I just got back from 9 nights in Whitefish and Glacier National Park, which was unforgettably amazing and which I’ll write about in a later post. For now…before I left town, I wrote this blog post, but wanted to let it marinate for a bit. I re-read it today and it was a nice pick-me-up. I made a few grammatical changes, but otherwise, it’s the same draft from a month ago. Enjoy!
Over the past 7 years, I’ve done a TON of self-work on a regular basis. I’ve gone to individual and group therapy. I’ve read tons of self-help articles and books. I write daily or weekly in multiple journals-1 on my phone, 1 on my desktop and a paper one so that I can write down my thoughts any time wherever I am. I’ve backpacked and hiked, often straying from my friends to have a bit of quiet time in the woods thinking about life and asking the earth to help me through the tough times. I’ve used apps and workbooks. I’ve done yoga and art classes.
All of these activities are part of the process. A process that I believe whole-heartedly has helped me on my journey towards inner peace and happiness. And I love doing these activities and don’t plan on stopping any of them any time soon, even though I’ve cut back on some over the years depending on my schedule, budget and whatever else I’m focusing on. I’m really lucky that I have the time, ability and resources to go through this process. But I’ve also become frustrated with the process along the way. A few years ago, I was frustrated that my hard work didn’t seem to be paying off. I felt like after 5 years of therapy and whatnot, I still wasn’t “normal” and I still had slip-ups and issues. My mentality about a lot of things in life is that if I take all the correct steps, follow the rules and be a good person, then the outcome will be perfect. Wrong. I had to come to grips with the fact that it’s not so much about the outcome, but about the process. Focusing too much on the end product was only making me upset and miss the entire point of doing self-work in the first place. I was missing the entire show because I was so excited for the encore!
I also realized that life is completely unpredictable and even if it’s rosey right now, there will always be unexpected physical, mental, spiritual, emotional and psychological challenges and growing pains, and therefore, I should just embrace the idea that I’ll be doing self-work for the rest of my life. So once I accepted all of this, I thought for sure that I’d be strolling peacefully and carefree down Easy Street. Wrong again! That’s when I really started hitting my head against a wall. I actually became pretty depressed on a daily basis. Sure, there were many nights when I would come home and dramatically drop to my bedroom floor wailing and rolling around in my high heels and skinny jeans, asking the universe why I couldn’t just be happy. Or I’d call my siblings sobbing hysterically and tell them that first thing tomorrow morning, I was packing up and driving to Wyoming and living in a remote cabin in the mountains. Thankfully, I figured out what triggered nights like those (red wine) and cut back. More importantly, all of the self-work that I was doing really did help, such that I could enjoy a few glasses of wine and then come home and let a few tears trickle down my cheeks to a Ben Howard song and then snap myself right out of it and realize that life isn’t so bad and I’m certainly not entitled to have the universe make me happy. But this new emptiness was something much different. I had eliminated a lot of the triggers in my life that lead me to feel empty or anxious. I even moved to Utah, which was a dream come true. I’ve been living a really healthy life and doing things that I love on a daily basis, mostly in the mountains. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that nothing in my life really mattered. Now, I must digress here and explain that I was a philosophy major in college and consider myself an existentialist. So it was even more frustrating that my core belief system centers around the idea that I am the only person, entity, being, force that can create meaning in my life, and yet, I was doing all these things and my life felt meaningless. Talk about a spiritual crisis! Since the meaning of my life was supposed to come from within me and nowhere else, I tried my hardest to force myself mentally and emotionally to feel meaningful, but I simply didn’t and then I felt inadequate, ungrateful, and self-centered. I tried to look at all of my projects at work, all of my volunteer activities, my relationships, my extracurricular activities, and will myself into believing that they mattered. But that anxious and empty feeling kept coming back.
So for the past few months this has been my predicament. And it’s been exhausting. It was almost paralyzing in some aspects of my life because I kept thinking what’s the point of doing this that and another thing. I was simply going through the motions. On a side note–I also had a lot of goals that I wasn’t meeting. I’m pretty disciplined, but I became apathetic to my goals. Even though I enjoyed the process of meeting goals, I no longer cared because they had no meaning.
Finally, about a week ago the universe struck me with the realization that I’ve never self-identified my purpose in life. I’ve never stopped and asked myself what I want the purpose of my life to be. And because I had no purpose, I had been living without intention. How can I possibly give meaning to my life when I haven’t even given it a purpose? I was thrilled when I realized that once I create my purpose, I’ll start living intentionally and when I live intentionally, I’ll feel like everything I do has meaning. Now I’m not saying that I’m this important person doing all these meaningful things for the world. What matters is that whatever I’m doing is important to me in that moment. There’s no task too small for me to intentionally complete towards my purpose in life.
And then I realized that once I began to live intentionally towards my purpose, I was able to meet my goals without even trying, because everything else falls to the wayside. For example, let’s consider my shopping habit. I’ve read Dave Ramsey, Mr. Money Mustache and Blond on a Budget, I’ve done the worksheets, I use Mint, and I’ve got a fairly detailed budget that I work on several times a week. I’ve lived and experienced first-hand how poor spending habits can devastate a family. But for some reason, I still spend way too much money on clothes, even though I’ve done all this self-work and should know that clothes don’t make you beautiful. So the old me used to agonize over desperately wanting a new pair of jeans while knowing that I just don’t have the spare cash to buy them. I’d spend days debating this stupid purchase. One minute I’d justify it because “life is too short not to have cute jeans!” and the next minute I’d scold myself for being so shallow. And then I’d end up buying the jeans and just feel worse about myself. Needless to say, I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t able to control my spending. And then it hit me–I can’t meet my goals because I don’t have a purpose. Meeting goals to meet goals isn’t fulfilling for me. I’m not saying that it’s easy or that I could meet any goal if I tried. Meeting goals is really hard work. It’s a lot easier if there’s a purpose behind it. When you’ve got a purpose and you’re living intentionally, any decision that doesn’t direct you towards your purpose just falls to the wayside. The only options left are intentional action on the path towards your purpose and you meet goals along the way.
I wish I could tell you that my purpose is some earth-shattering, world-changing, super-hero type action. But it’s not. To find my purpose, all I did was think about when I feel the best, and that’s when I’m making healthy choices as often as possible. So my purpose is to savor how I feel when I’m being healthy and try to make it happen as often as possible. When I ride my bike for 4 hours in the mountains and then do yoga in my living room for an hour, I’m happier than a pig in mud. When I get 8-9 hours of non-alcohol induced sleep, I wake up feeling like Little Miss Sunshine. When I read books, I feel youthful and whimsical like Peter Pan. So yea, that’s my purpose, as simple and selfish as it might seem. But as my brother always says, if you don’t take care of yourself you can’t take care of anyone else. I finally feel a weight off my shoulders and can stop holding my breath because I can live intentionally and not worry about all the riff-raff. Of course, from time to time, I still have too many drinks, don’t get enough sleep and miss a workout. But most of the time, I’m doing healthy things and allowing myself to enjoy those things and live in the moment, rather than feel guilty or over-analyze life in general. I bet my purpose will evolve over time and I’ll just let that happen naturally and peacefully, but for now, I’m pretty darn happy just making simple, healthy choices.