Have you ever felt like you made a really big mistake only to realize later that it was in fact the jumping off point to something better? I recently read a LinkedIn article by Deepak Chopra MD, entitled “My Best Mistake: Impulsive Rebellion,” explaining how one of his biggest mistakes—walking out on a tyrannical supervisor who then blacklisted him as a doctor—led him to explore the path of alternative medicine for which he is so well known today.
He said, “My impulsive rebellion was instinctive and yet very unlike me.” Oh, how I can relate. There were two big decisions—that at the time, I feared might be mistakes—that led me to healthier eating, and eventually, my work in nutrition. The first was in 1999.
I had been in a relationship for 12 years, the last three of which we were married. We were literally the boy and girl next door, and fell for each other immediately upon meeting at age 17. We started officially dating at 20 (let’s hear it for the late-bloomers) and were together until 32.
Not long into our short marriage I became increasingly frustrated with our inability to live a responsible and happy life as a couple. No problem had emerged in our marriage that had not been there before, but the construct of marriage had given me hope that things could be different. We were utterly stuck, and I soon realized that the idea of marriage helping a relationship was a flimsy foundation on which to buy a wedding dress.
I anguished over the word “divorce” and played out the reactions in my head to delivering the news to my family and friends. Two lives would forever be changed by this one decision—this one potential mistake. While my final decision to divorce was not impulsive, it was definitely instinctive. I felt like I had been treading water for some time and a shark was heading my way. I knew that there had to be a bigger purpose to my life than reruns of Seinfeld and dinners at Jack in the Box, where, believe it or not, we got engaged over greasy tacos.
After we parted ways, my life began to change in very deliberate ways. I was driven to know myself better, improve areas of my life that I had ignored (like my health), and find joy by reconnecting with the things I loved to do. First on my "to do" list was to take up salsa dancing. Second was to dump the Standard American Diet (SAD) that we had grown so accustomed to as a couple. I was a health nut at heart who had lost her way.
I started to eat better right away, but with little nutrition education under my belt, it took me a while to get the hang of it; but I eventually did! And if I had not followed through with that decision that I feared might be a mistake, I am certain I would not be in such good health—physically, mentally and spiritually—as I am today at age 46.
As for my ex, in the years that followed we remained friends and talked about how the decision to divorce, although hard at first, had changed both of our lives for the better. It had kicked us and our immaturity off the couch and into greater purpose and confidence, things we had both desired but couldn’t quite realize when we were together. The romantic sentiment “two as one” had become a stumbling block that we needed to jump over if we were going to fly as individuals. This obviously is not the answer for every struggling couple, but it was for us.
He went on to earn his Master’s degree and travel the world as an English teacher, learning languages, meeting people from all over, and discovering his own passions. And I began a new chapter as a healthier person, as well as began a new career as a writer and editor, which leads me to my second big “mistake.”
In 2006 I was the managing editor of a well-read, national trade magazine, and I was miserable. I had climbed the ladder to this, my dream job, only to learn in time that it would require some unfortunate trade-offs: mainly my off-time and my dream-time, not to mention quite a bit of my drive-time, crying at the wheel after yet another day of stress (and increasing heartburn), wondering if this is what success felt like for other people.
Unlike Deepak Chopra, who made his “mistake" while being berated by his supervisor, I was sitting at home editing another writer’s poorly written article on its way to print, and I remember saying out loud to myself, “That’s it!” I was done, done, done cleaning up other people’s shoddy work! I had considered resigning in the past, but couldn’t bear the thought of being seen as a quitter in the face of adversity, and leaving a job I had worked so long and hard to get.
Would this be a mistake? Would I regret it? I wasn’t sure at the time, but I knew one thing: I needed to change how I was feeling. After resigning, my gut reinforced to me that it was not a mistake and to give it time, to have faith in myself and my instincts. I didn’t want to land in this situation again, so I started brainstorming a new career with a job coach, which led me to work in teaching and nutrition (you can read more about that process here).
And here I am, still doing what I love: writing, editing, creating and connecting with others, but on my own terms and with improved health and much less stress. Now that I am actually doing work that I’m passionate about, and in a way that feels good to me day-to-day, I am much happier. I also sleep like a log, and now when I drive I sing instead of cry.
What I thought might be a mistake turned out to be a powerful springboard to the next exciting, but vastly more rewarding chapter of my life. “The only way to see if there are demons lurking outside the circle is to crawl over the boundary that protects you,” said Chopra, noting that walking out on his supervisor was the real start of his “revelatory” life.
We seem to learn early in life to “hang in there” at all costs, and that if we walk out, fall down, move on, or break up, that we are weak. But what if the opposite is really true? Aren’t these the very things that most often make us stronger? I had to break up with the SAD diet, and fall down time and again while learning to eat better, to get to where I am today.
If I hadn’t listened to myself and moved on from chronically dissonant situations in my life, I would not have discovered what true health really is, food-wise and life-wise. Who knows, your next big “mistake” may very well be a door of opportunity just waiting to be opened.
What was a “mistake” that helped lead you to a healthier life? Please feel free to share below. Thank you!