How did you get to where you are? If you’re in a good place, and generally happy, you probably don’t think about this sort of thing, and good for you!
But if you’re somewhere on the spectrum between blandly-existing-and-not-too-happy-about-it and holy-crap-if-I-don’t-do-something-about-my-miserable-existence-I’m-going-to-explode, well, this post is for you.
I’ve been working on my own life quite a bit lately (and to be honest, like most of us, for years in some way or another), and somewhere between existential navel-gazing and more focused journaling to figure out my next steps, I think I’ve found at least one key that will unlock maybe one lock on the path to – or even better, path of – fulfillment and peace. And no, I didn’t say happiness; in my experience, the state of being happy, though welcome, is an ephemeral sort of thing, and maybe simply a by-product of being fulfilled and at peace, regardless of circumstance.
That latter part – fulfillment and peace – is what I’m shooting for. And what I’m hoping that, by sharing, I can help some other folks find their way to as well.
Anyway, here’s something I’ve learned that might help you: as we go through life, over time we kind of accumulate lots of things. When we’re young and start out fresh, we run mostly on instinct and curiosity – and that’s a great thing. We keep it simple and naturally pursue only those things that interest us and, maybe more importantly, energize us. We’re pretty lean and unencumbered, in-motion and fueled by the energy of momentum and genuine interest in the world around us. We’re restless with ‘what-if’, and grow fidgety when we have to slow down or stop. When we’re young, we are simple and basic and true.
Having lived through childhood, some of that is rose-colored glasses stuff; it certainly wasn’t easy, just easy to see it that way from a later, more experienced perspective. But there is truth to the power and fulfillment of the ‘lean’ approach – the not overthinking, trust-your-gut and just do it choices of your youth, because they worked.
Problem is, over time, life gets in the way.
In my case, it’s always been the saying yes to things that’s gotten me in the most trouble. My motivation is typically either because someone asked me, and I’m wired to tilt at windmills, or — especially more recently over the past decade or so, and with the growing demands of caring for a family and employees and running a small business — our of FEAR. Take the money as long as you’re doing no harm. Bills to pay, mouths to feed…it’s an easy justification.
But when you do this, you are doing harm. To yourself. But unlike a useful and immediate pain response – like take your hand off the hot stove, dummy – this type of harm is considerably more insidious. The damage happens over time, and by the time you finally figure it out (journaling helps with that, btw), you’ve got a real and complicated problem on your hands.
When you keep taking things on that aren’t aligned with your genuine interests, talents, or passions, you are growing bigger and slower and more encumbered. You’re like a snowball that keeps rolling along, picking up twigs and stones and rocks and garbage until you reach a point where you no longer resemble snow at all – just a rough and immobile pile of unrecognizable things, most of which are not you at all.
At a certain point, you become too big to move. There is no energy to you. And the real you is buried inside.
The good news is that last bit: you’re still in there. But you have to unbury. You need to unearth that genuine and entombed bit of you that, when you consult your own inner voice — you know, the one that you ignore, but that’s ALWAYS right and that you’re generally too chickenshit to act on – tells you the exact thing you must do, and the path that you must take. The one that is natural to you, and aligned with your interests and talents and just feels right.
You know that path, that one you don’t overthink – or even consider, but just ‘do’. And when you do, time disappears. THat’s the one you have to dig out. And muster up the courage to walk.
Yes, reality is reality. You’re not going to return to childhood, and probably really don’t want to. You have responsibilities and they’re quite real. I get that – I have them too.
But you ALSO owe it to yourself and your family and the world to be the best version of yourself, and this is how you start: you chip away.
That mass of everything you’ve said yes to over the long haul – that thing that is big and immobile and sedentary and sad and that can’t even bear its own weight anymore – that thing needs to get smaller. And it gets smaller by willfully discarding all of those things that are not you, and by saying no to even the seemingly best opportunities and possibilities that are not aligned with those few simple things that you really are. It is like a sculptor chipping away at a block and removing all of those things that are not the exact thing they want to realize. When successful only the Art remains, nothing else.
This is not easy. It requires mindfulness, courage, skill and spine. It is a daily practice, but like a sensible diet should not be an extreme or overwhelming one. More of a lifestyle change that reveals its benefits over time.
Yesterday I was offered a new and lucrative opportunity. But I am busy and, more importantly, yearning toward the new, not the more of the same. And as this new opportunity has nothing to do with writing, creativity, brand communications, strategy, helping others or, as Neil Gaiman so aptly put it, will allow me to “Make Good Art“, I will pass. Someone else is a better fit for this. And yes, I could use the money.
But I will say no, politely, to this one. Because I already have too many rocks and sticks on my snowball.
And I really want to see just the snow again 😉