At 31 years of age, I experienced a painful breakup. It should have occurred two years ago. Because I was afraid of starting over and delaying the goal of marriage, I ignored his financial disputes, his wandering eyes, and his lack respect for me. I believed that if I compensated in all areas that were lacking, the playing field would be level and the relationship could succeed. To foster intimacy, I planned date nights at fancy restaurants. I also tried to be more fun and engaging to keep his interest. Things didn’t improve and I was exhausted after three years. We parted ways.
At the same time, my 9-to-5 writing job at a marketing company was abruptly ended. My side business was self-help writing, which I hoped to make a full-time job. I wrote about topics such as bullying behavior, mother-daughter relationships, happiness, and how to get it. When I look back at my work, it is clear that I was influenced by the belief that you can achieve any aspect of your life if you put your mind to it. If that fails, then try again.
This mantra was what I used to live by when trying to save my marriage. My old way of thinking was shaken when I found myself single and jobless. I felt betrayed and robbed of my future happiness. I could not stop comparing my life with the happiness and lives of my friends, many of whom were married and had families. I felt angry and left behind. My life was moving in the wrong direction. Why can’t I have it all? I was also deeply guilty of resenting my friends.
I stopped writing self-help articles for a while. Every time I sat down at the computer, it felt like I was a fraud. I felt like a fraud every time I sat down at my computer.
Although I was deep in despair, a part of me expected my bitterness to fade and my willingness and determination to try again to come back to life. To lift my mood, Teddy, my shih-tzu, was adopted by me. After a few months, I realized it was time to get my life back on track. I started pitching articles again and brainstormed some new ideas. But the editors never replied. I tried dating apps, but never felt a connection. These setbacks discouraged me, so I created detailed to-do lists to get back to work. In the hope of getting out of my slump, I would pitch twice as many articles and go on twice the number of dates. Although I was aware that I wasn’t entirely to blame for my career and relationship woes, mainly because I couldn’t control everything in life, I believed I could fix it if I worked hard enough. I couldn’t shift my mindset to positive thinking with affirming self-talk, my go-to self-help tips. And I didn’t understand why.
Slowly, I realized that my perspective was not correct. I realized that I was still working towards the same goals, namely a partner and a full time writing job. My thoughts of defeat were recurrently stating that I had lost my way and needed to go back to where they were a few months ago. As time went by, and I gained some perspective on my job and former relationship, I started to wonder: Was that a good idea?
Although I felt closer to my goals than I was before the breakup and layoff, that was not true. I had been using shortcuts to get there, which wasn’t working for me. To reach my ideal marriage, I had stayed with a bad relationship to make myself happy, even though my partner wasn’t. In truth, if I had walked down that aisle, I wouldn’t have been happy with him.
As ashamed as it was to admit, I also learned that just wanting something doesn’t automatically make you eligible to have it. It seems absurd and a privilege that this realization occurred at the age of 31. Many of the words used to describe self-help and self improvement reinforce the notion that happiness is something you can control and that it should always be at 100%. It’s important to fix any problems that fall below this level immediately. This thinking encourages people blame themselves for dissatisfaction in a particular area of their lives. This mindset encourages people to see their goals as a prize or accomplishment that will bring them joy and complete them. This is not how life works.
I understood that my feelings of dissatisfaction were not due to a lack in effort. This didn’t make it easy to be content with my life. I desired a stable career and a loving relationship that would eventually lead to marriage. I was afraid to give up control of my life and wondered what it would mean for me in the future.
This shift in perspective allowed me to be more open-minded. When I stopped focusing so hard on finding my next partner, I started going on dates to learn more about other people. I was open to the possibility of a long-term relationship with them. Because I was no longer under pressure to be the best version me at all times, I found it easier to relax with my matches. My dates were more enjoyable. To allow for deeper relationships, I began to see people for several months at a stretch. Now, it’s been over a year since I was married to my current partner. In the years that I was single, it became clear to me that I was expecting a partner who would complete me. This made me search for possible incompatibilities among the people I met and made me hesitant to show my imperfections. I don’t need someone to complete me anymore. I can now want a person with all my flaws, which has led to a more loving relationship and mindset.
After my breakup, I was able to let go of old self-help beliefs and became more realistic about my career. I stopped applying to highly-competitive writing positions. Being honest with myself I realized that I needed a job in a stable industry. I applied for and was offered a job as a writer in academia. Although it was not as glamorous as the other jobs I had been trying to land, I found that I was gaining experience in areas I was passionate about, such website development. I tried to put self-worth before self-entitlement and stopped focusing on landing pitch. I started writing for my own benefit. My first book was written in three hours per night.
Although I continue to write self-help articles and give advice, my approach is quite different. Self-centered and toxic cliches that pervade so much self-help writing, such as the idea that happiness is a constant state and that we can control our outcomes, are a common theme. They lead us to believe we have the right to try anything, which leads to frustration and disappointment.
Here I will be writing about how to love and support yourself through all transitions. I also explore ways to make the present more joyful. It is important to let go of control and open your mind. However, I know this can be difficult. Recognizing that you aren’t 100% satisfied with certain aspects of your life does not mean that you are doing wrong.
Today I am finally being honest with myself and my advice. This makes me more human and makes me humbler. It took me 35 years for me to realize that happiness can be found in pitfalls like a divorce. Every day, I hold my new mantra close to me: I will never stop learning, no matter what stage of life.