In hindsight, I spent the first decade of my career in a state of perpetual stress. A state of constant chasing, grasping and forcing. Working as consultant and coach in corporate change management, I seemed to have it all: the job, the house, the success, even ‘making an impact’. With a huge empty smile on my face.
It’s a story we’ve all heard before in one form or the other.
Why is it, that so many of us are living this story of being successful on society’s terms, yet unhappy on the inside? And why is it, that for most of us, it takes a serious crisis to wake us up to the fact that we are living somebody else’s life?
The big thing I was missing
I remember that the hardest thing for me was that at some point, I had tried all of the methods in the book to get out of my stress. And I could see my patterns coming from miles away. But I kept falling into the same pitfalls. Over. And over. And over.
But besides the fact that I was not resolving my issues on a root level (read my thoughts on this here), there was one other crucial thing that I was oblivious to.
It was that inner voice that had been telling me: “This is a great path, but it’s not yours. Yes, you’re working with a great team, creating a positive change and paying your bills – but still, this path is NOT for you”.
And the more I felt this inner knowing, the more I ignored it.
And the harder I worked to prove it wrong, the more my body started to protest.
Until my body eventually hit the brakes. I completely burnt out to the point where I was unable to even get out of bed.
How we have it all backward
On the journey of recovery and healing that followed, one thing slowly became crystal clear to me: when it comes to work, happiness and our bodies, we have it all backward.
Our society tells us that working hard will lead to success.
Our society tells us that our bodies are failing us and need coffee and pills to perform better.
Our society tells us, that happiness will finally follow, after we achieve the exterior success.
But it’s the other way around.
It’s when we listen to our bodies, that they lead us to our happiest paths.
It’s when we are rested, that we make decisions that lead to our happiness. And,
it’s when we are happy, that success flows to us naturally.
My body was not failing me. It was not uncooperative or not productive enough. My body had been trying to tell me all along that something was not right.
Gently, at first. Gently showing me, that this road was closing and it was time to take an exit. But I was too stubborn to listen. I was too busy being busy and getting lost in my detrimental definition of success.
But what if our challenges in life are just roadsigns, guiding us to our highest possible paths?
Unfortunately, human beings do not like change.
Unfortunately, it often takes pain to get us into motion.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Though my burnout was one of the harder episodes of my life, I’m grateful that my body hit the brakes, rather than letting me linger on a path of perpetual stress. I’m grateful for being woken up with such a bang, that I didn’t have much choice but to start making the changes that led me to the life I live now.
But I also know that next time, the bang won’t be that hard. Because I won’t let it get that far. Because I’ve come to view my challenges as helping road signs, rather than bothersome obstacles that I need to remove with force.
‘Hustling hard‘ seems to be the way to go.
But viewing our challenges as guiding road signs is not something that comes natural to our society. We tend to praise persistency, celebrate pushing through challenges and admire people who ‘hustle hard‘. We tend to loathe discomfort and we have been taught to get rid of it as soon as possible.
We take a pill.
We work harder.
We take a day off, at most.
But what if we could just get a little better at reading the signs on our life’s path? What if we would stop ignoring our bodies when they tell us something is off, and have the courage to just pause and listen? Then our big breakdowns would be more like little triggers, gently pointing us into a better direction.
So, if your body has been sending you ‘off’ signals,
if you have not been feeling like yourself,
if you have not been sleeping well –
Don’t keep driving in the same direction.
Don’t wait untill you hit that complete dead end.
Act before. Just ask yourself: What do I need in this moment? What is this situation trying to show me? Is this path really for me? And listen.
This is not to say that we need to give up at every setback. This is about daring to be honest to ourselves about why we are headed out on the path we are on. Is it truly for us? Or is it to prove something to the outside world? In both cases, it would do us good to uplevel our ability to reflect and read our road signs timely – so we can make microchanges on a daily basis, rather than allowing things to escalate into a crisis.
And maybe, just maybe – following your these clues will lead you onto a path that is in line with the one you secretly wanted all along on the inside. A path where using your talents will intersect with doing something good for the world, while making a living.
It’s possible, I promise you.
It just takes some fine navigation.
So why not start today?