I hadn't been single in nearly 20 years, since I was 15. Classic serial monogamist. After each breakup, my girlfriends offered their two cents with, "Maybe you should be single for a while?" Maybe, yes, I thought. But it just never happened that way. I'd soon meet someone and we'd be "in it to win it" in no time.
When I met my ex-husband, I was 25 years old. He was 30, a musician and a kind and loving man. At that time, I was climbing the ladder in the cosmetics industry, fantasizing about traveling the world, and having a career that felt meaningful and inspiring. He had the life I'd dreamed of, and I looked up to him. We fell in love quickly, and every time we were backstage at a show, I was so proud to say, "I'm his wife." When we divorced, I felt an ache that a piece of my identity — being his wife — was dying away.
But I quickly fell in love again, this time with a well-known entrepreneur. When we met, my business was soaring. I was traveling more and more, and I was excited to do even bigger things in my career and life. He was at the top of his game, truly contributing to the world and living his life at an extraordinary level, and I looked up to him. We, too, fell in love quickly, and at every event we went to, I was so proud to say, "I'm his girlfriend."
While I fell in love with the men themselves (not who they were in public, but who they were in their hearts), I still felt a sense of validation from being able to say, "I'm with him." It was as if the fact that he was talented, brilliant, powerful and successful meant I was, too. After all, he chose to be with me, which was saying something, right? He chose me, and he is important; therefore, I am important.
This cycle of validation that ran in the background of my consciousness for so many years (decades, even) was never forced to be resolved because I was always in a relationship. Until the day I wasn't. The day we broke up will be imprinted in my memory for a long time, I'm sure. I was devastated. I was in love, and the ache of losing that felt too much to bear. While my heartbreak was fueled by my love for his heart, not his celebrity or achievements, there was a part of me that wondered, "If he doesn't want me, what does that mean about me? Will anyone care about me if I'm not standing beside him?" The thought sickened me, and I was finally forced to face the truth; I was allowing my partner's brilliance to validate my sense of self-worth. I knew it was time to finally take my girlfriends' advice and be single for a while, and I did.
I had to learn to choose myself. To trust myself. To love myself. To be myself. To just be Nisha. But that process, the one-year journey from losing myself completely to discovering deep self-love, not derived from anyone or anything, was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. And I didn't do it alone. When my marriage was falling apart at the seams, when I was a complete workaholic, and when my self-care was nonexistent — when I was his wife. And later, when I enjoyed the attention, the recognition and the perks of being with a famous entrepreneur — when I was his girlfriend. Through the messy divorce, falling in love again, devastating heartbreak, and finally my return home to myself, there was one constant: Sisterhood.
It was hard to do, but I forced myself to lean on girlfriends, even when I was afraid they would reject me or get tired of hearing the same stories over and over, and even when I was embarrassed that I hadn't figured it all out yet. Leaning on them saved me. Sisterhood taught me that I am worthy of love, not because I am with him, not because someone else thought I was special, but simply because I exist. For once, I felt like enough, because I was enough for myself. No validation needed. No qualifier. No explanation. The Dalai Lama once said, "The world will be saved by the Western woman." When I first heard it, I understood the sentiment because as Western women we enjoy many freedoms. But to be truly free, I needed to learn to love and approve of myself, no matter what the circumstances of my life.
I've gotten to know myself very well this year through my girlfriends midwifing me home to myself over and over and over again. And what I've come to learn is that, in fact the world will be set free by women who are free, and sisterhood is the key. So at any point, if you feel that life is unraveling, find the courage to lean on your sisters. Melt into their embrace, absorb their strength and love until it radiates from within. And when you don't want to go to them, afraid that you'll be too much trouble, or take up too much space, seek them out anyway. Because a free world is one where women are able to receive all the support they need, so they can find the energy to be of even greater service.
Nisha Moodley is a Women's Leadership Coach and the creator of Fierce Fabulous Free, The Freedom Mastermind & The Virtual Sisterhood. Inspired by the belief that the world will be set free by women who are free & sisterhood is key to a woman's freedom, Nisha creates communities of ambitious women to support them in redesigning their lives & businesses. Find her online at NishaMoodley.com and download her free Take Flight Action Guide to explore the next expansion of your freedom at TakeFlightActionGuide.com. You can follow Nisha on Twitter or Facebook.