When Death Sets You Free

Janet-Lee Ropas
6 min readAug 25, 2021


If you do not leave now, you are going to die.

These are the words I heard reverberating through my mind as I was lifelessly trudging to work on a cold, bitter, New York City, winter morning. The weight of every step I took was so heavy, it was as if I had cement blocks on my feet. I was disheartened, how did I get here and how could I possibly go on when I feel like the tides of despair will soon drown me.

I had just returned from a short getaway to the warm, sunny beaches of Puerto Rico. The trip was catalyzed by a meltdown I had in the shower, 2 weeks prior to boarding the plane. I was 28 & reflecting on how in two years I would be 30, and the grand dreams my younger self had of “saving the world” didn’t exactly pan out. Far from it. My life looked nothing like I had dreamed of.

Yet, from the outside my life looked like I had it all…living in New York City, touted by many to be the “greatest city in the world.” Working at the ivy league of investment banking firms, earning 6 figures, great health insurance, 401K, active social life and traveling the world. I just needed a partner & then it would be an off the charts kinda life. And in so many ways it was, but I felt like a ghost living someone else’s life because it wasn’t my dream.

When I was 17 and applying to colleges, I made a vow that, “I will not sit behind a desk all day from 9–5.” At that tender, young, hopeful age, I knew myself so well. I knew that kind of work would be a tether to my larger than life dreams & passions of being of service and making a huge impact in the world. I knew it would suffocate my soul.

I wanted to create deep, lasting healing change in the world. I wanted to end all violence, especially sexual violence, against women and children. I wanted to help foster unity and reverence for our planet Earth and all its life forms. I wanted to help stop the insanity. At the time, I thought psychology was my gateway to being of service and so I had the dream of opening up my own practice.

None of this happened because a year later I broke that vow.

During my college summer & holiday breaks, I started working on a Wall Street trading floor for one of the biggest investment banking firms still standing. A firm that has been a main character in many films about the toxicity of capitalism. I was in the belly of the beast. A far cry from saving the world.

I never intended to stay after college. I was using it as a means to fuel my passions, alleviate college loans, save money, and get a jumpstart on financial stability.

So why did I stay for 11 years in an environment my 17 year old self had the wisdom to know would be so toxic for me?



Scarcity mentality.


Reflections from trusted loved ones, that I had “made it.


Retirement Funds.

Health Insurance.


New York City rent bill.

Love of traveling the world.

Helping support my family with extra finances.

I stayed because I was disconnected from my body, breath, my heart, and soul. I stayed because somewhere along the way I forgot what I was passionate about. I forgot about my burning desire to “save the world.” I forgot how to love myself, and I forgot that being me is more than enough. I forgot my worth and I forgot how to show up fully, unapologetically. I stayed because I never took the time to get to know myself, and so my identity & self-worth were entangled in the prestige of this privileged, and what many others thought to be, glamorous life of Wall Street.

I was stuck in a rut, a huge rut, that I created, with eyes wide open.

I sold out for the money and promises of security. Little did I know when I signed the business contract, I was also signing up for a long, slow, painful, death sentence of my soul.

Death comes in all forms and grief can pummel us like a ferocious wave. If we get pulled into the undertow, it can feel relentless, and like we may never be able to find our way back into the light of day again. That’s what each day felt like to me. I masked it through numbing out via food (especially stuffing my face with cookies everyday at 2pm), binge drinking on the weekends, excessive shopping, and keeping my schedule so full I never had time to hear the whispers inside saying I needed to leave. Until that fateful winter morning it became a shout — “If you do not leave now, you are going to die!” I could no longer ignore the fact that I had been slowly dying, and if I kept on this path I was surely going to find myself in an early grave.

When I heard that shout, I felt a sense of relief…a sort of permission slip from the universe to make a change…one that I hadn’t been strong enough to give myself. I replied saying, Yes. I don’t know how, but yes, I will leap. All the universe needed to hear was my yes and then magic was activated.

Within 3 days of saying yes, I was very clearly guided by the universe to leave & pursue my dream to travel the world. Taking time to get to know me and what it was I truly desired to create in life and how I could be of service. So I began creating an exit plan, leaving my very expensive NYC apartment to move in with my grandparents for 1.5 years and set myself up financially so I could pursue my dreams with ease.

On July 26, 2011 (3 months before my 30th birthday) I walked out of the icy cold concrete prison that had been my life for the past 11 years. As the behemoth doors of the Wall Street trading floor closed behind me for the last time, I kept walking, slowly, as if in a trance, never looking back, trying to allow what just happened to sink in. I wandered to City Hall Park, which was near my former office, and sat on a bench.

It had been a gorgeous New York City summer day with no humidity, a gentle breeze, and just the soothing warmth of the sun wrapping around my body like a security blanket.

The thought that was running through my mind was, “I AM FREE.”


Huge smile, weight lifted, heart full of gratitude.

I escaped the corporate prison walls.

Forever more.

Some of the most challenging deaths & deepest depths of grief I’ve endured, were my own personal deaths. This was the 1st of many to come, as I began to shatter my own realities and false identities. The journey of personal growth & transformation is filled with ego deaths. The morning that I heard the universe shout — “If you do not leave now, you are going to die!” — I chose to surrender to the flames devouring my life as I knew it, until I was transformed into a phoenix rising from the rubble of ashes into my new life.

It was both one of the most painful and blissful journeys I’ve ever embarked on.

Some may think this is scary and it is. It is also absolutely worth it. I may have had the front row seat to my own death, but I also had the front row seat to my rebirth. And it was magnificent.



Janet-Lee Ropas

Heart Igniter❤️🔥Empowering women to rise above resistance & step into their power & fullest expressions unapologetically. https://www.janetleeropas.com