Have you ever worked hard to get what you thought you wanted, whether that’s a quote “dream” job, a relationship, or the perfect body, only to realize you still weren’t happy or something’s still missing?
In this post, I’d like to take you through the 3 stages we all go through on the path to self-discovery and figuring out what we want.
- Hostage Stage
- Driver Stage
- VIP Passenger Stage
And how this led me to my new Podcast + why I’m calling it Meet Yourself: Learning by Living (instead of “Find” Yourself).
From Burnout -> Broken -> Re-Discovery
Growing up, I was trained to be an achiever and expert hoop-jumper. Whatever obstacles you put in front of me, I could figure out a way to overcome for the sake of achievement.
And I, like many others, had an obstacle course scripted for me from the start: Make straight A’s, go to a great university, work for a big company that pays well, etc.
Without questioning it, I followed the script to a tee, jumping over any hoop and landing a high-paying job as a software engineer at Microsoft.
But after years of doing good work, something felt missing.
Despite achieving prestige and success on paper, I couldn’t shake the feeling of “not enough.” It was like this ironic mix of both emptiness and overwhelm – emptiness because I never felt enough, and overwhelm because there was always another hoop to jump.
I realized that chasing down other people’s goals and pretending they were my own would never make me feel “enough.”
Granted, I learned a lot from working in the corporate world and valued those learnings, adhering to a script I didn’t write over time exhausted me not only at a physical level but also on a spiritual level…
Leading to what I now call “Purpose Burnout.”
I’d be the technical co-founder, the CTO!
And our first mission was to tackle behavior change in the weight loss space with the ambitious goal to reverse the obesity trend.
Having struggled with food and weight almost my entire life up to that point, this was a mission near and dear to my heart.
I got stars in my eyes thought “Yes! I’m writing my own script now. I have a purpose! I’m my own boss. I get to be a scrappy entrepreneur and wear so many hats with no schedule! I’ve found what I was looking for!”
…But what I thought was a shiny entrepreneurial life led me to my biggest burnout phase ever in early 2021.
This time, it was pure physical burnout. I was restless and exhausted at the same time. I couldn’t sleep and I also couldn’t think.
The work got harder, not easier, over time, and the more I worked, the worse my results were.
It was a downward spiral and I remember lying awake in bed one night wondering “How can this be? I literally created my dream job – How can it be that I’m STILL not happy?”
I went to therapy for the first time thinking something was wrong with you (spoiler alert: there wasn’t). I spent tens of thousands of dollars on coaches and mentors to help me.
Only to discover that I was still following someone else’s script.
Coach Viva’s mission is still my mission, but my day-to-day role in the company was not aligned with what I truly wanted to do every day.
Now sometimes, you have to do what you don’t want to get from A to B, sure, but this kind of work has a shelf-life – willpower is not meant to be sustainable.
After spending a decade as a software engineer, I realized I didn’t enjoy the work that much. I didn’t want to be CTO.
I also didn’t want to be what I thought a scrappy entrepreneur was anymore. I didn’t want to wear 5 different hats and be on call 24/7.
I thought it would be great to have no schedule, but I ended up working even longer hours due to that lack of structure.
I thought I wanted all these things. But I had. No. Clue.
I had to face the reality that if I really loved my company, I would need to step down into a more suitable-and-therefore-more-sustainable role in…
At the expense of the title sounding less prestigious…
At the expense of admitting that “For once, I can’t jump over this hoop.”
… because it’s still not my hoop.
So who’s hoop was it? Whose was that “someone else’s script” I was living off of?
That was my Ego’s.
An Ego born from beliefs conditioned by other people’s beliefs, society’s beliefs, the false romanticization of ideal lifestyles, and other false assumptions I made about the world when I was younger.
What tens of thousands of dollars spent on therapy and coaches taught me was how to meet & recognize my Ego and separate her opinions from my un-adulterated Self’s desires.
2021 was a year of breaking through my Ego’s defenses, which meant breaking parts of my self-identity to get to who I truly want to be, feel, and do, a journey that’s changed the way I view myself, my work, my relationships – and one I’m still on today.
The 3 Stages of Self-Discovery
As I’ve spoken to many people about their own self-discovery journeys, I’ve noticed they go through similar stages. There are 3.
Stage 1: The Hostage
This is when you do what you think society expects of you.
Other people set the obstacle course for you and your only job is to jump through their hoops. Often, this is tied to status-seeking or people-pleasing.
I call this the Hostage stage because it’s like you’re held hostage in a car where you can’t control where the driver wants to take you.
Your Wake-up call is simply; I can’t live like this anymore. I have two choices. Either guaranteed unhappiness by living someone else’s script or taking a risk to write my own script for at least a possibility of happiness.
At this point, you park the victim mentality and accept the reality that you actually DO have choices and the power to control your own destination. You are not a hostage.
Then you hit…
Stage 2: The Driver
You do what you want to do. You no longer believe that life is just happening “to you.” Instead, you’re now in control of Life.
You and only you are in the Driver’s seat and dammit are you going to get what you want or die trying!
Some people are just fine here for many years or the rest of their life. But those who don’t eventually end up getting a new Wake-up call.
It goes something like this: “I got what I thought I wanted and am still not happy even though I feel I should be. Something’s not right.
Also, this all feels like it’s harder than it should be. You start to think life should be easier than this.
While in Stage 1, you’re aware that you’re following someone else’s script, in Stage 2, you’re convinced you’re following your own script – and yet the fact that you’re still unhappy is deeply unsettling and an identity crisis isn’t uncommon.
That’s when you go to…
Stage 3: The VIP Passenger/Guest
You realize you don’t necessarily know what you want because your Ego has been behind the wheel, an Ego that’s been conditioned through a very limited set of experiences and often false assumptions.
It understands a very limited part of the map you’re using to drive.
In stage 2, you think you understand the whole map and think you know where you want to go.
But in stage 3, you realize you’ve actually been driving on foreign land this whole time, and the real map is infinitely more expansive than what you had thought.
Because of this, you will never have any idea where you want to go if you rely on yourself alone.
Imagine you’re traveling to a foreign destination. You are the VIP guest of honor and are assigned local chauffeurs who also serve as guides to recommend and take you to places.
Now you might not have any idea where the best restaurant is, but you know you want somewhere quiet with a good selection of seafood for instance.
You tell your guide your preference and they say “Ah, I know of a place!” And they take you there.
You try it and perhaps you like some of it but realize that something about it makes you feel unsettled.
Ah! You realize it’s too quiet and that you actually do prefer a little bit of background music. So the next time, you tell give your guide that feedback and they say, “Got it. Let’s try this other place.”
In this dynamic, you have some idea of what you’d like to see, experience, and feel but you’re not dead-set on “How” you’re going to get it because you have a limited map.
Instead, you combine what you already know plus others’ knowledge plus life experiences to inform you of what you want. Other people and life experiences are your guides in the real world – they fill out the rest of the map.
Your primary job then is to pay attention to how you feel about things as you open yourself up to new suggestions and opportunities, let yourself try what feels right, then use the feedback from that experience to learn and figure out what to choose next — and it’s an evolving process that’s both creative and directed at the same time.
Instead of thinking “I must have this,” you now believe “It’s this. Or something better.”
Instead of thinking “I must have this,” you now believe “It’s this. Or something better.”
In Health & Love
And these 3 stages don’t just show up in the context of work.
I remember when I finally obtained my dream body after years of dieting and still didn’t feel happy, because I focused solely on numerical goals and didn’t tap into what being healthy actually felt like at the time.
I remember waiting seven years for my boyfriend at the time to be marriage-ready for me and when he finally gave in, feeling like it was an empty victory and subsequently agreeing to call it all off when we both realized we weren’t right for each other after all.
All because I was so focused on marriage as a goal that I forgot what I really wanted out of a relationship and what kind of person I wanted to be in my relationship.
And I know I’m not alone here.
But once I got clear on how I wanted to feel and what kind of person I wanted to be rather than what I want the exact thing to look that, and then opened myself up to try new experiences and allowed feedback from those experiences to guide me, it was like the right healthy lifestyle and right romantic partner found their way to me.
Why “Meet” Yourself and not “Find” Yourself?
That’s why I created a new podcast called “Meet Yourself” instead of “Find Yourself.”
When we try to Find Ourselves, we’re stuck in stage 2, always searching for what we think we want.
When we desire to Meet Ourselves, we’re in stage 3 – we’re not dead-set on finding anything specific to feel whole. The journey itself reveals that. We are already here. We just need to remove all the Ego-based limitations surrounding ourselves so we can see who we are.
And we do this by what I call “Learning by Living” – the feedback thing I was talking about.
Why “Learning by Living?”
You see, what I learned is that figuring yourself out isn’t just a matter of learning through books and journaling a lot (although I do both), but my best learnings in Self-Discovery came from conversing with other people, with my work, with the world, with what’s in front of me right now.
Conversing = Interacting with the things in front of you and then listening to yourself: paying attention to how you respond to those things, whether that’s with work or in response to what someone else said or wrote.
What triggers you? Those are the things that are important to you and when you pay attention, you can extract gold from them!
But we need to learn to get out of our own heads, which lives in survival mode, long enough to allow ourselves to relax and pay attention to those internal feedback signals.
Why a Podcast?
Now easier said than done, and I find it’s not enough to just intellectually understand this at an abstract level.
For me, this kind of thing is best understood and internalized through hearing others’ stories, examples, frameworks, and analogies, and then mapping what resonates to my own journey – plus I’m just deeply inspired when I hear others’ journeys.
So I wanted to create a place where those kinds of conversations can happen for all of us here on this podcast.
First and foremost, this is a podcast about Self-Discovery.
Secondly, and as a byproduct, it’s about how we practice that by learning through living.