Forty Days

“What nine months does for the embryo

Forty early mornings

Will do for your growing awareness.”


It’s so easy to keep doing the “same old,” isn’t it? Stay at the same job. Live in the same house. Vacation in the same places every year. There is a lot of comfort and security in living this way, but it may also keep us from pushing toward changes that we want and need in our lives.

Travelling more, jumping out of an airplane, or running the Boston Marathon may remain the stuff of dreams. The things on our bucket list. Even relatively smaller desires, like taking piano lessons, learning a second language, or maintaining a daily yoga or meditation practice are hard to fit in when what we’re doing is simply surviving.

And there’s a real difference between surviving and actually living.

Surviving sounds something like: Is there enough money in my account to cover the property taxes? Did I forget to make the dental appointment for the kids? Why is our cat so expensive? The house is a mess, the washing machine is broken, and the mice just ate through that bag of organic granola.

Whereas living is more about figuring out what we really want to do or be and taking the steps to get there.

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”

—Mary Oliver

I know this story first-hand. A few years ago, when my only gig was professional writing and editing, I began to feel subtly, and then not so subtly, unfulfilled. To others, it may have looked like I was living the dream. I had my own business, I made good money, and I determined my own hours.

But, while I was doing what I loved for a living—working with words—many of the things I was paid to write were not terribly stimulating or creative. There was a “meaning gap.” I didn’t feel like I was doing what I was meant to do. There was something missing.

That’s when this blog was born. I created a place where I could do what I loved—WRITE—but on my own terms and about the things that invigorated and inspired me. The last two years have been the most fulfilling of my working life and have made me hungry for more. Writing about things that I love has lead me to all kinds of realizations that I never would have had before.

My biggest epiphany has been that I am truly passionate about helping other people explore their inner beings, live full lives, and become who they actually are.

I believe wholeheartedly that each of us has a purpose in this life—a unique gift for ourselves and the world—and part of the adventure of being human is cracking the code, and figuring out what that purpose is.

“Imagine what a harmonious world it could be if every single person, both young and old, shared a little of what they are good at doing.”

—Quincy Jones

Do you feel sick when you’re heading to work but your volunteer job lights you up? Do you know somewhere deep inside that you’re in the wrong relationship but find it hard to leave? Do you feel a calling that would require a sharp turn in the road? When you truly acknowledge that you’re unhappy or unfulfilled and that your life needs to change, you begin to see the clues and opportunities that the friendly Universe lays out for all of us. I call these “breadcrumbs.” Things start to happen.

Synchronistic things. A phone call from out of the blue. Meeting someone who can help us. Reading an article that touches a nerve. Breadcrumbs take many different forms but the key to initiating change is being able to recognize and respond to them.

In order to move toward our purpose in life, and follow these breadcrumbs, we must grant ourselves the gift of love and the gift of time. Unfortunately, these are two things we often withhold from ourselves (but freely give to everyone else!). Really being intentional about our own growth has become a  luxury, when it should be considered a necessity. And that’s the shift from surviving to living.

I realized awhile ago that I want to act as a catalyst for people making this kind of shift. I love the thought that something I offer might help someone take a step on their path, might bring them a little bit closer to cracking their own code, and might bring more joy and fulfillment into their lives.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

—Steve Jobs

It’s why I created The 40-Day Writing Project, which offers inspiration and writing prompts to people who want to explore writing as a way to initiate change in their lives. The project kick-starts a daily writing practice intended to ignite creative ideas, fresh insights, and an invigorated sense of clarity and purpose.

Why 40 days? It’s a bit of a personal fascination. I’ve long been drawn to the stories of 40-day journeys. There is a sacred and spiritual relevance to this period of time that spans the cultures and religions of the world.

In Judaism, rain fell for 40 days and nights during the Great Flood. In Christianity, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert. In Islam, Muhammad was 40 years old when he received the call to become a prophet. In Hinduism, there are many prayers that consist of forty stanzas and there are also 40-day fasting periods.

I love the thought that our family of humans have used, and continue to use, 40-day practices the world over. In this time where division and hatred is based on skin colour , place of birth, and religion, it’s important to remember and engage in the things we all have in common.

Forty days is a significant commitment, and one that I believe can push us past our habitual patterns, lead to the fulfillment of deep desires, and move us closer to where we really long to go.

Where do you long to go? What would it take for you to be truly living? What does your heart call out for you to do? Is there a breadcrumb that you can follow today?

Author: Renée Hartleib