In 2023, I navigated a transformative period, transitioning from a 15-month career break back into the corporate world. This year marked not only a return to professional life but also an integration of the insights I gained during my time away from work. With 2024 already waiving at me, I know that work and career will take center stage in the 12 months to come. In this context, I became clear about the set of principles I must follow when my old mental pre-career break programming comes online attempting to override my newfound ways of being.
I condensed my learnings into what I call my Guiding Principles, a soul-centric framework designed to keep me on track to live a life that feels harmonious, empowered, authentic, and balanced.
Note 1: Empowered enough to shamelessly post my Renaissance Festival pictures to showcase my learnings!
Note 2: If you want to know what magic feels like to me, scroll down to the last paragraphs. There’s a real hawk in it.
My Guiding Principles
Principle 1: I do what feels joyful and aligned
I avoid doing “shoulds” or engaging in activities that feel like an obligation. There’s no shame or guilt for saying “no” to requests that feel misaligned. I stand by Elizabeth Gilbert’s wisdom: if others feel triggered by my “no,” it’s part of their spiritual journey to get over it.
Principle 2: I set boundaries around my solo time and who I spend time with
I check in with myself to ensure I’m not engaging in activities because of people-pleasing tendencies. I’m extroverted and highly social, but I also greatly value my introspection, moments of silence and stillness.
Principle 3: I trust my gut, intuition, and inner wild child
I meditate often to ensure that my heart is leading my path. If I allow my mind to take the lead role, I’m conscious of it: there’s still healing and growth in the making.
Principle 4: I speak my truth
My self-expression and authenticity empower me. I feel empowered and safe to be who I am.
Principle 5: I treat my body as a spiritual temple
At least 80% of the time, I feed my body healthy foods that nurture and fuel me (the human in me loves sugar, fat, salt, and wine, hence a 20% concession). I exercise at least 4x/week for 30 minutes each time. I honor rest and sleep.
Principle 6: I give myself permission to rest
I pause when I feel overwhelmed. I take long naps and engage in leisurely activities. I go to bed when my body claims it’s time to sleep.
Principle 7: I treat people with love, kindness, respect, and compassion
This holds true even if we disagree on fundamental principles. I notice my triggers and choose the higher ground.
Principle 8: I practice loving-kindness to myself
When I betray my values or make mistakes, I acknowledge them and let them go. In a light-hearted manner, I borrow Vanessa Loder’s wisdom and tell myself “I’m just a little bunny learning to navigate life.”
Principle 9: I ask for help when I’m stuck
I remember that there are loving people who value me for who I am and will open their arms to support me.
Principle 10: I simplify
I don’t let perfectionism creep in. I outsource time-consuming tasks when needed (i.e., buy pre-made foods, take clothes to the dry cleaning). Simplification helps me create space to focus on what matters. It also helps unclutter my mind.
I’m certain that these principles embody what holds significance for me at this phase of my life. Flexibility is crucial and already an integral part of my identity, that’s why I don’t list it as a principle. Having said that, I acknowledge that the principles outlined above are not merely lofty ideals. They’re both feasible and realistic, pieces of wisdom I’ve already collected, and yet I’m in the process of developing the muscle memory required to seamlessly integrate them into my everyday life.
How did I arrive at these principles?
As I contemplate the end of 2023 and the conclusion of this remarkable chapter of emotional and spiritual growth embodied in my career break, it becomes evident how my path seamlessly aligns with the classic hero’s journey, a 12-step structure popularized by mythologist Joseph Campbell and frequently employed in crafting Hollywood blockbusters. In my case, it also mirrors what Maureen Murdock terms the heroine’s journey, “a woman’s contemporary quest for wholeness in a societal framework shaped by masculine values.”
The Hero’s Journey
We all play the hero’s role in our own narratives. Sure, there are moments when we may assume the role of villains, either in the eyes of others or within ourselves. However, the key point is that we’re the central protagonists of our own life stories. Let me illustrate how my career break aligns with Campbell’s hero’s journey structure, dragons and all (I condensed some steps for simplicity):
1 – The Call for Adventure: I felt the call to quit my job and take time off to travel the world, rest, and create space to live a more empowered life.
2- Refusal of the Call: The lack of support from my husband regarding my dream (“Are you crazy to leave your well-paying job?”), coupled with my own insecurities (“Will I have enough money?” or “What’s going to happen to our marriage?”), allowed self-doubt to creep in.
3- Meeting the Mentor: I hired a phenomenal career break coach who helped me overcome my objections. She was my mentor, my sage, my Yoda.
4- Crossing the Threshold: The point of no return, when I purchased my plane ticket for a three-month trip to Europe the day before I notified my boss that I was quitting.
5- Tests, Allies and Enemies:
Whether traveling solo in Europe for months or navigating life in the US without a job, I had to learn who to trust, including learning to listen to my intuition. I was confronted with other people’s judgment of my choice to travel alone for prolonged periods, and faced off with my harsh inner critic.
6- The Inmost Cave:
This is the location of a great danger or inner conflict that the hero hadn’t yet experienced. While abroad, I lived months of wonderment and joy, but upon returning home I spent a period in a metaphorical dark cave filled with sadness and grief for the adventures I left behind. Back then, I didn’t know how to deal with these low-grade emotions, so I resisted them as opposed to letting them pass through me. My mind was also still cluttered with negative self-talk from a lifetime where being myself felt dangerous. On top of that, I was confused about what I wanted to do professionally once my break ended. It was a period of heartbreak and inner turmoil.
7- The Ordeal:
At this stage, the hero feels broken but must gather strength to continue the journey. Through the death of a loved one or their own ways of being, the hero reborns stronger than before.
My ordeal encompassed multiple facets, one of which involved job searching. I felt exhausted and discouraged from all the dead leads and disappointing interviews, but by doubling down on my spiritual practices and life coaching, I found the strength to pull in all of my learnings. I reconnected with my wild inner child and let go of the perfectionist inner kid who was driving the bus, which led me to regain confidence in who I was and my past accomplishments. While spending solo time in nature, I found the clarity I needed for my career path. It was so simple: I wanted to return to the safety of the corporate world. I felt grounded, focused, and renewed. I learned to tame my dragons.
8- The Road Back: With my renewed confidence, job searching no longer felt like an obstacle, and soon I gladly accepted an offer that felt joyful and aligned with my life’s circumstances and career goals. My journey back to the ordinary world was officially starting.
9- Return with the Elixir and Resurrection:
I returned to the corporate world after 15 months of full immersion in the special, magical world of the unknown. My husband, family, and friends were happy that I was back to the village. I settled back into the ordinary world with my newfound abilities: reconnected to my feminine nature, attuned to my voice, feeling empowered to be my authentic self. I chose a path that on the outside seemed just like my pre-career break life, but my way to relate to it was brand new.
Life continued to unfold with its ups and downs, but I brought home the magical elixir: my Guiding Principles to live an empowered and balanced life.
The Heroine’s Journey
What is a woman’s place at this stage of our cultural development? I feel strongly that it is to heal the split that tells us that our knowing, wishes, and desires are not as important nor as valid as those of the dominant masculine culture. Our task it to heal the internal split that tells us to override the feelings, intuition, and dream images that inform us the truth of life.”
While my adventure neatly aligns with Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey framework, I discovered that Maureen Murdock’s heroine’s journey better encapsulates the intricacies of a female protagonist’s heroic story arc. Before my career break, my narrative was shaped by the illusion of success ingrained in the patriarchal constructs of the past 5,000 years. I can only articulate this in Maureen’s own words taken from “The Heroine’s Journey: Woman’s Quest for Wholeness:”
“The path of the heroine is not easy; it has no well-defined guideposts nor recognizable tour guides. There is no map, no navigational chart, no chronological age when the journey begins. It follows no straight lines. It is a journey that seldom receives validation from the outside world; in fact, the outer world often sabotages and interferes with it. (…) When a woman decides not to play by the patriarchal rules anymore, she has no guidelines telling her how to act or how to feel. When she no longer wants to perpetuate archaic forms, life becomes exciting – and terrifying.”
“Working as a therapist with women, particularly between the ages of thirty and sixty, I have heard the resounding cry of dissatisfaction with the successes won in the marketplace. This dissatisfaction is described as a sense of sterility, emptiness, and dismemberment, even a sense of betrayal. These women have embraced the stereotypical male heroic journey and have attained academic, artistic, or financial success; yet, for many, the question remains, ‘What is all of this for?’ “
“The reason they are experiencing so much pain is that they chose to follow a model that denies who they are. (…) Women emulated the masculine heroic journey because there were no other images to emulate; a woman was either ‘successful’ in the male-oriented culture or dominated and dependent as a female. To change the economic, social, and political structures of society, we must now find new myths and heroines. This may be why so many women and men are looking to images of the Goddess and to ancient matristic cultures to understand models of leadership and involve partnership rather than dominance and cooperation rather than greed.”
“Women do have a quest at this time in our culture. It is the quest to fully embrace their feminine nature, learning how to value themselves as women and to heal the deep wound of the feminine. (…) What is a woman’s place at this stage of our cultural development? I feel strongly that it is to heal the split that tells us that our knowing, wishes, and desires are not as important nor as valid as those of the dominant masculine culture. Our task it to heal the internal split that tells us to override the feelings, intuition, and dream images that inform us the truth of life.”
“She must not discard nor give up what she has learned throughout her heroic journey quest, but learn to view her hard-earned skills and successes not so much as the goal but as one part of the entire journey.”
I couldn’t say it any better, Maureen:
This is the sacred marriage of the feminine and masculine – when a woman can truly serve not only the needs of others but can value and be responsive to her own needs as well.”
The Hawk at My Window
As 2023 comes to an end, the world I now live in comes with blatant symbols that my sacred feminine sees for what they mean to me: reminders that I’m on the right path to live my values, and they often come sprinkled with doses of magic dust. Here’s one of them:
To write this blog post, I sat down in my office and lit a honeysuckle and jasmine-scented candle with pieces of amethyst, lapis lazuli, and blue sandstone. My intentions aligned with the energetic vibration of these minerals: protection, mental clarity, awareness, vision, success, creativity, and motivation. As the words I wrote above flew from the divine, into my mind and into my fingers, I heard a piercing “kree-eee-ar” sound outside my window. Frantically, my cat climbed to the highest couch in the room. I moved to search what she was seeing and couldn’t believe my eyes: there was a hawk staring at me.
This was a rare sighting, something I never experienced until now. This beautiful creature was steps away from me, posing regally over the fence, silently whispering: “I see you.” I looked up the spiritual meaning of hawk and found that “hawks represent changes, clarity, pursuing your goals and dreams, protection, and honoring your inner wisdom.”
On instinct, I glanced at my watch and observed a combination of numbers that has been a constant presence in my life for the past few years—numbers I’ve come to recognize through spiritual practices as a sign that I’m living in alignment with my purpose, a sign that I’m protected.
Coincidences are for the uninitiated: I knew these were manifestations of the magic inhabiting my world. I’m wrapping up 2023 knowing that I’m creating a life that marries the doing and confidence of the sacred masculine with the feelings, intuition, and dream-state of the sacred feminine. A life of integration of worlds and possibilities. A life where I now drink from the transformative elixir I brought home from my heroine’s journey after flying the world on the wings of a dragon.