From the outside, it seemed like I was living the dream life. I got a graduate degree, I had a decent paying job, and I was part of many social circles. Based on society’s and my Asian parents’ standards, I did everything right by achieving academic, professional, and personal success throughout my 20s. I followed a path like many others had done before me and I thought this was the ideal life I was meant to be living. At the time, I assumed my personal well-being didn’t matter, even as my anxiety levels and my mental state were getting progressively worse, since in the external world, everything else was going fine.
As I was achieving success, I was going so fast and nowhere at the same time. I felt empty, unhappy, and unfulfilled. The two years of graduate school in another state put a strain on my long-term relationship. I loathed the job I was in after graduate school and I became incredibly anxious and depressed working with a toxic manager. I went to every social gathering to show my support to my loved ones and friends, but I wasn’t really present when I was physically there.
For so long I assumed my happiness would positively correlate with all the things I have done right in life by being a good daughter, a good student, a good employee, and a good partner. I just accepted things as it came to me and obediently stuck to my lane. I never did anything to step on anyone’s toes or out of my comfort zone. But I was nowhere near happiness and I was getting further away from being my authentic self. I was slowly disappearing and I couldn’t admit this to myself because I was too scared to face my own troubled mental state. I used other things like work, social gatherings, and other “busy” distractions to keep me from ever confronting my mental health. I thought my worries, anxieties, and fears would just eventually go away if I kept going with the flow of life. This was the ideal life anyway, so this would work itself out right?
It didn’t. The cracks of this seemingly ideal life started to crumble into noticeable pieces. I was in a terrible mood a lot of the time, I was in a constant state of worry, and I was exhausted from meeting everyone’s expectations. My relationships soured, my work suffered, and my mental health declined. I was losing myself and I didn’t know what to do.
In 2019, I didn’t have a breakdown, but I had a breakthrough. For the first time in my life, I made the decision to start doing things for myself, not just to please my parents or to impress an employer. I started to work on projects I liked and enjoyed. I went on trips for myself, not for social obligations. I was rediscovering who I was and finding out who I really wanted to be. For once in my life, I was finally taking ownership of my life. I left the toxic workplace for a new one with a position I wanted and a salary I negotiated for. I improved my communication skills with my partner and fostered stronger relationships with friends. I even started a side business of designing and selling cute greeting cards. I was making things happen my way and was finally becoming myself again.
As I gained confidence to do the things I loved, I gained the courage to confront my mental health and took action to do something about it. I started meditating, slowing down, stretching, and experimenting with all sorts of mindfulness activities. I read books and listened to many hours of podcasts related to self-help topics. After putting in “self-work” consistently, the results were magical. The newfound clarity and sense of calmness was incredibly freeing. For a person who had experienced a lifelong crippling anxiety, this felt like a dream. And this new dream became my new reality.
I am starting to live my dream life now. I am learning to be my authentic self and I am so much happier than ever before. I live fully with less anxiety and do things I love without anyone else’s permission. As I gain more courage, I am able to take risks and try new things, like taking a real hard look at my finances and my unhealthy lifestyle, and making changes that I have avoided for so long. Interestingly, the more I give back to myself, the more I am able to give back to the world at a much greater capacity than ever before. I am continuously using my creativity and art to help others heal and began their journey of self-discovery, while staying true to myself and my values.
I am sharing my story so one day you can find yourself and live your dream life too. You have the right to live happily and make your dreams happen, no matter what age you are. Be willing to let go, take up space, and live authentically. It does take real work, time, and consistency, but I guarantee that it is incredibly rewarding, feeling this other way. This may make other people uncomfortable at first, but realize you need to put your own life above others’ expectations. By the end of it all, you have lived your life, not someone else.
A happy mind is a happy life. You deserve to be happy and live your dream life, so go make it a happy ending.
(And here’s a free mood tracker I made to start. Good luck!)