I was on my way up the corporate ladder, ten years of slowly but surely climbing each rung and growing more confident as the ground beneath me disappeared from my field of vision. It was then that I decided to quit my job. Scratch that. It was then that I decided to quit my career.
Though I was professionally successful, my heart was not in the work I did. I was spending ten hours a day doing something that did not give me joy. I was so preoccupied with chasing material comforts that my happiness took a back seat. I realized that a lot of people around me were on the same boat. We were stressed, over-worked, dreaded Mondays, waited for Fridays, and tolerated the days in between. We complained constantly, longing for the day we would win the lottery and finally live "the life we deserved." Funny thing was, no one really knew what that life looked like and no one attempted to buy the lottery. Such was our optimism about what life had in store for us. And so the years rolled on. A marriage and a child later, life was passing me by as I watched and complained.
Until one particularly difficult night, awake in a zombie-like state with my 4-month-old daughter who had no intention of falling asleep, I got to thinking. I would like to say that I looked into her eyes and had a sudden revelation. But I remember being really annoyed. I was mad that I had to wake up in a couple of hours and get ready for another day filled with stressful meetings, angry clients and office politics, none of which gave me the slightest excitement. A resolve born out of incredible frustration forced me to make a decision that would change my life forever.
I had always been fascinated with psychology since taking a course in undergrad. Understanding the workings of the human brain blew my mind. To say that I was obsessed with Freud is an understatement. His work made for great bedtime reading on many a sleepless night. So one day when I got accepted into one of the top psychology programs in the country, I went from a financially independent, corporate professional to a full time student. The decision to follow my dream was an incredibly difficult one but everything that followed that decision was what sent me on a rollercoaster ride of a lifetime. For those of you who are on the brink of leaving your comfort zone and taking that first step towards following your dream, here are some things I learned along the way.
Have courage. Deciding to follow your dreams, especially if it is means making a drastic change to what you currently do, requires courage. But it does not require as much courage as is needed to sustain the resolve to stick to that decision when self-doubt sets in. The thrill and excitement of starting something new propels you at first, but soon there is an inevitable what-the-hell-did-I-do feeling that seems unshakable. Do not lose courage because once the self-doubt dispels, you will remember why you made the decision in the first place.
Be patient. Starting over in a new field after you have already had an established career is difficult on many levels. Not only do you have financial setback, in terms of the opportunity cost and starting back at entry level, but you may have to be financially dependent on family while you re-establish yourself. Though my husband was unquestionably supportive, the dependence took an unexpected toll on my self-esteem and the guilt of being a financial "burden" weighed heavily on me. This financial dependence makes you feel vulnerable and creates a false sense of incompetence. But know that the dependence is temporary. If you love what you do, you will undoubtedly have financial success one day.
Believe in yourself. The world may question your decision and may project its own insecurities and vulnerabilities on to you, but as long as you believe in yourself, success is inevitable. Try not to let other people's doubts weaken your resolve. Simply know that you dared to follow your dreams. That in itself makes you a special kind of person. The awareness of all the sacrifices and efforts that went into following your dream will motivate you to excel.
Let go of guilt. Feelings of guilt may be a natural response to putting your needs first, especially if you are not used to doing it. Accept the feeling, but do not let it consume you. Learning to heed and respect your aspirations gives you a profound sense of self. This in turn influences how you relate to those you love. You become more sensitive to their dreams and desires and your passion becomes an inspiration to them.
Practice mindfulness. Learning to stay in the present moment without worrying about the future or ruminating over the past will teach you to enjoy the process. You will realize that if you stop looking ahead at the destination and worrying about past decisions, you actually enjoy the journey. Be present to each moment and allow yourself to experience the various emotions. For me, it has been a journey filled with excitement, disappointment, anger, frustration, fear, self-doubt, guilt, peace, joy, pride and a sense of achievement. Welcome every emotion and experience it with kindness, non-judgement and acceptance, because they are all a part of an incredible journey of self-transformation.
After a turbulent start, my new path has struck a beautiful rhythm and I am enjoying every moment of it. For the first time in my professional life, I feel at peace. So go ahead, chase your dreams. But be prepared for everything that follows -- the good and the bad.