Today is my final day at work, having decided to take time away from full-time employment to travel the world and explore new ways of living. The culmination of a year of soul-searching and open-ended planning.
Simon Sinek says “start with why”. There are two strands of my story.
Strand One – Healing
Just over three years ago, I unexpectedly and suddenly lost my younger brother who was aged 23 at the time. It crushed my soul and turned my world upside down.
They say that losing a sibling is a unique loss. You expect them to be around forever, or at least in relation to your own life. You’ve known them practically your entire life (we have a year and a half between us) and a huge part of your identity is built on your relationship with them.
You assume you’ll attend their wedding. That your kids would play together. Go on holidays together. Talk boring gardening and home improvement projects. Grow old. Attend your parents’ funerals together. Not only did I lose the brother I grew up with, but I also lost the future brother who I would share the rest of my life with.
I’ve been struggling for years with grief. Like many who suffer loss, for a long time I couldn’t even look at it. I hardly ever spoke to anyone about it, even my parents. I’ve heard grief described as a large book. A book which, if you opened it fully it is too painful to bear and the only way to cope is to get used to carrying the book, examine the cover and every so often peek in at the corners of the pages, ever so quickly and intensely. However, if left unexamined it would grow in size and become a colossal mass that would start to bend the time-space fabric of our existence.
One thing that made it very difficult was the fact that things around me didn’t seem to have changed. For me, my internal world had completely changed. Nothing was the same anymore. Yet externally, I was going to the same job, living the same life and pretending everything was fine. It wasn’t. I was a mess inside, having disconnected from my emotions (because you can’t selectively switch off just the “bad emotions”), and I was depressed. There were days where I felt I just couldn’t do it anymore.
I tried to ignore my cognitive dissonance and depression. But these things have a way of manifesting themselves. They say a symptom is the word for when an unpleasant truth that you cannot speak speaks for you.
One of my many symptoms I experienced most recently in February this year. It was the morning and I had just settled in for some work. I suddenly felt this pain in my chest, which persisted for about half an hour or so. I was pretty freaked out. When I went to the GP and did all the scans, everything was physically normal. When he asked whether I’d experienced something like this before and I recalled similar episodes soon after my brother died. My manager at the time even rushed me to A&E but, like this time, I was physically fine. This time, my GP diagnosed an anxiety attack. I knew then something had to change.
I’ve been seeing a psychotherapist for a couple of months now – one of the many benefits of a full-time job offering health insurance. Along with some other work I’ve been doing with coaches Sophie Miller and Mark Leruste, Escape the City, CTI and other helpful authors and speakers (Rob Bell, Peter Rollins, Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed), it’s helped me to realise the need to take some time away to process and heal.
I went back to work less than a week after my brother’s funeral. Back to the same desk, same job, same routine, same inconsequential conversation. I had to pay the bills. There were roles to play (or thought I needed to play). The model employee. The “responsible” husband and son. These things were probably helpful initially in providing a structure I could cling to – to prevent me from falling apart completely. But they also eventually became barriers to my healing. For to heal I first needed to break down, and it was impossible for me to do that while trying to be all these things for other people.
I handed in my notice a month ago. A wave of emotion crashed through my heart. It felt like a giant burden had been relieved. A heavy suit of armour that protected / prevented me from truly living. The decision felt right. I felt freedom and hope like I hadn’t in years. I was giving myself permission to do something I knew I wanted and needed for the last three years.
The healing had begun.
Strand Two – Exploration and Discovery
One evening last year I was talking with Iris and I was telling her my career plans. How within five years, I would be making Executive Director at a bank (banks have strange overinflated titles), how we’ll be able to get a big house in the suburbs and all those things you’re supposed to want. She turned and asked me “since when has it been your dream to make Executive Director at a bank?”
I was taken aback. Surely that’s what everyone wanted, a well-paid job that would pay for suburban life, a big kitchen and a garden? The job itself was even interesting some of the time, after all. There were much worse jobs out there. But was it my dream? What was I climbing for? Was I allowed to wish for something else in my life? Can things be different? Dare I hope for something more? What do I even want?
It was a wake-up call.
Months of soul-searching followed. I went on courses to rediscover my values, strengths and interests. I experimented with curiosities, taking on free clients in fitness coaching and career consulting. I invested in myself with life coach training and took on my first clients holding sessions after work, and in it I found a true passion. All during this period I had put a financial plan in place so that I could give myself options in the future.
By this stage the idea of travelling for my own wellbeing was already becoming clear in my mind. What provided the extra impetus was my curiosity to explore other ways of living. City life and the corporate climb is certainly one valid way of living. But for many (including for my very first clients), it can seem like the only way of living – a way that doesn’t quite fit for them. And this feeling of being trapped can cause a lot of distress.
The truth is, there are many ways of living. I’m carving out my own way too. Through my year of travelling the world, I hope to meet others living their own way. I know I’ll be inspired and shaped by their stories and the connections we make between us.
Hopefully my blogs can capture some of that magic and help you too as you make your own way in the world.