I have spent the last 48 hours in some sort of personal torture to meet my self imposed deadline to complete this blog post. In this time I have threatened to not only cancel the entire blog, but to abandon my larger project; a year long labor of love.
“You have nothing to say.” “You are not good enough.” “Why would anyone want to listen to you?” Even though I know that these voices are not my friends, that I have vowed so many times not to listen to them, I let them bring me down.
But what I have come to realize is that it is in the despair, hitting rock bottom, and hopelessness that something is cleared away and ultimately something new and sometimes great rises from the ashes.
When I started to write my blog, I spoke about what made my heart sing. What made me feel alive. I wrote about hitchhiking, swimming in natural bodies of water, challenging myself, body image, persevering. I made myself vulnerable. I put myself out there.
And then I spent the next year posting when I was inspired. Sometimes I would write 3 posts at a time. And then a couple months would go by before I wrote another. I made the decision that I would only write when I was inspired.
Recently I was listening to a podcast with Marie Forleo and Dani Shapiro. Marie asked Dani about her writing approach. Dani said that if she only wrote when she was inspired, she might have a thin little book instead of 9 best sellers. For her, it is about showing up every day—even when she does not feel like it.
Inspired by this insight, this week I decided that I would write a blog post every two weeks—-no matter what.
So a couple days ago I started to consider my post. Absolutely nothing came to mind. I wrote lists, went through previous posts. Went for walks. Listened to podcasts for inspiration. Checked that my credit card balance was correct. Picked a fight with my boyfriend. Wrote a lot—mostly crap. Got really depressed. Decided that maybe I had nothing to say. “Maybe I should just quit the whole thing,” said the voice in my head. I wrote a lot about feeling unworthy. I revisited my “story” from the past three years.
Today is the final day. The piece is due. I made a commitment to myself to finish it today. I still have no idea what the result will be. I gave myself time to write. I told myself I have to write for one hour straight every couple hours until I have something that resembles something presentable. It is painful. But the theme that continues to present itself is faith, persistence, perseverance and patience. Faith that if I keep working something will present itself to me; perseverance —the unwavering commitment to proceed; and an agreement with myself that I will not quit in the face of resistance or fear. I will not abandon the work just because it gets uncomfortable or difficult.
It has taken me years to come to this. Historically through my life I gave up when it got hard. I resisted the difficult challenges. I put myself in comfortable situations to make life simple and easy. I even promoted this way of living to others. Why face challenges when life can be led simply? That was my motto.
The funny thing is that life was not easy on the “easy path”. Instead, life presented me with all kinds of physical and emotional challenges. Life said, if you do not show up for me, I will show up for you and it will not be pretty. So I suffered while I took the easy path.
I kept looking for something but I did not know what I was looking for. I looked for different professions. I became good at one thing and then abandoned that for my next idea. I looked for a different place to live. There was a nagging feeling that something was missing.
For many years I was convinced that it was my diet. I tried so many elimination diets trying to find where my pain and suffering was coming from. It turns out that there are definitely foods that affect my physical and emotional well being. But this was not the source of the problem.
It turns out that my greatest suffering arises when I am not being true to myself, when I avoid discomfort and pain in favor of a comfortable life.
We all have our own personal path to take. For me to be true to myself means challenging myself by pursuing the journey of adventure.
I think I first recognized this in 2015 walking on the Camino de Santiago, a 750 km pilgrimage across northern Spain. From the beginning I met other inspiring people that I wanted to walk with. As a result, I walked each day further and faster than I ever could have dreamed possible.
Then I fell in love with a man who taught me to not settle for second best. In order to stay and grow in this relationship, I was forced to face very uncomfortable parts of myself. I was forced to face my loneliness, fear, and shame.
Once I realized how rewarding it was to challenge myself, face my fears and walk into the unknown, there was no going back.
The more I realized what I could do, my physical and emotional well being began to become more tolerable.
So now I am willing to accept that discomfort and insecurity are a part of a challenge. And accepting challenge is about making myself vulnerable.It is not always pretty. I am not always graceful. But I know that I can survive and come out so much stronger on the other side.
Part of this involves making decisions that are not always popular—with the people I love and with society in general. Initially, I felt so much shame around who I was and the choices that I was making.
But I finally faced the brutal fact that I would rather give up the relationships with those that could only accept me if I lived the life that they thought I should live
The question became “how willing am I to step up and take responsibility for myself?”
It took most of my life to learn that when I am on the journey of life—one based on adventure, challenging myself, facing the unknown and often uncomfortable—I feel the most alive.
The more I get to know myself, the more that I understand how this is working. Getting to know myself is a work in progress.
I am committed to this process with all my heart because this is the only way for me.
I have spent the last four years following my heart. I will not win a popularity contest for my decisions. But I do think I have earned some respect. I dared to challenge expected norms. I do not have a home or a car. I generally sleep in a different place most nights. I am devoted to pursuing a lifestyle that meets my standards.
And I am constantly putting myself in new and different environments to challenge myself. Including this blog.
This is not a vacation. I work extremely hard—whether I am cycling, or trekking, or hitchhiking, or working on my business which is based on this crazy journey.
That said, I am learning how to relax and enjoy life.
Sometimes, I wish I could be that person with a family and a house and a car and a regular job. It would be much easier for me and definitely easier for the people who love me.
But that is not possible for me. As much as I resisted, the life I live now is the one I am meant to live.
Why do I share this? So what?
The what is that I have a theory that most of us, assuming we are not sociopaths, have some shame that keeps us from our true calling.
I hear so many people say something like “I really should leave my job. I don’t like it. I feel drained and unappreciated. But I just don’t know what else I would do.” Or even, “but that would not be responsible.” Or “what would people say?” Or simply “I am scared.”
For many of us, we must face new, scary challenges. The minute I take risks, life steps in and presents a door where there was once a wall. For many of us, we must take the chance because if we don’t, we are dying a slow death inside. Life has so much to offer. But if we do not take the chance, face the fear, be uncomfortable, we will never find it.
Life is all about compromise. For everything we select, we deselect something else. And because the unknown is scary, most of us choose what we know. We choose vanilla. Or we do not choose at all. We postpone.
What makes life worth living for me is the constant surprise that challenging myself provides. These little gifts of surprise repeatedly show me how much I can accomplish. And it is the awareness that the surprise will come that keeps me on the path. And I know that perseverance, that unyielding, unshakeable devotion to the journey and the surprise that keeps me going. That is both the fuel and the reward of life.
The more I face my fears, the stronger I get. And the more I learn how much I can do and how strong I am, I become a better and more responsible friend, lover, and human.
I hope that in sharing my journey—the success as well as the failure, the struggles, challenges, and difficult times—I can motivate others to take the challenge to face their fears.
I love life with all of my heart.