosen field, the whole field was simply not in my zone of genius. I’m a creative soul, a linguist, a humanitarian. So why on earth was I doing science & engineering? The work was tough and difficult, I had to work long hours to keep up with the demands, it didn’t come naturally to me yet I was determined to do well. There was no room for failure. My health plummeted; I was drained, depleted and completely exhausted. Yet I had to achieve and do well, after all that was how I would be seen and loved. I was chasing that elusive abundant financial future and job security. I was chasing love and approval.

Childhood conditioning runs deep.

As I moved from university into the corporate world, I was finally able to enjoy my first decent income. So it was all worth it right? I had a great permanent work contract with a great company, I had interesting and challenging projects. I’d made it. I was secure. I consistently ignored the signs of my inner wisdom. I over-rode them. I was getting more and more tired, my brain was becoming foggy, my attention span was dwindling. I was tired, always tired. Physical symptoms started manifesting, indigestion problems, sleep problems, and finally an acute over-active thyroid that caused me insomnia and a loss of 10 kg within one month. You would thinkthis sign would get my attention that something in my current life was not right, right? Well, not really.

I read Louise Hay’s book on the spiritual causes of physical illnesses. The spiritual cause behind an over-active thyroid was ‘when would it be my turn?’ This was absolutely what I was thinking. When I looked around me, I saw all my friends enjoying life, with active social lives, budding careers, travelling, starting families. While I was stuck in pursuing a difficult career that had wonderful career prospects and financial security, but with my physical body that was falling apart and a mind that was in torture but had no idea how to escape it. There was no room for changing my career path. I had invested so much in this path, I’d given everything, my blood, sweat and tears — literally. My partner and I had bought a house and we were financially stuck. We needed my income. There was no room to take time out. I hadn’t earned enough sick leave at this early stage of my career to take time off. I had chosen this path and I had to make it work.

As ways to survive I delved into yoga and meditation that helped tremendously. I read spiritual teachings, hoping to discover my true life purpose and how to live it. I rested as much as I could. I got help through acupuncture and bio-resonance to alleviate my physical symptoms. I maintained a semi-decent social life. On the surface things looked pretty good. My career was flourishing, I had been invited to be a Shareholder of my company and I was holding down senior management positions. I was facilitating workshops, attending conferences and presenting well received papers. This was everything I had always wanted, wasn’t it? So why was I still always so tired? And why did I feel so empty? Something was missing. Something big was missing. I wasn’t getting my gifts into the world. I didn’t feel as though I was making an impact, my soul was under-fed and under-nourished in every possible way.

And at a deep soul level I was simply exhausted.

I believe the Universe never stops giving us gentle nudges in the direction we need to be going to live our purpose. I had ignored my gentle nudges for so long that they were eventually turning into sledgehammers. The final wakeup call came when my husband and I wanted to start our family. We went through two devastating miscarriages within a 12 month period. For the first time in my life I actually thought I could no longer go on. I entertained thoughts of leaving this world. Nothing could explain the deep, gut-wrenching pain and sadness I experienced every waking moment. I had always wanted to be a mother. I couldn’t understand why the Universe was making me endure this, after all the suffering I had been through continuously since my early twenties, with the constant fatigue and physical symptoms, why this on top of that? Hadn’t I suffered enough?

But fortunately, the Universe knows the game plan. Somehow it knew that this was the only way to wake me up from the deep illusion I had dug myself into.

It didn’t work after one miscarriage. I went straight back to work and into the same old routines and behaviours as before. Over-doing everything. Over-achieving in everything, as a way to prove my worth and that I was good enough. It took a second miscarriage to shake me up sufficiently such that I would walk into the office the next day and request 3 months off work. I handed over my job and went home to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. For the first time in my life, I was choosing for me and my needs. What an amazing feeling. At the age of 35 I realised I had never done this before, put my own needs first, I had always been trying to please others, live up to others’ expectations of me. It was during this time, away from the grind of corporate office life, sipping coffee at the beach one morning, that I had an epiphany.

I had a choice.

I could continue this life of chasing love and approval through things that do not feed me spiritually and emotionally. Or I could choose to leave that life behind and find the path that is authentically me.

I didn’t take this decision lightly, given how much I had invested in my career to date, but once the thought had entered my head that there was another way, there was no going back. It felt like a tonne of bricks had been lifted from my shoulders. It felt like the light was seeping in under the veil of illusion that had kept me separated from my authentic self. I felt my heart fill with joy. It felt like the Angels were rejoicing and celebrating that I had finally heeded their call.

It’s been two and a half years since I left my corporate career and finally became a mother, to our absolute delight. We were given the amazing opportunity to embark on overseas postings through my husband’s work, which has given me time and space to dig deep and discover my true passion and calling (does the Universe suddenly support us in every way after we’ve woken up to the call to find our authentic self?). After much reflection I decided to study remotely to become a Life Coach and to focus on writing. Through coaching I am finally following my heart’s passion, connecting with people, listening to their stories, helping them find their own authentic self. I cannot explain the synchronicity that has followed me since I made the decision to be true to my heart and soul, doors opening at exactly the right time, my health improving out of sight, my energy levels soaring, meeting the right people at the right time, being guided to the right books, the right teachers and the right clients at the right time.

I cannot explain the synchronicity that has followed me since I made the decision to be true to my heart and soul

… doors opening at exactly the right time, my health improving out of sight, my energy levels soaring, meeting the right people at the right time, being guided to the right books, the right teachers and the right clients at the right time.

How did my friends and family react to my decision to leave my old career behind and follow my heart? Initially with shock and disbelief (I had many people openly laugh at my decision), followed by understanding and compassion, and these days with admiration and respect. People are realising more and more that the only path to real, authentic joy, is to be our real, authentic selves. There is something that happens when we dare to connect with what is authentic and true in our own heart. In my case, I feel like I’m finally tapping into the Universal power, opportunities miraculously open up, synchronicities abound, I feel I am flowing with the river instead of swimming upstream and I feel a deep sense of relief, joy and clarity that I had never felt before. I wake up excited about the new day ahead and uplifted by the positive contribution I can make through my own unique gifts and talents.

To me, this is what it means to be authentic. My heart and soul feel alive and connected to all of humanity, I feel aligned, I feel infinite gratitude and deep inner happiness, and most importantly, I finally feel free. I don’t believe there can be anything more beautiful than being able to joyfully serve others, in a way that feels authentic to our hearts. I think we pay a high price for being inauthentic.

It’s as though the Universe is programmed to increase our pain and struggle exponentially the further we get away from our true, authentic self.

So I wonder, how do we help each other to find our own authentic selves? In their hearts our parents had the very best intentions for us as children. It isn’t their fault they embedded messages into our belief systems that encouraged us into directions that may not be our authentic path to follow. They grew up in difficult times when financial security was the only thing that mattered. It was still about survival, not self-actualisation. And I don’t want to paint a bad picture of my parents; they were very loving, very supportive and simply wanted the best future for us. I wonder how many of their generation and all the thousands of generations before were able to be their authentic selves? How many people actually had a choice? I dare to think not many. The fortunate few who were able to be authentic to their heart and soul were the lucky minority. We are so fortunate that we’re now entering a time of prosperity, of increased choices and opportunities to explore deeply how we can earn a living doing what we do well and what we love. Times have changed.

I am now 100% committed to helping others find their own authentic voice. I am passionate about helping people experience that degree of freedom and joy that comes when we take the time to slow down and listen to those whispers in our heart that lead us back to our authentic self. It has to be acknowledged that the path of our authentic self is not always easy. We are still challenged with many things we need to learn along the way, it can be difficult creating a secure financial base and livelihood from doing what we love. It takes courage to escape the confines of our secure jobs that provide for all of our needs except perhaps our spiritual and emotional ones. We have responsibilities in life and commitments, it is not always possible to take that leap of faith when we want to. But I do truly believe that once we make the commitment to find our authentic self and to courageously take steps in that direction, we suddenly find unlimited support and opportunities opening up to help us, the support of the Universe is suddenly up underneath us and limitations we thought we had dissolve or go away. Miraculous things can happen when we decide to ‘go for it’, all the way. Just as it seems pain and struggle increase the further away we get from our authentic selves, in reverse, joy and ease seem to increase the closer we get to being our authentic selves.

So what would I recommend we do in our quest for finding and being our authentic self?

Number one, we need to listen to our hearts. Stop, slow down, take time out, get quiet, and listen. I know we lead busy lives, I know we think there isn’t always time. But once we make the commitment to be true to ourselves, we find we can make time, and suddenly and miraculously we find our access to time increases. The whisperings are there in our heart, just waiting to be heard. We need to ask ourselves, what do I love doing? What kind of person do I love being? Within those things we love doing lie hidden the treasures of our own specific, unique gifts that we uniquely have to bless the world. The world desperately needs our specific gifts because no one else can give them except us. If we don’t nurture and contribute them in service, we and the world will have missed out on our biggest blessing and the Universe will mourn that loss. The heart cannot give false advice, it always leads to growth and expansion, to service in joy and a profound blessing to our soul and the world. So we just need to get quiet and listen.

Of course we encounter obstacles along the way, those false nagging beliefs that tell us we can’t do that, or we’re not good enough to do this… we are all slaves to our internal beliefs. But these beliefs can be overcome through gentle and deep belief work that remove the obstacles we have created in our minds. We might come up against unforeseen challenges that make us feel we’re on the wrong path after all. However I believe the Universe continues to provide us the challenges we need to grow, strengthen and evolve the skills we need to be doing the work we want to do. Being authentic requires growth and expansion, healing and love. It is not a journey for the faint-hearted, but it is one that is guaranteed to bring us back to our soul, where all that is joyful and wonderful in this life resides.

If you feel lost and need help uncovering your most authentic and joyful path and purpose, download your FREE copy of my E-Book PATHFINDING: HOW TO FIND AND START LIVING YOUR UNIQUE CALLING and start taking steps to build a life you love today. Live a life of no regrets! Time is short, don’t waste another day – you CAN make a difference and earn great money, doing what you love. Find out how in my E-Book, and until next time, lots of love.

In service to helping you live your fullest and brightest life!
Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Personal & Professional Freedom Mentor
katie@katiedejong.com