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Breaking Free

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Susan Marshall tells the extraordinary story of swopping a life where she had it all for a life of freedom. “Life was passing me by while I was languishing inside these polished concrete walls of compromise.” Feeling stifled and suffocated, “Playing the game of validation,” she explains the instance where she finally gave herself permission to walk away. Susan explains the two parts to her—Sensible Susan and the woo-woo wild woman. After many years of delivering on others’ dreams, Susan decided to live her life on her own terms and follow her woo-woo self. She moved to Bali. Never needing validation now, Susan dreams her own dreams.

It's the morning of the big day. A festival to celebrate the anniversary of the new Innovation Lab, the greatest achievement of my career at the global economic powerhouse, the IMF. I've been in the auditorium since 6.00 a.m. setting everything up with my team. We're about to open the doors for the opening ceremony. And when we do, a flood of gray/black suits are gonna come in. I'm so enjoying the contrast that I've created, with the bright pink and yellow and teal balloons throughout this space. My vision has come to fruition, and I can't wait to see how people react. As the suits begin to walk in, my excitement builds. The managing director, one of the most powerful women in the world, takes the microphone. She says, "I want to recognize the person that made this all happen." I stand up a little bit straighter, and I'm ready to step forward. And then she says the name Travis Wagner.

Now, just to be clear, that is not my name! As I graciously clap for Travis, my heart sinks. You see, two years ago, I had it made. I had the sexy red sports car with the sunroof and the Bose sound system, a walk-in closet overflowing with sheath dresses and heeled shoes, and other First World essentials, a UN-issued blue badge that whisked me past barricades and security guards and inside the headquarters of the global financial empire in Washington, D.C. A pretty much guaranteed paycheck for the rest of my life. Acquaintances, accessories, and assurances—I had it all.

I'd always loved the world of business in the marketplace. My dad taught me the value of working hard, and he clued me in that the point of life was to stay busy. Turns out I was amazing at both of those. I remember one of my first summer jobs. I'm sixteen years old, driving in bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic, but I don't care because I have a job, and I'm in love with the glamor of the nine-to-five routine. I'm listening to the morning radio, the windows down, drinking my French Vanilla Dunkin' Donuts coffee, and I can't wait to arrive in the office. As I walk in, I smell coffee. I hear the clicking of keyboards and the chatter of gossip from the odd cast of characters around me, and this warm feeling of familiarity rushes over me. I'm part of a community. I have a place. I belong.

After that, I had a whole string of blue-collar jobs. I just loved the fact that I could walk in, get myself hired, and start getting a paycheck, whether it was at the gas station, fast-food restaurant, the clothing store at the mall. By the time I finished college, I had at least twenty jobs on my résumé.

Soon I found myself in the capital of the United States at a fancy new job building my career. I worked hard. I had a title. I had an office. I had a reputation. And yet, despite having more than I'd ever had before, more success, more security, more opportunity, I couldn't help but notice that as time went on, something was missing. I wasn't happy. Somewhere along the way, I'd lost that spark. I remember talking to my dad one day, and he said, "Do you think you'd ever be able to go back to waiting tables?" He knew how much I'd loved working at this trendy Italian restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara at the end of college. And then I thought about it for a minute. And I realized that no. I'd become jaded and entitled. And the higher I climbed, the more my ego was all up in it. I didn't recognize the woman that I'd become.

For more than a decade, I had been trading my time, my energy, and most importantly, my passion for someone else's idea of success. While I was playing this game of validation and acceptance and making money like everybody else around me, it was sapping my energy and suffocating my soul. Life was passing me by while I was languishing inside these polished concrete walls of compromise. I was living someone else's dream.

So that morning, when I heard Travis's name announced on the microphone, it was both heartbreaking and the permission I needed to walk away. Three months and two tantra events later, I'm standing on the curb at Dulles International Airport, waving goodbye to my brother and sister. I've sold my car, packed my life into a storage unit, and handed over my responsibilities at the Innovation Lab. You see, what not everyone knew about me was that I had a double life. Part of me was Sensible Susan, who loved structure, followed the rules, and knew how to get the job done. The other part of me was this woo-woo wild woman, the insatiably curious seeker who wanted to taste and experience life fully.

I'd been dipping my toe in that woo-woo river for many years, but now I had the freedom to jump in fully. And once I unlocked that door, there was no stopping me. Just like those jobs back in high school, college, I was taking it all in. I was traveling around the world, dancing at festivals, signing up for workshops, trying the latest tantra techniques, checking out all the spiritual hotspots. I was alive. You see, Sensible Susan had been delivering on someone else's dream and playing the game pretty well, but it wasn't until I gave myself to that wild woman fully that I started really living my own life.
I started discovering what abundance means to me. Who am I? And what do I value when the old identity and everything familiar has been stripped away? What's left? What is worthy of my time and my energy?

Earlier this year, I moved to Bali. I traded my high heels for flip-flops, those concrete walls for the jungle canopy, and the crush of bureaucracy for the cushion of heart-centered community. I found freedom. I found connection. I found incredible beauty and celebration and that magic I'd been craving. And most of all, I've been dreaming whole new dreams about what's possible for myself and the planet and starting to build that new paradigm from my own vision, weaving a new world into existence in every moment and living life on my own terms.

I'm part of a project team that's about to launch something epic. It's gonna change the world, and I'm supposed to be sitting down talking about strategy. And instead, I'm stirring this huge pot of cacao and making sure that it's just the right blend of sweet and spicy. And just like those balloons at the party back then, I'm putting my own special magic into this place. This is how I wanna show up right now. The difference between then and now is that I don't need validation for my cacao and for my wild woman. She's fully present, fully accepted, fully integrated. And at that moment, I realize that I've broken free. Free from that constraint of societal programming and free from living someone else's life because, let's face it, if I was listening to that programming, I should be married by now. I should have full-grown kids. I should have a car, and a mortgage, and a pile of debt that I'm working my way out of. And guess what? I'm not. I'm not even wearing a bra.


if you're looking for something to transform your life then they should do FABx. ~ Hoda Monika Agah
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