In 2010, just a year after I finished graduate school and only months after I'd secured my first full-time job, I realized something was very wrong. I'd spent nearly a decade working to get the degrees and experience I would need in order to get to this place and yet, now—here I was—and I was really unhappy.
I began to wonder if the life I was living was a life I really wanted.
I confided in a friend who asked me to consider what I would do if I could do anything I wanted. Immediately, I knew the answer: I would quit my job and spend the next year traveling across the country to do what I had always wanted to do—write a book.
There were a million reasons not to do this. But as I started reviewing the reasons in my mind, I saw how I'd let so many things—physical possessions, other people's expectations of me, my own unrealistic expectations for myself—get in the way of living the life I actually wanted.
Six months later, with a lot of encouragement, I decided to take the risk and do it. I let go of everything to see if it could help me discover what was really important.What I found through this experience was that sometimes we have to lose something pretty significant in order to find ourselves.
If you're feeling stuck, or like you're living someone else's life, here are five things you can try to get out of the rut:
1. Quit Something
Sometimes all it takes to shake things up is just to quit something. My friend Bob Goff jokingly says he quits something every Tuesday. It's amazing what just making a little room can do to bring new energy to your life.
The things that make you happy, that wake you up in the morning, that you lay awake thinking about at night—do those things.
The things that weigh you down, that seem like a drag, that steal life from you and make you angry—quit those.
Take a quick inventory of the commitments you have during the week. Work. Meetings. Committees. Book club. Study group. Would you really do them if you didn't have to? If the answer is no, quit. You'll be surprised the difference it can make.
2. Take A Risk
Doing something a little risky can be just what you need to get unstuck. I recently went skydiving and I was shocked at the impact this experience had on the rest of my life. I expected it to be thrilling, but I was surprised how overcoming one fear gave me confidence to confront other things I was afraid of in my life.
You don't have to jump out of a plane to achieve this end. What if you simply went to that party, made that investment, started that blog, went on that trip you've been putting off, or asked that person out on a date?
Even if the risk doesn't pan out the way you hope, taking risks can activate our sense of imagination and give us new insight.
3. Embrace New Ways of Thinking
When I first decided to take a risk traveling across the country, one of the hardest things for me to do was to sell all my stuff. I hosted a huge yard sale in my parents' driveway, laid everything out and watched for hours as people came, browsed, and either 1) turned their noses up at my prized possessions or 2) offered me 5 bucks for them.
It was awful. I cried when a man drove away with boxes full of my favorite books.
Since then, I think about physical possessions differently. I don't know that I would classify myself as a minimalist per se, but I definitely own, buy, and need less than I ever have in my life and I'm far less attached to my physical possessions.
The best part is, I'm so much happier.
Be careful about doing things solely because "this is the way we've always done it." If you're feeling stuck, remember innovation happens when we're willing to change, to adjust, to altar and to embrace unfamiliar thoughts.
4. Be Irresponsible
One of the biggest concerns I hear when I tell people the story about quitting my job is, "What about your responsibilities? Were you ever worried you weren't going to be able to pay your bills?"
My answer: yes, of course I was worried. But I also had to take into account the responsibility I have to myself—to know myself, to listen to my intuition and to give my mind and my spirit space to grow.
When it comes to being responsible, ask yourself two questions. Are there responsibilities you're taking on that aren't really yours to hold? And how are you balancing your practical "responsibilities" with your responsibility to care for your soul?
5. Stop Putting Your Dreams on Hold
I knew I wanted to be an author from a very young age, but when it came time for choosing a college major, I had several well-meaning adults say to me, "That's sweet you want to be a writer. But you should also have a back-up plan. How are you going to make money?"
With that advice, I gave up my dream and pursued teaching instead.
But at some point I had to ask myself: how long am I going to put my dreams on hold? Forever?
When I let go of everything, my life didn’t suddenly become perfect. In fact, by the time I arrived home from my trip, I had lost the most important relationship in my life, was barely able to pay my bills and support myself, and still felt no closer to someday writing a book.
But I had a much better picture of who I was and what really mattered to me.
Beyond that, I had grown a tolerance for wrestling through the difficult parts of life to get to the good stuff. That season taught me to hold on because the light was coming. And ultimately, that skill led me into a season where I met my husband (because of an article I wrote about my trip), was finally picked up by a publisher and began making a healthy living doing what I love.
If you have a dream you've been putting on hold—because you can't afford it, because you don't have the time, because "who ever really gets to chase their dreams anyway?"—my advice to you is that if you wait for the "perfect" time to follow your dream, you'll be waiting forever. There will never be a perfect time. The only good time is now.
I’m not sure where you are in your life. Maybe you’re trying to choose a college major, or you’ve graduated from college and you’re working what feels like a dead-end job. Or maybe you’re 10 years into your career and you just feel stuck.
Try letting go. Quit something. Take a risk. Be irresponsible. It might be just what you need to shake things up.
Allison Vesterfelt is a writer, speaker, and the author of "Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage." You can find her online at AllisonVesterfelt.com.