I couldn’t hold back my tears.
I didn’t want to cry in front of everyone, but it felt so good to let go.
I’d been trapped in my mind all day and I was exhausted.
I was at one of the picnic tables at Urban Herbivore, a vegan restaurant in Kensington Market, while my parents, my older brother and his girlfriend sat patiently next to me.
I was 24 years old, and a management consultant at one of the top firms in the world. I had wanted this job more than anything, and now that I had it, I couldn’t comprehend this deep and vaguely sick feeling that was consuming me from inside.
I struggled to find the words that could made sense of it all.
I was stuck.
I was anxious.
I was lost.
I was afraid to be seen this way, and at the same time I desperately wanted to feel seen and understood.
Looking back now on that chapter of my life, I can see how hard I was working to avoid facing my fears. So much of what I did was an attempt to suppress or ignore what was going on inside me—I drank, smoked and swiped through Tinder hoping I might find some inner peace.
I was obsessed with where I was going.
Always trying to get “there”, to experience some idealized future when everything would be OK. When I would know my purpose, when I would feel confident and when I would be intrinsically motivated to do something meaningful and impactful for the world.
Little by little the present moment—this... here... now...—had become inadequate, incomplete and, at times, unbearable.
I did realize it at the time, but I was spending most of my energy condemning what I was experiencing—judging, complaining, and fighting back the frustration that was growling and growing inside me.
I couldn’t accept it, but I was angry.
I was angry with myself for not being grateful or content with everything I had going for me in life. I was angry with myself for not being able to live up to my own expectations of myself.
I wanted so badly to reconnect to the times in my past when I felt truly alive. Engaged. On fire. Limitless and happy. I got nostalgic thinking about all the things I did when I was “who I used to be”—my days in business school, the GIVEproject, the nights I spent with friends making music and speaking from our hearts.
The voice in my head kept telling me to “grow up,” but I was afraid I was losing touch with the magic of life.
Around that same time I decided to book a nine-day solo trip to Panama, on a whim. I wanted to disconnect from this world and reconnect with myself. It was more than a “reset”—I wanted to shut my day-to-day life off completely and step outside of it, into everything else that I was missing in life.
That was my intention, at least, without really knowing how it would all work out.
One morning during the last week of a three-week “due diligence” (a notoriously intense type of project in the consulting world), I booked a ticket to Panama for that Friday.
I remember racing to finish my work in the Uber ride to the airport.
I finally shut things down and lifted off.
In Panama, time slowed down and at several points I completely forgot about my life back in Canada.
I left my phone behind in my bags and spent the days in contemplation, surfing with my hostel mates, and dancing in the open-air discotheque at night.
I wrote a bit, as well, and this was the final entry I left for myself in my journal on the last night of my trip, as I lay swinging in the hammock just up the hill from the discotheque:
I believe these intentions were inspired by Deepak Chopra’s How to Know God, a book recommended to me by a close friend, as well as Ram Dass’ Be Here Now.
These words were the breadcrumbs I was leaving to bring myself back to the realization that it was time to let go.
Let go of the anger I was holding on to.
Let go of the need to please everyone and perform.
Let go of the need to be anywhere other than where I am in this moment.
I returned to work and within the first day it seemed like I had forgotten everything—I was back living in my old illusions, wearing my old beliefs like a dirty pair of glasses.
But a seed had been planted—I had experienced a transformative shift during my trip—and deep down I knew that my sole purpose was to help this seed to grow.
Years later I am still tending to that seed, and it has since burst through the soil and is growing into a beautiful tree. Life’s storms have tested its will, but ultimately made it stronger—more deeply rooted and more engaged in life.
And it’s still growing, drawing energy from the world around it while sharing its fruits, shelter and life-force in return.
I know a lot of people who can relate to my story.
In fact, the more I share it, the more people reach out to let me know they’re on a similar path. They know about this “seed” and how it shows up in their own lives.
Cultivating it is one of the most meaningful things we can do in our lifetime. I see it as both a deeply personal project, as well as something we can better understand through sharing it with others.
And I’d love to hear your story.
Does a similar theme run through your life?
What are you cultivating right now in your life that’s most meaningful to you?