Today’s *shared stories* come from photographer Nicola Taylor and life coach Stanlee Panelle
For me, doing what you love begins with consciousness. What do I mean by that? I mean that sometimes we just have so many options available to us that it’s hard to know what we’d love to do. We don’t know which is the right thing for us and we expect that, when we find it, we’ll hear angels singing the Hallelujah chorus and a beam of light will shine down from the heavens, illuminating that one thing that will make it all complete. I don’t know about you, but that hasn’t been my experience. I spent a long time doing something that wasn’t what I loved and it took me a good couple of years of hard work just to clear the decks and figure out what to do next.
To take you back to the beginning of my story, two years ago I was working as a stockbroker in the City of London. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing and, to be honest, I had no idea how I had got there. I think I had just stopped looking at the big picture and started focusing only on the choices in front of me. I did that job for seven years and I think I was happy for two of them. The rest were just wasted in stress and worry and fear that I couldn’t actually do anything else.
I think we all want the transitions to be smooth and easy but the truth is I couldn’t have known at that point that I wanted to be a photographer. I couldn’t see it from there. It’s kind of like being in a valley. You need to get to a higher vantage point in order to be able to see further afield. Sometimes, when all you can see are the mountains in your way, the first step is just trying to get to higher ground.
The moment of truth came for me on a January morning when I was meeting with my boss to allocate the many stressful and lonely business trips we had to take throughout the year. I remarked on how busy we were going to be and he turned to me and said “It’ll be November before you know it.” NOVEMBER. Almost 52 weeks gone…just like that. And the implications of that comment hit me between the eyes like a sledgehammer. As long as I was in that environment where a year went by in a blink of an eye, I would never have the space or the perspective to decide what I wanted to do next. I would never get a smooth transition. There was nothing else to be done. I would have to leave and face the discomfort.
I gave my notice a month later with no idea what I was going to do. I was fortunate in that my career had been very well paid and my unconscious had been protecting me by forcing me to be frugal for the past few years, so I had some savings and I decided to take a year off, a kind of sabbatical. I’m not the kind of person who can just wander aimlessly so I set myself things to do throughout the year, things that would keep me on track. A yoga teacher training in Bali, a writing retreat in the Scottish Highlands, an art retreat in New Hampshire and a nine month photography course at the London College of Communication.
And, although I didn’t know it at the time, everything was unfolding in just the right sequence. The yoga training was like a reset button for my life and gave me back my connection to my gut instinct. The writing retreat allowed me time for reflection on my life and the things I wanted. The art retreat gave me a tremendous sense of community and the bravery to try something with no idea whether I‘d be any good at it or not. And then, when it came to the photography course, I was ready. Everything that was inside of me was primed and ready to be expressed. And it was a little like the Hallelujah Chorus. But the angels could never have found me sitting on my butt in that cubicle. I had to take the first steps myself.
My big dream now is to continue exploring my own newly discovered creativity and, in time, to help others find theirs. I had written myself off as not being a creative person and that couldn’t have been further from the truth. In reality, I was paralysed by my own expectations of what an artist is and the judgments of my school art teachers. Not that they were wrong (I could show you a clay sculpture of a seal I made that would make you pee your pants laughing) but what they forgot is that creativity is so much more than technical artistic ability. We are all innately creative and we all have access to a medium that works for us, a medium that allows us to express ourselves with joy. I’m making it my mission in life is to convince people of the first and to help them find the second.
Doing what I love means feeling happy, fulfilled and useful every day! I know that I am a beneficial presence in the world, that my life has meaning and I make a difference in the world. I have found my Life Purpose and I am grateful not only to be alive today but also, to have had every experience along the way, no matter what it felt like in the moment. But it wasn’t always this way. I am over 60 and my True, Authentic, Life of Joy and Purpose wasn’t in practice until 12 years ago.
I had a bit of a rough childhood. Not the worst by any stretch, but still, not at all pretty. Like many young women blessed with some physical attributes I lost myself and later, as I recovered from addiction, I realized my life had been like a huge mansion with all the lights on inside, costumes hanging in every window so I could appear to be whatever pleased someone else… but, no one was home! I didn’t know myself. I was an empty shell - a Barbie Doll…
At age 40, 3 years after my second divorce, a date-rape and having sent one of my sons to live with his dad, I started a relationship that would end 7 years later in violence. Of course that triggered the depression I had been fighting with since I was 11 years old, and after over a year of being handled like a piece of evidence in the Domestic Violence trial, I was so suicidal I wound up in a mental hospital just to stay safe. I realized suddenly and with an awesome clarity that I did not belong there in the same what that some did. I was strong, healthy, smart and capable and I needed to do something with my life.
Right after I escaped from my abuser, my 77 Year old Mother was diagnosed with Breast Cancer from too many years of HRT. Within two weeks of landing in her safe place, we found ourselves both, unemployed and homeless. In pretty raggedy shape, I decided that The Universe, in It’s Infinite Intelligence was somehow supporting me as we found a beautiful home, owned by a family friend, to land in and I realized that I needed to “bloom where I was planted”. It was time to get a grip on my Self and my Life while being of service to loved ones that needed me to be all that I could be.
So, while caring for my aging and ill Mother, helping my son be a father to my first grandchild, going to therapy and support groups and as many spiritual growth events as I could get to, I started back to school to complete my BA degree. It was a weird, impoverished and rich time of life! On unemployment, (General Relief and Food Baskets for a minute before that even!), with my education sponsored by The Department of Rehabilitation I slowly began to recover. I was giving and receiving at an awesome rate at a ground floor level of survival and I began to get in touch with myself, my needs and wants, my feelings, my fears and my dreams and passions. I pulled out of recovery mode and flew into creation mode. I started dancing again and found pure bliss. I trained as a Ballroom Dance Instructor and started teaching for the local recreation department, which oddly enhanced my physical recovery from injuries. My mom would say, “You’re as poor as a church mouse and happy as a Lark”. Great metaphor in the long run … Life was good.
I got my BA but was struck with ageism at 50 and short time to accumulate a retirement so looking at my future productivity and knowing I just wanted to dance forever, I went on to get a MA in Marriage and Family Therapy with the idea in mind that my age would be an advantage and, I could probably sit with people until about 10 minutes before dead while making a living that would support my dancing. The second week of my Masters program I fell in love with it! I found myself!! I remembered how all my life people had said I should be a counselor or therapist and I just shrugged it off as some sort of compliment I didn’t feel I deserved. Now, I was there and it was the most meaningful thing. It put all my history into perspective and made every pain, tear, heartbreak, trauma and ugliness positive and purposeful I could understand, relate to and empathize with everyone’ issues. I had recovered from, and overcome so much that I was powerfully endowed with the ability to help others see their way to a brighter side of life as well!
Today, I practice as a Life Coach with the honor and privilege of witnessing others heal, learn, grow, deepen and expand their lives into what they dreamed of and had given up on. Every day I am reminded that nothing can overcome me. I am gratified to be of service to others and humbled by the intimate view I have of humanity’s resilience, determination and ability to create something beautiful out of ugliness and misery. I can teach, because I know, that Life is unfolding exactly as it should, the Universe is a friendly place always conspiring for our greatest and highest good and everything we experience has meaning purpose that can be a gift – if we let it.
So, as I move into the final stretch of my life journey with purpose, passion and meaning discovered and blossomed so late in life, I love what I do! And I only do what I love … I help others find their way to Joy through Life Coaching and through teaching Social Dance. I am building a community and a movement of Wise Women to help lead our world with their wise, loving voices and, since my Mom died I am consciously preparing for my own graceful exit from this world. I am reducing my “stuff” to fit into a suitcase because I intend to buy a Time Share I can live in year round while leading this Wise Woman Movement, Coaching clients and dancing all over the world! It’s a big dream and I can do it.
Living so much of my time here unconsciously has taught me to die with consciousness grace. My kids will know I have lived well but they will only have a suitcase and a small box I have already labeled “After I’m gone”, to handle. Then, they can go on vacation with the insurance money I’ve accumulated for them, in the Time Share they will inherit and my entire life will on earth will be a 100% success!
[All images courtesy of Stanlee Panelle. To find out more about Stanlee visit her here]
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