“Don’t take life too seriously. You’ll never get out alive.” ~Elbert Hubbard
I have always defined my life by my career. I think that was my first mistake.
For the last six years, I worked at a publicity firm in Los Angeles.
It was a job where your email is the first thing you check in the morning before getting out of bed. A job where you are on your phone while eating your dinner. A job where your boss calls you out of a funeral in order to send out a press release. Frequent travel, evening events to attend, and not a lot of free time. Not any free time.
The problem was that this job became my life. I went from work, to home, to bed, each day.
Seven months ago, I quit my job. In fact, not only did I quit my job, I moved out of my Los Angeles apartment and hopped on a one-way flight to Puerto Rico all in one week.
I had met someone who opened my eyes to thinking differently and who let me see that I should try and find a life where I was happy.
I realized that this job was not bringing me the life that I wanted to experience. My hair was falling out due to stress; I had migraines each week. My doctor even advised for a change.
My first weeks in Puerto Rico were paradise. I lay on the beach, learned to dive, and got on a surfboard. I went to waterfalls, drank pina coladas, and I was in love. Soon, however, I started to come down off my high. I started to get anxiety.
I realized what happened. When I took away my job, I took away 90% of the only thing I knew to be my life. I had a big hole inside of me now. I didn’t know what I enjoyed doing, what my hobbies were, or who I was as a person.
Keeping busy through work never allowed me time to think about things like that. Now that I had no job filling my time, I was overwhelmed with thinking. The thinking soon led to over-analyzing, which then led to anxiety.
I woke up each day with a knot in my stomach. What was I doing? Am I going to be happy today? What am I going to do for a career? What is my life going to be like in Puerto Rico?
Often I would worry that my new relationship would fail. My boyfriend fell in love with me because of my independence, my drive, and my passion—all of which he observed through my former job. Now that the job was gone, I felt I had lost all of those traits as well and that he soon would fall out of love with me.
What I came to realize was that “I” was not my career. That wasn’t what defined me. I still had all of those traits and more. I was putting these thoughts and worries into my head that didn’t need to be there.
People fantasize about living on a tropical island. Seeing the ocean each morning when you wake up. Walking beaches with not a single other person on the sand. So why, in the land of paradise, was I causing myself so much worry and stress?
If I couldn’t cease my worries here, I certainly had no hope anywhere else.
So I made it my mission to not take life so seriously and to learn to be present each day in order to find happiness within myself and for my new life. These were my daily mantras:
1. Give yourself some credit.
I took a big risk when I quit my job. I took an even bigger risk moving to an island. Rather than being down on myself for not having a career at the moment or not feeling like my life has a purpose, I give myself credit for the little things: learning Spanish a bit more, attempting to surf, taking pilates each week at a local studio, meeting new people.
When you are focusing on what you see as bad things, you are preventing the good from shining through.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Take ten minutes of meditation time each day and thank yourself for it afterward. Get up early and make a healthy breakfast. Talk to someone new in line at the coffee shop. Notice the little things you are already doing each day for yourself.
2. Stop thinking so much.
Think of nothing for two whole minutes. Clear your mind. Don’t put effort into thinking about things that haven’t happened yet. It will just cause you worry. It’s too much for one little mind and it’s a waste of your time and energy.
I still catch myself in a whirlwind of thoughts each day and every time this happens, I stop, I take three deep breaths, I think about something positive, and I smile. There is always a reason to smile and less of a reason to worry.
3. It’s okay to take a break.
My family asked me why I was wasting a college degree and why I spent my 401k to move to an island. I didn’t have a straight answer for them, but I did know that I worked harder than I ever had for six years of my life, for almost twelve hours each day and put up with a lack of appreciation for what I did.
So it was okay if I took some time to do nothing. You don’t have to be achieving scientific discovery every day. It’s okay to take time to simply be and to experience life.
4. You don’t have to find your life purpose tomorrow.
I used to hate the saying “find what you love and go do it.” As if it’s so easy. But each day, don’t be afraid to attempt something new. In Puerto Rico, I have learned that I actually like oysters. I love being in the water. I am more creative than I thought I could be.
I still haven’t found what I love in life or what my “purpose” is, but trying is the only way to find it.