TLDR; my takeaway from this journey — we can’t grow in life unless we’re willing to face our own inner demons and make peace with the feelings that nag at us, thoughts or conversations or experiences that weight heavily on our conscious — and most importantly, have the courage to forgive ourselves, priorize ourselves, and choose to see the bright in every encounter.
“Throughout history, we human beings have bumped up against glass ceilings that have stopped us in our tracks and prevented us from going any farther, even in our imaginations.”
This couldn’t have been truer for me. In the past 18 months, going on 38 years. I’ve found myself looking for a definition of myself outside myself. I was too caught up chasing goals I had once set. I was looking for purpose and meaning at work with the hope it would help me feel jovial and fulfilled again. I kept on following a path I determined it was destined to be. I tried to bend will my way and managed to lived under the illusion that it was working for me. And when I didn’t find what I was looking for, I kept on plowing ahead, never looking back. And as I antagonized myself with this pursuit, I antagonized and alienated everyone around me.
“And then come the breakthroughs.”
My breakthrough wasn’t self-imposed. I found myself at the running end of the deep end, facing a world of darkness, pain, scarcity, and fear. I was alone, cold, frightened, past the point of exhaustion, and burnt-out physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
The only thing I really had left was my obnoxious ability to look at the bright side of every situation and encounter — or perhaps because that’s really the only option when we are out of all options.
For the first time in my life I decided to choose me — to make time for myself, to truly slow down, and allow myself to experience stillness. Nothing to do, nothing to show for, nothing to measure myself by or against. Jut simply be. As I began to quiet down, I began to find an unmatched energy to get up, go out, and experience life in a new way:
I started to run. In the beginning, I could only do 15 minutes at a stationary bike. Then I moved on to a thread-mill. Once I was able to sustain myself for 45 minutes without feeling I might pass out, I ventured outside. My first time outside, I ran for 20 minutes. Then I kept at my own pace, without judging myself or trying to achieve. If I got tired, I came back in. One day I surprised myself — I experienced the runner’s high: this inexplicable feeling of the human body as a self-propelled machine. My legs were going on it’s on and I didn’t have a single thought in my mind. I was hooked!
I also started to practice yoga. I signed up for a free week and tried to go everyday. I gave myself permission to be as good (or bad) as I could at it and not to compare myself to others. Every time welcomed myself into my mat feeling however I was feeling and kept at it. At first, all I could do was focus more on being present. Later, I begin to put a mindful effort into the yoga poses. The outcome still varies each time — sometimes I surprise myself, sometimes I am reminded that like life, yoga is also a journey.
As a result, I began to eat better. Not dieting or denying myself of certain foods, just simply listening to what my body or mind were asking for. I started to opt for heartier salads instead of carb-based meals, more fruits and veggies and less gluten, more water than coffee or tea, and more fresh juices and kambucha instead of fancy lates.
Whenever the days felt dark, I ran. Or went to yoga. Or treated myself to something healthy and colorful. And to my surprise, each time I did that, I experienced life on the bright side. Sometimes, quite literally — the sky would be dark gray on one side of the street and bright sunny on the other side. Or I would meet people that kept on showing to me I could see a bright side even in every human encounter — the manager at Hertz Seattle gave me a Jeep Compass “so I could have a sense of direction” or the cashier at Anacortes’ Co-Op told me to have a “cheery-full day” as he finished ringing a bag of cherries.
Throughout these small encounters and and experiences, my heart, mind and body began to feel stronger. I started to become inundated with feelings of contentment.
Life started to appear magical the more I focused on the positive, on the bright, on the light.
I began to meet more and more people that seemed to be put on my life’s path to help me overcome an obstacle or help me uncover a new lesson. These experiences helped me revisit old wounds and heal or helped me question my own judgments and believes that had held me back in the past.
Whenever darkness creeped in, I allowed myself to experience it fully. Whenever grief or shame or guilt showed up, I stayed with it, felt it, explored it and made peace with it. Whenever fear showed up, I gave myself permission to face it and explore what was on the other side of it. And each time, what was on the other side wasn’t any short of a miracle.
As time went by and I continued to chose me, put myself first, and make peace with myself, I began to experience a growing sense of hope and inexplicable joy. This new feeling has led me to one of the biggest lessons learned so far:
Every day, every hour, every minute presents itself as an opportunity of change — small change can come as choosing to smile at someone, listening with the intent of having our minds changed, or trying something we’ve wanted to do and always found a reason not to do it.
No one can help us; only we can help ourselves — exponential change can also come by taking the time to be with ourselves, quieting our minds to the point we can feel where the pain is and walking up those long stairways that eventually leads us to our glass ceilings.
It took me a long to realized all the help I needed was already inside myself.
Everyone is in our lives to teach us a lesson — whenever we feel stuck or feel like the same thing keeps happening to us over and over it’s because we aren’t opening our hearts (or minds) to what life is trying to teach us. Or paying attention to the messages of love and kindness and growth that surround us everyday.
As I pause to reflect on what I know it’s a lifelong journey of growth mindset, my biggest takeaway is that it feels to me we are all meant to bump a glass ceiling at one point or another and it’s up to us to decide if we want to actively find it and pierce it through it. I chose to pierce it through it, get hurt by it’s sharp edges, keep going through it despite the pain and unknown consequences. During the process, I experienced exponential growth; I was able to make sense of everything below the ceiling and what the space above can now be filled by my imagination and determination. I was once looking for purpose and meaning, now I know that’s already within me. It’s been painful, yes. It’s been hard, yes. But what lied past now opens up a bright new world of opportunities and possibilities — a new world that’s been worth the effort.
“You can change your story at any time to be better adapted to the magnificent flow of the way things are, and the world will reflect the change in you, opening doors and showing you a path to where you want to go and what you want to do. This outlook gives rise to joy, love, and gratitude. [Change] is about creating the world in which you want to live [and having the courage to see it through.]”
Quotes from The Pathways to Possibility by R. Zander