Everyone has a backstory.  Superman’s is that he is from another planet and because of that has strength greater than anyone on Earth, provided there is no Kryptonite around.  Batman’s is that he suffered great loss when his parents were killed, which gave him OCD-like focus on getting the bad guys.

My backstory is more like Batman’s, even though sometimes I seem like I am from another planet.  Nonetheless, it goes something like this….

Throughout my entire childhood, my identity was based on my ability to be a “good girl.”  As an oldest child, I enjoyed the status that comes with being the firstborn.  I got good grades, play sports, develop good relationships with the adults in my life, go to college, and so on.  Not to say I never made mistakes, because I did and some of them were huge, but by keeping them under the radar I continued to let everyone, including myself, believe I was a good girl.

The desire to be a good girl evolved in my early adult life to a desire to fix things.  In a way, I viewed myself as a super hero of sorts.  I would swoop in when there is a problem, get it all straightened out, and fly on to the next crisis (actually, I prefered to take the Batmobile).  This ability made me successful in my career and my relationships, although in this case I am defining “success” as “the ability to have others think you are great.”   That is not the same thing as being happy with your life.   It’s more like being a martyr.

Being a good problem-solver and having a need for approval allowed me to progress in my career, to a point.  I was naive enough to believe that hard work and passion were enough to succeed in the corporate world….I hear your snickers….Continuing on that path led me to getting an MBA and a quest to climb the corporate ladder.  Surely, I thought, when I get to “this” level I will be able to have more autonomy and enjoy my work more.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.   I approached my romatic relationships in the same way – I wanted to be everyone’s hero.  Well, projecting that led to an unexpected outcome:  I attracted people that needed saving.

Then I made a huge and very public mistake.  I got married and, for reasons I won’t get into, I got divorced…all within a very short timeframe.  Without revealing too much, I realized shortly after the wedding that the deal I thought I was getting was not what I had gotten.  I tried so hard to make it work because, after all, I was a fixer, dammit!  And, I loved my ex-husband and was committed to our marriage.  But after 15 months enough had transpired that I had to get distance, so we separated.  I was still in denial about the extent of our problems, but I felt relieved to be alone.  I tortured myself with the question:  Why could I fix other situations in my life so capably but not be able to fix my marriage?  I felt like a big, fat failure.

I spent the first four months after my husband moved out on autopilot:  drag myself out of bed, go to work and try to focus, come home and order Mexican food, watch television.  This is not an exaggeration.  I was so good at faking that I had a life that only a few people knew what was going on.  People at work would invite my husband and I to social engagements and I would smile, make an excuse, and continue trying to get through the day.  One of my close friends, who provided a lot of support to me during this time, jokingly accused me of being from Stepford, Connecticut.

During this time, my father gave me a book by Harold Kushner called When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  I was in such an angry place that I threw the book across the room, thinking “Surely this self-help BS wouldn’t make a dent in my crisis!”  A few weeks later I picked up the book, and that started me on a journey of self-renewal.   I enjoyed the book so much it led me to read another Kushner book that was even more relevant called How Good Do We Have to Be? It was exactly what I needed to read at the time because Kushner makes the point that we can be lovable even when we make mistakes.

The next book was the one that truly changed my life:  Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.  Ironically, I had bought that book as one of the gifts for the women in my bridal party when I got married.  I had tried to read it twice before but couldn’t get through the first chapter because it required such a shift in my thinking.  One day, about five months after the separation, I picked it up and read it cover to cover.  It all made so much sense, but what Dr. Chopra wrote about in this book is a completely different way of thinking about life than my Type A brain was used to.  That was when I had the epiphany:

I couldn’t help my husband or, for that matter, anyone else who doesn’t want help.  No one has that much power.  Control is a complete illusion.  The only changes we can manifest have to come from within ourselves.

That change in perspective led me to reevaluate every single thing in my life:  my marriage, my relationships with family and friends, my job in an organization where I didn’t enjoy working.

One month later I started eating better and working out again.  Two months later I finally realized I needed to get divorced and four months later I was.  Six months later I was interviewing for a new job and got an offer to leave and a counter-offer to stay.  Ten months later I met the man who I would end up marrying and having a family with.

The personal crisis I went through was horrible and yet the best thing that ever happened to me.   Once I learned the lesson that was there for me, I was liberated in countless ways.  Now I am living where I have always wanted to live, blocks from the beach.  I have my own consulting firm, something I dreamed about almost ten years ago.  I have a husband who is supportive and strong, who encourages me to do what makes me happy.  I recently had a baby, something I never thought I wanted to do, but now that he is part of my life I can’t believe I was ever reluctant.

To claim I was like a Phoenix rising from the ashes might sound a little dramatic, but I think it is fair to say I used this experience to reinvent myself.   That is my backstory and if it helps one person make a positive change than my work here is done….Now I just need to stop thinking of myself as a super hero!