There isn’t anyone who is going to tell you it's time to grow up. Well, there is, but you probably won’t listen to them. I don’t mean growing up in the way of paying your bills, or moving out of your parents' house, or buying your own car. I mean growing up in the sense of knowing who you are, understanding your values and being true to your core.
There is a moment in life when you know it's time to make a change. I call it your “happiness GPS” pointing you in the right direction. Something inside you is telling you, “This is not the right way,” and sometimes, if you continue to go in the wrong direction, the universe will send you a big wake up call. This is what happened to me.
I went to college to be a teacher and entered a five-year bachelor's/master's program when I was 20 years old. Anyone who thinks they know who they are when they are 20 years old is horribly mistaken. When I was 20, I was convinced I was going to be married by 23, have children at 26, and be happily settled with my husband in the suburbs. But my “happiness GPS” had other plans for me.
Through a random (or maybe not so random) chain of events, I ended up working for a startup in New York City four days after graduating with a Master's in Curriculum and Instruction. The startup had nothing to do with education, and I ended up as the director of marketing and events for a restaurant group in 2009. As a recovering workaholic and socialholic, I threw myself into work and into my social life, working 10-hour days, and then going to events night after night, always being on, forgetting I wasn’t an iPhone you could just reset.
I started to see a trend from a lot of my New York friends. Treat your body horribly, work yourself to the bone, do a juice cleanse, and then you are ready for another week of putting yourself last. I never thought there was anything wrong with this, because it had “worked” for me for three years. I was lucky enough to have fallen into a job that suited my social skills, I loved my coworkers like family, and the company I worked for was rapidly growing, but I felt like something was off. I went from college directly to New York, throwing myself into work, throwing myself into bad relationships, throwing myself into events filled with people I kissed on both cheeks but knew nothing about besides their last photo album on Facebook. I had no idea who I was, and what I wanted but I knew something didn’t feel right.
Two years ago I met a group of individuals who were part of a nonprofit, and that changed my life. I started helping them with fundraising, supporting them with resources and relationships in the events and marketing world, and realized the value of being able to “use the hand that fed me to feed others.” I ended up knee-deep in the philanthropy space, helping too many organizations to name, loving every minute of supporting these wonderful people who were doing such amazing things in the world. By filling the void inside me by helping others, I didn’t have to help myself.
After two years of putting everyone and anyone in front of myself, it slowly hit me. The universal “crash” was not something that was mind-blowing or obvious; it was as simple as receiving a negative comment from someone at an event. I started to do some soul searching, asking myself questions such as, “Had I really not changed at all in the past six years? Was I still putting myself in situations that were just wrong for me? Did I know myself at all?”
I felt lost and frustrated, and a friend suggested I see a healer. Always up for an adventure, I agreed. She told me things about my past and my future; some of which were wrong, but most were right. It was as if she was reflecting back to me all that I knew was inside me but pushed down, forgetting it had existed. I left feeling exhilarated, and realizing I was not making the right decisions to give me the life I wanted to live.
I started a trend after this experience where I would go to breakfast with all different people, and just talk to them with no preconceived business notions. I met with friend after friend asking them their stories and sometimes for advice, and for two weeks, India came up in conversation six times. I had never really thought of going to India, but I knew I needed a change of pace.
I decided to go to India for 10 days, and for the first time in my life, I did not bring any form of technology. I had no form of communication, and for the first time in a long time, I thought about myself. I had realizations such as, “Wow, I like to read, I like the beach, I like to be alone,” and more than anything, I care about my health, my wellness, and want to give myself the time and effort I have been giving everyone else and learn who I am.
After a lot of meditating, yoga, reading, relaxing, and thinking, I jumped in a cab for the two-hour drive to the airport to go from Kochi to Delhi. I started to talk to my cab driver asking him questions about his life. I asked him if he did yoga, and he said yes of course, he goes to yoga every day. I asked him for some tips and tricks, in which he then pulled over to the side of the highway, pushed down the seat, and said, “Let me teach you how to breathe for yoga.”
I was fairly terrified but followed his lead, and he then proceeded to ask me if I exercised, and I told him I walk. He scoffed and replied, “Ugh, you Europeans and New Yorkers with your tak tak bodies and your walking.” I was horrified, and asked him if “tak tak” meant fat, in which he nodded and flatly said, “Yes.” He told me my face looked swollen and asked me if I drank and ate chicken, which I did. He then challenged me and told me to go back to the U.S., do yoga every single day, stop eating meat, and stop drinking alcohol and go back to India in 6 months to show him the results. At first I refused, but he made me write it down on a piece of paper in front of him, and something in me just said "Do it," so I did. He gave me his email and told me to email him if I was going to fold, and he would help me through it.
I went back to New York with the intention to commit to this stranger — and really to myself — for the first time. I tried more than anything to live the same life I had before, working 10 hours a day, going from event to event, but something felt off. Three months into this experience, I found a piece of paper I had scribbled on the day before I met the cab driver in India. I had woken up at 3 a.m. to write down something (India makes you do weird things), and crumpled it up on my shelf. It stated, “I will eat healthy, I will exercise, I will not drink.” It made me realize I had made this commitment to myself even before the cab driver, but needed a little bit of “magic” to remind me.
I started making smaller changes, speaking with my boss and having him be a part of the conversation. How can I still do what I love and live the life that I want? How can I make a change in the world and go back to my roots as an educator but still stay true to my love for business? I called friends for advice, but then realized I was the only one who could give me the answers that I needed.
I ended up starting my own company with an amazing partner and mentor, becoming a partner in the restaurant group I had worked with three years prior, and created the life I wanted to lead. I went back to India two weeks ago, and the cabbie excitedly exclaimed, “You look perfect, keep doing this, make sure you keep doing this!”
In India, we climbed a 9,000-foot mountain, rode elephants, relaxed on houseboats, and I realized while it was an incredible experience, I also love the life I am creating for myself at home (which means a new home in LA, which I found was more fitting for my lifestyle). I am no longer running away from my life, but am stepping into it. I am no longer needing cab drivers and healers and strangers to tell me who I am and what I want. I am very clear with myself about who I am and who I want to be.
When you are younger, you think growing up is hard and scary. You think you want to stay young forever — innocent and safe — but then one day, you realize that growing up is amazing, exciting and opens up endless possibilities. If I have learned anything from this experience, I have learned you have to take care of yourself, you have to take the time and energy and effort to get to know yourself because there is a lot of noise, a lot of nonsense, and a lot of pressure that you will receive from all around you. No matter how “busy you are," “how stressed you are,” or “how little time you have,” it's worth taking time for yourself, and when you do, truly anything is possible.
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