Go Your Own Way

June 12, 2016

 

seagull

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.

We raced out of the building in our finest sprinting clothes—suits, ties, dress shoes.

I was with my small project team…just Marc, Eric and me. The dream team. Our client meeting had run over by almost an hour, and if we had any chance of making our flight, we’d have to push the Toyota Camry we’d rented to its limit while dodging state troopers on Route 85 as we made our way from Montgomery, Alabama to the Atlanta airport. It was a little over a two hour drive if you were to obey speed limits, plus dropping off the rental car, getting through security, and bolting through the gigantic Atlanta airport.

Could we make it? Reply hazy try again.

I entrusted Eric with the keys and hopped in the back seat. Truth be told, I just didn’t want to be the one to get the speeding ticket if we got pulled over. We tossed our bags in the back and climbed in the car. It was 90+ degrees outside, probably 110 degrees in the car, so it took about 2.5 seconds to start pouring sweat in that shirt and tie. I pulled my Clark Kent move—threw on a polo, replaced my dress shoes with flip flops and tossed the shoes, tie and dress shirt into my suitcase. Dress pants and flip flops, one of my signature looks.

We got on the road, then the highway, and Eric weaved through traffic and took us up to an average clip of 85 to 90 miles per hour as we made our way down this Alabama corridor. We were on track, so the tenor of the car switched from breath-holding to talking about how the meetings that day had gone. An hour or so of conversation in, and we’d already made up enough time that the probability of making our flight had shifted significantly: Outlook good.

As I recall, we were comparing notes about the most awkward moment of the day. I initially argued in favor of it being the moment we were asked how many other times we, the experts, had done a project like this. (Correct answer of zero was successfully evaded.) But Marc insisted it was when one of the clients offered a passionate, nearly tear-filled diatribe about how this working team couldn’t get no respect from the boss man… that they had MBAs, that they had actually left Alabama for college unlike most of the other leaders in the company, and so forth.

Tomato tomahto, awkwardness is all in the eye of the beholder.

At which point, I caught sight of a tiny yellow light just out of the corner of my eye. I leaned over and looked at the dashboard, but there was no light. I could’ve sworn there was just a light.

Me: Eric, did I just see the gas light go on?

Eric: No, we have plenty of gas.

Me: Oh, okay.

We continued our conversation. This would be the point where I might offer a little bit of hard-earned wisdom… “doveryai no proveryai.” Trust but verify. Thanks Mr. Reagan.

It wasn’t until five more minutes had passed before I saw another yellow light, and this time it was undeniable. I craned my neck around like a giraffe to find the gas gauge precariously dancing on empty. I felt our fate shift in an instant from Outlook good to Better not tell you now.

Me: We need to stop for gas.

Eric: No we don’t, we’re fine.

Me: Eric, we have at least 50 miles left before we get to the rental car place. We need to stop.

Marc: He’s right, Eric.

Now here’s the thing. Every time we’d done this trip, we specifically rented a Toyota Camry because it has a pretty good size gas tank and good enough gas mileage that it’s the one car we could make it to and from the Atlanta airport on a single tank of gas, maximizing the value of our pre-paid gas tank and minimizing overall transit time. But we had neglected to factor in the extra trips from the hotel to the client’s headquarters and back, since this was in fact the longest stay we’d ever enjoyed in Montgomery.

Regardless, I always check the gas tank. And I know the difference between “empty” and “plenty of gas.” The problem is, there aren’t that many exits on Route 85. The space between Montgomery and Atlanta isn’t exactly the world’s most heavily trafficked part of the country. Five minutes of driving later, which felt like an eternity, and there hadn’t been a single sign of a gas station.

Me: If we run out of gas out here, I’m going to kill you Eric.

I meant it. And I’m a pretty patient guy.

The gas gauge was as low as I’ve ever seen one. We began problem-solving. We were consultants, our whole job was to problem-solve. There were three of us. There was no reason we couldn’t figure this out.

Me: We need to cut the air conditioning, it burns more gas.

Marc: We need to slow down to 40 miles per hour, you burn the least amount of fuel at that speed. (I didn’t know that by the way. Marc is a treasure trove of insights.)

So there we were, three stooges, driving on an Alabama/Georgia highway at 40 mph with no AC on a 90+ degree day. And we wouldn’t roll down the windows because as Marc advised, that was aerodynamically inferior and we couldn’t afford the extra drag. We needed every gas fume molecule possible that was left in that hollow tank to do its work for us.

Another five or ten minutes passed. Fate status: Concentrate and ask again.

Up ahead, we spotted a sign for an exit. With sweat gushing out of my forehead, I let out a “Hallelujah!” (It’s moments like these that have a tendency of getting us in touch with our spiritual side.)

Except as we got closer, there were a whole bunch of orange construction thingies blocking the exit. You’ve gotta be @%#!ing kidding me!” (It’s moments like these that have a tendency of getting us in touch with our unsavory side.)

Fate status:  My sources say no.

Me: Eric, you have to go for it.

Eric: I can’t, it’s blocked!

Me: Eric, there are at least two car lengths between each of these cones. Weave through them and take that exit!!

Eric: I can’t!

Me: DO IT OR ELSE!

He took my advice. I was the senior ranking member of the team after all. We weaved through the orange thingies to the forbidden construction zone. Fate status: Outlook not so good.

So you’re saying there’s a chance…

I had always wanted to know what it felt like to cut over to the other side of the orange thingies. Of course in my mind, the fun of it was to do that while bypassing bumper-to-bumper traffic as far as the eye can see, yelling “see ya later suckers!” out the window. But there wasn’t traffic, and our windows were sealed shut, and I mean sealed shut, so I guess you could say it didn’t quite live up to my dreams.

But as we approached the exit, we discovered something. The orange thingies weren’t blocking the exit after all. They were just there to shut down the half-mile stretch of exit lane. We were now on the wrong side of the orange thingies, and the distance between the thingies was shrinking. By the time we’d made this realization, they were too tight to weave back through without executing a 15 point turn and threading that Camry perpendicularly through the eye of that god-forsaken needle.

Let me tell you something I learned that day. Few things will get your heart going like driving in reverse in a construction zone and merging from 0 mph in a Toyota Camry between orange thingies onto an Alabama/Georgia interstate in a 100+ degree car on an empty tank of gas when you’re late for a flight.

Let me tell you something else. At some point our fate shifted one last time to the coveted Yes, definitely. We made that damn flight. Not because of our crafty stoogery that may or may not have actually made a difference in getting to the gas station before the Camry engine choked down its last drop of ethanol, but because our flight ended up getting delayed.

But I learned one other thing that day, after arriving at the airport with pit stains the size of watermelons and enough cortisol in my bloodstream to take a solid six months off my life. It was a simple lesson really… but one I apparently need to learn over and over, and still over again, and then over again some more. And some more.

Sometimes it’s better to just slow down, relax and let go.

Why did you do that?

May 28, 2016


Doing something for its own sake is possibly the most important thing.

Doing something for personal gain is never as enjoyable.

Everything seems so much sweeter when it comes from a place of simple enjoyment or from the desire to help others.
There are many things you do just for the love of doing it. Like singing in your car. Or dancing alone in your room. There’s no end in mine with those. Yet they’re awesome. You’re just doing something out of pure enjoyment and expression in the moment.

Doing something to get a certain outcome or to get something in return usually backfires on some level. Expectation enters the equation. And sometimes a little bit of desperation can enter as well. It’s hard to enjoy life from a place of expectation or desperation.
It’s not that “getting something” is a bad thing. But when that’s the motivation, we separate ourselves from the enjoyment of doing something for its own sake. And we seem to diminish the value of what we have to offer as well.

I’ve experienced this with writing. When I write with some outcome in mind, I enjoy it less and it usually ends up lacking any weight or potential significance. Most of the time I write just because I like to… it feels good to express something in the moment and it helps with my own self-discovery. And so usually it is satisfying. Sometimes I write to offer something of value to people. It’s okay if it doesn’t actually help a single person… it would be grandiose of me to think anyone needs any idea from me in order to live an awesome life. They don’t. But it certainly feels better when it comes from that place.

All of the greatest acts and creations in life seem to come out of a love for the act of itself, which is inherently selfless and automatically has a real, authentic power to it.

Or said much more simply and beautifully in the Tao Te Ching: 

Do your work then step back—the only path to serenity.