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The Fulfillment Challenge

Late last week as my husband and I were taking our evening walk, we happened upon a heart wrenching scene. Right in the middle of the path lay a semi-conscious middle aged woman flanked by her two young children. The woman was on her way back home following an unsuccessful day of job hunting in a town center 40 kms away. According to the children the mother had not had anything to eat for two days and had not taken any water the whole of that day. She had collapsed from extreme dehydration.

To New Beginnings…

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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.

Leaving The Rat Race.

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.

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Choices or Excuses?

I recently completed an 11-week course called Centonomy. For those who have never heard of it before, its basically a course focused on helping people understand financial issues better, hence improve their own management of money. It’s a course that has truly impacted how I view my life in relation to money and I would highly recommend it to every single person; I can’t wait for my son to be old enough to enroll him in it.

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During one of the classes, a certain question was posed; What would you choose to do if you knew no one would judge you? This isn’t the first time that I had been asked this question but for some reason this time it really got me thinking. It didn’t really hit me till this morning that as human beings, we are very good at building a wall of excuses when we do not want to do something. Even if that something is our life’s dream. I was actually speaking to someone last evening and she was very frustrated because she felt like life was passing her by and she was stagnating all because she couldn’t pursue what really made her happy.

As we spoke I began to realize that in general a lot of us are really not doing what makes us happy. Yes I know you will hit me with that same old story – we don’t have the luxury of being happy when bills have to be paid and responsibilities have to be met. So we build this nice grand house of Excuses. I cannot pursue my dreams because I have a child to support. Because I have a loan to pay. Because I have a spouse to support. Because I have rent to pay, or a mortgage to pay. Because I have my parents/siblings to support……….blah blah blah…….Does this sound familiar? Excuses. That’s all they are. But we have convinced ourselves that there is no possible way we can be “selfish” enough to be happy while all these people are relying on us right?

As I pondered more on this dilemma, I asked myself; so what happens when your kids grow up or your dependents no longer need the support or the loan is paid? Will you then pursue your dream for happiness? Will you then do what really makes you happy? Chances are the majority would simply get a new excuse to hide behind. You all know how this story ends. On a death bed with forlorn regrets of what could have been had you had the perspective and guts to just grab it.

I am not in any way encouraging reckless behavior but you do need to ask yourself, how long can you hide behind the excuses? Obviously few of us have the luxury of having zero dependencies, so it just means it will take more planning on your part to ensure that you have catered for those who depend on you. Haven’t you heard of someone who ventured into business from the safety of a job? Most will tell you that they saved the equivalent of at least one year’s income, some as much as three years, simply to ensure that they could continue to sustain their lifestyle in the period of initial transition. Doesn’t this make sense? And isn’t this person doing what makes him/her happy? Don’t we actually look on from the sidelines wishing we had the balls to take the same bold step?

So what is really stopping you today? Don’t tell me a child, the child will eventually grow up and leave you there by yourself and you will still not take the bold step. When you really think about it, you are the only one standing in your own way. YOU. Everything else is details. Interestingly, a lot people haven’t even really thought about let alone figured out what they would really want to do if dependencies weren’t such a huge factor. Some of you are just afraid to ask themselves that question, Fear governs you. Because the minute you ask yourself and figure it out, then you might have to do something about it. And that thought just terrifies you to the point of crippling you. So it’s simpler to have the excuses and never do anything about it.

So now that hopefully I have got you thinking about it, what’s your next move? You need to figure out what makes you happy. What would you choose to do if all the excuses were eliminated? This is probably the hardest part because it requires a lot of introspection. Once you have got this figured out then make a plan on how you can implement it. For most of us it will be a business or a better job, or a different choice career, or even more personal choices like leaving an unhappy relationship or finally settling down. Whatever it is, just make sure that its 100% about you and not about anyone else. Your implementation plan then needs to be S.M.A.R.T for it to work (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound). It needs to be documented and tracked constantly to ensure that you are actually making progress towards your set goal. (I have a life coaching program that specifically focuses on helping people find their direction and achieve both short and long term goals using this model).

Ultimately all this looks a lot easier said than done. Like most things worth having, it’s obviously not a walk in the park. However, if you are persistent and tenacious enough you could soon be living the life of your dreams and choosing rather than envying those who appear to be doing so. It all comes down to the choice you make. Will you live your dream or will you live the excuse?

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Love is.

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Last Sunday one of my best friends got engaged to the love of her life and one of the nicest guys I have had the pleasure to know. It was the most beautifully and elaborately planned surprise – she was throwing him a surprise birthday party and unbeknown to her, he had planned to pop the big question during the party. It took quite a bit of sneaking around and no small amount of cunning especially for those of us who are friends to both of them, hence were involved in planning both surprises. Thankfully the plan went off without so much as a hitch and she said Yes! A very emotional yes of course thanks to the beautiful proposal.

Watching them, so blissfully in love and being involved in the whole process really got me thinking about relationships and the institution of marriage. Let’s face it, these days you are more likely to hear negative stories about marriage and relationships and less about couples who are happy – genuinely happy together. You are also more likely to hear about people getting into relationships for wrong reasons leading to an inevitable breakdown of their unions. So when you get a positive story of two people who are happy and genuinely in love, it’s actually inspiring.

Better still, when you get the opportunity to witness the birth and gradual blossoming of a sweet youthful love, it actually becomes a reminder of how simple love can be – if you let it.

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We tend to place so many rules and regulations on love that sometimes we miss out on the feeling altogether. Right from when we are searching for that special someone, we already have so many rules that we expect our “perfect partner” to conform to. From the looks to the job to the car one drives, it’s all one very large regulation which can even result in us missing out on a great relationship just because the person did not meet our criteria.

Once in the relationship (if we are lucky enough to find someone fitting our criteria), we create a whole new set of rules that “govern” the relationship. One that particularly bothers me is the supposed lengths of time one must take before certain milestones – for instance we have now defined how long you should date a man before you can sleep with him thanks to Steve Harvey (*face palm*). Plus the varied recommendations of dating periods before marriage can be considered. Followed by the appropriate length of time to be engaged. The list is a mile long.

One question though. Who is the expert who came up with all these timelines which some of us follow religiously? I mean, seriously, does it mean that all people and relationships are exactly the same so it will take the same amount of time to actually get to know a person “enough”? I thought everyone is unique in their differences which is what makes each relationship diverse, but then again what do I know?

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I have learnt a few things from watching my two friends fall in love though. Interestingly these are things that I actually knew but I had to re-learn them. One is that Love is as simple – or as complicated as you make it. It basically boils down to the two of you and what your hearts feel. Love is not defined within the limits of time. It is something that keeps on growing if you allow it and give it the space it needs. The decision to spend your life with someone doesn’t mean you know everything about them; it just means you are committing a lifetime to discovering together. (My mother who has been married for 44 years told me that she still discovers new things about my dad; four decades later!!). Love is not limited by age, tribe, nationality or societal stereotypes. Love transcends all these, if you simply allow it.

Simply put, Love is a choice. A beautiful choice.

Congratulations to my best friends Linda and Andrew on their beautiful choice and all of God’s blessings as they embark on their journey of discovery together.

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The Second Time Around…

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I was never much of a believer in second chances. Especially in the big stuff like career choices, investment decisions and of course the biggest, Love. I always figured that once you had picked a particular path or made a choice, you were pretty much stuck with it for life. It also did not help that I knew (and still know to date) numerous people who were stuck in careers or relationships they weren’t really happy in. A common factor across all these people was that they had chosen to stick it out, not really believing that second chances existed for them, or that they could be happy should they opt out. I guess something to do with the old saying “Better the devil you know….”

So there I was; stuck in a rut. In a career that didn’t fulfill me at all but paid the bills so I figured what the heck. I was also recovering from the gut wrenching heart break of what I thought was the love of my life till it all fell apart months from the altar. And I had pretty much convinced myself that no one gets a second shot at that kind of love, it just wasn’t feasible. So I made do. I woke up every morning and went through the motions of life without really living. I filled the void of loneliness with meaningless friends, endless banter and the temporary comfort of liquor-induced euphoria. All the while convincing myself that I belonged there, since people didn’t get second chances – at least that was what I thought.

Then one day it was just no longer enough. I couldn’t continue just existing anymore. I couldn’t take the whirlpool of the black hole anymore. But I also had no idea how to get out. So I locked myself in my house for about 4 months to just figure out what I wanted to do. At which point my Second Chance literally walked into my life. Interestingly our lives collided at the exact point that we both desperately needed second chances, but didn’t honestly believe we deserved them. But we both took a risk and decided to take a chance. A second chance.

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I can now honestly say that second chances, once you take the risk and bite the bullet, are the best things in life. Why? Well for one, you have learnt from your mistakes the first time round and you apply the lessons. You have also learnt to appreciate what you have because you know what it would feel like if you lost it. You also know what it is like to fail, so you do your darn best to succeed. You have also learnt that no one is perfect, least of all you. You are therefore more giving, more selfless, more listening, more understanding, more compromising. You have learnt how to take your head out of the fantasy clouds and are very realistic in all the decisions you make.

 Alot of people I know are terrified of the leap of faith that a second chance requires; especially in the face of loss or pain from the first time around. But I also now know that those who do take that leap of faith never look back. They move on to third, fourth, fifth chances because they now have the faith to keep rising; no matter how many times they fall. I have learnt that the first step isn’t the hardest to take. It is the second, after you have fallen.

If you’re stuck today, look up. Your second chance is waiting for you.

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