Living your life your way.

Isn’t that what we all want? Yet how many of us can actually say we do?

For many years I certainly couldn’t. I lived my life fitting in: doing what seemed right, in the way everyone else did. I thought it would bring me happiness.

And looking back I don’t blame myself…it was all I knew. I’d been brought up to tow the line, be a good girl, keep my head down and get on in life. I didn’t know there was another way of living – one that brings amazing health, happiness, fulfilment, passion and joy.

And so I did what society expected. I worked hard at college, excelling; I climbed the career ladder, ending up in the top 5% of Microsoft employees; I married a safe and loyal man; I settled down and  bought a house and a BMW with the trimmings of my lifestyle.

But I felt dead inside. I was overcome with a feeling of dread every Sunday afternoon upon contemplating the week ahead. My heart sank each morning I drove into a car park of 2000 cars. My packed diary just made me feel more empty.

There were so many things I was passionate about that weren’t getting a look in. What had happened to my life? The one that I’d thought I’d have. The one where I was happy, fun-loving, passionate, enthused, joyful?

How had I ended up here?

I’d done what seemed like the right things, but I felt sad and betrayed.

I knew something had to change. But I didn’t know how, I didn’t know exactly what and I was scared – I wasn’t the type of person who went after what they really wanted. That was for people somehow braver, stronger, more confident, more well-connected, with more money and more talent than me.

And yet I did go on to change. I consciously chose to tread the path to living my life my way and it’s brought me such un-puttable-into-words joy, fulfilment and peace.

Looking back on my ‘change’ CV, I sometimes can’t believe it’s me:

  • I’ve lost half my body weight; going from 20 stone (280lbs/127kg) to 10 stone (140lbs/63kg)
  • I’ve broken free of the corporate world and started an online business doing what I most love
  • I’ve left my comfortable marriage and gone on to find a partnership that I could have only previously dreamed of
  • I’ve left my native England to live in Italy, the land of my childhood dreams
  • I’ve transformed my chronic health issues through my diet and lifestyle, and proved my doctor wrong, naturally conceiving a child.

All this from the girl who ‘didn’t do that sort of thing’.

And I’m here to tell you some truths about change. Some truths that instinctively you know, but that have been covered over by years of living your life to fit someone else’s mould. Read them, breathe them in, know them to be true and go take steps to life your life your way.

1. You must accept and take responsibility for where you are.

You are responsible for your own life – no one else. If you want to be happy and you’re not, you need to do the changing.

Distractions abound to help us avoid accepting where we are: TV, media, celebrity culture, gossip, ‘entertainment’, food and alcohol, busy-ness. We can lose our whole lives in it. No wonder we don’t change.

Here’s a challenge: Try going a week working just the hours you are paid for and not going out, watching TV or otherwise distracting yourself from your life. Then see how you feel about where you are.

As I approached my 20th birthday I was over 280lbs (20 stone/127kg). I’d been overweight and desperately unhappy for many years. Accepting and taking responsibility for my weight was a challenge. I felt sad and helpless realising the state I was in. I felt scared when I thought about what I needed to do to fix it.

It was only in accepting that I wanted to lose weight and realising no one else was going to do it for me that I was able to move on, shed 140lbs and be living now in a body that I love.

2. You’ve got to know the direction you want to head in and allow yourself to feel it.

In my work as a mentor, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people who want to change and the biggest thing that stops them is that they aren’t connected enough with what they want to change to.

And that’s understandable. We are too scared to allow ourselves to dream, to acknowledge what we really want and allow ourselves to feel what living that way would be like.

We’re disconnected from our dreams. This is because:

  1. We’ve been taught to go after what’s sensible; what seems like the best option
  2. We’re scared of setting our sights too high for fear of failure and disappointment
  3. We’re more tuned in to think about what we should do rather than what we want to do
  4. We listen to society’s advice; which is saturated with the three sure-fire change inhibitors above!

If you want to life your life your way you must step beyond these things – they hinder you getting what you truly desire.

If I’d engaged with the ‘sensible’ option when I’d wanted to leave my corporate role, I’d have taken a job with Microsoft’s entertainment wing – I was more interested in the content, and I would have still had the benefits and salary that I was used to. I wouldn’t have gone after and got the job that I really wanted and that started me on the path to transforming my life into one that I’d always dreamed of.

Think about how your life would look if you were truly living it the way you want. Dream about it, write about it, visualise it – and most of all feel it; feel what it would be like to live your life this way.

3. The only way to be successful at this is to follow your passions.

The story of my move to Italy is one of following my passions. I’d always loved the country and it was the intensity of that passion that got me there.

Actually making the move was challenging. I’d just been through one of the darkest phases of my life – I’d sustained a neck injury and moved back in with my parents after 10 years of living independently. In that darkness, I knew if I could just get better, I had to get out to Italy. And I did.

Change is sometimes hard. It’s challenging; it’s about facing fears and demons, stepping further than you have before and making brave decisions. You’ve got to love what you are working towards to know that when push comes to shove you will do what you need to. To get out to Italy I had to retrain, I had to tell my boyfriend not knowing whether it would mean the end of our relationship, I had to get better. It was my passion that kept me going.

There’s no point going after something you are half-hearted about – you just won’t succeed. You won’t give it what you need to; you won’t see it through.

4. Remember that big changes are all about small steps.

What change is about: Taking action.

What change is not about: Taking massive leaps.

The most popular question I get asked when I tell people about how I’ve stepped away from the ‘norm’ is:

How did you have the courage to take such big leaps in your life?

And I always respond in the same way:

“I didn’t take any big leaps; everything was about small steps.”

So many people are terrified of moving towards what they really want because they think change has to be about a death-defying leap from one mountain to another.

But the one thing that I’ve learnt from all of my changes, from choosing to live my life my way, is that it is all about small steps: Figure out the direction you want to go in, take some small actions. This moves you closer, it feeds back to you, it gives you confidence and then you move onto the next few steps. This is how lives are changed.

My move from house-owning, BMW-driving Microsoft employee to working for a music charity in central London, earning 50% of my previous wage, cycling across the city every morning to get there, was not about waking up one day and throwing my whole life up in the air. It was about small steps: reading and researching to work out what I wanted to do, industry investigation, job searching, working out a budget, revamping my CV, applying for jobs (and getting plenty of rejections), going for interviews, thinking about where I wanted to live, taking trips up to check out areas…the list goes on.

None of these steps was in itself scary, and each one naturally led to the next, so that before I knew it I was ready to hand my notice in, totally confident that I was doing the right thing.

5. Finding the right support will make or break you.

To move to the life you want you have to step out of the life you currently have. And support in doing that is essential.

As part of building Path Less Trodden, the inspirational online coaching, writing and speaking business that is a joyful representation of everything I love, I’ve taken brave decisions to invest financially in coaches – because I value the support. I know just how much difference having a listening-ear, outside opinion, accountability, challenge and impetus makes.

Staying in your current world you will not move forwards. If you know you need to change, seek out others – writers, internet groups, training courses, supportive friends, meet ups, coaches. You can only see so far; go out and consciously expand your horizons, be under the influence of people who think bigger, who’ve done what you want to do, who live in the way you want.

6. Trust that you know best.

Society doesn’t know what’s best for you. Only you know that. And by believing that and acting from that place you have the power to create miraculous change in your life.

I was diagnosed with PCOS (Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome) in my teens. I went through my 20s and most of my 30s with no natural menstrual cycle. About 5 years ago I realised just how much I wanted to be a mother and went to visit my doctor, who said to me, “Alison, you will never bring your periods back through changing your diet”.

I didn’t believe her, and as she spoke a little voice in my head said, ‘Yes, I will’.

I had been on an amazing health journey and hadn’t taken as much as an aspirin in over 3 years. The  thought of turning to drugs made my heart sink. I took the heart-breaking decision that, if I couldn’t conceive naturally, I would accept that being a mother wasn’t meant to be.

And I carried on doing what I believed in. Last summer, after 5 years without any sign of a menstrual cycle, I was able to restore my hormonal health solely through my diet and lifestyle choices, and to, within a week of trying, naturally conceive a child.

This was something a doctor – the expert – told me wasn’t possible. I could have listened, I could have gone down society’s route of IVF, no one would have criticised, but I just didn’t believe in bringing a baby into the world like that. I followed my belief, I had confidence and faith that I knew what was best for me and it has brought me the most amazing miracle – a natural, healthy pregnancy.

You can live your life your way – no matter what others say; no matter what the rest of society is doing. If that’s not for you, if you don’t believe in it, if it doesn’t make your heart sing, DON’T DO IT, go your own way and you’ll build a life beyond your wildest dreams. 

Photo by János Csongor Kerekes

Alison Ottaway

Alison is the inspiration and guiding light to a generation longing to step out of the mainstream. She is founder of the life-change movement Path Less Trodden – her passionate, yet down-to-earth message being born out of the many successful transformations she's made in her own life. You can find out more about Alison and how you can walk your own Path Less Trodden at http://www.pathlesstrodden.com.

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