“Sometimes when things are falling apart they may actually be falling into place.” ~L.J. Vanier
Earlier last year, I felt like I finally had it all. Good education? Check. Respectable corporate job? Check. Decent salary? Check. Fancy car? Check. Charming, funny, and handsome boyfriend? Check. Stylish apartment? Check.
I should’ve been happy. So why didn’t I feel like I was? My life looked perfect on paper. So why did it still feel so empty? I’d done everything I thought I was supposed to. So why did I feel like a fraud? I had everything I’d ever wanted. So why didn’t it feel like enough?
The answer is simple: I’d been too busy trying to curate a life that looked good on the outside to recognize how I felt on the inside. I’d been too busy trying to be who other people wanted me to be to realize who I actually was. I’d been too busy trying to seem important to identify what was actually important to me.
I’d been too busy blindly going through the motions to realize that I was settling for jobs that didn’t align with my dreams, relationships that didn’t align with my needs, and a lifestyle that didn’t align with my values.
For years, I’d been running on autopilot, my perpetual action serving as a convenient distraction. And it worked. Right up until the moment that I unpacked the last box on the day that my boyfriend and I moved in together.
Because, as I sat there in our big, beautiful apartment, looking around at the designer furniture that I’d so carefully picked out and the face of the man that I’d not-so-carefully chosen to spend my life with, it hit me: Everything that I’d spent so long dreaming about was here, firmly within my grasp. It was a moment that had I had always fantasized about. But this was not how I imagined I would feel.
At first, I put it down to situational jitters. Sure, I was crippled with anxiety, paralyzed by fear, and plagued with self-doubt most of the time, but that’s normal, right? It was a big transition, after all.
And admitting to myself that something wasn’t working would mean making changes. Admitting to myself that I’d chosen the wrong path would mean stepping into the unknown. Admitting to myself that I wasn’t happy would mean taking responsibility. And I sure as hell wasn’t ready to do that.
But with each hollow day and each sleepless night that passed, the feelings of dread, dissatisfaction, and emptiness only grew more and more unshakable.
It wasn’t until the facade inevitably collapsed and I found myself single, unemployed, and moving back in with my parents that I realized: Those feelings weren’t a coincidence. They were a warning. A flashing, neon-lit sign that something was very, very wrong.
The truth is, no amount of external approval can truly satisfy us. No amount of material excess can rescue us from our feelings. No amount of romantic attention can make our problems go away. And no amount of hedonistic thrills can fill the void of a soul that’s been neglected.
For my entire adult life, I’d consistently and consciously chosen money over meaning, chemistry over connection, and validation over truth—and now I was paying the price.
When the objects and attachments that had long awarded me the illusion of safety, purpose, and identity were gone, suddenly, I was unanchored, drifting and directionless, grasping for anything to save me from drowning in the sea of emptiness that stretched before me.
I knew that I should be doing something with my life. But what? I had no hobbies, no interests, and no passions. I didn’t know what I enjoyed doing, let alone what I wanted to do.
Besides, I was too shy, too cautious, too boring. People like me don’t do brave and adventurous things like starting a blog or becoming a yoga teacher or traveling the world. People like me conform and comply and consent to the life that has been prescribed to them.
But rock bottom is a bittersweet place. Because when you find yourself face-to-face with your fears, you have no choice but to overcome them. When you no longer know who you are, you have no choice but to rediscover yourself. And when your entire life has fallen apart, you have no choice but to rebuild it.
A spiritual awakening, an early-life crisis, a dark night of the soul—call it what you want. All I know is that, up until that point, it felt like I had been asleep, and I was finally starting to wake up. And the world didn’t seem so scary anymore. In fact, it seemed full of exciting possibilities.
For the first time in my life, I felt alive and ready to follow my heart.
So began a magical journey of self-discovery. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, like a seed sprouting into a plant, like a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly, I was reborn. And this new life that I’ve created is far better than the one that I left behind.
The thing is, the minute I loosened my grip on the plans I had for the future, the minute I released the self-limiting beliefs that had dictated the way that I lived, the minute I shed the fictional expectations I’d placed on myself, I was liberated. Liberated from the life that been crushing my hopes, repressing my dreams, sapping my spirit, and bankrupting my soul.
The minute I gave myself permission to be me is the minute that I learned the true meaning of freedom.
This last year, I’ve seen places that I never thought I would, done things that I never thought I could, and changed in ways that I didn’t think possible.
I’ve launched a blog, joined a yoga course, taken a solo backpacking trip, taught myself new skills, made new friends and connections, started new hobbies, and set myself goals. I’ve said goodbye to the corporate world that was corrupting my values, the unhealthy relationships that were dragging me down, and the destructive habits that were holding me back.
And I haven’t looked back since.
So what can you do if you find yourself sleepwalking through life, feeling stuck, stagnant, dazed, and disconnected?
You don’t have to make any decisions right away. In fact, the more time you take, the better.
You can’t make effective choices if you’re afraid. You can’t make accurate assessments if you’re checked out. And you can’t discover what’s really meaningful to you if you’ve lost touch with your emotions.
So give yourself space. Make self-care a priority. Tune in to yourself.
And the answers that you’ve been looking for? You’ll probably find that they’ve been right there inside of you all along. Chances are, you just haven’t been paying attention.
Too often, we allow ourselves to fall into the trap of measuring ourselves against others. And with Instagram feeds inundated with skinny waistlines, flashy cocktail bars, exotic adventures, and picture-perfect families, who can really blame us?
But just because something is right for someone else doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. Just because someone else seems like they’ve got it together doesn’t mean that they do. And just because the grass looks greener on the other side doesn’t mean that it is.
So stop comparing your chapter one to someone else’s chapter twenty. Own your mess. Know that you are enough, imperfections and all.
Get to know yourself.
In the midst of my personal crisis, I would spend hours trawling the Internet, frantically Googling things like “how do I find my passion?” But I learned that your passion isn’t something you find. It isn’t something you discover overnight. And it isn’t something that has the power to change your life. Only you can do that.
Life isn’t about finding your passion. It’s about being curious. Curious about who you are, about what you have to offer the world, and about what’s deeply and authentically important to you.
So get introspective. Explore new things. Learn what lights you up.
Ask yourself: What are your hobbies? What topics are you interested in? What are you good at? What are your values? Who do you admire and why? What have you always wanted to try but never had the money/time/courage to do? What activities did you enjoy as a child?
And if you find something that scares you and excites you at the same time, do that.
Nothing in life is permanent. Everything is changing all of the time. And the more you resist, the more you cling, the more you struggle against reality, the more you’re going to suffer.
The reality is, most of what happens in life is out of your control. And in attempting to change, force, or manipulate your circumstances to meet your ideals, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of disappointment.
But if you learn how to relax with the uncertainty, how to surrender to the natural flow of life, and how to release what no longer serves you, you’re going to make way for what will serve you. So let go of the old blueprint you had for your life, the expectations that you set for yourself, and the idea that the past could or should have been different.
Be open to change. Allow things to fall away. Trust that things will unfold as they are supposed to.
Be true to yourself.
This is your life. It’s up to you to decide what you do with it.
The only thing standing between you and your dreams is you. And if you let your fears dictate your choices, if you let external opinions govern your actions, and if you let negative thoughts influence your beliefs, you’ll end up settling for what’s comfortable for you instead of what’s best for you.
So stop getting in your own way. Define what success means to you and say no to everything that isn’t that. Don’t be afraid to share your gifts with the world—because we’re waiting.
We might not be able to choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we spend our time on this Earth.
We can choose to spend it working toward our dreams, or we can choose to spend it working toward someone else’s.
We can choose to spend it doing something that is meaningful to us, or we can choose to spend it doing something that is meaningful to someone else.
We can choose to spend it following our hearts, or we can choose to spend it helping someone else to follow theirs.
I know what I’d rather be doing. Do you?
“There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky, and you ask ‘What if I fall?’ Oh but my darling, what if you fly.” ~Eric Hanson
About Jen Ainsworth
Jen is a proud Aquarius, introvert, and vegan from Hertfordshire, England. She loves writing and recently launched her blog, You Can Make Your Soul Happy, to help people on their journey toward healing a broken heart. In her spare time, you can find her travelling, doing yoga, listening to podcasts, drinking green tea, or cuddling Peaches, her Siamese cat. Instagram/Facebook.