Jonathan Knowles—Getty Images
February 3, 2016 12:12 AM EST

When I was in my late 20s, a mentor gave me a piece advice I’ll never forget: In order to create greatness, you must first cleanse your life of what isn’t working.

I spent most of that decade chasing ambition, success and busy-ness. My life consisted of my day job (working for a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company), my night job (working toward my MBA part-time) and what might as well have been my midnight job (freakishly driving around town looking for a 24-hour gym). When I got home, I would scarf down a bowl of cereal before taking an hour to prep for my sales calls the next day. My life had become a modern-day version of Groundhog Day, during which I kept repeating this same routine, all the while fueling myself with Diet Coke, protein bars and sugar-filled processed snacks. I was starving myself both physically and emotionally.

Before I knew it, I’d spent close to a decade on the treadmill that was my life. I had exactly what I thought I was supposed to want—a wonderful husband, a nice house, a great job, a nice wardrobe and a great salary—but I felt empty and exhausted. My head was telling me to ignore the discontentment and embrace Dairy Queen Blizzards, but my heart told me to seek the genuine connections to people and my passions it so desperately craved. As any good science degree-grad would do, I assumed my head knew best and kept chugging on.

I became addicted to ambition, people-pleasing and keeping up a façade of happiness. When I did have some downtime (which I typically did anything to avoid), I would feel a deep sense of grief (and a desire to shop and eat carbs).

As I got older, I realized that I had been living a lie, all because I was afraid of living outside of the box. I think I was afraid that if I followed my heart and my gut that I would end up alone—but, of course, no one makes the best decisions when they come from a place of fear.

Appeasing others, eating caramel-filled Cadbury Caramello bars and buying designer labels that I purchased mindlessly to fill an emotional void all helped to distract me from the reality of my situation—that I was about to crack. I felt tension in every cell of my body because of my discontent. Signs of this despair included trouble sleeping, digestive issues, anger and frustration.

While all signs pointed to the fact that I needed to make a radical shift, I waited for crisis to hit before changing anything in my life. It came in the form of burnout. I guess my brain and my body had been waiting for me to crack, and when it did, I surrendered.

At the age of 27, I decided I was done shopping, binge eating and working endlessly to distract myself from my unhappiness. I feared the unknown but was miserable in the known, so I literally cleansed my entire life: I quit my job (while my boss was on vacation, no less), initiated a divorce with my husband and sold everything I owned, including my furniture, my home and my car.

I showed up at my MBA graduation with no assets, no job and a new (well, to be fair, my original) last name. But I didn’t feel distraught as I stood in my parents’ driveway the day after my commencement ceremony. As I handed the keys to my Nissan Altima to its new owner, I felt completely alive in the simplicity of it all. That was the moment that transformed my life and I became a cleanser.

Selling my assets helped me pay off the $13,000 in credit card debt I had racked up thanks to my emotional spending—and left me with enough remaining funds to go on a three-month trip to Europe. It was during that trip that I started to really appreciate stillness and emptiness in life. I celebrated my 28th birthday in Portofino all by myself—and I was genuinely happy with that. I had a great meal, a glass of wine and, for the first time, plenty of breathing room in my life.

I empathize with anyone who’s living in that space where you’re grappling with making a decision that will shake up your entire world. It takes major guts to make the decision you intuitively know is right but that isn’t safe. But let me tell you as someone who’s come out on the other side: If you know it’s the right decision for you, it is—no matter what anyone else says.

This past September, I turned 40. And what I know now that I didn’t 15 years ago is that, sometimes, all you need is quiet and simplicity. When life is filled with jam-packed to-do lists, you can’t hear your destiny calling you through all of the noise. I had to create space, let go and surrender in order to rebuild my life in an authentic, mindful way. This didn’t happen over night, but through the years, I got really good at saying no to good options and yes to great ones.

My new addiction is keeping my environment, my life and my body as light and free as humanly possible. Chaos always wants to creep in, so this is a daily practice. To help achieve this end, I’ve replaced my unhealthy habits with yoga, juicing, mentoring, writing, professional speaking and walking. I finally realized that time and health are really all we have, so I’ve let go of everything that felt inauthentic to me. Most importantly, I’ve stopped being so freakin’ hard on myself—which is why I’m forever grateful for the fact that I went through my debt, divorce and burnout.

Leanne Jacobs ‘retired’ at the age of 33 so she could get started on her true calling—inspiring seekers from around the globe to unleash themselves into greatness. Leanne is mother to four beautiful children and the author of the upcoming book Beautiful Money.

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