The simple question that changed my life

I didn’t believe you could earn a good income and help people. This limiting belief was buried deep inside my subconscious mind. When I found myself at a loss with what to do with my life after leaving university, I chose to get a ‘good’ safe secure job that paid well. I was a high achiever, I was ambitious and I embarked on a journey to climb the corporate career ladder.

I suppressed the desire like so many of us have, of wanting to help others, to make an impact and to do good in the world. I thought I could fulfill that need through voluntary work and I did to a limited extent. As much as voluntary work is a wonderful experience, doing it for a few hours a week simply wasn’t enough to give me the meaning and purpose I didn’t know I craved.

I drifted into my thirties in a sorry state. I was overwhelmed, exhausted and suffering from chronic stress. I came close to breakdown and burnout three times, each time I just quit my job without having another one to go to. I’d then find the next one, desperately clinging to the hope that this one would give me a better work-life balance. Instead, it was out of the frying pan and into the fire, more of the same and then some.

I was wishing my life away, living for the weekend or the next holiday. I was always waiting for a magic utopia when things would finally calm down at work so I could get ahead, finally put out all the fires and feel more in control. No surprises, that day never came but plenty of new crises and projects did, the never-ending to-do list growing longer each day.

I no longer recognized myself, all the joy had been sucked out of my life and I’d turned into someone who just constantly moaned and complained about how awful their job was, how tired and stressed they were. The easy-going, fun person who didn’t take herself too seriously was long gone.

When I wasn’t wallowing in the misery of work, I was spending all my free time trying to obsessively be healthy, lose weight and exercise. This was just a convenient distraction, to avoid facing up to the real issues.

However, deep down I knew something was very wrong and I kept thinking is this it? Is this all there really is? I started trying to ‘fix myself’ and look for ways to help me cope better. I purchased countless books on how to manage stress. I tried yoga and meditation. I even booked in some floatation tank sessions when I experienced a particularly bad episode of anxiety. I was always searching for ways to improve my productivity so I could get ahead at work. It gave me some temporary relief and improvements but still, there was something missing.

The turning point was when I booked a session with a Life Coach and one of the first questions she asked me was ‘What do you want your legacy to be?’ This was the wake-up call I needed, I was horrified to realize I was in danger of looking back on a huge chunk of my life where I was endlessly updating excel spreadsheets and being on one long diet. It felt like a pretty dire situation, this was not what I’d envisioned for my life but it’s all too easy to get swept up in the day to day survival, of just getting through it as best you can, too tired and exhausted to stop and think.

Sometimes we just need someone to hold the mirror up so we can truly see and appreciate what’s happening. I’d built an invisible cage of limiting beliefs and fear that kept me trapped and stuck in a career I hated. I had no idea what else I could do, I didn’t think I could earn the same level of income, I lacked knowledge and experience to do anything else, I didn’t have time, I worried what other people would think. The list was endless, ultimately I didn’t think I was good enough and I didn’t think the life I dreamed of was possible for me.

I now understand that meaning and purpose in my life comes from helping other people. This is a deeply held core value and desire. All of the unhappiness I’d experienced stemmed from not following this path. Despite this, I’m truly grateful for everything I’ve been through. I understand myself so much better now; it’s made me stronger, more determined, I know what I want and what motivates me.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I can see where I went wrong but I’ve chosen to learn from it rather than beating myself up and carrying regrets. I also appreciate what I have now at a much deeper level and I cherish every day I get to wake up and feel excited for the day ahead rather than the anxious pit of dread deep inside.

Thinking about what you want your legacy to be, forces you to think big picture, to evaluate what you’ve achieved to date and what you’ve got left to do. Everyone is different and it’s not to say you need to create a Mother Teresa style legacy or bring about world peace to find meaning. This is to urge you to give it some thought, to figure out what it means to you before it’s too late and you’re looking back with regret at the things that could have been, the missed opportunities, the time that could have been spent doing things you love with the people you love. Life is too short, don’t settle and don’t let fear hold you back.

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