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Wednesday, May 18, 2022  

The oh, so empty boxxPublished 9/2/2003

Emptiness. That feeling that leaves you feeling heavy, without energy, directionless, lost, or questioning your own value in life. What causes some people to find themselves in the Box of Emptiness? I’m not really sure, but I can tell you that I’ve been there and it almost cost me my life.

I didn’t always feel empty. I certainly wasn’t born that way. Nor did I go to school or start my career or my family with those feelings. Yet, somehow, as the years went by, it became a prevailing sentiment that effected each day of my life. It seemed to show up about the time I elected to stay home and leave my career on the sidelines for a few years.

Despite no longer working outside the home, I stayed very busy. Volunteered hour upon hour with my daughter’s equestrian group. Organized events. Served on national committees. Answered a zillion phone calls. Gave of myself, my time, my energy. But the feeling persisted and only grew. It was certainly not that I didn’t enjoy being home… because I truly did. I loved the time I was able to spend with my daughter… those are days that I will always be grateful for, especially since I realize that not all parents have that luxury. My bond with her is partly as strong as it is, because of the time I was able to spend with her.

Yet, what else was going on to lead me to this overwhelming feeling of being unfulfilled? In part, I think it was that I defined myself by the roles I took on and not who I really was. My value, when I brought an income to our household, gave me a position of a contributor. I could measure my worth in the dollars and cents I deposited from my paycheck each week. If I wanted new carpeting for my house, I knew that I helped contribute to its acquisition through the money I brought to the family account. I remember my desire for a new wooden fence to put around our property and my husband saying to me, "well, just go sell something." knowing that if it truly was my goal, that nothing would stop me. I only had to put my mind to it.

So, what changed? Well, suddenly being a stay at home mom, leaving my career and paycheck behind, I started to believe that my value was no longer important. Sure, I did the grocery shopping, laundry, child care, made meals, drove the car pool, got my daughter to all her riding lessons and horse shows, but there was no paycheck at the end of the week, yet my husband still brought one home. In my eyes, it became very easy to put him on a pedestal of the "breadwinner" and me at the place of no longer feeling equal.

I remember in nursing school, learning that many people only live for about 18 months after their retirement. It was assumed that it was due to the fact that they believed their worth and personal identity was tied to their job and that without that "role" they simply didn’t know who they were anymore. I can truthfully understand that feeling.

So how can you combat this Box of Emptiness? I believe that it must start with a realization that who you are lives inside, not on the outside. In other words, if you were dropped on a dessert island, without your family, your job, your cell phone, your computer, your possessions, or anything else that you think "defines" you … who would you be? What would be important to you? What would you do on that island to fill your days? In the movie Castaway, the main character fills 4 years of waiting with memories of his girlfriend, at the same time that he develops new skills of survival. He is utterly transformed by this experience and when returned to the "real world," his life takes a new direction, with a different appreciation of who he is and where his life might go. The fast paced world he lived in working for Fed Ex no longer "defined" how he lived his life.

If you were stuck on a desert island without all your worldly possessions, family or career, who would you find out that you truly are? If you can only find emptiness in your world right now, then something isn’t giving you clear direction. You haven’t heard the voices inside of you, telling you what is truly important to you – what inspires you – what you would do if you had all the money in the world and could do anything you want.

Find a way to stop the noise in your life and listen to that voice within you… it’s there. You may have to be really, really quiet to hear it, but isn’t it worth it? If I hadn’t finally heard my voice, you wouldn’t be reading this today!

Mary Jo Fay facilitates a seminar called "Power Out of the Boxx," held in Cozumel, Mexico each month. She can be reached at 303-841-7691 or at

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