Returning to Me

It was a brilliant, sunny morning at a beautiful resort in Acapulco, Mexico. I was attending an important international conference, where I was presenting my own research papers, as well as being the chairperson and discussant on research panels. The day before, I ran into the spouse of a former professor, who exclaimed, “Alice, your name is all over the conference program! We’re so proud of you!” Two months prior, I received a Young Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award from Cornell University. Together with my research awards, I was a bona fide rising academic star.

Darkness despite the sunshine

Yet, on that particular morning, as the warm Mexican sun saturated my hotel room, I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt trapped under a heavy blanket of impenetrable darkness. I was paralyzed by despair and hopelessness. A part of me knew that something was terribly wrong. After all, in the wake of a failed attempt to take my own life years earlier, I vowed to never let myself sink so low that I’d want to die again. I had reached that critical moment on that morning. So, I willed myself to complete what I went to Acapulco to do, promising that, as soon as I flew home, I’d immediately seek help. And I did. A few days later, I ushered in the milestone birthday of turning 30 with my first-ever prescription of Zoloft.

What was the underlying culprit to my clinical depression at a time when I had all kinds of reasons to celebrate? I had no idea who I was and why I was ever born. I felt trapped in a life I had labored to create that felt truly empty to me. With each accolade I received for doing the right thing in my career, a piece of my heart and soul was painfully ripped away. But I felt powerless to stop the pain. If I no longer lived that life, what would be the alternative other than death? I honestly didn’t have an answer.

That was June 2000. Why am I writing about it 12 years later? That’s because, even though I had tortured myself most of my life about why I took on this human body suit, I wasn’t ready to see the Truth until recently. I didn’t have the guts to ask the ultimate question: Stripping away the Ph.D., the career achievements and other objective evidence of success, what am I really worth? Until recently, I wasn’t ready to face the deepest fear of my entire human existence: Am I worth anything?

Seed of self-denial

I was born into a traditional Chinese family at a time and in a place that planted the seed for my deeply ingrained self-belief of unworthiness as a girl. For most of my life, I unknowingly carried with me the buried wound of not feeling I had any inherent value, that I only existed so that other people could use me to fulfill their dreams. Feeling very little joy from living, I threw myself into doing and achieving in ways that I was never expected to do or achieve as a girl. Subconsciously, I believed that, by doing so, I’d finally feel worthy and happy. Before I was conscious of what I was really doing, I had created a façade of success behind which I hid—and attempted to shield the unvalued little girl within me from being hurt any further.

Perfecting that lifelong practice of self-protection, I had also inadvertently buried my Authentic Self and cut off the Truth that I was born whole and complete. Any question of worth was a learned judgment, first as an unsophisticated young girl trying to make sense of hurtful things done and said to me—and internalizing the wrong conclusions. These conclusions from early life conditioned the way I expected people to behave toward me in adult relationships—that I was unimportant and very dispensable. Of course, I always fulfilled my own prophecies, and the erroneous belief of unworthiness got reinforced again and again over the years. Subconsciously, the more unwanted and unworthy I felt as a woman, the more I leaned on being smart, educated and successful in my career to save me from completely falling apart. This had inadvertently become my coping strategy to mask the pain, fears and vulnerabilities I had learned not to allow myself to see and, more importantly, feel. Before long, I had become the crowned queen of self-denial.

Ready for the Truth

With years of spiritual study and practice, I’ve started to restore the connection to my Authentic Self. That’s why it wasn’t until recently that I was finally ready to ask myself the ultimate question of who I really am behind the thick veil of denial.

So, who am I? I am Pure Love. Whatever I do and whatever role I play in my professional and personal life is simply a container to wrap around that particular expression of Love I choose to channel. As a writer, speaker and coach currently, these professional labels only describe how I intend to express and share Love in capacities that make sense to those I’m called to serve. After all, in the process of returning to my Authentic Self, I’ve made it my personal mission in this life to help others who question who they are and why they are here—just like I did for many years. My professional titles do not define me and most certainly not what I’m worth. Whether I’m objectively successful or not in any of these capacities—now or ever—has zero bearing on the Truth of who I am and how specifically I’m here on earth to express and share Love.

Reconnecting to the knowing that I am Pure Love in human form doesn’t mean I always remember this Truth in every moment of every day. What it does mean is that I have rediscovered the Real Anchor to which to return when self-doubt seeps in; that is instead of seeking shelter behind achievements when I feel scared. Knowing my Truth as Pure Love also means being kind and accepting with my human limitations; that is instead of the harsh indictments I repeatedly inflicted on myself for many years that amounted to unconscious self-hate. It is in loving myself through the darkest and scariest human moments that I can love others and help them do the same through theirs. Being an expression of Pure Love also means that I vow to do everything I do from the core motivation of Love, not so that I will become important or indispensable to others, or be revered as a success. Success is a product of Love to be enjoyed, not to be worn as an identity—or a shield to avoid feeling human.

I wasn’t ready to be reacquainted with my Truth 12 years ago as I am now. In human terms, it has been a long and bumpy road to return to Me, my Authentic Self. But, it’s also an intrinsic part of returning to Pure Love that I learn to see “long” and “bumpy” as what they are—only human judgments and nothing more.


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About Alice Chan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Chan is passionate about developing conscious leaders and organizations. Her path to serve her life purpose has included being an award-winning Cornell professor and a leader in the corporate world for nearly 15 years. She’s the author of the book, REACH Your Dreams: Five Steps to be a Conscious Creator in Your Life, and creator of the program, 30 Days to Living Your Best Life. All content on this blog and website is her own, not the opinions of her employer.

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Linda Joy
Linda Joy

Alice, You ARE Pure Love! Though the journey that brought you to that powerful realization may not have been one you would have chosen for yourself - it has brought you to this place where you are shining brightly - your love, your essence and your truth are inspiring so many - including me. I know how hard the journey is when we begin removing the layers of 'false masks' that we took on through our lifetime of pain and struggle -and your story gives each of us a sense of hope that through pain and facing our greatest wounds comes transformation. Though we've only known each other virtually for a short time your writing, your truth and your message resonates deeply with me. Honored that our paths have crossed!

Dan Teck
Dan Teck

Thank you for this beautiful, vulnerable, heart-based, and inspiring post. I'm so sorry that you had to experience such darkness, but I'm so grateful that you have used your experiences to clarify such timeless truths: that external signs of success are not a substitute for remembering and living your true identity of pure love. You are touching and helping so many by sharing--and LIVING--this message/reminder. It seems that you've converted your earlier belief ("I only existed so that other people could use me to fulfill their dreams") to a healthier version, in which you have inherent worth and value, and you help people reach their dreams by living/reaching your own, expressing your true self, and sharing your love on your own terms. Thank you again for your words, your message, and your love.

Shelley Lundquist
Shelley Lundquist

Dear beautiful Alice... What a powerful and courageous post. You are PURE LOVE. So perfectly said. Your post resounded with me and will resound with many. You are a beautiful soul with so much wisdom and truth to share. I applaud you for all that you are and all that you do to truly make a difference. With love and respect, Shelley aka letmemoveyou


  1. […] hear variations of Shakespeare’s advice a lot. Be true to yourself. I even wrote a very personal post about returning to my Authentic Self two weeks ago. How do we know if we are or aren’t being true […]

  2. […] success was the facade behind which I hid in my entire adult life. As I wrote in a previous post, Returning to Me, without success, I felt worthless. I’ve wished more times than I care to count that my God would […]

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