A spring evening when I was 29, facing the idea of the next decade, exhausted from the despair and anxiety that spanned the last three, I made a plan to disappear.
To fade into a gentle nothingness and get some eternal rest.
I’d done my research. I would take out life insurance, I would go on vacation, I would set out to sea, I would not make it back. Everyone would think it was an accident. No more suffering. No more pain. No more struggle.
I would be folded gently, unconsciously, finally back into the cosmos. I was flooded with relief.
I was just too different. I was done fitting in to a world I didn’t belong in. I was done with the struggle to find my way. I had a good job and good friends, but I felt completely trapped. Even when life was good, it didn’t FEEL good. I’d tried everything I could think of. But with no purpose, no direction, no joy, what was the point?
But in the morning, as I dragged myself into another day of numbness and pain, I looked at the picture of me as a 5 year old taped to my bedroom mirror. I thought of my young nephew, my family. And alongside of the relief of the night before, I also felt a deep, deep sadness. That young life there, what had happened between then and now? Where was she, that compassionate, gentle child, eager to help the whole world?
And I knew I couldn’t. Not yet. Sure, I had been to therapy. I had prayed on my hands and knees for nights. I had talked and journaled and reflected. I had read 1,000 self help books. I had ‘done the work.’
But what if there was more? What if there was something I hadn’t tried yet, some idea that I had yet to happen upon? This pain is not what that child, born 29 years before, was meant for. She deserved every chance to experience what is good in life. There had to be more than this.
And so I made a new plan. To take this depression, this listlessness, this emptiness dead seriously. To stop fucking around.
To save myself.
I would give me five years to throw myself into life, to go forth without judgment, to experience, and ask, and try, and know. To travel and work and write and love. To explore the pain in my being in every way I could find. To wring out my experience for the good, the bright, the light spots. To notice every moment of beauty. To commit to letting go of the pain and taking in the joy with gratitude. Something I’d never been able to consistently experience before. And if it didn’t go well, the old plan would still be an option. But I’d know for sure I’d done absolutely everything to save the little girl in that photo’s future.
Happier, Freer, Calmer.
So I did. I started with my mindset. I would save my own damn self. No matter what. I decided to look at every day as a chance to experiment with my inner dialogue (it’s no monologue in there, folks!).I let go of my idea of failure. I let go of expectations. I radically changed my actions in the world. And I made some pretty big changes to my environment as well.
I needed to feel strong and pound away some of the anxiety, so I started exercising every day – a big deal for a couch-sitting bookworm like me. I learned to breathe. Then to meditate. I learned to visualize a new future. I dated. I quit my job. I read travel books and startup books and joined the nearby start-up community in Kendall Square, Cambridge. I started thinking about what I could build instead of what I didn’t have. All of this led me to fulfill a lifelong dream. I backpacked alone in Costa Rica and Nicaragua for six weeks, completely free to follow my soul and listen to my experience. This transformed me to the core. I deepened my relationships with my friends, and pushed myself to try all the things that scared me. I began to study Positive Psychology and in it, found what I was already learning on my own. I started this company to share what I learned.
Which boiled down to this. You are the one who creates happiness and meaning. They stop being the product of your environment the moment you take up your own power to create the change you want. With the right mindset and the right information, you can feel the way you want to. You can live your impact on a day-to-day basis.
That’s what the Escape Plan is about. Applying simple, learnable ideas and practices to your life in a sequential way to get real results fast. You can quit your own personal hell and create something incredible in its place. Something purposeful, beautiful, and lasting. It doesn’t matter if your hell is external – the wrong job, the wrong relationship. Or internal – a constant barrage of negative thoughts and paralysis. For many of us, it’s both. And it is in your hands. The Escape Plan is a simple framework for your own soul-expanding inner adventure, based on what has worked, not only for me, but for lots of us who want something deeper. It brings into your life the clues that psychology, neuroscience, and experience have left about how to direct your life, being, self out of overwhelm, fear, or hesitation and into the extraordinary.
When I started, I had no idea what I would discover. How quickly that 5 year commitment would lead me to a rock solid foundation. And it wasn’t without bumps.
Actually, the objective circumstances of my life got much, much harder. Since then, I’ve been down a labyrinth of chronic health problems, daily physical pain, and huge life changes.
I should feel worse. But I feel better.
Now, I still suffer. I still doubt myself and feel afraid sometimes. Yet, something is different. I don’t stay down long. I know now that nothing lasts forever. I can use all of my challenges to grow, eventually. I wouldn’t dream of disappearing. I want it all. More than ever.
If you ask me now what my life is for, I can tell you.
It is for waking up and seeing with new eyes. For letting go of old dreams and turning toward new ones. For squeezing every last drop of experience while I breathe. For connecting and loving and deepening. For being afraid and adventuring anyway. For going forth and trying. For getting back up every single time I fall down. For sharing what I know and what I can give. It’s for me and it’s for you and for every other person, whether you come from struggle or ease, who wants deep joy written into their bones.
Freedom, joy, and impact all have something in common. Mindset is the true foundation for all three. Each starts with a choice to say, “No one is coming to rescue me. I’m the one to feed my soul’s needs. I’m enough. I can. I will. I won’t give up.” No grand gesture required. Just the courage to hold to that one statement, no matter your situation. Those tiny moments of bravery add up to a life that sings.
Where I Am Now
The site, the course, the book, everything I have been working to build – it is slowly moving forward again. I spent the majority of 2015 in crazy amounts of pain, weakness, and exhaustion. It was too much to make a cup of tea, so working on the business was not an option. I’m grateful that I can begin again, if only slowly.
I find myself on another journey, quite involuntary – one through chronic pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and illness – where my body this time, not my mind, is my limiting factor. I have no choice right now but to turn toward reality and accept that I have to take on the world more slowly and with plenty of help. It’s my job right now to go with patience, let go, face my fears & find my way through a different kind of darkness while not giving up on myself. Ultimately, it will give more depth to my work with others who want to create more freedom, more joy, more purpose but face real limitations of health and physical pain.
While this is not the reality I want, it is the reality I have right now. Starting from here is my only option. There is power in acknowledging that. For all of us.
And I have the experiences above to rely upon. I have the practices I learned through positive psychology. This experience of pain, of going slowly, is testing one of my fundamental beliefs. That I am enough. That I am WORTHY. Worthy of love and belonging even if I can’t work for it, can’t achieve it, can’t continue to DO.
So, I’m going to take the advice I give above, and see my life as a continuum, the world as full of possibility. In another five years, I will be someone new – someone wiser, more resilient, clearer, focused on what matters. Hopefully a hell of a lot healthier. Pain is a fact of life. I will work to grow from the situation I find myself in while allowing myself to be real. I will find purpose in love, appreciation, and the fact that I am still alive to experience moments of wonder, grace, and surprise.
I will fall. But I will get back up. And I will set my sights even higher.
And I won’t quit trying to find ways of sharing what I have to give.
I hope, whether your desire is to fill your life with more joy or purpose, to lessen the self-inflicted suffering of the mind, or to face the challenges of chronic pain and disease, that you will join me and claim your right to matter, your right to shine in all of the infinite ways possible. I hope you will live your joy and impact into the world in every way you can.