If despite a lifetime of diligence and hard work, you feel you are still searching for something that remains just beyond your grasp, then you, my friend, may be stuck in the hamster wheel approach to life. Hamster wheel people don’t give up; they will die trying to deliver the goods.
You may think you want a better job, more satisfying relationship, or healthier body. In reality, your restlessness isn’t about your income, your relationships, or your looks. It’s about feeling incomplete.
As a life coach, author, and Reiki master teacher, I am in the business of liberation. My purpose—personally and professionally—is sharing hope, possibilities, and empowerment with the world. I help people escape the self-imposed prison of the hamster wheel. For many years, their stories were my story, and they may be your story as well, but they don’t have to be. There is hope for getting off the wheel and living a life you love. It all starts with embracing the amazing and liberating possibility that the love of your life just might be you.
If you are like many others, you may doubt that falling in love with yourself is even possible let alone powerful. I assure you, it is. To help you begin to accept that you too have the power to embrace this reality, I will share with you the short version of my own personal story of transformation. The story of what happened in my own life when I finally fell in love with myself.
Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places
Mine is an all too common tale. Too many years on the wheel resulted in utter exhaustion and despair. I was the classic successful Type A overachiever. Sensible, driven, hardworking, and financially secure. Someone you could always count on to get the job done.
I began life in 1954 with a question mark over my head. Back then, medicine could not assure the survival of an “Rh factor” baby. Some required many blood transfusions. I was one of the fortunate few who needed just one.
Instead of perceiving my survival as a blessing and a gift, early on I concluded that I had to pack each day with output because I was, after all, operating on borrowed time and someone else’s blood. My response to a gift of grace was a lifelong marathon of trying to prove myself worthy through productivity.
Prove myself I did! Along the way, I earned a full scholarship to college and graduated summa cum laude in three years. Sounds great but at what price? Anorexic, ulcer ridden, and clinically depressed by age nineteen, I thought I had to re-earn my right to be here every day. To be worthy and safe, I had to control every aspect of my life, always pushing, always moving, always working, always doing. Looking back, I now realize that when I chose the following couplet from Sara Teasdale’s poem “Dust” (1966) as the caption for my college yearbook picture, even at age twenty-one I already knew somewhere deep in my soul that this way of living was a very slippery slope. Sara writes,
I almost gave my life long ago for a thing
That has gone to dust now, stinging my eyes—
It is strange how often a heart must be broken
Before the years can make it wise.
Although I was usually a quick learner, it would require three more decades of experience before I was finally compelled to act on that inner wisdom. Meanwhile, the world kept right on rewarding my perfectionism and incessant productivity. Fresh out of college, I got a job in management consulting, making partner in my first firm at age thirty. Over the next thirty years, I served as a senior partner in four of the world’s largest and most prestigious global professional services firms.
I had some wonderful times in that career. I traveled all over the world, mentored young people, and knew the satisfaction of doing good work. But even the most committed and productive individuals can shift from frustration to a sense of futility when their values, passion, work, and lives become disconnected. After decades of working nonstop with little attention to my personal health and welfare, my soul and my role had become increasingly separated, leaving me feeling disillusioned and betrayed by the very life I’d created.
One of the problems with not taking care of our health is that the effects of ignoring it are often slow to show up. We continue to juggle family responsibilities, work, and finances until we lose ourselves, waking up one day fifty pounds heavier in body and soul—no good to ourselves or anyone else. It’s no surprise that during the final years of my consulting career, obesity and profound depression defeated me daily. This led me to conclude that my only hope of escaping the rat race that was slowly killing me was to get it over with once and for all. The great irony was that while I started out feeling afraid I’d die if I didn’t keep working all the time, I ended up knowing I would eventually kill myself if I couldn’t find another way to make the pain stop.
The Art of Living
Yet as unbelievable as it may sound, today, in my late fifties, I find myself in the best health of my entire life. While I still have ups and downs, my days are permeated with deep peace, lasting joy, and meaningful relationships. These great blessings are the result of a journey to wholeness that began in 2005 when I retired from consulting. At that time, I was neither fit nor motivated to start another career. Though I completed a couple of graduate courses with the intention of starting my own organization consulting firm, I found myself too burned out to pursue it seriously.
For the first time in my life, I had no clear plan for my future, just the knowledge that I would have to find a way to heal my self-esteem and restore my mental and physical health even to have a future. In autumn 2006, when my son left for college, my husband and I moved from Virginia to Colorado, believing a dramatic change of scenery might provide a nurturing climate for my healing.
Inspired by Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way and still a consultant at heart, I embarked upon a path of self-healing involving rediscovering the artistic joys of my youth while facilitating groups around artistic recovery and discovery. In the process, I began teaching art privately on a small scale. Though I loved my work, the expenses of my small business substantially exceeded my income. Obesity and profound depression persisted. In a five-week period during the spring of 2008, my cat, my father, and my beloved pottery mentor died, adding the challenge of overwhelming grief to my daily mix.
Meanwhile, my husband had been trying to find work locally. After two years with no luck, we jumped at the chance for him to take a temporary ninety-day job back in Washington, DC, making money doing work he loved. The ninety-day assignment stretched to three years, with weeklong visits home every three to six months.
I remember the day his car pulled out of our drive as if it were yesterday. While I was supportive of our decision, I was both excited and anxious about living alone for the first time in my life. I had always assumed the role of perfectionist caretaker and confidante, first in my family of origin and then again in every relationship, job, and household. Who was I if there was no one else for me to take care of? The Universe definitely has a sense of humor. There I was, living alone at the age of fifty-five with responsibility for the only person in my life that I’d never taken care of—myself.
I spent the first four months hating being alone and bemoaning all the things I didn’t like about my life. Then one day, in a rare moment of clarity, I received a Divine download: “You can spend the next year making yourself miserable over all the things you can’t control, or you can see this as an opportunity. Is there anything that’s completely within your control and, if you achieved it in the next year, would plant joy firmly in your soul no matter what your other circumstances might be?” My response? “I have got to lose this weight.” The most incredible journey of my life began in that simple moment of grace.
My journey to wholeness started with regaining a sense of control over my physical care—what I ate and how I exercised. Losing eighty pounds—and keeping it off—is the part of the story that many people respect and even envy. But that was just the tip of the iceberg. If all I accomplished were to change my body through healthy eating and exercise, I would have stopped far short of the wholeness I was seeking.
I had my next life-transforming realization forty pounds into my eighty-pound weight loss―high on healthy fuel, cardio-induced beta-endorphins, and the thrill of, once again, being able to do something I set my mind to. While a healthy diet and significant daily exercise were necessary factors, they were only the price of admission to attaining the life of deep peace, lasting joy, and meaningful relationships I desired.
Once I understood that excess physical weight is often just a symbol for excess spiritual weight, I realized finding wholeness is not primarily about losing body fat. It involves caring enough about myself to create an environment in which I nurture and cherish all aspects of myself.
With this realization, the Universe tapped me on the shoulder once again: “The key to living a life you love is to feed all of your senses in a balanced way, so no one sense will take over, trying to fill voids it can never hope to fill.” I got the broader insight into this download another twenty pounds later. Sensory balance doesn’t just apply to the five outer senses through which we celebrate our external world but also to the four inner senses of creativity, vitality, spirituality, and belonging, through which we imbue our experience with meaning.
As one who suffered anorexia at age nineteen and obesity at age fifty, I believe both have their roots in an unhealthy relationship with food—trying to use food to fill un-food needs. For me, both were ways of coping with anxiety—misguided attempts to feel safe by creating the illusion of control over a life spinning madly out of control.
The major reason many of us can’t sustain the positive results of diet and exercise is that most programs do not get to the root issue—an imbalance in the care and feeding of our souls. I learned to pay attention to how I am feeding all of my senses—content and frequency—and whether each is being starved, smothered, or healthily sustained. While my weight loss certainly involved more mindful and nutritious eating as well as regular exercise, the degree of success and ability to sustain a healthier, happier, more harmonious lifestyle was much more dependent on balanced feeding of all nine senses.
Through daily self-reflection and written meditation, I started to recognize and adjust my sensory imbalances. In the process, I realized that the most important element in manifesting the life of my dreams was a stronger bond between my Source and myself. Through the power of that synergy, I found more-meaningful relationships with everyone and everything.
Discover the Love of Your Life—You!
Prolonged isolation gave me the opportunity to work on the relationship I had neglected my entire life—the relationship with myself. Stripped of my habitual pattern of avoiding my own needs and feelings by focusing on caring for others, I finally understood that loving and taking care of myself is one of the greatest gifts I can ever give myself or anyone else, because when I nurture and cherish myself, my very presence encourages and supports others. When I’m not taking care of myself, I’m not able to give my best to anyone or anything. I may put on a good show, but it will be a pale imitation of the real thing.
Where did these insights take me? Over a period of two years, I shifted from taking good care of myself to falling in love with myself. When I fell in love with myself, everything else in my life finally fell into place. The transformation was so profound, I could literally feel my soul and role reuniting in a new form. No longer a hamster trapped on a wheel but a vibrant, joyful, fully engaged woman. I said good-bye to obesity, along with a ten-year bout of debilitating chronic depression, and said hello to life!
At this point in my story, you may well ask, “What would falling in love with myself look like?” Remember the last time you fell in love with someone else? How did you treat the object of your affection? You probably thought about him a lot, paid attention to his needs, and treated him as if he mattered. Because, to you, that person did matter; he mattered a great deal. In fact, you probably became downright obsessed with every aspect of your beloved.
Falling in love with yourself looks just like that: paying attention and treating yourself as if you matter. Because you do; you matter a great deal. You are a unique cocreative expression of the Divine. You are the only you we’ve got. You are a precious natural resource not to be taken for granted. How could you ever be deemed not enough?
As I lived my new commitment to loving myself, I discovered that my sense of equanimity and fulfillment were greatest when I fueled my core energy in constructive and loving ways—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. But as I worked more deeply with the concept of love, I found the term to be nebulous, tricky, and easy to misunderstand. With experience, I was able to increase the clarity of my intention to love myself by adding the attributes of respect, curiosity, compassion, and gratitude. I discovered the following:
- Approaching myself and my life—every being, encounter, and experience—with love, respect, curiosity, and compassion always reveals and advances the highest good. Moment by moment, I know where, how, and when to invest my energy to move myself forward on my journey to wholeness.
- Maintaining a belief in abundance and an attitude of gratitude anchors each moment in a sense of generous, effortless, gracious flow—a life of freedom centered in being, not doing.
- Most surprising, important, and delightful of all, when I fall in love with myself again and again, everything else in my life really does just fall into place.
The result? I discovered my purpose gradually by committing myself to unwavering self-awareness grounded in cherishing myself unconditionally. As I did so, I came to understand that despite balance sheet evidence to the contrary, I hadn’t failed at making a living with my art. I had instead received a much more precious gift. I had saved a life, my own, through my art. By creating a life worth living, I had learned the art of living—enjoying the journey. My own life is my greatest creative work.
The journey that began with transforming my own life shifted naturally into meaningful work as an empowerment coach, author, and Reiki master teacher, through which I help others discover that health, peace, and joy are possible for them as well. If it’s possible for me, it’s possible for anyone. If any of us is worthy of such a life, we all are.
I close this chapter of my story where I began: mine is a story of hope; yours can be too. Fall in love with yourself and live the life you dream of. You are worth the effort.
For more insights into everyday approaches to loving yourself, read The Art of Extreme Self-Care by Cheryl Richardson.
Excerpt from “Choose Your Energy: Change Your Life!” © Copyright 2013-2018 DJW Life Coach LLC. All rights reserved.
What readers say about
the impact of Deborah’s book
“It’s almost axiomatic these days in the spiritual realm to say loving yourself first is the key to spiritual growth. But Deborah Jane Wells goes farther than just offering a platitude—she shows us what loving oneself looks like in the real world.
Her personal story of transformation is both inspirational and motivational. For outsiders looking in, Wells had something of a dream existence—meaningful high-paid employment at a well-respected top-level consulting firm. She held solid credentials, reaped monetary rewards and honest kudos from her peers. But after 30 years in the field, she found herself profoundly overweight, deeply depressed, unable to mine this outward appearance of abundance for a sense of inner contentment. Even her therapist at the time told her, ‘your job is killing you, you need to quit’—no easy task for one so richly rewarded. To just about everyone but herself, she appeared to be the epitome of success.
Fortunately for us beneficiaries of Wells’ wisdom, she took a five-year sabbatical to chart her path forward. As poet Rainer Maria Rilke suggests, she has ‘lived deeply into the answers’ to some of life’s deepest questions. She lost 80 pounds and kept it off, conquered depression and built a new and satisfying career as a Life Coach and facilitator.
I can relate to her ‘stuckness;’ that stuck in the mud inability to move forward. Stuckness can take many forms from unhappiness in marriage or career, to addictions and other patterns of self- destruction.
Her journey to spiritual wisdom and self-love is life changing, not just for her, but potentially for anyone who reads her book. Her compassion extends to others as she describes how to find and sustain a love of self that can propel individuals into personal transformation. And she manages to pull this off with incredible wit and panache. Be brave, follow Deborah’s example: read this book, learn to live the loving, fulfilling life you’ve always wanted.” Rev. Nicki Royall Peet, Celebrations Ordained Minister and author of The Shaman’s Daughter
“This book has honestly helped me transform my life, and I am truly grateful for the inspiration Deborah has given me through her words. With the clear cut directions in this book, I’m able to quickly identify limiting beliefs that are keeping me from moving forward, and transition those beliefs into positive action. I’ve personally broken through many barriers by doing this work, and would highly recommend this book to anyone, regardless of what stage of life they are in. In reading Deborah’s book, I was able to create my own affirmations to take me through my daily journey, which are posted all around my home and serve as a reminder of how far I’ve come. My book is full of sticky notes and highlights, and I’ll continue to use it throughout my life as a guide. Thank you, Deborah!” Heather Jones, author of The Double Standard in Dating
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What clients say about
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“I knew Deborah before she became a Professional Life Coach. I’ve been amazed at how she has changed her life. When I decided it was time to begin making decisions about the next phase of my life, I knew immediately that Deborah was the person I wanted to work with. Her personal and professional experiences help her guide clients through coaching in a way that is individualized and delightfully eye-opening. Her warmth and sensitivity are immediately apparent, even over the phone. With gentle encouragement and permission, she will guide you through an examination of your life, including difficult experiences. She will help you gain insight from your past choices and then explore possibilities for moving forward in less encumbered ways. When you work with Deborah, your life will take on new meaning and your potential will be limitless!” Chris
“The work I did with Deborah continues to change my life. While I have learned many valuable lessons from her, the greatest was the deep insight that is available to me when I listen to and learn from my own inner wisdom. Her intuition, discernment and encouragement have taught me to trust my own intuition—creating new paths and possibilities for my life. One of Deborah’s great gifts is helping others respect and connect with their inner guidance and through that connection, to form a deeper, more meaningful bond with the collective wisdom and energy of all.” Ryan