I am a recovering perfectionist.
I used to say that with an air of pride—as if overworking to appear as though I had it all together on the outside was a badge of honor.
It was as though I had reached unattainable heights, and that fact alone validated my success. Unfortunately, I know I am not alone in thinking this. There are many of us that continually go ‘above and beyond’ and measure our worth by how depended upon we are. And believe me, there is no shortage of external validation to be had in this world. It’s a race that those of us short on self-worth can continue to run for our whole lives.
We fill ourselves with busyness to distract from the painful beliefs buried deep within that we are too afraid to address.
And then sometimes, life hands us a pause button—a shift or change that wasn’t in our own expertly controlled plan. In other words, we are woken up, finally fully aware of the whole of our life’s present experience; for better or worse.
Though it often presents as an obstacle or a struggle, it is usually an opportunity to realign with our soul’s path if we are willing to surrender, be open, and listen.
I recently had such an awakening and I am still amidst the course corrections.
A little over one year ago, I made the decision to leave my corporate career. The intention behind my decision was eerily similar to a place I had been two years prior when I made the choice to forgo pursuing my Ph.D. in Psychology. My higher wisdom was pleading with me to slow down; to show compassion for my body, mind, and spirit; and to live more gently.
I heard this calling regularly, especially when I was at the lowest state of burnout and exhaustion, or following meditation or in savasana when I was especially open. My response for a very long time was to ignore it, push it down, and push through.
If you’ve been here before, you know what happens next: while you may continue ‘normally’ for a while, that voice becomes louder and often finds more creative and active ways to re-emerge in your life. It’s as though the Universe offers us the path of least resistance at first, but the discomfort that comes with it is too subtle, so we allow our egos to override it, waiting, almost asking, for a bigger sign. That has been my experience, and my first ‘big sign’ came in the form of a realization following the defense of my Master’s thesis.
In a hurry to ‘become someone’ and to ‘contribute in a big way’, I had completely neglected to ask myself, “Is this what I want?”
Shocked and terrified, I realized I had no idea. Not only was I unsure of my career path, but I was unsure of just about every aspect of my life.
Stripped of my ego-controlled plan, raw and vulnerable, I surrendered and trusted.
Approximately three months later, I left a long-term relationship, moved to a new state, and began my new and exciting corporate job. While the job lasted only two years, being in that place at that time felt right in every aspect of my person. I met amazing friends, found a community that I enjoyed and fell in love with my now fiancé. Most importantly, I began to listen to and understand who I was. Ironically it was this understanding that gave me the peace I needed to leave the job. While helping people and being a part of a team made my heart soar, the constant travel and pouring out of energy left me depleted.
Exhausted and unsure once again, I chose what I had convinced myself was a slower-paced life. I traded in the travel for health coaching and teaching yoga, and I felt like I was on fire.
There were many opportunities to be seen and heard, to feel important, and to fulfill others’ hopes and expectations. And had I been grounded in strong boundaries and a solid sense of self-worth from the start, these opportunities to serve may have been very life affirming for me. I continued to meet and work with amazing people, and while the work often felt fulfilling, that same sense of depletion crept its way back in.
I convinced myself that ‘everyone else was doing it’ and so feeling this way must just be ‘normal.’ And while this feeling is all too common, I don’t believe in my heart that it is the way we are meant to feel if we are on the path uniquely carved out for us in this life. I began to get ill more often, and finally, my higher wisdom ripped the wheel from my ego’s hands and took over. I remember feeling unwell as I got ready to teach my yoga class that morning, which progressed to feeling as though I was about to vomit and pass out while teaching. A bit shook up, I decided I’d skip the errands I was going to run after class and lay down on the couch instead.
I didn’t get up for four days. Literally.
My body ached all over; my stomach felt like a pit; my ears rang; my head pounded; my throat burned, and I was unbelievably weak and fatigued. I had had the flu before, but this felt different, more severe. When I got up to walk and was 100% unsure of whether I would collapse, I realized my body meant serious business. I knew that I was going to have to make some big life changes, but rather than the normal mind-racing, fear-based impulses to put on a good face, I felt a sense of peace, ease, and resoluteness.
What I had feared most—not being able to ‘do it all’—had finally come to fruition.
I was going to have to say no and back out of commitments, and somehow, I was incredibly okay with that. Of course the worst-case scenario thoughts ran through my mind: “my colleagues won’t respect me anymore”; “my clients will think I was a fluke”; “my family will think I am weak or overreacting.”
But rather than cower away from it and put on a good face, I faced fear and finally, stepped into my body, my voice, and my truth.
I had a feeling that this was the end of my misaligned path. It was time to get back on track to becoming who I was meant to be (not who I thought I should be).
That meant stripping away the ego accomplishments, and coming back to surrendering, opening, and listening. The message (slow down) wasn’t new, but its priority in my life now is.
So far, I have phased out my coaching business and put it on pause. I’ve let go of a yoga class. Most importantly, I’ve been honest about the uncertainty of where I am at, how I am feeling and if or when I will return to those commitments in the future. I had set my expectations for receiving massive disappointment and disapproval from those I had to share this with, but I didn’t try to run away, downplay how I was feeling, or put the responsibility on anyone else.
Here is what the Universe presented me with as a result of standing in my truth: a shockwave of love and support that I am still trying to comprehend.
Co-workers told me to take all the time I needed and offered their services. Clients offered support and well-wishes; friends and friends of friends reached out to share their similar experiences and advice; I even got a job offer out of leaving my job (no, I didn’t take it).
While I am nowhere near fully healed nor completely clear on what’s next, I do know that when you take even one step toward what the Universe is offering it will provide all the support and encouragement you need to take the next. I believe that this can continue, exponentially (if we let it), but we have to take that first step.
So when you get really still, in your moments of frailty and surrender, what is the voice from within asking for? Can you listen fully without rushing to future consequences? Can you set fear aside and honor it?
It is my hope that you will too and that you open yourself to the great gifts the Universe has waiting for you, on the other side.
Author: Jadi Engels
Assistant Editor: Carlotta Luis / Editor: Caitlin Oriel