“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

Nora Ephron

About two years ago, I left New York City. I moved for a higher-paying job in a less-chaotic city that was closer to family. I went in search of an easier existence, though I’m still not sure why I thought “easier” equaled “happier.”

A few months later, I knew I’d made a mistake. If I’m being honest, I knew it from the moment I started looking at the charmless (if affordable) apartments. I knew it on my first walk to work where I was the only person commuting by foot. I knew it on my second day at work when my manager informed me that my role had changed completely from what I had been told in interviews.

Yet I ignored my gut instincts. I kept moving forward, doing what I thought I should be doing. I kept trudging through life — a life that didn’t feel like mine at all. I became deeply unhappy, unhealthy, and at some points, hopeless. I picked up some new, harmful, self-destructive habits. And I lived like that for nearly a year and a half.

I know, I know. This all sounds a tad dramatic. And the last thing I want is to portray myself as a victim, or convey the idea that my life was truly awful in any way. In fact, I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve received, and overall, I have it really, really good. I know that. But no matter how fortunate I am, there was no getting around the fact that I was miserable, and losing myself along the way.

In early 2018, I vowed to make a change. I had read enough motivational quotes and double-tapped countless inspirational Instagram posts. I had already quit my corporate job. I gave notice on my apartment. And I changed my life. Not that it was simple or easy, though I realize this article may make it sound that way. (Just ask my mom.) But it was — and is — possible.

Below are the major ways my life has changed in 2018. Of course, plenty of these changes were already in motion. After all, you can’t dive into the deep end straight away, but you do have to dip your toes in the water.

My main goal in writing this? If you’re reading this and you’ve found yourself in a story that you know is not your own, I hope that my experiences give you the strength to find your way out — and find your own path back to happiness.   

I changed my environment.

Photo: Scott Hallenberg Photography

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anaïs Nin

Picking up and moving is obviously a huge change — and not possible for everyone. But for me, it was the most crucial, and most positive, change I’ve made this year. I’ve realized that while the place you live isn’t the be-all, end-all determinant of your happiness, it does play a big role. And if the place you’re living isn’t right for you, there’s probably one that is.

Even though I knew the city I was living in wasn’t right for me, I felt stuck, trapped, and hesitant to make a decision. For months, I had been waffling between moving back to New York City, or staying put.

The push I needed came from to the life coach I was seeing. She finally told me, “I don’t think you’re dreaming big enough. There aren’t only two choices. Why not move somewhere else completely?”

So, I did. I chose Park City, Utah, of all places. I’d visited the city earlier in the year for work, and I loved it. Looking back at photos from those trips, I looked like a happier, healthier version of myself — the person I wanted to become. Someone I’d met on the work trip offered me a great deal on a studio apartment for a month, so I booked a one-way flight and went.

Don’t think I didn’t freak out, though. I had several moments of doubt, panic, and anxiety, wondering what the hell I’d done. I wasn’t sure what I’d do for work, and I knew only a handful of people. But that all dissipated in the first few weeks, as I explored the natural beauty of the surrounding areas, networked my way into new gigs, and gradually turned those acquaintances into good friends.

Another reminder that helped me make the leap: A move doesn’t have to be final-final. Before I left, I found an inexpensive storage company, and put everything except two suitcases in storage. I’m still renting a furnished apartment. I’ll get my stuff out of storage day, but for now, I really don’t miss it.

I improved my physical health.

“You don’t have to wait until you hit rock bottom to start crawling out of your hole. All you have to do is make the decision. And you can make it right now.”

Jen Sincero

I had experienced several health issues the last couple of years. It’s sort of ironic, since I’m a health journalist as well as a certified health coach — I know what I should be doing. But it’s proven to me that there are some aspects of our health that are out of our control — that can’t be “fixed” by healthy eating or exercise.

I’ve also learned that it’s in our power to heal, armed with the right resources and knowledge. I found a functional medicine doctor in early 2017. He diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism, hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, and nutrient deficiencies. I had also inexplicably gained about 15 pounds.

In the last six months, I’ve lost the weight — and then some — while regaining my physical health. I have stable levels of energy again. My digestive issues, which plagued me throughout my 20s, have disappeared. And I feel stronger than ever, thanks to my newfound love of yoga and weight lifting. Hiking, biking, and now skiing are all built into the lifestyle in Park City, and these activities have also played a big role in restoring my health — and happiness.

I stabilized my mental health.

“At some point in the months or years after choosing a different path, there is a threshold. We don’t know when we’ll pass over it. But when we do, the change we once struggled to make starts becoming easier, and then second nature.”

Light Watkins

Over the past couple years, I’ve grown to understand — and accept — the fact that I have generalized anxiety. It’s affected my relationships, created unnecessary stress in school and at work, and definitely played a role in my health struggles over the years. But I’m glad to say that today, I’m happier than I’ve been in years.

It didn’t happen all at once, of course. I have done some major work on my mindset in the past few years, and I feel like it’s finally all come to fruition. A few things that have helped:

  • Reading self-help books
  • Yoga
  • Following positive, inspirational people on Instagram (what up, Gary Vee!)
  • Podcasts like “How I Built This”
  • My therapist and life coach

Full disclosure: Medication has also helped. Earlier this year, I saw a holistic psychiatrist who saw signs of depression, along with my persistent anxiety. She prescribed me a low-dose of an SSRI medication. As she explained it to me, medication like this can help an over-anxious mind from over-analyzing every little thing that happens, which I desperately needed. It’s helped stabilize my mood, and helped me realize that many things in our lives aren’t as terrible as our minds make them out to be.

I successfully built up my freelance career.

Photo: Scott Hallenberg Photography

“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”

C.S. Lewis

When I left New York and quickly quit the terrible job I’d moved for, I thought my career in journalism was over. I was despondent at many points in the last couple of years about how all my hard work had gone down the drain, and convinced myself I’d never be successful if I didn’t move back to New York City. Obviously, not true.

Still, establishing myself as a freelance writer — or really, a creative entrepreneur — wasn’t easy. In June, I left a steady part-time job that paid the bills move to Park City, so I knew I’d have to seriously amp up the amount of writing I was doing if I wanted to make a decent living.

So in the second half of this year, I’ve gone all in. I’ve reconnected with every editor I’ve ever known, I’ve scoured Facebook groups and online forums for writing gigs, and I’ve put myself out there as much as possible. To supplement my writing, I’ve also worked on building my “brand” on Instagram, and while it’s still in the early stages, being active there has enabled me to connect with awesome people all over the world.

And all my hard work has paid off. Slowly but surely, I built a successful, busy freelance business with an income that matches the salary of the “big” corporate job I’d quit. November and December 2018 were my two most profitable months of my freelance career so far. I’ve landed assignments with major publications like NBC News, Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, and HuffPost. I also work with fantastic local publications in Park City, so I have in-person meetings and “colleagues” again, which is a fun part of full-time life I’ve sorely missed.

I can finally say I’m doing my dream work, and I have even more exciting projects to look forward to in 2019. (Like working at Sundance!)

I created a lifestyle I love.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself.”

Sure, this is a side effect stemming from all the other changes above, but I’m thrilled to say that I’ve finally built a life that I love. My lifestyle is active and social, while including space for the professional ambitions I’ve always had. I don’t over-indulge in drinking or eating like I used to, and I’m sleeping better than ever. I’ve even become more of a morning person, which had always seemed impossible for me. (That is, if you count waking up at 7:45 or 8 being a “morning person”…) But still.

It’s a life that suits me, for now. And as soon as it doesn’t? Well, now I know that making a big change really isn’t so bad at all.