Standing in front of a classroom of teenagers feigning interest in Shakespeare and commas, I steadied myself with a hand on my desk. I’m going to pass out, I think to myself while smiling through and pretending all was fine. I sent out a silent prayer to the universe and any higher power listening that I wouldn’t faceplant in front of a room of judgmental, Tik Tok savvy teenagers.
It took eight weeks of intermittent fasting for me to realize the truth: No matter how many influencers swore it was the best way to feel energized and lose weight, it wasn’t right for me. Eight weeks of feeling dizzy, of feeling moody, and of fantasizing at unnatural levels about food, I learned that what everyone said would work just wasn’t it for me. So I changed it up.
As a chronic self-improvement addict and goal chaser (I’m an Enneagram 3, if that means anything to you), perfecting my routines and trying to live my best life is a habit of mine to a fault. I’m always looking for ways to be better, do better, and live better. Especially since turning thirty, living the best version of my life has become an absolute focus. But one thing I’ve learned these past few years is that if you’re going to try to find a life you love, you’re going to mess up. You’re going to mess up a lot.
Intermittent fasting isn’t the first or last failed effort on my part. Yoga, seed cycling, learning the violin, learning to cook, and many other endeavors are on my growing list of “failures.” These were all choices I thought would heighten my life and lead me to happiness. Instead, they just didn’t turn out. And you know what? That’s okay. That’s more than okay. Because by crossing out things that don’t work for me, I’m more apt to find things that do.
We live in a world of constant access to resources and ideas, which is a wonderful thing. However, it’s also a dangerous thing when we start to feel like all ideas are equal. It’s a harmful thing when we believe that just because something works for everyone else, it will work for us.
When you’re seeking your happiest version of yourself, you’re going to try things that work for everyone else and fail miserably for you. You’re going to implement tried-and-true tactics that make you miserable. But that’s part of the journey. In order to find your best self, you have to be willing to first explore and then to mess up. You have to be flexible enough to try new things and also let go of things that don’t suit you. Finding happiness isn’t about perfection, after all. It’s about being adventurous and flexible enough to try a different way–and perceptive enough to self-reflect and realize if it’s a good fit for you.
This willingness to fail isn’t limited to health journeys, either. It applies to love, hobbies, careers, and everything in between. From that new haircut you think will make you feel amazing to the new job you hope will change everything, the key to happiness, I think, is to be willing to take the risk in the first place–and then to be honest with yourself as to whether or not the thing you chose is actually making you happy.
Most of all, I think we all need to remember there is no formula for success or happiness. It’s a journey, one we go on alone at the end of it. It’s a journey without road signs or stop signs. It’s a journey that requires turning inward, not outward.
And, most of all, it’s a journey that will require you to fail sometimes.
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USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door, The Diary of a Serial Killer's Daughter, and other creepy thriller books