Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. – Marianne Williamson
One of the reasons I moved to Boulder was the belief that it would be a good place to live car-free, to find affordable and plentiful local food, to swear off modern, wasteful comforts (like shoes), and to pursue minimalism by selling my iPad and other non-essentials. Basically, to live the way I believed was Right.
It turned out to be much harder that I thought. I never found the spiritual and emotional fulfillment promised. Instead, I was limited in my activities because I could only go so far without a car, I was always hungry because of my insistence on absurdly high food quality, and I was dirty and ratty because my clothes were so worn out and overused. I was a burden to my friends, always leaning on them to drive me places I couldn’t bike.
I thought I was doing the right thing, and that if I held on long enough, things would start to work out (if you’ve read my book, you know I did this with eating Paleo, and CrossFit). When they never did, I got really frustrated and started to feel bitterness and resentment.
I ended up cleaving so strongly to the way I believed I ‘should’ be that I completely lost sight of what actually made me happy and ended up undermining my self-esteem and sanity.
On the other hand, I knew a lot of people who weren’t terribly worried about doing things right. They simply went after the things that made them feel good, made them happy, or seemed interesting. Their standard was, “Does this make me happy?” and not, “Is this the right way?” I put so much effort into figuring out the right way and following it, but I was lost and floundering. It didn’t seem fair that others could be so seemingly lax in their morals but have the peace-of-mind and sense of purpose that I lacked.
One of those people who was living the dream while happily skipping through life in time with her own drummer, was my little sister.
Sister Knows Best
When I got the chance to visit my sister in Chicago, she opened my eyes to a completely different take on life. For those who don’t know, my sister and I are very much two sides of the same coin: we’re both health conscious, but she is a vegan yoga instructor while I am a Paleo-esque martial artist; we’re both driven to self-actualization, but she is fiercely independent while I seek it through service; we both love being around people, but she is very extroverted and high-energy while I tend to go for more low-key interactions and emotions.
So while we’re on the same journey in many ways, we tend to express opposite extremes. Being around her always provides me with a valuable perspective that I sometimes lack.
Her life is very different from mine. Certainly she tries to live healthy, but she doesn’t feel the need to compromise her happiness or mental well-being for the sake of ‘doing it right’. She has done a wonderful job of expressing her happiness based on her personal needs and preferences, regardless of expectations. Her style is somewhat eccentric but is perfect for her and the label ‘vegan’ is mainly one of convenience, since she eats what is best for her body and soul. She rarely explains herself to others; her philosophy on life seems to be one of:
“Take me as I am. Follow along if you want, but I’m not going to accommodate you.” -My sister, interpreted by her big brother
In Chicago, she let me into her life, which for some reason struck me as breaking the rules. She wasn’t doing anything illicit–she rarely partied, woke up at 5am everyday for work, and was in a committed honest relationship–but she had everything she wanted and she was happy.
And that is what seemed wrong.
Don’t Reach Too High, You Power-Hungry, Money-Obsessed Slut
I recently read an article by Justine Musk on how women are often hamstrung by oppressive social norms that tell them not to aspire to too much: desiring money makes you a gold-digger, desiring sex makes you a slut, desiring influence makes you power hungry. I definitely don’t think that men suffer under the same kinds of limiting beliefs, but I have noticed that many sensitive guys seem to have internalized the oppression that women feel. Maybe we’re trying to understand them by sharing their burdens, or maybe we’re trying to make up for the perceived wrongs of other men, but it doesn’t help anyone, men or women.
I see these limiting beliefs in myself, in particular about money and my rights within a relationship. But my sister, whether she suffers from them herself, has clearly made a point of asserting her right to everything good and abundant.
In Chicago, I also had the chance to meet an old friend and fellow blogger I respect deeply who has spent a lot of energy on breaking through her own limiting beliefs. Her story is inspiring (and you can read more about it on her blog) but the small thing that made an impact on me was that she had committed to pursuing her passion in…electronic music and DJing. It doesn’t really sound like a big deal, but for the last few years, she has struggled with the belief that her favorite genre of music wasn’t valid (based on the opinions of an apparently know-it-all ex-boyfriend who played jazz), and certainly had never seen DJing as a financially responsible career choice.
But it made her happy, and she’d always wanted to do it. She decided to put aside her notions of what she should do and try doing what she wanted to do.
She, like my sister, was committed to living life according to her own bliss, in everything from how she ate (also a vegan) to how she conducted her relationships.
And here I was, miserable under the oppression of my own self-imposed ‘shoulds,’ ‘right ways,’ and ‘responsibilities,’ clearly operating under the belief that I could have integrity OR happiness, but not both (ironically, I recently wrote an article about pursuing your bliss with integrity.)
What I Really Want
I decided to take the time to think about what I really wanted out of life and see if I could pursue it. This has caused a lot of waves in my life, as many of my relationships were built on assumptions that I had never questioned, but let’s use a less incendiary example: clothing.
I have had a reputation of being a bit of a slob. My clothes were old, torn, and fit poorly. I didn’t shave regularly, never bothered with haircuts, and didn’t take care of my hygiene as much as I should have considering I often work out twice a day.
The reason wasn’t because I didn’t care, but I thought it was vain and inauthentic to be concerned with appearances or personal comfort. The proud, martyred part of me took secret pride in my frugality and asceticism whenever someone commented on my worn clothing.
The truth is that I love fashion. I like dressing up, and I enjoy wearing good quality clothes that fit me well. I like to look good, smell good, and enjoy the ritual of personal grooming.
So when I returned to Boulder, I made an investment in some good pants, a razor I’d actually use (instead of the ‘authentic’ straight razor I’ve owned for the last few years), a comb, and a haircut. Because of my body type, this meant spending a bit more on clothes that fit me well and were comfortable, but once I made the transition, I was stunned at how comfortable it was possible to be. I threw out my torn shirts and donated ones that didn’t fit.
Tons of people have commented on my appearance. I’ve felt a noticeable difference in how people treat me: they take me more seriously and offer their help more willingly.
Playing Small Does Not Serve the World
But I still feel ashamed when my friends see me with a new outfit. I worry they’ll think I’m being wasteful or vain, or that I think I’m too good for them just because I am trying to look nice.
Clearly, I have trouble accepting that I deserve to look nice, feel good, and be attractive. The guilt is starting to fade, but it illustrates the strange limitations we create that protect us from our own greatness.
Saying–admitting–that I want to be wealthy and influential, that still feels like a four letter word.
But if we never allow ourselves to be hugely influential, how much impact can we have on the world? How much good can we create if we refuse to rise to our potential?
I think ultimately we all choose our lives. The things we don’t have, on some level we have chosen to exclude from our lives. The things we do have, we chose. In the short-term, this may not play out, but over time, we tend to gravitate towards the things we choose.
Choose greatness. Pay attention to your inner dialogue and figure out if, despite what you tell yourself, you actually choose to exclude success and happiness, you run from your own light and shy away from expressing your own greatness.
And then ask yourself why.
The answer, if there is one, is hollow.
Photo credit: Sonadie Chae on Flickr