Five years ago, I was approaching my thirtieth birthday. My career as an RAF officer was going well and life looked pretty good.
But something was starting to shift in me.
I started to hear that little voice telling me that there was something more out there. That is was time for a change. You know the voice I mean. The one we ignore until it’s shouting at us to DO SOMETHING!
Over the next year, I researched and planned and thought about my options. By the summer of 2014, I had resigned my commission and I set out into the wild unknown of civilian life. I had no idea it were it would lead me. I still don’t know where it’s all going.
I could write a book about that journey. One day I will. Long story short, it ain’t been easy but it has been wonderful. There have been lots of ups and downs and roundabouts.
Some people say I’m brave. I don’t agree. I’m often terrified. I left the RAF because I was more scared of staying and regretting it than I was of what might happen in the real world. There have been lots of times I’ve felt scared, when the fear has been almost all-consuming. But I’ve never let that hold me back.
One of those times was in late 2016.
That autumn was one of the hardest periods of my life. Sure, I’ve faced challenging times before. Hugely difficult times that required me to draw on every ounce of determination and strength I had.
This time was different.
This time, I didn’t know what I was fighting. There was nothing objectively wrong with my life; in fact, almost the complete opposite! Work was going well — I was even headhunted not long before. I was in a relationship with a nice guy. I was about to buy my first home. There wasn’t anything to overcome.
I felt…I don’t even know how to describe what I felt. Empty. Lost. Hopeless. Trapped. Overwhelmed. My emotions were always just below the surface, ready to spring out in tears, and yet I felt somehow numb. I couldn’t see a way out.
I now realise that I had — totally single-handedly — pushed myself to breaking point and beyond. Perfectionism and a need to constant achieve and collect those shiny pennies had finally taken its toll.
Slowly, slowly, slowly, with help, support and compassion, I made my way back into the light. And 18 months later, I feel very differently.
Someone asked me recently what was the most powerful thing I had learnt over the past few years. For a moment, my mind was completely blank. And then I realised what had changed.
I’ve learnt to pay attention to myself.
Self-awareness is “knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions” (at least according to Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence). By cultivating greater awareness of ourselves, we cultivate greater potential to control our lives. We create agency.
For me, yoga has been an essential practice to enhance my awareness of my feelings, firstly in my body and then in my mind. Intense emotions involve not only the mind but also the gut and the heart. That sinking feeling in your stomach when someone says “we need to talk” (because nothing good ever came from those four words). The butterflies in your tummy when you’re excited. Paying attention to the visceral feelings paves the way to identifying our emotions.
Knowing what we feel is the first step to knowing why we feel that way.
Labelling my fear of failure and those feelings of not quite being good enough helped me begin to understand where those feelings were coming from. I started to understand myself better, to understand my needs and desires, my strengths, my skills and shortcomings. I worked on identifying my values, tapping into what’s most important to me and leaving behind all the ‘shoulds’ I was carrying.
I also learnt that it’s hard to pay attention to your intuition, to what your deepest self is telling you, when you are constantly on the go. I learnt to cultivate quiet time amongst the noise and that by taking time out, I had more time and energy for the things that really mattered to me.
I had all these questions about how I wanted to live and what I wanted to do with my life. Over the course of a few weeks, I started to get some answers, to create a vision for my life that excited me. And scared me a bit. As an aside, did you know our bodies physiological response to fear and excitement is the same? The only thing that’s different is your perspective.
And now, here I am. I’m an entrepreneur, a life coach, and a yogi. I help change the lives of women and girls all over the world. Most importantly, I keep paying attention.
If you need to take some time for yourself, why not join me at The Instant Pause? The Pause is a day just for you. A time for you to reconnect with yourself, take stock of where you are, and get a little bit creative. The wonderful Zoe King of po-ten-cy is joining us to make sure we are all well-fed and nourished. Think courgette, green bean and hazelnut salad, and raw chocolate and fig cheesecake.
The next Instant Pause with me will be on 2 June, from 1000 to 1700, in Fulham. For full details and to book, head over HERE.