I got an email this week from a close friend. He shared a note he’d received from a colleague who was suffering. The note was a desperate plea from a dying warrior, a man who’d spent his entire life building his dream – a thriving business – and now, long before he’d learned to stop and enjoy what he’d created, he was dying.

 “… After two years of suffering I think I’ve earned the right to send this note. There is no point having your dream job if you’re going to let it kill you. I managed to convince myself for years that waking up in the morning feeling like I hadn’t slept was all part of the job. That I just didn’t have time to eat properly, that I was just too tired to exercise, that I was just too stressed to meet up with old friends and just have a laugh, that everyone has to miss priceless moments on the weekends with loved ones just to be ready to go again on Monday. If this resonates with you STOP! TAKE A BREATH AND LISTEN TO YOUR HEART. That voice that tells you that you’ll address these issues once you’ve achieved this or that, or when you are older, or when you have finished an important job is not your friend, it’s your enemy. It’s time to listen to that other voice – the softer, kinder voice that says, ‘be kind to yourself, look after yourself, live your life how you want to, not how you think you have to.’ It is my personal belief that if you ignore what your heart is telling you for long enough, eventually it will make you listen, in the form of illness, not to punish you but to save you. My reason for writing this is in the hope that even one person can avoid experiencing the same fate as I …”

I gulped down hard as I read that, remembering the not-too-distant past when I was that man. Working obsessively … holding my breath … sacrificing my body … trying to find the courage to live with as much passion as I worked.

We talk about work/life balance as something separate and apart from life. As if the countless hours spent working and worrying about work and worrying about worrying about work were time, frozen somewhere in space, divorced from the other thing we call life. But it’s not, and when we read a story like the one above we’re reminded of this.

We are working ourselves to death. We call it cancer or heart disease or auto-immune disease and that’s fine. But just below the surface, beyond the label, we know the truth because it’s something we’ve felt our entire lives. Before the doctors gave it a name, we felt it. We are all dying of the same thing … a gaping hole in our heart, a lack of love, a sense that we’re not good enough, a belief that we’re unlovable.

And so we work … and work … and work in hopes of filling the hole or, at the very least, distracting ourselves enough to forget about the pain. But it’s all life in the end, and we all end up addressing the hole at one point or another. For some this comes as a trip to the therapist, for others a trip to the oncologist. For a moment we see clearly: we connect with the hole and sense there must be something more. But that hurts (unbearably), so we ease the pain with a stiff scotch or a pharmaceutical cocktail. And we are lost again.

That we can ease the pain with anything other than love is a myth, one that winds through the tall tales of our minds and the tall buildings of our cities. A myth engrained in our culture – its music, movies, and art. The myth is called the American Dream, an ideal that money and power derived from hard work are worth sacrificing our lives for, that they will heal our wounds, lift our spirits, and make us great. It sounds good. We get drunk on it. We consume it in mass quantities. It fills our history books and the heads of our children who read those books, alone, while waiting for us to come home from work, only to work some more from home. Then comes the day when the hole is too large and we can no longer hide; the day we find our whole life is lost in the hole.

From a hospital bed or a doctor’s waiting room we awaken, see the hole for what it is, and, while desperately wishing for a little more time and a lot more love, we write a note to our friends and colleagues ― “There is so much more to life …” we plead, begging them to listen. And perhaps they do for a moment, until they wipe the tears from their eyes and rush off to meet an important deadline.

We tend to read these messages and jump to the conclusion that work is somehow bad. Or worse still, that we are bad for doing so much of it. But that is all part of the same hole. It’s the voice of the hole, which taunts us with its message of insecurity, fear, and self-loathing. Instead, we have to go beyond the hole and listen to the message of our heart. Unlike the screaming of the hole, the heart speaks faintly, requiring that we get quiet and listen ― truly listen ― to hear its message. It speaks the message of truth: You are good. You are loved. Just as you are, without lifting a finger or doing a thing. As you sit here, reading this – “wasting time” ― you are worthy.

The first time I heard that message I cried. It released a lifetime of worry and struggle, of hiding in the shadows of success. It also sparked a troubling question, one that we all at one point or another (or perhaps many times) must come to terms with: “If I am good just as I am, why am I working so hard?” Or as an exasperated friend said to me once, “I’ve been lied to about love.”

I read a quote from Andrew Carnegie recently. He was asked why he never stopped, why despite having achieved wealth beyond his wildest dreams, he never took a break. He responded with the vulnerable truth: “I couldn’t stop. I’d forgotten how.”

Filling the hole ― healing our hearts ― begins by remembering; not just every once in a while as we sit at a friend’s funeral or on the beach when the iPad is out of range, but a practice of remembering … again … and again … and again. Like the unwavering voice on your car’s navigation system, we must remind ourselves of our worthiness even as life leads us down one way streets, through wrong turns, and in to traffic jams … we must remember. You are good. You are loved. You deserve life … and love.

This remembering, for me, has come in the form of a daily practice of yoga, meditation, and nutrition, the very things (now trendy) you read about in glossy magazines and Twitter posts that always seem to fall under the heading of “5 Tips for a Better You!” Instead of using these practices to trick ourselves into working more, we can engage them as tools to remember the art of loving ourselves. I stretch my body not just to be limber but because yoga gives me the opportunity to care for every inch of my body and, in doing so, my body remembers that it is good. I meditate not to tune out my thoughts, but to embrace them, and to embrace myself. I practice accepting what I find inside when I sit, and in doing do so I remember that I am loved exactly as I am. I eat nutritiously not just to look good but to feel good, employing nutrition as a physiological hug for each of the trillions of cells that constitute my body, and in doing so, my cells remember that I am deserving of a healthy life. This is what daily practice is all about. And perhaps more importantly, this is what life is all about. Remembering.

I frequently end these posts with an invitation. This week I want to end more emphatically … with a plea that you remember, an urging that you stop what you’re doing right now, that you look into the hole past the stories and beyond the myth, and that you find the love. I want you to remember that you matter, that there is no honor in the sacrificing of this life you’ve been granted for any dream. Remember this not just today, but each and every day as you stretch, meditate, breathe, and nurture your being. You are good. You are loved. You deserve life. This is a truth worth dying for, but it is so much more beautiful to remember it while we’re living.

 

Big hugs of love,

 

Jason

I invite you to read my conversation with Entrepreneur Magazine:

Using Your Entrepreneurial Values To Avoid Burnout – Click Here

  1. Exactly what I need to hear. I recovered from cancer in 2013. However since October 2014, I have endured shingles, sepsis, and now Crohns. All the while working, thinking that I can push through and continue life “as is”. I reflect on these issues and feel the third Chakra may need attention. I tend to people please and not communicate my true thoughts – repressing negativity.

    • I love you for who you are, not for what you do. Take some time with that message today. Lie down, close your eyes, and, with your hands on your heart, and say it, gently, over and over to yourself. Big hugs of love – Jason

  2. Beautiful… I’ve slowly been creating a life I feel happy with, letting go of those beliefs around “work” has not been especially easy. Getting easier to let go and relax. Always good stuff in your articles!

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you Meredith. Forming new habits, especially around how we value and treat ourselves, is always difficult. We live in a culture where so often we’re taught to put ourselves last. Have lots of patience as you let go and relax — its a process of loosing your grip, bit by bit and loving yourself along the way. Big hugs – Jason

  3. It is sad but often true that we only evaluate our lives and what is truly important when a crisis hits. I like to consistently re-evaluate what I’m doing…to remind myself that spending time with my kids playing a game is something that they deserve and also that I deserve too. Those memories we share are something that I cherish greatly. No matter what achievements I make at work, it’s always there and never done, and this applies to the chores around the house as well (you have no idea how long it took me to accept the fact the laundry will never be finished – there’s always more!). Learning to let go, to share our love with others, and to love ourselves and doing the things we find important, makes such a huge difference. So many of your suggestions have become habits in my life, ones that I deserve and remind myself how much I am loved.

    I hope people listen to your message this week and really take it to heart.

    Big hugs of love to you and your family.

    Faith, hope and love, Kathleen.

  4. Jason, I want to read your posts but I have difficulty reading off the screen. When I print them the type face is very light. Is there some way it can be made darker? I don’t want to miss a word but I’m having a hard time reading the very light printed version as well. I’ve tried printing from the email and from the website. Please, help. Thank you, Chris~

  5. Thank you Jason. I also am one of “us” where an illness forced me to stop. As I slowly emerge from several years of life being turned upside down and inside out and not knowing if I’d make it – I did. However, as I continue to mend, the other side is full of questions and not knowing how the world really can feel once we step away from all things encompassing the “American Dream”. Working hard didn’t work. So what now especially in a world where the old paradigm is in full force. Intellectual understanding does not give way to what it means to live from wellness and spirit. I say this being in such financial strain and not knowing what the future looks like at all. All I know is that I have been called for radical self compassion and love. Perhaps from this place I’ll find my way…

    • Jason Garner says:

      Thank you Jas. I love that description – “radical self compassion and love.” From that place you have already found your way. Big hugs of love – Jason

  6. What if you are working at a job you hate be cause it’s the only one you can get, you can not afford healthy food even doing that, but your health and your children’s health would suffer- because lack of money really does kill you in this society- if you either quit, or muss 3 days and get fired?

    • Thank you Amanda for sharing so openly. So often in life it feels like we have little choice, like the walls are closing in. In those moments, like the one you describe, we can only do what is possible for us at that moment. What is possible for you right now? What can you do that is feasible and real to allow a little light and love into your own situation? Big hugs of love and compassion – Jason

  7. Jason what a beautiful post. As someone who spent my entire life working for work’s sake, I can relate to so much of what you say. These days, having stopped practising as a lawyer — that’s another story! — I feel a whole lot better, but it’s still too easy to get out whack when something grabs me and I feel the desire to prove something to my egoic self. Right now I’m going further with my practice of self-inquiry, and I very much hope, not via some blinding flash of the obvious, but a beautiful unfolding that I’ll come to find why I’m here and how I can channel all my passion for life into something more meaningful. Yours, Julian.

  8. What a wonderful article Jason. Very well said. Unfortunately, it describes my life to a T. Not too good, huh? Very unhappy with life right now. Stuck in a going nowhere career, health problems abounding and not a lot of love for life whatsoever. I’ve needed a change for a while now. I think my body, and spirit, are telling me that also. And I want to make some changes in the most desperate way. Life is much too short to be miserable. Thanks again for the words of wisdom.

    • Thank you Jay. If you send me your address I’ll mail you a copy of my book which is my story of getting unstuck. You’re not alone. big hugs – Jason

  9. This is so true! And it’s the situation that I’m in right now……I feel absolutely hopeless and helpless, because I’m not sure what direction to take…..quit a job that’s killing me and basically never allows me to have a life….but I make decent money vs. having a job that I love but making crappy money……oh what to do!!

    • Very true words in this post. Ultimately all the money & social standing in the world is useless, if life quality sucks. Seems so obvious, but it’s forgotten so quickly when in the trenches. Making space regularly seems paramount to move in the right direction gradually.

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