He was born a prince.
After marrying his princess and having a child, but before assuming the throne from his father, a sorrow in his heart and an intense desire to know if there was something beyond the ordinary sufferings of the world led him to make an unfathomably difficult decision—to leave his wife, his son and his father, and to give up the comforts of his throne to assume the religious life of a wandering forest mystic.
He pursued this path until it was utterly complete. He didn’t give up halfway. He followed all the way through. And in the end, he discovered that which he had been searching for, and spent the remainder of his life teaching others what he had found through his own sincere effort and personal exploration.
I’ve always been taken by the story of the Siddharta Gotama, the person who would become known as the Buddha.
Even 2500 years ago, and likely countless ages before that, people had the same sorts of cultural pressures that they do today. Their society told them how to live life—what was an appropriate way to live and what it meant to be a good member of the community. They had family pressures. They had obligations. They had a desire to fit in with the community, tribe, crowd, or what have you.
Yet they were hardwired to seek a better life too. And just the same as today, some people followed the path that was set out for them by others—their lineage, their parents, their society. But every so often, a person would break away from the mold and go their own way.
It’s one of the hardest things to do, isn’t it? To go against the grain? To break away from what’s normal and do something that feels true to you, even if it seems crazy to everyone else.
That’s why it tends to be so rare. For starters, some people never even think to question the status quo. And most of those who do think to question the status quo don’t entertain the notion of going against it very seriously. And among those who seriously entertain going against the status quo, most let something get in the way of going for it.
They think: “It’s too risky.” “What will so and so think.” “What if this or that happens.” “What if things don’t work out.” They talk themselves right into backing down, going right back to where they were before… somewhere that clearly wasn’t working for them, but that feels safer or more realistic or easier.
But is it safer? Is it easier, really? I think it’s one of the biggest tragedies in life—to come so close to that more authentic life, and then to back down.
Imagine making the decision to leave your family, your children, to leave the security of inheriting the throne of an entire kingdom. Imagine how horrifically unpopular that would be and imagine how racked with guilt you’d be. Imagine doing that all on some hope that you might find a better life. That is an incredible risk and sacrifice. Somebody in history managed to find it in themselves to go that far.
It’s extreme, for sure. But most of us aren’t called to give up nearly that much—not even a hundredth of that—in pursuit of our own authentic life. Let’s put it into perspective. What usually stops us?
Sometimes it’s just leaving the security of a job. Sometimes it’s just worrying about what others MIGHT think of you (even if they MIGHT get over it or MIGHT even want you to be more you and to be happier doing it). Sometimes it’s just fear that you MIGHT fail, not even that you’re going to fail, but that you MIGHT. And we have the audacity to let those MIGHTS stop us from doing what we were put on this planet to do, what we were given this one life to do.
You deserve better than that. You deserve to be to be the real you through and through. You deserve to take chances, to go against the grain.
So go your own way in life. Even if you fail a hundred times. Even if you fall flat on your face trying every day for the next ten years. The only real failure is not living your life on your terms, consistently acting in a way that feels true to the deepest core of you. Make it happen, or die trying. But don’t let your trying die. Go your own way.