Is this all there is?
You can’t help but to wonder sometimes.
You’ve dutifully done all of the things that you were supposed to do in life. You worked hard, got an education, and a job. You got your own place and became a responsible adult. You might have even found yourself a long-term significant other, along with children (of the human or fur-baby variety).
But yet, sometimes, in your quiet moments, you might find yourself with that uncomfortable, nagging question…
Am I actually happy?
To avoid having to think about this, you distract yourself. You spend more time than is reasonable online — surfing the web, succumbing to clickbait on Facebook, or feeling wistful as you scroll through others’ carefully curated posts depicting the good life on Instagram.
You immerse yourself in your responsibilities — working hard in a job that’s okay but not great, and tending to the needs of those around you (and frequently putting yourself last).
Sure, it’s nice to periodically play the “what if” game — thinking about how your life could be different if you actually took a leap of faith. But, you know that’s not how life really works. You have obligations. People depending on you. A mortgage.
You know you have to be practical.
Well, let me tell you a little story.
How I Faced My Fears
In 2013, I was in this very position.
I had just returned to work, a mere 6 weeks after having my son. I was in a job that a lot of my friends thought was great — I was a management consultant who coached senior executives, all across North America.
I got to travel first class, stay in nice places, hobnob with the C-suite, and make well over 6 figures doing it. And, I really loved working with my clients, helping them to be their best at work and fulfill their career goals.
The problem was, I hated the culture of my firm. (Cue violins).
I didn’t like the constant pressure to bill and meet our ambitious productivity goals. I didn’t like having minimal control over my schedule, so that if I was free in two days, I might find myself traveling cross-country, if a client needed it. I didn’t like the exaggerated urgency to get everything done as quickly as possible — even if that meant missing a prior commitment so that I could complete assignments in the evenings or on weekends.
I found myself wondering, “Is this all there is?” at least once a day.
So what did I do? Nothing.
After all, I was a responsible adult who had followed the path that responsible adults take. I had gotten a PhD, a job, a house, a husband, a son. I was the main breadwinner in the family. I couldn’t just up and leave my job.
I was also afraid.
I was afraid I would personally be the cause of my family ending up homeless. I was afraid I would find out that I didn’t have what it took to be successful on my own. I was afraid I would prove the naysayers at my firm right, and be wracked with embarrassment and shame.
I’d never, in the history of my career at the firm, brought in a significant client. I’d be stupid to leave.
I reasoned with myself in an effort to try to feel better. I told myself that I enjoyed the people I was working with. I just didn’t love the conditions under which I was doing the work. Wasn’t this what most peoples’ lives are like? Who was I to want something different?
This internal tug-of-war went on for about a year until I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore.
I needed to try.
I needed to try to see if my life could expand from okay to great. I needed to try to create the life I wanted, instead of just settling for the resigned ennui that so many people around me seemed to accept. I needed to see if I had it in me to live a life that was authentically mine.
So, I faced my fears, and quit my job.
I had no clients. I didn’t even have prospects. But I was determined to try to make it work.
How I Pursued My Dreams
I created my consulting firm, Silver Lining Psychology because I love helping people. I’d loved coaching and advising people at my prior firm, but I just wanted to do it on my own terms. So, I created a website and started writing more regularly for my blog (which I had created the year before).
As a life-long introvert, I wasn’t particularly comfortable with self-promotion, so I put myself out there in small ways. I wrote a book called The Consummate Leader. And, as a huge step for me, I reached out to Marshall Goldsmith and Adam Grant, two management experts and NY Times best-selling authors I admired to see if they would endorse the book. They both liked what I wrote, and gave me glowing quotes to include on the front and back covers.
I was able to pick up the odd consulting gig here and there, but not enough to cover all of our expenses. My credit card balances started to climb, and my savings dwindled. Had I made the biggest mistake of my life?
I started to feel overcome with stress and worry. Then came the doubt.
What made me think I had what it took to accomplish this? Who was I fooling? Success doesn’t happen to people like me.
What had I done?
I knew I couldn’t crawl back to my old job. And, despite the anxiety I was going through, I knew that deep down, I didn’t want to.
After all, once I dug down deep inside past the doubt, past the shaken confidence, and past the worry, I was proud of myself. I had done something that a lot of people contemplate, but don’t have the courage to do. I had faced my fears to pursue my dream.
Sure, the money wasn’t rolling in yet, but there was a lot about my current lifestyle that I really appreciated.
They were little things like being able to take time every day to work out. If my son couldn’t go to daycare because he was sick, I was able to easily flex my activities to take care of him. I could work in the comfort of my home office, or basking in sunshine on my deck, or while people-watching and sipping my favorite drink at a cafe. I could even take naps!
I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. But, I also knew I needed to do two things:
First, I needed to learn how to quiet all my worry and self-defeating thoughts so that I could fully appreciate the life choice I’d made, instead of making myself miserable.
Second, I needed to challenge myself to expand in new ways. I needed to embody the sort of person who would achieve the sort of success that would allow me to actually have the life I wanted.
I knew if I did these two things, I would be well on the path to fulfilling my potential.
How I Fulfilled My Potential
Although I had toyed with meditation in the past, I decided that I would commit to a daily mindfulness practice. So, every morning, after my workout, I set a timer and sat down to meditate.
Some sessions were more “successful” than others, but across time, I got better and better at quieting my mind. And, I started to experience all the benefits associated with meditation that have been found in research. I felt less stressed. I had an easier time quieting the chatter in my mind. I felt relaxed and at peace.
And, with that increased sense of peace and perspective, I was ready to challenge myself in new ways.
I wrote. A lot. And, instead of just putting it online and hoping that people would somehow find me, I faced my discomfort about self-promotion. I learned a lot about marketing, and realized that promoting myself wasn’t bragging or bothering people, it was simply letting them know how I could help them. After all, if I had life-changing content, but no one was reading it, what was the point?
So, I put myself out there.
I heard a lot of no’s. And, I’m not going to lie — some of them felt like swift kicks to the groin. But, with my newfound sense of calm, I was able to put them behind me pretty quickly and keep trying.
As I persisted, I started to hear a lot more yeses. From places like The Harvard Business Review, Time, Money, The Huffington Post, MindBodyGreen, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Tiny Buddha, Thrive Global, Cosmopolitan, Essence, and CNN, to name a few. And, each yes helped to boost my confidence. Each one provided me with a sense of validation that I was doing the right thing.
I reached out to people to get new consulting business. Again, I heard some no’s, but there were enough yeses to make things comfortable. I made bigger sales than I had ever made in my whole career working for someone else. My increased sense of determination to fulfill my potential fueled me to do what it took to succeed.
I created online courses to teach people how they could use mindfulness in their own careers or become better leaders. I took all the knowledge I had accumulated so that others could learn to be their best at work.
And, believe it or not, the formerly shy girl who usually knew the answers, yet never put up her hand in class, created a podcast. And, I have to say, I have a total blast doing it!
In slightly over a year, I replaced the income from my corporate job (and then some).
And now, I’ve created the life I wanted.
I follow my inspiration to determine what’s the next exciting opportunity I’ll pursue, which idea I’ll bring to fruition, and what challenge I’m going to take on next.
I know I haven’t even come close to fulfilling my potential, but with the way things are going, I know I’m well on my way.
Most of all, I’m enjoying the journey.
And, you know what? You can do it too.
You Can Do It Too
I used to ask myself “Is this all there is?” Now, I sometimes wonder, “What if I had sold myself short?”
What if I had never gathered to courage to pursue my dream? What if I had settled for okay instead of great?
Do you have a dream inside you that you might take to your grave because you’re too afraid to go after it?
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Are you living your life based on others’ expectations of what you “should” be doing, even though it’s chipping away at your happiness?
You don’t have to.
Are you going through the motions with your life, accepting mediocrity, instead of being all that you were meant to be?
You can change that.
Trust me, if this formerly painfully shy girl could quit my job, deal with a barrage of self-doubt, risk financial ruin for my family, learn how to market myself and push myself to make the unique contribution to the world that only I can make, you too can pursue your dreams.
Will it be easy? I can’t guarantee that. But, as someone who has been through the ups and downs of it, I can honestly tell you that the pride, fulfillment, personal growth, and sense of aliveness I’ve experienced has been worth it.
And remember, you don’t have to do something as rash as quitting your job. Instead, you’ll likely find that if you do just do something — even something small — you’ll begin to rediscover that little spark of excitement that will spur you onto the next step towards fulfilling your dreams.
So what are you going to do today to take a stand for yourself?
Be courageous. Your life awaits.