I’ll never forget the first time I asked the universe, is this it?!
I was 25 and confused by the dish that adult life had served me. Wasn’t life supposed to be, well, a bit….hmmm…. more, than this? Don’t get me wrong, I had many things to be thankful for, and my life wasn’t really all that bad, but I wasn’t ready to settle down, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in my career, and I was growing bored of simply just living for the weekend. I had this strange feeling that there was another path I could be on, but I had no idea how to get there. It felt like I had an itch that needed to be scratched, or a higher purpose if you will…
- Do you feel trapped in a career that doesn’t make you happy?
- Are you in debt, struggling to get out of it?
- Do you feel like you don’t want to settle for average, even though everyone around you is happily fast tracking through many of life’s major milestones?
- Do edgy feelings occasionally poke out from beneath the surface?
- Do you want to have more adventure in your life?
- Are you ready to do something different?
Dreams to change the world.
Asking the universe Is This It? wasn’t the first time I felt myself slipping into a dark place as a young adult. Depression was often lurking there when I was a kid, but I didn’t have the capacity back then to grasp that that’s what it was. In that first year after graduating university, i’d been working my first job in advertising sales for a magazine publisher for around 6 months. I knew the lurking shadows meant there must be something greater than me trying to communicate itself. But I didn’t have the tools to interpret what they meant. I felt despondent, the office-life and making money for someone wasn’t doing it for me. I had grown up dreaming of being a journalist or a war zone correspondent, making documentaries that told the important stories of the world. I had always loved watching war movies, I remember becoming obsessed about the TV show Alias, which is about a female spy who travelled to places like Denpasar and Bangkok completing world-saving missions whilst warding off baddies through mixed martial arts and kickboxing fights. I also loved watching the episodes of Dr Green and Dr Kovac from ER that were set in the Congo where they were working for Medicines Sans Frontier; and then i’d have to abandon my escapism and go into work and sit behind a computer. Doing advertising sales sat so awkwardly with me that I used to drop the ‘Sales’ bit from my job title in my email signature and tell everyone that I was an advertising executive!
So in that first job post-university, I was 23, knew I wasn’t in my ‘real career’ yet and I felt impatient to get cracking with life. But it was a nice job that enabled me to earn some money so that I could go travelling. It felt like the answers were locked in a box in another country in the world, and I had to go off the beaten path to find the key. But I had debts to repay, so I went into the office every day and continued to daydream about this other life, which over time started to feel ever more further away from anything I’d ever experience. Meanwhile I pasted on a smile and presented a false image of myself, one that fit in and was compliant, and I did a good job and made my company some money. I taught myself to pretend that I enjoyed it, and it worked – to a certain extent. But the more I suppressed my real emotions, the less authentic I think I became in my relationships, friendships and with my family.
When one year turned into two my mental health declined. Keeping up a facade is exhausting!
- Can you relate to this?
- Have you pursued or fallen into a career which wasn’t really in line with your true self and what you wanted to do?
I felt so frustrated at times that I started doing radical things in my quest for adventure. I even considered joining the military at one point – a desperate effort to escape my unfulfilling 9-5 status quo. I started training for it and went off to ‘selection’. I was so serious I bought myself army boots and imagined doing some really important humanitarian work in developing countries, or being a medic in a warzone.
My first career break.
Here I am in 2004, in a circular dormitory made of bamboo in Tofo, Mozambique where I learned to dive; with Kerry, a fellow traveller who I bumped into numerous times around the world.
I didn’t join the Army – it was a reactionary moment and would never have been right for me. I am too rebellious, and not very good obeying orders. Instead, my impatience got the better of me and I borrowed £8,000 from the bank after telling them I wanted to buy a car, and went to Tanzania to volunteer on a community development project in a little village at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. An off-grid (i.e not in the Lonely Planet) adventure led me to Mozambique where I learned to dive for the first time, swimming 30-metres below sea level with humungous whale sharks and manta rays. This was followed by a DIY tour of Asia with two random girls I met in an internet cafe; starting in Bali and ending in Thailand. It was Autumn/Winter 2004. The Tsunami rolled in, and threw me into a place of despair – the infamous waves came right under my Thai hut and for 48 hours I was thrown into an unexpected news story of my own.
Struggling To Fit In.
Some months later, I got my second job in advertising – the opportunities back in London were lucrative and I had Advanced and Rescue Diver courses to pay off! I got sucked into London life, semi-effectively distracting myself as I climbed the career ladder in advertising whilst living for the weekend. Ever noticed how we can sometimes feel like we’re walking a tightrope, rarely pausing for a moment to breathe? This was me – I grew unwittingly frustrated, anxious, melancholic and depressed in the phase of my life that followed Thailand, feelings I buried under a big smile and a raucous night out. Something I was aware of, was that I felt so much shame around the way I felt. Mental health was not a thing we were discussing in a public forum back then; it was largely swept under the rug. Trouble was I was so disassociated from my real feelings that it was hard for me to unravel what was going on in my head and know how to communicate it anyway. I would usually just get drunk and then cry.
But really, my life was good; I didn’t understand why I felt so confused by it. That said I was growing impatient again. Nothing seemed to be happening (yet it was). Over time a dominant feeling that came over me, was one that felt like I was sinking, struggling to keep my head above water. I dreamed of waves, literally, and I felt overwhelmed by guilt. I think what I was suffering from could have been Tsunami related PTSD. I didn’t feel like I deserved to have PTSD though, I didn’t allow myself to explore that notion because it didn’t seem justified. Instead, for reasons beyond my level of comprehension I was growing irritated, angry, self-loathing, self-destructive and strangely bored. So it was somewhere, wedged in between those two awkward post-Thailand years, that I found myself asking the universe, for the first time, IS THIS IT?!