I know the challenges of finding your calling from the inside out.
It started when I was 14.
Even then, I didn’t feel like I quite fit in. For one thing, I was tall. Very tall. At close to 6 feet, I was bigger than most of the boys around me.
I was also vegetarian at a time when kids my age were clamoring for pepperoni pizzas and cheeseburgers. The fastest way to make me cry was to show me an animal suffering, and when I was 12, a counselor at camp told me where the meat on my plate was coming from. That sealed the deal, and I stopped eating flesh for good.
Then there were the obsessive-compulsive rituals. I didn’t have a name for them yet and had no idea why I felt compelled to look at all four corners of my room over and over before turning off my light at night. At the time, I explained these rituals to myself by saying that I was inventing a religion. But deep down I felt that they made me different—and weird.
In other ways I was a typical teenager—newly pimply, worried about my grades, and in love with a junior who had no idea that I existed. Adolescence is hard for just about everyone, but it felt particularly demoralizing to me.
When the junior I was in love with asked me out, dumped me, and then proceeded to completely ignore me, all within the span of a few short weeks, I felt more than just the typical pain of rejection. My mood, which had been on a downward trajectory for a couple of years, slipped into full on depression.
How not to beat depression
I spent the next 11 years of my life trying to make things better by overachieving, being “perfect”, and putting all my energy into getting everything “right.”
Amid all my efforts to reach perfection, I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. That made choosing a major in college particularly challenging. I ended up opting for English literature because it seemed to incorporate so many other subjects. It was like I could make a choice without really choosing. Furthermore, it was my older sister’s major and she loved school, so I thought it might light a fire in me too.
I ultimately graduated from college unsure of what I had really gotten out of it. Luckily, I immediately found a job that allowed me to do the one thing I felt strongly about: empowering people without much money to improve their lives through activism.
There was a lot about the job that I liked, but it didn’t feel like home. Over the next 10 years, I tried out a lot of disparate roles. I worked as a cashier, baker, tenant organizer, program manager, international volunteer, marketing manager, senior associate for investor relations, office manager, receptionist, community manager, and director of operations. I even got an MBA.
Meanwhile, I managed to keep my depression just under the surface with medication. I never liked being on meds, so I periodically tried to go off. Each time, however, I would feel the hopelessness and misery creeping back in. And each time, I would go right back to taking my pink pills, shame clinging to me like a shadow.
[I now know that there is no shame in taking medication for depression. I believe that medicine saved my life when I had no other tools for dealing with my low moods. And later, when I started to develop those tools, medicine still helped me find the energy and optimism I needed to engage in the work of personal development that would eventually lead me out of depression (mostly). Everybody’s depression is unique and responds differently, and medication can be a positive, necessary, and compassionate means to making life more livable.]
Trying something different
Then one time I decided to make a more concerted effort to go off medication for good. This time, however, something broke. When the despair came back, it was accompanied by debilitating panic attacks. When I went back on my medicine again the depression didn’t melt away. It stuck around.
I was forced into therapy. I say forced not because somebody else made me do it, but because I couldn’t think of any other options and I was desperate. It was the last thing I wanted to do at the time. I wasn’t convinced it would work, I didn’t want to spend the time and money, and I still thought I should be able to figure this out on my own. I had been in therapy for a year in high school, and it didn’t seem to do much good.
This time was different, though. This time I was able to listen to what the depression was trying to tell me.
I learned how to question the truth of the stories in my head and the thoughts that kept me up at night. I began to be able to allow myself to be imperfect and to make mistakes. I learned how to tune into my quietest inner guidance and recognize my unique strengths and gifts.
In short, I began to discover the truth about the world and myself, and I realized that both were far better than I had ever imagined.
“This is the best I can hope for… right?”
I was feeling a lot better, but I was still lost at work.
Though I liked aspects of my job at the time, I wanted more. I felt underappreciated, was often stuck doing administrative work, and had a terrible boss. But the voices kicked in: “I’m lucky to be working in an exciting field. Nobody has the ‘perfect’ job. This is the best I can hope for…right?”
I was afraid to make a change and lose everything I did have.
Your challenges are your greatest assets
Still, I kept listening to my inner guidance and exploring different options. Over time, with enough patience, I finally discovered coaching.
Here was something that united many of my disparate interests. It allowed me to share all I had learned in overcoming my depression. Rather than being a source of shame or disconnection, my differences now gave me something unique to offer others.
As I learned more about coaching, everything in me told me that this was the right path.
It certainly hasn’t been an easy one. I still have days when I get pulled into self-doubt, when I feel depressed, or when I’m 99% sure that I’m a complete failure. With time, however, I’ve come to appreciate my breakdowns more.
I’ve learned that rather than making you unworthy, your challenges are your greatest assets. I can help others precisely because of what I’ve learned in facing my own limitations head-on and finding the gifts in each of them.
Now I love what I do. I feel a much greater sense of possibility, joy, and contentment in my daily life. I’m putting my greatest gifts to use, contributing to the world in ways that are important to me, and enjoying days filled with creativity, connection, and meaning.
This is possible for you, too, no matter how uncertain, stuck, or frustrated you feel. Find free resources to help to find your calling or read more now about the path that can take you there.
I’m a certified Integral Coach and have a Masters in Business Administration from USF. In addition to one-on-one coaching, I also coach groups and lead workshops for organizations such as Emory University and the U.S. Peace Corps. I’m a former board member of the Georgia chapter of ICF, and I have served as an adjunct faculty member at New Ventures West coaching school in San Francisco.
For more information on me and my work, click here to check out an article on GeorgiaStateHomes.com.
5 other important things to know about me
- I’ve practiced capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, for over 10 years (though not very well).
- I love to be outside—preferably in the mountains or by an ocean or lake, but even sitting on my back deck looking at the trees, squirrels, and birds brings me lots of joy.
- I was vegan for 15 years. Now I eat eggs from 8 spoiled chickens who live in my backyard.
- Physical exercise is the most powerful anti-depressant I’ve found. Most days I either walk, run, bike, hike, or squat my way to a better mood.
- Some of my favorite fiction was written for young adults. I’m not afraid to say that I’ve spent many enjoyable hours with Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Katniss Everdeen.