For as long as I can remember, my inner life didn’t match my outer one.
On the inside, I was overwhelmed and stressed out, but on the outside, I put on a brave face and a bold mask; I pretended that everything was picture-perfect. I lived a life of misalignment from ages 15 to 35.
The spark I needed to finally make lasting change appeared at the chiropractor in 2012.
For too long, I had wrestled with chronic back pain caused by everything from competitive gymnastics as a young girl to constantly carrying around young, cranky children. However, despite wrestling with this pain, I never did anything about it. I assumed it was normal and that everyone was walking around in some kind of pain. I assumed it was perfectly okay to feel bad on the inside and wear a smile on the outside.
Thankfully, a friend of mine noticed I was in pain and suggested I see her chiropractor. I begrudgingly agreed. Four days later, as I watched the chiropractor examine the analysis of my spine on her computer, I watched her eyes get really big.
The doctor said, “Katherine, your spine is incredibly misaligned. You must be in a tremendous amount of pain, and it’s going to take a lot to get it straightened out.” When she turned the computer screen around to show me my spine, I cried.
It was a perfect metaphor for my world. My life was out of alignment, and it was going to take a lot of work to straighten it out. On the outside, my life looked so put together and impressive to so many people. But on the inside, I was always exhausted and often twisted up in pain, as I tried to live according to an idealized version of myself that I created in my head and projected out into the world on a regular basis.
So much of me was defined by others’ approval. If they were proud of me, then maybe I could be proud of me. If they believed in me, then maybe I could believe in me. If they loved me, maybe I could too. My desire for approval led to a life of overachievement in every way, shape, and form—from frameable report cards and varsity sport trophies to advertising awards that led to a big career.
My people pleasing skills were top notch. So much so, that early in my career, I was tapped to lead a team responsible for $42 million in business. At the time I was only 30 years old, and pregnant with my first child. My achievements felt great on the surface, but they were always temporary and never fulfilling enough. I was always chasing. Always anxious. Always tired, and I never felt good enough. Even so, I put on a smile and pretended everything was just fine.
Like so many women do.
Yet here’s what I learned along the way: When who you are on the inside is not who you say you are on the outside, it creates a lot of pain and friction…on the inside. And the inside of you is challenging to repair, as nobody can see or fix it but you.
Cut to today, and with lots of hindsight and tremendous homework, I’m now able to understand that my spine’s lack of alignment came from putting my essential self aside and living my life through my social self. The latter had learned to value things that were prized by those around me. As a result, in most people’s eyes, I had it all. The problem was it wasn’t me. I was an actor on a stage, pretending to love the life that I had built—not for me, but so that other people would be proud of me.
Not anymore. Those days are over. Several years ago, I made a commitment to start living my life on my terms. Because living my life on everyone else’s terms led me to the top of a very high mountain. But once I got to the top of that mountain, I realized that I didn’t like the view. So, I put my big girl pants on and climbed a new mountain.
Here are the two steps I took to finally get my life back into alignment:
I took off my mask. I went to my husband, friends, parents, boss, coworkers and even the TEDx stage and said, “I’m so far from having this gig under control that it is frightening. I know I’ve made it look for years like everything’s just fine, but it’s not fine. I’m flawed every-which-way-to-Sunday as a wife, mother, employee—and I’m okay with that. I’m doing the best I can…and I’m okay with that, too.” Finally, I could breathe again. People say the truth hurts. But when it’s your truth, it feels awesome.
I took control. After I realized what truly mattered to me, I changed almost everything in my life with the exception of my husband, house, and children. I took control of my ambitions, quit my job, and stopped defining success by everyone else’s metrics. I started my own company. I started doing yoga and meditation. And I even started eating Brussels sprouts and tofu.
Today, I am aligned. Who I am on the inside mirrors my career, ambitions, and actions on the outside. I’m far from perfect, but my transformation and goal were never about achieving perfection. The only way I can describe how I feel now versus how I used to feel is, “free.”
I am free from other people’s expectations. Free from their metrics of success. I am free to be me.