A Delayed Epiphany
Have you ever had a “life-changing event”?
I remember hearing stories about such occasions and how they set the people they impacted on a different, marvelous trajectory. I listened to them wistfully, then warily, as the years passed and mine never arrived. By the time I hit my thirties, I had had a few different phases of life — fashion school, co-founding a clothing company, going back to school and finishing my Bachelors in Philosophy, moving to California, a couple of semi-serious partners, a couple of semi-serious jobs.
They were all interesting and I learned things from them, but I hadn’t had a real epiphany that completely shifted things for me. I didn’t feel I was living with purpose, I didn’t particularly love my life, and I didn’t particularly like who I was. It was all okay, nothing extraordinary. Over time, the dreams I’d had as a child of being an artist, hell-raiser and adventurer had been overshadowed by habits of consumption and rationalization. I was plagued with a disempowering mindset of overwhelm and armchair criticism that made change seem frivolous, pointless or impossible. Easier to just pass the time on the sofa with a glass of wine like a normal adult.
When I looked around, I saw other people heaped in a similar struggle — somewhat aimless, lacking motivation, a little bewildered by the reality of adulthood. We were in debt or out of shape, resigned to our daily grind. There weren’t a lot of relationships I aspired to replicate. I found people tiring or intolerable, myself included. I woke up in the morning often with some residue of the previous night’s alcohol intake and sighing heavily, would force myself to face the day.
It wasn’t a joyful, inspired existence. I was in a pot of water that had heated to almost boiling and I didn’t realize I could leap out at any time. I continued to medicate my discomfort with alcohol, which kept me in there much longer than I should have stayed. There’s alcohol abuse on every branch of my family tree and I realized at some point that if I didn’t change something, I had plenty of examples of how my story would play out.
It took a year, and some big changes to my environment, but I finally decided to take a break from drinking. I had all but given up hope on a real life-changing event and didn’t even consider that sobriety could be the thing that shifted everything. I honestly didn’t think alcohol played such a starring role in my life. I thought it was helping me deal with my struggles.
I didn’t realize that it would be this damn simple:
What I put in is what I get out.
Removing alcohol from my routine changed everything. It removed the intoxicating ingredient from my life, shifted the focus to observing what I could now see clearly. It was surprisingly less painful to feel the things instead of avoid them. I was learning so much about myself. I began to lead with curiosity instead of all-consuming fear.
I could consider what goals and dreams I wanted to guide me, assess different processes of reaching them, work more meaningfully on the relationships of the people around me that would help me reach my potential. Encounters with those around me became a delight. It altered my experience of life from a hamster wheel of drudgery to a veritable exploratorium of new experiences, opportunities of growth, and profound, shimmering moments of human connection.
In this new paradigm, engaging with my life is an incredible opportunity. I recognize now that I don’t have a mountain of obligations, I have an abundance of choices. It’s still emotional labor, but it’s manageable. When I view a commitment as a choice, it becomes an investment instead of a debt. And investments build legacies rather than invite near-constant disaster.
If I apply this principle to my past, I see it function perfectly. When I was putting in wine (instead of being clear and present with my feelings), and spending time in modes of judgment (instead of curiosity), I was getting toxic, stagnant outcomes.
We get out what we put in.
I have discovered this to be such a simple, effective truth. Put in care, nourishment, respect; put in trust and friendship; put in emotional honesty; put in gratitude for the things that go well and the lessons learned; put in good nutrition, water, exercise and rest… and the outcomes will reflect it handsomely. The inputs become habits and the benefits compound.
I am still so new to using this principle for good that it’s scary to trust it fully, but I am starting to understand that if I continue to put in quality, that is what will meet me on the other side. I will lose interest in relationships or endeavors that snag the system. They will simply not be appealing.
When I was longing for the life-changing event to finally arrive at my doorstep, I didn’t realize I had such agency in inviting it. I thought it would have to first show up with trumpets and confetti for me to make the changes that I knew I needed to make. But it turns out it all starts with my choices.
What will I feed the system?
What will I offer day after day?
Will I put in the best ingredients I can find?
Will I allow myself to change?