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April 18, 2016

Happiness is an Inside Job.

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Since 2011, I had been on a career and life exploration spree that began with traveling to South East Asia for four months, followed by an intensive Elementary School Teaching Certificate program paired-with-Masters’ Program, followed by a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training, a 75-hour Prenatal Yoga Teacher training, and finally Intensive Massage Therapy School.

Then I began a private massage practice while working at a Waldorf School and teaching Prenatal Yoga.

And then, as you might imagine—I got tired. Like, certifiably tired.

And poor.

Then I got a full time job at a non-profit that helps homeless families, which I thought would save me some energy since I would be working at “one” place. But the job meant driving between three cities every week and running myself ragged as a social worker. Further, I felt incredibly unappreciated by my co-workers and supervisors while trying to maintain an impossibly large caseload.

In July 2015, I finally threw in the towel. I quit.

And it was the best decision that I had made in a long, long time. I realized that something had to dramatically change—and that something was me.

Throughout those five years of overdoing it consistently, I became chronically stressed. I wound up suffering from adrenal fatigue, insomnia, and thus, anxiety and depression as a result. It was one of the hardest times of my life.

I realized that part of what was keeping me chronically stressed was the type of work I was choosing for myself, paired with being driven by perfectionistic ideas of who I “should be” and “what I should be doing.”

I had decided to get my teaching degree because I loved children and had nannied for years—but I wasn’t necessarily passionate about teaching. I had just decided that “I needed” a more “professional career” at my age.

And then I realized that I am an introvert and a highly sensitive person, and that teaching 20 to 30 children all day and being extroverted drained all of my energy.

Regarding massage therapy and teaching yoga—I have a healing and care-taking persona, and so these seemed like the right fields to go into. But, really, I think I was just imitating the examples that I had around me in Boulder, Colorado.

Massage wore me out physically and energetically. I enjoyed teaching yoga, but it also required extroversion and I couldn’t teach much without needing serious downtime after.

Finally, the social work job. I was great at it, my clients loved me—and I had nothing left at the end of the day. It was too much.

When I quit in July of 2015, I had no idea as to what was next, but I knew that I could not keep going in the direction I had been going. I was consistently out sick at work. I had muscle spasms in my back regularly, and my emotions were often hanging by a thread.

But I had no money. And, I needed a break.

So, I took out a student loan and decided to take the last three classes (online classes only, woopee!) required to finish my Masters’ Degree that I had started with the teaching program back in 2011. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it if not teach, but I knew I wanted to finish it. I figured it was also a way that while getting something accomplished, I could just rest.

And I did.

I slept so much it was unbelievable. And amazing.

I sometimes slept from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m.

Sometimes I would wake up at six or seven in the morning, wake up and make breakfast, and then go back to bed and sleep until noon.

I slept like a teenager.

I visited friends and family. I read books. I watched movies. And I rested.

And I had fun!

I had been part of two samba groups all the while for the past two years, but often missed rehearsals or came to practice devastatingly tired all the time. I got teased for always yawning through the entire practice.

But during this time of rest, I came to rehearsals happy, laughing and excited. I became “myself” again. I didn’t realize just how bad it had gotten until I remembered what it was like to be happy.

After a few months of pure unemployment, rest and doing the necessary work to finish my Masters, I started working part-time for a friend doing administrative, promotional and media-related work for his local concert series. I was working from home, and realized that I was really enjoying this quiet, introverted and mentally-oriented work. I was productive, making a difference, and had plenty of energy to spare.

It was a miracle!

It may not sound particularly miraculous to many—this may sound like “normal life” to some, but I just got off of a 37-year train ride that was me always trying to “help others.” All of the work that I had done for the most part was human services work, health, healing, counseling, medical care, and give, give, give.

It was so ingrained in my identity and persona that the idea of having a job where I just do some work and then am done at the end of the day was foreign to me.

It almost felt like cheating.

Could work really be this easy and enjoyable?

Could I possibly get away with such a lifestyle?

Would someone find out and expose me?

Because in my world, as it turns out, you have to suffer to deserve enjoyment. You have to work so hard that you are exhausted in order to feel good about yourself. You have to give all of yourself to others before you can feel like a good person.

This time that I took for myself was an incredible gift. It was the first time in my life that I was able to just exist without a purpose, and was actually able to enjoy it. I had been so stressed and exhausted that the mere fact of having time and space to rest in felt like the most amazing gift in the world, and I couldn’t get enough.

I enjoyed it so much that when people asked me “What’s next?” I would change the subject or just say that I am just going to enjoy my time for a while and not worry about it.

When I finally had enough time and space (about two or three months into this glorious break) from real life, I started to consider continuing in the path of the part-time work I had been doing. What had started as temporary part-time work to help me make ends meet until I figure out the next thing turned into: The Next Thing.

And the next thing was chilling the f*ck out and calming the f*ck down.

And just being.

Since then I’ve been applying for jobs that fit this newfound “introvert profile,” committed to not repeating the same pattern again.

Just this week, after many months of patiently applying and interviewing and waiting for the right job to come along, I found a writing and editing job. The particular content that I will be writing may prove to be a bit boring but—well, let’s just say I could use a bit of “boring” in my life.

The importance of finding work that matches my nature has proven crucial.

And so now the question is, what to do with all of this time and energy?

Enjoy life. Rest. Sing. Write. Go to rehearsals happy and energized. Bake. Ride my bicycle. Read. Eat good food. Consider where I might travel next. Take a nap. Smile. Kiss my boyfriend and maybe even cook him dinner. Perhaps start writing all of the books I have always wanted to write.

The possibilities are endless.

And—they only became possibilities once I got real about who I am and truly honored the importance of self-care in order to sustain myself.

Years ago I read an article that I found incredibly important—it may even have led to these most recent discoveries and life changes that I just described. It said: rather than surviving, we must create circumstances within which we can thrive.

This has become my motto and goal in life, alongside the phrases, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” and ”less is more.”

Consider asking yourself what expectations you have for who you think you are supposed to be, and if you might have attachment to these expectations as tied in with your identity.

You might be surprised at what you find.

And you might be surprised at how easily you can let go if you just decide to.

 

Relephant Read: 

“I’ll Sleep when I’m Dead”—How I Cured my Insomnia.

 

 

Author: Rachel Leber

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: carrotmadman6/Flickr

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