When I was younger, I had a vision for the kind of life I wanted to live. It wasn't a complicated vision, rather it was one in which work and personal life were integrated and flowed with ease. In my personal life, while I didn't exactly imagine a white picket fence and all it entailed, it was pretty close.
As I grew older and deeper into my career, that part of my vision for my personal life was still there but felt further away instead of getting closer. Perhaps that would explain my constant frustration at being able to achieve so much at work yet something that was supposed to be natural--find a partner, fall in love, get married, have kids--just was impossible to get. To add to my pie-in-the-sky dream life, I wanted to live in the countryside, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and closer to nature. For me, it seemed, I had to walk away completely from the life I had known in order to get the life I had always wanted. For me, it seemed, I had to redefine what work would look like in order to live the home life for which I had always yearned. And looking back now, I am so glad I did.
For so long, I had attached my self worth and identity to the job I did as an anchor. I assumed because I had a good job, earning a decent living, that I was successful, I was a catch (I know, insert eye roll here). I didn't think I had to work on myself to ready myself for being a partner to someone else. And as we grow older we become more set in our ways expecting the other person to fit into our lives like a perfect piece in a jigsaw puzzle. But human relationships don't work that way and frankly, neither does the relationship we have with ourselves. We are constantly growing and changing and in order to evolve into the person we want to be we need to delve into the person we were and are to find what's holding us back. It's as the psychologist Daniel Gilbert once said, “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they are finished.”
It is hard work to look inside ourselves, to get to know who we are. Let me tell you, it ain't easy. It is uncomfortable digging deeper into our soul and psyche in order to understand what has brought us to where we are in the present. First of all, most of us don't even realise we have any layers that need to be addressed. Yet, through therapy and piles and piles of books on self-help and psychology, I realised that we all have patterns and behaviours that can hinder us from achieving what we truly want in our life. It's as Adele wrote recently in her Instagram post after reading Glennon Doyle's self-help book Stop Pleasing, Start Living, "I never knew that I am solely responsible for my own joy, happiness and freedom!! Who knew our own liberation liberates those around us? Cause I didn’t!! I thought we were meant to be stressed and disheveled, confused and selfless like a Disney character!"
I saw my therapist once a week for almost 5 years. It was hard at first. Really hard. But she was amazing. Once I found a therapist with whom I felt comfortable, that hour I had with her each week was like a sanctuary, a safe place for me to delve into into my emotional and mental maze. On the tube each week, I would think about the issues that were on my mind, issues I wanted to discuss and then on my way home, I would digest all the things we explored and the nuggets of wisdom that she would share with me. Forty-five minutes there, one hour on her couch, forty-five minutes back. Two and a half hours each week that I devoted to my emotional and mental health. Two and a half hours, I came to realise, that I invested in my future self.
Some of the things I learned? My parents were once people. Sounds obvious, but we don't often look at our parents as people who were once young with dreams and hopes and who did the best they could with what they knew. Once I started looking at them that way, I was able to develop the patience and compassion anytime they would say something that would trigger an immature response from me. I had always respected them as my parents, now I respected them as people too.
I learned about the genesis of my loneliness, expectations, and my very porous boundaries. I also learned that selfish is not a bad word. Selfish is looking after the self, my-self, and when we take care of who we are and our needs, we are not expecting others to do that for us, we're not expecting someone else to save us or, as Jerry Maguire said so earnestly, "complete" us. It allows us to see the other person as someone on their own journey in life.
I learned that love isn't unconditional unless it is between a parent and their child. I learned that love is a verb, it is something you choose to share with someone else, and every day with its own challenges and issues, we choose to be in a partnership. And how freeing is that? Knowing that it isn't unconditional but a choice that we make every single day. All of this came when I understood who I was and am. And when I did, when I learned why I chose the people I did, why I was drawn to the people I was drawn to, I was able to rewire my brain to recognise, see, and open myself up to the person who was right for me, the person who was right for the person I became. And I am happy to say I did. The work I did on myself meant I was ready to be a partner to someone else in a healthy way. It means I can look at our journey together and the issues that crop up as indicators of what I need to learn and do in any given situation. And the same goes for him. It means I have the understanding and tools needed to (hopefully) cope when life throws further challenges my way.
In having the vision for the life I wanted all those years ago, the vision of the person I wanted to be, unlocked in me this ability to recognise when things weren't going in the direction I knew wasn't in line with my goals and my highest and healthiest self. It actually made me physically uncomfortable and frankly, irritated. It unlocked in me the desire to change things and to strive for more, for different. As the psychologist Benjamin Hardy wrote in Personality Isn't Permanent,"A core tenet in psychology is that the best way to predict a person’s future behavior is by looking at their past behavior. However, when you’ve clarified your future self, and are actively chasing it, then your future—not your past—can be what is predicting your behavior." After all, it's as Carl Jung said, "Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes." It was when I awoke from the life that was to what I knew what it could be when things started to shift and change. It was when I also realised, after all the learning and introspection, that I had to actively make decisions that were best for my personal life when things started to unfold in a magical way.
In doing the work on myself (and it is work that is never truly finished and I by no means have it all figured out, nor is life a smooth sail into the sunset), I am finding that life I had always envisioned for myself. In doing so, it has is also helping me focus on what it is I truly have been yearning to do professionally. At CNN, I had started to look at the people I interviewed as human beings on their own journey of self-discovery and I was fascinated with that. Now, with The Citrine Room, my podcast (lots more happening there but I will share that with you soon), and our business, I have the ability to do so on my terms. And we live in the countryside, with a picket fence--it isn't white, but a good paint job can fix that.
PS. These are just a few of the books that have been instrumental to me. There are many more but these are the ones that have come to mind: