Earlier this week I felt as though my life was imploding and that no matter how hard I tried, I could not keep my head above wave after wave of self-doubt crashing towards me. Fortunately, I live a very “public” life on social media, and I’ve become somewhat of a resiliency advocate or adversity adventurer. I’m well aware of the risks of “over sharing” on social media, but at the same time, I’ve always been open about my struggles with addiction, depression, and overcoming childhood sexual abuse. Being “transparent” on social media has contributed an air of accountability in my life, as well as provided the dialogue for others on a similar path to share their aspirations and fears.
My belief in this process was confirmed again yesterday when I received a phone call from someone I consider a mentor, who was responding to one of my posts on Facebook. She reminded me of the importance of being present and true to my vision, and the importance of not battling inevitable resistance, but rather being open to where it takes me. One of my favourite poets E.E. Cummings describes this beautifully. “We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”
I decided to share with you my list of “Essential Life Hacks”—guiding principles that are helping me to step out of my comfort zone and into a life that “reveals the human spirit.”
1. Rise above your limits.
It was Michelangelo who said: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” The easiest way for me to overcome my self-imposed limitations is to ask myself: What’s the worst that can go wrong? It may sound a little pessimistic, but ironically it always gets me thinking about all the things that can “go right”, and that is usually enough to motivate me into setting the bar a little higher.
2. Make your vision your venture.
I wholeheartedly believe that tangible joy in life comes when we you “discover yourself” in what you do. In order to get out of the vicious cycle of comparing myself to others, which inevitably leaves me feeling inadequate, I’ve had to embrace my vision of what success means in my life. For many people, it may be the pursuit of money or power, but for me, it’s aligned with my passion to embrace vulnerability in every aspect of my life. It really comes down to the simple truth that if I make no changes in my life, then nothing changes. I’m surrounded by so many people who hate their jobs, are unhappy in their primary relationship, or are dissatisfied with how they look or feel. You just have to look around you to realize that life is too short to be powerless over your own destiny. Nigel Marsh summed it up best in his TedTalk. “There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, where they work long, hard hours at jobs they hate to enable them to buy things they don't need to impress people they don't like.”
3. Ropes can tie you down or help you climb.
Just as a muscle requires stress and resistance to get stronger, so too does adversity act as a sculptor in my life. When everything is humming along sweetly in my day, there is a tendency for me to become complacent, as I spend far too much time accepting the “pats on the back” and listening to to all the ego-boosting chatter around me. However, if I take an honest appraisal of the substantive growth in my life, it always coincides with a period of adversity. It’s during these challenging times of self-doubt that I need to remind myself that although happiness is comforting, it lacks the fuel to propel me like adversity does. This is exactly what the poet Robert Browning was referring to when he wrote:
I walked a mile with Pleasure;
4. Ditch the mañana mantra.
My father was quite a gambler, and I remember watching him sitting around a poker table cradling the cards in his cigarette stained fingers as he smugly declared: “What’s it going to be boys—are you going to piss or get off the pot?” It may be a little crude, but it is a worthwhile mantra to live by. Living a life of indecision can be paralyzing and soul destroying. No one articulates this better than the straight-talking, no nonsense Warren Buffet. “There comes a time when you ought to start doing what you want. Take a job that you love. You will jump out of bed in the morning. I think you are out of your mind if you keep taking jobs that you don't like because you think it will look good on your resume. Isn't that a little like saving up sex for your old age?”
5. Are you trying to build a life or make a living?
This is the question I struggle with most because everywhere around me I’m inundated with the message that acquisition and consumption determine self-worth. I believe that my true worth is determined not by what I acquire, but by what I contribute—my legacy. The path to building that life is clear as long as I place value and respect in my relationships with my wife, my son, and my community. I can think of no better way to end this post than with the words of the late Maya Angelou: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”