On living a life dedicated to personal growth.

posted in: Articles | 2


In between two sobs of absolute misery during my short but sudden depression as a teenager, I wailed at my mom for help. Finally frustrated with my laying-on-the-couch feeling-sorry-for-myself era of apathy, she lost it and snapped that she couldn’t fix me.


I was dumb-founded.


She can’t fix me? …


That sudden moment of crickets was an oasis of quietude after all the self-destructive anxious thoughts that had been swirling around in my head. I felt hurt and betrayed and the anger that arose from that brought a surge of energy I hadn’t felt in months.


Finally there was room for contemplation again.


If my mom can’t help me, what the hell am I supposed to do? If my sweet, loving mother, who would do anything in the world for me, can not help me.. what does that even mean?!



That means that I have to do it myself?


And if I have to do it myself, it means I COULD do it myself? What the..


I hadn’t lost all hope. I had too bright a childhood to think I wasn’t worthy of being happy. I knew it was possible. I actually felt like I could do anything I’d really set my mind to. I had just never before even considered that happiness does not at all depend on outside circumstances or another person to soothe me when those let me down.


So I started thinking. What was different about me when I was happy compared to people that weren’t happy? And compared to myself in my depression? Self-confidence was clearly a keyword. What else? I couldn’t get much further than ‘lack-of’ descriptions. Lack of negative thoughts. Lack of fear. Lack of shitty feelings. I was confused.


And the thing is, I kinda like being confused.


I’ve always been intensely driven and passionately obsessed with learning, and there is this moment right between ignorance and understanding that I find utterly invigorating. Nothing makes me feel more alive than hunting epiphanies and striving for exponential growth.


So I stormed into the library and indulged myself in self-help. I thought the name of the genre was brilliant. ‘Self-help’. So simple. So exactly what I had just discovered I needed. And so much to read about it! I read everything from neuro-psychological research articles and ancient Buddhist scriptures to New Age metaphysics and 10 tips to Wake up Happy in the Morning type of personal growth. (hint: the lemon-water didn’t change much).


This is how it started. I won’t tell you the whole story, but I got out of that depression, have forever since been grateful for the positive disintegration, and fell deliriously in love with studying the topic that is happiness.



The more I studied, the more I felt puzzled about people’s choices.


Why do we do things that make us unhappy over and over again? Why does the mind make us do that? What is the mind? Who am I?


All this questioning had led to some decisions that others may find unconventional. But when you keep asking yourself why, why, why, and eventually there is no solid answer, things change. Why do I need a mortgage if I don’t think it will make me happier? Why do I need to first grow old to be asking the big questions? Why can’t I travel the world and help others with what I know? Why is simply trusting everything will be okay such a silly thing to do?


I wanted to make my own choices. This sounds like something a 3-year old will say, but it isn’t as easy as you think. A perplexing amount of your thoughts, feelings and actions are decided for you by societal expectations and those of people around you, without you even realizing it. I wanted out, and the first opportunity I smelled was building my own curriculum in university — very daring, I know. The beaten track obviously led many people to misery, so I wanted everything my own way, even if it was trivial. “You’re supposed to do this course in this month and then have a holiday here” “Screw you. What do you know about happiness?!”


I don’t think I was really targeting the important changes here, but it taught me to think independently. Then, one holiday in Sevilla, I met a backpacker. He had ‘free life’ written all over his face, and even though I spent a whole week asking him questions and contemplating the idea, I think I made up my mind the second I saw him.


I wanted to travel.


My semester hadn’t finished yet, but what if I just left? What if I just went for it?


One month and a one-way ticket to Spain later, I found myself freer than I had ever been. I had enough savings to last me a month, so I got a job cleaning an apartment building overlooking the Alhambra in the early mornings and ended up staying three.


For the first time I was fully convinced that I was onto something. It was working. Happiness is something you create.


If I could cry tears of ecstatic joy dancing around a campfire, being embarrassingly broke, surrounded by strangers, torn between falling in love every other day and saying goodbye just as often, never knowing what would happen the next day, then everything society had taught me about happiness was a lie.


I didn’t need money. A degree. A career. A partner. Security.


I needed me.


I needed freedom for me to be me.


I flew all the way to Spain — and on later trips all over the world from Cambodia to Colombia — to arrive at myself.


I thought I was done.



And then I met someone, who was the first person that I hadn’t met in a book that seemed to have control over his mind instead of the other way around. The remnants of my traditional life said it was inconvenient. I had just planned an exchange at a prestigious university in South-Korea, and in general I wasn’t looking to ‘settle’. My soul luckily recognized him for what he was, and I fell madly in love and jumped into marriage two months later. We traveled the world again, together this time, and found more pieces of ourselves in each other as we went. We pledged to a life in which only two things truly matter: Joy, and growth.


I eventually followed him to the middle of nowhere in the U.S., because it seemed like an adventure. And when you expect adventure, it will freaking find you. The last year here has been an incredible journey of deep inner work in which I found love all around me, got intimate with the Universe, and ventured into the fascinating world of energy and healing.


I followed my heart and my heart led me to happiness. I trusted the Universe and the Universe gave me love. I was curious about the world and the world seemed curious about me.



So even after coming home to myself and experiencing that true and beautiful happiness, it still isn’t a constant. How can you ever be stressed out once you think you’ve figured out how happiness works?! Why do we have an ego if it’s our only task to overcome it? How do I get there? Who am I?


Ohh.. that sweet spot between ignorance and understanding. I feel so alive.


2 Responses

  1. Renate de Jong
    | Reply

    Wauw! Impressive.
    Makes me think and reflect a lot!!

    love Renate

  2. Sem de Jong
    | Reply

    geweldig stuk weer, Rikky, xxx

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