The Only Life You Could Save

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

– Mary Oliver, The Journey

At least once a week, an inquiry comes through our website from someone wanting to discover or connect with purpose, usually with the subtle tonality of heart-aching longing. Finding purpose and meaning in our lives becomes paramount when it comes to our work and how we endeavor to make a living. I felt similar echoes while listening to the recent podcast conversation with John Guydon.

For a lot of folks, their work has nothing to do with their purpose. I feared being in that position when I was younger. I watched my dad, who always wanted to be a history teacher, slog it out at his sales job and then come home and immerse himself into old war histories, stories about the space program, and everything Ken Burns created. I watched his heart desires clash with his practical “I must make money and provide for my family” sense of duty, and vowed never to put my heart and purpose in that kind of peril.

I’m here for a reason, and I knew it. I wasn’t letting my dream get away from me. Nor was I going to let a way to make a living get in the way of me actualizing it. My inner meter for “soul-sucking” was a highly sensitive instrument.

We get closer and closer to purpose when we begin bringing forth our most authentic self. That is the task of a lifetime, with no clear cut linear process. There’s no way to hack that one with doing steps A, B, C, etc., and then saving one morning a week for journaling with a liter of bulletproof coffee. Unfolding your authentic self has it’s own rhythm in accordance with you and all the baggage with which you were fated and imprinted. To top it off, emerging often requires a fire, the way a Mesquite Pine needs that intense heat to grow, or the alchemist’s crucible which turned lead into gold. How many of us are willing to go there? How many of us stop short, just before it gets uncomfortable? Or, how many of us rush past the keys that could open us to our purpose?

Back in the day, I used work with people on bringing their work – into the world. My work felt akin to being a midwife for other people’s creations. At first, I thought this to be an innocent task but quickly learned that that edge of what we want to bring into the world the most runs head on to who we are and the baggage we have. There’s a lot of stuff at that edge, usually running with a livewire of fear, and that fear can come from a myriad of places and forces seen and unseen. Oh hello, subconscious.

It’s an interesting edge to meet. You’ll likely find your wired safety mechanisms, voices in your head shouting warnings at you against the change, telling you that if you do change from keeping yourself small, reining all of you in, you’ll be hurt, unloved or banished from the tribe. Of course it shows up as resistance, or avoidance, or not really doing our Big Work. Instead, we lead little, safe, mild mannered lives that don’t touch near that livewire edge of fear.

The inner tension between the older parts of ourselves who set up some limiting beliefs between gestation and six-ish years old often need an update on who you are now and how you survived and thrived beyond when our coping mechanisms were put into place. Otherwise, they act out in ways that cloud your clearest purpose. Who do we really want to see/hear/love us? And what do we want them to see? And how old is the version of us that needs that? It’s a strange internal battle: reminding those younger parts of ourselves to update their long held beliefs and fears. “I am convinced that most people do not grow up…our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias,” wrote Maya Angelo.

Bringing forth your most authentic self, which is covered in old patterning, imprints from childhood, and the subconscious things that haunt your life by running it until you become aware of the patterns and change them, is hard because facing all those things can be hard. It’s kinda scary because your most authentic self is that part of you that you had to contain as a young one, to fiercely protect it, in order to fit in, be loved and survive. And so you grow up with all that and keep your innate gold under wraps. Along the way, your fated situation in life and the trials and tribulations that you overcome shape you in meaningful ways and become part of what makes your journey to bring forth more of your whole self and those precious golden parts all that more…er, arduous and mystifying.

But don’t let the mystery or the hard spots, or anyone or anything, stop you. In the grand excavation of you, the other side is worth it–it’s full of freedom to be who you are with none of the aforementioned scary-bin loyalties of your subconscious holding you back. As Toni Morrison wrote: “True adulthood…is a difficult beauty, an intensely hard won glory, which commercial forces and cultural vapidity should not be permitted to deprive you of.”

Yet, it’s hard to sift through the external voices touting advice, the vapidity on social media, life and job hacking how-to’s, our feelings of FOMO, and all of the self doubt and inadequacy we have about ourselves and our innate lovability (and all the havoc that wreaks). It’s a quagmire to find your inner voice, and that’s all part of the journey. Your journey.

In Jen Sincero’s book, You Are A Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, (spoiler alert: the secret to which is “Love Yourself”), she writes:

“Getting clear about what you unique purpose is can be the difference between living a happy, fulfilled life of abundance, choice and expansiveness or living in the restrictive veal pen of your own indecision and tired old excuses…A gift, of course, is meant to be given, which is why it’s so brutal when we can’t figure out what ours is, or when we know what it is, but we’re too lame to act on it: here we have the perfect gift to share, with the world, just bursting to be opened, and we keep it sitting there, wrapped tightly in a box, growing old and gathering dust.”

What stops you?

We’re all victims of our limiting beliefs. That is a hard earned edge to inquire about and change. If we don’t cross the line to our larger work in the world, or we stifle it with our fears, we lead what Sincero refers to as the “Big Snooze” life. (Nobody wants that!) The redeeming moment is when you decide to take your power back and, as Mary Oliver says, listen to…

…a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.