If anyone had ever sat me down and told me, “You’ll spend eight years of your life as a housewife. It won’t be that bad; you’ll just lose your confidence, lose yourself, and squash all your hopes and dreams,” I would have run screaming from the room, leaving a Lisa-shaped hole in the wall. Maybe even going all Real Housewife and flipping a few tables on my way out. But guess what? That’s exactly what happened. I spent almost a decade living each day totally detached from my hopes and my dreams. I lost my confidence, and I lost myself. How the hell did that happen?
It wasn’t overnight. It never is, despite the cliché of “I blinked and all of a sudden….” That’s such BS. You never just blink. Ever. Major changes, good or bad, always come about slowly. The foundation gets laid little by little, bit by bit. A wrong turn here, a pit stop there, all may seem like harmless detours. All those little diversions come before the boom. It can be the smallest fender bender or a massive pileup. Either way, that airbag to the face makes you stop and realize that you’re totally lost. How the heck did I end up here? you ask yourself. But although a big dramatic moment might be what it takes to get you to look around, the reality is that your dreams have been in your rearview for a while and you just didn’t notice they were getting smaller and smaller, slowly disappearing out of sight.
My wrong turns were small choices and situations that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. Usually, I wasn’t even aware I was making choices. When someone asked how I was, I answered, “Oh, you know, fine,” and I thought I was telling the truth. I certainly wasn’t doing bad. I had a roof over my head, food to eat, was married to the man of my dreams, and had puppies to scrum on. Who was I to complain? Sure, most days I felt a kind of numbing sadness that I couldn’t quite pinpoint, but so many people suffer from so much worse than anything I was going through. How bloody ungrateful was I?
The truth was that I was thoroughly and totally stuck. A place I now look back and call—dun dun dun—the Purgatory of the Mundane.
The Purgatory of the Mundane might be even more dangerous than hitting rock bottom. Rock bottom can jolt you into action, but the Purgatory of the Mundane just lulls you to sleep with a sweet lullaby and then keeps you right on snoozin’. You’re comfortable, but you’re not actually engaged. Your basic needs are met, but your hopes, dreams and wildest desires are withering away faster than the Wicked Witch of the West at a waterpark. Poof. Gone.
The Purgatory of the Mundane is like an inner-tube pool floaty—easy to get into, even relaxing at first, but then it’s really frickin’ hard to get out (especially when you’re trying desperately not to spill your drink or get your braids wet). The Purgatory of the Mundane motto is: “It’s not that bad.” And it isn’t that bad, but believe me, it’s a sinister trick to fall for. The Purgatory of the Mundane doesn’t want you to leave, and knows how to get you to stay right where you are, how to convince you that you don’t deserve to go after your dreams, that you’re guilty for wanting more, and that you’re just being selfish and entitled to think that your life could be any better than it already is. The truth is that unhappiness is unhappiness, no matter how you shake or bake it. Sprinkle on as many reminders as you want (At least I’m not still single; At least I have a paycheck): That cupcake is still going to taste like boredom frosted with despair and baked through with paralysis.
I’m going to bet that the Purgatory of the Mundane sounds familiar to you. Maybe you already have the stamp in your passport and have even spent some time there yourself. Maybe you have frequent flyer miles and you’re there right now, up to your ankles in all that sticky, routine, boring-as-shit stuff that you’ve come to believe is your lot in life. If that’s you, then it’s time to plot your escape. It’s time to grow.
Excerpted from Radical Confidence. Copyright © 2022, Lisa Bilyeu. Reproduced by permission of Simon Element an imprint of Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 Issue of SUCCESS magazine. Photos ©Peter Hurley.