“Forget mistakes, forget failures, forget everything, except what you’re going to do now and do it. Today is your lucky day.” ~Will Durant
The biggest roadblock to our own success is us. We doubt ourselves. We spend time and energy reviewing when we didn’t do something right or when something didn’t work out the way we wanted. We beat ourselves up. We take ourselves out of the running before we’ve even entered the race.
Here’s the tough love advice I give myself, and I mean it in the best possible way: get over yourself. Literally. You get out there right now, into the world that needs every ounce of your magic and talent, and get to work. The only thing that matters is what you do now.
You don’t need any more permission, advice, training, or ideas. You don’t need to spend any more time or money figuring things out. Just go for it, whatever it is, with everything you’ve got and you’ve got a lot. You’ve got you, and that’s all you need.
When something really scares you, you only have two choices for your next move: run toward it or away from it. You either give it all you’ve got or give up with all you’ve got.
So how do you know which choice to make? It depends what’s on the other side of that fear. Is it something you really want? Then charge ahead. If it’s not, then it’s time to take your leave.
Don’t do something just because it scares you and you feel you need to conquer it. Do it because in the conquering of that fear, you can realize a dream. Fear can protect us or hold us back, and the only way to know the difference is to peek behind that fear and see what’s waiting for us.
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” ~Mark Twain
There’s comfort in numbers, in people telling you that you’re doing the right thing and that they couldn’t agree more with your decisions and ideas. But approval can be a dangerous trap. We can enjoy it so much and seek it out so often that we end up limiting our imagination and ability.
The best things I’ve done in life are the very things that people told me I was crazy to even consider, much less attempt. The things I regret are the things that everyone said I should do. If it weren’t for Mark Twain, I’d think that was just a strange coincidence. It’s not.
If ever we want to do something really new, truly breakthrough on a personal and / or professional level, we’ve got to do something a little crazy. We’re going to have to go well off the well-trodden path. People will shake their heads. They’ll sigh and say things like, “Well, if you think that’s the best thing to do…” while clearly conveying that they certainly don’t agree.
Those are the ideas to stick with. Those are the dreams to follow. You can’t hope for a new, better, happier, healthier, more fulfilling life. You have to build it. You have to move beyond the majority and the boxes they’ve defined. Go way outside the confines of comfort. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.
This week I’m in the midst of many big and heady discussions about industries that demand rapid and radical transformation: healthcare, education, and the state of the planet for starters. We cannot close our eyes to the enormous problems we face as individuals and as a society. The good news is that we have everything we need to change our fortune—technology, know-how, and our imaginations. The trick is to find ways to unleash and connect them on a massive, actionable scale. And that scale lies within all of us building meaningful and impactful careers.
It’s easy to develop a solution that solves part of a problem. We’ll help some people and manage the costs with a relative degree of effectiveness. For a while, the band-aid will hold. We could almost fool ourselves into thinking this is okay, that it’s the best we can do with what we’ve got. Mediocrity is ours for the taking and my suggestion is to shun it with every ounce of strength we’ve got. We can and must do better starting now.
We could watch the news about California’s austerity measures in the face of the most horrible drought in its history and say, “That has nothing to do with me. I live thousands of miles away and I have plenty of water where I am.” The truth is that California is the canary in the coal mine.California will be everyone’s realty if we don’t take action to reverse course now. Think of all that’s been wasted there sustaining thirsty lawns in the middle of a desert for the sake of aesthetics. I actually feel a pain in my heart thinking about it. What have we done? What are we continuing to do by just going through the motions of life as usual? And if we think we have war now, imagine what will happen when we’re fighting over water rights that literally draw the line between life and death. Without water, debates about nukes are irrelevant.
These same kinds of scenarios are also true in education and healthcare. Our public education stats are appalling because we have failed to engage students and care for all of their needs from having enough food to eat to living in a safe neighborhood to nurturing their imaginations. We may be experiencing the rise of a lost generation of talent and potential because of the state of public education, and we can’t afford that. In healthcare, we discard our elders, dismiss patient concerns, and believe that quantity, churn, and lowering costs take precedence over patient experience and compassionate care. How we treat the sick, the young, and the old says a lot about who we are as a society. And I want us to be better because I know we’re capable of it right now.
Let’s stop making excuses and start doing and making things that matter for the long haul. We’ve got all of the technology and know-how we need. We each possess the most marvelous machine ever created – the human mind. Let’s join them and use them to develop career that are callings, callings to build a better, healthier, happier world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about purpose lately. Not only of finding it, but living it. Of the hard choices and sacrifices made to pursuit it. All of the bright shiny objects that try to distract us from it. And the meaning of it when we consider all of the other priorities in our lives that may have to be reshuffled to make our purpose possible.
Realizing the full power of our purpose requires taking many small steps in a big direction. I think it might be the only way to find and pursue our purpose: one deliberate action at a time. Sometimes a decision opportunity occurs at a crossroads. Sometimes we have to make the choice to keep going through a dark time because we believe so strongly in the light ahead. We might feel like giving up, and for a time we may actually just put our purpose on hold.
The big leaps toward our goals are one in a million. They’re fun to take. Everyone loves a good sprint toward something we really want. Purpose rarely works that way. The road is often slow and steep. We have to learn a lot along the way. We get lost and turned around and confused. We fail and we try again. Those are the times we take a seat, close our eyes, and regroup. Why did you start? What did you hope to find? What have you learned? And why does it matter?
Maybe you’re in the midst of these questions. I am, too. It’s not an easy place to be. What I’m doing now is living the questions, one at a time. I’m remembering what mattered to me most when I first started my career, ironically in Washington, D.C. I’m remembering what I hoped to find all those years ago and everything I’ve learned along the way. I’ve always known why it mattered; I just needed to remind myself.
Taking this journey is like taking a trip back in time, a journey home. I feel like my life is coming full circle in a place that’s I’ve been meant to be all along. And that feels damn good. In those dark moments when I’m questioning everything (usually at 3am when I can’t sleep), that’s the idea I hold onto. I’m right where I need to be right now, and someday soon it’s all going to make perfect sense.
Now that I’m a few days past the 39 year mark, I’m reflecting on what this next phase of life and career look like. What I’m certain of is that it will include fewer, better things. In the past I’ve spread myself very thin over a number of projects and ideas. Now I’m trying to more heavily invest in a small number of things that will make a significant impact.
This sounds easy, though I’m finding it’s difficult to do. I have a lot of interests and hobbies. I’m intensely and endlessly curious. And I do know this: I want what I do to be meaningful. I want it to matter that I took it on and put my best into it, and that means focus.
There are a million shiny lights. The question is which shiny lights are meant for me? That’s what my 39th year is all about. After all, our lives are a reflection of our choices.
“It’s a funny thing about decisions. You don’t seem to need to talk yourself into the right ones.” ~Frank Reagan, Blue Bloods
I need to have this quote printed and hung on my wall in a prominent place. I’ve noticed in the past year that my decisions that have turned out to be the best are the ones I made quickly and from the gut. The ones that have not worked so well are the ones I needed to extensively explain and rationalize to myself and then to others. When my mind swirled with too many perspectives, when I lost sleep and found myself physically exhausted by thinking, those were the decisions that never worked out as much as I tried to convince myself that they would.
There’s so much power and insight in that lesson, and in my case it took a long time to realize. Going forward, I’m sure my analytical mind will continue to have its say. Now I’m going to make sure that my gut and my heart have just as much chance to weigh in when a choice needs to be made. In the place where 2 out of the 3 align, I’m going for it. I have a feeling this is going to lead to many faster and better decisions.
“The best day of your life is the one on which you decide your life is your own. No apologies or excuses. No one to lean on, rely on, or blame. The gift is yours — it is an amazing journey — and you alone are responsible for the quality of it. This is the day your life really begins.” ~Bob Moawad, author
This is a magical moment. It’s also scary as hell. All of a sudden you wake up and you realize your life is really all up to you. You steer it. You make the choices. You build your own road. It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s also one of the greatest privileges of being an adult. You aren’t trapped. Starting right now, you can make choices to change anything and everything in your life. The road to where you want to go may be long and winding but you can start your journey in that direction right now. One tiny step leads to another.
“Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~Leonard Cohen
This quote has been an important guidepost for me for many months, now more than ever. It inspired the title of my novel, Where the Light Enters, and it continues to guide me through the many changes that I’m experiencing in my life now.
No matter what’s happening to us and around us, it’s important for us to continue to ring the bells that still can ring. Smile and love and help where and when and how we can. Our actions don’t need to be perfect; we don’t need to be perfect. We can’t be. We live in a world that is wholly imperfect. All we can do is our best, and that means continuing to show up and put our hearts and souls into the act of creating the best lives we can, for ourselves and the people we love.
And that’s the trick of it all, that’s how the light gets in. It gets in with love and gratitude and actions guided by them. It gets in when we let ourselves we vulnerable, when we allow ourselves to learn and change and grow, not in spite of adversity, but because of it. That’s how we make a good life.
The Hero’s Journey is never a choice between a good option and a bad option. It’s a choice between difficult options. Whenever I’m faced with this kind of choice, I play out the scenarios of each. Yesterday I was faced with a very sad and hurtful reality. I needed to make a quick decision and I knew neither choice was perfect – far from it.
The best choice would be to dial my life back about 6 months and make a very different choice at that juncture. Since I don’t have a time machine on- hand, all I had were my current not-so-great options.
So I chose the one with the least amount of conflict, internal and external. Not because I’m at all afraid of conflict, but because the conflict would have involved other innocent people who didn’t have anything to do with my tough predicament and whom I wanted to spare seeing and hearing the direct conflict. As hurtful as it was for me, it would have been worse for them.
I took my punches. They hurt. I stood up again and kept moving forward. Sometimes that’s what life gives you – punches – and the best thing you can do is roll with it. Make the tough choice and let the chips fall where they may knowing you can handle whatever comes next.