For the majority of my life my insides didn’t match my outsides.
On the inside I was overwhelmed and stressed out, but on the outside I put on a brave face and a bold mask and pretended everything was picture perfect.
For better or for worse, I lived a life of misalignment from age 15 to age 35. Twenty long years.
However, the spark I needed to finally make lasting change in my life appeared during a trip to the chiropractor in 2012.
One never knows when inspiration will strike.
For most of my life I experienced chronic back pain — brought on by everything from competitive gymnastics as a young girl to constantly carrying around young, cranky children. However, despite having back pain for as long as I could remember, I never did anything about it.
I assumed it was normal.
I assumed everyone was walking around in pain. I assumed it was perfectly normal to be in pain on the inside and walk around with a smile on my face on the outside.
Thankfully, one day a friend of mine noticed I was in pain, and told me I should go see her chiropractor. I begrudgingly agreed and made an appointment. Four days later, as I watched the chiropractor examine the analysis of my spine on her computer, I watched her eyes get really big.
What’s wrong? I said.
The doctor said, “Katherine, your spine is incredibly misaligned. You must be in a tremendous amount of pain and it’s going to take a lot of work to get it straightened out.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” I thought.
When she turned the computer screen around and showed me how out of alignment my spine was, I started crying.
It was the perfect metaphor for my life.
On the outside, my life looked so put together, so impressive to so many people. But on the inside, I was always exhausted and often in pain trying to live up to the idealized version of myself that I created in my head and that I projected out into the world on a regular basis.
The experience at the chiropractor four years ago hit me like a ton of bricks. I saw in that experience what I needed to see in own my life.
My life was out of alignment, and I knew it was going to take a lot of work to get it straightened out.
So how did I get so out of alignment?
The truth is that for the better part of my life I lived on and thrived on the approval of other human beings.
If they were proud of me, then maybe I could be proud of me.
If they believed in me, then maybe I could believe in me.
If they loved me, then maybe I could love me.
If only I’d known that it didn’t work that way.
My desire for approval led me to a life of overachievement in every way, shape and form – from framable report cards and trophies from varsity sports to advertising industry awards that eventually landed me with a massive career.
My people pleasing skills worked.
So well, in fact, that early on in my advertising career, I was tapped to help lead a team that was responsible for $42 million in business…when I was 30 years old…and pregnant with my first child.
Let the misalignment begin.
My achievements felt great on the surface — but they were always temporary and they were never enough. I was always chasing. I was always anxious. I was always tired and I never felt good enough. But for years I put on a smile and pretended everything was just fine.
Like so many women do.
And here’s what I learned along the way:
When who you are on the inside is not who you say you are on the outside…it creates a lot of pain and a lot of friction — on the inside.
And the inside of you is a challenging part of you to repair because it’s the side of you that nobody can see but you — and the side of you that nobody can fix but you.
A high degree of difficulty.
Fast forward four years and with lots of hindsight and a tremendous amount of homework, I’m now able to see that my lack of alignment was the result of putting my essential self aside and living my life through my social self — the part of me that learned to value the things that were valued by the people around me.
I was masterful at it, particularly at work. I knew exactly what mattered to the people around me, and I worked my ass off to achieve those things. And, I was good at it.
I was really good at being who everyone else wanted me to be.
And in most people’s eyes I had it all — the title, the trophies, the salary. And maybe I did. But I hated it.
It wasn’t me.
I was an actor on a stage pretending to love the life that I had built — not for me, but for other people to be proud of me.
But not anymore. Those days are over.
Four years ago I made a commitment to start living my life on my terms. Because living my life on everyone else’s terms led me to the top of a very high mountain. And when I got to the top of that mountain I realized that I hated the view.
So I got off that mountain, put my big girl pants on and climbed a new one. Here are the two steps I took to finally get my life back into alignment:
1. I took off my mask. I went to my husband, my friends, my parents, my boss, my coworkers and even the TEDx stage and said “I’m so far from having this gig under control that it is frightening”. I know I’ve made it look for years like “everything’s just fine” but it’s not fine. I’m flawed every-which-way-to-Sunday as a wife, as a mother, as an employee and I’m OK with that. I’m doing the best I can…and I’m OK with that.
And…I could breathe again.
People say the truth hurts. Nope. When it’s your truth, the truth doesn’t hurt, it feels awesome.
2. I took control. After I realized what truly matters in life, I changed almost everything in my life with the exception of my husband, my house and my children. I took control of my life. I took control of my ambitions. I quit my job. I quit defining success by everyone else’s metrics. I started my own company. I started doing yoga and meditation and I even started eating Brussels sprouts and tofu.
Me. Yes, me.
Two brave and bold steps towards my insides matching my outsides. And they worked.
Today I am aligned.
Who I am on the inside is 100% aligned with my career, my ambitions and my actions on the outside. My life isn’t perfect. I’m far from perfect (ask anyone who knows me) but my transformation and my goal was never about achieving perfection. It was about alignment.
The only way I can describe how I feel now vs. how I used to feel is “free.”
I am free from other people’s expectations. I am free from chasing other people’s metrics of success that were meaningless to me. I am finally free to be me.
And there’s simply no better way to be.