What I Learned From Leaving Everything Behind

What I Learned From Leaving Everything Behind

So I just did something many people would think is crazy.

I just packed up all of my belongings and moved across country with nothing more than what I could fit in my car.

And let me tell you, it was terrifying! But it also set me free like no other move I’ve ever made in my entire life.

And trust me. I know all about making moves that change my entire life. Just 2 1/2 years ago I quit my job as a practicing psychologist to pursue work as a writer and as a personal coach. I found my passion and purpose in life and decided to hell with my 8 years of graduate school. I was going to follow my dreams. So I quit and I’ve never looked back.

A year after that I left my ex-fiance, the home we owned, and the town I had lived in for nearly a decade. It had been suffocating me. My life felt like a sweater that had shrunk down 2 sizes two small for me. So I left it behind. And I’ve never regretted it. 

So a year and a half after leaving my life behind I decided to do it again. A slew of circumstances lead me to leave Austin Texas. The most prevalent of which was that my dad’s Alzheimer’s disease. He was getting worse much faster than I anticipated and I wanted to spend some quality time with him before he didn’t remember who I was.

So I took the plunge and I left my life behind me, yet again.

I sorted through all of my belongings and got rid of 90% of what I owned. I sold every single stick of furniture I owned on craigslist. The pile of things to give away grew exponentially taller and wider as I sorted through my stuff.  I donated almost a full truck load of stuff to the Salvation Army.

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It was brutal. was brutal. I cut and I cut leaving only what I thought was essential. What I couldn’t live without.

  • I used to cherish my books. But I realized that my bookshelf was nothing more than an attempt to show people how “intelligent” I was. They went into the pile.
  • I love to paint, but I’m not very good. I had my paintings up all over my apartment. And that they were just an attempt to show people that I was “artistic” I was. I realized I could create more when I wanted to. They were added to the growing mound.
  • I have a masters degree and a Ph.D. and I pulled those diplomas out of their frames. I realized hanging them on the wall was just an attempt to show people how “important” I was. I gave the frames away to people who could use them.
  • I got rid of my post-card collection and pulled down my photographs taken all over the world as I realized this was just an attempt to show people how “worldly” I was. The frames all went into the pile.
  • I got rid of old sporting equipment that didn’t fit or wasn’t used because I realized that keeping it was just an attempt to show people how “sporty” I was.

I got rid of all of the extraneous possessions that I had accrued over the past 20 years. Cut after cut I cringed, I cried, and I stressed as I parted ways with all of the things that for so long had held my identity. I watched as I added things to the pile that used to tell the world who I was and that I thought I needed to be valued.

It wasn’t easy to part with a lifetime’s worth of stuff. But it was necessary for the kind of life that I wanted to lead. The kind of life that is drenched in freedom, passion, and adventure.

I didn’t want to be bogged down by a truck full of things each and every time I moved.

So I cut and I cut. It felt as though I was hacking off my skin. It felt as though I was loosing my arms, legs, hair, and eyes. I wondered how people would recognize me without my red painted nightstand, my textbooks from graduate school, or my tin rooster that had sat in my kitchen for the past 5 years. All of these “things” that I thought made up who I was.

And then it dawned on me. My life is far richer, far more valuable, and far more expressive than a pile of stuff and an empty apartment.

None of these things were who I was. None of it was a true expression of me.

It was all artiface. It was all a cleverly disguised mask to hide my insecurities and to convince myself that I had value.

But the time of convincing was over. The value I had was inherent in my being, was evident in my soul.

My value wasn’t established by ownership of things, having a fancy home, or hanging my intellectual accomplishments on my walls. Who I am is so much more than the conglomeration of things that I had accumulated through the years.

Going through them all and letting them go was brutal. But it was like letting go of the need to be any certain type of person. It was giving myself permission to finally be exactly, uniquely, and marvelously me.

The things that I owned felt like a noose around my neck. It felt like my things owned me. I convinced myself these things brought my life value. But now I see that they just distracted me from who I really am.

Here’s what I learned from my experience:

Ego is a bitch

Ego is the shell that surrounds who we really are at our core. Ego is made up of the things that we own, the statuses and credentials that we’ve earned, and even the personality characteristics that we’ve been convinced are an integral piece of who we are.

Ego is like quicksand. Whenever you try to get out, it sucks you back in further, farther, and deeper. When we try to escape the clutches of our ego, our ego tells us that we don’t have any worth unless we have things, statuses, degrees, artwork, books, a nice home, a sweet car, or that people approve of us. Ego tells us that our worth is entirely dependent on the external. That our worth is all about what other people might think. That if others don’t get what we’re doing or why we’re doing it, that we’re doing something wrong. Ego wants to keep you in line with everyone else. It’s the pressure that powers the “keeping up with the Jones” and the push that made you feel that you had to be married by 35, have 3 kids, have a house in the suburbs, own a jetta, or whatever other nonsense you’ve been taught to believe are “shoulds” in your life. Ego is even what tells us that other people have to do things our way otherwise they’re doing it wrong. It’s what makes us judgmental, critical, and closed off.

Ego is a trap. Ego is a bitch. It’s time we loosened ego’s grip on ourselves and our lives so that we can see our true selves clearly and make way for our soul to sing.

“As you get older, there’s a loosening of the ties to the ego and the posturing of who you are and how you behave.” – Pierce Brosnan

“A bad day for the ego is a great day for your soul.” – Jillian Michaels

You Are Enough

You are enough right at this moment. Just as you are. You don’t need to do anything to earn love or acceptance. You don’t need to impress people with that shiny new car, those witty quips that you think make you so smart, or drop that knowledge about the history of Jazz.

It’s all fluff. It’s all cover. You don’t need any of it to be enough. You don’t have to earn being deserving. You are deserving and enough just because you exist. Just because you are alive.

I’m of the opinion that every single person on the planet has value. Each and every one of us. We are all inherently valuable. That Mark Zuckerberg is no more valuable than Bob the local bum. They’ve just had different life trajectories. But their lives are still valuable. They still deserve respect and love. We all do. I do. You do.

The key to feeling as though you’re enough is accepting yourself, just as you are. Accepting who you are right at this minute. To stop feeling as though you need to own more, do more, or be more to be good enough. Seriously, stop it!

But only you can convince yourself of this. Only you can tune into the deeply held beliefs that tell you that you’re not good enough. That you need that thing, that life event, that diploma, that raise, that partner, those friends, that outfit, those shoes, that car to feel good enough. Because the honest to goodness truth is that you don’t need any of it. It’s all just frosting.

See, a cake in itself is delicious (um, coffee cake anyone?). The frosting is just the extra stuff you slather on top to make it even more yummy. And some people, like me, don’t even like frosting. They’ll scrape it off to get down to the cake. To see whether the cake is tasty. Because frankly, I don’t want a mouth full of frosting. I want to know that what I’m eating has some substance. So if you’re using all of the ego crap to convince yourself that you have substance maybe you need to do a little more work focusing on what you’re putting into the cake (i.e. your soul).

Who you are at your core is enough.

I am enough. Without things. Without a “home”. I am enough.

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.” – Lao Tzu

You Are Not Your Things

Our culture teaches us that we are the amalgamation of what we own. That to be successful is to own a bunch of stuff, to have the latest 70 inch television or the Louis Vuitton bag.

But we are not our things. You can’t pull a uhaul behind your hearse. When you are on your death bed you won’t be saying to yourself “I really wish I had taken the time to stand in line to get the latest iPhone!”. Um, no. You’ll be saying to yourself “I wish I had taken more time to slow down and actually enjoy my life, my loved ones, and my experiences.” In fact, hospice workers say that it’s the experiences that we didn’t have that we come to regret on our deathbeds. Not the things that we didn’t own.

You can’t take it with you. And believing that your value is the amalgamation of all of the things that you own is a terrible injustice to your quality as a human being. You are so much more valuable than that! Things are disposable. People are not. Things can be replaced. People cannot.

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The idea that we are our things is all about attachment. It’s the attachment to external validation. It’s the attachment to being able to show people that we are good enough. It’s the attachment to being able to be seen as valuable. But fundamentally, attachment leads to suffering. When we are attached to our things and equate that with our value, what happens if we lose those things? What happens if there is some catastrophe and all of our things are burned or ruined in a flood? What happens if you lose your job and you can’t afford the lifestyle you used to have? What then? Who are you when all of it disappears? You’re still you of course. But if you’re attached to your things you’ll feel as though you’ve not only lost stuff but that you’ve lost yourself in the process.

“The things you own end up owning you.” – Fight Club

“The biggest lesson from Africa was that life’s joys come mostly from relationships and friendships, not from material things. I saw time and again how much fun Africans had with their families and friends and on the sports fields; they laughed all the time.” – Andrew Shue

“I see what happens when one gets very attached to material things. That’s just not what my life is.” – Alicia Keys

The Best Life Decisions Can Be Brutal

Whoever said that good decisions are always easy was kidding themselves. Seriously, who said that? Good decisions are not always easy. And many times the best decisions you can make in your life are utterly brutal.

When I broke up with my ex-fiance I felt like the biggest bitch in the world. I felt like I was a really bad and mean person and that I ruined his life. Yet, without doing this thing, which seemed brutal at the time, I would not have the freedom I have today. I would not have been the person I am today. I would be a walking zombie – pretty much walking through life feeling dead inside. And I think that’s way brutal – and it would have lasted the rest of my life!

Making decisions which free you to move onward and upward in your life isn’t usually easy. Those kinds of decisions are going to rock your world. They’re going to absolutely have you questioning whether you’re crazy or not. They’re going to have you weeping and sobbing and praying to God and the Universe for guidance because you can’t understand why things are happening the way they are.

When I decided to get rid of all of my stuff it all happened within the span of a month. Just like that my life completely changed. I went from someone who lived in a posh luxury one-bedroom apartment near downtown Austin to someone who shoved everything in her car and doesn’t really have a home. Brutal is putting it kindly. I honestly felt like a failure as I was going through this process. Yet, it wasn’t until I was done that I saw clearly that it was all happening for a reason. That I was meant to walk a path that didn’t look picture perfect. That being a model for others isn’t about being perfect – it’s about being real. 

Whether the decision you’re trying to make is about going back to school, having a baby, getting married, leaving your job, starting a business, leaving the town you live in, breaking up with your partner, to write that book you’ve had spinning in the back of your head for the longest time – whatever it is – the decision is going to feel brutal. It’s going to be difficult. The best decisions will feel hard, but will also be intuitively led. They won’t be something simple. Otherwise we wouldn’t value them. They wouldn’t teach us the lessons we have to learn. The fear, the sadness, the confusion that we feel are all lessons that we’re meant to learn on this journey that we’re on. And when we’re confronted by important decisions we’re learning lessons like crazy.

So don’t discount the decision because it’s going to be brutal, because it’s going to be hard, because someone might get their feelings hurt, or you might not make everyone happy.  Don’t let the fear, the pain, or the sadness keep you from the decision that will change your life for the better.

“It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.”  – Shauna Niequist

“You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen.”  – Michelle Obama

You Define Success

Success is not one single thing for everyone. It’s something different for every single person. And that’s the beauty of it.

True success is a private piece of our soul. It has meaning only to us. It is as unique as a finger print. It drives us, brings us passion, creates purpose for us to get out of bed every morning.

What is it that you can’t live without? For me, the answer is freedom. Freedom is the core of what I truly crave in my life. Freedom to go have awesome experiences. Freedom to move across country. Freedom to become who I want to be. Freedom to express myself exactly how I want to rather than feeling as though I have to make my personality small and pack it in a little tiny box to make other people more comfortable. Freedom to love too much, to squeal too excitedly, to dance too furiously, to sing too loud, to be too passionate. No, I really don’t think I can ever do any of those things too much. But the point is that I don’t care what other people think of the way I live my life. My idea of success is being myself and not having to subscribe to a status quo that keeps me small, stuck, and passionless. To be able to embarrass myself and not give a damn. But also to have really bold audacious dreams that I suspect some people in my life think are bonkers. To believe that I will positively impact thousands if not millions of people in my lifetime. To live abroad for an extended period of time on a beach. To write a best selling book that will help people live happier more passionate lives.

The most gorgeous thing about success is that it can mean anything we want it to mean. We don’t all have to do the same things with our lives. Just because Sally doesn’t want a family but wants to focus on her career doesn’t mean she’s a failure, although Beth, the stay at home mom down the street, might think so. And just because Beth wants to focus her love and attention on raising awesome kids who are caring and wonderful and doesn’t care too much about money doesn’t mean that she’s a failure, even though Sally might have a hard time understanding what Beth’s deal is.

At the core of recognizing that we can each define success for ourselves is the fact that we need to stop judging ourselves and one another. We need to stop holding ourselves up to some imaginary standard that has been set by our parents, friends, or teachers and instead establish our own standards for who we want to be. We need to let go of judging others because when we judge them we’re implying that anyone’s life is apt for judgment (including our own) and then we fall into the trap of self-judgment all over again. This kind of judgment is something we all learned probably around middle school to try to get people to fall in line, to be like everyone else, to succumb to peer pressure. When we stop judging we stop applying those arbitrary rules to others and to ourselves. And this frees us all to live the uniquely beautiful lives of our dreams.

One of the only reasons we don’t reach for our dreams is that we’re afraid of being judged. We’re afraid of what others will think. We’re afraid of being rejected by our parents, siblings, or best friends. But those who love us will love us for our passion and for living our truth.

I urge you to start living your own version of success today so that you don’t waste another minute living the life script that someone else wrote for you. Your life can be exactly what you want it to be. And it is exactly what you make of it. It’s entirely up to you.

“Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.” – George Sheehan

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