Hana Jung Learns to Trust Her Gut
After the deaths of two loved ones, the personal coach decided to break free from the life she thought she wanted to pursue the life she knew she needed
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Hana Jung told her story to producer Sarah Vitak for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
It truly was a wake up call when I ended up in the hospital twice throwing up blood, and feeling frustrated that the doctors ran a billion tests and the only thing they could give me was, “Oh, you have [gastrointestinal] issues.” That was not very helpful.
I’m from New York City. I’ve been living on and off in Nicaragua for about seven years now.
Professionally, I am a coach and a retreat leader. I’m a creator of personal evolution and an advocate for self-love. I am very passionate about learning the lessons from nature, and one of the ways that I do that is surfing. I surf almost daily here in Nicaragua, and it’s a way to feel connected, to feel joyful, and to be present.
Death has been such a transformative character in my life. Every weird turn I can trace back to a significant loss in my life.
One of the most significant deaths in my life was my uncle, who passed away when he was only 32 from stomach cancer. When I was 11 or 12 years old, I really looked up to him. I feel like he was like the cool uncle; he just had such a vibrancy to life. He had a curiosity for the world. He loved technology, he loved blending art and science and medicine, and he was very involved in his church. He played the drums and drove a cool car. All the things that, as a young child, you’re like, This is amazing.
I think intuitively I knew that it wasn’t picture perfect. There was a lot of stress. There were definitely parts of himself that he would suppress, that he never talked about. How things made him feel when things were not going well. And I thought that was the norm.
My uncle got sick right after he had just graduated from dental school. He built his practice. He put everything into it. He reached his pinnacle. And I think it was the first or second year into business when he got the diagnosis too late, because he ignored his body signals for so long. I remember as a child he would just take fists of antacids and pills and things to just basically treat the symptoms. I think It was less than six months from the time he found out to the time he passed. So it was really traumatic for the entire family.
When I entered the workforce after graduating, college, I took a job in advertising. I was working in New York City and in London for about 10 years. On paper it looked like a dream. I’m the cool New York City girl; I’m that girl, I have that job. I’ve got these amazing clients. I’m going to amazing parties. But inside I was dying, and it made me kind of question, Wow, was this something that my uncle was also thinking? I have it all yet, why do I feel so unfulfilled?
I think I knew, three years prior to me actually leaving corporate, I knew that I had to leave. But I did what was the holding pattern, which to me looked like, Maybe if I change like one thing, maybe if I work in the London office, or maybe when I move client side, or maybe if I work for a startup, this clawing feeling in the pit of my stomach that this is not what I’m supposed to do will go away.
The first time I started experiencing symptoms it kind of felt like a stomach ache, like I needed to throw up, and it started to feel like my whole body wanted to reject getting out of bed. A hum of feeling unwell, but not feeling obviously unwell. I didn’t have a cold, I didn’t have the flu, I didn’t have any other symptoms. And then it escalated more and more where my stomach would be really reactive to things that I was never reactive to before. I tried to numb out even harder with drinking, and obviously that didn’t help my stomach at all, and it was just kind of a snowball effect. It got to the point where I went into the office one day and the pain was so bad that I was in a fetal position on the ground, and I needed to take myself to the emergency room. And they ran a bunch of tests, and they couldn’t figure it out.
They’re like, “Oh, you just have GI issues,” and it was a catchall phrase to say, “We don’t know what’s going on.” That’s when I deeply knew in my gut, pardon the pun, but I knew that it was not just physical. It was psychosomatic. It was that something really significant needed to change in my life, and it was an opportunity for me to break a cycle.
I felt so ill, I literally couldn’t even keep down food or water. I was hospitalized twice in one month, and they’re like, “You just need to minimize stress.” And that was not enough.
It wasn’t until the second time I was hospitalized in that same month when I was reminded of Holy crap, like this is exactly the bridge that my uncle probably came to, and he chose to ignore it. I was taking Prevacid and I was doing all the things that my uncle was literally doing as well to mask and put a bandaid on a situation to drag myself through this life that I had built. I was so disassociated from my body that it took literally something this extreme to wake up to the fact that something was wrong.
When I first started to make the decision to basically 180 my life, there was for sure a lot of internal and external resistance that you would not believe. Internally, I was like, I spent 10 years dedicated to building this life, and now you want to blow it up? What are you doing? People are gonna think like you couldn’t hack it, or like you’re a fraud, or whatever. Externally, it looked like my parents being super confused, being like, “Why are you leaving this job again? I thought things were going great. Didn’t you just get a promotion?”
Then the final checkpoint was my aunt. My aunt was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She had married my uncle, she also went into a similar line of work in dentistry. She built a super successful business, way more successful than my uncle probably would’ve ever been, and I’m super proud of what she had achieved, but it was at the expense of her health. It wasn’t until later after I’ve been working on myself and exploring who I wanted to be for several years, at that point, that’s when we kind of started to discuss it more openly. She’s like, “You have no idea the amount of pressure and shame and guilt I was under. Your grandmother pretty much said it was my fault that he passed away. It was really hard to hear that.”
And I asked her, “What would you say to the younger version of you at that juncture?” She had just lost her husband. She had an infant child, and she had to put herself through dental school and try to make ends meet. And she’d be like, “You know, I spent so much of my life from that point onwards proving to others that I wasn’t some fraud, that I wasn’t just some can’t-do-anything, wife. I wanted to prove that I can be successful, that I could take care of my son, that I was capable.”
And that really resonated with me because I felt like so much of my identity and so much of our collective identity is so wrapped up in what we can do, and produce, and be in the world, that if we lose that, we’re almost afraid of, what does that mean? What does that mean for who we are? Are we enough if we’re not a doctor or a lawyer or a successful artist or someone to be admired? Are we only admired for the things that we can do?
So that to me, communicated very clearly that this idea of prioritizing other people’s expectations above your own knowing really has deathly consequences.
I think it wasn’t until I started experiencing those stomach issues where I kind of woke up and was like, Oh my gosh. I don’t wanna be like my uncle. I don’t wanna work and then die.
I finally decided to answer the call and did something completely crazy, which was leave a director of marketing job in New York City, a six figure salary, a townhouse in New York City, all the things that people would kill for. I felt like it was absolutely insane to leave, but the alternative was death to me. I’m for sure, convinced that I would’ve died if I never left New York, if I didn’t do a full 180 from my life and really alter the course to try to break the cycle of self-denial and self-betrayal.
Ever since I started to listen to my gut and really trust that, I haven’t been sick since. I can’t remember the last time I had any major gut issues or feeling that sort of stomach pain. And if I do feel a little hint of it, I know where it’s originating from, and I pause and I can get curious about it and kind of nip it in the bud before it kind of snowballs into what happened to me before. So I think I learned my lesson.
I think that’s why I naturally became an evolution coach, because I’ve lived a thousand lifetimes and really I’m grateful for death for being the impetus for me to change my course.
Hannah Jung is the founder of a retreat company, Reboot Experiences. She is also an artist, surfer, and coach for professionals navigating their next life chapter. Find her work at rebootexperiences.com or follow her on Instagram @thehanajung.