This article was first published in Positively Positive in June 2018.
“Everything is unfolding exactly as it should. You’re exactly where you’re meant to be.”
That’s what several well-intentioned people said to me (or words to that effect) when I was in the middle of my ‘dark night of the soul’, more than seven years ago. And those words enraged me. Because it felt like nothing was going as it should. How was I ‘meant’ to be so miserable? Why did my life feel so difficult and heavy? This was not how I had ever imagined my life to be. Very far from it.
How and when did everything go so wrong?
But, of course, I see now that it was unfolding exactly as it should. I was exactly where I was meant to be, as impossible as that seemed at the time. Because if it hadn’t been for that period of my life, I wouldn’t have undergone the necessary metamorphosis that changed my life for the better. My body had been trying to tell me for years, via chronic illness and fatigue, that I was on the wrong path. But I wouldn’t listen. The more I ignored the signs, the louder they became. It finally took a sledgehammer of painful personal experiences to wake me up to the truth of what needed to be done (you can read more about my rude awakening here). Following my ‘moment of truth’, as I call it, I knew that I had to quit my career of almost 15 years as a Consulting Engineer. It wasn’t easy walking into my manager’s office to tell him that I was leaving. No one could fathom why I was making this drastic decision. I’d invested enormous amounts of time, energy, emotion, sweat, and tears into my career from the age of 18. I’d finally built up an admirable reputation that established me as an authority in my field.
On the outside looking in, I seemed ‘successful’ and happy. But on the inside I was dying, and I couldn’t understand why.
I wished I could be like my colleagues who seemed content with their professional life. I was never content; always searching for a new role, or a new project, that would allow me to finally feel the fulfillment and satisfaction I was seeking. But it got to the point where I knew in my heart that no amount of tweaking of my current professional career would get me whatever it was I was looking for.
Quitting was the only option if I was going to recover my health, my well-being, and my sanity.
Following my departure from the corporate world, I went through a long identity crisis as I tried to uncover who I really was, peeling back back the layers of my ego that had been heavily invested in being ‘an engineer’ and ‘an important professional woman’. Who was I if I wasn’t those things? I enrolled in every single course that crossed my path on ‘how to find your purpose’ and spent hours in therapy, trying to understand how I’d strayed so far from my true self and what to do about it. At times I wondered if I would ever figure it all out. I felt completely lost and confused. A turning point came during Jean Houston’s visionary program ‘Living Your Destiny’. We were asked to look at our lives through the lens of The Hero’s Journey. It was the first time I considered that perhaps there was meaning in my journey and my suffering. I came to the powerful realisation that:
Our lives are not random. There’s a purpose for each & every situation if you choose to find it.
When you take the time to stand back and look at the bigger picture of your life, you see a beautiful tapestry of purpose and meaning, woven together by all the different threads of your life experiences. It’s our job to pay attention to the different threads weaving through our lives and to try to understand the larger tapestry that is emerging. And just as there can be no light without the darkness, each and every difficult situation and each emotional wound we experience on our path is necessary to bring out the contrast and texture of the final picture. My decade-long set of struggles had been necessary preparation for the work I was ‘meant’ to do. Given that my biggest wound had been the struggle to feel happy and aligned in my professional path, I felt that it was my mission to become a ‘Purpose Coach’, helping people find their path and purpose so they can love their professional life and thrive. It felt right in my heart. And so I took the leap of faith to set up my coaching business. And for the first couple of years, it was great. I developed a process to help people find their purpose, which I trialed on several different clients with great success. The positive testimonials started to build and it felt great to be doing my thing and earning money on my own terms. I was ‘living my dream’.
Until everything started to feel really hard again.
Over the past year, I’ve had days where I’ve just wanted to give up. I’ve wondered whether I’m really cut out to be an entrepreneur. Maybe I should just go back and ‘get a real job’ again? Maybe I wasn’t meant to do this after all? I mean, I knew my new path wouldn’t be easy. But I never expected it to be this hard. I was really struggling to make it work. I wasn’t “thriving and making a difference doing work I love” – the rally cry in all my personal branding and marketing. I wasn’t making anywhere near the amount of money that I was preaching to others was possible. Plus, I still didn’t even know my who my specific niche was. Every time someone asked me “Who’s your ideal client?”, I struggled to spit out a coherent, succinct answer. And as all business owners know, if you can’t get clear on who you’re meant to serve, you’re going to struggle in business. And I was. Big time.
Talk about feeling like a fraud.
But now, once again, I find myself marveling at the miracle of how everything unfolds exactly as it should. I had been intensely resisting the struggles in my business, feeling like “I should have it all figured out by now”. I was pushing, forcing, and getting increasingly angry that I didn’t have it all down to a fine art after three years in business. It got to the point where I got down on my knees and I prayed:
“OK Universe, if I’m meant to be doing this, I need some guidance. Please help me.”
Soon after, the guidance came. In a moment of frustration, I had stepped away from my computer to go and lie outside in the sun. As I lay there on our outdoor lounge, a series of events flooded my memory in rapid succession.
- I’m 15 years old and I’m in our Science classroom, peering into the fridge to look at the agar plates that we’ve inoculated with mold from an old, decaying orange. Penicillin mold has started to grow and I’m amazed that someone once figured out that this mold could save the lives of millions of people worldwide as an antibiotic. How cool that you can discover something that saves so many lives?
- I’m 17 years old, standing on the banks of the Rio Parana in Paraguay, South America, as an exchange student all the way from Australia. Upstream, a large concrete factory is pumping its waste into the river while downstream, my friends and host-family are washing and bathing. I stare in horror as I watch the plumes of toxic waste flow right into the bay where everyone is bathing. I’m outraged and think to myself, “One day I’m going to do something about this.”
- I’m 23 years old and I’m working as a Research Scientist with a big mining company on a biological mining process that has the potential to be way more environmentally friendly than traditional methods. But despite our best efforts, the economics don’t stack up. I feel frustrated and disheartened that our economic system doesn’t have a way to quantify the damage we cause to nature. Why can’t we see the long-term damage we’re doing for short-term profit?
- I’m working part-time on a project in Indonesia with Engineers Without Borders to provide clean water to a large community in northeastern Bali. I feel such joy and satisfaction when after four long years we finally celebrate the completion of our successful project through close collaboration with the local people. This is what makes my heart sing.
- I’m 34 and I’m a Consulting Water Engineer. I’m giving a presentation to the Executives of a large Water Utility about how we can better plan our water treatment systems to be more sustainable. One manager makes an off-hand comment about how I’m simply trying to ‘win work’ for my company, and they decline to consider the ideas in our Strategic Plan. Again I feel utterly disheartened. Why don’t they seem to care about doing the right thing?
- I’m in my mid-thirties I walk away from my career as a Consulting Engineer because I’m tired of banging my head against a brick wall. I have an inextinguishable fire in my belly to make a positive difference in the world. But I feel utterly impotent and powerless. And I’m exhausted and unwell.
As these memories flooded my awareness, one after another, I realised that so much frustration in my life had been because I desperately wanted to make a positive difference. But it had gotten to the point where I realised that I had a lot of work to do on myself first, before I’d be able to create any kind of lasting change in the outside world. I was a mess and I needed to sort myself out. Suddenly the clarity popped.
I am a Changemaker.
And I’m here to serve Heart-Centered Changemakers.
There it is. So simple. Yet, to me, so powerful. This clarity has been the catalyst that’s allowed everything in my business to start flowing again, because I finally know who specifically I am here to serve. I’m here to help heart-centered changemakers find and walk their true path. How had I been missing this critical piece? This thread of my life had been so foundational in so many of my life experiences. Why hadn’t I claimed it until now? Once again, life had a larger game plan. There were things that I needed to experience and learn, through contrast and challenge, in order to prepare me for my work as an effective ‘Changemaker’. Without the struggle and challenge, I wouldn’t have reached the level of clarity and inner knowing that I now have.
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.” – Eckhart Tolle
This past year has been another powerful lesson for me in trusting that everything is always unfolding exactly as it should.
It’s a simple change in perspective, but it makes the difference between flowing contentedly with the rhythms of life or suffering.
Life situations only become a ‘struggle’ when we resist what’s happening.
If you’re struggling, try letting go and trusting that, indeed:
Everything is unfolding exactly as it should. And you are always exactly where you’re meant to be.
Please comment below to let me know if you’ve had similar experiences. And can you see how the threads of your life, including the difficult and dark times, weave into a larger tapestry of purpose and meaning? I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re needing help, these resources may help you:
Do you need help seeing the bigger picture or purpose in your struggles? Read here to find out more.
Are you a Changemaker? Check out my 10 Rules for Heart-Centered Changemakers.
Do you need help finding your unique path and purpose? Click here to find out how.
In service to helping you live your brightest life,
Kate De Jong, Ph.D
Global Career Coach for Thriving Professionals
Inspired Careers International