When I was five years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life.
When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down “happy”.
They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.
Have you ever felt like you are living for tomorrow – constantly working towards the next thing that will lead to your perfect life – that promotion, the next increase, the annual performance bonus, the new car, the bigger house etc, etc, – but tomorrow never, ever arrives?
I lived like that for a long time – imagining a life where I can take a rest from the rat race and enjoy the fruits of my labours – but my hard work just never seemed to take root enough for the tree to bear the fruit that I hungered for so much.
I don’t think I truly realised how debilitating and futile this never-ending game was that I was playing, until one evening in December of 2012, when my husband sat me down and asked me if I felt trapped. He was asking me if I felt trapped in our marriage, which I didn’t. In hindsight I realise that that was how he felt at the time which was the reason for his question. However, his question did make me consider how I felt about our life. While I didn’t feel trapped in our marriage, I did feel trapped by the burdens of this rat race into which we are so easily indoctrinated.
My husband and I had completely bought into the plan: sacrifice while you are young for a better life later on. We grafted for our careers, swiftly moving up the career ladder. We postponed starting a family until such time that we could ensure our children would have the best life possible. We diligently invested in property. We put off travelling and other experiences for later. The more we chased the dream, the further it seemed to be. There was always something else that needed to be achieved before we could have our life of happiness.
I was stuck, with no idea of how to get out.
… and then it all fell apart …
Not long after that conversation with my husband things started rapidly disintegrating with my marriage. First counselling, then separation and eventually divorce. My husband wanted out of the marriage in which he felt so trapped. I fought hard to save the marriage – we were supposed to be following this fruitless plan together!
While I had started coming to the realisation that the plan we were on wasn’t working, I had placed the responsibility of my happiness squarely on my husband’s shoulders – a responsibility that no one should be burdened with. What was I going to do without the one thing that brought me some element of joy?
I had mistakenly believed that happiness can be found in other people and things; but life was about to teach me the truth about happiness through the brutal collapse of my marriage.
It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves but it is not possible to find it elsewhere.
… but this was just the fire needed for the Phoenix to rise …
When he left, a big part of me left too. Everything I knew about myself: my identity and my self-worth were all dependant on my ongoing relationship with my husband. Without him, who was I? We had married so young that I never figured out who I really was.
Over the next 18 months I went on the most incredible journey of discovery that not only allowed me to understand who I truly am, but also empowered me to love and respect the true me; and in that terrifyingly beautiful journey I found real happiness. Not a happiness dependent on something or someone other than me; but a happiness that comes from deep within my soul. I did this by following 5 simple strategies.
Maybe the journey isn’t so much about becoming anything.
Maybe it’s about unbecoming everything that isn’t really you,
So you can be who you were meant to be in the first place.
Key 1: Living in the NOW
It was clear that living for tomorrow wasn’t working for me. Immediately after the break-up I briefly lived in the past – rehashing my entire marriage in my head and strategising ways to get things back to the way they were. It quickly became apparent that living in the past was as detrimental as living for the future. If I was to survive and prosper I needed to start living in the present. I started some simple daily practices that helped me to mindfully focus on NOW. I learnt to breathe and meditate; and began to exercise. I started journaling and focussed on being grateful. Most importantly, I stopped focusing on myself and rather on adding value to the lives of others. In time, my mind and heart changed creating a positive outlook that saved my soul.
Happiness is finding the joy of each passing moment
and continue to cherish the good memories of yesterday,
finding the YOU within YOU
JOHN HENRY TAGUINES
Key 2: Facing Fear
The end of my marriage forced me to face one of my biggest fears: the fear of being alone. When you are tied up with another person for as long as my husband and I were, it is difficult to fathom life as an individual. I decided to tackle this fear head-on. I was not going to cower away from it. My first act of independence – the day after he moved out – was booking a plane ticket to New York. For a number of reasons this trip to visit my sister had been put off for three years by my husband. Booking the ticket felt like an act of defiance, but it was in fact an act of ownership – ownership over myself and my life. The trip invigorated me and gave me the confidence to tackle many, many other fears over the coming months. And with each new fear challenged, I felt emboldened to face another. There is little that gives you more confidence in yourself than facing a fear head on.
Everything you want is on the other side of fear.
Key 3: Falling in Love with Myself
Because we had married so young neither of us had ever really had an opportunity to establish an individual identity as an adult. Our identities were so entwined in one another. When the marriage started slowly breaking down over a period of around 5 years, so did my self-esteem break down with it. Everything I knew and believed was being challenged and I had no idea how to recover. I had no identity as an individual – no idea what I liked, no personal interests – my primary identity was that of being a wife, and I was failing miserably at that – at least that was how I perceived it at the time. I needed to find a way to build my self-esteem and learn to love myself again. I used a few approaches but the most significant was the “fake it till you make it” approach. Basically, I forced myself to behave like someone who loved themselves; and this started with my self-talk. I made sure to speak to myself positively using language that I would use when speaking to my loved ones, nearest and dearest to me. In time my mind-set changed and I started to see the capable, beautiful, intelligent women that had been hidden for so long.
Eat like you love yourself; Move like you love yourself;
Speak like you love yourself; Act like you love yourself;
Key 4: Letting Go
The strategies above laid the foundation on which I could find happiness. But the most critical step was letting go – forgiving the person who hurt me beyond measure. I could not have done this without following the first three strategies; but without this critical step the other steps would have been pointless. I realised that until I let go he would always be clouding my judgement, influencing my choices; and eventually embedding that bitterness into an emotional cancer that will spread to every cell in my body and destroy any hope of happiness. I realised that forgiving him was the greatest act of love I could show myself.
Forgiving someone isn’t approving how they wronged you,
rather it’s no longer allowing their wrong to define you.
Key 5: Finding Direction
This turned out to be the game-changer for me; but, I couldn’t get there without first going through the first four strategies. I knew that I needed something to focus my attention on; something that would take me away from my old life and give me a strong enough impetus to move forward. For something to be powerful enough to engage me over the long-term it had to do more than just make me happy; more than fulfill me; it had to be something bigger than me. I needed to shift towards me purpose. I was lucky that by the time my marriage had ended, I had already figured out my purpose awhile before; and perhaps if I hadn’t, my journey would have been a little harder. Having a clear purpose gave me something worth living for; something worth fighting for; something that could make a real impact. Making the decision to stop living someone else’s life and start living the one I was placed on this earth to live was the single most gratifying decision I ever made. Today, I can look back on that dark time with gratitude because in that adversity I found the courage to live an extraordinary life.
There is not greater gift you can give or receive than to honour your calling.
It’s why you were born. And how you become most truly alive.