I had the honor of doing my first group motivational talk about a month ago. It was both a culmination and a dawning in my quest for my true identity and passion. Culmination because it marked the end of a journey that began six months ago when I finally took the plunge from the known into the unknown, murky world of self-employment. A new dawn because I was now doing what I truly desired, what made me who I am, a true realization of my identity.
When I first asked myself who I truly was three years ago, my identity was mired in my titles, material possessions and relationships. Most of us will tend to define ourselves based on the people and things around us and not who we really are when everything is stripped away. I was no different and I found myself frustrated by the feeling of worthlessness despite having a pretty decent life. As I started to peel away the masks that I had hidden behind for decades, I slowly started to realize my true vision. Interestingly it was something that I had always spoken about as a small child – to be a teacher. To shape behavior. To influence. To transform lives through imparting knowledge.
For me, the greatest feeling is guiding someone in peeling away the layers and masks to rediscover what truly makes them tick. What makes them happy. The light inside of each of us which will not be extinguished easily though we go to great lengths to keep it suppressed and possibly, forgotten.
Exactly one month ago I embarked on The Fulfillment challenge where my aim was to express gratitude for all that I have as well as to demonstrate that life fulfillment is found in the things we already have. To be honest, when I started I knew that it would obviously impact my life positively but nothing could have prepared me for the literal turnaround these past 30 days have had in my life.
You see, since my new beginning late last year, where I went out in search of fresh challenges, I had not really settled down or made much peace with where I now was in life. I’m a doer and resting on my laurels quite literally threatened to drive me insane. This challenge turned out to be tougher than I imagined, not only because it was public (I was being held accountable by all of you) but also because some days were really tough and I still had to show up.
It has been a while since my last post. This year has been quite the roller coaster and I was definitely in for the ride of my life. And what a ride it’s been! I have made some huge decisions in the last few months, but looking back at the last decade of my life, every single thing that happened was building up to this exact moment. Have you ever felt like you were on the edge of a cliff? Unsure whether to let go, fearing what lies beneath; yet knowing that you could not hold on forever? Well, that’s been me for the last two years. Petrified of change, but knowing that if I didn’t change something then I would go crazy.
A couple of days ago I was catching up with one of my former clients and she was relating how strange life is as she took stock of her achievements against what she had set out to do. What was particularly interesting was that she had met some of her goals but through channels she had vowed never to follow. What she found strange was her altered perspective on things she had previously fought and resisted so hard back then but was now embracing.
The whole thing really got me pondering about whether we are really open minded when it comes to what we want and how we hope to get it. A lot of people have an idea of what they would like to achieve this year for instance. Most have a generally solid plan on how to go about it. But what happens when your plan doesn’t go the way you expected it to? Or within the timelines you set for it?
As my first post for the year, I am featuring a guest post from a reader who requested anonymity. Her story is deeply introspective and a great testimony to inner strength. I found her story especially moving as I have realized that the greatest success stories of triumph often arise from the ashes of countless failures, disappointments and shattered dreams. As a great man once coined, Though a righteous man falls seven times, he will get up. I hope this post inspires you as it did me.
I spent the early morning hours of January 1st stumbling into the house and subsequently crying about life. It would be a normal drunk episode if the things I was saying out loud to myself didn’t sound so bloody true. There I was on the dawn of a New Year and I was exactly where I was the year before – drunk and about to go to bed before battling the worst hangover I had ever had. Hadn’t I said that this year would be quiet? Hadn’t I said 2016 would begin differently? I had. But, as these things sometimes go, I had fallen into the same old routine.
Lately I have been mulling over some of the choices we make and ultimately how they mold our future. A lot of things happened this year that seriously changed the way I viewed life and happiness in general. What seemed so important before suddenly seemed so trivial and the little things that we tend to overlook became the pivotal points of every single thing I did. More and more I found myself confronted with messages about people who had made drastic changes in their lives and chosen happiness and fulfillment over the mundane. Even my own sisters (yes all of them) have over the past 5 years or so, each made changes in their lives that can only be described as drastic but ultimately altered the courses of their lives for the better.
On a whim, I decided to seek out an old friend of mine whom I hadn’t spoken to in a while. I actually used to work with her till she did what a lot of us can only fantasize about – she chose to leave the corporate world (and all its endless politics) in favor of staying at home and taking care of her three kids. She was even interviewed on national television to speak about her experience. In addition to being a stay-at-home mum, she also runs her own small business; most importantly, she works on her own terms.
I was very interested in finding out what had driven her to make such a drastic change in her life when she seemingly “had it all.” Basically the gist of it was that her work hours had become crazy, leaving home at the crack of dawn and not returning till late at night. She basically never got to spend much time with her daughter (her only child at the time) and it really hit her how bad it had gotten when one day her daughter called her “Aunty!” You can only imagine her horror on realizing that she was no longer recognized as the mother but as the “Aunty” who appeared occasionally. It was at that point that she began to question her choices and the cost to her loved ones. Her work increasingly became unfulfilling to her as her priorities became crystal clear in her mind. She battled with indecision till one day she simply sat down and penned her resignation. At this point, her face literally lit up as she recollected how she felt after submitting her notice – a weight literally lifted off her shoulders.
Lucky for her she has a very supportive partner who had her back and she was able to walk away from the corporate world without so much as a backward glance. That however did not make her journey easy. In as much as she was confident in her decision, she found herself surrounded by people who thought she was insane to quit just to stay at home. This is when she realized that our society has little to no regard for housewives or stay-at-home mums. We are basically defined by our jobs, titles and how much money we make, the cars we drive, the neighborhoods we reside in….you get the drift. Have you ever noticed when you meet someone for the first time, right after the greeting is the ever definitive question – “So, what do you do?”
In her own words, people immediately lost interest the second she told them what she does. It didn’t help that she also got a lot of negative pressure from people close to her who did not understand her decision and she even lost some friends in the process. She had to develop a really tough skin to get through and even now she feels like she has to keep justifying her decision which felt and still feels perfectly logical to her. The biggest stereotype she had to overcome was the myth society has sold us; that being a mum just isn’t enough. It’s seemingly not enough to take care of three children and a household. Not in this day and age.
During my bed rest leading up to my maternity leave I got to realize a lot of things. Every day was a full day – taking care of the kids, my husband, the kitchen, the house in general. At the end of each day I would still feel like I needed more hours in the day. One day it suddenly dawned on me. How had I been managing all this with a full time 8-hour job not to mention at least 2 hours in traffic daily? At that point I realized that I had probably been neglecting something and it was painfully obvious what I had compromised in my daily membership to the rat race. Just looking at my son and how much he thrived in those 5 months was answer enough. I had been focusing on the wrong things, thinking that my family would just get by. How many of us (both mums and dads) have relegated the role of parenting to the nanny and the teachers? Who do you think is the biggest casualty of the choices you have made to put your career first? At the very least, stop living in denial; wake up and smell the coffee.
As we winded up our catch up date, I told my friend that she was my inspiration. She was visibly shocked by this; I suppose she never expected anyone to think of her as inspiring. She had simply made a decision for the good of her family and learnt to live with the criticism that came with it. I told her that she had done what many of us long to do and genuinely wish we had the luxury to do. She is viewed as a pariah simply because she went against the norm falsely defined by a judgmental society. Because she was brave where we are weak. Because she knew she could choose, and made the choice. While we are still hiding behind masks showing the world how happy we are yet behind those same masks lie disillusioned dead hearts just existing. Not living. Desperately unhappy and on the verge of depression, but unwilling to show the world how our choices have failed us. Since we genuinely believe we have no other option, we trudge on in the rat race. Making more money just to spend more in our desperate attempt to “Keep up with the Joneses.” Most of us will go to our graves with our dreams unfulfilled, unspoken even. Some of us know that they have a choice, but believe that choice to be unrealistic or not enough. Who defines what is Enough anyway? Isn’t it us at the end of the day or have we allowed someone else to set rules by which we must now abide? Is there another way to make money while ensuring that those close to you do not feel neglected? Is being employed really the only way? Can you be your own boss and keep your own hours and define what is really Enough for you?
Obviously I cannot generalize and state that everyone should follow their dream. Some dreams are unrealistic for sure. What I can say however is that, you need to be happy with the choices you have made. Not all of us will be fortunate enough to realize their dream, for one reason or another. Everything in life is a choice after all. Just make sure that whatever you choose, you can actually live with. Not exist; LIVE with.
And for heaven’s sake, stop criticizing those who have been brave enough to make the choice and live their dream. You know what they say about people in glass houses.