For the longest time, I lived a life that wasn’t truly my own.
This led to finding myself rolled up in the fœtal position on the floor of my Park Avenue office with fists clenched in such intense pain I thought I’d pass out. I was in my early thirties and, according to society’s standards anyway, living the dream: working as a corporate lawyer on Wall Street, negotiating multi million dollar transactions while dressed to the nines in the season’s it bag and shoes. I was at the top of my game but deep down I was dragging my soul through the lowest depths of misery. The reality was that I was utterly unhappy and making myself ill with Crohn’s disease in the process. I was ignoring all the signs the universe was throwing my way. And there were many, many signs - the kind you find on a billboard in Times Square. I was in total denial, collecting my fat paycheck and spending it all on frivolous nonsense. Sitting in my posh office overlooking midtown Manhattan, I had boxed my spirit into a corporate office. And it wasn’t a pretty sight.
I was slogging through thirteen-hour days while guzzling obscene amounts of coffee and feeding my body candy bars and greasy take-out food, all of which only made my health condition much worse. But hey, I was bringing home a six-figure salary, investing in high profile stocks and shopping on Madison Avenue. I should’ve been happy, right? What I should have been investing in was my soul purpose instead. In the long run, it would have been a better return on investment. As a child, I loved to write, paint, draw and dance, but I had stopped dancing altogether and was stressing myself under piles of stress instead. The child within me was desperate to come out and play but I didn’t give her any breathing room or the time of day she deserved; I was too busy billing my time and shopping online.
I was embodying someone else’s idea of success: by constantly pushing and striving to get ahead for a better salary, a higher position and a more prestigious title. I was climbing that corporate ladder at all costs: at the expense of my health, happiness and true Self. The sad truth is that I sold out for the cold hard cash and what I ended up with is the cold hard truth while lying on the office floor of my law firm’s office.
Checking myself into the emergency room of a few New York hospitals in the middle of night while suffering from debilitating pain wasn’t enough to wake me from my sad state. Hell, I don’t think I would have gotten the message if an eighteen-wheeler with “Get a Life” written all over it had parked in my spot. Not only was I avoiding my artistic dreams, I was burying them alive. Clearly, I hadn’t heard of the mind-body-spirit connection yet. I was light years away from it actually-I was so far removed from my personal truth that I went for more disconnection by having part of my insides taken out. The surgery didn’t help much. Instead, it left me feeling weak, vulnerable, and scared.
A psychic I ran into on the streets of New York willingly offered some insight. Her words of wisdom: “You’re wasting your precious time dear child. Pack it up, go home and start living a more creative life.”
Although these words profoundly resonated with me and sent shivers down my spine, they still weren’t enough to shake me from my stupor. I kept on plugging away at a career that was making my sick and keeping my spirit depressed. Call me crazy but I needed more.
Then one day a friend suggested I pick up Eat Pray Love, a book she read in one sitting and was life changing and affirming. “This one’s a game changer,” she said. One line from that book hit me like a ton of legal briefs: I’m choosing happiness over suffering. Not only did those words resonate deep in the recesses of my soul, it also brought up the question “what are you waiting for?” over and over again in my mind. These pearls of wisdom stayed with me long after the day I handed in my resignation, called the moving truck, and started living for real.
With some time and much patience, I let my previous life and its façade fade away: the expensive suits, the fancy apartment, the need for constant approval and the fake me. Slowly, and ever so gently, my real persona began to come forth and see the light. I still remember bursting into tears the day I watched the Eat, Pray, Love movie. Sitting in the dark theater, I saw a reflection of myself in the main character, a woman on a quest for her own truth. I may have been on a different continent and time zone, but my search for meaning was there nonetheless. Liz’s willingness to venture into uncharted territories and find true happiness gave me hope and permission to do the same. I signed up for writing classes at the local community college and took jazz history lessons for fun. During this transformative time, I wrote every day and penned my first novel. I had no idea what I was doing but it was the most fun I’d had in years. What was it about? An overworked, stressed-out corporate lawyer heads to New York to make it big and changes her life after realizing she’s profoundly unhappy.
Once I had completed my first draft, I sought feedback from close friends and family members who were extremely generous with their time. To my surprise, some former colleagues, the very lawyers I poked fun of in my novel, took pleasure in providing feedback and suggesting some funny jokes.
Finding a publisher was no easy task either, but once I completed the manuscript and put my mind to it, there was no stopping me. The laws of abundance worked their magic and the doors swung wide open.
Truth be told, it was difficult at the time to explain (and justify) my life choices to my colleagues and immediate family. And it was even harder to cut back on the lifestyle I’d become accustomed to. But I’ve never second-guessed my decision. I’ve since given up drinking coffee and soda and replaced them with herbal teas. I even took up yoga. Taking time off and living a more authentic and creative life gave my body the respite it needed to heal. And with time and gentle care, I eventually became symptom free.
Today, as I peer out the window of my cabin in the woods surrounded by tall pine trees, my dog, hummingbirds and sweet dragonflies, breathing in the country air, and creating meaningful experiences while doing the work that I love with my heart filed with joy, I’m grateful for the changes I’ve made and the lessons learned.
In that regard, I’d like to share five lessons I learned while on this wild adventure:
1. Living a creative and fulfilling life is more rewarding than simply making lots money.
I once worked crazy hours but had no spare time to pursue my artistic passions. Sure, I was making good money but I was seriously unhappy. Writing novels and offering writing workshops have been the most rewarding events in my professional life.
2. Expensive shoes won’t make you happy.
When I worked around the clock as a lawyer, I often compensated on the weekends by buying things. Although it was fun for a while to parade around town with the season’s “it” bag or shoes, it soon lost its appeal and left me feeling empty. Our souls crave more. Way more.
3. To reach new horizons, you must lose sight of the shore.
According to the French writer André Gide, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Making big changes in life, whether career related or otherwise, can be very scary. I went through moments of serious self-doubt and worry. But I managed to sail through the choppy seas by stubbornly focusing my intention on my ultimate goal: happiness, artistic expression, and fulfillment.
4. Success is the culmination of a series of failures.
Like so many authors, when I first sent out my manuscript to agents and publishers, I received countless rejection letters but I never gave up on my goal no matter how discouraged I felt. Eventually, a door opened for me and it was the right one.
5. Never let anyone get in the way of your dreams.
Once you decide to make a major change in your life, many people might feel intimidated or uncomfortable with your willingness to take risks and may even become vocal about it. Don’t let the naysayers rain on your parade, it’s negative energy that you don’t need at this crucial juncture in life.
Follow your dreams and be happy. I did it and so can you.
Isabelle Laflèche worked for more than ten years as a corporate attorney in New York City, Montreal, and Toronto before pursuing her passion for writing. Her debut novel J’adore New York became a best seller in Canada, along with its sequel J’adore Paris. Her books have been translated into six languages. She also recently published a travel book to Paris, written during her stay in the city of light. She lives in Montreal.