On the one hand, I have my act together. I work full-time as a producer and writer at a documentary film company, creating films for broadcast and for museums. I also do acting, TV hosting, and voice-over gigs when they arise. I own a sweet condo in a beautiful town outside of Boston. I pay my bills. I tend to my appearance and my health by working out, eating well, and getting enough sleep. I keep up with friends locally and at a distance. My ex-husband and I remain close. Looking at myself from the outside, I’d say I’m a pretty high-functioning human being.

But I also know that there are ways in which I’m not as empowered as I could be. There are ways in which I allow a certain relationship in my life to undermine my sense of self. There are ways that I dim my light, so to speak, and give my power away. When my birthday comes around as it will soon, I can’t help but compare where my life is now with where it was a year prior. And, honestly, in this one arena of my personal life, not enough has changed. When I reexamine it, I see how I’m longing to reinvent it, which means reinventing myself—stepping more fully into my power, into my joy, into the me I know I am at heart.

I’m not alone. So many feel the same—women especially. Conditioned for years to be “nice” and to take care of others, to capitulate rather than conquer, many of us can arrive at midlife discouraged and unfulfilled, wondering who we are, what we want, and if getting it is even possible anymore.

Kripalu presenter Donna Cardillo insists that reinventing yourself at any stage of life is absolutely possible, but that it does require some planning, persistence, and pluck. Author of Falling Together: How to Find Balance, Joy, and Meaningful Change When Your Life Seems to be Falling Apart, Donna—who’s sometimes called “The Inspiration Nurse”—describes an empowered woman living an enlightened life this way: “This is a woman who takes responsibility for her own life and lives with passion and purpose,” she says. “She makes her own rules, creates opportunities, and follows her heart. Rather than trying to fit into someone else’s mold, she creates a life that suits her unique talents, temperament, and personality—one that fills her with joy. She honors and values herself, her life, and her relationships. She lives in gratitude and supports other women.”

What gets in the way of women stepping into their power and living more enlightened lives, according to Donna, are preconceived notions about what we should do or what it’s even possible to do. “Our family and friends often have expectations of us, as well,” she notes, “and we get stuck in their vision rather than our own. Also, many women simply don’t know where to go from here, what next steps to take. And, of course, there’s fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of looking foolish, fear of not being good enough, fear of what others will think.”

Most of us associate fear with danger or a warning signal to proceed with caution—or not proceed at all, Donna says. But she believes that there are two kinds of fear. “The first one is the fear we feel when walking down a dark alley at night, when our senses become alert to danger and ready to fight or flee if necessary. The other type of fear is that which we experience when we’re stretching ourselves, trying something new, stepping out of our comfort zones. I call this type of fear ‘growing pains.’ It’s always part of the equation when we’re stretching ourselves—the bigger the stretch, the bigger the fear.”

If we accept that fear is a necessary part of the process of growth, we can make it our friend, Donna says. That means moving forward in spite of fear—“walking alongside of it rather than putting it in front of you as an obstacle to surmount,” she explains.

While past failures can sap our energy and confidence, Donna says we can also use them as springboards for success. For example, the first article she ever submitted for publication was promptly rejected. She vowed never to write again…but, eventually, that very rejection letter motived her to learn how to write for publication. “That was the beginning of my writing career,” she recalls. “If I hadn’t been initially rejected, I might never have been anything more than a lazy and mediocre writer and never gone as far as I have with writing. We always have a choice to let failure defeat us or propel us forward.” A tangible way to propel ourselves forward, says this master motivator, is to develop a customized action plan—which participants in her programs create with her support.

Donna acknowledges that, while most of us don’t have a vision of where we want to be or exactly what we want to do, it’s not necessary for a light bulb to go off in our heads before we move forward. But we do need to create positive momentum, rather than staying frozen or stuck in place—whether it’s going to a networking event, volunteering on a project at work or in the community, or making a phone call to someone we admire. “When we move in a positive forward direction, the right path will eventually reveal itself,” she says.

Lest we think there comes a time when we’ll have finally “arrived” and can bask in self-satisfied empowerment and nirvana-like enlightenment, Donna reminds us that engaging in self-development and living up to (or at least closer to) our potential is an ongoing adventure.

“Experts say that we have an innate drive to fully develop all parts of ourselves, including our talents, gifts, intellects, and so on,” she says. “Actively learning, taking calculated risks, having goals, living outside of our comfort zones—and having fun and enjoyment while in the pursuit—is a lifelong process. It’s the process of ‘becoming,’ and it’s what makes us feel fully alive.”

Originally published by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health