Before I sat down to write my thoughts on the remaining 25% – I introduced this concept in my last post, Overcoming Not Knowing: Part I, which is essentially giving oneself time and permission for finding one’s true path in life – I reflected on a question someone recently asked me. Why, he asked, if I kind of knew the general direction of where I want to be in 2 – 5 years, didn’t I just leave everything behind to pursue my dreams, full time? To his credit, this was not a far-fetched question. Most of our conversations centered around plotting our next big move in life. For most people reading this – the idea of leaving one’s current path to pursue a new one seems quite daunting, whether because they have family that rely on them, and/or bills to pay like a mortgage, student debt, etc. Personally though, I have some but little of these obligations. But what I do have is a fully baked inner-script: from the age of 8, I had already begun working to help support my recently immigrated family. My family and I had a shared sense of purpose to fully live out the American Dream. Thirty-one years later, now at the age of 39, I still live with a sense of purpose and a strong work ethic, even if my purpose in life has changed.
In this post, I want to share my own framework for embarking on inner questings that does not require leaving everything behind to start anew: basically for anyone that’s interested in leading a life closer to or is their true calling. I’ll discuss three elements that make up this 25%: extending timescale, practicing mindfulness, and getting comfortable with failure.
I’ve seen lots of people give up on creative pursuits, because they just don’t know where to start, or if they’ve started, they later find they just aren’t any good. To this I say, you probably made the mistake of trying to evaluate yourself against the same yardstick as things you currently do well in. My advice is give yourself lots of time, and try your damn best to not judge yourself so harshly. For one – it’s really very possible that you’re not very good at this new pursuit! Not only are you likely using the same yardstick to judge yourself… you’re also using the same set of skills and tools – likely the only ones you have – and trying to power through. Go acquire some new skills and tools!
But more importantly, you are definitely going to find your inner kingdom at war. For most of us, we’ve been given a script to live by from a young age. In order to live by this script, you’ve pretty much stuffed your inner self down some hole; so you’ve now got some inner questing to do in order to dig your true self out. While on your inner quest, you’ll like find some old wound that you didn’t know was there, and now needs your attention and healing (of course I’ve devoted not one but two posts on healing!) Getting through and winning this internal conflict is the most crucial stage to making this creative pursuit a success. And by winning, i mean gaining a different perspective on your own life. To listen to what your heart tells you is your true life’s path. In order to hear the whisper of your heart’s one message to you, you have to challenge the many (much louder) voices in your head.
Which leads me to a very important issue of staying sane through the creative process. Because while engaging with this inner conflict is crucial, you’ll likely meet your inner demon (in a future post, I’ll write about shapeshifting, where your inner demon can take infinite forms.) Sorry, I haven’t found a silver bullet to staying sane through one’s creative process, other than dousing your inner demon with patience, and where time is of the essence.
Now that you’ve decided to expand your timescale, how really, will you engage your new, creative pursuit – your true heart’s calling? For this post, I want to borrow concepts from the “investigation” stage of the artist/designer/writer’s creative process, which is to say, trying to better understand the thing you’re creating through questioning and exploring. Some approach this stage by methodically collecting data. They are taking in all the information, sorting, analyzing, making decisions, learning… Others approach the investigation stage by manifesting the feelings behind what might be the result. There’s no right or wrong approach to the investigation stage; but I want to share what I think is key to leading yourself into a more creative life, which is to practice mindfulness as you investigate. There’s lots written out there on mindfulness, but I want to boil it down to this: listen and notice what makes you happy, and conversely, what does not appeal to you any more than going to your 9 to 5 job does. By simply practicing more mindfulness, you can create some space for your heart and mind to work together.
Finally, I want to discuss how, risking failure, while seemingly scary to some and perhaps an act of martyrdom to others, is actually neither within this 25% framework. Let’s quickly summarize what I mean by failure: by letting go of perfection, and embracing some unknown, you have the potential of gaining insight into your true self and what brings you true joy and happiness. But you might find that you’re not the best at the thing that brings you true joy and happiness. If you find that your true calling is playing the piano, and instead of selling millions of records, you only get to play out of pure joy and happiness. For the perfectionist in us, being mediocre is quite a tough pill to swallow. But you must get comfortable in what you now perceive as failure – it’s your mind that cares about prestige while your heart does not.
True joy and happiness comes from allowing yourself to change and to embrace the new you every day or as often as your heart wants to be (re)discovered. To live your life guided by your true self, your heart must find and trust in its home – you – as a refuge. By operating really well at both 75% and 25% scales, we can give our hearts more space: the heart space of the unknown often holds both fear and joy, and are often one and the same.