My transition into alignment started with a rejection letter.
It was my second, to be precise, this time from the seventh medical school I had applied to.
In my defense, it really wasn’t me; it was them. It seems as though somehow the universe was conspiring against me with strange policies and red tape that would not permit me to follow along with the next step in a career that I had spent the last decade in single-minded pursuit.
At the time, I was working in a cafe, making soup and sandwiches for a living, training for a marathon and teaching scuba diving in my spare time. I had just recently met the man who would become my husband.
And it felt like my whole world had unravelled.
Though I felt physically strong, and emotionally and romantically fulfilled, the career of my dreams had gone up in smoke, and I was seriously lost. I remember taking a day off work at the cafe: eight hours to determine my future. I thought maybe I would enjoy massage therapy, or maybe holistic nutrition, or, fuck it, maybe I would just buy (yet another) one-way airplane ticket, and put off any decision-making for the time being. There was a pivotal phone call with my parents – the only one in which they ever would, to this day, dole out career advice – where they told me, “for heavens sakes, at least get a Masters degree.”
I found out there was a Masters in Health Promotion available in my home city, and that even though the registration deadline had passed, there was one seat left in the program. I wrote a letter to the woman who would become my thesis supervisor, oddly bumped into her multiple times over the coming week, and got accepted.
It is clear to me now that the universe was conspiring toward something, although it would take me many years of soul-searching to determine just what that was.
I hated the first year of my Masters program. I absolutely loathed it. At the end of the school year, I had gotten a research job that allowed me to use some of the skills and knowledge I had gained over the course of the year, and I realized I had to make another choice. Quitting the program would inevitably find me back chopping tomatoes for soup at the cafe; my other choice was to find a way to enjoy it.
And so I did. I went on to receive multiple awards for my research, and had it published in an internationally-distributed peer reviewed journal. I came to love research and writing, and I managed to land a job as a research program coordinator at the university right after I graduated.
Once again the universe stepped in, and four months later I got a job offer with the local provincial government – it was a job I had applied for more than half a year earlier, and they only just then were getting around to hiring people. Perhaps that should have been my first warning, but the promise of a better salary, my very own Blackberry, and perhaps the ability to influence some change at a higher level were all too alluring, and so I happily trotted off to what would become my grey-walled Cubicle Hell.
The existential crisis came fast and hard. Though there were many aspects of my job and the life that it allowed me that I enjoyed, I felt a strong sense of dissonance: this was not who I was. Not a ladder-climber, not a “government lifer,” and felt bound by golden handcuffs, and stymied as to how to “make change,” within a web of bureaucracy that was all-consuming.
Somehow, though, the years came and went and I found myself married, a home-owner, and all of a sudden, pregnant with my daughter.
When I got pregnant, I realized that I didn’t have any more time to waste wondering what I should be doing with my life. I had the exquisite opportunity of a impending maternity leave that would allow me some space from my job and time to think about what was next. I had a baby on the way. If that wasn’t enough to jar my sense of self and who I was and what I was doing with my life, nothing would.
I knew, already, that I felt deeply fulfilled in many aspects of my life. I had a loving partner, a beautiful tiny home in a fun neighbourhood, we had some great adventures together, travelling and scuba diving. I was physically strong and healthy; I had just broken a world record for a marathon swim, and then climbed Mount Kilimanjaro three weeks afterward. But none of these things felt like the life of a public servant who went to work and followed arbitrary rules all day, who wanted to make an impact in the world but found herself hog-tied by red tape. My career was not what I envisioned for myself.
I began journalling like my life depended on it. I brainstormed and wrote and wrote and wrote. I read and I researched and I reflected and I wrote some more. There were no guidelines for the soul-searching I was engaging in; I was finding my way blindly, led only by the impending reality that grew as my belly did over those months.
I re-engaged with who I was and what I loved to do, got curious about what some of those Great Loves were that I’ve carried with me throughout my whole life. I played with the idea of creating a purpose statement for my life and my work in the world. And I began experimenting with my hunches about what would bring me more alignment in my life. I wrote more. I spent time in the kitchen. I began adventuring like my life depended on it. I did the things I loved to do as a child. And slowly, ever so slowly, I began to re-emerge from the version of myself that had been moulded by external influences in my life over the past handful of years. When my daughter finally arrived, she became the cornerstone of the foundation that I was trying to excavate for myself; the reason I couldn’t waste any more precious minutes of my life living up to the expectations of anyone but my nearest and dearest.
Courage and Surrender
It took years, to be sure, and no small amount of agonizing, but this was the beginning of Nalumana, my business, and my coaching work. I began to feel more and more like I was tapping into my purpose for my life and into work that I could find deeply meaningful. I have, since those early days, taken a great many tiny courageous steps and surrendered to what might happen next. And I’ve realized that alignment isn’t a finished product: it’s a journey.