I told myself that if I wasn’t successful by 40, I’d quit.
I quit when I was 43.
Oh, you thought this was going to be about how ‘not’ to quit, right? A motivational manifesto about grit, perseverance and drive?
Because while that might work for some people, for me, it was a catch-22.
A choice between:
- Feel lifeless whilst working towards a goal that was no longer meaningful (more on this later);
- Quit, and feel like a loser.
Basically, it was either to suppress my discomfort for the comfort of others, or experience paralysing shame.
Have a breakdown, then quit.
Here’s the background.
A few years prior I beta tested an online program with a group of fabulous humans. The trial was amazing – so many of the students loved the course. I had a 89% completion rate.
I had poured my heart and soul into this.
Then, the official launch.
It sold… wait for it …
Whilst there were (likely) a hoard of external reasons for things going wrong, I internalised the failure. In my mind I took it as there is something wrong with me. So, what do you do when you believe people don’t like you (whether it’s true or not)? You start becoming someone else.
To be clear, this wasn’t a one-day-I’m-me-and-one-day-I’m-not.
This isn’t a “hey Siri, who shall I be now?”
It’s a slow, insidious process where you side step towards what you perceive are better (aka easier) choices to become a ‘better you”.
“She’s successful, let’s do a blog on whatever she writes about!”
“Companies only hire people like him, I need to change how I dress-speak-act-carry-myself”.
But my gut always felt… off. I had drifted so far away from what lit up my soul that I didn’t even recognise who I was anymore.
I was trying to fit in with what I thought people wanted me to be – the “PhD”, smart, science-based, scholarship-winning, research-backed, ‘evidence for everything’ expert
“I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am.” ― Thomas Cooley
At the time I was working with two other amazing ladies and the thought of quitting was not an option – how could I let them down?
How could I tell them… “I no longer love what I do”?
So I kept at it, chasing the dreams of others whilst giving ‘kosher’ talks using my ‘doctor’ voice on topics such as stress management, focus and productivity while suppressing my personality and true passion.
Eventually it become too difficult to suppress (aka hide) my erupting and soon-to-be-birthed breakdown with a pretend smile.
I booked in with a psychologist.
She said I was burnt out.
“Oh no, I’m fine!”
You’re burnt out, she repeated (whilst I’m sure mentally classifying me as type-A-perfectionistic-high-achiever).
“No, no, no – seriously, everything is finnnnnneee”.
Just take some time off, at least – she pleaded.
I said I might take a day off… maybe.
“Could I be burnt out?”
I muttered to myself while zombie-ing out of the building.
Then the world threw something right in front of me. On a bus stop, a huge university advert that had big bold lettering said:
“Change is here. Find your passion.”
WTF. I drove back to the office and said I’d take a few days off. At about 5:01pm, it hit me.
You know those Mission Impossible movies where someone is clinging for life on the edge of a cliff and Tom Cruise, right at the last second, grabs their hand and saves them?
That was me.
I was clinging onto the edge of life while smiling for the camera (enter eye roll here).
For the next few weeks I spent the days waking up and thinking
- “What the hell am I going to do with my life?” and
- “I’m never going to be anyone” and the best one
- “I’m old. It’s too late to be successful now”.
I was so ashamed of myself. I felt like such a failure. I had discarded my passion in search of profit and praise. All I ever really wanted to do was to help others and here I was, I couldn’t even help myself.
It was a campaign of misery and I was its champion.
So yes, I did quit. And yes, I had a full breakdown. But here I am, nearly 45 and giving it ‘one more go’.
So, what’s the point?
Will this brain-dump resonate with anyone else? Not sure.
But… just in case you too, have given up and quit, and feel like you ‘can never give it a second chance’, the thing that I found helpful is to ask yourself why. Because here’s what I learned:
- I quit because I wasn’t happy being someone else and doing things ‘just to fit in a box’.
- I quit because yes I have a PhD, but that is not who I am. It’s a title that I am so darn proud of but it shouldn’t become a predicament of biased expectations.
Sometimes I swear, I often make mistakes and NEWS FLASH, much of the time I have no idea what the answer is (and I still need help from my dad to explain things… not even joking.)
I also have no idea what my purpose is. But I do know what lights up my heart and soul:
- Looking at Chris Hemsworth without his shirt on (irrelevant for this article but thought to mention it anyways).
- Hugging people and
- Helping people understand the most important lesson of life: there is only one you and you can’t trade yourself in for another model.
- You will never be perfect.
- You will always make mistakes and feel as intelligent as a doorknob.
- You will feel (at least once in your life) debilitating shame.
- You will never be able to avoid pain, sadness and discomfort.
- You will always have people who let you down.
All of this is simply part of the price of admission when you’re plopped out into the world, naked, confused and unsure about what happens next.
But here’s the good news:
It’s your ticket. Don’t let someone else choose your adventure.
Dr Katherine x