I got off the bus. It was in the middle of nowhere. No traffic light. No stop sign. No sidewalk. No paved road. No one in sight. It looked more like a desert than anything else. Vast. Endless. Empty. And there I was.

This is how I felt when I quit my job.

Almost always, I planned where I was going. I was a good kid who listened to my parents and teachers; I always did homework and never broke curfew. Overachiever with a Ph.D. Good wasn’t good enough. I was like a racehorse with blinders. I was taught to focus with no distraction.

With my Ph.D., opportunities opened up for me. However, as my resume became longer with more responsibilities and achievements, my dissatisfaction and unhappiness also grew. Despite my strong work ethics, my internal motivation gradually plummeted. I felt something was missing. Not exactly what I expected after years of planning, preparation, and hard work. What went wrong? I asked myself.

The desert looked nothing like what I had seen before in my life. Since I was young, life felt more like a swimming pool with lanes. There were a beginning and an end. There were rules to abide by; a referee to signal me to get ready and fellow swimmers to compete with. We stayed in our lane in a pool and were told how many laps to complete. Our race was timed. The faster, the better. There were a winner and loser. Shame came with being left behind. I made a series of strategic decisions not to fail at all costs. Just like fuel propels the car, fear drove me.

Suddenly, I wasn’t sure how all the rules that had once served me would help me in this new space.

I remembered the first time I saw the bus. It looked fancy, at least from outside, that would impress people even with discerning taste. I thought the bus would take me to cool places of excellence, pride, and prestige. I still remember the envious eyes of my friends and flattering remarks of my parents when I announced the news that I was on board. I felt good about myself.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that the bus wasn’t right for me. The bus was heading a different direction than what I expected. And, it was crowded; not enough seats for everyone. Some people were frustrated and others were discouraged. And some people seemed to be right at home. 

The more disenchanted and discontent I became with the bus ride, the more I thought of envy in the onlookers for the bus. I felt ungrateful to complain about my privileged position.

Getting off the bus seemed like a crazy idea considering a sense of security it provided. Yet, staying on that bus seemed costly too; I saw myself becoming like a deflated balloon. This wasn’t the best version of myself I had in mine.

After a brief moment of farewell with fellow passengers, I got off the bus. I was no longer a passenger on the bus – I quit my job. I felt as if I was a space capsule separated from its launch vehicle rocket quietly coasting into space. This wasn’t the stop I had in mind. This wasn’t part of my plan. 

Some friends and colleagues were excited for my adventure to unknown whereas others looked rather concerned. 

I wondered when the next bus would come. I wondered if any bus would ever come. How long would I be here? I felt terrified, yet excited with an overwhelming sense of freedom.

I needed to pause to evaluate my life and priorities and ensure the path that I want to be following. I was always on the go. I was everywhere but here and now.

I started to take better care of my emotional, mental and physical well-being. I practice yoga and meditation every day to stay centered and grounded. I keep my journal to express my innermost thoughts. I work to replace a voice of criticism and judgment with a voice of compassion and encouragement. I make a conscious effort to understand my emotion better and use it constructively as a tool to take better control of my life. During my break, I found creativity and strength in solitude and self-reflection. I realized that I had the power within me that I never tapped into.

I invest in myself. I read incessantly to learn from the world’s most creative and innovative thinkers. I learn new skills. Resources are everywhere. Simply more than I can handle. I reach out to people whom I admire for inspiration, connection, and support. I haven’t been more internally motivated and engaged than ever before. I haven’t been more connected with myself and people around me than ever before.

Now, life is like a desert, not with emptiness, but with endless possibilities and imaginations. I see its beauty. 

I realized that we have rules to support people and organizations, but they can also be challenged, broken and radically modified. Instead of a win-lose game, we can aim for a win-win game by encouraging and challenging one another with greater empathy, compassion, and connection to build more trusting relationships. Failure should be celebrated and embraced with lessoned learned. No room for shame there.

Most of all, the greatest gift from this unexpected detour has been a discovery of my heart, a built-in GPS that I hadn’t activated to its full potential, to guide my journey. It’s turned on and fully functioning. As long as I stay connected and communicate with my heart, I am in good hands to live a meaningful, purposeful and fulfilled life no matter what my job title may be. Ultimately, I am the architect, designer, and sculptor of my own life. With a new-found perspective, I am open to what life has to offer. And I am ready to receive.