A Jedi in training doesn’t say, “You know I think I’ll do my best to try to become a Jedi.” He (or she!) says, “I’m doing this. I’m committed to this path.”
I’ve got Star Wars on the brain this week because I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of commitment and its vital role in our happiness. And if ever there was an example of serious commitment to a way of life, it’s the Jedi.
That muddy middle of indecision is like a tractor beam and we have to fight our way free. Progress doesn’t live in the middle, and neither does success. When it comes to our future, we have to take a stand and decide to decide how it’s going to go. We have to be the Jedi knights of our own lives. It’s not an easy path, but it’s the only one I know that leads to a well-lived life.
I only settle for what I want.
Sometimes, we lose our footing on our path because we doubt our gut. We make a choice that at the time seems like the sensible, acceptable way to go. Then we get down the road and realize this was the wrong choice. Our gut was right. We should have followed our instincts. Doubling back seems difficult, if not impossible, so we just keep going in the wrong direction, hoping that we can somehow turn it into the right direction or be happy with it as is even if it’s not what we want. This is the sad definition of settling, but it’s not the only definition. We can choose to settle for what we want.
When I worked with my therapist, Brian, we spent a lot of time on this concept. For much of my life I had settled, but I didn’t realize that at the time. I had gotten so used to settling that it felt like what I wanted. Certainly I pushed myself very hard and I had incredibly high expectations of myself and others (I still do), but there was a part of me that was very concerned with the appearance of success and the guilt of not taking an opportunity that many others would love to have, even if it was one I didn’t want. “I should be happy with this,” I would say. “Many other people would be so I should be, too.”
Brian helped me break that awful habit. We are here on our own paths. We know what we want, what brings us joy, more than anyone else does. And that includes your best friends, your partner, your parents, even your strongest and most inspiring mentors. They don’t know what you want. They only know what will help them not worry about you. And that’s a lovely wonderful thing, but it is no way to live a life. Thank them for the advice and do what you know to be the right thing for you right now. Ask for their support, but don’t live by their rules.
You have to decide how to spend your time. You have to choose how to build your life. It’s one of the best things about being an adult – getting to carve and live your own masterpiece. Let people share in that, but don’t let anyone dictate it to you. Don’t be afraid to give yourself everything you’ve ever wanted in life.
In yoga, the concept of a life path is known as dharma. It’s our direction, our anchor, our reason for being and doing.
Here are a few things I know about dharma:
1.) You are the only person who knows what it is
2.) More often than not, it chooses you. Either you follow it or fight it, but that choice is up to you.
3.) It never fails you in the long-run, but in the short-run it can be bumpy, difficult, and uncomfortable. The good news is that you learn to love the discomfort because you know that finding your dharma is worth the ride.
4.) If you don’t follow your path, you feel a lack of fulfillment and purpose that is tough to find any other way.
5.) The way is always open, though the path is not always immediately apparent.
Here’s how these 5 principles came alive for me:
Theater, culture, and writing
I left professional theater a number of years ago because the path that I was on in the industry wasn’t my path. I was working on the business side even though my path is to be a writer. I have known this for a long time, for many years. It took a long time for me to get the courage to follow the writer’s path. It also took me a long time to learn the craft well enough to trust myself to earn a living from it. And now I’ve written my first play about specific societal issues that are near and dear to my heart and am beginning to submit it to different theater companies for their consideration. My love for theater and culture finally merged with my path of being a writer. I’m also writing a book and writing for a number of publications and organizations rooted in good causes. I spend my day crafting words about things that matter to me, my very favorite activity.
Business and writing
Some people thought I was crazy to leave my job in the business side of theater without knowing what I wanted to do next. Some thought I was crazy when I left my comfy corporate job many years later to pursue a creative path that was not yet clear to me. I knew I wasn’t crazy; I knew I wanted to be happy and I had to take a new road to find out what makes me happy.
Technology and writing
My business experience in several different industries, including technology, has been an enormous asset to so many areas of my life, and I know it will continue to be. I love business and technology, and I especially love to explore the way in which they push cultural change. To be happy, I had to bring the pieces of my life together in a creative way – that was the path. It took a long time to learn that, and when I finally understood that I found that the way was open. I had to choose it, but it was there waiting for me.
In keeping with the theme of using October as a month of renewal, I’ve decided to stop doing some things. Time has value far beyond any other possession we have. We must spend it wisely. For a few months I’ve been writing branded content through a third-party vendor as one of my writing gigs. The vendor has a stable of writers, finds brands that need quality content, and puts the two together.
It’s a fine concept – on paper. The trouble is that with this particular vendor the writers and clients never speak directly to one another. They only communicate via email through the third-party, and very little information is given to the writer at the outset. Lots of signals get crossed and lost, leading to hefty rewrites that make the per piece pay rate untenable given all of the work and re-work each piece takes.
I dropped the gig yesterday, and feel happy / sad about the decision. The third party vendor isn’t happy about it. I never like walking away from work though I understand from friends of mine who have been freelancing far longer than I (Amanda, I’m looking at you with my big blog-y eyes) that this is the way of the freelance world. Not every opportunity will be as good as it seems. And some opportunities will be good for a while, but aren’t suited for the long haul.
As Kenny Rogers says, you gotta know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. A gambler I am, at least in the proverbial sense. Next!
When someone asks me who or what I’m trying to be, I don’t give them an occupation. I tell them I’m trying to be someone who the younger me would be proud of. When I was a little girl, I would look to adults I admired: authors, scientists, teachers, teachers, and other people doing inspiring work around the world. I couldn’t wait to be an adult so that I could get out into the world and make some kind of contribution.
In the shuffle of everyday adult life, this kind of memory can get lost. That little kid is still inside me somewhere, still inspired by these same people for these same reasons. The question I think about all the time is if the younger me would be inspired by the me of today. When I have a decision to make, especially when the problem is muddy and there is no clear answer, I think about younger me a lot. I try to imagine how she would see the problem that adult me faces. No doubt, it would be very black and white to her. And then I make the choice she’d admire, the choice she’d be proud of. She’s my barometer for doing the right thing.
Questions without clear answers can paralyze us. I’ve wrestled cloudy questions to the ground many times over in an attempt to get answers I thought I needed before I could make a move. I gave up that practice 15 months ago when I left my corporate job to carve a new path of my own design. Now, I have to live the questions, answers or not.
How I made my home in New York City
I didn’t know if I should act on my idea to leave New York behind and move to California so I tried out California for 2 months without giving up my place in New York. I couldn’t just toss the question around in my mind and wait for an answer. I had to try California, I had to live the question, to find my answer. And the answer was New York.
How I started my own company
I didn’t know if I could make a living independent of a company that someone else designed. Like the California question, I kicked the tires on entrepreneurship as long as I could. To find out if it suits me, I needed to give it a go, live it. I’m still trying it; still living it. The answer is becoming clearer, but I’ve got some room to go yet. That’s how I started Chasing Down the Muse.
How I decided to follow my dream of being a writer
I don’t know if I can make a living as a writer. I’ve made part of my living as a writer for a while, but I don’t know if I can fully support myself with my tightly honed abilities to turn a phrase and meet a tight deadline. That question isn’t going to answer itself. There’s no way to know until I try. So I’m rolling the dice, taking a seat at the table, and living that question every day. The cloud cover will eventually break and I’ll have my answer. All I can do now is play it as it lies. Read about my writing by clicking here.
What questions are you living?
“I like things to happen. And if they don’t happen, I like to make them happen.” – Winston Churchill
The most striking outcome of my time in California is my decreased tolerance for waiting unnecessarily. Some times, we need patience. We need to take a beat, a breath, a moment. A gathering storm needs to pass. We need to deal with a new emergency. But patience can be used like a crutch. We wait because it seems less scary than action.
So how can we tell if it’s time to wait or time to act? Remove ourselves from the decision. Imagine that a friend is asking for your advice on the exact situation you’re in. This friend is strong, capable, ambitious, and talented. She will succeed or learn trying. Should she act? Should she wait? That’s your answer.
Almost always I find my answer is to act. Try this experiment. Let me know how it goes.
Wrapping up a week in madness, I’ve reflected a lot on the ideas of creativity, transformation, and acceptance. Remaking ourselves and our lives takes courage. Some people may not understand what you’re doing or why or how. They might put us down in every way possible, and we might start to do the same to our own mad dreams. Don’t take your cue from them. Their words and actions, as much as they may hurt, have nothing to do with you. It is just an expression of them wrestling with their own demons and lost dreams that they didn’t follow. And the reasons for their choices don’t matter. They chose. Now you choose: Go down that road even though you know how it ends, and it doesn’t end well, or go in a new direction.
New directions can be frightening. We are leaving behind our history, our patterns, our expectations, and the impressions of others. Of course it’s mad to chart a new course. The old worn one is so much easier to travel. Be mad. I know it sounds so easy to say “let go”. No one tells us how painful that process can be. There’s a grieving, a mourning period. But on the other side of that grief, is light.
And here’s something else no one tells us: once we strike out on a new road, we don’t travel alone. Up ahead, just around the bend, there is someone new waiting, lots of someones waiting. They took off before we did in the same pursuit of something new and exciting, something that they feel passionately about. They are our new examples of how to be. We are both teacher and student, always. We learn and then we turn around and teach others through our example. That’s how it’s always been.
Yes, we’re here to take life by the horns, madness included, but we’re also here to give even more back. We’re here to be generous with our experience so that others may be encouraged and inspired to invest in their own mad dreams. That’s progress.
“I don’t want people to think I’m crazy so I won’t say, do, try…’x’.” How many times have you said that to yourself? I hear that recording running in my mind all the time. And I’ve learned to acknowledge it, thank it for its counsel, and then let it go. We have to release that thought if we are to do anything original. Our value, and the value of work, is found in what’s not obvious, in connecting dots that have been disparate.
That’s the place to go – into the dark corners, into the places that others won’t go. And don’t be meek about it. Hold your head up high, confident, bold, brave, and daring. Attempt to go so far in the direction of your dreams that you merge with them. Your life is an expression of what matters most to you – who you spend your time with, where you go, the actions you take, the support, encouragement, and love that you provide to others.
Don’t be discouraged if others can’t see what you see. It’s not their fault. They don’t have your vision in their minds. You have to build it for them. You have to bring along those who are interested in your path bit by bit. The expression you wear on your face and the light you emit from just being who you are, living your very best day every day no matter what circumstances you face, is all the proof you need.
As I head to Vegas this morning to be part of the mentor program at SXSW V2V, I’m excited to announce that my company, Chasing Down the Muse, is making a shift to place more emphasis on making products. I used my summer in LA to figure out my next career steps. I moved away from everything and almost everyone I know to figure out what mattered most to me.
Here’s what I learned: While I’ve enjoyed the strategy, communications, and marketing consulting projects I’ve done this year, I miss spending the majority of my time ideating, making, launching, and iterating products. Time to change that! Don’t get me wrong – the strategy, marketing, and communications is vital to having successful products and I plan to continue that work; now I want to bring the actual making of products back into my daily work life. Want to work together on product-based projects? Drop me a line!
This summer I’ve spent every day involved in the process of making and it’s been a complete delight. I have always believed that the surest way to a fulfilling life is to follow the joy wherever it leads. So I’m taking my own advice. I’m going for it – let’s roll!
Up tomorrow: Why I lean in every day