I’m an explorer at heart.

When I was a child I spent hours poring over my parents’ National Geographic magazines. I imagined being a photojournalist or archaeologist traveling to exotic lands, visiting incredible cultures and seeing sights few had ever seen.

The Indiana Jones trilogy – and Harrison Ford – certainly didn’t diminish my interest in exploration.

In university I majored in anthropology and English. I was fascinated with the study of other cultures. I jumped at the opportunity to go on a 6-week archaeological field trip to Belize, Central America. It brought my textbooks to life. I was twenty years old and it was far from home, but such an incredible experience.

I decided, though, that I didn’t want to pursue archaeology professionally, and finished my undergrad having no idea what I wanted to do.

Then I got lost for a very long time.

I went through various jobs in the early years, working hard and expecting to find it – the ideal career where I’d feel fulfilled, happy and content.  But no matter the situation, I felt like something was missing from my life.  I had this nagging, aching sense that things weren’t right, as if my life had gone off course.

Then I thought it must be wanderlust. So I traveled and experienced new things.  And though it was wonderful, it didn’t fill the painful void deep within.

On the surface, my life looked amazing – great husband, supportive family and friends and a good job.

So why couldn’t I just be happy?!

I felt like something was wrong with me. Although I was grateful for my life and the people in it, I felt like I was floundering.

For 20 years I went through life doing what I thought made sense, but still felt empty. I’d stuff the feeling down and push through each day with a smile, but the emptiness resurfaced more strongly again and again until I could no longer ignore it.

Finally, I reached out to a life coach for help.  That was a turning point for me and the beginning of my inner exploration.

Did my coach have magical answers as to why I felt lost, unfulfilled and empty? No. And if she did, that wouldn’t have helped me. Instead, she did something far more important.  She helped me shine a light deep within so I could look beyond the layers of what others expected of me and what I expected of myself, to figure out what makes me tick, what’s important to me.

I finally allowed myself the quiet reflection I really needed to hear the stirrings of my soul. And in the process, I found my path. And I found joy.

I realized I had been looking outside of myself – to careers, people, exotic locations – to fill the void. It took me two decades – and a lot of inner work and trial and error – to realize that looking externally for happiness just doesn’t work. Not over the long haul.

Now I listen to my heart’s whispers and go where it leads, and the explorer in me is content. Though I still love to wander, I no longer look outside for joy and fulfillment – I find it within.

When I lose sight of my path or feel like I’m traveling in circles, I take a step forward – a single step. Then I allow myself to slow down, go within and really listen – and the answers come.

And I’m so grateful.

Originally written for Live Through the Heart

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