“I feel so out of alignment”
“Something has to change”
“Where do I even start?”
Over the last year, these three sentences played over in my head on repeat. I would wake up feeling so far away from myself; so sad, lost and overwhelmed at the thought of my whole life being in a place that I knew wasn’t a reflection of my true self.
I was a busy professional who, from the outside in, had a cool job, a great relationship, a strong community of friends and family- the whole package. On the inside, however, I was in the middle of a crisis-of-self. After many mini-signs and that quiet voice inside that grew louder and louder, I finally stopped for a second to lift my head up to take stock of the life that was unfolding around me, and I didn’t recognize any of it.
You see, it wasn’t the job I loved. It was the job I fell into at a time in my life where I thought being distracted, busy and on-call 24/7, fighting to climb a ladder and trying to prove how smart and capable I was would help me move forward from a personal trauma. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. I made my work synonymous with my identity and used it to distract myself from the pain I refused to deal with almost 10 years earlier. I also surrounded myself with people who were all doing the same thing in their own way. Misery loves company, I guess? My Dad always said to me, “you are who your friends are, so choose wisely” and I finally understood it. I was surrounding myself with people and things that were keeping me down and in a space of arrested development. I wasn’t thinking about the long game, just survival of the day-to-day, and it caught up with me in a big way. I knew this wasn’t the feeling I deserved when I looked in the mirror. Something had to give and fast.
The trouble is, once you have a realization that huge – you know, the kind where you finally understand that you were merely existing in your life, but not really consciously living it (#nbd) – it can feel utterly overwhelming. How do you even begin to untie a knot that big? It took me almost 8 months to stop talking about making a change to the time where I actually quit my job and started on a path of a more curated and thoughtful life. I’m still a work in progress, but here are 5 small things that helped me start walking the walk after talking the talk.
1. Start Small
Not everyone needs to up and quit their job. Most people can’t. Hell, I could barely afford it and wouldn’t have had a roof over my head if my partner didn’t help to support me. But changing the direction your life is going doesn’t need to come in one grand gesture. It can be one thing at a time. So identify for yourself something that is toxic to you personally – just one thing – and figure out how to adjust it. Is it being more positive and conscious of your energy by not participating in the office gossip? Is it practising self-discipline by dropping that cookie from the coffee shop next store from the diet? Is it practising gratitude by calling your loved ones more to let them know you appreciate them? Whatever it is, pick one small thing that can be done easily, but that you will see substantial returns from. It will give you the confidence to keep going and continue to dig deeper.
2. Literally Walk
Get outside and move your body. This isn’t about throwing on that bodysuit and leg warmers to feel the burn, but about slowing down and making time for yourself to connect to the world around you. I started to walk 30 min every day, and it became something I so looked forward to because it was time for me where I could feel my mind and body connection. It made me feel grounded.
Try noticing a new detail in your neighbourhood. Check out a mom and pop shop to learn what they are about. Feel your body relaxed enough to enjoy the scenery and a quiet mind. Speaking of…
Turn off your notifications. Seriously. The constant pinging takes you out of your life and present moment and tricks you into believing that there are more important things going on than what you’re doing. 99.9% of the time, there isn’t. This small action opens up so much mental space and allows you to the room to really listen to what you’re thinking and feeling, instead of constantly being bombarded with distractions. Being bored is actually great for your brain! It leads to creative ideas clarity of thought. Make a conscious effort to quiet the distractions around you so that you can start hearing what your body and mind are telling you about your path.
4. Make a List and Check it Twice (think Naughty and Nice)
I am a to-do list freak. What really helped me was creating what I called my “Not a Chance in Hell” Checklist and my “New Life Essentials” Checklist. Each list helped me identify items or behaviours that I would no longer tolerate, and items and behaviours that were must-haves for any new relationships, jobs or social activities. My time, like your time, is limited and precious, and I used to give it away far too easily. Creating these lists and seeing specific and clear needs and wants written down in my own handwriting helped me to feel focused and as if I had a plan to move forward that aligned with me in an authentic way. If my time was focused on these things, it couldn’t feel wasted. Less negotiating in whatever my next job is, spending more time on creative pursuits, cutting certain friendships loose, visiting my Dad more often – these lists helped me identify what I really needed to feel in tune with the next chapter of my life and to feel organized enough to take on the challenge.
Don’t be afraid to take time for yourself, whatever that looks like for you. Meditate. Write. Take an evening or weekend class on something you find interesting. Run. Have a beer with a friend you have been meaning to catch up. Lay on your bed with no pants on after work for 20 minutes and catch your breath (Just me?). Whatever it is, make sure you treat yourself the way you would treat your best friend – with love, care, kindness and understanding. I used to keep my schedule so jam-packed, there was no time leftover for myself. When I realized that taking real care of myself wasn’t and extra but an essential, things started to change. When I realized that “no” wasn’t a bad word, things started to change. You’re the only you there is in this world, so treat yourself like the miracle you are.