“Live Your Purpose.” It’s an easily digestible, hyper-tweetable ism you’ve probably heard or seen everywhere from social media to street art. But what does it actually mean to “live your purpose?” And if a purpose is so easily livable…then why aren’t more people doing it?
Emily Ghosh Harris, founder of SoulMedia and host of The Soul Collective Show, shared with WANT what she notices is missing in the purpose-living process…and some questions we can ask ourselves when we feel stuck in our own way.
We’re all given an important assignment when we’re born: a core purpose around which our life unfolds. And as we learn lessons along the way, we’re meant to give back and share what we learn with the world. Many of us learn some pretty challenging lessons – and we emerge stronger and more in touch with our soul than before.
Why then, when we have a deep sense of knowing that we’re here for a reason and we’re meant to make an impact, do we have such a difficult time discovering and living our purpose?
Is there something holding you back? Look closely. Because the reason you find “living your purpose” so difficult could be that there’s an unfulfilled need or unaddressed wound standing in your way. There’s an existing wound in your history that needs your awareness, compassion and focus so you can transform it, move forward, and fully embrace your life’s assignment.
For me, a big wound that was standing in my way was the need for approval. While I founded my company with a strong vision, purpose and intention to positively impact the world, I noticed that I would keep getting pulled into projects that weren’t in full alignment with our mission.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason I kept getting pulled into these projects (that I knew weren’t a fit) was that I was lacking the courage to unapologetically and authentically express my true desires. I was afraid of judgement and disapproval. This resulted in work that was by many measures “successful”…but felt far from the full actualization of what I knew I was here to be doing. I knew in my soul that in order to live my life’s purpose, I needed to heal a subconscious need to people please and gain approval from others.
Healing can be challenging. Giving yourself the love you never received as a child, or giving yourself permission to follow your calling, can feel nearly impossible.
In order to heal and transform, we must take a closer, honest look at our wounds and ask:
How am I triggered?
How do my insecurities detract from living my true purpose?
How does my fear limit my full potential?
The last question is key. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the world – and yet, sometimes it feels like we can’t get out of our own way. But underneath the fear, we have a deep desire to reach our greatest potential, and an inner knowing of our capacity to expand and shine our light. As Marianne Williamson says:
“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.”
I knew I needed to give myself the love, approval and permission I was desperately seeking, otherwise I would be constantly distracted and in fear of living and speaking my truth. The only way I could truly fulfill my “assignment” was by looking deeper and finding the courage to be my full self. All of me.
And so instead of looking at the big picture, I started observing the seemingly small ways I was showing up for myself and others. I started asking myself:
Were you present for a friend today?
Did you practice self love?
Did you try your best?
Did you exercise faith instead of doubt?
How did you stay focused on what matters most to you?
How were you patient with yourself and those whom you love the most?
What are you most grateful for today?
What I discovered is that we’re able to show up with vulnerability and authenticity in life when we learn how to embrace, heal, and fully love ourselves. Once we do, it is truly amazing how deeply we can connect to our purpose and to the world around us.
So if you’re in search of your purpose or trying to discover what your assignment is in this lifetime, look at where you may still have a wound that needs healing. Look at where you’re afraid of being seen. Our purpose is innate to us. It’s at the core of who we are. We just need to give ourselves full permission to show up in the world as ourselves.
About Emily Ghosh Harris:
Emily Ghosh Harris is the Founder and CEO of Soul Media, a socially conscious digital media and experiential marketing firm that inspires genuine, authentic connection and engagement. She is the Host of The Soul Collective, a podcast which explores the fears, challenges, joys and triumphs that unite humanity by interviewing individuals who are living authentic and purpose-filled lives. An entrepreneur, author and speaker, Emily Ghosh Harris has used her own personal pain as a catalyst for growth, igniting a curiosity and deep desire to help others navigate past limiting beliefs and common “freedom blockers” to move into greater peace, authenticity and freedom.
MY RELATIONSHIP with journaling was very “friends with benefits” for most of my life: oft ignored but always there when I needed it most. Most of the time, I completely ignored my grandmother’s advice to document momentous occasions, as exemplified by the three-line entry about my 13th birthday in my 1999 journal (the third sentence being “I’ll come back to this later”).
Yet when I go back and read my old journals, as sporadically tended to as they were, I realize I honestly have not changed much throughout my lifetime. The slightly crinkled pages are filled with emotion – poetry, questions, lists and pep talks – heart opening and heartbreaking all at once.
And reviews of musicals. So many reviews of musicals.
As young as preschool, we are asked what we want to be when we grow up. We learn to identify with a singular profession: a doctor, a singer, a teacher, a lawyer. With all these abstract feelings floating around in our still-developing brains, we are asked to define ourselves based on our hobbies and what sounds right. As we grow into young adults, we’re encouraged to find extracurricular activities that are assumed to match our professional aspirations of choice. We write yearbook messages under the assumption that there will always be next year. We map out our lives in ten-year-plans and envision our friendships as everlasting.
I grew up listening to tape cassettes of Phantom Of The Opera in my car seat. I taught myself how to play the showstopper from Cats on my tiny Casio keyboard in first grade. When I was about twelve years old, I developed a love affair with shows like Rent and Les Miserables, and for the first time in my life I realized I was not like other kids my age. While my peers were attending the latest boy band and girl group concerts, I was marveling at the thespian greats like Colm Wilkinson and Bernadette Peters.
This, I told myself, was not normal.
And so I hid my love for musical theatre in my journals, and later on online message boards (way before it was considered safe or even socially acceptable to develop internet-based friendships [which is kinda funny, as I now have many dear friends and a bone a fide HUSBAND who I met through the interwebs]). I was convinced I’d be winning a Tony by age 27, and that the friends of my childhood who were drifting in all different directions would miraculously come back together one day to work through life together. That my first love and I would get married and do the whole picket-fence thing. I was convinced I knew the length of the path.
And then came the growth and expansion of real life. Things became complicated and convoluted: here I was, someone who had defined herself by these external passions and visions for so long, and they no longer felt right. My interests began to broaden and my friend circle began to expand. I developed passions I never knew of and feelings I’d never accessed, and for the first time I realized I was so much more than I’d ever thought I could be.
It begged the question – was nothing up until now valid? The opened doors of the present were liberating but the loyalty to the past was almost paralyzing.
Moving past the visions and dreams created by our former selves can feel like losing a lover. The first time I thought that acting might not be the sole career through which I wanted to give myself to the world, my eyes stayed red for days from crying. The first time I realized I was unclear as to whether I wanted children or not, I had a breakdown. The first time I found a soulmate-friend outside my comfort zone of shared upbringing, I felt like I was cheating on my entire past. At the time, it felt like a breakup. At the time, it felt like a loss.
How strange, as each thing that triggered a sense of loss or wrongdoing was actually a door opening and showing me to my true self. Although, come to think of it, I’ve realized that most people get stuck in that space of confusing actualization for accusation…so maybe the fact that it felt so wrong wasn’t as abnormal as I thought…
Our visions and goals are always in flux. One is not better or worse than the other, they’re just different. Hanging onto past goals and ideas of what we “should” do can screw us up in the long run and put self actualization on standby. Who we are in one season in our lives is neither the end-all-be-all nor invalid. It’s a fragment, a small yet important page in the story of who we are meant to be.
It can feel scary to move forward beyond your former self, but there’s no reason to mourn.
Moving forward is not a death of who you were – it’s a rebirth of who you are.
You are more than that thing your former self aspired towards. You are more than the ideas your ten-year plan expressed, you are more than the connections you made long ago. And yet these are a part of you. Each is a path, an integral part of the roadmap that is your life’s purpose. Who are we to say we know what our journey will look like a decade from now or if we’ll feel the same way we do at this point in time? The important thing is to feel deeply and express authentically during every step of the way.
Had I never wanted to act, I would have never learned to perceive the world around me in such great detail with such empathy. Had I never felt so much passion for something so different than my peers, I would have never known what it is to pour my soul onto a page. Had I never envisioned my life the way I thought it would look by now, I would have never met some of the most influential players in my life’s journey. I am still that same girl who wrote musical theatre reviews in her journal and thought her elementary school buddies would be bridesmaids at her wedding.
And yet here I am, no Tony award in sight, surrounded by friends from all stages of life, connected to my past but fully invested in my present. My bridesmaids represented all stages of my life thus far, not just one. I look toward the future not with a predictive eye but an openness to the expansion I know I will experience. I have not broken up with my past visions, I have let them morph and blossom. I have not buried my former self, I have let her come alive into the now.
We cannot possibly know what our story will look like in ten years – or even two. Our passions might shift, our dreams might change shape. Our circles of friendship might evolve and our opinions of what we want will most certainly move with time.
Yet through each season, each shift, each page turn, there is one thing that’s certain: we will be so much more.
WANT Yourself: Do your current passions and visions match the ones you’ve had throughout your life? Have you ever felt scared to embark on a new path, in fear of abandoning your former self – and if so, how did you learn to embrace the path you’re on? Leave a message in the comments – your story might just be what someone else in our community needs to hear.
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I grew up a sporadic yet impassioned journal writer. Long stretches of months would sometimes go by between entries, yet when they DID happen, the entries would always be pages long – usually smattered with pep-talks, observations, and comprehensive analyses of the world outside and inside of me (surprise, surprise). And although my journals rarely followed any sort of through line or linear story if read cover to cover, my younger self secretly envisioned them being discovered in an archaeological dig years in the future and serving some sort of important purpose. Therefore, I wrote a short bio in the beginning of each and every new book of blank pages.
What can I say? I was a history junkie with an active imagination.
Thinking big has always been in my DNA. My mind has never been able to wrap itself around the seedling of an idea without envisioning the entire oak tree standing tall and proud, providing shade and shelter and maybe even some pretty fall foliage. Even at a young age, my mind couldn’t envision Older Me not creating something bigger than myself and bigger than other usually dreamed. Case in point: my “bio” in my fifth grade journal read that I wanted to be a writer, actress, singer, model, artist, and teacher. I was only nine, but my head couldn’t fathom Older Me being linked to one single career and not using every single part of me to its fullest potential.
It’s normal to want to accomplish big goals – and normal to want them now. They’re just so damn attractive, and most of us (myself included) are so easily romanced that we think we’ve got this, no problem. Just like in any relationship, when you enter into a new idea, new job, or new circumstance, there’s this beautiful stage of initial excitement that you ride right away. But after the initial thrill, new excitement always morphs into one of three things: disinterest/disenchantment (in which case the situation falls away as something that was never meant to be), blind ego (in which case you start to take the thing you once revered for granted, as something you’re entitled to or inherently deserve)… or a grand love, a developed and nuanced deep love you want to keep learning from, one that keeps pushing you and challenging you to be the kind of person you’ve always known you were inside.
Going big right from the get-go rushes the process –
which robs you of the reward.
The ride that really takes you somewhere is more like a slow and steady river flow than a gush of water straight from the geyser…
Fun fact: I’ve been teaching fitness classes for a decade. I’ve taught to one person and I’ve taught to sixty. I’ve had the stereo system die in the middle of my class and lost all of my music (I started rapping. Not my most brilliant idea). I’ve had my bosses audit my classes and have been starstruck when a celeb-to-me walked on in looking to me to lead the way. I’ve, to my horror, slept through my alarm and missed work.
I’ve been reprimanded and I’ve been praised. I’ve been harassed and I’ve been asked for help I could not give. I’ve known everyone in the room and I’ve known no one.
And let me tell you, I am so grateful I didn’t get where I’m at now way too soon. Looking back, everything happened right when it needed to. Starting small and trusting my journey back then, step by step, allowed me to be fully present and soak in each and every lesson – and now enables me to keep my heart open to all the lessons I know are still to come. I am still a beginner. Aren’t we all?
Getting experience is not about a popularity contest, street cred, or gathering up a bunch of LinkedIn referrals. It’s about…well, experience. You won’t know what to do when you fall on your face until you actually do. You won’t know how to manage major transition until you have to.
Experience is less about your resume
and more about your ability to navigate a range of scenarios
with a fine cocktail of confidence, perspective, and humility.
Sometimes timing catches us off-guard, however – and we’re given huge opportunities out of the blue, when we’re just starting out on our journey. We’re thrust into the spotlight, lights glaring in our eyes, making us squint and struggle to see through spotted vision.
And when that happens, we must actively keep searching for chances to learn. We must seek out a strong foundation, even if the external looks big and grand. Because if not, we run the danger of burnout, overwhelm, or even worse – developing a character-damaging ego. We run the risk of being that person who gets pissed off when she makes a mistake instead of searches for a new opportunity from the rubble.
We run the risk of becoming complacent – and complacency is the place where dreams go to die.
III – Step now.
I look back on all my grand ideas and big dreams scribbled down in journals and I’m a little surprised at how spot on they all were. The only thing I had wrong, really, was the timing. There it is, tangible evidence of my intuition and vision hard at work. It was all meant to be. I just thought I was in control of WHEN it was meant to be. How glad I am I kept putting one foot in front of the other, always anticipating the next-best-thing around the corner and not stopping just because that next-best thing didn’t look exactly what I thought it would look like. Or even like a next-best-thing at all. Life is like one big game of Chutes and Ladders: sometimes we climb and sometimes we slide, but we all get to that finish line, because duh, we keep playing the game.
Starting small and growing from there is one of the biggest gifts you can give to yourself. If you’re doing it right, whatever “it” is, you will mess up or fall short. A lot. But if you are NOT feeling lost sometimes, if you’re NOT learning something new every day, if you’re NOT slightly doubting yourself on and off, if you’re NOT botching things up or falling flat on your face or screwing up unintentionally as you boldly move forward in spite of all that – and on the flipside, if you think you are above missteps or are too good to grow – then it’s not that important to you and your path anyway.
The best ideas and jobs aren’t sustained on an initial, huge gesture –
they’re sustained on the small steps forward you take now and every single day to grow, learn, and be a way that surpasses the day before.
I will always be a goal setter and a big dreamer. It’s in my nature. And I’ve learned, seeing the big picture and the grand oak tree – knowing where you want the journey to take you – is a strength that’s not to be discounted.
But just as important, if not more, are those small steps you take every single minute to help your ultimate dream materialize. Every single millisecond is a lesson in the making, every single mini-step strings together to lead you down the path you’re meant to forge. As a writer, actress, singer, model, artist, teacher, trainer, chemist, entrepreneur, designer, archaeologist, accountant, chef, creative, best friend, parent, sibling, spouse, leader, mentor, muse. Maybe even all the above.
You just have to make the first move – and then the next first move – and then all the next first ones after that.
One Year Ago this week,
I moved across the country.
I moved with my then boyfriend, now fiancé, future husband. I moved with my then purpose, now career, future calling. I moved with no expectations, some trepidations, and an enormity of determinations.
One Year Ago this week I fulfilled the choice to choose my life. I could have said no, I could have said wait. But it’s easy to say no when you should say yes, just like it’s easy to say yes when you really should say no.
One Year Ago this week my heart started beating a little faster, and my mind started to go a little slower. The pace around me started to move quicker but the pace inside me started to calm.
One Year has brought so much to the forefront and sunken so much into the background noise. The things I thought mattered some matter less, and the things I thought mattered most matter way more than I thought they did.
It’s crazy to look back a photos and feel the shift One Year has brought. Was it because of my age? Was it because I was ready? No, I don’t think that was it. I think I wrung all the lessons, all the love, all the heartache and heart-aid out of my surroundings – and the only way to grow was to shift my perspective. Through a turn of the kaleidescope, it’s amazing how the same-old can become completely forgeign all over again. Through a different lense, it’s amazing how many things become dimmer than you knew them to be.
Or maybe both at once.
I don’t think we need to change our physical surroundings to see a shift in our lives, but man oh man did it help me. To think our opinions are ultimate or our perceptions final is to be naive and stubborn. Here, I realize that while your word is your truth, it’s also his, and hers, and theirs, and it’s how we all come together that breeds true enlightenment.
Marianne Williamson says, “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” And that’s true. But it’s also what ILLUMINATES us. The light and the dark together. And what’s more, how we all move in tandem. It’s not just our light or our darkness, but the way our beams bounce off one another.
In my dreams, I always lived in New York City. A thriving Broadway career, an apartment in I Don’t Even Know Where. In my dreams I didn’t know how anything fit together, I just knew the One Thing of my success led the way. In my realities, I am here. I rarely visit a Broadway stage (something I DO want to change in Year Two) but I’ve found the stages that suit me best. In my realities I cannot quite believe how seamlessly it’s all flowed, how I managed to fight for a sense of community and actually achieve it, how I managed to fight for a career and actually own it, how I managed to fight for a lifestyle of river runs and sweet potato fries and Adventure Sundays and yes – I’m actually in the adventure every day.
And I am in it, I think, because I’ve always been fighting for it, not against it. I’ve learned how to be malleable but true to my heart. I’ve learned how to bend but not break.
And most of all, I’ve learned that challenge begets change, but also begets truth. In my life thus far, I’ve asked for truth and learned how to see it as my ally. Even the truths I would rather not see. Even the truths that hurt. I ask more questions instead of fighting against the answers that pain me. I have fought for a life that rings true each day, and in One Year I now see it before me. It’s not something I take lightly or take for granted.
Spoiler: Relationships are not supposed to be easy. With cities, with people, it’s all the same. You’re supposed to push each other, but in the best way. You’re supposed to help each other see the best in themselves but also the misalignments. Ultimately, you’re here to help one another not only recognize your values but live them out loud. In what you say, in what you do. You’re here to be the bridge between seeing and believing. Between dreaming and doing. And that is not easy work.
And, ANOTHER SPOILER, the work isn’t work to MAKE it easy. It’s work to beget more intricate and nuanced work.
It’s trust work. It’s truth work. It’s the best work ever.
And so here I am, One Year After packing the boxes and shipping the bins. One Year After that feeling of readiness and maturity but also of complete surrender. It has not been easy, and it hasn’t always been fun. But it’s been soul-stirring, and it’s been soul-lifting, and it’s brought me in touch with a deeper layer of myself I didn’t even know was there. And anyway, I don’t want easy. I want right.
To grow, we must stay aware. And to stay aware, we must stay awake. And to stay awake, we must challenge ourselves to displace our gaze. If you always ride the same waves, you’ll never truly see the spectrum.
Once you learn the thing, once you get the stuff, once you master the immediate, where do you go from there?
One Year Later, I’m living the answer:
You exhale fully, slowly, and calmly, and you shift the kalediscope.
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We’ve known each other for over a year, WANTers. We’ve learned what it means tolove fully, we’ve redefined what it takes to move forward fearlessly, I’ve even let you in on the lessons I’ve learned from a little “too much” sideboob. We’ve become like family – the kind of friend family you choose, the one you can swap tips and tricks with and ask even the most personal of questions without batting an eye.
So I’m going to let you in on something I’ve told only a handful of people, something I am still mildly ashamed to admit yet fully accept as my own: I am a naturally jealous person.
Ok, so maybe I am not really the *jealous* type anymore, and maybe I was never the overly jealous type even when I WAS jealous. But my childhood was sprinkled with moment of envy, and my adolescence and young adulthood speckled with pangs of that type of yearning that almost resembles resentment if you let it.
I am a naturally “jealous” person. And I know you get it – because I know you are too.
Let’s break it down: we throw one word, “J E A L O U S,” around in multiple scenarios. However, there are actually TWO instances we stick under the ambiguous “jealousy” blanket:
True jealousy, by definition, is a reaction to the threat of LOSING something you have.
Envy, however, arises when you find yourself LACKING something someone else has.
For most of my life, I would beat myself up for feeling these “jealous” feelings. I would not experience them often, but I was (and am) such a highly sensitive being that when those feelings would kick in, my heart and mind would go into major SHAME mode. I would scold myself for being such a “bad” human being, for thinking negatively and harboring ill feelings. I was told jealousy was bad, and so I was ashamed of these instinctual reactions I was having.
Not to mention the fact that they just didn’t. make. sense. considering who I was. I was taught humility and kindness. Lifting others up (figuratively) was my favorite pastime. I delighted in celebrating the successes of others, most of the time way moreso than celebrating my own. So why were these “bad” feelings showing up and crashing the party?
In reality, very few of those instances were actual jealousy. Sure, I was jealous when I went to Disneyland in 1993 and was worried Minnie Mouse might like the other kids more than she liked me. I was jealous in elementary school when my best friend was paired on a team with another girl, fearful that they’d become new best buddies (note the through line of uncertainty – we’ll get to that later). But most of the time, what I thought were feelings of “jealousy” were actually envy: a strong, strong desire to be in the position of someone else. To have something. To do something. To BE something.
Jealousy and envy are natural and healthy, yet in this culture of constant competition, we’ve come to associate them with negativity. And if jealousy or envy ever bubble up to surface level (you know, where other people could ::gasp:: potentially see them), we’ve learned to mask them in words of judgment, malice, or pretending like we know better or even that we don’t care.
That’s how the relationships are hurt. That’s what happens when it goes bad.
But what if both jealousy and envy were ways to lead us to our true calling, help us reach our fullest potential, and access our deepest desires?
There is a saying that goes “Jealousy works the opposite way you want it to.” And it’s true: without a sense of control over your own jealousy, it pushes people away, squelches opportunity, and is one of the most effective forms ofself-sabotage.
Yet learning to harness your jealousy can actually inform you of an important missing link, the most important element in any relationship (including the one with yourself): trust. When there’s trust, jealousy cannot be present, at least for very long. They’re like night and day; neither can exist while the other is around.
Of course, we’ll sometimes get jealous-seeming pangs even though full trust is present, but that’s us confusing jealousy with a type of yearning to be in on the action: ENVY.
Envious moments are little gifts from the universe, informing us of our most sacred desires and all the potential we have within ourselves. Maybe a friend got an amazing new job, or left her old job to go solo, or has finally launched the business she’s been talking about for years, or decided to take time off for herself and see where life takes her. Maybe your brother decided to rent that cool minimalist loft, or your sister bought her very first house (with a full-on backyard). Maybe you see a couple walking together on a warm summer night hand in hand, randomly breaking out into skips or dance parties for a few steps. Your heart grabs in your chest a little and you think, that is what I want.
Does it mean you’re a bad person and wish failure upon the others? Far from it.
But something resonates with you: a glimpse of what your life could be like if you were to be fully, wholly expressed in the way you were uniquely meant to be.
Find yourself prey to your own jealous mind? Here’s what to do…
1.) Determine if you’re actually jealous, or if you’re envious. To reiterate, true jealousy is a reaction to the threat of LOSING something you have. Envy, however, arises when you find yourself LACKING something someone else has. Are you afraid of losing or wanting something you’re lacking? Or maybe a little of both?
2.) If it’s jealousy, ask yourself: What about my situation is leading me to feel a sense of distrust? If you’re jealous, it might be time to sit down and have a heart to heart – with others or with yourself. What about your situation is leading you to feel a sense of distrust? Is it a missing link in your connection? Or…is it a story you’ve been telling yourself, one that’s keeping you in a place of possessive hostage-holding? Maybe it’s just that you are scared of loneliness. Recognize the areas of wariness in your life, whether externally or internally – then either take immediate action to establish dependable trust,or (if you’re weaving stories for yourself or afraid of being alone) be brave enough to internalize all the signs around you that let you know there is nothing to worry about.
3.) If it’s envy, ask yourself: What about what this person is doing – or who this person is being – is attractive and enticing to me? When you find yourself envious of a friend, coworker, family member, or even stranger, ask yourself – what about what this person is doing or who this person is being is sparking my envy? It could be what it looks like from the outside (the actions they’re taking or the connections they’re forming, or it could be emotionally based), or how happy or complete they seem to be. These are all clues to accessing what YOU truly want out this life: they type of work you do, the type of relationships you have, the type of impact you make and existence you long to lead. We only feel envy when we feel we are capable of the same. These strategically placed clues are signs that you have it within yourself to have everything you desire.
It might seem like envy is the more… productive of the two. But don’t be fooled. The thing with envy is that you can’t let it fester. It’s like a carton of milk with an expiration date – your envy needs to be used or be chucked, or else it’s gonna stink up your whole damn fridge. When envy is left unchecked, it runs the risk of turning rancid. Envy can pave the way for resentment if we’re not careful. It’s way less emotionally risky to to react to a threat than respond to an opportunity. So if we get too used to living a “stuck” life filled with wanting what other people have, our easiest self-defense becomes viewing the success of others as a threat to our own worth. Which is very rarely the truth. There’s space for everyone in this world, whether you believe it or not.
I am blessed to have some pretty talented, driven friends in my life, ones who are constantly accomplishing something new (in real life, not just on Facebook). I am president of their fan clubs and celebrate their amazingness to the fullest.
I also find myself envious from time to time. These feelings aren’t mutually exclusive, nor do they need to be. I’m not jealous of their circumstance because I feel no threat. Yet I am envious of the aspects I know I long to set free within myself. And so I am so glad they light a fire inside me and set the example. My friend Shelley Zalis, founder of The Girls’ Lounge, taught me the phrase “If you can see it, you can be it.” I’m so glad there are people out there who have either shown me what can be done, or inspired me to grow the ladyballs to be able to do the same for someone else.
When I left my full-time job last year (exactly one year ago!) and shared it with you all on here, I mentioned how my drive and enthusiasm had played a big part in letting me know it was time to go. What I failed to include is that, in the hidden crevices of my heart, I’d also gotten so envious I could no longer ignore it. I saw people in my field accomplishing things, personal and professional, that I wanted for MYSELF too. But instead of letting the envy fester and turn sour, I let the reality of my longing sink in. It wasn’t about anyone else. It was about ME. Watching others step up their game and own their full selves – and watching myself react to those displays of courageousness – was like a call to action. No one else was waiting for the “right” time, so why was I? Because I was able to identify my envy as productive, not destructive (and not jealousy), I could use it to guide me in the right direction.
We all deserve a life that’s lived to the max, a life filled with love, success, abundance. What this looks like differs for each person, and is sometimes hidden in a murky haze of dreams and ambition. When you see someone else moving forward fearlessly through the blur, it means you can too. Clear the smog and debris of distrust – then allow those beautiful moments of yearning to help you see an endless horizon all your own.
WANT Yourself: Now that you know the difference between jealousy and envy – do you ever feel them? Maybe one more than the other? How have they helped you in your life – or how have you kept them in check? Let’s take the shame out of the game and start being proactive together in the comments section below…
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I didn’t know what I would do. I didn’t know where I would be. But I knew, in my heart, I was here to make a difference. And to me, there was no better indication that you’d “made it” than seeing your name beside 29 other change-makers who were yet to hit the 1/3rd of life mark.
If I’m being honest, I really wanted to be a 25 under 25. THIS would have really been making it, I thought. Some people have quarter-life crises. I’ll have a quarter-life celebration instead!
But really…if I’m being TRULY honest…I was really hoping that by some miraculous turn of events…I’d beat ’em all to the punch and score a 20 under 20 spot. THESE were the “fresh-faced youth” that were “changing the world;” the ones I knew would be leaders that lasted my lifetime. I remember being at sleep-away camp when I was 11 years old, and literally tripping over a copy of my bunkmate’s Teen Magazine. I looked down and locked eyes with the cover stars, the “Teens To Watch.” I’ll be like them one day, I told myself…
I think all ambitious kids do it. Probably moreso if they’re a creative of some sort. I was an early bloomer in a lot of ways. I was drawing faces and shapes before most of my friends could hold a crayon. I devoured books and educational cassette/video tapes, which got me enunciating eloquently before I even knew what either of those words meant. I instinctively looked inward instead of facing outward, and I had a habit of self-examining even when it was scary to do so.
But when it came to stereotypical “success”…I don’t know. Most of my life, success had always been defined as being “the best” fill-in-the-blank. The best artist, the best singer, the best actress, the best daughter, the best partner, the best friend, the best at life. There were only two kinds of people – the prodigies and then everyone else. If you’re not striving to be a wunderkind, the world asked me, then what was the hell are you even doing?
And so being successful, for me, became more about being liked than being myself. I tied my worth to my praise, and my praise to my victories, and my victories to my worth, and back around again. If I could only make one of those Under lists, I thought, I would have concrete proof I’d “made it.”
Welp, I’m one day away from 30, and I’m not on any under-30 list. I’ve passed through 25, 20, and teendom, and in no age range or scenario have I ever been touted by anyone as someone “To Watch.” I’m yet to know the feeling of a global pedestal, and if Oprah or Forbes hasn’t called by now, there’s not a good chance they’re gonna show up in the next 24 hours.
What I’ve gotten in the last thirty years, though, is way better than my name on some list of people roughly around my own age (and the subsequent pressure you inevitably feel to maintain that “buzz” as you move from Person To Watch to actually being watched). I’ve built a person. A living, breathing, beautiful, flawed, brilliant, WHOLE person. Instead of being caught up in accomplishments, I’ve built a solid base of fulfillment. My refusal to conform to what might be normal – everything from career plans to dating – has brought me the kind of success you can’t see. The kind of success that stops me in my tracks and makes me think, “Holy crap, how did I even get here?” That sort of success isn’t tied to a paycheck, a person, or a nod of approval. It’s the kind of success that only I really truly know, because it’s the feeling of knowing myself on such a deep level that I know I can weather both the highest highs and the lowest lows.
That’s not to say entering my Third Decade comes without butterflies, though. I remember when I was ending my freshman year of high school, I feared entering into my sophomore year and blending into the crowd. I was known as one of the “cool” freshmen (read: not-actually-stereotypically-cool-in-the-way-freshmen-think-they’re-cool) in the theatre clique, and feared that my unexpectedness was what made me exciting. Without being known for being way more “mature” than a normal ninth grader, what was I?
Now, the same types of fears bubble up – I’m just more mindful about how I approach them. My ties to the idea of “youth” are not so much linked to the aging process as to whether or not I’m still…cringe…special. Almost all my close friends are a good five to fifteen years older than I am. I’ve been told my entire life that I’m an old soul and so much more mature “for my age.” So what happens now? What if I blend in? What am I if I’m no longer an exception to the rule?
I’ll tell you what I am. I am not held back, that’s what I am. I am not using my age as a crutch or as a reason someone else should like me. I know now I can fill that head-and-heart space with something much more productive to love about myself. I am not my age, I am my soul. I am not an exception, I am my own rule.
I might not be leaving my twenties on any fancy-schmancy list, but honestly, I don’t care anymore. I don’t need a list to approve of my trajectory, and I don’t need to feed into the idea that in order to be Great, I need to be The Best. Because really, there is no “Best.” And as Sarah Robb O’Hagan brilliantly states in this video, this sort of “Participation Award” culture of awarding greatness by decade creates a false notion that there IS actually a Best and that Best is on a timeline, one that’s becoming increasingly shorter.
I want to live on my own timeline. And I want to live the life that’s the Best for me. End of story.
In the meantime, I have learned a few things to get me started…
30 Lessons In 30 Years: A Non-Exhaustive List
1) ASK FOR HELP, and take people up on their offers when they offer to help. I’ve learned that if I don’t know how to do something…it’s not that I WON’T do it, but I get tripped up over not knowing HOW to execute, it’s that I move SO slow. There’s a difference between moving slow and being cautious, and moving slow out of fear. I move slow out of fear. I finally came to terms with my natural way of being, but instead of sulking about it, I now immediately do something to counteract it. Now I know that just because my default is to act one way (slow, fearful, solo), doesn’t mean I need to make a drastic change to move forward in work or life…I just need to ask for help when I’m feeling on shaky ground.
2) In the words of the musical Rent, FORGET REGRET. Regret is a useless – and fabricated – emotion. How absolutely freeing it feels to live without regrets. Regret, to me, is a byproduct of a forgiveness and empathy deficit. When you’re able to forgive and have empathy for others, you’re able to learn forgiveness and empathy for yourself (and vice versa). You realize you were making the best choice you could in the circumstance you were in. LISTEN: On Listening As Service With Ben Mathes
3) If you own or lease a car, know the dates and costs to anticipate. Smog checks (your DMV renewal will have a notification on it – all you need to do is find a gas station or service outpost that says “Smog Check” and they’ll know what to do), drivers license renewal, car payments, and if you’re leasing, disposition fee. Knowing these won’t make the costs go away, but they WILL make you a lot less surprised when they pop up (and provide a little more impetus to keep some “shit happens” money lying around).
5) Keep a journal. A written, pen-to-paper journal. Write notes back and forth with your friends, and save them when you can. They’re like relics of who you once were and how you came to be.
6) Friendships are born EVERYWHERE. Don’t worry about so much about making your closest friends in your age group, career field, school, what-have-you. Community can come from ANYWHERE. And also, It’s okay not to have a stereotypical “best” friend – or a lot of friends. You will find your people, but only if you’re committed to being your own “person” above all else (instead of trying to fit in with someone else). READ: Being Afraid Of The Friends That You Need
7) Be kind to people – all people. Or at the very least, empathize, because we’re all human. Cynicism, backstabbing, manipulating, and just plain making fun of others are all things that get under my skin. I’ve been on the receiving end of all four, and more. It was hard to be kind sometimes. But kindness has always gotten me farther – and doesn’t leave me with that sick feeling in my stomach that I’m sending out negative energy to someone else in this world. Pettiness and negativity fester in the body, and letting them live out in the world is very different than letting them GO. You can be kind to people while still being firm, direct, and self-protective. Kindness is only a liability when it’s an excuse to not stand up for yourself. Saying no and being kind are not mutually exclusive. Speaking up and being kind are not mutually exclusive.
8) You can appreciate the advice of those you love without feeling like you should (or NEED to) take it. The people you love want what’s best for you. And what’s best for you is usually the least risk-averse option. Or maybe it’s not the least risky, but it’s the option they’d do in your position. Or maybe they wouldn’t do it per se, but it will lead you to be the person THEY want you to be. It could be a parent or a romantic partner. What is right for someone else isn’t always right for you, and vice versa. That doesn’t mean either option is “wrong.”
9) “Vulnerability” is your greatest asset. Show your entire self to the world.
10) The reality of the situation at hand is different than the emotions you associate with it. Feel it all, but learn to separate the two.
11) Learn to listen to your body, even when it would be easier to listen to a friend, or magazine article, or even a doctor. Tapping into how my body feels has been one of my biggest successes of my life so far. Your body never lies.
13) Read things that make your brain flex, listen to music that makes your heart hurt, watch films that make you think deeply. It’s exercise for your soul.
14) Love is so much more complicated than it seems. Surface level compatibility is awesome, calling you out on your shit should be a given. You want someone who is in the ring with you no matter what – sans jealousy, codependency, or worst of all, conditions.
15) In the words of Michael Pollan, “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” The only modification I have to this is…don’t let society tell you what is too little or too much. Our bodies are ALL different – different activity levels, physiological make-up, etc. – so we all need different amounts of energy to live our lives. READ: Defining Diet On Your Own Terms
17) It’s okay to not want to let go, or be scared to let go – but don’t be so scared of the unknown and the other side of letting go that you DON’T let go. Just because you’ve invested in something for a really long time doesn’t mean you’re indebted to it.
18) Be proactive, not reactive.
19) We all learn the same lessons, just not at the same times.
20) Family, blood AND chosen, are the most important. What constitutes family? They’ve got your back no matter what (and you’ve got theirs).
21) The hardest (and scariest) things to do are usually the right ones.
26) When it comes to your career, do you. If you want to switch jobs, cool. If you like working in an office, cool. If you work better from home, cool. If you’re someone who thrives off of multiple odd jobs for maximum happiness, amazing. There is no one archetype for professional (or personal) success.
27) You don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. Do what’s right for you. And just because someone else is doing it (and you’re not) is not a reflection on your worth as a human being.
28) Don’t drastically change something about yourself to follow a trend. Physical or otherwise. Very thankful for my thick eyebrows now, but I wasn’t in 1998.
30) Your life is not a clock to beat. Remember those game shows where participants would have to rush through a maze while there was a clock counting down the seconds in the background? Way too many of us live our lives that way. Everyone is on their own unique path. Just because your friends are getting married or having babies or are CEOs of their businesses DOESN’T mean you have to “keep up” by checking off those boxes yourself. When you honor your own timeline and move forward fearlessly on that path, your life opens up in ways you’d never ever expect.
WANT Yourself: Which one of these lessons resonated with you the most?
If you’re over 30, what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
And under-30s…what’s the ONE thing you want to work on the most in this decade you’re in?
Shoot me a comment below – I’ll consider it my birthday present :) I love you all.
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