One year after starting my first job, fresh out of college, a promising job on Wall Street at that, I did the math, but more importantly, I did the philosophy.
My boss looked at me from across his varnished, wooden VP desk. The view of Manhattan glimmered in the background 30 stories below. “But you are on your way to reaching a six-figure income. How can you leave us now? What are you going to do?” The look of shock and disappointment on his face told me I might get him to accept my resignation, but I would never get him to understand it.
“It’s time for me to follow my dream.” My long hair tied back in a tight chignon, navy blue Lord & Taylor suit and, white shirt buttoned to the top adorned by a freshwater pearl necklace were the perfect disguise. I had pulled myself off as an ambitious corporate climber. The year of breakfasts, lunches and dinners at my desk and sincere hard work had made my disguise invincible. I was, in my boss’s eyes, a promising young executive and, his confidant.
“Well, let’s have a look at the calendar then… How about March 4th?”
“March forth. A fortuitous date. Sounds good.”
My hair wanted letting down. My feet wanted to feel the grass and my soul wanted to breathe, explore and live fully. I had known from the start that I wasn’t destined to spend my life at that desk. But, my student loans endowed me with the ability to morph myself into just about anything that would allow me to get back to my work of finding my purpose. I actually didn’t know what my aspiration was back then and certainly couldn’t have imagined that it would lead me to where I am today. But what I did know is that time, space and freedom were essentials for the road. As grateful as I was for my job at The Bank, I sure as hell knew my dream wasn’t to spend my life working for The Man. I knew that I would never find and achieve my life’s purpose solely through earning money, gaining social status or accumulating stuff.
I had worked hard and enjoyed busy days and engaging with an international team. And yet, my life on Wall Street was lightened up by the fact that I knew it was temporary. I didn’t have to fall into the trap of taking it seriously. I couldn’t have survived that. I’m a free spirit. I didn’t intend to become a free spirit. I was just born this way and chose to honour it. So here I was, 10 years of student loans paid off in just 12 months and even some savings tucked away, about to start my new life.
On March 3rd, my penultimate day at The Bank, I walked past Union Square in my soon-to-be-retired navy blue Lord & Taylor suit. I caught the glance of a long-haired, barefoot guy sitting in the grass. He was scribbling in a notebook, his guitar leaning willy-nilly against his leg. One of my tribe. I gave him a friendly nod. He gave me a dirty look, something like “fuck off yuppie scum.” I laughed to myself. In my disguise, he mistook me for the enemy.
My departure set off a chain-reaction of others who left to pursue their dreams. It’s wonderful how the courage, or madness, of one person, somehow gave permission to others to follow suit. One woman decided to pursue her dream and open a preschool. I don’t remember what the two others did.
I wanted to be a human being, not a human doing.
Two days later began what I call the American work ethic detox. In spite of what I had told my boss, I didn’t have a plan. At least not in the American sense of the word. All I knew was that offices and salaries would be there forever, I could come back to it later, if and when I decided to. I decided the way for me to start living was to do absolutely nothing. I committed to sit still and face the fear, anxiety, and inner pressure; the conditioning telling me I had to be someone and do something. I was going to do nothing until I had surfed through all the waves, wiped the slate clean and found out who I really am. I wanted to come from a place of being in everything I did. I wanted to be a human being, not a human doing.
Twelve months later, twelve months of journeying through my inner demons, I woke up one morning, dashed out of bed and started to write. I hadn’t made a decision to write. I had no ambition to write or to do anything at all but overcome the cacophony of fear and ambition. I knew it was okay to move into action mode. I had an inner certainty that writing, on that morning was coming from a different place in my being than the old, conditioned doer. Through the stillness, I had found the ‘off’ switch for my fears and conditioning and the ‘on’ switch for soul-centred beingness; doing from a place of being. The writing flowed forth at a tremendous velocity and took me over for weeks. I wasn’t doing it, it was happening through me.
Well, I kept those 300 pages aside and didn’t think much of it. I spent the following years travelling a lot, living in several different countries, earning a living as a breathwork therapist and finally completing my Masters in Humanistic Psychology. Writing came in moments of inspiration. I kept all my notes but didn’t have any ambitions for what I wrote. It is only now, after publishing two books, some academic articles and sporadic blog posts that I’m starting to take myself seriously as a writer.
It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been immeasurably fruitful and fulfilling. When, Masters degree in hand, I started my full-time psychotherapy practice, I went in and out of doing and being. In and out of fear, stress, and anxiety as I sought ways to find a balance between mindfulness and bills to pay. Again, I sat myself down and committed to being fully mindful, fully present. After all, if I aspire to help people, my first duty is to be centred, grounded, and at peace with myself. If I don’t walk the talk, I’m nothing more than an impostor, and I didn’t spend all these years discovering my authenticity to squander it away for anything in the world. Once the outer noise was cleared away, I could hear the voice of my soul, which had been patiently waiting in the background. The path was finally clear for it to march forth into the forefront of my life. Having discovered a space of beingness that I had so wilfully pursued and stumbled upon, I had only one choice; take a leap of faith and wholeheartedly embrace it.
Our life, our time and our relationship to ourselves, others and our spirituality are the greatest gifts we have. When we have them and honour the truths they bring us to discover, life takes on an unequalled quality; the quality of the soul.