The Game

When I was 12, I began to cut myself. The pain felt good. It took me far away and my body could feel.

Luckily I realized I did not want to be addicted to cutting. So I started to beautify myself by piercing my ears. No ice or anything, just earrings I pushed ever so slowly and painfully through my ear. I ended up with six holes on my left and four on my right lobe. My hair was always a bright color of the rainbow or white. There was a joy in the combination of chemicals and sharp objects to make myself into a version of me that I wanted to look at in the mirror.

When I turned 18, I moved onto a nose ring, other piercings and tattoos. There was something appealing about the concept of pleasurable pain and lasting changes on the body made by choice. Just eight months prior to my 18th birthday I had crashed a car due to a break failure that had left a permanent mark on my face; A scar that ran from above my eyebrow down to my cheekbone on the left side of my face that made my parents cringe with revulsion. They inquired of every plastic surgeon they could find if it could be “fixed” even though I flat out refused. The scar was me in every way – bright and shiny, prominent yet somewhat hidden and very damaged. Finally my internal scars were beginning to show on the surface. I pulled glass that migrated to the surface out of my scar for years after that accident. It was a constant reminder that my pain was real and I was not imagining it.

At 18 years old, hanging out in Washington Square Park in New York City, my scar hidden beneath large black glasses

My insides were a tangled mess of rotting emotions, fears, anxieties, and self loathing buried deep in the soil, yet I pretended like I was a garden bed of bright flowers on the outside. I recognized the game I needed to play to survive and played it well. I did not want to feel. Feeling was not only reprimanded in my childhood but it hurt too much. And when I did feel, I realized how alone I was. I hid every emotion and swallowed my pain. I had relied on my sharp brain to navigate life and survive and I used it well to escape my past and carve my own future. I earned a PhD in Molecular Biology and an MBA in Marketing that kept me employed and headhunted.

I never fit in with my brown skin, my strange approach to life, and of course my rebellious ideas, fashion sense, piercings and tattoos surrounded by white east coast preppy society in neck wringing business suits. In academia I could get away with expressing myself a bit since I was mostly tucked away in a lab, only having to play the professional look game when presenting research in departmental seminars and at medical meetings. Playing the part of a business professional felt both natural and awkward. It felt like someone I had been in another lifetime and so I was naturally gifted in this role. At the same time I felt like I was pretending to be this person because it is what I learned in this lifetime but it was never me. And as a result, I never felt comfortable or fit in.

But with that drive to survive, rely on my intellect and need to “succeed” in the definition driven into me like a jackhammer by my father (money, bigger, better, more), I tried hard to push that large square peg with spikes into the small round hole.

That punk in me would say I sold out. Truthfully, I sold my soul.

At 31 I entered the corporate world to make some real money. I had a sharp mind, my family taught me by an unloving force how to bow down to authority and I knew how to play games of society. I was good at stirring the kool aid but never drinking it. Aside from book smarts, I had street smarts. I had learned very well to get by doing what they asked you to do, but never buying into it. I was playing the role I was expected to play in the game and I played it well.

During the day, I tried to normalize my look to corporate. Except for my nose ring, I took out all my piercings and hid my tattoos. My hair was either professionally streaked with “natural looking” highlights, not my usual choice of rainbow colors, or its rooted black. Though our car already looked like a hippie California car with a couple of liberal bumper stickers which was enough of a sight in the corporate parking garage, I did not let my husband put a sticker of the participant created Burning Man publication entitled “The Shroom” that was a picture of its namesake. I was trying to hide my own rogue lifestyle as this was in the days before the experimental annual society in the desert gained mass media attention or tickets ever sold out, and the fungi was nothing more than an illegal crazy hallucinogen in the eyes of society rather than fame it amassed thanks to Michael Pollan and later the FDA approval for depression. I was trying hard to fit in to the rigid office culture and by stripping myself of my outward personality and interests, I became who I was as a young child: an awkward, shy, little, nerdy Indian girl. Smart, skilled, and could climb a corporate ladder quickly yet very strange, lacking an identity and very hard to get to know.

Burning Man 2008

The problem was they wanted me to “fit in.” Corporate creates their own culture and they want you to participate. I just wanted to do my work, be a good coworker and go home with my money. I did not want to participate in the office culture. I had already sold my life; I was always working all the time and now they wanted me to do more for them and be a cheerleader for the company. I am able to hide who I am – I had to do it for the first 20 years of my life and still do around my family for their sake so I have been well trained – but I could never fake something I was not. I could not pretend to “fit in.”

I could not stay hidden for long. It was like trying to stuff spilling foaming bubbles back into the bottle it came from. I could not be contained.

Cautiously I let myself emerge – I put a set of bone white tribal gauges back in my earlobes and got new ink on my body in areas considered more “risky” for corporate, like the insides of my arms including my wrists and the top of my spine at the base of my neck. Slowly the tattoos were exposed in the office but it meant I wore a lot of long sleeve shirts and jackets at professional meetings. My bone white gauges in my ears were noticed and commented on often by conservative clients, but luckily my brain stunned them enough to make them ignore my less than fully corporate look. I played the game so well, even with my slightly edgy look, I was able to easily change jobs and negotiate a salary that allowed me to become the breadwinner of my family by a significant margin.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting 2016

And then after my 3rd or 4th nervous breakdown and watching my husband and daughter suffer along with me, I quit. In quitting I returned to being myself immediately. I shaved half my head to the scalp, got a second nose ring in the opposite nostril and loaded up on tattoos, including finger tattoos.

I thought that by changing my exterior I would feel better, more like me. In some ways I did, but internally I had not healed and the superficial look was me but still a mask. I had not done the hard work. I remained that child who was scared, alone, unable to feel and hellbent on survival. As a freelancer I played the exact same role I had been playing for the last decade and the hustle of lacking steady work forced me to be in the game, even though I no longer formally worked in an office. And so, I slipped and fell back into the abyss of blandness dotted with lights of anxiety.

I had performed so well in the corporate world that I was constantly being recruited and eventually I succumbed. I grew my hair back, took out gauges, talked up my nose rings to being Indian and was back in the corporate game. That kind of money is like heroin. And they threw in perks like working remotely from home so I thought that could shield me. But corporate wants your life, your time, and your soul. I was MISERABLE. Yet I did not know how to escape. I felt trapped and limited. Even though I had made immense jumps from academia to corporate and within corporate, I did not know how to translate my skills and gifts to another career and found myself navigating the same path every time I tried to find a way out.

I know now everything happens for a reason. I was led down this road to choose a job that paid outrageously well while I worked from home for a reason. I had money and the space to finally do the real work. Feelings are subtle at first, and we need to be quiet to hear them. We usually don’t listen to them until they are overwhelming. We need space to feel the gentle voice and these jobs required my brain so much, there was no space to feel. Working from home provided some space.

I did the internal work. Shadow work. Light work. Healing work.  We are so focused on the value of our brain, but the truth is our bodies hold so much more insight and knowledge. After coaches and energy workers cracked my armor just enough for my light to shine out and for me to receive the light of the world, I started to hear the call of the plants and animals that guide and teach. Grandmother taught me that I am gifted at what I have been doing but this is not what I am supposed to be doing at all. I have been living inside of my head and not the world in order to avoid pain. She also taught me how much pain there is for me to heal and that I store these wounds in my womb. The desert toad taught me that I don’t want to die, that life is a miracle and I can release that pain. And the fungi taught me that I am infinite, creation expressed, one with our planet and that I am capable of birthing galaxies. The plants and animals teach and guide me with the unparalleled help of particular humans with indescribable gifts who can navigate those worlds and help rebuild me.

Finally, I woke up. For the first time in my life I understood.

Life IS a game. But I had been playing the wrong game this whole time. I was playing society’s arbitrary self created game of thrones – pointless battles, strategies and lives wasted in order to get to the top. The top of what? Once you become president and CEO, have your car and plane and island, drinking expensive wine, what is next? The quest is never finished because one is never satisfied. And these things we have bought no longer please us. This game is one in which the definitions of success usually do not correlate with happiness, abundance is defined by money, and money is earned through pacts with the devil or that which seems frivolous, yet vast amounts of energy and attention are devoted. The game created by the humans of the western world is based on fear, limitations, the projection of one’s image and individualism. The players usually acquire some form of anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, lack of time and absence of self care along the way.

I was not playing the real game. The game of the Universe. Filled with possibility, creation, experimentation, the unknown, magic, community, gratitude and manifestation. I had been tried in life from an early age and with the grace of the universe, I survived and then some. I had made it – degrees, a family, a home I manifested. It was now time to thrive and enjoy it. To live. To let go, play and be a light. Be myself. My awkward, introverted, bubbly, shy, dynamic, loud, insecure, smart, determined, fun self.

With the support of my husband, I quit my corporate job. Again. This time for good. I did more than quit a job this time, I quit my career. So long. Thank you for providing me with what I needed, but it is time to move on. As I said my goodbyes to my mentees, one remarked that I rattled the cages, bucked the system, never backed down and have forever changed the company for the better. Even though I did not want to participate, I always stood up for what I believed in and did not let the company just play the game as they wanted. I helped change the rules. And I made a difference.

Now I have changed the rules of my life. One in which I value the wisdom of my body equally, if not over, my intellect. My body holds the stories of my life and they keep me trapped in the same old narratives and loops in my life. I do not need to be confined by my lack of awareness or fear of these emotions. There is so much to dig through and those stories that led to me cutting and numbing my emotions with physical pain are aching to have a voice.

I celebrated by putting the majority of my piercings back in. Thirty years after I began piercing my skin to feel, once again the pain felt good. Not to cover up other emotional pain or escape reality but because I was re-membering myself, being true to me and honoring who I am. This time it is not a mask. It is a true reflection of me. I still don’t know what I am going to do next because I do need money to pay a mortgage and school loans and I have a family to think about. And I like to experience life with money, so I will need to manifest it. But for the first time in my life, I know that I am not alone on a giant rock floating through space. The universe has got my back. I took a leap of faith and am, for the first time ever, sitting comfortably in uncertainty. I am using this time to defragment my body’s hard drive, reprogram the wiring, and reboot my system. Because in this real game of life there is only one way to be successful, abundant, happy and win – by being yourself. Not the self we have become through years of patterning and programming learning from those who have not figured it out yet. But the self that exists behind the internal mind chatter telling you to keep living in fear by doing the same thing. That person exists if you listen closely, quietly. That person has big dreams – to quit that job, create that thing, travel the world, to make that move – and these dreams are not only exciting, but possible. You just have to believe.

Do the hard internal work, discover who you truly are, always stay true to yourself and live your best life. The world needs the real you.

At age 42, thriving.

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