Before we dive in, it’s helpful to understand why I’m obsessed with this topic.
In 2014, three years into my first tech startup, I was “crushing it” on paper. I was the first business hire at a hot startup and in less than 4 years, we’d built a 200+ person team, great culture, raised $70M+ in venture funding, opened international offices, and had a strong customer pipeline. Everyday, I put on big smile — after all, I was “living the Silicon Valley dream.”
But below the surface, it was a different story. I was 20 pounds underweight, too weak to carry groceries, not sleeping, and had a multi-month piercing headache. I was at the doctor’s weekly for every test imaginable, even a brain scan.
Thankfully, all my tests came back negative. But my body was sending a clear message, something needed to change.
In my gut, I no longer believed in our startup. I knew that my awesome boyfriend wasn’t right for me. I had stopped doing the things I love — dancing, painting, hosting dinner parties, exercising… I was no longer living my truth, and it was tearing me up inside. Literally.
Six months later, I worked at new wellness startup, was single, and moved into an old Victorian in San Francisco. I was happy, healthy, and felt like the true me.
Fast forward to January 2016 and my second startup was acquired. My team was great and I had tons of freedom at the new company.
But deep down, I knew that the path I was on, wasn’t getting me closer to my goal. For years, I’d wanted to quit my job, travel, and start a company. Fear and uncertainty held me back. Back at the doctor’s (again!), I gave myself an ultimatum. In February 2017, I left my job to explore the world.
As a passion project, I interviewed 100+ people across 5 countries about pursuing their truth. People shared inspiring stories about switching careers, starting or ending relationships, moving, finding spirituality — all aspects of life. Here’s what I’ve learned.
In dozens of cases, before making a major change, people felt stuck, stressed, or anxious. Often people experienced physical symptoms like digestive problems, skin problems, and insomnia (gross…but I can definitely can relate). Our bodies send powerful signals for change.
After taking action, people experienced a sense of relief, liberation, freedom, joy, and improvements in health. When we live our truths, we’re our best selves. While it seems obvious, it’s easy to forget.
My main takeaway is that our truth is always within us. We always know the answer — but sometimes it gets buried. I’ve come to think about it like this —
This is our intuition, gut, consciousness — what we feel in our heart and soul. One of my mentors once handed me a quote from Howard Thurman,
“Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”
We come alive when we act in our truth.
Motivational Speaker, Jim Rohn, says that we’re the sum of the 5 closest people around us. It’s no surprise that many of the greatest tech leaders came out of the Computer Graphics Lab in the 70s and 80s — the founders of Pixar, Netscape, Silicon Graphics, and legendary animators at Dreamworks and Walt Disney. Or that many of the best rappers are (or were) besties.
Often, when we spend time with new people, our thoughts and perspectives shift — whether that’s on work, relationships, life, etc. That’s the power of the inner circle.
For better or worse, with the internet, our world is bigger and more powerful than ever. We can keep in touch with everyone we’ve ever met (and those we haven’t). We’re spending on average over 2 hours a day on social media and 5 hours on our smartphones. Technology makes it easier than ever to be influenced by others.
For example, when I was building Rise, our nutrition startup, I spent WAY too much of my day producing wellness content. I knew there was no point in comparing myself to wellness influencers. But some days, I couldn’t help myself, and it got me down. On the brightside, I definitely up-ed my yoga and nutrition game.
Each culture, society, and religion has different norms and values. Years ago, a prominent tech investor told me that his #1 piece of advice for young people is,
“First pick where you want to live — then your career, family, and everything else will follow.”
At the time, I didn’t understand — I expected some hot startup advice. But in retrospect, he was saying, pick a place that aligns with how you want to live your life.
Is the culture centered around making money to buy a dream house? Praying 5 times a day? Catching sunsets with loved ones? Your culture determines the path you start.
The circles are a powerful tool.
It took me until now (I’m 29), to understand which circles my thoughts and emotions come from. For example, when I was contemplating traveling for a year, many people told me that it would hurt my career and network. I had to ask myself,
“Do I really believe that, or is that just what my inner circle thinks?”
The circles can help decipher what’s our truth, versus what belongs to an outer circle. We can also change our circles, to help us achieve our goals and be our best selves.
As I talked to people about how they shed their outer layers, a few techniques came up repeatedly:
Get away from your inner circle, outer circle, switch cultures — enter a world of your choosing. While you’re away, write down how you feel, what you want, and action items for when you return. When you re-enter your circles, you’ll be armed with a fresh perspective. If you can’t get out of town — take a hike, explore a new neighborhood, or simply make time for you.
“At the end of the day, I can end up totally wacky, because I’ve made mountains out of molehills. With meditation, I can keep them as molehills.”
While it’s not the cure all, meditation has been proven to help manage anxiety, asthma, cancer, chronic pain, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, sleep problems, and headaches.
Quiet the background noise — turn off technology for a bit. This especially helps quiet those outside circles. Digital detoxing (yes!) is becoming increasingly popular for a reason . Adult digital detox camps sell out and 10 days silent retreats are booked months in advance globally. Personally, I try to “intermittent phone fast” between 9pm and 9am.
According to Harvard, sleep is crucial for physical renewal, hormonal regulation, and growth. Without deep sleep, we’re more likely to get sick, feel depressed, and gain weight. It can be hard to listen to ourselves when we don’t have enough sleep to think calmly, rationally, and creatively. Arianna Huffington even wrote a book called The Sleep Revolution.
This could be walking, dancing, yoga, painting, writing, improv, researching, gaming… Whatever gets you in your happy place and reminds you of what makes you, you.
All of these techniques help.
Thankfully, overtime, it gets easier to find, listen, and act on our truths. We’ve been conditioned to listen to our outer circles and shedding them takes repeated practice and time.
On that note, I’ll leave you with my favorite quote one more time,
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”
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Originally published at medium.com