The beginning of my awakening, so to speak, happened on a spring day very much like this one… although on a work day, not a Saturday.
It was about 10 years ago, before kids, when my main (okay, pretty much only) focus in life was climbing the corporate ladder.
I used to pride myself that I was one of the first ones in and last ones out of the office each day. In the winter, it’d be dark when I got there and dark when I left. I rarely left for lunch. I worked hard, produced good stuff, and was rewarded with raises and promotions.
I was a machine, and I thought I was happy.
But all work and no play doesn’t just make you dull, as the old saying goes. It can make you hollow. Robotic. It can make you lose touch with the world around you.
For a string of months that year a decade ago, I’d been holed up in my office, head down, and barely noticed as winter gave way to spring. One day, a meeting about an hour away gave me some much-needed alone time in the car. I hit pause on my automatic inclination to get on the phone and keep work moving; instead, I opened the sun roof and marveled at spring exploding around me.
After a while, I began to sob with the realization that life was happening and I’d been too preoccupied to even see it. I called a girlfriend back at the office. “There are leaves on the trees,” I cried, but she couldn’t make out my words between hiccups and chokes. “There are leeeeeaves on the treeeees,” I repeated.
These days, we laugh at the absurdity of the moment, but back then… those words became my rally cry.
When I finally left the corporate world eight years later (about two years ago), many saw it as unexpected. Impulsive, even. And in some ways it was. (You can read about it here.) But, in truth, that decision was a long time in the making. If I could go back in time, I’d like to tighten up that time frame between when I first understood my situation wasn’t working to the moment that I finally did something about it.
But, of course, I can’t change the past. I can only learn from it.
Now, I’m not suggesting everyone unhappy with their jobs go out and quit them, as much as you might like an invitation or a blessing to do so. But I do want you to know that just because things have been a certain way, doesn’t mean they need to stay a certain way.
You’ve got to give yourself permission to make a mid-course correction, to realize that priorities shift over time and new dreams take shape. You’ve got to believe that you can create a life based on choice instead of the momentum of the past.
And, once you do that, I want you to open your eyes and see the leaves on the trees. Feel the sunshine in your hair. Let breath swell into the deepest caverns of your body.
Follow your passion.
Or, if you’re not quite sure what that is, follow your curiosity. As the author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the other day,
“Curiosity is an easier goal, and a gentler one. Curiosity is just a soft tap on your shoulder that asks you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look at something a bit more closely… No matter how random, no matter how small, no matter how silly.”
When I was deciding on college, I followed my curiosity about writing and it led me to journalism school—and I’ve written just about every day since. Not long after I saw the leaves on the trees, I followed my curiosity again and turned my yoga practice into yoga teaching—now I teach as my vocation. I followed my curiosity about motherhood—today I am blessed with two gorgeous little girls.
Of course, curiosity doesn’t always lead to your life’s calling, but it can lead you to the thousands of little things that fill it up. For me, those things are the music in my ears, the flowers in my garden, the books that line my shelves, the time spent hiking in the woods or getting lost on purpose during a drive in the country.
I saw this man painting yesterday when I visited my local botanical garden (because it’s springtime in St. Louis, which means there are leaves on the trees—and I just had to see them, dammit!). He was one of several artists I noticed painting and sketching and photographing. They weren’t just practicing their craft… they were filling themselves up. Living. Hollow no more.
Tell me, are you feeling hollow or full these days? What did/does your awakening look like? What advice can you offer to someone at the very beginning of that process, whether they’ve realized it’s happening or not?
It’s in the sharing of these insights that we help each other.
Author: Becky Vollmer
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photos: Flickr; Author’s Own
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