Sometimes we don’t even know that we are lost or struggling to be our authentic selves. We can spend years pretending that our life is okay. Being the person others want us to be, rather than the woman we want to be. And then it hits us: this isn’t working anymore. In my mid-thirties, I had this moment and knew I was not where I wanted to be. Do you know this place? Are you there now?
In my mid-thirties, I had this moment and realised that I was not where I wanted to be. Do you know this place? Have you been there? Are you there now?
I had been living a conflicted life of uber confidence and self-doubt, of over conviction and uncertainty, of pride and self- loathing. What a party of one! Like most women, my life at that time was defined by everyone else’s definitions of success and expectations. Then I had a ‘hell yeah’ moment and thought: ‘Is it more important to fit in, or get courageous enough to do me?’
To be clear, this wasn’t just a “eureka” moment. This didn’t happen just once, it was a continual calling to answer the question: What do I really want? Responding takes courage, to admit as a woman that we deserve to have a purposeful and satisfying life is to choose what I call the Courageous Path.
But let me rewind to before I hit that moment. I was in a book publishing meeting when the CEO turned to me and said, “Have you read this book? Fifty something … Fifty Shades? I think we have something here!” I was head of the Finance Analytical team at Random House in Australia, single and in my mid-thirties. One hundred and twenty million people had yet to devour Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Later that afternoon, I sat in my office and swallowed up the manuscript, wide-eyed, red-faced and sweaty. Spiritual souls, please do not judge!
My experience was telling me what we had on our hands: a runaway bestseller. At work, the months that followed were marked by champagne corks popping, revenue line graphs showing staggering sales. My corporate star was soaring. Yet behind closed doors, my life was Fifty Shades of Anxiety. I was in the middle of my “successful” life suddenly realising that this was not where I wanted to be.
The two sides of my life
I was a contradiction. In the corporate world I was a leader, but not a leader in my private life. I was a workaholic. When you are a workaholic, you neglect to open your heart. You stop being generous with your time with family and friends, and when you do spend time with them, you are not present. Your true world starts to get smaller and smaller. Fortunately for me, the universe decided that this flavour of “success” was not meant to last.
Alongside a small group of other executives, I was responsible for forecasting book sales. Having consulted my peers, I signed off on another big shipment of Fifty Shades of Grey. The books would arrive six weeks later. It seemed unstoppable, averaging one sale per second. And then it happened. A week later, sales stopped. Dead. On the day this happened, I wished that both myself and the cargo ship transporting the 200,000 more copies to Sydney would sink into the abyss of the sea. The thing is we all got it wrong, but I took it personally.
Fifty shades of failure
I plummeted into a depression and felt consumed by Fifty Shades of Failure. The failure wasn’t just quarantined to my job and a single incorrect forecast. Nothing felt right anymore. I could barely function and was forced to slow down, to try to understand what mattered to me.
At the time, all I wanted was immediate clarity about the “correct next steps” I needed to take to make things better – an instruction manual if you like, for the way forward. But my intuition was telling me that the next steps I needed to take would be hard but that I had to try. I had to become the heroine of my own life. I needed to step onto my Courageous Path.
Trying to live for others
I asked myself: “How did I end up here?” I realised I was unconsciously making choices based on others expectations. Why was there so much guilt at putting my own dreams first? Women around me constantly experience this same conflict and guilt in their lives. Eventually we become depleted and the result is resentment and, in the end, anger. It didn’t matter if I leaned in, leaned out or did the funky chicken dance. I realised I was not consciously making choices, and when I did, I was asking permission and seeking approval from others.
But why do we do it? I believe the answers to our big questions are in our past. Let me press rewind again and this time go back to when I first resisted choosing my Courageous Path. I was 21 years old and standing in a second-hand bookshop, holding a deck of tarot cards and wondering why I was drawn to these beautiful mystical cards? That memory perfectly captures the conflict between my world-facing persona (high achiever, people pleaser) and my authentic self (a woman drawn to the spiritual realm).
I still remember the way my pulse sped up when I pulled that first card from the tarot deck and how I felt confusion rushing through me. Then I sighed. I was an accountant on a different journey. I put the tarot deck back on the shelf and started creating a life that was not in alignment with my values. Why did I make that choice?
We need to love ourselves more
Women love hard. We just don’t always love ourselves as hard as we love other people. We give our best to our families, our jobs, our partners and we give the leftovers to ourselves. We do it without even thinking, a product of our skills for survival under stressful conditions. When a woman does put herself first, it is a rare moment and comes with great discomfort. We amplify one part of ourselves and suppress another. There is a price for choosing to be the person we want to be. There must be a death of the older version of ourselves. But we need to be brave enough to let her go.
– Sheila V