One Year Later: 5 Most Important Lessons Learned From Shifting My Life and Career

Heather Hardin, July 2019. One Year After Changing Her Life

It was exactly one year ago, that I boldly followed my heart. My soul was screaming for me to make drastic changes in my life. Enveloped in stress and shame, I realized that I was not living a life aligned with my spirit and purpose. No matter how successful I was at work, I still felt empty. My health was failing. My nights were spent anxiously staring at the ceiling. My relationships were suffering. And more importantly, I felt empty, unhappy, and unfulfilled.

After wrestling with the devil and angel on my shoulders and draining my husband with endless late-night discussions on the topic, I made the courageous decision to resign from my upper-level, successful job to find more joy, peace, and purpose in my life. Let me jump to the end of the story for you. This was the best decision I have ever made in my life (well, second to marrying the most dashing and intelligent man on the planet, of course). Today I want to share the 5 most important lessons that I learned during my life shift. I pray that these bits of wisdom might provide insight into finding more purpose and joy in your own life.

  1. God, the Universe, Life…Everything is working FOR you, not against you. It can be easy to get distracted by all of the negativity around you. You can get consumed by your perceived failures and struggles. But life is full of blessings. You need only adjust and open your perspective. What are these experiences teaching you? What is this struggle opening the door to; how is it making space for your next opportunity? Perhaps you could never find that new perfect job if you didn’t realize your unhappiness with the current one. Life is full of amazing experiences, some tragic and some exhilarating. Blessings and lessons abound in all that you experience. The current moment is the result of your past steps. Your future lies before you as a clean slate to write as you wish. Choose to trust in the flow of the universe. Trust in God’s wisdom. All is moving forward for your own good. Believe in yourself. Believe in the blessings of your life.
  2. Find Your Center. What does that even mean? It means taking time to find out who you are; who you truly are. For this, you have to be still and learn about yourself. We often spend our time “doing” for our career, for our family, for others. We can easily lose sight of ourselves. When you take time to get to know your true Self better, you learn more about what you truly enjoy, what you value, and what you truly want out of life. Find time to break away from your usual routine. Take a walk at lunchtime or after work. Sit by the ocean or a pond. Sit on a bench in the park. Find a simple, relaxing place to be still. Calm your mind (easier said than done, but with continued practice, you’ll be an expert). Try to view your surroundings as if you were a child experiencing them for the first time. Notice the details: the leaves on the trees, the birds’ songs, the wind, the sky. Take a deep breath in, and start to connect with the soul within you. You are a spiritual being having a human experience. No one else is experiencing what you are at this very moment. No one else can, because you are the only amazing you there is. What a blessing to finally grasp the unique person that you are, and then live your life celebrating your experiences with all of the other fellow souls trying to find their way home.
  3. Relish the special person that you are! Stop trying to fit into some mold that you created in your mind. Perhaps it’s who your parents expect you to be. Perhaps it’s some dramatization that you believe society expects you to be. Perhaps it’s some idealized personal expectation that you created for yourself based on a lifetime of trial and error. Listen to these next few words like your life depends on it: Be Honest with Yourself! If you are unhappy, then take a look at your life and be honest about what you want to change. Don’t hold onto goals, jobs, or relationship choices because you think you “should” be happy with them. If you are not happy, then accept that, and then do something about it. If you continue to live a lie to make someone else proud, you will be doomed to a life of unhappiness, stress, and disappointment. Who YOU are is way more important than what people EXPECT you to be. Once you connect with the amazing person that you are and follow your own personal passions, your life will begin to flow along a pathway filled with the most gratifying and joy-filled experiences. Work will become less “work,” and relationships will flourish in a way that seems effortless and light.
  4. You Are Worth It. Having a servant attitude helps us live in sacrifice to others. You are likely very thankful that you have a job and life roles that benefit the ones you love. We appreciate our opportunities to serve others and are proud knowing that what we do benefits those around us. Yet, we lose ourselves in these roles so much so that we are left feeling unworthy ourselves. “Oh no, not me. Happiness is for someone else. I mean really, who is ever truly happy?” In order to serve others, you must find time to fill your own cup. We can serve others so much better when we serve from a place of fulfillment. Again, I implore you to lean into these words: You deserve to be happy. You deserve to live the life of your dreams. You deserve to be respected. You deserve to laugh, love, and find peace. You are worth it!!!
  5. You Can Do it. Nothing is impossible. It may seem that way, but I am here to inform you that it CAN be done. How easily you can talk yourself out of something. Let’s see; what are all of those reasons? Oh yea, you’re not strong enough. You’re not smart enough. You’re not _____enough (fill in the blank). Oh and then there is this… “I can’t because_____.” “Maybe when (this happens) I will do it.” Remember Jesus’ words, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid? (Matthew 8:26 NIV)” Why do you hesitate when you feel it in your soul. If it makes sense to you, and if it feels “right,” then go for it. How fulfilling life will be to create a path that is meant for you. It is right there waiting for you to decide to take the next step. You know what you should do. Now be courageous enough to trust in yourself and take that first step. Remember, life is there waiting to play out for your good. What are you waiting for??

Take a Break from “Doing” and Start “Being”

Our lives are so full. We set them up that way. We love it. The more we can achieve, the better we feel about ourselves. Our houses should be their cleanest. Our kids should be involved in activities (we don’t want them to be seen as lazy). And what about building a career? You should have high ambitions and drive hard every day to take steps forward to be the Best_____ (fill in the blank). If you are not seen as trying to climb the ladder then you are not trying hard enough. We kill ourselves to impress those around us by how much we accomplish. For some powerful reason, we are still trying to make someone proud of us; our parents, our friends, our spouses, our children.

Achievement is innate in all of us. From the time we are born, we are trying to gain our parents’ approval. When we enter school, it is our teachers and fellow classmates that we want to impress. Competition is real; on the playground, during those exams, trying to get into college. Life tends to train us to continually look for a way to gain an edge on those around us. Work harder. Do more. Stand out.

Staying busy, having more on your checklist than you can ever accomplish in one day, is empowering, right? Is that what makes you who you are? Is that what defines you; what you “do?” Your day-in and day-out rat race, running yourself ragged, is that what defines you? Perhaps. If so, then you don’t stand out at all. Anyone can make a list of the things that you do each day and do them. This doesn’t make you unique. This doesn’t truly define what lies deep within you; your “youness.”

Consider looking at your life through this lens; bear with me. If you died today, what would people say about you? Yep, we’re going there. What would people say about you in the neighborhood, at work, at your funeral? I’ll tell you what they would say about me before I changed my focus. If I had died a year ago, people would have said, “Wow, so sad to hear about Heather. She worked her butt off. She worked so hard every day from 7 am to almost 7 pm. And I think she was kind of nice.” I was so defined by the things I was “doing.” I thought that the more things I achieved, the more purposes I served, the more important and viable I would become. The result of all of this “achieving” would lead to more happiness, right? Wrong. Very, very wrong.

I was only impacting processes, not people. Not the way I wanted to have an impact. There was more in me than what I could “do.” There was more that defined me than what I could accomplish by being busy. And to be honest with you, I wasn’t happy, not truly happy. I was feeling spent. No matter how much I achieved, I still felt unsatisfied with my progress and empty inside.

I don’t want to be remembered by how busy I am. I want to be remembered for deeper reasons. I want my legacy to be centered around how deeply I cared for people, by how much I made them smile, by the fun crazy adventures that I journeyed through. I want to genuinely make a meaningful impact on people around me. I want to nurture my relationships, including my relationship with myself.

I decided to stop “Doing” so many things and started “Being” more.

Being more still

Being more thoughtful and unrushed

Being more aware of everything around me

Being more aware of my surroundings at this moment

Being more aware of the energy and needs of those around me

Being more aware of myself and my personal goals and desires

Soon I realized things I hadn’t before. I began to connect more deeply with those most important to me. I noticed more clearly the deep needs of those around me, and I took a long moment to sit with them (for more than one minute) and talk with them more about themselves. I took a break from my craziness to just breathe, look out the window, go for a walk, give myself time to contemplate who I really am and what I truly want for my life.

It was a challenge. The call of responsibility is strong. Society tells you that if you aren’t “Doing” than you are lazy. I tell you whole-heartedly, this is a myth. You deserve to take time to be still. You deserve to take time to think and be creative. Let your mind wander. It can’t wander if you are constantly tasking it with activity. Creativity, self-awareness, hearing the voice of your true calling can only occur if you stop engaging your mind in tasks. Give your mind and yourself some space to stretch. It is only then that you truly achieve what life has set for you. Hear that? What Life” has set for you. Not the world. The world is like a rushing river.  It will pull you along its own agenda unless you take control of your time and find the purpose that God has specifically designed for you. Do you feel like you are being carried along by the world? Do you feel like you want more control over where you are going? Do you feel that you aren’t where you think you need to be? Perhaps you are not yet living your special, unique purpose. God is constantly reminding you of your true calling. You can’t hear his purpose for you unless you get away from the drone of “Doing” and set yourself to more “Being.”

Of course, life will continue to have responsibilities you need to accomplish, but I challenge you to find a small smidgen of time every day to devote to stillness, to breathing in the moment, to relaxing your mind. Give yourself permission to just “Be;” you deserve it. During these special moments, don’t have expectations for yourself, no rules or boxes to stay in. What you find will be inspiring. You just might decide to nourish that hidden passion. Paint more, buy a kayak, start a Mom’s group, hit the gym and get those biceps you’ve always dreamed of, and spend more time with those who mean the most to you.

 

Wow, the memories you will make, and the joy you will find in your life. Your daily tasks will suddenly seem lighter because your cup will be full. Even though you will be taking valuable time away from your “Doing,” you will actually feel more accomplished. You will feel more fulfilled in your life, and thus every step will be lighter for you. Your days will have purpose; a purpose that is in line with your own personal journey and desires.

My hope for you: Give yourself time to experience your uniqueness. Give yourself permission to relax, to let your mind wander, to just “BE.” Creative and amazing things will happen. You just might find more happiness, more fulfillment in your life. And those around you will celebrate as you find your true passion. You can’t live your passion without a smile on your face, and a smile brightens so many of those around you. What will your legacy be?

How in the World Did This Chocolate End Up in My Mouth?

You are fired up!  You’ve got this!  You have been talking about eating a healthier diet and reaching a healthier body weight for years.  Oh, yea; today’s the day!  You have planned it out; the kitchen is full of organic, healthy food choices.  Your salad is packed for lunch today.  This is the grand moment that you will turn over a new leaf.  Doesn’t it feel awesome?  I mean, really, don’t you almost feel healthier already?  This is going to be easy.  You are prepared and motivated.  You feel so strong and hopeful about your future success.  You can envision the finish line, and you look and feel amazing standing there as your future self.  Nothing is gonna stop you this time. No way.  No how.

After eating some oatmeal and fruit.  You drive to work, patting yourself on the back.  Great start!  So far, so good.  Walking tall and feeling like a million bucks, you stroll into the office confident that you can take on the world today.  When you arrive, you realize that you have an unplanned meeting with leadership, and they want you to present the results of your current project.  No problem, you remember…you got this today!

Wow, the meeting was brutal and took three hours. A huge chunk of time has been devoured.  Suddenly you realize how much energy was zapped out of you. Feeling hungry, you smile and grab the protein bar you packed.  Haha, see, this is easy.  Why haven’t you done this sooner?

Sitting down at your desk, you are suddenly overwhelmed by how many emails you have received.  By the time you have answered all of your emails, it has been two hours.  What?!?!?  And lunchtime is now almost over.  No worries, you packed that salad.  Whew!  Scarfing down the salad, you realize that you feel a little unsatisfied and wish you had more time to actually enjoy it.  But who has time? Now that it is already 1:30 pm, you must get to your actual work for the day.  There is so much pressure on you to hit the next deadline, get that order out, network with 8 clients, answer more emails, and go to two more unplanned meetings. You are racing the clock, giving 200%. Later in the afternoon, you are sitting in… OK, let’s just say it… boring meetings that are keeping you from getting your “actual workload” done.  With a big sigh and a rub of your forehead, you leave the last meeting of the day at 5:30 pm. Wow, you should be driving home at this time, but you just received information from this last meeting that has to be acted upon today.  As you walk by a coworker’s desk, without thinking, you casually pick up a shiny piece of chocolate from the dish.  You deserve a little sweetness after this crazy busy day. You open it up, pop it in your mouth, and giggle as you read the saying within, “Nothing Can Stop You Today!”

WHAT JUST HAPPENED!!!  How in the world did this chocolate get into my mouth!!  Oh, no!!  What am I doing?!?!? What a goober I am; what a failure.  How could I have let a little piece of candy get the best of me today? Really?!?!? And you thought you were so strong. Yea, right. The phone in your office rings and distracts you. Oh, yea, your boss said he would call you after the meeting and get you those figures you need. Running to your office, you put your “self-bashing” on the back burner.  You will deal with this failure and your weakness later.

Driving home at 6:30 pm, you are exhausted, mind a whirl, stomach growling. You had really planned to get home early and grill that chicken breast. Traffic just has to be horrible today, right? And this wanker in front of you is driving 20 miles under the speed limit blocking the fast lane.  At 7:30 pm you pull into the garage. Today definitely did not go as planned. Where was all of your drive, your confidence? When you left this morning, you were so sure that you were stronger than anything that life would throw at you. Wow, you really deceived yourself. What a lie you told yourself this morning. You should have known that you would fail at eating healthier. Who do you really think you are?

Sitting on the couch about 10 minutes later, you are shoveling ice-cream into your mouth as you watch another episode of your favorite Netflix show of that dysfunctional family. Yea, that’s you. You’ll never change. You, too, are stuck in the body of someone destined to fail in life.

How did this happen when I was so strong and motivated today? I am so ashamed and disappointed. I trick myself into thinking that I can change, but it is hopeless. I might as well fill my pantry with sweats and pasta and enjoy my short, unhealthy life.  I’ll never be able to do this.

Does this sound all too familiar?  You can get so very motivated with great plans, and then life somehow quickly unravels your best intentions.  How did that chocolate get into your mouth anyway?  Did your coworker plan out a huge conspiracy to place a bowl of candy directly along the path to the boss’ office?  Did your leadership know that you were trying your hardest today and devise a wicked plan to keep you tied up in meetings? It might be easy to feel like life purposefully worked against you today. I usually blame the devil. He is always laughing at me as he throws out another curveball. Perhaps the universe is trying to “keep you down.” Likely not.  Likely it was something much more powerful than these.  It was a few long-trained habits.

Habits are like a stalking lion. They are usually quiet and unnoticeable until they pounce, and before long you are sitting with a spoon in a quart of Haagen Dazs.  Habits lead you blindly to repeat a behavior that is ingrained in your psyche. They are extremely powerful and effortless. Did you hear that? Wait a minute. What if we could bend the will of those habits to work “for” us instead of “against” us.  If we could harness our habits, we could accomplish so many of our goals without much effort or thought. Sounds great, but you’ve tried to stop them before. This isn’t the first time you binged on ice cream.  I hear ya.  Those bad habits have been conditioned over many years; they won’t relinquish their hold easily.

How will we retrain them? It took many hours of focus and conditioning to bring you the wonderful skill of blindly listening to your subconscious when it comes to snacks and treats. Listen to me. This is the part where I tell you it is not easy, but it is so very effective and worth all of the time you spend on improving them. You absolutely CAN retrain your habits to be healthier and work for you instead of against you.

Habits are like children. They listen well to your plans for them but quickly get distracted by the shininess of a candy wrapper. You will have to constantly tell them “no, this isn’t good for you” and lead them back to the path of your will. Believe me when I tell you this as well: It gets so much easier. If you commit yourself to change your unhealthy habits to healthy habits, you WILL succeed. “Yea, right.” I hear you whispering to yourself. You’ve tried that before, and yet here you are again. That is the best news I’ve heard because that means you have already accomplished the first phase of harnessing your habits. Step 2, try again. Step 3, try again. This is called conditioning. And conditioning is exactly what it takes to harness those habits. It will become easier as long as you continue to try and change them.

Your children frustrate you, yet you continuously forgive them because you know they need your help and will eventually see your grand plan for them. Habits, like children, need your forgiveness and love. When the bad habits happen again, accept them for what they are. You are not a failure. You are working towards creating a healthier life, and this is part of the journey. Take a deep breath, forgive yourself for succumbing so easily again, and remind yourself of your goal. You are blessed with the opportunity to try again. Believe it or not, next time it will be easier.

The great news is that you can harness the power of your habits and achieve a healthier and happier life. Once your habits are trained, they become a roaring lion that works for you effortlessly and subconsciously; they are your most powerful tool for reaching your goals. Before long, you will walk past that candy dish (and every candy dish) wistfully and without hesitation. And you might just be 10 pounds lighter in your step.  Forgive yourself, keep trying, and celebrate every small win.  You CAN do this. Believe in yourself and the power of your spirit. I believe in you. Now forgive yourself, put that ice cream back in the freezer, get out there again, and harness those habits.

Choices and Chickens

Your journey is a result of a zillion choices. Some choices are big, like where you decide to go to college, or who you choose to marry. Obviously, those choices have major impacts on the course of your experiences. Yet even small, subconscious choices shape your own distinct path of life. I can think back to many small choices that I have made that have shaped my life and created who I am today.

When I graduated from pharmacy school and began working, my time off was extremely valuable. Between spending time with my husband and two small children, doing chores, and shopping for shoes (a pretty big priority), my time was limited. Even though I was fully focused on these responsibilities, I had a little tickle of an idea. Because I had enjoyed my time as a student at the University of Florida’s College of Pharmacy, I made a choice to sacrifice a few hours each week to return to the college and sit in the back of the pharmacotherapy classroom. I had every intention of merely sitting there re-absorbing the plethora of clinical information without that ominous concern for “what is going to be on the exam.” It felt good to be there in that learning environment again. It felt right … Hold that thought. We’ll get back to this in a sec.

Fast forward about nine years. Though it wasn’t my favorite topic, I took on the responsibility of teaching a lecture on Behavioral Barriers for Diabetic Patients. I had to stretch my thinking outside of the medication treatment itself; an area in which I had little expertise. It was not something I would have chosen to teach about, but I was thankful for the opportunity, so I pushed ahead and set a goal to teach myself about the struggles of diabetic patients beyond drug treatment. The lecture ultimately contained more global holistic issues that hinder a patient from reaching improved health outcomes. These included feelings of social stigma that may occur when having to give themselves insulin injections in public, and a lack of self-efficacy (which is basically self-confidence that “you can do this”) … Again, hold that thought, this will all make sense soon.

Another path-defining choice I made was to raise chickens. Yep, I am a crazy chicken lady. I love those little hens. They are great listeners when I need to practice any presentation. They just cluck and cluck, and tell me how awesome I am. I digress … Oh, yeah, I became a crazy chicken lady. You may not know this, but there is an actual attraction between chicken people (not romantically, but socially—come on; stay with me). Once we find out that the other person has chickens, we can sit and discuss chickens for hours; what color eggs they are laying, how they are molting during this hot weather, how those foxes are so annoying. You get it. We connect with each other on a chicken level … Again, wait for it, the wrap up is coming.

I could go on and on, but I at least wanted to give you a few examples. These small, sometimes subtle, choices helped me find the most rewarding and exciting journey in life.

Because I made a choice to spend that one hour of my off time to go back to learn more at my alma mater, I eventually was asked to not just sit in the back, but to assist in teaching a few topics. A few months later, I got a phone call I’ll never forget. I was invited by the College of Pharmacy to join their team as a faculty member in developing and growing what is now the very successful Center for Quality Medication Management at UF. I became a UF Professor!! What?!?!?!? I would never have dreamed it; what an honor to be able to be in that stellar learning environment with those amazing students, and they were going to pay me! I was humbled beyond comprehension (and still am).

As I evolved in my teaching career, I later took on the lecture section about behavioral barriers to address improved health outcomes. Because of this experience, I have grown to become a clinical expert who is now creating a concierge life enhancement business that not only helps patients with safe and effective medication usage, but truly guides them holistically to great success in achieving positive health outcomes. I gained the knowledge that if we, as pharmacists, truly want to help our clients/patients effectively manage their conditions and become healthier, we cannot merely counsel them on medications. If we truly want to help our patients, we must take the time to address all of the other influences in their life that are barriers to health success. These include providing coaching in nutrition and fitness, identifying social and economic hurdles, and addressing psychological factors that prohibit them from feeling that they can achieve great health outcomes (and deserve to). Because of that one lecture experience, I am blessed to be creating a business helping my clients in a personal, holistic fashion as a concierge pharmacist.

Now, what about those chickens? Well, because I made the choice to own chickens and become a crazy chicken lady, I have connected with many people that I might not have met otherwise. One of my connections has been instrumental in donating his time to help me create my website for my new business. What a blessing! Who knows how well my business would have kicked off if I had not met my amazing friend; if I had not chosen to become a crazy chicken lady.

In every moment of your life, you are making choices; choices that affect your next minute and your next. Sometimes we regret the choices we have made. Sometimes we don’t even choose, we just “move.” Buying coffee at Starbucks versus the local coffee shop may just lead to a personal connection that opens up a new opportunity. Choosing to be a nerd and stay home to read a book your friend recommended may just lead you to try out that idea that has been bouncing around in your head.

It is important to realize how your journey is influenced by every choice you make and to realize that YOU make the choices in your life (at least the choices that you control). How and what you choose will lead you to your next step in YOUR journey. You are creating your path of life that is uniquely YOURS. Avoid basing your choices on what your friends do, or what you think you “should” do to be accepted. I mean look at me. Owning chickens is not always what most people would choose. And if you try to choose like someone else, you won’t end up where YOU need to be. One of my favorite quotes is from Steve Jobs, the creator of Apple: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Be conscious of the decisions you make; be purposeful. Listen to your intuition; follow your heart. You will be glad you did when you arrive where you are truly headed.