“I want your life,” he said.
“It wasn’t always so good and the road to this place wasn’t easy,” I responded.
When I woke this morning, I was excited. Today is another day of living the life that I designed, planned, and worked very hard to achieve.
I’m not special, others inspired and set an example for me to follow. They showed me that just as we can create problems in our lives, we could also create solutions. In return, I feel a need to pass on what I’ve learned.
I’m going to expose my emotions and circumstances in hopes of inspiring those who are scared and fear they don’t know how to find happiness. I don’t have all of the answers, just some insight. Being so candid is wrenching, but I want you to know that while the journey may not be easy, it is possible. That what you want is on the other side of fear.
Where I began
I felt helpless. I’ve talked about it before, I was working Monday through Sunday at a vocation which conflicted with my personality, my marriage was unhappy (we are friends and partners now BTW), and my son was going through a nightmarish phase. My physical health was suffering from the stress. I didn’t think I had options. How I got to that place in my life was rooted somewhere in deep in my personality. I felt a need to be perfect, even when it meant denying my happiness and myself. In doing so, I repeatedly dove headfirst into impossible situations thinking that, if I was just good enough, I could make them work.
One day I pictured myself living the same way in five or ten years, and I was devastated by the image. Why go on working so hard for that? What could give? How badly did I want to be happy? The questions kept coming at me and the answers were not simple answers. They were painful answers. They were scary answers. And yet they represented the only route out of the situation I had created in my life. Was I willing to go through the challenges required to live rather than exist? Was there anything I liked about in my life? How do I find happiness? I was scared, yet my soul was even more frightened of staying put.
There were tears and moments that were the closest I’ve even been to total panic. I’d wake up in the middle of the night with an audible gasp, and then stare at the ceiling fan wondering if everything would be all right in the morning. Hours would tick by without my returning to sleep. I began to plan.
All of the turmoil in my mind then, and the work I’ve put into getting to where I’m at today, taught me a few surprising things about the road to find happiness. Perhaps if more people understood the route, they would be more likely to make some positive changes in their lives. I’m no counselor, I’m just a girl who has made mistakes, got into a rough place, and dragged myself out. While my journey was far from perfect, my hope is that what I learned may inspire you.
Things I learned on the journey to find happiness
- It begins with appreciating all that’s good today – I didn’t think anything was right in my life when I hit bottom, but there really was a lot to be thankful for: my children, parents, education, health, the cats that curled up in my lap when I worked, health… Do you see where I’m going? Find every little right, it doesn’t have to be perfect, and write it down. Gratitude brings up the energy you’ll need to keep you going. Trust me on this one.
- It is paved with positive thoughts of where you want to go – You may not believe me when I tell you that THIS is one of the most difficult and important things you must do. It’s not optional because it is the goal, the vision, of what you want your life to be. Staying focused on it won’t be easy.
- It requires a plan – I created a new life through design not chance. You’ll need to set specific goals and perhaps a new budget. Yes, I sat down with spreadsheets, pasted pictures to a vision board, and set a plan for each week of what needed to be done to move toward those goals. Did I follow it all? Nope! But, I stayed roughly on the path which was better than no plan at all. You don’t have to be perfect. (Whoa, did I just say that?)
- It requires accepting responsibility for your life rather than waiting for something to fix it for you – You can only control YOUR actions. If you want to make a change, take control. Sorry, you likely won’t win the lottery and nobody is going to do the heavy lifting for you. This is going to be your job.
- It isn’t always fun or easy – Oh, this is a tough one to deal with. Positive change often means walking through a boulder field on the way to the beach. For me, I faced a career change and addressing my marriage. It meant financial strife and continuing the rest of my journey as a single woman. It meant essentially working two jobs so I could establish myself as a writer. There were victories as well, and those felt great! I reached my farthest emotional limit right before my move to Salt Lake City and had no idea if I could fulfill my work responsibilities. In the end, I did, and I sobbed when I was done because I knew I’d just achieved what I didn’t think was possible.
- It’s not a short road, it takes time – It took me roughly two years to move from those decisions to where I am now. I plotted, planned, worked lots of hours and lost a lot of sleep along the way. However, taking my time allowed things to fall into place in a way they wouldn’t have had I rushed. It also allowed me the time I needed to do things in a somewhat orderly fashion (as orderly as turning my whole life upside down could be).
- Sometimes you need a guide/s – I’m not ashamed to admit that I realized I made a series of bad choices that led to my predicament – mistakes I never wanted to repeat again. I had to care for my emotional self and that required some guidance. I found a counselor I trusted and began the process unraveling my psyche. For a long time I didn’t think I was getting anywhere other than learning to set boundaries. Then one-day it was like a layer of haze blew out of a valley. I could see clearly. On a side note, I didn’t get involved in any new romantic relationships for nearly a year and a half while I worked on this part of my journey. Yes, my friends were starting to worry about me! Speaking of friends, I kept a select few highly-supportive friends close to me as advisors. I’m forever in their debt for all of they have done. Find some guides; be they friends, professionals, or both, they’ll be priceless.
- It means giving things up you enjoy for what you want more – For me this was financial security and a lot of little luxuries. No more pedicures, hair color or cable TV. I began buying my most of my clothes second hand, something I still do even now that I can afford new. Financially, I was nearly wiped out, selling things to get myself through the transition. Someday I’ll write a post just on the financial moves I made to set myself free. However, I exited the process on solid financial ground thanks to those sacrifices and I now live below my means because I’ve realized that I don’t need much. I’ve embraced simplicity as a lifestyle.
- It’s hard work – I’ve already mentioned that the career change required me to work double-time to build a new income source. I also had to spend a lot of time strategizing to keep moving forward. This meant doing research and trying new things to see what would work. For example, I had to set up my office to work remotely so I could travel and work on the road.
- It involves risk –There are no guarantees that everything you’ll try will work. In fact, some decisions may completely flop. In my case, I reassured myself that there were things I couldn’t lose, my family, my education, my drive to succeed. I had faith I could rebuild from nothing if it came to that. I know I worried my mother sick.
- Not everyone will support you – Oh, this was a bitter pill. I had to learn to distance myself from people who threatened to drag me down with negativity and words of discouragement. What I was doing threatened all convention. But, I found support from the most unlikely places.
- Dramatic life change isn’t for everyone – We are all different, with different tolerances for adversity. Remember that this post is about how to find happiness, meaning it’s about what is right for you. What I did simply may not be an option. If that’s the case, remember that much of happiness is rooted in a positive outlook on life. Just working on that one thing can affect significant change.
What I just shared may sound daunting, but I assure you, it is worthwhile. Today, I look back and wouldn’t change a moment of my journey. There was a dream, a plan, and results. I learned so much about myself, my strength, and my values.
I step out of bed each day and say thanks that I’m living a life in line with my values and dreams. Do I have everything? No, there are things missing, but I am happy. This is a journey, not an end, so stay tuned.
I hope I’ve inspired at least one person with this soul-baring post. I’d like to hear your thoughts. ~ Erika
YEA for you! Congratulations, there are so many lost souls out there, it sounds like you have found your happy self. I am sure that the road was not easy, but enjoy yourself now and continue down the path. I hope this inspires others to fight and toil for their happiness as well. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Greg! The only reason I share all of this is to help others, just as I had help along the way. It’s all about providing inspiration. Keeping these lessons to myself didn’t seem right.
Keep the circle going!
Great post! I really can appreciate what you’re saying. As the founder of Short Road to Happy, I find it a bit humorous as you completely disagree with the name of my site! 🙂 I definitely understand your points though. The whole idea behind the name of my site is that the road is short because you have the chance / opportunity to be happy or not, it’s up to you, and there is so much to be happy about, so really – we do agree on that. Phew!
The one part I think maybe you could expand on is the positive thinking, of which I am a big believer. My mom always told me that you have a choice everyday when you wake up – how you will embrace the day. Will it be positive and happy or negative and angry / sad? I definitely believe this to be true. It is up to us to choose to be a certain way, when times are tough or not.
Also, I really love your “Dramatic life change isn’t for everyone.” How true this is! I am always concerned about my friends and family who I feel are stuck in a rut or aren’t living life to the fullest. Then, I realize the only one getting worked up over it is me, so that’s when I turn around & try my hardest to accept the lives others have chosen. The way we live our lives isn’t for everyone and that’s okay.
Again, great site – I appreciate and value your honesty. I look forward to following along!
I totally agree that much more could be said on the point of positive thinking. It is the “prime in the pump” and the one thing that can be accomplished without changing a thing in our physical lives. So important! Here I covered so much ground, I became limited on space, but I plan to explore it further in future posts.
As for long or short road, there are so many right roads that lead to the destination! In my case, it really took some time. Looking back it was perfect for me though.
I look forward to checking out your site!!!
Stay in touch,
Great post… I went through similar changes and I’m still on my journey. Happiness is not a destination, it’s a state of mind, a place we can make a conscience choice to be. The peace and serenity you can find in the outdoors leads you. Really, it can be anything, just find a passion. Your post is inspiring, it’s a reminder of what we strive for. Set focus on the goals and begin acheiving. And remember… At times, the journey is more important than the destination.
I am still enjoying my journey and suspect I will always be wandering toward some goal. Like you the serenity of the outdoors has carried me through so much. I’ve hiked a lot of miles working through things. It’s where my mind clears and I regain clarity on my goals.
I suspect we’ll have lots to share once we finally get a chance to hike together!
Erika, well-written and insightful. Kudos to you for having the courage to make changes and live the life you feel you should be living. Inspiring!
Thank you so much Traci!
Thanks for sharing this piece. I understand exactly where you’re coming from although where as you ‘designed’ your chance, I didn’t. However, an opportunity came along too good to pass along but which was scary as hell as well. I took the plunge. That was 10+ years ago. Best plunge in my life.
Thanks for sharing your story and I hope it will encourage many others to follow your steps.
Good for you that you took the leap! In many ways that’s even more brave because it was a total surprise. That take fast courage.
Really great post, sweetie! I am happy you are happy now 🙂
Thanks Alex! Miss you!
Thanks for sharing. I’m sort of in the intermediate phase of what you describe here, and it’s a long tunnel with some light at the end. What I’ve always found a little odd is that people seem to waver back and forth between telling you that you need to work hard at something you hate in order to achieve something you love, but then on the other hand they’ll tell you that if you’re not living your dreams and aren’t happy with what you do, then you’re doing it wrong. It’s a little weird. It’s almost as if they’re going to tell you you’re doing it wrong no matter what you do. So I figure I’ll just tell them what I’m up to once it’s going well and that’ll be that. Fingers crossed, and good luck in your endeavors as well.
I understand what you mean and that’s why I made a point of saying how individual this issue is. I too ran across a lot of negativity and it was tough. It sounds like you have confidence in your plan and that is key.
Good luck to you!
I am currently in a major transition in my life. A year ago I stepped away from a career of 18 years do to burn out and just months later found myself separated and heading towards divorce. Your post is not only inspiring but has also reassured me of the thoughts, plans and direction I find my life going. Keep inspiring and motivating others.
You don’t know how good it makes me feel to know that I could help in my small way. Stay strong!
Congrats my friend, for finding your way down… and back up… the path to happiness. I never doubted you for a moment. There’s far too much fire and spirit burning in you to simply exist!
Oh Fran, when can we have girl time again?? We’ve shared some good (and deep) conversations and I miss ya!
Great ‘down to earth’ post. You have a talent for writing in simplistic terms. A little nature goes a long way….even if it is running through a city park barefoot. Safe travels to you.
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Erika, you’ve definitely inspired me with this post, thank you!
These transitions are all unique, but I’m trying to tackle something fairly similar and I may just end up printing out this post and taping it over my desk. I’m pretty nervous going into my own transition.
It’s so easy to look at folks who have ‘made it’ in your eyes and think, “That’s awesome! They must have been on this path from day 1. Too late for me, though.” In actuality, I think it takes what you’ve outlined above, and so it’s encouraging and empowering to see what it took for you to get to where you are today.
Thanks for sharing, and Happy New Year!
Thank you so much Dennis, I’m glad to be able to help!