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.


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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