Before I began my first grown-up job as a lawyer I decided to take one last vacation. A final hurrah before entering the world of nine to five’ing and limited vacation allowances. During this trip, I had the opportunity to have my astrology chart read by a well-revered astrologer at a temple in Bangkok. Whilst most of the reading has slipped from my memory banks, one nugget, in particular, has remained with me. This sage counseled that I would make money from my words and that an office environment was most definitely not for me.
A slightly unsettling piece of advice to hear when you’re about to embark on a new career in which the office would virtually become a second home. At the time I simply brushed it off. No-one I knew particularly enjoyed working in an office but it was what it was. A solid career and a decent paycheck.
Yet it wasn't until a decade later that those very words came back to haunt me. Looking back over the burgeoning arc of my working life I was astonished to discover that I had been climbing the career rungs of someone else’s ladder. I had established a career for myself upon what I thought I should be doing instead of what I actually wanted to be doing. Essentially, I had been living a lie.
Succumbing to my own burning desire to please others, I emulated a career that my parents thought was best for me. Despite my creative nature and fervent love of books I abandoned my writing desires and took on an ambition of someone else’s design.
Of course, I didn’t realize what I was up to until much later in life, that’s the power of the subconscious mind. However, there were tiny whispers along the way, questioning whether this was truly what I wanted.
Ultimately, it was a series of tough life lessons that finally opened my eyes to my self-sabotaging behaviors in all their naked glory.
The first lesson to rear its ugly head was the power of denial. I spent so long convincing myself I was doing the right thing that I simply chose to ignore the persistent heavy sadness gnawing away at me. It took years to ask myself that terrible question. The one that you don’t want to ask because you already know the answer and you just don’t want to hear it. Why are you really doing this?
The second lesson showing me I was living an inauthentic life was the fact that I was filled with fear. Constantly. I had slipped on the corporate golden handcuffs in exchange for a comfortable lifestyle and plentiful benefits. Yet although I had the keys to my cuffs, I chose to remain my own prisoner.
Which leads me to my third lesson. Fear of failure. I had always wanted to be a writer yet I never wrote. Somehow I rationalized this, telling myself I was too busy and stressed by my lawyerly career. What I was really doing was not even trying. I had every excuse lined up for my recalcitrance but essentially I was petrified of taking a leap and falling flat on my face.
Then my fourth lesson showed itself. Distraction. I was seeking distraction to avoid facing up to the truth of my situation. There were many evenings when instead of turning on my laptop to write, I poured myself a glass of wine and perused the online sale sections. Anything to divert myself from myself.
By the time I figured out the fifth lesson, years had piled onto years. I was stressed out and miserable. Around that time I came to discover the power of the emotional GPS system. If you allow them, emotions can be our greatest guides. I figured out that the only times I felt any semblance of joy was when I was in a creative headspace. The rest of the time, anxiety and negativity were my sole companions.
The sixth lesson highlighting my self-dishonesty appeared via the thick fog of depression. I couldn’t understand it. I’d always been happy-go-lucky, fortunate enough to avoid the hulking beast of darkness that is the D word. Yet here I was. Nothing excited me anymore; the world seemed to stretch out into one long monotonous road.
Unable to process the prior lessons that came my way, the seventh lesson was a physical wake-up call. Being stressed and unhappy takes its toll on the mind, and on the body. My skin was constantly breaking out, I had severe insomnia and adrenal fatigue. My body was essentially screaming to get my attention the only way it knew how, through illness.
It was becoming irrefutably clear that somewhere along the way, I’d lost myself. I had no idea who I was or what made me tick anymore. I’d spent so long holding up a mask as a successful lawyer that it was no longer a mask. It had affixed itself and I had morphed into somebody that I didn’t want to be.
These valuable life lessons led me to discover that I needed to make some big changes in my life. But before I could do so, I needed to forgive myself for my past choices.
Instead of getting angry with myself for all those wasted years I had a change of perspective. What if this experience had actually taught me something?
Rather than filing my faux career in the Life Mistakes folder, perhaps I had gained some invaluable life experience. Maybe it had given me something to write about that I’m not sure I could have written had I not been through it firsthand.
And there was my final lesson patiently waiting for me. The discovery that sometimes doing what we don’t want to do in life, can point us in the direction of what we do want.
I’m still a long way off from the writing career of my dreams but that’s the not the point. The point is I’m on the path. I don’t know what’s ahead of me and I may never achieve any of my literary goals but that’s fine with me. Because at least I‘m trying. I finally had the courage to pull off the mask that kept me living an inauthentic life and be completely honest with myself. I’m finally showing my authentic self to the world, warts and all. And you know what? I’ve never been happier.