“A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because its trust is not on the branch, but in its own wings. Always believe in yourself.” ~Unknown
If you’ve ever stopped and thought, “What the hell am I doing?” or “How did I end up here?” believe me when I tell you that you are one of many—including me.
Feeling lost is stressful enough, but what about when we disappoint ourselves more than anyone around us? What do we do when we have no sense of direction or purpose, and dwindling confidence in ourselves?
I haven’t yet figured it all out, but that’s just fine. That’s the point exactly, that we don’t have to figure it all out right now. You can be hurting and healing at the same time, they’re not mutually exclusive.
I found myself in what would be one of the darkest moments of my life at the ripe age of twenty-five. My girlfriend of five years and I split up as I was planning to propose, an F4 tornado destroyed my hometown, and I quit a successful job in advertising all in a matter of months.
The truth is, I wasn’t happy in my relationship (even though I told myself I was over the years and through a myriad of fights). I wasn’t truly happy in my career. And I was missing a lot from life in general.
So I took a hard look at myself—twenty-five, single, jobless, and feeling empty. Not empty in the lonely sense of the word. Empty in that I would wake up in the middle of the night and not see her next to me. Empty in that all my peers were on life’s highway setting goals for themselves, breaking them, and setting new ones thereafter.
Every opportunity that I had been afforded, I took advantage of and excelled in. But I never found that one thing that fueled the fire in my heart. I don’t think I ever discovered my passion. By twenty-five, surely I must have been getting close, right?
Many of my friends knew exactly what they wanted to do from a young age. Deep down, I envied that. To know my purpose was what I longed for. So why was I not one of those that automatically knew?
I don’t yet have that answer, as you might’ve intuited, but I have found two things to be true thus far:
1. Yes, some people know what they want early in life. But they are the exceptions to the rule.
Many successful people we know today found success later in life. Stan Lee started the Marvel Universe at thirty-nine, Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of the Species at fifty, and Grandma Moses began painting at seventy-eight years old.
Then there are the countless people you’ve never heard of—and probably never will—who found meaning and passion later in life, or found it, lost it, then found it again.
2. Maybe we are meant to do more than one thing.
It’s our understanding of success that helps us define when we’ve reached it. Rather than think of success as one destination, we can choose to see it as the car ride from spot to spot, each equally exciting.
So how do you recover when you feel as though life took you, chewed you up, and spit you back out? You don’t… at least not really.
I stumbled upon a great quote a few days ago that read, “When people say recovery, you typically think of returning to how you were before. But there is no going back. You do not merely recover, but reinvent yourself. You become something completely different from what you were before.”
I read that over and over until I felt the wisdom shiver itself into my bones.
Many times we take a step back from situations to recover, when in fact what we may need to do is reinvent ourselves if we can no longer return to what we used to be.
It’s not a negative thing, to reinvent who you are. In fact, it’s one of the most liberating experiences you will ever have. You just have to let yourself.
If you’re anything like me, you are your own biggest critic. And although this can help us keep ourselves accountable, it can prevent us from broadening our horizons. We internally set limits for ourselves based on past experiences, thinking that we can only go as far as we’ve already been. When you learn to let go of the things that no longer serve your purpose but only hinder you, then can you truly soar.
Let yourself gain new talents and explore new things outside of your comfort zone.
Sometimes it’s important to let go of the oars and simply float the river. So often we try and paddle upstream when in reality we’d be better off letting the river guide us downstream, to where we haven’t been before.
Think back to every missed opportunity that you were disappointed with. Many (if not all) of those so called missed opportunities were actually guideposts. Even the accomplishments that didn’t last served their purpose. They were not meant to last, they were only meant to change you.
What if I would’ve gotten married? I would have never had the opportunity I have right now to move away to Colorado and explore new horizons.
What if that Tornado wouldn’t have hit my hometown? I used that as a chance to rebuild my home from the ground up, when I wanted to remodel anyway.
And if I had stayed in the security of advertising? Sure, things would be financially stable, but instead I chose to finally pursue my passion for teaching.
So yes, every single experience in life is an opportunity for growth, whether it lasts forever or not.
I had a baseball coach in high school who would always say, “We learn more from the games we lose than the ones we win.” I carry that with me to this day. Maybe it’s because we analyze more when we lose, or maybe it’s because it forces us to change our game plan for next time. But trust that next time, you’re starting from experience, not from zero.
So trust that when everything seems to be falling apart, new things are coming together. But you have to be open to embrace them. Simply float the river. The point of life is not in the destination, it is in the journey. But we are led to believe that life is serious and that it must be leading us to some grand destination.
I’ve found that life is more like a dance. No dancer points to a spot on the dance floor and says, “That’s where I must end up at.” The whole point of the dance is the dance.
So I’ll leave you with three things that I’ve found help me on this journey I find myself on:
1. Name three good things about your day.
At the end of each day, speak aloud three good things that happened. They don’t have to be grand, just the little wins we often overlook. I helped my friends move, I beat my time in the mile, etc. These help remind me that in the middle of the storm, there are still accomplishments in the day and things to be thankful for. That, in turn, can change your mood and set the tone for tomorrow.
2. Exercise and eat healthy.
How you feel is tied closely to the food you consume. Make it a point to eat healthier and to exercise. This won’t only improve your mood, but also your self-confidence and overall health.
I’ve found that whenever life throws challenges at me, one constant that I can count on is the gym. When I’m working out, nothing outside of those four walls matters. It’s my escape, if you will.
3. Keep a journal.
Although life is about the journey, having a sense of direction can anchor us when we’re feeling lost.
Write down what you want (out of your next relationship, out of life, etc.). Jot down your thoughts, fears, and feelings as you sit with uncertainty and find a way forward. Journaling is cathartic and can help ease much of the pain. It can also help you feel a sense of progress. One of my favorite things to do is to look back on old entries, which can help me see how far I’ve come.
So no, this isn’t the end for you. You will survive and you will look back one day and be so proud of yourself for doing what you thought to be impossible. How do I know? Because if you’re reading this, you still believe in yourself. You still have hope that there are exciting new chapters left to be written, even if you don’t yet know what to do, or how.
As I stated at the beginning, I don’t have it all figured out just yet, but that’s okay. I don’t know where this journey will lead me, but I know it will be exciting and filled with adventure. And in the process, I hope that you too, will find whatever is it that fuels that fire in your heart. Don’t give up, don’t give in.
So yes, ultimately everything seems to be falling apart, but I’m finally starting to see that it’s because something better is coming together. Trust your journey, and even if the branch breaks when you sit on it, your wings will help you soar to new heights.