I remember the moment so clearly.
I was sitting on the terrace of a beautiful outdoor cafe in a leafy green suburb right on the beach. The warm sun was gently caressing my shoulders and there was a gentle breeze in the air. I’d 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, which is what I gathered 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’d 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 the 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? 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.
You can read my full story in What does it mean to be true to yourself? My journey of finding my true voice and path.
In service to helping you live your fullest and brightest life,
Katie De Jong, Ph.D
Global Career Coach for Thriving Professionals
Inspired Careers International