Not too long ago my internal light was dim. From the outside looking in, things looked great. I had a great career, wonderful family and friends, and had a beautiful condo in downtown Chicago. I had nothing to complain about, but I was still left longing for more. I didn’t know what to do about it so I followed the only model that I knew: achieve and accumulate. Achieve for validation and accumulate for comfort.
In 2009, I got a wakeup call that forced me to re-evaluate everything. I was laid off from my job.
I was a year and half out of business school and was supposed to be on the fast elevator up. Now I was another person without a job. I felt empty and lost. What would I say to people I met? How would I introduce myself?” If I was no longer a Management Consultant, then just who was I? I had buried myself behind the disguise of roles and titles that I lost a sense for the person who held them.
I had to discover who I was at my core and what I had to offer the world simply by being me. It was time to re-ignite my internal flame that had somehow gotten dimmer and dimmer along the way. Here are the lessons I learned for those who may find themselves in a similar situation:
1. Pause and breathe.
For the first month after my lay off I was in panic mode. I spent 8-10 hours a day frantically searching for a job. Some days I wouldn’t even leave the house. I was constantly in action in order to feel like I was accomplishing something. Then one day, I stopped. I allowed myself to just be. I picked up my camera and went for a walk. I photographed anything that caught my eye; I walked in silence, and sometimes I sat down and simply closed my eyes. I accepted what was, and experienced beauty in the moment. For the first time in a while I allowed myself to breathe.
In that moment I felt peace and, my internal light flickered.
2. Reframe the situation.
Once I slowed down I started to see things differently. I realized I had been given the gift of time. I didn’t like being in this state, so I decided to change my perspective on losing my job. I asked myself: What have you always wanted to do, that you haven’t had the time to do? Two things popped in my head: Travel and Study Spanish.
In that moment I leaped with excitement, and my internal light sparked.
3. Allow yourself to want it.
After I changed my perspective and discovered the things I wanted to do, I had to give myself permission to want them. Who was I to spend money traveling, when I had no income? What if it takes me a year to find a job? All of the doubts and “what ifs” crept into my head. It was easy to come up with reasons why I couldn’t act on my desires because I wouldn’t allow myself to simply want it. My true desires had finally surfaced and I kept pushing them back down. So I grabbed a sheet of paper and wrote down all of the things I wanted and stuck it on the refrigerator. I didn’t focus on whether or not I would get them, I just allowed myself to claim it. So often we don’t acknowledge what we truly want. We should revel in these desires and love ourselves enough to know that we are worthy to receive them. This is exactly what I did.
In that moment I gave myself a big hug, and my internal fire glowed.
4. Lead with faith instead of fear.
Now I had acknowledged that I wanted to travel, would I be brave enough to do it? I had to make a choice. Would I let faith or fear guide my decision? I chose to lead with faith and trust that everything would work out. Not only did I pray, but I got creative. I thought of all of the people who had similar interests and was reminded of a conversation I’d had with a co-worker the previous year. We once talked about taking a leave of absence from work to study Spanish in Argentina. I called her up and shared what I was thinking. It turned out that her sister was spending the summer in Spain for her graduate program and she was thinking of joining her. Perfect! I told her that I had to think about it and that I’d call her next week. Then, a funny thing happened. The next day I received an envelope from American Airlines with MADRID written across it. That was the sign that I needed to take a leap of faith. I was reminded of a quote for the book, The Alchemist, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”
In that moment I felt spiritually grounded, and my internal fire was blazing brightly.
5. Block out the noise.
Once I made my decision, I was faced with managing the concerns of others. Most of my friends thought it was a great idea, but my parents were concerned. They thought that I should be saving as much money as possible. I heard their concerns, but I had to listen to my heart. I needed to focus on what I knew to be right for myself. I realized that in order to be truly fulfilled, I had to stop internalizing the expectations of others and follow my internal voice.
In that moment I felt truly whole, and my internal fire exploded.
At the end of this experience, I found my light. I ended up studying Spanish and traveling throughout Spain for six weeks followed a two week Safari in Kenya. Reflecting back, I could not have asked for a better gift than time.
To all of the passionate, motivated women out there, I encourage you to take time for self-care; to be still and connect with God; to discover what truly ignites your internal fire, and to give yourself permission to want it. While you are busy working your way to the top, don’t lose sight of what makes you come alive. And please remember to breathe.
Previously published on www.BlackMBAWomen.com