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Kari Zabel Headshot

Unscripted (Kari's Story)

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STRESSED AT WORK
Jessica Peterson via Getty Images

I've been thinking a lot about life scripts -- the stories about our lives we project ourselves into, sometimes unconsciously. You know them well. The usual offenders are those who tell us what kind of job we should have, what we should value, whether or not we should want kids, what we should do to have what we "need" materially and at what age. These scripts are usually riddled with "shoulds" and encourage us to toe the line -- to accept and conform to societal expectations.

I was caught between a few of these life scripts a few years ago following a pretty serious depression. I had been teaching yoga more or less happily for several years when I succumbed to pressure to be "more than just a yoga teacher." I needed "financial security" and a "real job." I had always been fascinated with cities and how they change and grow over time and was accepted into a masters program in urban planning at Cornell. It was pretty brutal. I never felt like I did enough, and by extension, was enough, to compete with my bright-eyed, type A, 20-something classmates. I managed to stay afloat my first semester, but slowly unraveled from second semester on. Despite depression that made it hard to get out of bed to go to class or even take exams during my second semester, there was a lot of inner dialogue that told me I had to stick it out.

I expected my summer internship to reignite the passion. My actual day-to-day work was mind-numbing and I didn't even envy the duties of my superiors who spent most of the day jumping through bureaucratic hoops and attending endless meetings to reach even the smallest of successes. While my classmates may have been envious of my summer position, I was lethargic and uninspired by what this "real job" would look like. I listened to the reprimanding voice within and returned back to my second year of school.

I finally finished and did what I was supposed to do -- got a full time job with decent pay and benefits and a 401(k) plan. I worked a lot and slept little and quickly got depressed and unhappy again. I wondered what my future would look like if I continued to show up to a life that I didn't really want. So I quit. Not just the job, but the idea that a life or career had to look a certain way.

I began to teach yoga again, initially just to pay the bills since it was something I could easily do. But then I realized how much I genuinely enjoyed teaching. And I started to talk to my students and really see them. The cracks in the exterior started to show. When I really listened and paid attention, a lot of my students who came in with enviable jobs or finances complained they weren't happy. Their jobs gave them security but they wondered whether they were sacrificing their happiness, fulfillment or purpose. Many worked long hours and their bodies and spirits suffered. It was only during yoga class, particularly during the final surrender in the end of class, that there was a sense of true happiness and peace. Being whole.

"Practicing yoga" is both inner and outer work. It teaches us how to develop a sound, healthy and energetic body and a focused mind and how to be compassionate with others and ourselves. We go outward and then come inward. We learn to sit still, be with ourselves and do nothing. To stop running. And to listen. When we do slow down and listen, our own path becomes quite clear. Not everyone can or should quit their jobs or relationships, or do something grand like start a nonprofit or become a yoga teacher (although some might). We may simply repeat the mantra, "Om, it is only a job," or "Om, it is only money," and develop a more balanced and free way of looking at our life circumstances without so much resistance.

My favorite yoga teacher used to say that savasana (the final rest or corpse pose) is a constant reminder that our time here is really short and every day precious. We should be excited to wake up in the morning and meditate, drink our morning coffee, or go to work. Why waste time showing up for a life that you don't want, doing work that you don't value, or be around people that don't uplift or inspire you? Why martyr yourself by showing up for a life that isn't designed for you?

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.

Leonard Cohen

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