“I don’t even recognize myself anymore,” Rebecca** admits to me for the second time in our work together. She’s living proof that when you choose your happiness over everything burnout and loneliness will leave you forever. Her happiness healed her body, her heart and the hearts of those who loved her most. She’ll never go backward again.
Rebecca is a 52 year old breast cancer survivor, Type A to Type B convert, people pleaser in recovery and now…100% Happiness Badass. When she first said those six heart-wrenching words to me she referred to the difference between her former self (the person who worked 2-3 jobs, raised 2 sons, satisfied 1 husband, cooked, cleaned, PTA’d, mobilized, socialized, memorized, fantasized and jazzercised) and the person who, post-cancer, couldn’t find the motivation to get off of the couch. My heart sang when she said them to me again while basking in the sunshine with a cup of tea feeling full of pride for herself and satisfaction with her life.
Dissatisfaction is a cancer.
I work with women from all backgrounds and pitfalls who lament the same “loss of self” feeling. Rebecca had cancer, literally. Others have a Chinese water torture kind of cancer called dissatisfaction. Notice the difference between unsatisfied and dissatisfied. Unsatisfied implies there was never satisfaction in the first place. Dissatisfied indicates a depletion of satisfaction. At one point your choices felt purposeful, now they feel onerous.
For most people it’s a process that happens slowly over time. Dissatisfaction, day by day, drip by drip eats away at your psyche in subversive, clandestine ways. You chose: to get married (or not), have kids (or not), get this job or that job, and a million other commitments you made along the way. The consequences of each choice, digestible on its own, eventually becomes burdensome as they pile onto each other. So much so, in fact, that you forget you opted in to those life experiences in the first place.
Before you know it, your partner’s “wyd” text goes from a cute check in to a “now wtf does he want.” The warm anticipation of hearing your wee bairn say “mommy” for the first time is long forgotten as now it requires your shift in focus from a genuine emergency to something that probably could wait but the little angel-turned-imp running around in one sock with a dried booger stuck to her elbow really believes that the missing pig from her farm set is clear evidence of impending doom. And could you find a way for present-self to slap the shit out of past-self for climbing that corporate ladder before insuring it was actually leaning against a stable structure in the first place? Because, goddamn, that’d feel satisfying as hell right now.
“Satisfied for now” isn’t meant to be “satisfied forever.”
As I describe in the book, “F.A.I.L.* to Win: 4 Simple Principles To Get You Out Of Your Own Way” we all unintentionally don a Success Suit quilted from life’s should’s and shouldn’ts. It’s intended to set clear boundaries and expectations so we can all be our best. To be fair, those assertions teach you a lot about what it takes to fit in and survive. And, let’s be honest, the comfort in “knowing the rules” is pretty great too! In other words, we succeed (to a point) as a result of trying them all on so we can be in fashion with the people we trust most.
As life moves on, however, curiosity and playfulness are met with sharp reminders that you’re an adult now who must give up such childish things. The people who try to keep you safe with this line of thought have forgotten one key component of what it means to grow up: curiosity leads us to discovery and discovery leads us to purpose. When you choose to follow their minds instead of your heart you quickly find the acquisition of others’ dos and don’ts gets heavier over time. Where conforming once helped you stand tall in your successful life, it now hunches you over under the weight of it all.
You find yourself with a false dichotomy: continue to struggle with the stifling effects of the Success Suit (but win others’ approval) or run naked through the proverbial woods with reckless abandon devoid of protection or assurances.
Like a petulant child, desperate for attention, curiosity and playfulness never shut up.
What Rebecca learned (and what you probably already suspects) is the part of you that wants to learn, grow and stretch yourself into something bigger (dare I say, better?) simply does not ever, ever, EVER go away. “Good enough” got you through childhood to young adulthood. “Good” formed a foundation for you, taught you some things and showed you that you can, indeed, make something out of nothing. Mid-life needs “GREAT,” from you. “Great” requires courage. “Great” needs you to show up to more of your life than just getting the bills paid and yourself fed. Celebrate that you’ve come this far, fur sure! Just know, however, the little spark inside of you that knows you’re meant for more simply won’t be satisfied with that bare-bones achievement for long.
“There’s got to me more to life than this,” is more than ennui’s lamentation. It is a kicking, screaming, stomping, spittle-spewing hissy fit from the part of you that has been begging to shine since the moment you got a wall-eyed view of a bespectacled doctor trying her darnedest not to drop your slippery little butt. Do you know how many miracles it has taken just to get you this far? Do you know how insulting it is to your inner divinity to watch those miracles go unrecognized and under-leveraged? If you’re feeling the intense sense of burnout and loneliness felt by so many by their 4th or 5th decade then a part of you understands that something must change or else this feeling is going to get waaaaayyyy worse.
Turn a blind eye to your inner sense of wonder and you’re sure to drive yourself into an avoidance bubble on the couch with a bag of chips on an epic Netflix binge. For many people the unmet call to action is what drives them into illness, depression or both.
You choose, so choose your happiness over everything.
It took awhile for Rebecca to realize that 1) she chose everything she had in her life and 2) living as though she didn’t have a choice wore her the fuck out.
…the takers (who don’t give)
…the long hours (that still weren’t enough)
…the obligations she didn’t enjoy (that took the place of opportunities she might have loved)
…the people pleasing habit
She was not only burned out completely, but the time she spent with people she didn’t like and the time spent away from the people and activities she did like left her feeling extremely lonely.
The moment she did truly get that she is constantly choosing…her whole world started to change.
…some takers wanted to give (but she didn’t let them) and those who didn’t want to fell right out of her life the moment she shifted her priorities
…the to-do list keeps growing whether you work 2 or 20 hours so she found the balance that suited her
…she could choose the opportunities that brought joy and look for the possibility of joy in the opportunities she chose instead of treating them like a burden
…she didn’t have any control over others’ happiness at all.
Once she got conscious about her choices and followed up with some healthy boundaries the conditions that foster burnout abated. More importantly, the mindset that fertilizes engagement blossomed!!
Choose your happiness over everything ≠ Choose selfishness.
For many, to choose your happiness over everything is to choose either self-absorption or laziness. C’mon, be honest though, would either of those things actually make you happy? This isn’t about telling everyone to fuck off or about you dissociating from your life completely. This is about you making the conscious habit to choose your happiness over everything and letting the chips fall where they may.
You’re wired for problem solving. In fact, your brain enjoys achievement so much that when there isn’t a problem to be solved it’ll start making shit up just so you can feel productive and important again. You’d be miserable living under a bridge with zero obligation to a tribe of some sort. As long as your brain wants a problem to solve make it one that raises your satisfaction level.
When you choose your happiness over everything you’ll find:
…it’s hard at first and gets easier over time.
…others are happy that you’re happy (and the ones that aren’t need to read this article).
…that it’s much easier to prioritize your wants over your have-tos (because now you have the time and energy to).
…you have fewer have tos and more wants.
…you have stronger connections with friends and family.
…life doesn’t necessarily get easier but it gets better because you take important steps to forgiving yourself and others.
…you stop worrying about what other people think (you don’t have any control there anyway).
…your self-satisfaction inspires others to choose happiness over everything too.
…healthy choices (like nutritious food and fun exercise) really stick this time.
To sum that up…when you choose your happiness over everything, happiness chooses you back!. The time it takes to implement and the fallout from people who don’t get your new priorities is an uncomfortable short term price that buys you the long term reward of feeling passionate and purposeful.
Dump the shit, keep the shinola
Take stock of your to-do list, your calendar, your people, your time, your home, the items in your home. One tiny piece at a time simply check in with yourself.
Is this a choice toward my happiness?
Do the items on your to-do list or calendar make you happy? Which ones can you get rid of, outsource, do differently so you can be happy?
Did scheduling that coffee date feel good or did you roll your eyes and grab another potato chip?
Tempted to grab a bat when you pass the hand-me-down lamp from your in
Does a “yes” on the next favor someone asks of you come with a long term reward in your satisfaction? How about a “no”?
Does a “yes/no” give you an opportunity that will make you happy? Or free up time or attention where you can do something that does?
When you think of that friend/coworker/teammate do you smile? Do you feel better or worse after spending time with them?
You’ve chosen. And you can choose again.
Don’t wait until cancer, manic depression or chronic fatigue chooses for you. Whether you’re reinventing yourself for a new career or reinventing yourself after divorce, choose your happiness over everything starting today. Take a step, any step. Even if it is just one decision where you prioritize your satisfaction that counts as a win.
If anxiety has already taken hold Download The Squeeze right now to help you manage it. It’s my favorite go-to practice when I start spinning. It’s also my first recommendation when you can’t shut your brain off at night. Lemme know what you think!
Triffany is a certified professional life coach who helps strong women tame their inner hot mess. Start with the book F.A.I.L.* to Win: 4 Simple Principles to Get You Out of Your Own Way and follow up with a class. Everything you touch will get easier as you go.