About 2 years ago I was stuck. I had climbed all the ladders that were laying around and the only thing that was next was a big scary jump. I knew that I had stalled. I had learned the obvious lessons from my boss and the people around me. I had already experienced a few of those punch you in the face moments as a leader that set you straight and make sure any trace of ego has left the building. I had grown, but even though I had a few solid lessons under my belt, I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted. The pool of learning I was relying on at arm’s length had no more in it for me. Luckily, the universe wants us all to unstick. The problem is, we’re sometimes not open for it.
My boss had taken me to a few conferences as a guest where I watched people way smarter than me speak on things way over my head. I hadn’t tip toed out of my bubble before and so a few of these experiences went right over my head. Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot each time, and came back from each one totally excited to move forward, but looking back, I walked around those experiences in a bubble of fear. That fear bubble protected me from really letting anything or anyone penetrate it. I was in survival mode only. Don’t say or do anything stupid. Hold your breath until it’s over. That’s what success looks like. WRONG! So, while I was inspired by the people and the things, I had failed to really take advantage of what any of that meant for me.
Fast forward a few months later and thankfully, the universe decided on offering me a specific second chance and even gave it to me on a silver platter. One of the people I had been introduced to at one of these conferences, Teri, suddenly popped back into my life. She was now in my city, in my office, working with me directly. My boss had brought her in to help us work on some specific projects and there were no more excuses. She was about to totally change the trajectory of my life.
I can only equate my time working with Teri to gasoline being thrown on a tiny flicker of a flame. She blew in, threw around her positivity and knowledge like it was pixy dust and she was freaking Tinkerbell, and left in a whirlwind leaving behind a newfound way to look at circumstances and perspective that would be my new lighthouse. I was thirstier than I thought, and I finally felt like I had some water to drink. I will never be able to repay her for what she did for me in those short months we worked together, but I know I’ll have the opportunity to pay it forward and will dive in head first when I get it.
Now that I had tasted the sweet quench of outside influences, I hesitantly asked for another life line in the form of a woman’s conference in my industry. That was met with a hard, “that’s not for you, and will be a waste of time, but here’s something else.” I obliged. I had just deflated the fear bubble, I wasn’t ready to bust out of it yet. So, I booked my travel, and unknowingly set out on the journey that would finally open my eyes.
It was late fall last year and I prepared for my trip to this leadership training class my boss had set up for me. I wasn’t sleeping, I was constantly stressed out, and I was making no progress at all in work or in life. I remember parking in the airport parking garage, changing into comfortable shoes for the flight, and closing my car door. At that moment, I exhaled. I knew I had 3 approved days in front of me where I could release my brain and let go of the guilt and stress that I had been clutching like a baby blanket. It was like the sound of the car door shutting had transported me into another place and that place tasted like peace. I traveled alone, which was lonely and glorious. I read a book on the plane that I had been wanting to read and I circled and underlined almost every line in it before we had even taken off. I was still so thirsty. Shortly after takeoff, I happened to look out the window of the plane and for the first time in my life, living in my newly found exhale, I saw the sunset. Like, really saw it. We were above the clouds, so maybe that perspective shift was what I needed, but those colors and the outline of the clouds below the vibrant hues overwhelmed me with emotion. I sat there alone on the plane and cried at its beauty. Something inside me had shifted.
The next morning, I went through my normal anxiety of being in a new place, feeling like I didn’t belong with these people who in my mind were clearly more successful and deserving than I was, and I stressed about stupid things like my outfit and my hair and started zipping up that fear bubble. I sat in the front, took notes, forced myself to meet people, and slowly I softened into the training. I finally saw that everyone around me, including the CEO I was seated next to was floating around in their own fear bubbles. I relaxed.
After two days of self-reflection, childhood analysis, and ripping open the parent wounds, on day 3, it finally came. I got the right hook the universe had been waiting so long to deliver. It was a series of questions we had to ask ourselves that looked something like this.
- How do you define success?
- Do you believe you are successful?
- Are you in control of yourself?
I sat there stunned. It was a room spinning moment. I lost track of my note taking, I couldn’t focus on anything except for the fact that I couldn’t answer that first question. It wasn’t something I could study for or go to anyone for answers. I could only get it if I truly stopped and looked inside. In that moment, I realized that I had been working my ass of in work and in life and I was on an undefined path, or worse, the WRONG path. Who am I? What is important to me? And what the hell am I supposed to do next?
That was the moment that started me on this year long journey so far. This work is the hardest work I’ve ever done, but it’s the only work that’s shown me any true satisfaction. The first thing I had to do was be open. Staying open is so hard, but thankfully the universe gives second chances. At first walking without society’s expectant roadmap was disorienting, but now that my view has started to expand, it’s really the most grounded I’ve ever been.