You tick off the things you’ve accomplished and happily keeping working down the list. Mine looked something like this:
- The best in class - in every class of every year of every school since age 9 (ok, maybe I’m exaggerating)
- Lots of friends (preferably from many different and trendy places, like Sweden and Italy)
- A boyfriend (from a different country)
- A university degree
- Another boyfriend from another country (for variety’s sake)
- A scholarship to go overseas and do a Master’s degree
- An internship in DC (but not at the White House)
- A glamorous job (preferably with the word “International” in the job title)
- Another boyfriend who eventually becomes…
- A husband
- A mortgage and the home that comes with it
- A promotion
And so on. Then, about three quarters through my list, I realised this wasn’t working for me. I had the education, the job, the partner, the “success”. Yet I felt totally lost. I had gotten into International Development because of an ethically inspired desire to do “my bit to make the world a better place”. But after only 6 years I was burnt out. I couldn’t see the impact any of my work was having anywhere. I wasn’t in the field getting my hands dirty. I didn’t want to be in the field getting my hands dirty. I was too scared of getting close to the reality I was nominally working to change. Deep down, I didn’t feel my talents and skills were best utilised in a 9 to 5 public sector job, despite having been conditioned to aspire to this by culture, society, and family.
This happened around the time I got married, moved to Tunisia, and started planning for a family. Because I was still in shopping list mode, I was content to be able to tick the “child” box even if the “job” one had become unticked. Luckily I didn’t fall pregnant… for 4 years. I say lucky because it meant I couldn’t hide behind the motherhood parapet to avoid facing the question: What am I to do in this life, in this world? I had to face this question for many years alongside the more heart breaking question of: Will I ever have any children?
Since the child who was meant to distract me from my looming existential/career crisis had not materialised, I had to finally scrap the whole shopping list approach. This was a major crossroads in my journey of self-discovery. The self-esteem started to wobble badly. Yes, I had this amazing carefree life by the shores of the Mediterranean, and an amazingly supportive husband. But no children, and no career to speak of. Looking back now I wish I had given myself permission to just enjoy life. For the most part, I did, but there was a nagging voice in there bugging me with the question “But what are you going to DO? You didn’t go to Georgetown to end up being a fulltime housewife!!”
Very few people are free enough (of their fears, of their expectations, of their conditioning) to put themselves massively out of their comfort zone unless there is a crisis. You need to trip on the proverbial stone and fall down, to remember to look down when you are walking next. I used to get mightily annoyed when people said to me “Oh, you are very intuitive” or “You have a great intuition”. What the heck was intuition? People were always vague about it. Despite being credited with a blessed intuition, I only really made its acquaintance in my early 30s. When the giant boulder was looming right in front of me and I couldn’t see any way forward (or sideways). But my intuition (or inner wisdom, or my Fairy Godmother) did show up: despite all the ongoing inner pressure to “carry on as before” with life, I turned to yoga.
Yes, yoga. I’m not going to give the spiel here about how yoga means “union” and it’s a path of self-discovery towards enlightenment (although I just did). Suffice it to say, that by going to yoga I gave myself permission to look inside myself again. And be less judgmental about me. And more accepting. More curious, like a little child is curious about everything. I did not have an overnight epiphany and I still can’t do a headstand for more than a nanosecond (not sure if that actually qualifies as a headstand). I was very fortunate to find the perfect teachers and support network along my journey – perfect because they came with teachings when I was ready for those teachings.
Fast forward and I had started peeling the layers of my own awareness, whilst keeping my brain contently ticking away with translation and freelance editorial work. I had started glimpsing some of the inside doors that would get me places, both inside and outside of me.
By the time my son was born, five years ago, I had understood that the how mattered as much as the what. I still wanted to be of service to others, but I needed that to be concrete, personal, one-on-one or in small groups. I guess this is where my craving for connection comes in. And why life coaching was the loving glove to my then tentative hand.
If you don’t know what to do, look inside. If you don’t know what you’re good at, look inside. If you don’t know what makes you tick, look inside. If you want to help others, start by helping yourself. Being a life coach allows me to accompany others who are ready to ask questions of themselves and to follow their own answers. Just like I was accompanied by my many teachers, mentors, friends, and coaches along the way. It allows me to give back, and to continue opening doors inside myself as I help my clients to find theirs.