Throughout most of our lives, we stumble along, never really knowing which direction will lead us to the path created just for us. Perhaps, we never believe there is such a thing and merely come across it by accident. In my case, it was something I still have trouble accepting, even six years later.
I tell myself that I am just a simple woman in her late 40s who has been married for almost 27 years with three grown sons. The career path I chose back in college is nowhere near where I am now, and yet no college course could have ever guided me here. For years, I muddled through life without knowing it. I feel remorseful for cheating my husband and sons out of who I really could have been for them. The truth is that I didn’t know how to be more than who I was. I gave them everything I could and only now understand how I not only let myself down, but them as well.
Downplaying my talents
For years, I downplayed my abilities and denied my gifts and talents. Some of you might be able to relate. In the past, they brought me attention, even though it was usually the good kind. I was recognized for being an academic scholar and a superb athlete in high school. I was popular and many people knew my name. But that was just what everyone saw on the surface. I still had hidden underneath years of not feeling like I fit in or knew where I belonged. Even as a member of team, I never really felt comfortable there. I just played my game and let my skills speak for me — maybe so I wouldn’t have to otherwise.
And that worked for a great number of years.
But it wasn’t just myself I had cheated. Or my family. I had cheated the world too. I had lied, been deceitful, and hurtful — all without ever intending to do so.
I had cheated everyone of everything I was ever born to be.
Letting fear take hold
Fear is a nasty slave and once we become its prisoner, it is very difficult to break those chains. For some, it can be downright impossible. For others, there is no one there to show them the way or to encourage them to be somewhere different. We convince ourselves that we are not worthy and that our mere presence is barely worth the ounce of breath we spend with that acknowledgement. Most would never see their lives as diminished, sheltered, and minuscule. This is why what we believe matters.
I didn’t believe in myself.
I never wanted to stand out from the crowd, and even now it still makes me uncomfortable, but I am better at it. “Being ordinary” and blending in with the crowd, barely flying under the radar seemed to work — but that changed six years ago.
Making the change
Without knowing why, a friend and I had arrived at the same crossroads, asking ourselves the “big” questions of our “purpose,” and I became ready for the life I was born to live after just a few words. I allowed my heart to be free and soared higher than I ever had before.
It was scary, new, and yet something I couldn’t dismiss. My purpose had called to me and I was finally ready to hear it and do something with it. Not even really knowing what that meant and stumbling more than I ever had before left me with more questions than answers. At times, I felt like I didn’t know which direction to take, but I never felt lost.
I had spent my previous 40+ years full of logic and reason, following a plan I had no part in designing. I now felt in control of my life, as if I had just found my voice and realized that I could make choices for the first time.
I took me a long way to get there and then once I did, I couldn’t even figure out how to get back to who I once was. Not that I wanted to, but I wouldn’t have had a clue. I was changed — changed for good.
Change isn’t always easy
Some of the roads I took were very hard. So hard, they made me want to run away as fast as I could without looking back. But something kept pushing me forward. I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me to keep going. I read as many books as I could that would enlighten me and bring my sense of awareness to a level I had never experienced before. Admission and honesty became my two of my biggest advocates. Forgiving myself was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, and yet I knew in doing so it would give me peace and allow my true spirit to be released from the captivity I created for it.
I began to journal in notebooks in addition to my blog that I shared online. My journals are much more personal and one of my biggest fears is whose eyes will see them one day when I am no longer here. They are the most raw and vulnerable ways of expressing myself that I have shared. Getting these thoughts and emotions out of my head and somewhere else brought a sense of relief that I had not found anywhere else.
Probably the biggest thing I did was to believe in who I have always been. After spending too many years ignoring who I was and what I was capable of, I came out of the shadows — damaged, broken, hurt, and yet still I knew there was more to me than those attributes that I assigned myself a long time ago. I stopped trying to be who someone told me to be, following a road I never wanted to be on, and stopped caring about what others thought about my choices. I have but one life and I consciously chose to start living it on my terms and no one else was going to tell me differently.
Throughout these moments of absolute fear and doubt, I found courage and strength in places I never knew it existed. It filled me with a sense of joy and excitement about life that I had never experienced. Every day was a blessing, not a curse or something to begrudge. As I shared more of my stumbles and struggles, more people began to feel relieved that they weren’t alone and would often sigh heavily as the words, “Me, too!” escaped from their lips. You could just see it in their eyes and feel it when we allowed ourselves to be who we really are.
Where to go from here
If you’re struggling with making similar life-altering decisions, these tips might help you out.
- Ask questions. Don’t be afraid of the answers and be willing to accept them for what they are, not what you want them to be. Although you may be guided by others, including books about where to find the answers, ultimately the answers are only as good as the questions.
- Fight through fear. It is easy to walk away and pretend it doesn’t matter, but you and I both know that at some point in your future, that decision to walk away will come back to haunt you. You can only get to the other side of fear by going through it. You cannot avoid it or pretend it isn’t there. Confront it, get it over with, and move on.
- Be honest. Honesty will become something you hate and yet you are unable to grow without it. It will piss you off and remind you what you need to hear versus what you want to hear. But when all is said and done, you know where you stand.
- Tell your story. Being vulnerable is one of the most daring things anyone can ever do. There is the fear of ridicule, regret of sharing too much, and even feeling alone, all wrapped into something that most can’t even imagine doing. Ask yourself why TED talks are so well attended and you will understand the value of storytelling and the connection we all make when someone shares a bit of themselves with us.
- Keep going. Most people never get started, and yet the ones who have taken on the task of finding themselves can get frustrated and discouraged if the road seems too difficult. We forget that by consistently moving forward, even with baby steps, we inspire the world and people in ways we never even imagined. Every ripple begins with one simple movement.
The journeys we believe we are meant to take may surprise us and actually take us in directions we were never meant to follow. By withdrawing from life and every possible notion it has created, built, and envisioned for us, we trick everyone into believing that we have nothing more to offer and we become impostors. We become hypocritical and fake in a world that is hungry for more authenticity and honesty.
Our world is what we make it and living our true lives is how we add to it every day. In doing so, we make it better and make a difference in the lives of others. No more hiding, no more pretending, no more cheating. This is who I was born to be — I just never knew it.
So when you least expect it, when you are swamped with everything else going on in your life, you just may find yourself heading down a path you never imagined, and yet you know it is the one you must follow. Without a single regret, you will look back and smile, accepting that this very moment is why you are here, why you matter, why it called to you. Pay attention.
Featured photo credit: Jordan Donaldson via unsplash.com