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 pretended everything was picture perfect.
For better or for worse, I lived a life of misalignment from age fifteen to age thirty-five. 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.
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 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 and recommended her chiropractor. Four days later, as I watched the chiropractor examine the analysis of my spine on her computer, her eyes got really big.
“Katherine, your spine is incredibly misaligned,” she said. “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 what she was talking about, 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.
My life was out of alignment, and I knew it was going to take a lot of work to get it straightened out. The truth is that for the better part of my life, I lived on and thrived on the approval of others. My desire for approval led me to a life of overachievement – from report cards and 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 thirty years old and pregnant with my first child.
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.
But the truth is, when who you are on the inside is not who you say you are on the outside, it creates a lot of pain and friction. And the inside of you is a challenging part of you to repair because it’s the side of you that nobody can see or fix, but you.
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 butt off to achieve those things. And 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.
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 showed my husband, my friends, my parents, my boss, and my coworkers. I even announced it on a TEDx stage: I’m so far from having this gig under control that it is frightening. I know I’ve made it look 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 okay with that. I’m doing the best I can – and I’m okay with that.
2. I took control. After I realized what truly matters, I changed almost everything in my life, with the exception of my husband, my children, and my house. 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.
Two brave and bold steps helped me match my insides and my outsides. Today, I am aligned. Who I am on the inside is one hundred percent aligned with my career, my ambitions, and my actions on the outside. My life isn’t perfect. I’m far from it (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 versus 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.