I was recently invited to be a guest on Inspiration North, a fascinating podcast that invites business owners to talk about their stories so far.
The lovely hosts Michelle and James told me we wouldn’t go in with a theme for our episode, and to be honest I was pretty grateful for that… After all, my work is all about the stories, not the themes underneath them!
Then it got to the final question: “What one piece of advice would you give your younger self?”
I hate a spoiler as much as the next person, but my answer was a bit of a surprise even to me… and one that really made me think. So I’m going to break my own rule and share it with you as a one off.
My advice to my younger self – something I wonder if lots of us could do with hearing even as adults – was to do what was right for you, even if no one else is doing it.
Let me explain…
My story – the short version
I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, in no small part because I’ve always loved stories; hearing them, telling them, writing to them and joining the dots to understand them.
Meanwhile, I’ve also always been fascinated by all things spiritual and soulful. Since I was the little girl talking to someone no one else could see while out with my parents and since I first read about past lives as a child.
But neither of those things could ever be considered jobs right? And there was definitely no way of putting them together and combining both things I was always passionate about in anything resembling work.
No one had ever done that.
Fast forward and here I am… working with amazing people to hear and join the dots on their stories – helping them to move forwards along the way; offering the Soul Journey Insight Packs that bring together so many of my soul-focussed passions, not to mention incorporating those things into my work with clients; and then writing about all of the things that matter to me – through this blog, in my podcast, in books…
It turns out that just because no one else I knew had pulled all this together before, that didn’t mean it couldn’t be done.
We’re so often led to believe that we should only and always do what everyone else is doing.
I often think about it in terms of the old Game of Life commercial: “Be a winner at the game of life. Find a job, have money maybe, get married, have a baby!” Because that’s the order of things right? And if we want to be winners at the game of life then we have to those steps one by one…
Except that that’s not true. It’s never been true, but the falseness of it is even more apparent where, you know we’ve remembered that life isn’t a one size fits all?
That doesn’t mean it’s always easy to do something different though, even if that “different” is exactly what’s right for you.
Carving your own path
On the podcast I talked about my career path; how growing up all I wanted to do was write, and that as I got older I desperately wanted to combine what I now know as soul work with traditional therapies but couldn’t see a way to make any of those things happen…
Until I starting trusting my gut and went for it, carving out a path for myself along the way.
But if I’m honest, the work side of carving out my own path has probably been the easier one.
I come from a part of the world where people traditionally couple up relatively young. They couple up, finish their educations, find a job, get married and then – just like the Game of Life commercials – they have babies.
Hell, that’s something I could’ve done too; I got engaged at 18 and have been in another couple of long term relationships since then. In all of those cases it would’ve been pretty easy to stay, to settle down, to check the boxes that everyone else was checking.
But would that have made me happy?
In every case the answer was no. And after the most recently relationship I realised the answer was such a resounding no that I knew something had to change. I knew I had to stop trying to follow the same path as everyone else around me and figure out the way forwards for myself instead.
So I stepped away from the whole dating game to understand why I kept ending up in those relationships that weren’t right and figure out what I did and didn’t really want from my romantic life before I went back out to look for it.
I won’t lie, there are times that has been hard.
The last two years of conscious singledom have been potent and interesting and more valuable than I can explain in a single blog post… But there’s times they’ve also been lonely.
There are times I’ve attended a wedding and wished I had a plus one and times I’ve found myself longing for a special someone to drop me that morning text message that makes me smile all day.
And although every one of those times has come back to the knowledge that I’d rather be on my own than the alternative, that doesn’t mean that I’ve never considered just taking the easy way out and settling for what’s “normal” rather than creating the life I know is right for me.
I’ll be 37 next week and I don’t yet have human children. That’s very much something I want in life but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t worry sometimes that stepping off the beaten path and taking time out to understand whether motherhood was really right for me means that will never happen...
I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t get a little upset every time someone subtly (or not so subtly…) suggested I’d passed the point of having kids, or got angry whenever someone assumed I didn’t want kids just because I don’t have them yet.
Of course I’m not alone in that. I have friends who actually don't want to have children… and face a constant gamut of people telling them they’ll change their minds, regret the decision or – the most eye-rollingly ridiculous of all in my opinion – never be happy.
As if there is a one size fits all for happiness.
No, carving our own path definitely brings its challenges, but it is possible. And what’s more, I’d argue that it’s well worthwhile too.
The question of course is how do we do it? Where do you start without a set of footprints to follow behind?
For me, I’ve found four key steps to help (although of course yours may be different, that’s kind of the point 😉 )
1. Follow what feels right
I’m not going to tell you to trust your gut here, because I get that can be hard – especially when it’s telling you something different to the rest of the world, and especially when you haven’t quite figured out how to discern the voice of your gut from the voice of your rebel, your anxiety or your dreamer (more on doing that another day).
But I will say follow what you know is right. You there are paths you’ve taken and things you’ve done just because you thought you should that have left you unsatisfied. You there are things you absolutely must do with your time that you can’t imagine your life without.
You know what lights you up and you know what brings you right back down. Pay attention to those things and let them signpost the way for you.
2. Look to the people who inspire you
I’ve talked before about the idea of a Circle of Seven – in my case the seven women who inspire me – an exercise I love and would encourage anyone and everyone to try for themselves.
But for me, one of the keys to finding the people who inspire us is in recognising not just the ways we want to be like them, but those we don’t too.
Allow the people who inspire you to show you what has already been done and what can be done by someone following the path that’s right for them…
And then bear them in mind as you carve out and walk a path of your own!
3. Find the right support
That’s not to say you have to do it alone.
Carving out a path for myself has become infinitely more bearable – and even bloody fun – since I found people who understand what it is to do things differently, and who are willing to walk alongside me where they can.
For me that meant stepping out of my comfortable, my local, my expected, and building a network of people that was much broader than I’d had previously in my life. But broadening our networks and our horizons can only ever be a good thing in my mind.
Not all of those people have similar plans to my own. And I won’t lie, not all of them even completely understand my plans or why I feel the way I do…
But that’s OK. They support me, they lend an ear, they pick me up and/or help me dig when I’m struggling and they’re there, no matter what.
Find the people who’ll support you to do your thing and carving out your own path will become so much easier.
4. Know that it’s OK to be normal
There’s nothing wrong with being normal.
A lot of people strive for the kind of life by numbers that I talked about at the start of this post and are totally and utterly happy with that.
Hell, as someone who has dived into her reasons for wanting a relationship and children, the time will come when my life on the outside might in many ways look just like that version of normal.
And that’s OK. It’s OK if you want every part of your life to be exactly like the people around you and it’s OK if you want certain aspects of your life to look just like those around you.
The point in carving out your own path is that you get to decide how it looks – not only in its differences from the rest of the world, but in its similarities too.
5. ... But don’t be frightened to be exceptional
But equally, know that where there are those differences – where you are doing the things no one else has tried yet, that will make you anything but normal. It will make you an exception to the norm.
A client I worked with last year once told me that she felt she had something important to offer the world; something exceptional in fact.
Yet with someone in her life regularly telling her to calm down, to rein in her emotions, to strive for less, she was constantly terrified to be seen as too much.
And so one day I asked: “How can you ever be exceptional if you’re afraid to be too much?”
We agreed that it was a hard thing.
Because when the life you want involves doing something different, that will mean putting your head above the parapet; a place where people can point and look and laugh and criticise. A place that’s not always comfortable.
That’s part of the reason the support I mentioned is so damned important, because it helps to have a friend up there on the parapet with you.
But it also helps to remember that the only way you can be exceptional is by putting yourself out there in some way… even if to some people that looks like being too much.
If figuring out what this path of yours looks like, or carving out that path for yourself is something you’re struggling with, remember you don’t have to go it alone.
Soul-Led Therapy can help you to let go of the baggage and expectations you’ve been carrying so far and tune into your own self more fully.
Meanwhile Soul Support is a safe space where you’ll be supported and held accountable for every step of the journey you take.