"one morning she woke up different. Done with trying to figure out who was with her, against her, or walking down the middle because they didn't have the guts to pick a side. She was done with anything that didn't bring her peace. She realized that opinions were a dime a dozen, validation was for parking, and loyalty wasn't a word, but a lifestyle. It was this day that her life changed. And not because of a man, or a job, but because she realized that life is way too short to leave the key to your happiness in someone else's pocket."
As someone who considers herself a strong, independent person, I woke up one day caught by surprise that I was waiting around for someone else to make my dreams come true. I think there are many explanations for this - loyalty to my love and commitments, upbringing in a conservative environment, female role models who sacrifice everything for their families, to name a few - but none of them really matter. The cause doesn't really change the effect right now.
Focusing on the excuses has enabled me to deflect ownership of my own happiness. I woke up one day and I didn't recognize myself. Who was this person with this beautiful life that I had created? Subconsciously, I had been living a pretty perfect imitation of who I thought I should be and tried to force myself to want the things I felt I should want.
I wanted to want to be married. I wanted to want to have a house in a nice neighborhood. I wanted to want to have kids. (That one is a big one.) I wanted to want to have financial security. I wanted to want to be active in my local community. I wanted to want to have an impressive title at work and more responsibility (read: $$$ and validation).
I would tell myself, "isn't that what everyone wants?" So I did what I was always told is the recipe for success in life, and ultimately, happiness - I found love, security and a home - and I tried to grow into my wants.
Yes, it's irrational to see it in black and white on a page like that.
Of course, there were little cracks here and there.
I'd take every business trip I could to escape. I threw myself into hobbies to distract me - ridding the house of toxins, running two marathons, oh hey, this blog! - but I never found contentment when I achieved these goals. A few glasses of wine would inevitably cause this uncertainty to bubble to the surface and force me to confront those emotions - so I quit drinking. I didn't want to acknowledge that the real me wasn't showing up for her life. Every day, I tried to control my emotions, bury myself, and channel my commitments as a source of fulfillment.
I woke up one day and I felt broken, and very, very tired.
When people (very important people whom I care deeply about) asked me what I wanted (what would make it better) all I had were cliches: I wanted to live a BIG life, I wanted to discuss ideas, I wanted to grow, but I didn't know how to get there.
“I’m not sure what I’ll do, but— well, I want to go places and see people. I want my mind to grow. I want to live where things happen on a big scale.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Ice Palace and Other Stories
So, broken, and tired, and crying, I started trying to figure out what I want. I realized that I barely remembered who I really was after years of trying to be someone else. I stared at the notes app on my phone with a blinking cursor thinking things like, "do these little things really matter? is that a big enough deal? was that really worth getting divorced for?"
Ultimately, the only way I found relief was to suspend all judgment of myself and write down every stupid idea that popped into my head that I liked or thought would bring me even a moment of happiness.
The list started like:
- Go to yoga consistently
- Stop wearing cheap clothes
- Get regular pedicures
- Live in a big city where I don't need a car
- Have a kitchen that's clean and inspires me
- Pursue better relationships with my girlfriends
- Live abroad again
- Find a job where I have flexibility and can work remotely
Some were small and superficial, others were big and ambiguous, but for the first time in my life, I wasn't trying to filter my wants through another person's dreams. I stopped putting myself in a box. I forced myself to begin designing a life that prioritizes me.
I woke up today and met one of my best friends at the gym. On non-gym days, I watch the sunrise and walk on the beach. I experiment with mostly plant-based meals. I invest in my health (hey, personal trainer that actually motivates me to go to the gym). I go to bed at a consistent time every night, so I get enough sleep (work in progress). I initiate plans to see my friends. I'm planning to move abroad. I'm making an intentional effort to do the things I want to do every day.
I woke up one day and felt like I could breathe again. I hadn't realized how long I had been holding it.