“Do you have an exit strategy?”
I blinked. It hadn’t even occurred to me to leave my job. Or that my job could end. My job, after all, was my “dream job” although admittedly, lately, it had not felt as such.
“It’s clear you’re operating around 60%,” my friend, something of an observance guru, dropped his unsolicited opinion on me as fact. I had, up until this point, thought I was doing fine. Sure, I wasn’t getting much sleep and I was burning the candle at both ends. But there was a light at the end of this tunnel… right? Somewhere around this bend? Was there a bend? This is a tunnel right? Is it possible I’ve accidentally stumbled into a cave?
Okay. 60%. Maybe he’s right. But an exit strategy? It never dawned on me that I might need one. This was, after all, the job my 18-year-old self dreamed of. The position I had worked years and years to get to. I put my time in. I climbed the ladder. And here we are, over a decade later, at a hotel room in Nashville, where I am realizing for the first time that maybe the dream I had isn’t the dream I have.
And maybe that’s okay.
People evolve. Dreams evolve. And with anything in life you can’t get to the next chapter without a willingness to close the previous one. Perhaps that involves a sacrifice or facing a fear of possible failure in starting something new. Maybe starting something God’s put on your heart requires more courage than you feel you can muster.
But, that thing your scared of? It’s telling you where to start. It’s the biggest indication of the direction you should go in. It’s the first step (or the next step) in a staircase you can’t see that leads you to the life you were born to live.
We are not meant to be mediocre or stumble through life unfulfilled. We are meant for genuine relationships surrounded by people that sincerely love us, hold us accountable, build us up, and for whom we do the same.
So as this friend, who falls into that “genuine relationships/people that sincerely love us” category, held a mirror up to my true self, I gazed at a reflection that upon first glance looked the same, but deep down I could no longer deny had changed. I tried to get familiar, without judgement, with all the new slightly older, slightly more developed, slightly wiser features. It wasn’t until long after he left the room that I could quiet my mind enough to hope to hear the answer to the question, “What truly matters to you?”
The answer didn’t come right away, but the gut instinct did. Something inside me told me that I craved more. That on the outside, especially according to social media, my life seemed fun, wild, exciting, fulfilled, but on the inside there was a void. One that I had been ignoring for a while, so long in fact I got used to that part of me being empty. Many of the things I was doing were on my list of things to do, but that sliver was missing. The sliver that made it meaningful. Even if I was the only person who could distinguish the meaning.
In fact, I was the only person who could distinguish the meaning. It’s easy to create a facade. It’s easy to build a life that other people will find acceptable, even envy. It’s easy to do things according to your family or society’s approval. But at the end of the day, you have to answer to yourself. Is this the life you’re meant to be living? Is the dream you had still the dream you have?
If it’s not, it’s okay to redirect your steps. And if you can’t remember where you put your hopes and dreams, think back to where you last had them, or first had them. What about that dream seemed so appealing? Does that stuff still matter? Can you go deeper? Where is this path leading you? If it isn’t towards what you want, what’s your exit strategy?
Life is not meant to be lived at 60%.