If you have any interest in the self-help and personal development world, you might have already gotten sick of “gurus” telling you how awesome their lives are. You know the types:
“Look at me, I make a six-figure income coaching people from home and lounging on the beach – you too can achieve this if you come to my $10,000 workshop!”
“Look at me, I write New York Times best-selling books and travel around the world – you too can achieve this if you start charging what you’re worth!”
Or how about…
“Look at me, I quit my job at Harvard Medical School to live in a cabin in the woods – then I’m moving to Prague where awesome opportunities await. You too can achieve this if you’re brave enough to quit the job that’s sucking your soul and choose to follow your heart!”
Oh wait, that’s me
I’m not going to lie – taking a work-life sabbatical was the best decision I’ve ever made. My time here in the woods has been absolutely amazing. But I want to make sure that I don’t fall into the trap of making my readers feel like my life is a bowl of peaches while their existence sucks. Trust me when I say that no one’s life is a bowl of peaches – ever.
We all struggle. Some of us are just better at hiding it than others. @BethanyButzer
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Unfortunately, hiding our struggles disconnects us from what makes us human. We become un-relatable shells to which people partly aspire and partly despise. I know we’ve all felt that pang of jealousy while scrolling through Facebook. You see your friend’s amazing vacation photos, or notice that one of your idols met with Oprah. Part of you feels happy for these people, while the other part wants to kick them off their pedestal (and maybe bring them to your tiny cubicle so that they can feel what it’s like to spend countless soul-less days staring at the computer).
Here’s an example. I was recently featured in a newspaper article called “Quit Harvard for a Cabin in the Woods? She Did.” The reporter did a lovely job chronicling my mission to follow my heart. However, most of the eighty or so comments on the article completely missed this point. Instead, the readers resorted to mocking and attacking my decision. Their feedback ranged from comparing me to Ted Kaczynski to suggesting that I have children so that I can add some real meaning to my life.
I think the reason some readers reacted in this way is because the article takes a purely positive stance toward my decision – which I think is great. However, readers who don’t follow my blog and who don’t know the more intimate details of my decision perceived the article as a self-glorifying media ploy. And, of course, there are always people out there who love to hate.
Going through the readers’ comments was an important lesson for me in making sure that I convey all aspects of my life and my process.
I’m not being of service to the world if I present the illusion that my life is perfect. Rather, I can be of the most service by sharing my authenticity and vulnerability.
With this in mind, I think that many of the decisions we make in life come down to this question:
What type(s) of stress are you willing to put up with?
Don’t be fooled – even people who seem to have it all together experience stress. If they’re lucky, however, they are putting up with the exact type(s) of stress that they are most willing to put up with.
Take my time in the woods as an example. On the surface, it might seem like I’m lounging all day, staring at trees, swimming, and reading books. Ok, this is partly what I’m doing. But the process of getting here, and being here, has also involved some stress. And while these stressors are first-world problems, they are stressors nonetheless. For example, the process of getting here caused some professional and financial stress. I had to leave my job – which my colleagues weren’t overly thrilled about – and save up enough money to buy myself two months off. Postdoctoral research fellows don’t make much money – even at Harvard – so this wasn’t an easy task.
Being here has also been an interesting exercise in just being here – instead of stressing about the future. As some of you know, I’ve been offered an opportunity to teach a Positive Psychology course at the University of New York in Prague this fall, so my husband and I are moving to Prague in August. On the surface, this is an amazing opportunity. However it involves a lot of logistical details, like finding an apartment, getting a work visa, and figuring out how to ship our belongings – all of which cost additional money and are hard to coordinate from a cabin in the woods.
So sometimes, when I’m supposed to be relaxing and staring at trees, I find myself ruminating about what’s next. What if the lease on our apartment falls through? What if my husband can’t get his Czech passport renewed on time? How will we get bank accounts and cell phones and internet access?
During these times, I try to remind myself of two things:
1) I need to focus on being here, now, in the present moment. Wouldn’t it be such a waste for me to spend all of my time here in the woods worrying about a time in Prague that hasn’t even happened yet?
2) The types of stressors that I’m experiencing right now are the exact types of stressors that I am most willing to put up with.
What I’ve realized about myself is that I have a very low tolerance for stressors that make me feel dead inside. For example, I’ve quit two jobs that, on the surface, were amazing – but that made me feel stifled and anxious. Eventually, the pain of staying at these jobs began to outweigh my fear of leaving.
I am, however, willing to put up with stressors that, in the end, will make me feel alive and bring me closer to my True Self. I’m willing to put up with the stress of leaving a prestigious job, or combing through the logistics of Prague, because I know that these stressors provide short-term pain for long-term gain. For me, toiling away in a windowless office day after day provides long-term pain for short-term gain (i.e. slaving away for a salary that allows you to enjoy a couple of hours per week of freedom).
You will never be able to completely rid your life of stress. So my question to you is this: What type(s) of stress are you willing to put up with?
My advice is to choose stressors that are linked to meaning. For example, having kids isn’t all sunshine and rainbows – it can be quite stressful – but it is highly meaningful for some people. Similarly, following your heart regardless of the professional and financial consequences can be stressful – but can also lead to a life full of meaning and fulfillment.
Personally, I’m going to try to live a meaningful life. But my promise to you, my reader, is that I will not sugar-coat it. I will not lead you to believe that my life is superior to yours. Rather, we are both on our own paths, finding our way to love in different ways and at different times. And neither is better or worse than the other.
What stress will you choose?
Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and yoga teacher who helps people create a life they love. Check out her book, The Antidepressant Antidote, follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and join her whole-self health revolution.
If you’d like tips on how to create a life you love, plus some personal instruction from Bethany, check out her online course, Creating A Life You Love: Find Your Passion, Live Your Purpose and Create Financial Freedom.
Image courtesy of Ian Prince.