By Heena Mistry
What would you sacrifice to be happy? What would it take to make you pack up your life and move thousands of miles away? Sound like a familiar meme? Elizabeth Gilbert, popularized the so-called female mid-life crisis in her best -selling book, Eat, Pray, Love. The concept, now seemingly synonymous with middle class women of a certain age eschewing their privileged lives in search for meaning, has become somewhat of a joke in popular culture. The idea that someone would leave a comfortable life in favour of uncertainty is not one that is embraced by our society. We are stuck in the western paradigm of success, often defined by material things that do nothing to nourish a person’s soul. This is the place I found myself in more than a year ago, when I decided to leave a rewarding job as a human resources lawyer at a large Canadian bank, to move to the UK in search for adventure. Now, this might not seem like anything unusual if I was just out of university, but I had just turned 40 and had absolutely no clue as to what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. What I did know was that my voice had been drowned out by the cacophony of others who knew better, whose advice I had taken over the tingling in my gut that was telling me that the path I was on was not the path for me.
Without time travelling into the past, I think it’s important to understand why people, including myself do not listen to their instincts. A large part of it is that we are creatures that are molded by our family and society to favour stability and eschew taking risks. Having come from an immigrant family, my parents made it clear that going into a traditional profession was the key to success and happiness. Like so many others I followed this advice and ignored that gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that yearned to do something creative and unconventional. I stamped it down with such fury that there was this constant hole in my life that I could not fill no matter how many pretty things hung in my wardrobe.
Needless to say, that feeling unfulfilled in such an intrinsic way makes relationships more difficult as well. As clichés go, I fit them all, a modern woman chasing her career while her biological clock is ticking like a time bomb. It was after my last failed relationship that I decided that enough was enough, that no man or baby or job could satisfy the yearning in my soul. I asked my work for a leave of absence, rented out my flat and put my old life into storage. I had been saving money for a wedding that didn’t happen so I joked that I was taking a year off and using that money to marry myself. My family and friends were taken by surprise, most were supportive but some could not understand why I would want to leave my established life for the unknown. But that’s the kicker, the idea of not knowing what was around the corner is what excited me. Rather than live each day like ground hog day, I had absolutely no idea what the next day would bring. I could re-invent myself, get outside my comfort zone and make mistakes without anyone judging me. And that is exactly what I did. I travelled for four months around Europe, seeing some spectacular sights and meeting incredible people. I volunteered with a youth agency in London and tried my hand at PR and project management. I then got a call from the London branch of the bank that I worked for with an offer of a contract. I got accepted into the LL.M. program at the London School of Economics and started taking courses. In the span of one year I had accomplished so much. That is not to say that I didn’t have any doubts , bouts of loneliness or feelings of fear. I had them all. What got me through the rough patches was knowing that each experience was helping me learn a little more about myself. Self-actualization is an iterative process, it happens a little bit at a time. Do I know what I want to be when I grow up? No. Am I on a journey of my choosing – absolutely.