02/18/2015 11:34 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The One Important Lesson I Learned This Year


Don't do what you don't want to do.

It's been like a theme in my life. I think this lesson started a very, very long time ago. But it has been hard for me to learn.

Don't want to stay in a job that isn't fulfilling you? Don't do what you don't want to do. Oh, you did it anyway? Here, let me rip that rug out from under your feet. Oh, you did it again? Here, let me rip it a little harder this time, really have you see it. Haha, you did it again? Look, I love you, Carolyn, but don't do what you don't want to do! This time, I'm leaving you nothing to cling to, nothing to go back to. I'm burning this barn and the car in it. Don't do what you don't want to do.

It isn't necessary. You do not have to suffer to get by in this world.

I didn't want to get married. There was much water under the bridge with us by the time vows were exchanged. There was work that needed to be done before any further promises were made.

But I did it anyway. How could I tell all those guests who had flown hundreds of miles that it was off? How could I not have all that work I did to put together the most beautiful, hand-made wedding be appreciated? Beautiful bespoke invitations I designed myself and hand-addressed with calligraphy. A gorgeous Vera Wang gown. Favors and gifts that I had spent months designing and creating. A fabulous beach location. What I really wanted didn't seem important.

So, I missed the lesson that time. So, so, so many times! And it cost me.

My husband wanted to buy a house. I didn't want to buy a house. I wanted to see if I would even like living in Miami, and where would be my favorite place. But he felt strongly he had to buy a house. If not, then he would not move from Connecticut to join me in Miami. So, we bought a "house": a teeny-tiny condo on Miami Beach that was outrageously over-priced and not even finished yet. Never finished. We never got certificate of completion from the city. A year after he moved down, he went back and we filed for divorce.

Two years later, that condo was worth less than half what we paid for it. And then it burned down, nearly killing my dog and destroying everything I owned.

Don't do what you don't want to do.

Look, I'm not saying that when you do what you want to do, everything works out perfectly. Clearly, it doesn't. But it's worth it. You know you did your best to have it work out.

By its very nature, when you do what you didn't want to do, you didn't do your best. You pleased someone or something other than yourself.

And that was the real lesson for me. Why did I put so much into what others wanted, and not into what I wanted? Why was what I wanted unimportant? Why do I think I have to suffer?

I'm still working on the answers to these questions. But, I am willing to keep asking those questions rather than doing what I don't want to do. I am willing to face my fear of not pleasing others so that I can do what I want to do.

I took a big leap this year. I left a stable, lucrative job that could have supported me for the rest of my life. In exchange for my freedom. I had no idea I wanted freedom so much. More than money. More than pleasing others or fitting a social norm. More than a house. More than security. Apparently, more than anything.

Will I do what I don't want to do again? Who knows? But it's a lot less likely!