5 years ago, I was sobbing in a hotel room in Palm Springs, my wonderful coach patiently supporting me. It felt like my foundation was crumbling, and I was frightened of the abyss I might fall into.
Up until this point, I had defined my life by being a productive, people-pleasing, high achieving person. I had a B.Sc. in Equine Science, an MBA with a Design Specialisation (earned while successfully working full time in my Design business), high leadership positions in my church, training and showing my horse, and had built lives in both the USA and New Zealand. However, the patterns of high achievement, workaholism, (and putting others' feelings above my own truth), were now really damaging me. I was living outside-in instead of inside-out, and it was burning me out - making me more desperate by the day.
Over the prior few years, in an effort to be a better teacher at church, I had uncovered some truths about my childhood religion that I felt deeply betrayed by, as they conflicted with values I hold dear*. I hadn’t told my family of origin about my doubts, for fear of disappointing or losing them. It was a massive burden to carry, because every day I pretended everything was fine (to spare others discomfort), was a further blow to my own wellbeing. That day in the hotel room, my coach wisely told me I had to tell them to live a full life. I knew he was right, but didn't want to face that fear.
A few days later I blurted out the truth to my mom about my crisis of faith, and it broke both our hearts; but she and my family were incredibly loving despite their confusion and fear. Despite that, I told myself the story that I didn't belong (and that lasted for a few years - more on that later).
A few days after that, I got debilitatingly sick with morning sickness (we had been trying but I hadn't known I was pregnant until then), and surviving my pregnancy, especially the first half, was a challenge as I was so unwell. Then, after giving birth, I had undiagnosed postpartum depression, which was really scary. That, combined with the sense of isolation I felt (as I'd sort of lost my tribe), combined to create a dreadful cocktail. I remember thinking maybe if I died I could rest. It would be a relief. Thank goodness that was as far as it went. I’m grateful now for that experience, as it taught me a lot.
I slowly emerged from that dark place, due to amazing support of my husband, family, and friends, practicing self-love and of course, coaching. As I began to come back to myself, I realised my work (which I had once been so passionate about), was not fulfilling me anymore. I was managing a few contractors and an admin person, but it just felt like stress now, not the exciting, enticing, creative endeavour I’d started out with.
I decided to sell my business and (impassioned by the rough experience of new motherhood and the strength I was gaining back), I started a blog/podcast with a good friend, called Be Your Own Heroine. It was wonderful, but I still felt something was missing.
I’d been obsessed with personal development for years and years, and my work with my own coach was so powerful, I thought I’d check to see if my favourite author, Martha Beck (also Oprah's favourite life coach and a Harvard Ph.D.), trained coaches. Sure enough she did, so after battling frightening physical illness and fear, I took the plunge. It is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I began living more closely to my integrity in an every day sense. I had always thought it was ok to tell white lies to spare other people's feelings, and that was the way I lived. However, curbing my life to spare other's feelings was only damaging me, and robbing all of us from a deeper connection. I had held off telling my dear Grandparents about my faith crisis for a couple of years. I didn't want to hurt them or alienate myself further. But I knew if I were to tell my story, they needed to hear it from me, not someone else. So I wrote them a letter telling them everything, about a month before I was going home for a visit. I remember holding that letter over the mailbox, not sure if I had the ability to let go. I did, as I knew it was the only way to my freedom. My Grandma was really upset upon receiving the letter, but received me with open arms on that visit (to my great relief). However, a few months later, when my Grandad passed away, she lashed out at me with angry, defensive questions. Although it was incredibly painful, it turned out to be a great gift. I was able to answer her as lovingly but as honestly as I could, and despite weeping off and on for days afterward, I had valued my own feelings and identity as much as hers. I had stood in my truth and it was a key that unlocked my freedom.
I also now know that we are truly never alone - that the story of 'not belonging' is one of the most painful ones we can tell ourselves - and it is simply not true. As Dr. Eben Alexander found in his book, Proof of Heaven, we are infinitely loved, we are always safe, and we cannot make mistakes in this ultimate game of life.
Now I'm happy to say I'm more full of vitality, passion and enthusiasm than I've been for years. I now live as closely as I can to my integrity - valuing my feelings and truth as top priorities. The resulting power and spiritual connection in my life has been astounding. My relationships are deeper and more authentic, my work extremely fulfilling, and I'm actively pursuing all the things that bring me joy (including painting, riding horses, hiking, writing, reading, and connecting with my wonderful family and dear friends).
Friend, please give yourself permission to do the same- because those things - the things that bring us joy - are the portals to our purpose.
If you want to walk together toward becoming free of whatever's burdening you, please connect.
*I want to be really clear - I respect and honour all paths of connecting to spirituality, including religion. This is just my experience, and my effort to be open, honest and authentic about my journey.