I am beyond grateful for the first part of my professional career. I learned so much from working in big organisations with smart, driven people. I travelled and lived across four continents. I saved a bunch of money. For a while, I had it all.
And then I had to own up to the realisation that – for me – the environments I’d worked in were secretly intolerable. For years, that was a secret I kept even from myself. For decades, I thought it was normal to dislike your work, disagree with the values of the organisation you worked for and have very little in common with many of your colleagues. But I believed I could tolerate all of it and that the payoff was worth it.
Until it wasn’t. Living in Central London, spending half my (large) paycheque on rent for an Edwardian flat with rats in the kitchen and dark spirits in the plumbing, I’d finally had enough. I felt tired down to the insides of my bones. One day my American sales GM told me – in front of a roomful of my colleagues – that he didn’t need my carefully-crafted feedback on why his strategy wasn’t being well received in the local market because he just needed me to stop fucking whining and get out there and sell it harder. That was the day I realised I was no longer prepared to tolerate the ‘dream life’ I’d created.
I walked away from a promising corporate career at 40 when I couldn’t ignore the voices in my head yelling THIS IS KILLING YOU. By then, I’d done just enough inner work and cleared just enough of my survival fears to realise that I didn’t have to stay unhappy. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t the life I had. So after three years of dreaming about it, I finally decided to go looking for joy.
It wasn’t easy to work up to escape velocity. The salary, the prestige of working for a brand name company and the promise of stock options that might one day be worth a small fortune had a powerful gravitational pull. I’d heard for ten years that ‘people would kill for my job’. Every time I thought about leaving, I felt like an ungrateful, spoiled bitch.
And I was incredibly privileged. My parents were in good health. I had no debt, no partner and no kids. In short, I had no obligations and money in the bank. I was free to leave.
So I ran away. That was almost five years ago. I’m still learning about the setup and the legacy of that first half of my career, but a few things are now clear. It’s time to share some of them.
I was born with what my grandmother would have called an independent streak. For as long as I can remember, I knew the world was hard and life wasn’t meant to be easy. I also knew I couldn’t rely on anyone. So I knew I had to take care of myself, because no-one was coming to take care of me.
Let me be very clear: I was not neglected or abused as a child. On the contrary, both my parents loved me and worked incredibly hard to provide for me. And, through no fault of my parents, very early in this life I knew that bad things can happen – suddenly – that change everything. Consequently, I was born with the unconscious belief that I couldn’t completely trust anyone or anything.
So I never did. I kept my feelings secret. I rarely allowed myself to be vulnerable. I shared almost nothing of my inner reality with anyone else.
Seeing the world as fundamentally hostile affected every part of my life. In relationships, I craved connection but pushed people away. At work, I wanted to be liked but often felt like I was at war.
Unsurprisingly, I finished my corporate career in a work environment that confirmed my deepest fears about the inhospitable nature of reality. And paradoxically, it was partly my long-established disconnection from my emotional reality and from other people that prepared me for the work life I’d chosen. I was used to feeling like I was fighting to survive and I was good at it. I was used to watching my back. And I was used to taking care of myself first.
For ten years, the performance management system used by the company I worked for rewarded those instincts. Most years, I got very good reviews. A string of senior managers told me that I had enormous potential. But I was often crippled by suspicion and self-doubt. I couldn’t trust anything – not even my own judgement – so I spent most of ten years hiding, waiting to be discovered as a fraud.
It took me a couple of years after I left to realise I’d treated the corporation as a father figure, casting it in the role of paternal provider. Although I believed I had to take care of myself, I desperately wanted to be cared for… but I didn’t trust that anyone or anything would ultimately be there for me. The conflicting desires and drives – unacknowledged for my entire corporate career – created an energetic push and pull. If the corporation was daddy, I loved and hated him at the same time.
It took a couple more years to see that I’d created that same energetic dynamic in every intimate relationship I’d had or wanted. I had serious issues with men and the masculine. And I had to leave my corporate job to heal them.
Because the resolute independence made me hard. I got a form of respect for being able to drink as much as the men did. I was rewarded for competing with my peers. I was praised for being “just like a guy”. But the toughness that helped me survive in a fiercely competitive corporate world repelled potential romantic partners, almost destroyed my health and kept me disconnected from my Soul.
I lost all the best parts of me.
All I wanted was kindness.
All I wanted was to love and be loved.
All I wanted was to soften and be held.
But as long as I was projecting suspicion into the world, softening only made me a soft target. While I continued to judge everyone harshly and myself hardest of all, I was only ever going to receive retribution. It’s now clear that in one respect, my worst fears were always true: no-one was coming to care for me… until I learned to do it for myself.
I had to learn how to be kind to myself.
I had to learn how to love myself.
I had to learn how to hold myself, softly.
After trying dozens of healing modalities – which all helped loosen and strip away layers of self-inflicted trauma – it’s self-compassion that’s allowing me to move through what had become an obsession with the trauma. Although I’m still clearing old patterns that don’t serve me, I no longer see myself as broken and in need of fixing. I’m able to start appreciating everything that’s right about me and my world.
This feels way better. It allows my body room to relax and let go. It leaves more space for joy. I can feel held by my Soul. And it turns out She was all I ever wanted.