This past spring, I had the amazing honor of being Anita Moorjani’s guest on her Hay House Radio show, “Beyond the Extraordinary.” During our time together, Anita asked me if I had any advice for her listeners on how you know when it’s time to let something go (e.g., an unfulfilling relationship or a dead-end job), especially if you don’t have a clue what your new life will look like.
Her question took me back to 2010, when I was facing this very issue. Back then, the primary tool I had for evaluating any important life choice consisted of asking myself whether it would disappoint or impress my friends, family and/or colleagues. I was unsure, insecure and almost totally externally focused. Fast forward to my current life and work, and I can now answer that question confidently.
The answer involves going inside, not out, to access our greatest source of inner wisdom. In short, I told her listeners to follow the freedom. That (and a few other tips I’ve included below), are exactly what I did when the pain of staying put in my old life exceeded my fear of the unknown. Use these suggestions when you decide to make the leap, and you may just land on the path of your right life.
Follow the Freedom
In 2010, I felt like I was in a deep well, so deep that I could barely see a light at the top. My husband and I were at the height of our marital dysfunction, vacillating somewhere between screaming fights and separate lives; I’d spent three years in law school and two years in practice, but I knew I was meant for something other than law, though I had no clue what that was; I’d spent my most recent years as a bored, buzzed housewife who had little to no drive to figure out what the hell she wanted to be when she grew up; and I was too afraid and ashamed to share any of this with anyone for fear of marring the image of my perfect-seeming life.
Then I found the writing of Dr. Martha Beck. It was as if someone had thrown a lifeline down into that well, and I started the long climb out. Although I clung desperately to the wisdom in so many of her books, blogs and magazine articles, there was one particular excerpt that was more pivotal, more of a catalyst, than any other. I read and reread this dog-eared page over and over while I was working up the courage to make my move. Sidenote: I highly recommend finding just such a passage that you, too, can return to when your confusion and fear are at their worst.
My go-to quote, paraphrased from the Buddha, went something like this: When you encounter a body of water, you will know it is the ocean because it tastes of salt. In much the same way, you will know enlightenment and truth because it tastes of freedom…not safety, not comfort, but freedom. At the time, I had beaucoup de safety in my life. And comfort, well, my life was beyond comfortable. But freedom? Not so much.
While my rational mind was quick to provide a list of all the sane, respectable reasons I should stay put, my body told a different story. My body knew what my soul had been screaming for decades. Namely, that I was not free, no matter how shiny and perfect everything appeared on the outside. And I wanted freedom.
A quick aside: Freedom doesn’t have anything to do with whether you are single, married, or anywhere in between. You could be partnered up for 50 years and feel that internal sense of freedom, or you could be single but shackled up to high heaven in other areas of your life. Bottom line, this is about whether your life allows for and supports the growth of your innermost, authentic self.
Now, perhaps you’re wondering how the heck you’re supposed to recognize freedom in your body? Try this quick exercise: Just envision being in that job you absolutely hated, or that bad relationship where your boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s gaslighting had you constantly questioning your sanity, or that time you had to wait in a crawling airport security line when you were running late for your flight. Notice the physical sensation(s) in your body.
Although these sensations will be unique to you, there will likely be some common threads, like muscular contraction and/or heaviness somewhere in the body. For me, my chest and throat clench up. For you, there may be knots in your stomach or an overall sense of intense weightiness. There is no right or wrong answer here, but chances are the sensations will be a bit unpleasant.
Freedom, on the other hand, should feel lighter and more pleasant. For grins and giggles, envision being with your child or companion animal, or imagine sitting in a lounge chair at your favorite beach with a fruity drink in hand, or remember the first time you fell in love. That feeling of expansion, relaxation, and lightness? That, my friend, is freedom. And you can follow that freedom like a compass pointing due north toward your right life.
Don’t Worry About the Cursed Hows – Just Look for the Breadcrumbs
Although I didn’t have much else to go on back in 2010, I knew what freedom felt like. And I followed it. But that sense of freedom didn’t come with a map of where I was headed. For a Type A former lawyer like me, this plan (or lack thereof) was terrifying. What I have come to understand over the past 7 years, however, is that all I had to do was steer myself in the general direction of my dreams, and the Universe would help me fill in the remaining details.
At the time, my “dream” was an amorphous and poorly-formed idea of moving back to the West Coast and, after a brief a sabbatical from my entire life, helping real people 1-on-1 in any area but law. That’s about the extent of it. So when Washington felt more like freedom than California, I moved to Seattle. And when life coach training with Dr. Martha Beck felt more like freedom than taking the Washington bar, I signed up for her program.
Over time, my dream began to take more shape. I envisioned creating a coaching practice, a radio show, and buying a house in my new favorite city (Seattle, of course!). I even came up with some bigger goals around income, ideal clients, writing a book and reaching large numbers of people with an inspiring and meaningful message. Yet I still had no idea HOW all of this was going to happen.
But here’s the thing I learned: It is not our job to worry about “the cursed hows” (thank you, Mike Dooley!). I wouldn’t have believed this had someone told me back then. In my old life, I grasped onto goals with the white-knuckled death grip of a passenger on the world’s tallest roller coaster. I would have driven myself crazy with worry and anxiety over how everything was going to come together and why it wasn’t happening faster.
But I’ve now witnessed enough validation in my own life, as well as the lives of my mentors and clients, to know that “at the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you.” (h/t Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) I really don’t care if you believe this assistance is coming from Source, God, Love with a capital “L,” the grand burrito in the sky, or simply the intelligence of Life that heals our cuts and signals the birds to go south in winter. Provided that you’re willing to be just a tiny bit open, like those southbound birds, you will be guided.
In my own life, with each step forward, all I did was regularly reassess whether I still felt free. And as I simply continued moving toward freedom, lo and behold, breadcrumbs would appear for me to follow…like an unexpected opportunity for collaboration with an awesome local bookstore in Seattle…which gave me just enough coaching hours to qualify for Master Coach Training…which led to me writing an article on my divorce that Martha Beck reviewed favorably during such training…which led to my first official coaching program on how to get divorced gracefully…which then led to classes and speaking engagements around healing and hope during divorce…and the breadcrumbs continue to appear.
Our job is not to figure out the cursed hows. Frankly, how I would have done it would have involved way more effort and struggle than how things have actually unfolded. Instead, the events in my life took form with ease and seeming magic as I waited patiently (alright, not so patiently sometimes) for my next breadcrumb. That is not to say there was no fear or hard work. Certain events over the past few years have absolutely kicked my ass! And still…I have not been disappointed yet. In fact, those breadcrumbs have become more like toast points these days – you can’t miss ‘em!
Keep Moving Forward
Just because I’m less worried about the hows and I feel pretty damn confident about those breadcrumbs showing up doesn’t mean it’s all been smooth sailing. Want proof? Check out my blog on The Terrifying Business of Getting Out of Bed.
Even when the water gets rough, though, the most important thing is not to turn back. With every disappointment or setback or just plain old crappy day, allow yourself to cry, to rage, or to grieve. Give yourself space to feel whatever has come up. Then remember that this too shall pass.
If I’m able, I usually call it a day and go to bed early, even if I still have a to-do list a mile long. I know I can depend on renewed energy and inspiration after a good night’s sleep. And you can too. When morning comes, recommit to your journey, and keep going.
Perhaps you don’t feel you have the luxury of letting yourself rest or sleep it off? I have learned (often the hard way), that the energy with which I act has lasting effects on whatever I’m doing. For example, if I were to write this blog piece while overworked, angry and resentful, the result would be far different than a piece written while joyful, rested and inspired. The energy we put into our work has far-reaching ripples to all those who later touch it, which makes good self-care invaluable.
Just remember, for every step you take, the Universe will take many more. But that’s the thing – you gotta at least take one step for the Universe to meet you halfway. You have to reach outward in order for someone or something to reach back. In the words of Louise Hay, just keep showing up and answering phones.
These three steps may sound pretty simplistic. No matter. Speaking from personal experience, they work. And while there is so much out there to support your journey (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more), following the freedom might just be the most important element of all.