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Two Life Lessons We Learn Best Through Experience

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"If a fairy appeared in your life right now and you could have absolutely anything you wanted, where would you be and what would you be doing?"

That's a question I love to ask, as almost everybody paints a beautiful picture in response. They'd be on the beach in the Caribbean sipping a cocktail, or be looking over Manhattan from their corner office, or even be making a family dinner in their brand new kitchen. If you can see it, you can achieve it, right?

We visualize what we want; we break down our dreams into goals, put in the hours, discipline and dedication, and we find ourselves in the beautiful picture we painted.

But what if when we get there, we find that we feel empty, sad or lonely. Because our answer to the question was missing a crucial part -- why?

"It's obvious," some might say. "Because if I got what I wanted, I'd be happy." Sure. Like a child is happy with a new toy for... oh, about a moment.

1. Getting what you want doesn't necessarily mean it will bring you happiness.

This is a lesson that our parents, teachers, priests and yogis have been trying to pound into our consciousness for ages. It's also constantly challenged by companies that are in the business of selling us their own idea of happiness. It seems that we have to personally experience it to really believe it. Maybe that IS the only real way to learn that lasting happiness is not a result of something we 'get' -- on our own.

So then we attempt to teach the next step, and judging by the first lesson, it's likely you'll have to learn with experience on your own as well.

2. How to transition from what feels incomplete to what feels filled with true joy and purpose.

There is no one way to do this, but there are some elements that are common to all who master this life lesson: emotional pain, the courage to face it, and the clarity of knowledge that this shift won't come from anywhere else but within - there are no magical potions, miracles, or fairies.

But it doesn't have to be as hard as it seems, either. Aside from the pain, we all have access to the available tools: courage, awareness, gratitude, compassion and grace.

If we keep our eyes and our hearts open to learn from one another, the whole world can become our classroom. Even that thought alone can create a feeling of wonder and gratitude, and can begin to trigger the shift.


Dr. Cary Gannon is a podiatric surgeon and the founder of AILA Cosmetics, and she speaks out about these two life lessons as she makes them a part of her childhood dream to be a healing and inspiring doctor.

"I'm laying everything about my life out there," she says during our Waking Up in America interview.

She lived the life from her own 'fairy question': a successful medical practice, a big house in the right location, a handsome husband and two lovely daughters. But she felt off-balance and unhappy.

Cary is a self-described 'over-functioner,' and she kept pushing herself through pain without pause or self-examination until she broke down.

"You might say that I had a mid-life crisis, but I prefer the term 'awakening.' I started eliminating things (and people) in my life that were not healthy for me. Taking care of my body and eliminating toxic ingredients became a priority."

What I love about her story is the connection between her life and the business she founded developing a toxin-free nail care product line.

Nail polish is so much like this 'picture perfect' life we are after - shiny and beautiful on the outside, covering up the nail in its natural state, and sometimes even hiding dirt beneath it.

Her waking up moment was triggered by a situation at her practice where she found herself unable to provide information about a product she was recommending, because the company that produced it wouldn't allow the information to be disclosed.

She felt trapped, and completely out of control. And not just professionally.

"I was looking at the cycle that I was trapped in... and I just realized, I am controlling nothing in the cycle... and the only thing I can change in this cycle is myself. And if I don't personally change within this cycle, then this is how I'm gonna live the rest of my life. And so I basically had to put a stop to everything."

The first step of her change was a trip to a juice bar and a shot of wheatgrass, because she felt that eliminating all the toxic ingredients out of her diet was one thing she did have control over. Then she turned toward her inner life, for just as we have the power to choose what we are willing to put in and on our bodies, we can choose what thoughts we allow to guide our actions and what voices we decide to silence or follow.

She listened. Among other things, Cary let her daughter Aila, who has a sensory processing disorder, teach her how to stop, slow down and take time to just be. (She later named one of her polishes "Five Senses" and gives all proceeds to the SPD Foundation.)

Cary could have continued her pattern of pushing her pain away, distracting and numbing herself in order to preserve the pretty picture. But she asked herself the question 'why,' and in doing so gave herself the ability to truly find the answer. Who does the 'picture perfect' life really serve? Certainly not her -- nor her daughters, nor her patients.

The alternative is a life in tune with our deepest desires and free from the luster of pretense. Deep down, isn't that what we all really want?

Dr. Cary Gannon is a podiatric surgeon and the founder of AILA Cosmetics, a luxury collection of nail care products that are free of harmful chemicals. Dr. Gannon inspires women to embrace the idea that beauty should be functional and healthy, and that we don't have to compromise anything to look, feel and be our very best.

DISCLOSURE: I didn't receive any complimentary product or service in the process of writing this blog. I did buy some AILA nail lacquers after filming the Waking Up in America episode.

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