We spend a great deal of time wondering what happiness looks like. What career would be a good fit? What is the ideal weight? What does our forever home look like? The problem with these questions was constantly looking for outside sources for consistent happiness. I am now learning to have true contentment in life, we need to work on being gentle and loving to ourselves, forgiving for failing sometimes, and practice doing activities that fill the soul up.

Years were occupied by trying to find joy in the wrong places. Here’s how…

The magic number on the scale would make me happy

When I turned 26 and quit smoking, I gained over 30 pounds in six months. In the midst of trying to control my nicotine cravings, I shoved any food in my mouth I wanted to. Whatever it took to not put a cigarette in my mouth! I also knew nothing about healthy eating, so in order to try to lose weight, I ate Lean Cuisine meals every day and paired it with lots of cardio. I eventually went into my second half of my twenties with a desirable number on my scale.

Between the ages of 26 and now, I have been striving for the perfect number to come back into my life. I have tried the South Beach Diet twice, Beachbody 21 Day Fix, about four Whole 30 rounds and a good workout regimen. My first strict eating program was to get bikini ready for an island vacation, however; once I landed, all bets were off. I binged on whatever I wanted, gaining the weight back in no time.

Restricting and bingeing has always been my pattern and honestly, that part of me is still a work in progress. The kicker is, whenever I would hit the magic number on the scale, I would be elated! But the feeling didn’t last long, a few days then back to my emotional roller coaster self. I now understand that the number on the scale will never be the source of my happiness. Yo Yo dieting has been a way to control something in life when I felt emotionally out of control.

Control and happiness are not the same thing.

My happiness with my health comes when I am consistently exercising and pushing myself during my workouts. There is a sense of pride in the strength I have. I am happy when I am eating a delicious meal that I prepared and cooked. I am happy when I am with my mom squad at a boot camp class and giving out high fives. Additionally, I stopped stepping on the scale so much. When I look in the mirror, instead of looking at the parts I wished looked different, I look at the new arm definition I am gaining from doing body pump twice a week. We must focus on the good parts, being gentle with ourselves and our progress.

My identity was solely wrapped in my work

I spent my twenties training and building a career in the cosmetology industry as a hairstylist. Soon after I became established, I aggressively pursued a career in management in the salon I worked in. My clientele grew as well as my responsibilities in the salon with the team I was leading. Within a matter of three years, I found myself wearing at least five different work hats a day; working twelve hour days and being on call all the time with our staff. Having the authority in many departments at my job gave me the sense of importance and belonging. There was no work life balance and I liked it that way.

After years of hustling hard at work, I became pregnant. Although the pregnancy was a total surprise, I was elated. My husband and I decided I would return to work part time, only being in the salon about 28 hours a week. My leadership position allowed me to do a fair amount of work at home as well. I thought I had it all figured out. It would force me into having the “balance” that others would tell me I desperately needed. I had no plan at all! I just assumed life would fall into place. The problem with this new formula of my life was the skill I was really great at was being somewhat replaced by a new job I had no experience in. My selfconfidence and dignity came solely from my work accolades. My daughter came and to say I was overwhelmed is an understatement. I suffered from postpartum depression, which I of course did not recognize when I was going through it. My sense of self and self-worth was gone while on maternity leave. I called my boss two weeks after I was on maternity leave to take back the duties I could do at home, something I could control in my life.

Do you see a theme here?

Of course, going back to work as a mom pulled me into a thousand more directions except now I was sleep deprived, emotional and feeling like a failure at motherhood. Because of these things, I wasn’t excelling at work like I was used to. I spent a few years after my daughter was born taking off some hats at work then putting them back on, trying desperately to figure out what the best formula was to be a mom and work in a leadership position and in the service industry. My mind, spirit and body were on empty, so the thought of giving to our work team and to my clients felt like such a chore, yet my ego wouldn’t allow me to let go of the control I was seeking.

My daughter is five now and it has taken me the entire duration of her life to find balance of being a working mom. I had to consciously give up roles at work that were going to take too much time away from my family. I had to put boundaries up and say no when needed. I now have the role of a stylist and educator, not multiple hats with too much responsibility that I never really did all that well. I had to dig deep and be honest with myself and realize that identity cannot be solely reliant on the job performed. The most valuable lesson learned was to never put all of my self-worth into one category because if it doesn’t work out, what’s left of my dignity?

I finished college even though I didn’t have to

While building a career in the cosmetology industry, I was going to college full-time for a Bachelor’s degree in business. No one in my family finished college, so I wanted to be the first. Finishing college would prove to myself and others that I was more advantageous than my roots. With each high GPA every semester, the more proud I became. I loved having the bragging rights of going to college fulltime, working full-time and being on the leadership team at my job. Completing my degree program has been a great accomplishment, but I should have never looked at having a degree as a form of happiness. I finished college to add to self-worth and pride. A $40,000 piece of paper didn’t bring me happiness, just debt.

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I put so much self-worth into the wrong categories to achieve happiness most of my adult life. I spent years of building my ego up, not my happiness or self worth. I do believe it is OK to make goals and strive to be better, but I now know school, work, or being skinny won’t fill the hole in my soul that has been missing till now. Seeking happiness within is an ongoing process. We must strip away the ego to allow love in. The cup can be filled and drained throughout our days, so we must be aware enough to find what serves our happiness