For years, I have been told to follow my passions, my dreams, visions. When I first read the Alchemist, I started to watch for signs–I started to listen to my heart. I have endured, as many have, a lifetime of searching, longing for my calling to beckon to me, to scoop me up out of my mundane day-to-day and lift me into the life I am “meant” to live. There has been so much riding on this idea of a calling, a passion, a spark.
Today, as I finished reading the concluding story in a series of books about war, love, magic, and faith, I was overcome by gratitude. As I turned the last page and read the last words, I looked up to see the sun shining through the leaves in the tree above me. The winds came gently, caressing the leaves, tantalizing them with their falls and fall they did, tenderly weaving to the earth. The throes of their last dying life force, in full view for me. I was overcome by the immensity of goodness in the world, as it is inherently just so. The beauty of the leaves falling hauntingly to the ground to feed a new spring touched my soul. I looked to the west and saw the sun fall behind the branches of a tall evergreen tree. The sun spread its rays of light all around it, as it does only when half hidden. I leapt up off the bench I was sitting on and floated up to the top of the tree.
At the top of the tree, the sun lingered above, still in full force. I had climbed beyond the shade into the lingering warmth. As I sat in the tree, the wind swaying me back and forth, I felt pressed to close my eyes and pray. I have never prayed, it was profoundly unfamiliar and yet as I did, I felt only grace. I am not religious and never have been, but as I closed my eyes and felt the sun and the wind, heard the rush of the breeze, smelled the decomposing earth below, I was touched by an energy. All negativity was expelled from me and I was so full of gratitude for everything in my life, the highs and the lows, that I could have burst. I prayed to my own heart and to the energy I felt, offering surrender in return for guidance. I heard a call.
As I swung down from the tree, I closed my eyes once more and returned to the feeling of peace and warmth emanating both from within and all around me. I allowed myself to feel guided in a direction, gently continuing my surrender. I remembered when I was younger, I used to do the same thing, always pausing, walking slowly to allow myself to listen to my heart. I would trust my intuition implicitly, following it everywhere. As I write this, I feel anxious because I am writing about that which I don’t fully understand, because my identity is shifting as I let old realities melt away. And yet, I am at peace because I can feel that my heart has started to guide me once more.
As I step forward into the next phases of my life, it will be with purpose, with direction, and with heart. I know that there will be pain. I know that I will be challenged, as all are on their true paths. I know that I will feel loss and sorrow, too. But more than anything, I will feel like me, and that is all that matters. As I think on what I am called to do, on what my vocation may be, I must share that it is a mystery. That feeling of being scooped up, of being carried to a higher plane of existence is entirely misguided and misleading.
However one might speak of the feeling, whether as one’s heart whispering to them, or as God speaking truth, or as a guiding force, or intuition, the feeling is gentle. This whisper can only be heard in the peaceful moments between actions, in the space allowed for it. This calling is omnipresent, and yet transparent, unseeable. It cannot be heard unless listened for and even still, sometimes is missed. There is no one calling for me, no one vocation or path, there is no one job or mission for my life. The callings are like the quiet caresses of the wind through the leaves on a peaceful day, helping to share the beauty of life, if only we listen.
This summer, this life, the love I have felt, and the losses I have endured… The pain that I have grown through, and the knots in my bark… The warmth of the sun and laughter of children… They all are present both in reality and in the shimmering fabrics of who I am. Every experience I have journeyed through, fought for, surrendered to, avoided, and passionately engaged with, they are all me. My life is eclectic, my fabrics are swirls of colors, glistening in the sun and sparkling in the moon. My life is illegible and unreadable, it is malleable, and yet grounded. It is frightening and seeks the unknown. It is exciting and foreboding, beckoning and full of pain, of love, of joy. I cannot say where my life will lead, but I can promise that it will be mine, lived fully as me.
As I finish writing this pivotal piece, I reflect back through the last months of my life. Each moment coalescing into who I am now, who I am becoming. I have felt profound change on the horizon, unnamed until this moment. I have felt anxious about my future, knowing the stability of my past, uncomfortable with the independence of freedom. I have been strung along through my life, mostly following the guidance of others, the call of society. There are so few things that I have felt authentically proud of, fulfilled by. Things that are amazing to others are dull and colorless to me.
So much of my life has been committed to the machinations of a construct unfathomably large, the hive mind of humanity. It is nearly impossible to escape from the pervasive will of the many. It drowns out the gentle call of my heart.
This summer while in Ghana, I had more free time than perhaps ever in recent years. Much of my days were spent alone, reading in my room or writing. I escaped the doldrums of reality into worlds of fantasy, of magic, and of love. I longed for adventure and even though I was in a foreign country around the world, I looked for it in books. I don’t know if I was afraid to engage, or if I didn’t want to, or if I simply was depressed. Every day was a new challenge because I had to convince my heart to beat, I had to make myself awake. I have felt like this in the past, and especially in some of the parts of my life that others might envy. Throughout college, I have dealt with this feeling of lethargy.
Imagine for a second, if you will, that each person’s energy is like a cup of water being filled. Everyone is different, certain activities might fill one person’s cup while draining another. But every life is a cup. For the last many years, I have been living in a world where simply doing my daily tasks, drains my cup. My environment has torn a hole in the bottom of my vessel and no matter how much I put into my cup, it floods out the bottom. I don’t mean to be depressing or dismal, but I do want to be alarming. I have felt for years that there must be a better way to live life, and I have been searching for it.
In my search I have come across many truths and many ideas that could be true. One of the simplest ideas I have found and developed is the idea of one’s inside happiness and one’s environmental compatibility. Largely, happiness, fulfillment, and joy come from within. There are choices that we can all make to put gratitude before anger, courage before fear, and action before inaction. We can choose to be positive, optimistic in a world full of fear. This is an inside choice and some claim that by turning this dial, it will solve all qualms. I do not quite believe this, though. I think that one’s environmental compatibility is as important as one’s inside journey.
To be fulfilled, a person absolutely must be living their life in a way that is fit for them. Every person is different and it is nearly impossible to look to others for affirmation that an environment matches a person’s vocational necessity. Each of us must walk our own path, paths even. Each of us must listen to the gentle callings of our hearts and align our actions and environment with those callings. Even if I choose all the right things on the inside I still must escape the vacuum of inaction and stagnancy. To live in the world that I want, to align myself with the environment I want, it is likely that I have to create it, manifest it.
My journey forward is set with the intention and the true north of this idea: For my life to be as it should be, I must listen to my heart and manifest the reality that I need. There is nothing stopping me but me. I do not know where I will be guided, I do not know which oceans I will cross first or which people I will come to love. I do not know what beautiful colors will be added to the fabrics of my life. I only know that I must walk forward with the faith that if I listen to my heart, all else will fall into place. I know that I am here on this Earth to do something good, as are we all, and I intend to stride forward, courageously manifesting the world that I know can exist.
I sign this Covenant of the Magnolia Tree with myself.
1. I will always listen for the gentle guidance of my heart.
2. I will have courage in the face of the unknown.
3. I choose to believe that anything is possible and that I can manifest any new reality.
4. I will not hold myself accountable to solve all the problems of the world and will focus on being true to myself, as by doing so, the problems that I can solve will fall before me.
5. I will love compassionately, forgiving when possible, and growing with all I come into contact with.
6. I will act when I hear the call, even if I am terrified of the consequences.
7. I will never again feel ashamed of who I am.
8. I will never give up on myself or my life. I choose life in the face of death.
My future is rife with opportunity, to love and to mourn, to grown and to learn. As I set forth, I will bring with me all the experiences that have made me who I am, I am draped in the fabrics of my past. I will choose to help not hurt, to strive instead of balk. I will give of myself the best that I can, always hoping that by being me, I can treat the afflictions on humanity and on our shared home. I will not name myself that which I am not. I am a healer and an artist, I am a visionary and a philosopher, I am a wanderer and I am a writer. I choose to be me.
This is an old piece I wrote that I’m sharing today because I don’t want to write a blog. Enjoy!
The straight, wide, road was never ending. Tall, bending trees arched across the road and as I drove under them, it was as if a bridge was forming above my head. It is a magical experience in autumn when the leaves are fiery reds and stunning yellows. Imagine driving through a tunnel of light.
I was driving. I do not remember where I was coming from, nor where I was going, nor if I was listening to anything. I remember that I was pondering things, as I so often do, about some aspect of my life—something that had long since evaporated from the present and taken its place on the never-ending shelf of my past. I recall that what I was thinking of was important, yet in retrospect the specifics escape me. I have a tendency to overthink nearly everything. For many years I hated this part of myself because I wanted to be free from the burdens of thought. I would often look at the people who seemed to do without thinking, to be without needing to exist in their minds. I was jealous for so long of the people who didn’t let their histories define their present potential. It was a condition of sorts.
But back to the story. I was driving and I was thinking. I was ruminating about my past and driving towards who knows where. The stage is set. Here goes. When I was winding through the tunnel of trees, I had a revelation, an epiphany of epic proportions. When I say epic proportions I simply mean that I finally had come to a definite answer in my meandering brain, which is rare. When it happens I can feel a change immediately.
Imagine that you’re driving a car: you can see out the windshield in front of you, it’s wide open and clear; you can see out the windows to either side, but to do so you must take your focus off what’s in front of you; and finally you can look in the mirrors, or rather glance in the mirrors to assess what’s behind you and use that information to move forward. Are you seeing a metaphor yet? Let me explain this in a different way. Every human has a defined past. Every human has a defined present. Where the trend seems to falter is when we move our perspective to the future, forwards. There is no defined future in sight, only the next stretch of road. This is the framework for the epiphany.
I suddenly realized that for as long as I could remember I had attached myself to the past in order to have somewhere to return to, something safe to hold on to. I had been traveling in smaller and larger circles always returning home. Sometimes I went thousands of miles away and many months before returning home and sometimes it was only mere minutes, but always I returned home. Here there is something important to explain. The concept of traveling in a circle may be lost on some people. What I am trying to say is that I subconsciously wanted to return to my past when I returned home and was not inspired by the endless potential of the future. The past trapped me.
When I realized this and saw the erroneousness of my deduction, it was as if the blinders on my life fell away, it was as if my arms flew backwards behind me and my heart exploded with light. Suddenly, the whole world felt wide open and the future felt totally clear and malleable. I metaphoricalized this story in that moment when I ceased to look in the mirror and I started to look out the windshield. Life was no longer about going back home and circling back. It was about moving forwards; zigzagging my way along in life and occasionally revisiting the physical locations that I had been in in my past. I no longer yearned to be back where I once was and I no longer felt bad about going home. I was immediately free to create the life that I wanted and I felt empowered to do so.
In the tunnel of light, a small shift of gear drove a change in me that will last forever. Move forward, blinders off, always down the never-ending road of life.
We are all unique and have unique strengths. But what makes us truly powerful in our uniqueness are our talents and skills. First of all, let me define talents as they compare to skills and visa vera.
Talent: A talent is something that one is born being gifted at. For example, most people can’t compete with Michael Phelps’ body when it comes to swimming. He’s tall, has a huge wingspan, and can extend his feet more than most because he’s double-jointed. Some people are just born being a better fit for certain activities than other people. That being said, Michael Phelps would be a terrible horse jockey.
Skill: A skill is something that one gets better at through repetition and practice. Skills are worked at. A skill might be something like playing piano. While some people are more talented at music because they can hear pitch better, most of us simply have to practice every day and then we’ll be pretty good at playing piano.
Where talents and skills get interesting is where they intersect and combine with passions. This blog is about building your vocation.
Imagine the toolbox as a metaphorical set of things that you can use to live. You put skills and talents in your toolbox. All the things you know how to do better than average can go in your tool box. Things like playing an instrument, being exceptionally good at running or writing, or being able to hold your breath for a minute can all go in. Everything about you goes in the toolbox.
The first step of using your toolbox is to look inside and figure out what’s in there. This means reflecting on your talents and skills. It means thinking about the experiences you’ve had and the practice you’ve done to get where you are. Maybe you studied to become a yoga teacher or maybe you have been sailing in The Philippines. Whatever is in your toolbox is unique to you and only you can really know what it is. Take a few minutes to write down some of your talents, skills, and experiences. Answering the following questions can help:
Once you’ve answered these questions and you have a good list of practical talents, skills, and experiences, move to step two.
Now that you’ve taken inventory of your toolbox, it’s time to see what you want to build with them. Certain tools work better to build certain structures. Let’s take a few of my talents, skills, and experiences as an example.
Looking at the combination of these things, one might say that a natural path forward would be for me to become a therapist who helps children navigate their parents’ separation. It’s likely that this occupation would suit me because I have the right tools for the job. I have a pretty good idea that this occupation would practically fit me well, so I can move it onto the table as a blueprint.
Step three is all about enhancing the blueprints made in step two with one’s passions. Let’s use myself as an example again.
So, I know that I have the right tools to be a therapist. Now what? What kind of therapist will I be? What kind of therapist would I enjoy being? How can I be different than other therapists? Let’s identify my passions so that we can see more fundamentally how everything fits together.
Quickly, let’s circle back around to our skills and talents before moving forward with examples of my passions. It’s easy to feel intimidated by the word passion. I’ve found that just thinking about things that I like to do works well enough. Even if one is talented at something or skilled at it, that doesn’t mean that it’s a passion. Or, maybe it was a passion when they were practicing and growing their skill, but now it’s not. Whatever the reason, just because something is in one’s toolbox, doesn’t meant that they have to use it. Passions are identifiable because we love to do them, and not for any other reason.
Okay, so identifying some passions. Some of mine are: writing, playing music, and being outdoors.
Now for the fun part: Enhancing! I’m going to take the role of therapist and then mix in as many passions as I can to the role to see what kind of therapist “Faolan” would be.
If I become a therapist, I might want to write books using my experience helping people to reach more people and spread messages about growth and positivity. Or maybe I should integrate music into my therapy practice. Maybe I should take people hiking when I’m talking to them so that they can experience nature while they share their stories. Perhaps I could integrate all three passions! Whatever, I end up doing, I now have a much more clear version of an occupation that fits me. I know how I could enjoy doing a job that I’m good at.
What’s the biggest takeaway from all of this? I would say that it’s something really important. An ideal job for each person is a sum of their tools but loving the job that’s right for you is about making it your own. Not every carpenter carves their favorite animals into their work. Not every coder leaves jokes in their code. Loving your occupation by bringing your passions into it makes it a vocation. A vocation doesn’t simply fall out of the sky, it is created and discovered by growing out our set of tools and then building something we’re passionate about.
If you’re interested in working with me to develop your toolbox and work on building your vocation, please reach out here!
Over the weekend I went to a retreat for a leadership group that I am a part of. The theme of the retreat was centered around a book called, “How Will You Measure Your Life?,” by Clayton M. Christensen, James Allworth, and Karen Dillon. I highly recommend reading the book. On the final day of the retreat we talked about some real ways that we can measure how we’re doing in life. I thought that I would share some of my strategies in this blog that I’ve used, some of what I learned, and some new things I’m going to try.
The first book I read last year was called “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. In it there is a theory of getting one percent better every day. Clear uses an example of the British national bike racing team that focused on getting one percent better, on fixing and improving small things. After five years of doing this, the team won 60% of gold medals at the olympics and after another 4 years, it did even better. To read about this story, check out this link.
After reading this book I decided to try getting one percent better every day. Previous to this decision I had taken some time at the end of 2018 to lay out what I thought the ideal person might look like. I wrote about excellence of body, mind, and soul and what entail. My goal in 2019 was get better in all three areas. Another concept that Clear talked about in his book is the idea of consistency. Consistent habits builds long-term habits.
So, I started using a habit tracking app. The app, Habit Share, pictured below, shows some of the habits that I have been working on.
As you can see, I’m not perfect by any stretch. However, this app has been helping me get better. This app both rewards me for success and shows me how long I have been doing something. By measuring how often and for how long I’ve been doing my habits, I hold myself accountable to keep them going.
Another key way to measure my success in life is less data-driven. I like to seek out feedback from people around me about how I’m doing in my life. Late last year I decided to survey some of my closest friends, family, and mentors about how I’m doing. I asked questions like: “Do I leave you feeling better after we talk?” and “What are some of my weaknesses or things that are holding me back?” If you want to fill it out or check out the questions, you can here. Getting this feedback really helped me focus in on the things that I need to work on. I am a very reflective person but sometimes I need to hear from the outside more details that I haven’t noticed about myself. It can be hard to always self-identify the areas we need to grow.
Those closest to us can also act as support systems to help us build habits and measure success. A new idea I had this past weekend was to set up friends around me as tripwires. A tripwire is a response to an “if, then” statement. For example: I can say to a housemate: “If I wake you up, text me to tell me.” This is a simple one. Most are more data driven. For example, a company could create a data tracking system and have it notify the CEO when the average turnover goes above 5%. Tripwires are used to call out when something happens that might be missed or looked over due to overwhelm, inability to know, or confirmation bias. I want to use tripwires in my life to support my habits and to measure my success. A new one that I am thinking of is to clearly ask my friends to call me out when the way I’m acting doesn’t align with either what I say I will do or what my values are. By having outside sources call me out, I believe that I will have to respond to situations more quickly.
Earlier today (while at the gym – habit check!) I was listening to a podcast with Tim Ferriss interviewing Penn Jillette. One of the interesting things that Penn talked about is his journaling practice. When he was younger he decided to journal every day and has done so ever since. Now, every day he will look back and reread a journal entry from 20 years ago, 5 years ago, and 1 year ago. Doing this helps him measure his life and see how he and/or his environment has changed or grown.
I have found that by journaling it helps me move through things, understand myself better, and give a gift to future me. Journaling is a really powerful form of measurement because it gifts our future selves a window into how we actually were when writing that journal entry. There is a big difference between how I was in the past and how I perceive my past self to have been because our memories are actually quite bad representations of reality.
This all comes down to one’s ability to accurately understand one’s self and to judge whether they are doing well or not. This necessitates having two things: measurements, and systems to measure. In this blog I’ve talked about four systems to measure one’s self and hold one’s self accountable: trackers, surveys, tripwires, and journals. I have also touched on some ways that I measure myself that I have found useful, like consistency of workouts, my integrity in situations, or if other people are left feeling better after I talk to them. The ways in which people measure themselves should and have to be subjective. The systems to keep measuring ourselves are important but can only be implemented once we have decided what is important to us. So, I ask you, what is important to you and how will you measure your life?
It seems that every time I come back to the cold I have to reacquaint myself. I always begin the process like one would the stages of grief, with denial. I deny the cold entry into myself, refusing to lower my warm self into the depths of the freeze. I linger in defiant disbelief that such a thing could exist. Every time I come back to winter I have to relearn that it is normal, perfectly normal.
From denial I continue into some mishmash of pain, anger, and blame; of those around me and of myself. I succumb to the cold, let it take hold of my heart and wrap its knobby, long, and freezing fingers around me. I seek out those around me to take the burden, to let me avoid those feelings that I know are coming. I long to be released from the dismal darkness even in my denial that I must feel at all.
Then, the truth starts to seep in as I begin to thaw. The ice that has caressed the edges of my soul starts to melt and with it my heart’s beat can once more begin to sound out its cry. I realize that inside the pain, anger, and blame is sadness. These outward emotions are always a sign for me of something inside that I haven’t dealt with, or that I have been reminded of but haven’t noticed. With this realization, I am able to cry and with the tears of the thaw comes the flood and the flowers.
Finally, it is spring, the heaviness of the snow has departed leaving only muddied walkways to work through. My feet are sucked into the earth with each step but faithfully, I walk forward because I can feel the coming warmth. In spring time I am able to look back toward the departing winter and realize that it brought with it growth, renewal, and rest; that even in the cold, on the darkest of days, there is life… Under the snow lie seeds and leaves just waiting to burst through towards the sun.
In the blink of an eye another winter has come and gone, another voyage of the heart has been completed, into the depths and out again. Winter never seeks to cause harm, only to remind us what lies inside, under the snow on our hearts. As the sun comes once again, I realize with a start that winter is perhaps the most magical time of all. Sometimes only in the darkness, can we find the most important light.
Just 12 minutes ago I was sitting on a bench reading a short piece by Paolo Coelho, which I have pasted blow:
“Manuel needs to be busy. Otherwise he feels that life has no meaning, that he is wasting his time, that society has no need for him, nobody loves him, nobody wants him.
So as soon as he wakes up e has a whole set of tasks to do: watch the news on the television (something may have happened during the night), read the newspaper (something may have happened yesterday), ask his wife not to let the children be late for school, get the car, a taxi, a bus, the subway, but always concentrated, looking into the vacuum, consulting his watch, if possible making a few calls on his cell phone – and making sure that everyone sees that he is an important man, a man useful to the world.
Manuel arrives at work and starts to pore over the pile of paper that awaits him. If he is an employee, he does everything possible for the boss to notice that he arrived on time. If he is the boss, he sets them all to work right away; if there are no important tasks to do, Manuel will see to developing some, creating some, implementing a new plan, establishing new lines of action.
Manuel goes to lunch – but never alone. If he is the boss, he sits down with his friends, discusses new strategies, speaks badly of the competitors, always keeps a card hidden up his sleeve, complains (with a touch of pride) about being overworked. If Manuel is an employee, he also sits down with his friends, complains about the boss, says he is working a lot of overtime, claims in despair (and with a touch of pride) that so much at the firm depends on him.
Manuel – boss or employee – works the whole afternoon. From time to time he looks at his watch, it’s time to go home but he still has a detail to solve here, a document to sign there. He is an honest man; he wants to justify his salary, what others expect of him, the dreams of his parents who went to such great pains to give him the necessary education.
Finally he returns home. He takes a shower, gets into some comfortable clothes and sits down to have dinner with his family. He asks the children about school, his wife how she spent the day. Now and again he talks about his work, just to serve as an example – because he does not like to bring worries home. Dinner over, the children – who are not the least bit interested in examples, duties or any such things – immediately leave the table and go to sit in front of the computer. Manuel too goes to sit down in front of that old apparatus from his childhood called the television. Again he watches the news (something may have happened in the afternoon).
He always goes to bed with some technical book on the bedside table – whether boss or employee, he knows that the competition is great and that if you do not keep up, you run the risk of losing your job and then have to face the worst of all curses: unemployment.
He talks to his wife for a while – after all, he is a gentle, hardworking and loving man who cares for his family and is ready to defend it in any circumstances. Sleep comes soon and Manuel falls asleep knowing that the next day he will be very busy, so he needs to recoup his energies.
That night Manuel has a dream. An angel asks him: “Who do you do this?” He replies that he is a responsible man.
The angel then asks: “Would you be able to stop just for fifteen minutes during the day and look at the world, at yourself, and just do nothing?” Manuel says that he would love to, but he does not have the time for that. “You’re trying to fool me,” says the angel. “Everybody has the time for that, what they lack is courage. Work is a blessing when it helps us to think about what we are doing. But is becomes a curse when its only use is to prevent us from thinking about what our life means.”
Manuel wakes up in the middle of the night, covered in a cold sweat. Courage? How can a man who sacrifices himself for his family not have the courage to stop for fifteen minutes?
Best to go back to sleep, it’s only a dream, such questions lead nowhere, and tomorrow is going to be a very busy day.”
I was struck by this piece and immediately put down my book of stories. I set it aside and said to myself: “I’m going to see how long I can do nothing at all.” I had never posed this challenge to myself before. Guess how long I made it. 8 minutes!!! That’s nothing! However, I learned some very interesting things along the way.
The first thing that I noticed was that as soon as I put my book down, I was bored. Within three second, the most interesting thing in my life was my breath and so I breathed. I took deep breaths, noticing the cool air flowing in through my nostrils, filling my lungs, and then pausing before flowing back out, warm this time. After I few deep breaths, I started to notice that my body was uncomfortable. My left cheek was shaking and I let the tension leave my body. My legs were extended too far, so I crossed them under me. My back, uncomfortable against the bench. I noticed my body and the sensations happening inside myself.
And then, I felt the sun hit my face and I was suddenly hot. It was a cold morning and all of sudden I was sweating. I took off my sweatshirt. I heard the sounds of the birds and of the people passing by. Loud birds and loud people, quiet birds and quiet people. The breeze shimmered through the air and carried with it a cool touch, balancing the hot sun. I noticed finally that the sun had found its way to my face through a small break in the leaves of the tree above me. The sun, so hot, would be there for only a few moments and then would pass. It was uncomfortable and yet fleeting. I realized that all experiences are like the sun as it passes through the leaves, one moment touching us and the next leaving us in shade again. Those fleeting moments, in their brevity, are sacred. Each moment of our lives, no matter the level of discomfort, joy, or sadness is fleeting and deserves attention, presence, and gratitude.
On another note, meditation has always been hard for me and today when I simply decided to actively stop, it naturally happened. I followed my breathing and scanned my body. I noticed the continuously changing nature of life and was grateful for it. Meditation is so often prescribed, when it is the absence of prescription. By simply pausing, one can notice the beauty and brevity of life.
I was just reading some articles by a woman who I have an informational interview with tomorrow morning. She is a coach and seems like a wonderful, insightful, and wise person. However, I was lost in thought about something that happened today… In other words, I wasn’t really reading as much as I was digesting my day. It’s important to digest one’s day before moving into the next day, I have found.
Today I was walking out of a class when a fellow student ran up to me and said loudly “Baylen! … What’s your name again?” I introduced myself formally and she asked, rather out of breath and seemingly panicked, “You’re in my other class right? We have that assignment due tonight! Should it be double-spaced or single-spaced. My team isn’t doing anything to help.” As her whirlwind of questions came at me, I was, at first, rather put off. I was on my way home after a long day and wanted nothing less than to explain a prompt to her and answer her questions. But, I slowed down, and talked it out, which took only a few minutes. She smiled and thanked me and I went on my way.
As I thought about this moment from earlier today, I thought that perhaps I should have first told this girl in my class to take a big, deep breath and then ask me again. It seemed like something rude to do and I’m glad I didn’t do it. But, it did make me wonder: if I had taken a deep breath, would she also have? At that moment I was struck by the simplicity of this action that my mom has been telling me to do for years. I took a deep breath, looked up from my computer and was immediately present. I saw everything in my room, from the Christmas lights near the ceiling, to the photo of New Zealand on the wall. It all hit me at once and I was so grateful for my life and the present moment.
The first thought I had was, “I should write about this.” So, here I am! When you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that all it takes to calm down, return to the moment, and welcome gratitude back into life is a deep breath and a pause.
It took me many years to come to terms with what it means to be a generalist. The dictionary describes a generalist as one who is competent in several different fields or activities. For me, it’s a little more personal. Over the course of my life basically nothing has been hard for me to learn or pick up. Everything I’ve ever tried I’ve gotten the basics of relatively quickly. I don’t say this to brag or tout my incredible skills because it’s really not like that.
I was sitting with one of my mentors this summer and he was explaining to me that most people’s lives are lived one finger forward, pointed clearly in some direction. Doctors, musicians, and other specialized paths require this one finger forward approach to life. He then took out his hands and splayed all ten fingers as widely as possible and said “This is you.”At first I was caught off guard and perhaps a little offended when he said this but over the last few months the truth of his statement has resonated with me. I am a true generalist.
I love to learn new things and differing things. My knowledge is disparate, wildly uncorrelated, and yet so important. My experiences vary across the board. It’s been hard for me in my life to find people who really understand what it’s like to be me. Since I was 6 years old or so I have been a nerd, starting with Pokemon cards, then Yu-Gi-Oh! when I was 7, and finally Magic when I was 9, which I still play today. I also grew up in nature, as fully immersed in the reality of dirt and sticks as in the imaginary worlds of dragon-slaying and wizards.
As I got older, I embraced the world of “normal,” taking up sports and school work. I creeped up into the varsity world of sports in high school, eventually achieving MVP of my track team and becoming a captain the following year. This was a big achievement for me because it meant that other people my age understood something about me. Shortly after this it was announced that I had won a pretty huge scholarship for playing Magic in the amount of 20,000 dollars over four years. This was one of the most important moments of my life because it meant that following my passions was as likely to pay off as anything else in life, and probably more so. However, I didn’t tell anyone at my school because I was nervous they would judge me for having weird interests.
Once I got to college, my masquerade as a normal person continued as I picked up alcohol for the first time and immersed myself in the world of partying and classic college. Over the last three years I have slowly been drifting back towards a place where I can feel safe in my own unique, generalist, and wholly different interests. The last few months have really helped me to understand how important it is that I embrace who I am and live all parts of my life fully. I finally feel comfortable sharing my passions about nerdy things with all kinds of people and also expressing my appreciation for a beer after a long day. A large part of growing up is about returning to the comfort with self we all have as young children.
To leave you (perhaps you’re a generalist as well) with a final metaphor: imagine that your life is a blank canvas. I’ll use my life as an example. As I’ve grown and experienced things, those things have started to fill up space on my canvas. Each aspect and experience is a different bubble on the canvas. Let’s say Magic or track or traveling. As each experience balloons outward, they start to overlap. When two bubbles overlap, it’s not that exciting but think about when ten bubbles overlap, when each splayed finger finds its way back to my hands. In this moment, the generalist has found a unique place that has never been reached before. The generalist’s gift is to understand that everything is connected and search the world far and wide for those connections. It’s our jobs as those who can see the big picture to pull together so many disparate ideas and create something new.
Sometimes it feels like life is a whirlwind or even a tornado. Everything is flying around at light speed, whipping past. *Whoosh* There goes my weekend! *Whoosh* A random test has appeared! *Whoosh* I’m a senior in college. Well, you get the point. Life comes and goes quickly. Each and every day flies by and the more I do, the faster it seems to go.
It’s easy to get lost in the whirlwind. Over the last month or so I’ve been lost in the wind. I’ve been having fun, seeing friends and family, and doing what I want to do (mostly), but I’ve been missing the quiet moments that I love. I haven’t written at all (a shockingly low amount for me). I’ve only had 3 cups of tea in the last month and I haven’t laid in the sun at all. It’s more like my life is living me than the other way around.
Today I was going to go surfing with a bunch of my friends and spend the perfect-weather day outside doing it right. But when my alarm went off (on a Sunday morning, mind you) I simply couldn’t do it. I decided not to go and turned over, letting sleep take me again. I had some major FOMO (fear of missing out) this morning but as I focused on taking my life back from the whirlwind it went away. I cleaned my room, finally finished moving in, did laundry, and then sat down to relax. As soon as I sat down I felt my fingers begging for me to write with them. It has been so long since I’ve written and it feels so good to be back here putting my thoughts onto “paper.”
This particular blog is more of a reintroduction for me than a revolutionary tale for any of my readers, so it might not apply too much to your life. However, I think we can all use a deep breath in the face of the tornado. Our lives are ours to live and we have to remember that. It’s SO easy to get caught up in all the “shoulds” and “coulds” in life and it can be hard to remember what we already have. Sit back and take ten minutes to do nothing but breathe. Go for a walk, soak up some sun, read a book, hammock, I don’t care, just relax!
This morning Seamus (my friend) and I got up at 4:45 to hike a local mountain at sunrise. We woke up groggy and tired but as we started out into the world of adventure, our day began to pick up. We reached the base of the mountain at about 5:20 and then hustled up the incline to reach the top just as the orange and red crested the mountain range to the east. It was magnificent. The sunrise was amazing and because we were so tired, we thought everything was funny (win-win).
The point is: getting up early is hard and takes going way out of most people’s comfort zones but it’s so worth it! By 9am this morning, we hiked a mountain, got breakfast, and got back home. Most days I wake up after 9. The feeling of getting so much done early is amazing, truly.
Given how late it is and how long I’ve been up, I’m keeping it short. Adventure onward 🙂