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Why you’re not weird for feeling broken

broken

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As an intern at a marketing company the summer before my senior year of college, I knew there was something weird and different about me.

All of the other interns were either ecstatic to have landed a great (paid!) internship that would likely lead to a full-time job after college, or they were just there to collect a paycheck and check the “I got an internship” box to make their parents and future employers happy.

I was the only one who seemed to be studying the people around me to see what it would be like to be a full-time working adult.

What I saw sent me into a slight panic.

I watched people show up at the same time each morning, have the same small-talk conversations while stirring coffee in the same paper cups, and then sit in the same chair and stare robotically at a brightly lit computer screen for hours upon hours until the clock struck 5:30pm.

No one seemed particularly joyful about this daily monotony, but no one seemed to feel the deep angst I was feeling about it either. Everyone just seemed … fine. Mechanical. Going through the motions. Half-alive.

It felt like I was surrounded by a bunch of pleasant robots, while I was alone in my own head screaming, “This isn’t right! This can’t be what life is all about. This feels wrong to me.”

I kept smiling on the outside, but on the inside I was asking myself big, scary, existential questions like …

“Is this my fate? Is this what I have to look forward to?”

“Why does everyone else seem fine with this? What’s wrong with me?”

“What’s the point of all of this?”

FEELING BROKEN

I remember asking my mentor, who was a few years out of college, “How do you keep showing up here every day with no end in sight?”

What I was really trying to ask was, “How do you keep your soul from dying a slow death in this place? How do you stay YOU and keep doing the same thing day after day?” But I thought that might be a slightly overdramatic question for the workplace.

She looked at me quizzically and said something like, “This is my job; of course I keep showing up every day. That’s just what you do. And this place isn’t so bad. We have happy hours once a month!”

I smiled back at her, but internally I felt incredibly sad and alone and broken.

So it was just me. This is what it meant to be a working adult, and everyone else was wired to handle it just fine … except me.

I figured all I could do was suck it up and try to cheerfully accept my fate.

THIS IS WHAT REAL ADULTS DO, RIGHT?

After I graduated a year later, I went back to that marketing job to work full-time.

Before my first day of work, I told myself I’d been overdramatic the summer before. I played down the sense of panic and not belonging and brokenness I’d felt. I was an adult now, and adults got “real” jobs with cubicles and 401Ks, and they didn’t feel all angsty about it. So that’s what I would do.

Everything about the job should have been great: They paid me better than other jobs I’d applied to; I was a copywriter, so I was using my English degree; the people were nice and friendly; and there were lots of company perks, like social events and on-site car cleaning and even a concierge who would run errands for you while you worked.

And once again, everyone around me seemed perfectly content, so every morning when those big existential questions threatened to bubble to the surface, I shoved them down.

I pretended like the light inside of me didn’t feel slightly dimmer every day that I showed up in that place.

But suppressing your truth never works. Not long-term, at least. Eventually it always finds a way out, whether you like it or not.

MY CUBICLE PANIC ATTACK

A few months into the job, I hit a breaking point.

While sitting at my desk one morning, a vision flashed in my mind that sent me into full-blown panic.

I saw myself 10, 20, 30 years down the road, sitting at essentially the same desk, staring at the same computer screen, writing yet another dull marketing email, and feeling numb inside.

My body felt shaky and I couldn’t make my eyes focus on the screen. The air in my cubicle suddenly got thinner, so I got up and raced outside as inconspicuously as possible so I could take a deep breath and steady myself.

I didn’t know how at the time, but I knew for certain that I wasn’t willing to spend my life in that cube, watching the life force slowly drain out of me. It was a massive, intuitive wake-up call. I knew there HAD to be a better way to live.

YOU’RE NOT ALONE

After that, I couldn’t suppress my truth any more. So I started confiding in a few close friends, slowly and selectively.

I first told Rachel that I simply couldn’t stomach working in an office like this for the rest my life. I confessed that it was sending me into daily panic-mode.

“Me too,” she said.

Then I told my closest work friend how unhappy I was at this job, even though I had no good reason to be unhappy.

“Me too,” he said.

I eventually even told one of my direct teammates that every day as I was typing away on my computer, I kept asking, “What’s the point of this?”

“Me too,” she said.

I was amazed. I’d thought it was just me! I was so certain that everyone around me was perfectly fine and I was the broken one. But it turned out that there was a whole underground group of us suffering silently, when we could have been leaning on one another for support the whole time.

Once I realized I wasn’t alone and there was nothing wrong with me, I vowed that someway, somehow I would find a way to live life on my terms. And I would help other people do the same.

I didn’t quit my job right away — in fact, I stayed in the 9-to-5 world for another 2 years while I slowly built up a new kind of life for myself — but from then on, I’ve tried hard not to ignore that small questioning voice inside me when it says, “This isn’t right.”

FOR ALL MY FELLOW QUESTIONERS OUT THERE

Wherever in your life you’re feeling broken, alone, and uncertain — whether it’s in your career, your relationships, your health, your finances, or your general state of happiness and fulfillment — first of all, know that you’re not alone. You’re not broken. There’s nothing wrong with you.

Then recognize that the place in your life where you feel most unfulfilled is also your greatest invitation … your invitation to question the way things are and what else is possible for you.

When you become a questioner (which, if you’ve found your way to this site, you likely already are), a whole world of possibility opens to you.

Being a questioner means thinking outside the box and not accepting the status quo simply because it’s what you’re “supposed” to do.

It’s like you were living your life as a muggle, and then you suddenly find out you’re actually a wizard and all of the “normal” rules that everyone else is following and that you thought also applied to you … don’t anymore. (Where are all of my Harry Potter fans??)

Questioners …

… have a stubborn inner voice that doesn’t allow them to live a life that’s misaligned with who they are at their core.

… have a lower-than-normal tolerance for surface-level living. They need depth and purpose and direction, and without it they feel restless and dissatisfied.

… are the ones who go on to do, create, and experience amazing things because they can’t stomach settling for “good enough.”

I won’t lie to you — being a questioner is hard. It’s tumultuous. It requires courage. It will often make you wish you could just be “normal” and contentedly do the things you’re supposed to do without feeling like you’re selling out your soul.

But it’s also the only way to live full-out and feel satisfied on a deep, soul level.

Because once you find out you’re actually a wizard, you can’t go back to being a muggle. And would you really want to anyway? … I didn’t think so.

Are you a questioner? Do you ever feel alone and worry you might be broken? Does the start of a new year have you asking the big questions like, “Is this all there is?” and “What’s the point?” Come share with me in the comments!

IF YOU LIKED THIS, THEN YOU’LL ALSO LOVE THIS FREE E-BOOK…

What is the point? A jolt of hope and practical advice for anyone going through an existential crisis.

Much Love,

Kristen (& Rachel)

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Honor the space between ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet’

not yet

Back in January, a mentor of mine who I love and deeply respect told me that she could sense that 2017 was going to be “my year.”

Let me say that while I trust her wisdom as much as I ever have, now that we’re days away from 2018 I can definitively tell you that 2017 was not my year. Or anyone else’s, so far as I can tell.

I’m sure we’ve all had individual highs and great moments we can point to, but I haven’t talked to anyone who thinks 2017 was an awesome year.

I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that it was intense, divisive, messy, and difficult. It wasn’t particularly fun or enjoyable a lot of the time, and I for one am glad to see it in my rearview mirror.

Zora Neale Hurston once said, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”

I think 2017 was a BIG “asking” kind of year — a time of reckoning. The kind of year where things have to get worse before they get better, and where you’ve got to be “shaken” to get “awakened.”

THE DANGER OF COMPLACENCY

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog about the danger of living a life that’s “OK, but not great.”

And because we always end up teaching what we most need to learn, that was something I struggled a lot with this year, particularly when it comes to running a business.

It’s no secret that while I love the actual coaching (and writing) part of Clarity on Fire, I’ve never loved the business-running aspect of having a business.

And to be honest, I spent 100% of 2016 and two-thirds of 2017 pretty severely burnt out. Which makes sense, given the kind of monumental effort it takes to get a business off the ground in the first place.

Basically, Kristen and I gave it non-stop energy for about 3 years, and once it was mostly self-sufficient, we crashed. We did what we needed to do to stay the course and maintain stability, but for about 2 years we have not been interested in growth.

Which, let me point out, is totally OK. We go through seasons in life, just like the world around us — we were in a “winter” sort of phase where all we wanted to do was hermit, cocoon, and do the bare minimum in order to rebuild our energy.

But over time, too much stability can pretty quickly turn into complacency, which is what happened.

I COULDN’T HELP BUT ASK SOME UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS

The thing about being in a state of complacency, toleration, stagnation, settling — whatever you want to call it — is that it requires very little energy to maintain. You can kind of skate by; you may not be having high-highs, but you’re not having low-lows, either.

That’s why so many of us are afraid to leave an “OK, not great” situation — because we realize we have something to lose and that things could very easily get worse.

For all of 2016 and most of 2017, I was cool with just staying the course. But by August of this year, I was starting to chafe and get antsy. I was getting tired of the way things were, but I wasn’t yet sure what I wanted to do about it.

I started having uncomfortable questions bubble up within me like, “Is this even what I want to DO anymore?” and “What if I just up and quit and did something else?”

This was majorly annoying, because I’d been mostly fine with the way things were up until then, so why was I all of a sudden starting to ask major existential questions? Why couldn’t I just shut up and not rock the boat?

BECAUSE LIFE WAS PREPARING TO SLINGSHOT ME

Here’s what I now realize was happening: Humans (myself and you included) are historically terrible at motivating themselves when they’re in a place of stability. Real motivation tends to kick in when things hit rock bottom — when there’s a fire lit under your butt that propels you to want to change.

Often times, the best way to motivate people is with the slingshot effect — where you get pulled down into a worse situation, only to gain the momentum you need to rocket forward later on.

2017 was definitely a slingshot year for me. I grew tired of so many aspects of business that hadn’t bothered me up until now, and I asked myself some pretty tough questions about what I wanted.

In hindsight, I realize that the reckless desire to up and quit and/or burn it all down wasn’t real; it was just the slingshot effect forcing me to reckon with the things I was settling for that I needed to grow beyond.

I think 2017 was also a HUGE slingshot year for America and the world, as a whole. I won’t bother getting into the details because I’m sure we can all think of a million examples that fit the analogy.

The point is … if things feel like they’ve gotten worse, don’t automatically despair. That’s often the precursor to bigger and better things.

WHERE I’M GOING IN 2018

One of the most uncomfortable things about the slingshot effect is the space between being pulled back and being propelled forward.

Nancy Levin talks about needing to “honor the space between ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet,’” which is exactly what I’m feeling right now.

Ignorance is bliss for a reason. It’s WAY harder to clearly see everything that needs to be changed and still live in a world where nothing has actually changed yet.

Since August, I’ve become aware of a LOT of things that I want to change about Clarity on Fire, but I haven’t been able to implement most of them yet.

Here’s a good example: After years of building up an email list that has tens of thousands of subscribers, there are a lot of duds on our list (if you’re reading this, you’re definitely not one of them). You know, the kind of people who took the Passion Profile Quiz and ended up on our list, but never open anything.

Kristen and I are going to do a massive purge of our list in 2018, which is pretty scary. Most people wouldn’t recommend that you delete thousands of subscribers from your community. But I’d rather take a massive step back, in one way, in order to make room for people who might resonate with us more.

I trust that there will be a payoff … but definitely not an immediate one.

I think that many of the other changes I want to make in 2018 will eventually make us more money … but at first, we may make less. Which is scary as hell.

I get why I didn’t want to make any big changes for a long time — the space between ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet’ is not for the feint of heart:

  • I’ve refused to break up with guys I didn’t want to be with anymore for fear of being completely alone post-old relationship but pre-new relationship.
  • I’ve stayed in jobs I didn’t enjoy because I wanted to figure everything out before I took a risk, and avoid the uncomfortable middle part.
  • I’ve avoided new exercise regimens because I didn’t want to deal with the physical pain of ‘no longer’ out of shape, but ‘not yet’ in

But if anything, this year taught me that life isn’t very interesting when you’re trying to live in a state of complacency.

I’m still a bit tired, and I’m definitely wary, but I’ve decided that I’d rather strap myself into the slingshot, get pulled back, and breathe through the discomfort of not knowing what’s going to happen, rather than keep repeating the same old same.

I’m no longer complacent. But I’m not yet sure of where it’s all going. I’m suspended in-between.

Guess we’ll have to see what happens in 2018.

How was your 2017? Are you glad to see it go? What kind of slingshot effect are you in right now? Come share with me in the comments!

Much Love,

Rachel (& Kristen)

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