When it comes to following our passions and skyrocketing, full throttle, towards our dream lives, most of us find ourselves slamming on the brakes. For me, that something was fear -- fear of financial ruin, fear of what people would think, fear of regret, fear of failure. That fear dominated my mind so fully that I stayed in a life that hadn’t resonated with me for over a decade, because the comfort of the status quo -- as miserable as it was -- was less scary than the uncertainty of the unknown.
At the time, I was working full time as an OB/GYN as a full partner in a busy managed care practice. I wasn’t happy professionally -- and hadn’t been happy for about 15 years -- but I was “successful” by all outer appearances. I had the fancy six figure income, the two homes, the boat, the nice cars, the Hawaii vacations, the cushioned retirement account. But deep down, at the core of me, I was living a shell of a life. My job required that I see 40 patients a day, granting me 7 ½ minutes with a patient, when I knew I had so much more to offer. I had to work for 72 hours solid, often without sleep or meals. And when I gave birth, I was back in the OR only days after my father died, four weeks after a C-section. Me time was practically nonexistent. While my job could be meaningful -- after all, I was delivering babies, doing surgery, helping women -- I was so busy that I couldn’t spend the time with patients to really help them the way I wanted to. The word “healing” wasn’t even in my vocabulary.
I bent under the strain of malpractice fears, suffered from high blood pressure and insomnia, and counted the days until my next vacation. Returning from vacation often left me in tears.
Only by glimpsing my old life through my “retrospectoscope” can I even recognize how shell-like my existence had become. It was my reality, and my reality was comfortable, so I didn’t even realize how unhappy I had become.
At the time, I had been trying to find fulfillment by satisfying my passions on the side. In addition to being a full time doc, I also had a successful career as a professional artist, with eight galleries representing my art. The creative outlet filled me with enough vital life force to sustain me in my other job -- and probably because of that, I stayed in my doctor job longer than I might have. My artistic life was a bandaid. Medicine had become my hemorrhage, while art was my transfusion.
For years, I fantasized about leaving medicine. I imagined wiping away the debt and responsibility and fear of malpractice suits and long nights on call. I visualized just going for it. I dreamed of being a full time artist and writer and leaving all the stresses of my former life behind. I imagined being happy.
But the fear. Oh, the fear. It kept rushing in and overshadowing my dreams. I was so friggin’ afraid that I was willing to keep trudging away on the treadmill because the alternative was just too scary.
My Perfect Storm
Then my Perfect Storm hit. Within two weeks, I gave birth to my daughter, my dog died, my brother ended up in liver failure from an antibiotic, and my beloved father passed away from a brain tumor. My physician father had been only 59 when he was diagnosed, and he died three months later, leaving me reeling. Suddenly, I realized that life is short -- and precious -- and that I had to stop living for the future and start living for today.
The pain of my current existence finally escalated to become such agony that the pain of staying still was greater than the fear of moving forward. It’s not that I didn’t still feel the fear. It’s that I felt the fear and decided to do it anyway.
Taking a “Pleap”
So I took a Pleap (Pink leap of faith) and quit my job, without a back up plan, money in the bank, or a husband who could pay the bills. I sold my house, liquidated my retirement account, moved my family to the country, and decided to just live large, regardless of the consequences. What followed is mythic, really. A whole series of events led me to completely realign my life. Tectonic plates shifted.
But it didn’t happen overnight. I went through two years that I now call my “waiting and becoming” years, years when it felt like nothing was happening, and anxiety plagued me. But after stepping off the treadmill, I found enough quiet in my life to rediscover my calling. During this process, I discovered some vital things about myself. I realized that you can quit your job but you can’t quit your calling. I was supposed to still be in service to women, but not the way I had been doing it at my old job. I was supposed to make art and write, but in a whole new way. I needed to leap out of every box I had ever put myself in and speak my truth. I had to strip off the masks I had been wearing and integrate all the fragmented facets of my being into one blossoming whole. I had to be me -- ALL ME, ALL THE TIME, and let the chips fall where they may.
What Happened When I Pleaped?
After waiting and becoming, I wound up founding OwningPink.com, a website about getting your mojo rocking. I wrote a book about art, Encaustic Art, for which I was blessed to interview 60 artists about how they work with wax. I launched an art project, the Woman Inside, for which I interviewed women with breast cancer to shine a light on the beautiful spirit that lies within us all. I founded the Owning Pink Center where I get to be the kind of doctor I always dreamed of being. And I’m now on a 20 city book tour for my next book What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend.
I shed all the masks of who I thought I was supposed to be and fully inhabited who I actually am. I released the brakes and headed full force into the authentic ME. Most importantly, I am happy. Truly, blissfully, vitally joyful. I am at peace.
It’s No Cakewalk
It hasn’t always been easy, and I still have my dark nights of the soul. I’ve faced every fear that stopped me in my tracks -- financial difficulties, questions about my calling, feeling betrayed by God, even failures (my first book -- which I spent a year writing -- never got published). And I still feel the fear -- way too often. But I’ve learned to assess my fears so I know how to handle them. Sure, some fears are there to protect you. When you’re standing on a precipice, thinking about leaping, you may feel afraid that you will fall and crash into the rocks below, suffering bodily harm. And this may be a valid fear. But I realize that most of my fears -- when I really assess them -- hold me back more than they protect me. What I’ve realized is that when you take that leap of faith off that cliff, you don’t usually fall to your death because that’s when you learn you can fly.
My Story Is Not Unique
My story is one of many. Over the past three years, I have met countless people with similar stories. They have all suffered a fracture in their life -- a health crisis, loss of a loved one, unemployment, divorce -- something that throws them into crisis. Then they went into a period of retreat, where they got in touch with their calling, which usually was a call to serve others. Then they employed a phase of disciplined action (the nitty gritty productive work part), which led them to step fully into their dreams. And the rest is history.
This can be you too. Remember, you already have all that you need to have all that you want. I swear. It’s true. Feel the fear -- and do it anyway. If you’re anything like me, you’ll never look back, you’ll never regret it, and you’ll then begin to realize the full capacity for bliss that lies within us all.
If you don’t feel ready, go slowly. Listen to your gut. Get your ducks in a row. Build a safety net if you must. But don’t let your fears slam on the brakes when your dream life is right there, waiting to be lived. (For more on feeling the fear and doing it anyway, check out this site and program, Releasing The Brakes, directed to us by Owning Pink blogger Michael Mackintosh! Thanks, Brother Michael!)
Dr. Lissa Rankin is an OB/GYN physician, an author, a nationally-represented professional artist, and the founder of Owning Pink, an online community committed to building authentic community and empowering women to get- and keep- their "mojo". Owning Pink is all about owning all the facets of what makes you whole- your health, your sexuality, your spirituality, your creativity, your career, your relationships, the planet, and YOU. Dr. Rankin is currently redefining women’s health at the Owning Pink Center, her practice in Mill Valley, California. She is the author of What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin's Press, September 2010).
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