I am struggling to get air into my burning lungs. I can see firm ground in the distance — but it’s just out of reach. A wave of panic starts in my gut, rolling up my spine — I might not get through this.
No, this isn’t a new extreme workout I’m floundering through or a flashback to water polo in high school PE class. I’m treading water in the pool of my real life. It’s getting harder to resurface, and I am running out of time. I am losing hope.
Is this what life feels like for you? Did you have every intention of swimming toward that now-distant island, but feel like you’re sinking and the water is getting rougher?
I found myself there, too. I was doing everything “right.” I graduated college and was gainfully employed working in the finance industry — funding my 401k, paying my rent on time, rolling out garbage cans, and pretending to floss regularly. I mean, this is what dreams are made of, right?
Below the surface, I was unfulfilled, disconnected, and uninspired. The life I was building was a heavy anchor pulling me down. I was taking on too much and never asking for help. I rushed to squeeze in commitments, showing up late and never fully present. I had dreams about sending emails without attachments and nightmares about sleeping through alarms.
I prioritized my career and my workouts before myself and all of my relationships suffered. I was resentful. I felt guilty for loathing my life when many people lived with much less. In a twisted effort to cope, I turned to alcohol to escape the sinking feeling that I was terribly stuck. The pull of the undertow just grew stronger.
But I kept pushing. Maybe backpacking across Europe really wasn’t as cool as it sounded anyway? Maybe it wasn’t really a stress fracture, and I could still race the half marathon? I believed that voicing how miserable I was would only expose how hard it would be to change anything. I said nothing and sank further.
My story is not unique. But what do we do when we feel a haunting disconnection from ourselves? When the pressure to maintain the life we have created is crushing? Or we are so overwhelmed by each day’s schedule that time is defeating us at every turn?
If your path seems dim, it’s time to start listening to that tiny voice telling you there might be another way.
I won’t tell you this will be easy. It takes effort to discover our life’s passions and to live with intention. It is up to us to recharge and redirect our course into meaningful waters. I had to sink to the bottom in order to push back up with a renewed determination to rescue myself. But while it’s not easy — it will be worth it. Being pushed to our limit can result in epic change if we choose to accept the mission.
If you feel like you are destined for something that makes you feel alive or if your soul is being buried under the weight of your current lifestyle, these tips are for you.
1. Use the Calm Before the Storm
Take advantages of the calm between the storms of life, by enhancing your habits and expanding your resources. Maybe you are not at a complete breaking point or experiencing burnout right now. Take the steps to empower yourself. Stay present, seek meaningful activities, and expand your horizons.
- Read self-development books and listen to motivational podcasts from people who are experts at creating meaningful lives. Brene Brown and Tony Robbins are two that are constantly in my audio-book rotation. Chalene Johnson’s podcasts relating to business, marketing, time management, and motivation are funny, short, and actionable.
- Join a service group or local non-profit to connect with like-minded people. Volunteering is a huge opportunity to find connection to your values and create satisfaction from being a part of something larger than each of us. It gives both meaning and perspective.
- Book alone time into your schedule so you have buffers periods to relax and recharge. Taking time for yourself is key. It will allow for your creative energy to flow, which will carry into all areas of your life.
Building your tool box so you have the resources ready to help you during times of stress will make the tides of life much more bearable. Making space for rewarding activities will give us more gratitude for the things we have, and more flexibility to weather the storms when they hit.
2. Release the Ballast
Lighten your load. Take realistic stock of all the moving pieces in your life. Which commitments are truly important? Which relationships are meaningful? Which unhelpful habits stem from boredom, stress, or lack of time?
Putting self-care at the top of your priority list can take a real mental shift. Make it happen. Where can you turn down the noise?
- Do you actually love all your hobbies? Does going to your club or community meeting feel like a joyful experience or another obligation you’re rushing to get to?
- Do you have current expenses that you could eliminate to reduce your financial burden?
- Are your loved ones getting the attention you would like or are your closest relationships getting your leftovers?
- Do you need to keep all the social events on your calendar? Or would you benefit emotionally from a relaxing night at home to recharge?
Work on setting healthier boundaries and creating space between your commitments. Give yourself permission to enjoy a lighter load with more meaningful moments.
3. Ask for a Hand Up
This is not a handout. We ask for a hand up when we are elevating ourselves and need support and seek guidance. We ask for a handout when we want something remedied without putting in the work to make the change happen. There is not a magic wand to fix our problems. We find our strength, confidence and regain our self-power by doing our own work.
But we can ask for help and utilize others to mobilize us in our times of struggle. Seeking support is behavior of forward-thinking people. Support could come from your family members, spouse, or friends. Depending on your needs and goals, you could utilize doctors, real estate professionals, tax professionals, fitness trainers, and business consultants. Professional emotional and therapeutic support can definitely be added to this list, as well.
Here’s how it works:
- Identify your obstacle or area of struggle.
- Identify an expert in that area or the person with whom you need to resolve an issue.
- Reflect and determine your ideal outcome of the situation.
- Focus on positive solutions and clear communication.
- Talk to that person to resolve issue.
To truly grab on to that hand up, you must have a willingness to be open and to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. You may shed some tears acknowledging painful history, shake up some relationships by expressing your true needs, or want to stay in bed all day because imagining quitting your job and starting a new one paralyzes you with fear.
You are not alone.
New bonds will be created as you release some anchors and your world will expand with more light. Fresh perspectives, healthier ways to process stress, and new support systems will help give you the strength and clarity to make choices that are best for you.
4. Practice Your Daily Swim Stroke
Decide you deserve balance and hold tight to the journey of finding it. A life of meaning, purpose, reflection, and participation in a functional society is not an easy order. Sounds daunting, in fact. Start with small daily habits you can stick with – things that help you practice balance and organization, and that enrich your life.
Define your daily practice of beneficial activities. Things like:
- Making your bed every morning.
- Putting your laundry away right after you fold it.
- Limiting time for TV or social media during the week.
- Setting a goal to start (and finish) a new book in the next month.
- Journaling for ten minutes each day.
- Following a daily guided meditation.
- Getting out in nature for exercise or reflection
These little “wins” are huge for our confidence and feelings of empowerment. They become measurable steps that tell that doubtful little voice in our head that “yes, I can” see things through and reach goals.
When we truly participate in our lives, we are granted the ability to define ourselves, our needs, and our goals. We cannot succeed by trying to escape our life. We must process through our obstacles in order to resolve unhelpful patterns and create productive ones. Therefore, spending time experimenting and creating your routine and habits is essential to your momentum.
Now, Get Ready for the Cannonball
When was the last time you went all in? None of this sticking your toe in to test the temperature or a waist-high dash into the water — but flying off the edge in a fully committed cannonball! I’m talking about a head-to-toe immersion into something that calls to you. When was the last time you did that?
When our talents and passion collide, we simply cannot fail, because the experience is not about failing. It is about being in the moment, lost in a flow state, cultivating a higher level of existence. The cannonball is the life we want.
Living the life we want means we grab onto that hobby, practice, exercise, new career, or education and decide we have more to give and receive. The strength for the cannonball comes from being present, acknowledging dissatisfaction, reducing stress, and believing we deserve happiness. The cannonball is action.
We still have rough water to fight through, but we can do it — because we know what we are made of, and what we have risen from. We are not without problems — we now simply have more resources to lean on and tools for making continued progress. We can float in the water without the fear of sinking. We are strong enough to swim through any of life’s expected or unexpected storms.
If we do this work as part of our life’s journey, we can design our lives to be full of meaning. To be present in all of the moments and to show up for ourselves. In other words, we can cannonball all afternoon and never tire.