For nearly 10 years, I slogged through brain-numbing, red-tape-filled, dismal days in an industry devoted to nothing more than the altar of making money. Because of this, I ended up leaving my financially lucrative, comfortable career because I felt like my soul was being eroded.
Beyond soul erosion (which is obviously hard to measure), the fundamental problem was that I worked a high-stress job in a morally bereft industry, and I traveled constantly. I was exhausted. This sucked time away from my family, friends, and fiancé, who also traveled a lot for work. At one point, we kept our suitcases by the door, which was was easier than repeatedly dragging them out of storage in our tiny city apartment.
Because of the stress, I turned to yoga for solace. I'd run to class after work, late and stressed, jittery from too much coffee, and harried from another frantic day of putting out fires. Then I'd focus, breathe, and unwind for an hour and a half, floating out calm and rejuvenated.
A wise voice inside of me said that I wasn't doing what I should be doing. But I was too busy to listen. I had a career — and I told myself that was enough.
For a long time it kind of was. I'd grown up poor, living in hand-me-downs, constantly worrying about money. I was the first one in my family to go to college and I worked my way through. I majored in more-likely-to-get-a-job print communications, instead of my-heart-yearns-to-write-books English. I didn't have the luxury of book-writing dreams. I had student-loan reality.
What I learned is that the problem with tying yourself to what you think you "have" to do instead of what your heart yearns to do is that a chasm grows between the two. Decades can disappear into that chasm, while the inauthenticity of living a life that you know you shouldn't be living chips away until you're worn down to an unrecognizable fragment of yourself.
I hit a low point at a branding summit, which took place high in the Colorado mountains. Dizzy from the altitude and exhausted from back-to-back day long sessions followed by late, wine-soaked business dinners, I woke up in the middle of the night with no idea where I was — literally or figuratively.
I desperately wanted to be back in my little apartment, snuggling with my fiancé. But I was 2,000 miles away on a mountain, and he was in London, also on business. Between our schedules and the time difference, we hadn't spoken in days. I'd told myself we were a power couple, but at that point, it barely felt like we were a couple at all. Something had to change.
I continued seeking solace in yoga. Back home, I enrolled in yoga teacher training as a way to deepen my practice and seek greater solace. I had no intention of actually teaching — I hadn't busted my butt working my way through college to do work that didn't require a degree. I told myself that I had to stay in my career.
Meanwhile, the financial industry was rollicking on unsteady tracks. The cutthroat culture intensified. When my new, less-experienced-than-me boss unceremoniously announced at a company-wide meeting that she'd taken over a major initiative I'd been leading successfully for months without so much as a heads-up, it was the last straw. I gave my notice.
So I decided to take the summer off, teach yoga, regroup, and then, I thought, go back to my high-powered PR career. By this time, I was married, and my husband enthusiastically endorsed my plan. But my childhood-born fears about money gnawed at me when I thought of quitting my job. I reassured myself I could supplement teaching with consulting work. I was determined to pull my own weight.
My first morning home, I roamed aimlessly around the apartment, feeling lost, alone, and untethered. Trying to stay calm, I busied myself searching for teaching opportunities.
I arrived to teach my first class — armed with 12 pages of notes. I was so nervous my teeth chattered. That hadn't happened when I gave presentations at work, striding to the podium in a suit, high heels, and a face covered in makeup. But now there were no high heels or a podium. I couldn't hide under a suit or makeup. It was just me, barefoot, bare-faced, in yoga clothes … terrified, and, perhaps for the first time, authentic.
At my lead, a class of stressed people breathed, focused, and unwound … floating out calm and rejuvenated. It felt exhilarating to be part of that — a link in the yoga lineage, helping others.
Summer passed, and I kept teaching. I never went back to work. Then I wrote a book about finding what you want to do, as told through my zigzag journey. Now I teach nationally on using yoga as a tool to find balance, direction, and fulfillment. Every day isn't perfect. But there's a deep-seated contentedness when you're doing what you're meant to do, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
This article originally appeard on Elle.com and is reprinted with permission.