For years I wondered about my true purpose and struggled to know who I was. As I hit 30, I had a break through—or maybe it was a breakdown, they look very similar.
I had a life that looked perfect from the outside but inside there was a hole in my soul. I was unhappy so I decided to change everything in my life that wasn’t bringing me happiness—I left my job in the corporate world to go and live in a yoga ashram and train in yoga and meditation, I left a long term relationship, my house by the beach and I gave away my possessions so I could travel overseas.
Going through this transformation I became much more self aware about who I was and what I wanted and out of this emerged my new life—one where I was living my dreams, I’d found my purpose and knew who I was. I was finally comfortable in my own skin and felt like I was on the right path.
What they didn’t tell me about the joy of discovering who I really was and living a life true to my purpose, is that it comes with side effects. Brene Brown describes a cigarette-style warning for those not living their true identities, “Warning; if you trade your authenticity for safety you may experience the following; anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment and grief.” I think the same could also be said for those who are, “Living true to yourself and finding your purpose will lead to joy and happiness but may also cause a sense of loss, fear, jealousy and may lead to extreme loneliness.”
It was hard enough to get to this point, to figure out what my true purpose is and who I am, and then when I found the courage to start living it, I thought the hard work was done! E. E. Cummings said, “To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day to make everybody but yourself, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting.”
I understood this was the path to happiness—being true to ourselves, living an authentic life—but as I stood shaking with fear telling those who’d known me all my life that they didn’t really know me at all, I couldn’t have felt further away from happiness.
My breakdown/breakthrough lead to a new job, new friends and a new life but also to the loss of a long term relationship, a few old friends and my old life. I left my corporate job to become a yoga teacher, I began meditating with Buddhists, I separated from my partner of 7 years, I went vegetarian and organic and I travelled the world. On the outside, I was living the dream and this is what it felt like on the inside too.
But when we return to our old life with this new found sense of self the trouble is we look the same and people expect that we’ll behave the same and that we are the same person that used to live this old life of ours. The problem is that nothing has changed—except everything about us. This is compounded by the fact that there may not be many people from our old life who understand this and coupled with our prior breakdown/breakthrough people will assume we are the ones who have gone strange.
I would talk to my family about the places I’d been to and they’d look at me blankly. They’d think I was being awkward when I’d ask for no meat in my dinner, they weren’t entirely sure what non meat eaters actually ate. Friends couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to get drunk and hang out in a pub full of strangers at 3 a.m. and I was often unable to contribute to conversations about their favourite reality TV shows or latest shopping sprees.
Relatives feared for my safety as I travelled to foreign countries alone. The irony being I was rarely alone and the places I visited were often a lot safer than the very streets I used to call home. “Why would she want to leave a good job like that?” they’d ask. I was supposed to be settling down and having kids not gallivanting around the world. “He was so good to her, she’s getting older now,” was something I hear too often. As for the Buddhism and meditation I’m sure they thought I’d been brainwashed and joined a cult, despite being calmer, kinder, happier and healthier than anyone I know this didn’t seem to be the point.
I wasn’t doing what society expected, I’d bucked the normal trend and for that I was strange and it made them uncomfortable. Fear of the unknown often leads people to describe anything different as weird. But there was also jealousy from those who wished they knew how to live their true purpose but were stuck in a life expected of them or those that looked at my life from the outside and wished they could also be living the dream.
As I made my transition from my old life, the happiness I felt living my purpose and finding my true self was tinged with extreme loneliness. I felt like a fish out of water except I was in the pond I had grown up in surrounded by my friends and family. No wonder it’s so easy to stay in an unfulfilled life that is seen as the “norm” by so much of society. However, having done both I now see it’s much better to be walking alone than travelling with a crowd that’s going in the wrong direction although it can be a lonely road. I learned the importance of like minded people—it’s actually crucial to living our new life.
It’s like when we write off our first car: we’re gutted it’s broken beyond repair and grieve for the loss but once the insurance has paid out and we have a bright, shiny new car sitting on our drive we wonder what all the fuss was about. The loss eases and we drive around happily in our new car which is our favourite colour, has a better stereo, is an upgraded model and feels like it was made for us.
Finding our purpose and living a life true to our values and authenticity is the key to our happiness. It’s a tough road and I salute all those who are travelling it. Be aware of the side effects and tackle them with the same courage that gets us to this point of the journey.
Don’t ask yourself what you’re walking away from but rather what you’re walking toward.
Author: Jess Stuart
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Michele Pravin/Flickr