A note before we begin…
While this site is typically for sharing my thoughts regarding family dynamics and child wellness, this post is a bit of a departure. I felt strongly about creating a post in which I share what I learned during a recent transition period in my professional life. I hope that you may find something helpful from my experiences to guide you through your own transitions.
My story makes even the hardened among us cringe. However, this is not a tale of pain and hardship. Nor is it a tale of bitterness or revenge. My story, my real story, begins after. It is the after that is a story of triumph. What specifically happened to me isn’t really the point; as I like to say, “Pain is pain, the end.” So no matter what you’re going through or have been through, allow my story to resonate.
Imagine that you’ve built something with your career that feels sacred, almost miraculous to you. But that which you’ve built is in someone else’s name and remaining would mean being at odds with yourself morally. Over time, I looked around, I looked at my kids, and realized that the adults around them were busily creating their world for them. I had to live in a way that would make this world worthy of them. So I left and it is such a blessed peacefulness to align myself with my values once again. But in doing so, I had to walk away from everything I had worked so hard to create. How do you regroup from that? How do you mold it all into something manageable? How does something positive come from hardship?
Determined to remain true to myself and ignore the siren’s song of Bitter and Vengeful, I embarked on a journey more enlightening than I ever could have predicted. It became clear to me that I couldn’t keep what I’ve learned to myself. In the past few months, I’ve had more and more people reach out in support and then leave the encounter moved and inspired by me. Me. The one who seemingly gave everything up. Little by little, I began to accept that maybe I had actually done something worth noting. And I began to realize that people are hungry for change and courage in their own lives. Maybe I had some of the answers people seemed to be craving.
Here is my Breaking Open process and some of what I’ve learned along the way:
Grace, grace, and more grace: for awhile after my painful chapter ended, I felt worse than I had even while I was going through it. Something I had built was gone, taken away in a matter of seconds. I had taken a stand and the good guys didn’t win the day. I felt shaken, defeated, depleted, and sad. I needed a few weeks to grieve. This phase may last even longer for you or it may rear its head on and off for years. Either way, allow yourself to feel what you feel when you feel it. Euphoric? Awesome. Crying in your breakfast cereal? Equally awesome. Many times, when we fight against our emotions, they actually last much longer than when we simply allow them to pass through. Let it come so you can let it go.
Get comfortable with feeling nothing for awhile: one of my mentors asked me what I was feeling a few weeks after it was all over. I felt a little panicky to admit that I felt, well, nothing. This absence of feeling after the flurry of fear, anxiety, and betrayal that had consumed me for so long was disconcerting in a Stockholm syndrome-type way. My mentor nodded calmly and said, “That emptiness you’re feeling is the absence of negativity. And what fills up that space will be creativity. Allow yourself to sit quietly in that ‘nothing’ and see what begins to pop in.” You’re actually reading right now what came to fill that empty space.
Counseling and coaching: several months ago, I began counseling with a fantastic empowerment coach. She helped me to re-frame my experience into something much more enlightening and purposeful. I began to change my thinking from victim-driven to strong and capable. From there, I connected with a career coach, who complimented my original counselor’s approach. Whenever I meet with other women who find themselves in a similar situation, I always encourage counseling and coaching. Why take your same thought patterns into your new life?
Get grateful: I had a lot of fears and trust issues after everything that had happened to me. My way out of this type of victim mentality was to find gratitude. When I was afraid to trust my new employer, I switched my thoughts to gratitude that I had a job at all. Many people don’t, after all. This type of thinking soon found its way into every part of my life before I even realized it was happening. Suddenly, instead of resenting meal prep, which takes a lot of my time and energy with a family of five, I found myself feeling grateful that I could afford the food to feed my family. Instead of feeling exhausted at the end of the day, I began to feel grateful that a good night’s sleep was close at hand, with a comfortable bed and a safe home to protect me while I restored myself.
Simplify: my husband and I worried about finances a lot when we both embarked on new career paths at the same time. Would we be able to float our family of five while we pursued new interests that would take time to build? The answer was to simplify, simplify, simplify. We cut out subscriptions to clothing delivery services (goodbye, dear Stitch Fix) and audio books. We postponed expensive vacations in favor of much cheaper (and less stressful) stay-cations. We ate out less often. We visited the library instead of the instant gratification of Amazon Prime. We set (and actually stuck to) a holiday budget. Interestingly, once I stopped spending to create little (and fleeting) dopamine hits, I began to find other, more lasting ways to find that little spark of excitement. Once I tasted a little “less is more,” I began to want more of less. I now appreciate the simplicity of an evening at home playing board games with my family, a fire crackling in the background. I’m eager to discard more of the mental and physical clutter that distracts my family.
Write it down: I happen to love writing (you may have noticed). But for me, it was extremely helpful to take the swirling vortex in my mind and write it out. Journaling or letter writing can be very helpful to heal from the original trauma but can also help you envision where you’re heading as you move forward. Use the reminder function of your smart phone to set inspirational “reminders” that will pop up on your home screen at intervals throughout the day. I use these as quick “gut checks” to remind me of how I want to feel or who I want to be moving forward. One even reminds me to stop and kiss my husband, which he loves!
Make a list of happy: I started a list of all the silly, quirky things that make me laugh or lift my spirit. It’s a go-to on the days I feel a little sad or anxious and it never fails to give me a boost. Adding to that list also required that I be present enough to notice the little “zing” I get from certain songs or activities. Check out the Twenty Joys website (Twentyjoys.com) for a tangible way to list out your happy.
Get outside: fresh air, fresh air, and more fresh air, no matter the weather or season. There’s something about wide open spaces and infinite sky that never fails to reset me. How insurmountable can my own personal problems truly be when I am such a small part of this big, beautiful world?
Get inspired: my mind had been held hostage by negative thoughts for far too long and I wanted that emotional space back. So, I developed a technique: for every tired, old negative thought, I replaced it with a thought of someone inspirational in my life. These positive thoughts ended up opening lines of communication with some of these people and soon I was spending joy-filled hours in coffee shops with mentors and friends from my past. Now I had supportive relationships to carry with me into my next chapter. Additionally, I filled my brain with inspirational podcasts, Ted talks, blogs, and books. It’s amazing how little space I had left for the old negativity once I began spending my days with folks I admired.
Surprise yourself: you are so much more than your traumas. While you’re regrouping, try something that scares you a little bit, cracks you up, or both. Get really brave in a safe way so you can remember that feeling the next time you’re challenged. When a friend of mine mentioned taking an adult tap class, I felt that little wistful tug inside, which I would have suppressed in the past. This time, rather than thinking of ten reasons I couldn’t sign up, I hurriedly picked up my own size 9 tap shoes and dragged a bestie along for good measure.
I can’t tell you what’s right for your own lives. I can’t tell you to burn it all to the ground and start over like I did. But I can tell you that through this process, I found the beauty in the struggle. I began to piece my life back together to create something so much better than I had before. I’ve come to understand that a fulfilling life is cyclical--building up, burning down, breaking open, over and over on repeat, each time coming out of the process a little more enlightened. Allow yourself to explore the endless possibilities brought about by Breaking Open. I promise you, this is a journey worth taking.