“Nothing changes unless you do.” ~Unknown
In the fall of September 2017, after one of the longest summers of event planning I could have imagined, I quit my job.
As I proudly exited the workforce to pursue my creative talents as a writer, I looked confident and excited on the outside. Yet, in that moment and for the years to follow, I was terrified on the inside.
Even though I’d exited my cubicle walls, head held high, the boundaries, fear, and rules of the office environment followed me around daily for over two and a half years.
I was now my own boss, but I still had the same anxieties as I did when I was reporting to a superior, such as the fear of getting reprimanded for leaving early to work on my writing. I still got jumpy when I would attend a yoga class during “business hours,” or when I’d work on a passion project past 5:00 P.M.
Maybe you’ve had something similar happen in your life, where you’ve changed circumstances on the outside, but on the inside something still just doesn’t feel right.
Sometimes we do this in simple ways. For example, you’ve ever paid off a big credit card bill, then replaced it with the same amount of debt in another form a few months later. Each time I’ve done this, I’ve noticed there was an internal void I was looking to fill, such as buying new clothes to feel better about myself, or the seventh pair of yoga pants to try to fit in at my new studio.
Or maybe you’ve ditched an unhealthy habit, such as eating ice cream treat every day after dinner, only to pick up another one, like the habit of meticulously counting calories. I’ve even quit watching TV before, just to replace that time with scrolling Instagram and getting caught in a new comparison loop.
If any of these examples sound familiar to you, there’s a chance you’ve recreated a problem with a new face, likely because you weren’t ready to face the issue hidden underneath it.
I’ve found that if we make a big external change without giving ourselves space to reflect, we usually don’t change internally. It’s much harder to change deeply ingrained fears and beliefs than it is to change our circumstances.
I believe it’s not so much change itself we fear, but rather the spacious in-between phases of our lives, when we’re forced to face ourselves. But if we don’t face ourselves, we might not even realize how we’re stuck.
I assumed I was a proud, independent freelance writer working on her own terms just because I’d finally quit my job and taken the leap.
I had to learn to sit within the uncomfortable sensation of non-busyness, to gain a bird’s-eye perspective on my life to see this wasn’t the case at all. I was still battling anxieties, fears, and approval metrics that I carried with me from full-time life and likely my entire academic career.
If you think you might be stuck internally, despite changing your life externally, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Do you feel the same as you did before?
If you are experiencing the same emotions day after day, like anxiety, fear, or stagnation, it’s possible your problem is still hanging around in a new format.
When I left my nine-to-five job, my anxiety and people-pleasing tendencies came with me. With these unresolved issues, I recreated the situations I despised in my old office. I treated every client like a boss whose approval I needed to win over instead of taking ownership of healing my issues and becoming my own boss.
2. Are you still looking for something external to validate you or make you happy?
If you’ve jumped from one big life change to another, you may be focusing on externals to avoid the uncomfortable sensations we experience in the gap of change.
For example, if you’ve just finished yoga teacher training, then promptly decided to become a Pilates instructor (something I’ve done!), it’s possible you are filling your empty spaces with achievements to avoid looking deeper into what’s missing in your life.
When I went from RYT-200 yoga teacher training, straight into Pilates Mat I, I was hoping to feel like I was advancing in life even when my career was stuck. When I looked within, I realized I needed to work on nurturing a sense of self-pride that didn’t depend on constant advancement.
Now, when I feel like I’m not good enough, I make a list of things I’ve accomplished to date, and this helps me remember I don’t need to run toward anything else.
3. Is there a core wound you need to address?
Healing my need for external validation is an ongoing journey. In fact, I wrote about it for Tiny Buddha in 2013.
If the universe is giving you variations of similar problems, it’s so you can discover and move past your underlying issue. Once you’ve acknowledged the wound and what’s driving you, such as the need for approval, you can begin to see your external experiences with new eyes and make the appropriate shifts to move past this pattern for good.
It’s only when we take the space to fly high above our lives in contemplation, that we can see what we’ve truly been searching to heal this whole time.
Once I understood that my need for external validation was driving my day-to-day business actions, I was able to take a step back and evaluate why I was running my business.
After I got super clear on my mission and the way I wanted to show up in the world, I was able to fully step out of the cubicle and into my own power. I no longer handed out permission to other people to dictate how I would run my business or my life.
I believe there are certain roadblocks and issues that we are destined to overcome, like discovering why we feel the need to check our social media pages on the hour or disappear into Netflix for a weekend, or even keep dating the same person.
These issues aren’t meant to deter us from our path; rather, they come up again and again to make sure we heal our underlying issues so we can stay on our path.