"The only difference between where you are now and where you want to be is
the steps you haven't taken yet"
– Rigel J. Dawson
I hear YOU. I see YOU. I understand YOU. Because I was you.
My non-stop schedule started as a 17-year-old single mom. Putting myself through college and graduate school while also having to work to financially support all our needs. Trying to find enough hours in the day to maintain my status as an honors student, holding down a job that had flexible hours, all while still trying to ensure my daughter’s love and care were my top priority.
During my career, I felt unrelenting pressure to meet the expectations I had for myself and knew others had of me. I was terrified to let people down and refused to fall short. Period. My soul was empty, and I repeatedly denied myself the chance to refuel.
As my daughter grew more independent, I continued to climb the corporate ladder. Each new promotion added more responsibility and expectations. I never knew what it was to do anything just for myself out of desire. Every decision I ever made was based on others. Whether it was my parents, my child or my employer.
I was a driven, talented, and fierce business executive. I excelled at my job. I worked up to 20-hour days, was available by cell phone 24/7 and hardly ever took a day off; the embodiment of “Hustle Culture.” I was making the big bucks, but I was nowhere near the best version of myself. My quest for success and approval consumed me, and my work/life balance became grossly disproportionate.
I silenced my inner soul voice begging for a break, longing for adventure, and wishing for a higher level of freedom.
Starting around 2015, I went to the doctor regularly because I “didn’t feel well” and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Each time, they would run a battery of blood work tests, trying to find the cause of all my symptoms. They always came back with a diagnosis: the test results looked good, but I needed to lower my stress levels. This type of diagnosis relieved my concern; I’d laugh, shrug it off and say, “Stress? That’s great news. I thrive in stress, so I’m fine. I’m healthy.”
But despite receiving the same diagnosis several times, I kept working at an unhealthy level. I was in perpetual denial; I figured if my only issue was stress, I could handle it. As the years went on, my career continued to rise and the responsibilities and expectations placed on me grew, and my symptoms became worse. My stress wreaked havoc on both my mind and my body. By the time Spring 2019 came around, I was convinced that I was sick and dying. The stress creeped into my dreams, and my symptoms became impossible to “thrive” in.
It wasn’t until my doctor said something that sparked an awakening in me, “Can’t you see the extreme distress your body is putting you through? It’s telling you to stop this lifestyle and change your behavior. In all reality, if you don’t quit, you need to recognize that you are committing suicide. Your body cannot continue to live this way.” I finally realized it was time to start listening to my body instead of my goal-driven mind and make what now may be the most important decision I’ve ever made in my life.
I had to recognize I was missing out on the deeply important moments in life. I was pushing myself so far that I nearly lost my second chance. As soon as I admitted it to myself, it felt like I exhaled a breath I’d been holding for years – the weight that lifted from my shoulders was massive. I feared losing my life and not being a part of my daughter and grandson’s lives. That visualization was like an earthquake rumbling throughout my body.
I came face to face with the possibility of losing everything. I was done overlooking the detrimental impact that “just stress” had on me. I traded my big corporate executive salary for a new currency: joy, gratitude, and time, that I get to choose how to spend. I’ve never been richer.
The pursuit of achievement is admirable and necessary to sustain life, but it doesn’t mean a thing if we lose ourselves along the journey. I learned this the hard way, and I’m thankful that my diagnosis was something I could fix from within – something I could tackle on my own. Now, I live freely as the best version of myself and strive to give others the chance to do the same.