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Finding Joy in the Ruins of a Crushed Dream

“Life is a process of becoming. A combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” ~Anais Nin

Five months ago, my partner Mike and I were offered jobs as English teachers in a school in China. Excitedly, we moved everything we owned into storage, organized our passports and visas, said farewell to our loved ones, and left our home in Melbourne within a month, not to be home again for a year.

We had just started to settle in to our new home in Daqing, in the Heilongjiang province of northern China, when the unthinkable happened: I got fired.

I still don’t know exactly how it happened, but the principal had hired both of us to replace only one teacher. When he realized his mistake, he decided to just fire me. No explanation, no apology for inviting me to pack up my whole life and move to the other side of the world and then firing me after a month—not even the decency to pay me for the work I did.

Nothing.

To make matters worse, they withheld our passports after they’d been processed so that we couldn’t leave the city. We had to get the police involved in order to get them back.

This was a very confusing time for us. We didn’t know whether to stay in China for the rest of our year or just go home. But Mike still had a job with the school, and I knew that I would be giving up if we went home after only one month, so we decided stay.

Needless to say, I was experiencing a lot of stress, anxiety, and self-doubt. I felt like a complete failure. I never wanted to teach again, and I started to really despise being in China. I just wanted to go home and pretend it was all just a bad dream.

I kept thinking about my life in Melbourne. I had lived in a nice house with the love of my life. I just had my first art gallery exhibit. I had great friends and family.

Why would I choose to leave all that and come to a place that completely turned my life upside down?

Then something happened that turned everything around. I got really sick.

I got so sick that I was bed-ridden for a month. I know it doesn’t sound very positive—and believe me, at the time I definitely didn’t see it as the blessing in disguise that it truly was—but it was exactly what I needed.

I believe that physical illness is always somehow connected to our emotions and our lives not being in balance.

My life in China had been far from balanced. I hadn’t been looking after myself properly. I wasn’t eating the right foods. I stopped painting. I lost sight of my spiritual path, which I have now learned is more important to me than I realized.

I was too hard on myself and I let other people’s opinions get me down. The stress and change of the first few months in China had caught up with me, and it knocked me down pretty hard.

But falling ill also gave me a lot of time for self-reflection. I thought about the life I wanted to live, and what I needed to change in order to achieve it. I wanted to lead a more inspired life; and being a self-confessed internet addict, I went straight to the world wide web to look for anything that might help me do that.

I followed blogs, joined fan pages, and retweeted like crazy. I found so many resources and rediscovered things that had inspired me in the past, one of those being the tinybuddha blog. I soaked up all the wisdom I could find and started feeling more positive by the day.

I had become addicted to learning new things and was constantly finding new websites, quotes, books, and people that inspired me. I was so inspired that I decided to start my own blog as a place to put all these amazing things together, as well as include my own experiences, thoughts, and creations that might inspire others.

Every day since I started my blog, I have woken up with a smile on my face.

I was so surprised to discover how healing writing can be and how much I love doing it. It has given me a sense of purpose again, something to focus on, and it has reignited my creativity.

Starting my blog and doing all that research helped me realize what I need to do regularly in order to be happy—things like eating healthily, expressing my creativity, being true to myself, appreciating life, and focusing on the positive as much as possible.

I went back to my vegetarian diet and made sure I only ate foods that would help me to heal. I started painting, singing along to my favorite music, and wearing bright colors again.

I stuck notes around our apartment that say “Attitude of Gratitude” and every time I see them I think of at least two things I’m grateful for that day. I made a vision wall with pictures of all the people who make my life so special.

I went for walks around the city, started learning Mandarin and really giving myself to the adventure of living in a foreign country. I did whatever I could to see the gift in everything and celebrate the little things.

And as my body healed, my mind and spirit healed with it.

Now, I am the healthiest, happiest, and most self-assured and balanced I have ever been. I’ve started to create the life I want to live by taking responsibility and choosing my thoughts, words, and deeds wisely.

I’ve decided to use the rest of our time in China to further my education. Later this month I will be studying philosophy, art, and religion subjects through Open Universities Australia, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

The most enlightening part of this story is knowing that none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired. As shattering as it was at the time, I am a stronger person because of it.

I know myself better than I ever have before, and I would choose this path over anything else. I even got the chance to prove that recently when my old boss offered me my job back and I refused.

Not only have I grown a lot from all of this, but I am now heading in a completely different direction than I was when I first came to China—one that I am passionate about. I can think of nothing better than spending the next eight months in China continuing my education, further exploring who I am, writing my blog, and having the adventure of a lifetime!

I have learned so many lessons from this experience. Here are the top four I’d like to share:

  1. Everything happens for a reason.
  2. Sometimes, things have to get a whole lot worse before they can get a whole lot better.
  3. You create your world with what you choose to think, say, and do.
  4. “Ruin is the road to transformation.”

The fourth is a quote from the movie Eat, Pray, Love, based on one of my favorite books of the same name. In the scene, Liz (Julia Roberts) is sitting in the abandoned Augusteum in Rome. She’s marveling at how it had experienced so much change in it’s long life—being ruined and destroyed so many times—only to be built back up again, transformed.

Life is transformation, constant change.

But the problems we face aren’t caused by that change. They’re caused by our inability to see them as opportunities, as chances to learn, grow, and become the people we are meant to be. We can choose how we see the world, we can choose whether to view something as a curse or as an opportunity. I learn that lesson every day.

If you do too, you’ll never regret the choice to create your life positively and proactively.

Photo by egor.gribanov

About Jen Saunders

Jen Saunders is a stargazing, rainbow riding, empowerment artist. She is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Wild Sister Magazine, and fiercely believes that by empowering women we can empower the world. Tweet her @wildsistermag and connect with Wild Sister Magazine on Facebook.

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  • What a beautiful and relevant piece this is. I can relate to so many things here and take the lessons you’ve outlined to heart. I have had to learn the hard way that what seems like a horrible situation CAN be turned around to become something incredible, positive and transformative. It is about choices, and attitudes, and seizing oppourtunities!

    “I believe that physical illness is always somehow connected to our emotions and our lives not being in balance.”

    I believe this as well, and saw a strong example of it in my life this year. It definitely forces you to pause, re-evaluate and focus on yourself and how you are treating your body.

    I truly appreciate you sharing your story and experience here. What a positive article this is, with so many things I need to take to heart outlined in it. It’s amazing to hear how you were able to create an incredible oppourtunity for growth, open yourself to new experiences and truly enjoy this place in your life’s story! Very inspiring. 🙂

  • What a beautiful post, Jen! I really enjoyed your story. Off to check out your blog now! Namaste.

  • Luminous_mortal

    As with all things, timing couldn’t have been more perfect for me to stumble across your wonderful post. As someone who is going through treatment for breast cancer and being divorced by a man I’ve been with for thirty years, I can relate to the shock of finding yourself suddenly adrift. For months I lived in a stew of anger, humiliation and fear, wondering why this man had chosen to start a new life with someone else.

    As it turned out, going through chemotherapy was the life-changing experience that finally helped me figure out my priorities. Radiation comes next, and I expect that will just put a fine point on it.. 🙂

    Having a serious illness has made me stronger than I’ve ever been. Even when I have a bad day I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there’s been a reason for all this. I was living a life of limitation, now with me at the helm of my own life, the possibilities are endless….

  • Kaboom

    Relly helpful – something similar happened to me except I am still trying to get to your state of mind…

  • Ibana

    Thank you…. I read this on the right day!!!!

  • Thank you so much Alannah 🙂

    I am so glad that so many people like yourself are able to relate to my story & gain some inspiration from it, it makes the whole experience that much more worth it!

    There will always be times in our lives that, as you said, pause & re-evaluate, but I’ve realised that that is how we grow into ourselves. I guess the only part we need to work on is remembering that during the tough times!

    Thanks 🙂

  • Wow, thank you so much. Your comment brought tears to my eyes. You are an amazing woman, & I admire your strength & wisdom. You are right, the possibilities are endless, & with a positive attitude like yours, you will emerge from all of this even stronger & wiser than you are now.

    I believe that the Universe provides, & just as how you stumbled across my post to learn what you needed to, in turn your comment has allowed me to learn things that I needed to.

    Thank you, & I give you my best wishes for your healing, so that you can start to live the life you have always been destined to.

  • This is going to sound completely cliche`d, & maybe even a bit ‘If you build it, they will come’, but it WILL come. It will all happen in it’s own time, just keep up the maintenance of positive thinking & positive action 🙂

  • A McCollough

    Very inspiring, sometimes you have to go through something to find that person tha lies deep within you. I have believed that soemtimes we have to go through earth or world shattering events to rise up like a Phoenix.

  • Jen, your story SO powerful! It’s a true “Up From Splat” story of turning “splat into spectacular.” I love the way you allowed yourself the time to heal and followed your inspired action back to health. I’ve had much ruin myself this last year, and I’m on a path of transformation now. One of the most powerful things about the ruin, I’ve found, is that it really helps you clarify what you DO want and puts so much power behind creating that.

    Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  • Jalmonte2

    This is wonderful, thank you! A blessing & message that came just at the right time!

  • Patrick Simpson

    I cannot agree with this logic a hundred percent. It does apply in a lot of cases. But not all of them.

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  • Antkak

    WONDERFUL, UPLIFTING, and very well written!

  • Wow!! This story, it’s… It’s really something. It reminds me of The Karate Kid, except you’re not a kid. It’s very profound.

  • David

    i love the story!! thanks for sharing it with us.(FYI, i would be ticked off too if i moved across the world to get a job and not get it).

  • Very well said. Balance is incredibly important in our physical and emotional being. Unfortunately, it usually takes a major hurt to make us wake up to the fact.

  • Hahaha! Thank you! I never thought about that before. Funny thing, the Karate Kid remake came out just as we arrived in China, so watching really kinda helped me adjust to life here & I really related to Jaden Smiths’ character 🙂 I guess I relate to him even more now! Might watch it again 🙂

  • Daizey1024

    I love this post! I have recently gone through a similar period of enlightenment that was precipitated by a different kind of “ruin”. It is as if my soul has been opened up and I am seeing things in a completely new way. Nothing changed but everything changed at the same time. Now I realize that this high wouldn’t have been possible had I not experienced such a low. It is so true that the greatest growth comes from the most difficult experiences. Thanks for sharing!

  • Wonderful, beautiful, raw and authentic. This is a post very well done, Jen. I’m so blessed to have met you through IWHJ, and I can’t wait to see where life takes you. My favorite part of your entry was this: Now, I am the healthiest, happiest, and most self-assured and balanced I have ever been. I’ve started to create the life I want to live by taking responsibility and choosing my thoughts, words, and deeds wisely.

    I couldn’t believe more strongly in those words. Make that your mantra — to choose your thoughts, words and deeds wisely. If you do that you will always be who you were meant to be, and by doing so you will inspire more people than you can even imagine. And btw, YOU DID IT! (Insert smiley face.) xo Bri

  • Wonderful, beautiful, raw and authentic. This is a post very well done, Jen. I’m so blessed to have met you through IWHJ, and I can’t wait to see where life takes you. My favorite part of your entry was this: Now, I am the healthiest, happiest, and most self-assured and balanced I have ever been. I’ve started to create the life I want to live by taking responsibility and choosing my thoughts, words, and deeds wisely.

    I couldn’t believe more strongly in those words. Make that your mantra — to choose your thoughts, words and deeds wisely. If you do that you will always be who you were meant to be, and by doing so you will inspire more people than you can even imagine. And btw, YOU DID IT! (Insert smiley face.) xo Bri

  • Katherine K

    Loved it Jen !!! Everything u said is how I feel !! Truly inspiring ….. I’m gunna have to follow ur blog now to keep up with ur stories !! Take care over there

  • Hey Katherine! So glad you liked it 🙂 Yay! Hope everything is going well for you back home 🙂

  • Ahh! 😀 Thank you so much for all of your support! It means so much to me 🙂 xox

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  • Rhonda

    I came across your blog as I was looking for positive inspiration at a somewhat difficult time. I just lost my job this week. I am going to take a little downtime and just listen to my voice and see what direction I need to go. I borrowed your little saying “celebrate the small things” and posted it to my facebook so that I can see it as an everyday reminder. Thank you for sharing your story…I know everything happens as part of your journey. 🙂

  • Surabhigarg

    this is so inspiring …i wish i too get such strength in me to find my true inner voice…right now i m going through a very bad phase in my life..so badly need a right approach n guidance..help

  • Danneleigh

    What an amazing article. I am relating completely to your story. Thank you for putting it out on words. I am most grateful….:)

    Danneleigh

  • leanne

    ever since you were a little girl you have always been so intuitive and thoughtful of peoples feelings and you have always been an inspiration to me and to those around you. i have always been so proud of the wonderful person you are and how you manage to always be so positive even during bad times. it is a privelege to be able to call myself your mum, luv u infinity baby.

  • leanne

    ever since you were a little girl you have always been so intuitive and thoughtful of peoples feelings and you have always been an inspiration to me and to those around you. i have always been so proud of the wonderful person you are and how you manage to always be so positive even during bad times. it is a privelege to be able to call myself your mum, luv u infinity baby.

  • 😀 Thanks Mum 😀 I wouldn’t be who I am if it weren’t for you. Love you & miss you xoxoxoxo

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  • Siestachik

    I needed this. This article “found” me at just the right time. Thank you.

  • Lotus_88899

    Happy New Year…thankyou for this insight for have not known there are other that feel the way that I did… Always feel guilty to hate him.. But not know why I felt that way when he works hard to provide and somehow always felt empty and fear of not of lonelyness… Thanks again..and I always loved waterlily and some how was drawn to it’s beauty and find it so peacefull and my butterfly fish who seem so free and so gracefully swim about 🙂

  • Oh Jen, my story is yours and your story is mine. I’m so happy to connect with you.

  • deepali

    what a great story. i, myself, am going through a major life transition currently and in a place where i wonder, “how can this be a blessing”. it’s true, there is so much out there that is unseen, but we need to open ourselves up to receive the next chapter. it’s challenging, and i’m happy to read that you dove through that challenge and came out happier and more fulfilled in your life. i’m on my way….thanks for the reminder! -deepali
    http://www.wellnesskriya.wordpress.com

  • Passerby

    Everything happens for a reason.

    I truly believe it that!

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  • Thanks for the post Jen! I needed it now!

  • Ramesh

    hey inspiring boss..cheers…

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  • Amanda

    I needed this today. So uplifting.. everything really does turn around at some point. I love the idea that you wrote post-it notes to remind yourself to be grateful, sometimes thats all we need to change our attitude!

  • Tim

    The same exact thing happened to me last month. I traveled all the way to China for an ESL job and I was fired after two months for not being “entertaining” enough to teach toddlers. Pursuing an ESL career in Asia for a few years before grad school, has been my plan since I first started my undergraduate degree, so this has been devastating Luckily, there are plenty of ESL jobs in China and I’m getting right back on the horse to try again, this time with older students who I can approach with a more intellectual style that comes more naturally to me. This time, I have the right kind of visa so the school will be more invested in me. It’s comforting to hear that I’m not alone facing this situation and that you’ve turned lemons into lemonade. Strangely, I found this story simply by searching for “crushed dream” when I’d been searching fruitlessly to find other stories like mine with more specific wording.

  • PeterKenneth24

    Wow!! so inspiring !! thank you for sharing this post with us! http://artencounters.com.au

  • Jem

    Thank you for this article. 🙂

  • Maisha Z.A. Shemonti

    Your words have begun to heal a shattered me. Thank you. Congrats on acing life n living your dreams 🙂