On a recent episode of How I Met Your Mother, one of the characters feels lost and unsure what to do with her life. She got some powerful advice from a stranger: “What’s the one thing you want to do with your life? Now let everything you do be in service of that.”
This is a question I’ve been wrestling with a lot lately. What’s your one contribution, the one thing you really want to point to and say, “I did that. That’s why I was here.” Don’t make any considerations other than what you want. This isn’t about what you can do, but what you want to do. Got your answer?
Mine is to create content in many forms that inspires people to live exactly the lives they want to live. I want to be known as someone who did that for every person who crosses my path in some way.
We stumble. When that happens, we take a pause. We look down the road ahead and wonder if we should continue or stay where we are. Stumbling shows us what matters most to us. Do we care enough to get up, with scrapes and bumps and bruises, and try again? Or does it show us that the effort is not worth our energy? Either decision should be celebrated. We have only so much time. We have only so much space in our lives. How we use it is the most important choice we ever make.
We are so much more talented than we let ourselves believe. Somewhere along the way we were told to not think too much of ourselves or the value we bring to the people, places, and causes that consume our time. We were told to feel lucky for every opportunity that comes our way rather than recognizing that we make our own opportunities. Someone convinced us to keep our heads down and follow the path as determined by others.
In the past few days, I’ve had several conversations with friends who don’t realize just how amazing they are. They’re worried about making bold moves as if they don’t have a right to them. They’re cautious about standing up for themselves and the gifts they bring to the places they work. They don’t see what I see – that they deserve everything they want and then some because they worked hard to get where they are.
Have faith, in yourself, in your process, in your path. You are meant to do great things with your great life. We get what we settle for, so only settle for what you really want.
A couple of days ago, it was 60 degrees in New York. Phineas didn’t even need a sweater on his walks. All of the businesses and apartment buildings flung open their doors to let in the warm sunshine. Phin didn’t hesitate; he wanted to take advantage of the situation and check out every single one, mostly because a lot of them have treats for the local dogs. As the saying goes, “His mama didn’t raise no fools.” Here’s what little Phin taught me by his actions:
1.) Don’t count yourself out of the running.
Too often we talk ourselves out of opportunities that are right in front of us. Thoughts like “Why me? I bet there’s a lot of competition. I shouldn’t even bother trying. I’ll just be disappointed when it doesn’t work out.” We self-sabotage before we even give ourselves a chance. Not Phineas. If that door is open, he’s going through it. Others may try to stop him (me included!), but he’s not discounting his own actions. He leaves that to someone else.
2.) Be bold.
Hold your head up high and never underestimate your own capabilities. Phin is a whopping 16 pounds and 6 inches at the shoulder. He’s a little dude but you’ve never know it from his attitude. I wonder where he learned that from…
3.) Have a mission and stay focused.
Phin’s looking for two things when he walks through open doors – treats and attention. He also has a an insatiable sense of curiosity, often to my dismay because he checks out every square inch of the ground he traverses. We need to do the same: Know why we’re doing what we’re doing and why we’re going where we’re going. And always learn. Every circumstance has something to teach us.
These lessons are a reminder that Phineas is one of the best teachers I’ve ever had. I continue to be amazed by everything he shows me just by being who he is in every moment. That level of integrity, strength of character, and unwavering commitment to authenticity inspires me.
What lessons has your pup taught you?
In the book Far from the Tree, author Andrew Solomon shares the idea of nature via nurture rather than the classic nature versus nurture. His argument is that the traits that are nurtured within us are the traits that rise to the surface of our lives. We are all born with inherent tendencies, good and bad. Whether or not certain traits are borne out in our lives is not nature or nurture. The two work together. Are we raised to bring the best parts of our character into being or are we raised to tap into the less desirable parts of our character?
We can’t do much to change our initial gut reactions. Nurture helps us to modulate our actions, and reduce the time between our instinctual reactions and purposeful actions. We are who we are. There is no changing that. Who we become is largely a matter of influence and choice so choose wisely and mindfully. Embrace the fact that what we nurture within us will be our legacy.
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.