You’ve felt this way for a while now. Maybe even years:
You want to break free of this conventional little life of yours, but you’re scared of what people will think.
- What will your parents say?
- What will their friends think?
- Why on earth would you want to do that?
- But are you sure?
- Have you really thought this through?!
Yep. Those questions loomed large over my world for the majority of my life, too.
But on January 4th, 2021, I no longer cared to consider my responses to such questions – because I had bigger questions to ask myself and the universe.
On January 4th, 2021, my newly minted husband was struck down by a mystery illness and rushed to hospital.
We were at the height of the pandemic at the time. With no vaccines in the country and a year of the world’s harshest lockdowns up ahead.
My husband was in isolation in the infectious disease wing of the ICU. I wasn’t allowed to see him at all for the first 6 days. His heart stopped at one point. And when they revived him, he called a little after 2am to say goodbye. You could say I went a little mad at that point…
Miraculously, he survived.
After 12 days in intensive care, he came home and began to recover. Without overstating it, those were the longest 12 days of my life.
I ran through every scenario imaginable.
I hoped for the best and planned for the worst, sought comfort in Friends reruns on loop, and pondered the big questions of existence.
I made a pact with myself in the still, pre-dawn hours – a commitment to my future self: No matter what happens – I’m quitting my job at the end of the year and doing whatever I want with what’s left of my life.
I kept that promise, resigned from my very safe, very well-paid, very unfulfilling career and frantically chased after my wildest dream since childhood: to write every day for the rest of my life.
So, after finally mustering the courage to quit convention and live a life on my own goddamn terms, I thought I’d offer up the 5 things I’ve learned through experience.
1. THIS TOO SHALL PASS
Just when you think you’ve found your fit, you’re settled and the waters are calm, life jumps up and bites you in the face as a painful reminder that sometimes the big things – the important things – are completely beyond your control.
Maybe you’ve been told one time too many that “everything happens for a reason” and that “things will turn out the way they are supposed to”.
Maybe you’ll find yourself standing on a precipice, staring into an abyss at some point – regardless of how carefully you tread, how obsessively you attempt to control your circumstances.
Saturn Return is an astrological phenomenon that suggests there is a great upheaval for an individual when the planet Saturn returns to the same point in the sky that it occupied at the moment you were born.
Saturn returns for the first time when you’re between 27 and 31 years of age. It’s considered the period in which you reach adult maturity, and are fully equipped to overcome obstacles and gain independence.
It also happens to coincide with a tumultuous time of emotional upheaval and umpteen epiphanies.
If your experience with Saturn’s return is anything like mine was, you probably felt like she swapped out clarity for confusion. That every day was a test of your courage, resilience, resolve and desire to keep moving forward in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.
And yet experience has taught me this:
One day you will wake – comfortable in your own skin, strong of opinion, and optimistic, with the courage to fight through the chaotic times.
One day soon you will feel a shift.
Instead of being consumed with the turbulence and tumult of life, you will hear that little voice in your heart begin to whisper, “Don’t worry darling, this too shall pass”.
And it will.
Because it always does.
“This too shall pass” is an incredible affirmation in times that require courage, in times of overwhelming elation, and in moments of despair. It’s a leveller – a gentle reminder of how fleeting our time on this planet really is.
This too shall pass and Saturn will return…
2. GETTING YOUR HEART GUTTER-STOMPED SHIFTS YOUR PERSPECTIVE
Circumstances beyond your control force you to reassess and recalibrate your approach to life – sometimes from a perspective you could never have anticipated would be a reality.
If, like me, you’ve succumbed to lots of crying, lots of self-pity and lots of expletive hurling in your darkest moments, you may feel like it doesn’t help much.
You gave it every fibre of your being and it didn’t work out.
And yet somehow you’re still standing, despite it all.
I’ll tell you, friend, NOTHING shifts your perspective quite like getting your heart gutter-stomped.
It doesn’t matter who or what did the stomping – a lover, a loss, a broken promise, a shattered dream, a cataclysmic event – having the courage to put a band-aid on your heart, dust yourself off and get back on your feet (when all you want to do is stay foetal and wail) makes you a f*cking badass.
If you can turn the page, you’ll inevitably arrive at a new chapter.
The world will look different, feel different and your life lessons will make you less inclined to care about those beings and events that took more than they gave.
Afterall, there’s nothing quite like having your heart ripped out, wrung out and gutter-stomped to review your perspective.
In times of crisis, you quickly figure out who you really are and how much courage you’ve got in the kitty.
And there ain’t nothin’ that builds character more than the courage it takes to keep going when it feels beyond difficult.
3. IT’S BETTER TO REGRET WHAT YOU HAVE DONE THAN WHAT YOU HAVEN’T
I’ve made mistakes – some minor, others monumental.
And I have regrets that remind me of their existence occasionally, flooding me with remorse:
- Breaking up with my first boyfriend because I was told I was “too young to feel real love, yet”.
- Getting on that Camel in Cairo.
- Staying in a job way past its expiration date.
- Buying a time-share in Cabo without reading the fine-print.
- Staying in an abusive relationship because I was more afraid of being alone.
- Drinking absinthe without heeding the cautions of my seasoned friends.
- Eating a second brownie because “it’s not working”.
But as Jonathan Safran Foer noted in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close:
“The mistakes I’ve made are dead to me. But I can’t take back the things I never did.”
Pardon the double cliché, but at the end of the day, what’s done is done.
You can stew and fester and wish things had turned out differently until you’re exhausted and miserable – but it won’t do you any good – and it certainly won’t change a damn thing.
All you can do is learn – from each misstep or heartbreak, or incident outside your control – reflect on what you did well or could have done differently, and apply your learning to the next time trouble comes a-knocking.
Sydney J. Harris explains: “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable”.
Have the courage to make mistakes, to take risks, to take a leap without knowing if you’ll stick the landing the first time.
Yeah, you’ll end up taking a bit of skin off your knees, and with a few bruises to your ego, and scars across your heart, but you can also take comfort in the knowledge that it takes grit, and pluck, and audacity to live an unconventional life.
It really is better to regret what you have done than what you haven’t.
Go! Get to it:
- Make calculated decisions and irrational ones.
- Create a meticulous plan and replace it with a spontaneous one.
- Make that bank.
- Take that trip.
- Steer your own ship exactly where you want to go.
- And smile, knowing you have courage and a boldness others can only dream about.
4. WOUNDS CAN’T HEAL IF YOU KEEP PICKING AT THEM
Self-sabotage? Check, check, checkity-check-check!
Seriously, being your own worst critic is exhausting.
I should know, I talked myself out of risk and creativity in favour of “safe” and conventional for years.
I learned the hard way that the only way to succeed (in literally anything I tried) was to cut myself a break and find the positive attributes in any situation. This approach hasn’t proved bulletproof yet (is any though?!), but it has helped me to consciously beat back the funk, so Imposter Syndrome has no chance of winning the war.
For the majority of my twenties and thirties, I lived alone. I loved it because locking the world out at the end of the day gave me the necessary time to crawl inside my own thoughts – reassess, analyse, deconstruct.
But the downside to getting such joy from seclusion was that I had a tendency to overthink and cut laps inside my own head – punishing myself for how a comment might have been interpreted, berating myself for daring to think I could and should back myself to succeed.
I’ve been criticised by various members of my family, by colleagues, and even by strangers in bars at one point or another for “thinking too much”.
For most of my life I’ve got hung up on details and replaying fragments of conversation so many times that truth and imagination have blurred into one and I couldn’t tell if I was overreacting or merely over-reading the intent of the person’s words I was obsessively scrutinising.
Just like plans cannot flourish if they are only sewn inside your skull, hurts can’t heal if you keep clawing at them.
Consider this a Public Service Announcement:
You deserve happiness. You can’t move forward if you’re always looking backwards. You are not your mistakes, but a creature of evolution and growth. You have not failed, you’ve developed mettle in knowing you can try a new approach that might work next time. Your wounds, dear friend, can’t heal if you keep picking at them.
5. TO BE VULNERABLE TAKES COURAGE
To be honest, I’ve never understood the notion of writer’s block. It’s always just seemed to me that if you come to an impasse, you travel a different route.
And I love the idea of a muse, because I’m a romantic mofo – but I do not have one, per se.
When it comes to my compulsion to write, nothing encapsulates the feeling quite like Coco J. Ginger’s assertion:
“Writing is hard. Not as hard as not writing. Not writing is torturous, bloody, chaotic and a gruesome winless battle. A writer who writes knows peace, lives connected to truth. Not writing is ache, betrayal, death of the soul and imagination.”
My problem has never been Writer’s Block, lack of inspiration, or inability to find time to write (there’s always time!), but Writer’s Bottleneck. Too many episodes, snippets and minute moments fight for my attention and I get flummoxed because I can’t get them all out, or do them justice in the time I set aside to write each day.
For too many years, I stood in my own way – blocking myself from writing about content that might upset someone’s mother’s next door neighbour’s dog. I applied a filter that censored an examination of ideas that could be construed as contravening the norm, or that had the potential to ruffle feathers and rock all the boats.
When I started blogging a thousand years ago – when the dinosaurs roamed free range – I assumed that a few of my loved ones would read out of support and that maybe a few strangers would stagger across a post or two along the way also.
Naively, what I didn’t anticipate was that strangers-who-aren’t-really-strangers would read my words.
That was the quandary: I wanted the world to take notice of what I had to say, but I felt incredibly uncomfortable knowing people might actually read my most personal thoughts.
For a long time, the blockers in my writing were borne out of fear.
Fear that I would be misinterpreted, misunderstood or misquoted.
Fear that I would create a simplistic and flawed representation of who I really am because of the words I put to page.
And Fear that I’d need to fend off unsolicited feedback and keyboard warriors at every turn in the road.
And even though I’m still mindful of curbing a discussion of X out of respect for her, and I won’t write Y in case he misconstrues my meaning, I have learned to embrace the fears as part of the process, now.
To overcome the great weight of vulnerability and fear is no mean feat.
You have to ask yourself who you are serving and why, with every conscious step you take in the direction of your choosing.
Who are you doing all this for – this thing called life, as you know it?
- Which rules do you live by?
- Who made them?
- Why are you following them?
- What would happen if you rewrote them?
To be vulnerable, in any endeavour, takes courage.
In anything you do – writing or otherwise – you’ll make errors.
You may even be reprimanded on occasion by the people whose opinions actually matter to you. In such instances, all you can do is apologise, endure the metaphorical wrist slap and hope to do better, write better, and live more compassionately, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
To live life on your own terms is to wander a treacherous road, but it’s a spectacular adventure just the same.
UGLY TRUTH TIME
Stalling and second guessing your intuition keeps your dreams just out of reach.
If you sit about waiting for the stars to align before you go after what you want, your amazing potential will never eventuate.
REAL TALK: Make a decision about who you want to be and how you want to live and begin.
You can iterate and adapt as you go, but just start.
It takes courage to be so bold – but she lives in you.
Wake her up.
You’ve got audacious ambitions to fulfil!
None of us know how long we’ve got, or what event is going to upturn our world with little to no notice. And it’s easiest to play safe, and stay small rather than risk upsetting other people with our choices.
But that’s the key difference between the I-Could-Nevers and the Doers.
The former get hung up on fitting the mould, and colouring within the lines, while the latter live life according to their own rules.
Look, I know it can be really scary to go against the grain, but the time is now.
Summon the courage to chase down your dream life and dazzle the world with your unorthodoxy.
I dare you!
Ready to find joy in your everyday life? Check out this post to learn just how to do it!