Breaking the Chains – A Story of Self Transformation

self transformation

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

– T. E. Lawrence

My whole childhood I was afraid being trapped. It wasn’t so much trapped in a physical sense, like claustrophobia, but more the psychological feeling of having no way out, no room to make decisions, and no way back. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I grew up in a strictly traditional, conservative, and almost smothering family. Maybe it’s because I’m a Sagittarius. Maybe it’s the result of seeing lives of the people around me and knowing I didn’t want that for myself.

It’s not that they had a bad life; in fact, they had a very ordinary, middle-class, want-for-nothing kind of life…at least, in the physical sense.

And I was, for the majority of my life, the poster-child daughter. I did it all: student council representative, twelve season varsity athlete, national honor society member, valedictorian of my class…everything that was expected of me, I fulfilled.

It all sounds fine and dandy, but the thing is, I always felt like something was missing.

I sat in church on Sundays and taught children about baby Jesus without understanding why I should choose this one religion when I hadn’t yet discovered any others. I stayed after school to study more about three-dimensional calculus without understanding why I should ever have to know this information if I didn’t want to be an engineer. I spent Saturday mornings watching game tape with my team without understanding why I should waste my time with this sport I hated when I never got more than ten minutes on the playing field.

Every day I asked myself these questions but, in the end, my obedience always won out. The part of me that begged for freedom, for breaking the norm, and for making my own decisions was always silenced by the time I slept at night.

When I dreamed about my future life, however, it was a whole different story. I imagined myself on some grand adventure, an explorer or nomad wandering the world in search of the meaning of life. I pictured the sun setting over the Himalaya as I sat sipping tea and meditating from a Buddhist temple, sailing the Nile past the great pyramids and the temples of Luxor under a night full of stars, renting an old Volkswagen van and driving across the Americas…I dreamed in school, at work, on the sports field, even in church. If anything, the dreaming was the only thing that allowed me to tolerate the exhausting lifestyle I was leading.

For the time, dreaming was enough. It was an escape from reality. And actually, everyone does this; we dream of new cars, more enjoyable jobs, a better house, a more carefree lifestyle, our childhood fantasies that we never got the chance to realize. We convince ourselves that if we dream enough, it will magically happen one day.

Or so we hope…

Because then one day we might wake up when we’re old and ailing, and we will look back on our life and regret all the times we dreamed instead of acting. If only we applied for the new job instead of just imagining it; if only we took that extra vacation to visit Paris like we always dreamed of; if only we put more money in savings so we could have retired earlier; if only, if only, if only…

I had my awakening when I read a book that changed my life. I picked up Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist in the airport on the way to visiting yet another college, and I was completely shaken by the simplicity and gravity of its message. I will never forget Coelho’s message about those who become too attached to the idea of their dreams, illustrated by a glass merchant who always wanted to travel to Mecca:

“It’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive. That’s what helps me face these days that are all the same… I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living. You dream about your sheep and the Pyramids, but you’re different from me, because you want to realize your dreams. I just want to dream about Mecca. I’ve already imagined a thousand times crossing the desert, arriving at the Plaza of the Sacred Stone, the seven times I walk around it before allowing myself to touch it. I’ve already imagined the people who would be at my side, and those in front of me, and the conversations and prayers we would share. But I’m afraid that it would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream about it.”

I realized that I was acting the same way as the merchant from the story. Deep down I knew that I would never live the life I wanted, the life I envisioned for myself, if I didn’t make a change. I was on the fast-track to a standard American college experience, a high-paying, 9-5 corporate job, a clean-cut family all-American family, and everything else I had always desperately wanted to avoid for fear of becoming trapped. Needless to say, nomadic adventurer was nowhere in sight on that track.

This hit me really hard. I realized that I had to make some major changes in my life, and I had to start immediately.

I discarded everything about the person everyone thought I used to be; the old Kelsey became a ghost of my past. I stopped going to church and started researching and experimenting with religions I had never even heard of before. I turned down prestigious scholarships and college offers and arranged a gap year to São Paulo, Brasil, which would later turn into an indefinite gap year as realized that I never wanted to return to my previous lifestyle. I became an autodidact, teaching myself everything from HTML programming to the Portuguese language.

I started, for the first time in my life, to live for myself. The relief I felt was like diving into a shimmering pool after a long, hot day in the scorching sun.

Even my health issues started to resolve themselves; my asthma and breathing improved, as did my chronic back pain. As I began to slowly distance myself from my suffering, a weight was (quite literally) lifted from my shoulders.

Not to say it was easy, though. On the contrary; it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I met a bloodbath of opposition from my friends and family who declared that they didn’t even recognize me anymore; I had my entire bank account, passport, ID’s and wallet stolen by those closest to me in an attempt to stop my “madness.” Everywhere I turned people tried to convince me that I was making a mistake. I almost gave up many, many times.

But now I’m here, and the only regret I have is not having this realization sooner. I’m still far from becoming the worldly wanderer that I always dreamed of, but at least now I’m on the right track. In my opinion, the world is too big to be trapped in one corner, and life if too short to not live for yourself.

I wanted to share my story to encourage the other dreamers out there not to let their lives bind them and hold them back from achieving what they want from their life. If I can give one piece of advice, although probably corny and overrated, it’s to follow your heart.

There’s an expression that it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. That’s how I feel about taking chances with your dreams; it’s better to take the chance, even with the possibility of failure, than to spend your life wondering what it would have been like.

So shake off those chains, whatever is holding you back. It’s ok to be a little afraid; it’s ok not to know what comes next. Just listen to your heart, listen to your intuition, because the only person who knows what’s best for you is YOU.

What change will you make today?

Photo by Andrea Santoni

29 thoughts on “Breaking the Chains – A Story of Self Transformation”

  1. Well done Kelsey. I feel that you could be speaking to me personally. (There must be hundreds, if not thousands, of us ‘dreamers’ out there)
    I loved the article and well done you!!
    Now I must make that change – wish me luck.

    1. Thank you Mitch! You’re definitely right about the dreamers – it’s just sad that many people live their life without ever getting the chance to realize their dreams. With a little perseverance I’m sure you can make it. I’m rooting for you!

  2. Thank you so much for writing this article. You cannot understand how much reading these words means to me, its almost overwhelming right now. I too suffer from continual nomadic desire which has caused a lot of heartache and difficult situations over the years in my inability to just “settle.” I’m now in my forties and it has never gotten any easier. I had a very controlling, strict upbringing and one where I longed, even as a 6 year old boy, to escape, to travel and be free yet I also felt institutionalized in my childhood. Your words have given me some sense to it all and what I also need to do.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. While I haven’t completely made the full changes I desire yet, I’m making my way there. Your story inspires me to keep going.

  4. Hello Kesley.
    Thanks for the wonderful post ! I’m 24 years old, looking for a job after graduation. I too have many dreams like buying a cycle and cycling down village roads, waking up evry morning to do yoga & exercises, learn to cook (better :) ), having a goverment job that pays good, travel to Cambodia, Brasil, Sri Lanka & France, do something for local poor children & their community once a week, etc.. Just dreams, you know. I’ve always dreamt of these things, but never accomplished ’em. My status of unemployement just keeps me to the ground & doesnt let me realise ’em. I know that if I get my dream job as a govt employee, I can ecomplish all other things listed above. I always try to set a goal. In the start, I gather great motivation to accomplish. But, eventually & exponentially, the motivation loosens out & I come back where I was. I’ve set my goal & am preparing for the tough govt exams to be held in May-June 2015. But, I’m afraid that I would again loosen out the motivation some day. Please tell me a way so that I can keep myself motivated daily towards my goal and relaise it this time !
    Thank you very much in advance ! :)

    1. Prajith if I can suggest some things to you that has worked for me. I found mentors and 30 day challenges and life coaches to keep me accountable every day. I read tons of books and have reached out to others in new places. So far, it’s been a true blessing. Just keep going!

    2. Hello Prajith,

      Thanks for your thoughtful feedback, I’m glad you enjoyed reading. I’ve found that it’s helpful, first of all, to figure out exactly what you want. Which dream is the most important for you? It should be something that you really believe you can accomplish and know the way, what steps you have to take. If you spend too much time dreaming about lots of different things, it’s harder to get anything done.
      Once you’ve done some reflection and decided what you want most, make a list of the attitudes and practices that help you reach that goal, and those that are obstacles or slow down your progress. Try to eliminate the negative aspects. From there you can start making a plan for where you want to be in a week, a month, a year, etc. Support groups and life coaches are definitely a great choice to keep you on track, as Ruthie mentioned.
      The most important this is to choose a direction and follow it until you succeed. Once you reach it, you can start considering the next venture you want to take on. I hope this helps, best of luck!

      1. Thank you Kelsey for the tips. I’ll surely think over it and take the necessary steps towards reaching my goal.
        I was a depressed, selflish, always-angry kind a guy just an year ago. U wouldnt believe what I have changed into in the last 1 year. It’s posts like this on thechangebolg which I read regularily which encouraged me to not to lead a “well-settled” (if that’s u call it) life like others, but to lead a queit, contented, happy, helpful, meaningful & enjoying-every-moment kind of life. I’m constantly trying to change myself since the past year & will continue to do so in the years to come.

        Thank you Ruthie for your tips. Will try all of them so that I can know which suits me best :)

        Thank you both Kelsey & Ruthie once again for showing me the light.
        Will always be grateful.

        Have a great day,

  5. I applaud you, Kelsey. That same realization came to myself a couple of years back and slowly….every day I work on the transformation. It has not been easy, but I know that I am not a victim. Just a person that wants badly to not be like those with no compassion, no goal setting, no desire to improve themselves just to stay stuck where they’ve always been. I have met a lot of people that are doing the same thing. We are not alone. Every time I see someone pursuing a better change in their life, I smile and encourage. To stay stuck, is to die slowly inside–for me any way. Some are happy and have already made the changes. It works.

    1. Thank you Ruthie, it’s so good to hear other people have gone through the same experiences. I’ve found that most people are afraid of change, which causes negativity and backlash, but really it’s something we should all embrace and try to balance in our lives. You are definitely not a victim – quite the contrary! I applaud you for taking the initiative! It’s not worth our energy to worry about pleasing other people when we make a change in our own lives; our first responsibility is to our own well-being. I really like your attitude about giving positive encouragement to others who are trying to institute change. I wish you all the best with everything ahead!

      1. Thank you Kelsey. I am grateful that at age 54, I get it. A more daring, believing chance and one to pass on like you do well.

  6. Hey Kelsey, what an emotive and inspiring story. I know exactly how you feel, having had many of the inner turmoils and fears myself.

    I was a terrible procrastinator, for years on end. It wore me down. But I finally realised that doing what I love, what fills me with excitement and passion, is the EXACT thing I should be doing in my life. It’s such a shame that 99% of people don’t follow their dreams.

    The thing that I always refer back to whenever I am feeling unsure, overwhelmed, scared, in my business and personal life is that, when I am lying on my deathbed, with my family around me (subject to not dying prematurely in a bizzarre gardening accident), I want the tear that runs down my cheek to be one of happiness, of joy for the life I have had and shared, NOt one of regret and sorrow for what could have been, if only I’d battled through my fears.

    Your death bed is not the time to be thinking of such things, so, with that thought, and some carefully implemented tactics to ensure I do make continuous forward progress, I am super passionate, hyper focused, and helping myself, and others, to find their passion, and to live it to the max.

    Great post, really enjoyed it. Keep on keeping on!


    1. Hi Steve, thank you for reading, it’s so great to be able to reach out to people like you. It’s true, most people let fear or uncertainty hold them back from reaching what they really want, usually getting discourage by others or themselves that it’s just a silly idea, out of reach. The truth is that we are all capable of achieving whatever we want if we set our mind to it. Like you said, there is no greater joy than looking back on our lives when we are old and ready to move on and being able to say, “I can rest in peace now because I’m happy with how I lived.” I’m glad you enjoyed the article and I hope to see your story around here one of these days! Keep up the positivity!

  7. Thank you for sharing your inspirational story and the encouragement. My biggest obstacle holding me back from realizing my dreams is a lack of financial resources. It is not an easy path to take, when you lack the resources to realize your dreams. Even so, I still believe this sentiment~ “That which the dream shows is the shadow of such wisdom as exists in man, even if during his waking state he may know nothing about it…. We do not know it because we are fooling away our time with outward and perishing things, and are asleep in regard to that which is real within ourself. ” ~Paracelsus, quoted in The Dream Game

    1. Hi Chas,
      That’s a truly beautiful quote. It really captures the essence of our dreams! I agree that financial difficulties can be one of the biggest reasons that hold people back, but it is not a reason to give up. As I mentioned in the story, I had everything stolen from me and ended up moving here to Brazil with only $600 to my name – probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There is always a way, it’s just a matter of finding it! I believe that if you have a dream, it’s almost always possible to turn it into a way to sustain yourself. Just keep persevering, don’t limit your options. Often the things that elude us most are right in front of us the whole time! Don’t lose sight of your goal and you will get there one day :)

  8. This is a great article. I’m so glad you decided to follow your dreams despite resistance from your family and friends. Bravo. We all should have such courage.

    1. Lovelyn, thanks for reading! I’m so happy I’ve been able to inspire others with my story, it makes the struggle worth it. Everyone can have such courage if they put their mind to accomplishing their dream. Best wishes!

  9. Very nice article…….thanks for writing it …..even i want to break the rules n follow my heart. I have been following normal routine job not feeling satisfied. There are many things that come to my mind but not able to figure out what is it that I actually want. Can u help me realize “what I actually want?”…….where I can put my 100% in to it and enjoy each day…..n love what I do and bring joy to all

    1. Hello Chandhoo, thanks for commenting! I would say that a good place to start would be to reflect or meditate on the things that make you happiest, such as a hobby or something you always dreamed of doing. Don’t discount anything as silly or “just a hobby.” Those are usually the things we excel the most at because we actually enjoy doing them! Another good indication is to look at the things we liked the most as a child – it’s usually pretty accurate because in those days we aren’t as susceptible to outside influences. When we follow the path of our happiness, it’s hard to go wrong!

  10. Thank you for sharing your story, it was truly inspiring. I too, like many of my friends, am a dreamer stuck in the loop of doing what is expected- and I cannot feel any more trapped. There is always that fear of going against the grain, doing something different. And as an excuse I always said I was a dreamer not a doer, but I don’t want to live my life like that. It is just getting that courage to pursue my dreams. Hopefully one day I will be able to follow your example. Until then, I am stuck in this life that feels wrong.

  11. Hello Kelsey,

    I just read your story. I just took a major decision in my life too, changing everything at 36. But I understand so much the feeling of not having this weight over your shoulders anymore!
    I quit my job (Financial Controller) and am moving to Beijing end of August to start Chinese Medicine studies. I think it’s something I had in the back of my mind since ages but I never allowed myself to think it could actually be for real. After a burn-out end of November I realized several things, one of them being that I had to change something in my life otherwise I would wake up at 60 years old realizing that I will have wasted my life.
    So… I’m 36 but hopefully it’s not too late.
    Anyway, it’s good to hear other stories of a life changing too :-)

  12. Hi Kelsey!

    Thanks for sharing your story :)

    In some way, I was also that poster child. But it wasn’t a book that made me want to lead a more adventurous life. It was failure.

    I tried my best to be the good child, but in my last year of high school it felt like everything was falling apart. School, sports, extracurriculars. I was just not the best anymore. It was an awakening experience indeed. And it made me want to take charge of my life and to plan my own future.

    And, of course, with deciding to take life by the horns, comes fear and doubt. Right now, I’m not sure if all my dreams will come true and if I will reach my goals. Luckily I have people like you to remind me to step out of the boat, nonetheless, even with the fear and doubt in my heart.

    Great article!

    N. M.

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