What To Do When You Realize You Are Living The Wrong Life

Danielle Dahl, MSML

Take a deep breath and don't panic.


(Note to self: Hyperventilating in the car while parked at the library does not constitute breathing. You will not be alright if you keep doing that… you will pass out!)

I know what you’re thinking. “That’s all she’s got, is to breathe? Don’t Panic?!?!?” I know it sounds like useless nonsense, and maybe even terrible advice! You’re thinking, “I’m standing here in the (insert where ever you were when you realized that everything is not the way it should be and this is the wrong life) library, trying not to have a full-blown come apart in front of the few other library patrons.”

I’m not surprised this revelation happened to me in the library. It is fitting because the library is a special place for me. It’s the place that the lonely, nerdy, intelligent young girl I used to be, felt safe and appreciated. It’s where all the books were. All my friends (except for the two or three who were real people) lived on the library shelves. It’s where some of the most significant parts of my teenage life transpired. It’s where I always felt like I could do anything that I set my mind to.

I created my first email address way back in 1997 while volunteering in the library with a friend. I considered my early career choices of Librarian, Novelist, or Journalist in my high school library. I spent countless hours studying for various college classes in the college library when I was only 16 (with some of the best friends a girl could have). I thought I would kiss my first love outside the doors of that very library.

The kiss that didn’t happen but turned into a love letter instead (which I READ OUT LOUD to him). Now that I think of it, some of my most embarrassing moments were also at the library. It’s where I, and a different boy (in another college library a few years later), ended up working together on his English paper and fell in love. Technically, that happened over writing words and pool water, two of her favorite things. He ended up being ‘The Boy.’ It’s where she would later take their small children for activities and storytime.

Then somewhere along the way, the girl who was always writing wrote much less. I even read less. Finally, I finished college but not before giving up on the previous sought after majors (Journalism, Equestrian Studies, and Political Science/Law). I graduated with a Bachelor’s in… Business Administration. Then I compounded that sadness and decided to get a Master’s in Managing and Leading Teams because that’s what my career had been about the last ten years. But these things are not what I was meant to do. Even though I have known it all along, that thought was never more apparent than in that moment at the library, while I held books on Thoreau, Emerson, and how to write a novel.

Hyperventilating in the car happened next.

Thoughts were swirling:

  • Who am I? What stranger, who cares about business plans, HR law, and business ethics, is staring back at me?
  • Am I still the girl he fell in love with all those years ago? He has seen glimpses of her over the last 16 years, surely?
  • Do my children even know who this woman is? Or do they think this “Mom’s a writer” is some midlife crisis? Is it?!?!
  • Do I even know who this woman is?

It was a terrifying moment of clarity and confusion.

So, what’s a person to do?

As promised, here is a step-by-step plan:

  • BREATHE!!! Just do it!
  • Good! Take deeper ones!
  • Now, read the history that is your past. You will discover that you know who you are. I am a writer with every fiber of my being. If I ever doubted this, I need only recall when I wrote a two-page letter about why I should kiss a boy and read it to him instead of kissing him. I thought I was too afraid to kiss him. Looking back, I realize it scared me that the kiss wouldn’t live up to my words.
  • Honor the you, you once were and realize that everything has brought you to this moment on purpose. Those blogs I got paid to write as a teenager, the published works of poetry, and the article for a real newspaper, gave me my first taste of success as a writer. I want it back. I need it again.
  • Books have a beginning, a middle (usually holding a plot twist or other conflict), and an end. That moment that you are in right now is not the end of the story!
  • You are the author of your own life! So… write some new pages! You get to decide how this story ends! (And if it doesn’t end with you being a business professional until you die, that is ok.)
  • Take the road less traveled. My best friend and I did this once instead of going to a Phi Theta Kappa Meeting… I ended up stuck in a thorny hole and had to get rescued by a boy. Yup, you guessed it “that above mentioned unkissed boy.” I was bloody from thorns and embarrassed and mad. However, right up until that fateful moment when I slipped off a fallen log, my friend and I had been quoting these words from Robert Frost:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

  • Be like the Librarian. She can tell you where to find the best Frost poems. She knows where The librarian can find all the books with the best information, knows when to take them off the shelf (and when to put them back), knows where to find a new book when the old ones won’t do, and encourages the quiet.

In the library’s quiet, you can think, read, write. Maybe, even fall in love with the man you won’t be too afraid to kiss — the one who will take all the crazy roads with you, instead of rescuing you.

And take a big breath. It will be alright.

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Words matter. Sharing the pain and evolution found in our life stories compels others to investigate, “How they came to be who they are?” Delving into the events that shaped us as children creates a level of self-awareness each of us can use to establish enduring and essential change. I use my personal history, education as a Management professional, and training as a Life Coach to write insightful articles about leadership and teams, personal development, and everything else that pertains to growth, both professionally and personally.


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