I never thought of Elizabeth Gilbert as an inspirational speaker. Yes, I read her book “Eat, Pray, Love” and liked it. And yes, I also watched the movie and thought it was a fine thing to enjoy with a cup of tea and then get on with my life. But the whole hype about her, how she had become famous and all that had somehow bypassed me. Until this morning. When one of things she said hit straight home with me.
Embrace the glorious mess that you are.
I was watching inspirational videos on YouTube, TED talks mostly, eternally looking for the solution to my problem when I should probably just stop chasing it and wait for it to find me. That’s not how I’m wired, though. When I have a problem, I try to fix it. No faffing around. I just get the job done.
Not this time, though. I feel like I’m in the middle of a monumental life-changing transition, and for the first time in my life I feel utterly and seriously lost. In the last two years my life has kind of unraveled. The solid ground on which I thought it was built has given way to quicksand.
This doesn’t only feel hugely uncomfortable. It’s a truly disgusting, sickening feeling that spreads from my tight chest right through my gut, and deep into my arms and legs which feel like they are going to dissolve and fall off at any moment.
Weirdly, I had a similar feeling before, a few years back when a toe joint infection rescued me from a pretty-close-to-certain burnout. Yes, I know that sounds weird, but it’s true. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that this same feeling is resurfacing now, albeit in a different way.
I am at crossroads in my professional life again. This time even more seriously so.
I have a very highly regarded, well-paid, totally safe job that others would die for. It was very tough to get into, and even harder to perform well in it. I’ve managed both. And I’m kind of proud of that, especially given that my family’s educational and professional background didn’t necessarily pinpoint in that direction. I’ve basically worked my butt off and got rewarded.
However, I’ve always, from the start, also had that nagging feeling that something was off, something just didn’t sit right with me. I never felt like I really belonged there, or that I fit in as much as others did.
For years I had been telling myself that this was probably just a side effect of me making my way into a career that was a little bit out of my comfort zone, given my background. I thought and hoped that I would grow into it, grow with it. And to a certain degree I did. I got positive feedback, got promoted, got more responsibilities. But the more I advanced in my job the stronger that feeling became. Which is counter-intuitive, because shouldn’t that have made me feel like I do belong there, do fit in?
Well, it didn’t.
What is even stranger is that this feeling has grown stronger the more I worked on my burnout triggers which, in turn, lead me to work on my relationship with myself and with my family. Because at the source of my professional success, as well as of my near-burnout, are the coping mechanisms I developed in childhood, perfectionism and resilience. I’ve written about both before.
What I have found is that the more I realized what was going on and the more I worked on changing my old patterns of behavior, the more my family shifted with me. It’s pretty amazing to see how my family has responded to my search for a more authentic me. Old roles that I have shed because they didn’t belong to me in the first place have been taken on by those family members where they belong. I can be way more myself in my family now than I ever could before. It’s truly liberating and exhilarating.
On the flip side of this I’m now faced with a bit of a mess at work. Because, as I now realize, I have chosen a job that might be way out of my family’s educational and professional comfort zone, but it was totally in the comfort zone of one of the roles I had previously assumed in my family. I had become a diplomat.
I don’t want to be a diplomat anymore. I don’t want to solve other people’s crises, pacify other people’s wars, negotiate between opposing positions. I just want to find peace within myself now. I only want to resolve my own inner struggles. Overcome my own internal contradictions.
Coming back to Elizabeth Gilbert and her quote, I feel really messed-up at the moment. I find myself in a spot where I cannot stay anymore – it’s exhausting me, it’s perpetuating the very same thing that I want to leave behind – but I don’t know where to go either. Or how.
Maybe I’m totally wrong on this. Maybe it’s just my confused near-burnout me speaking. Maybe there is a way to be a diplomat professionally without being a diplomat privately. But deep, very deep down in my heart there is this voice silently, or rather not so silently anymore, begging me to leave. To set myself free. And to finally live my own true authentic life.
I am scared out of my depth about taking this step, because every coping mechanism, and my job is the perfect materialization of mine, serves a purpose: it provides us with a sense of security, safety and control of what is basically uncontrollable: life.
It’s one of the toughest and most terrifying challenges I have ever faced, I think. And I have faced quite a few. I don’t know where to start really. So I watch inspirational videos, hoping for a new straw to clutch onto. Something that gives me direction, or better even, a way out.
Then Elizabeth Gilbert’s “embrace the glorious mess that you are” hit home. It’s not a direction really, also not quite a way out. But at least it’s a little straw. If nothing else, it gives me a purpose privately while I’m still looking for one professionally: to treasure my mess for what it is, a marker of how far I have come on my journey of self-discovery. It does not feel glorious at all, on the contrary. But it just might be. Even if only from hindsight.
1:33 “Embrace the glorious mess that you are”