Make Choices & Shape Your Life’s Story [The Twelve Days of #QUEST2015 Day 8]

shape your life consciously

If you knew that your life’s story would be written based upon your choices and actions in 2015, how would you live?

The eighth prompt for reflection in Quest 2015 comes from Todd Henry*.

It is so easy to live life on autopilot, going through the things you have always done and letting life hustle you along a well-trodden generic path. Living with intention and making unusual choices based on personal goals is much harder.

If I knew my life’s story would be written based on the way I live in 2015, I would live with attention on following my daimon and letting it draw me deep into the work that it has been calling me to for as long as I can remember.

“Each life is formed by its unique image, an image that is the essence of that life and calls it to a destiny. As the force of fate, this image acts as a personal daimon, an accompanying guide who remembers your calling.

The daimon motivates. It protects. It invents and persists with stubborn fidelity. It resists compromising reasonableness and often forces deviance and oddity upon its keeper, especially when neglected or opposed. It offers comfort and can pull you into its shell, but it cannot abide innocence. It can make the body ill. It is out of step with time, finding all sorts of faults, gaps, and knots in the flow of life – and it prefers them. It has affinities with myth, since it is itself a mythical being and thinks in mythical patterns.

It has much to do with feelings of uniqueness, of grandeur and with the restlessness of the heart, its impatience, its dissatisfaction, its yearning. It needs its share of beauty. It wants to be seen, witnessed, accorded recognition, particularly by the person who is its caretaker. Metaphoric images are its first unlearned language, which provides the poetic basis of mind, making possible communication between all people and all things by means of metaphors”
― James Hillman, The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling

My call to deep work joining beauty, goodness, and truth into individual lives of meaning is both a personal call to how I live my life and the foundation of my work as an artist and a creativity and life coach.

I must remember to dedicate each day of my life to the embrace of the unique, internally experienced world of each human being, systems of social justice, and scientifically verifiable understandings of the world. Any approach to life that denies one or more of these aspects of the world is insufficient for understanding.

I must not fritter away my time. I must create downtime that is truly renewing and allows me to dive deep and work hard. I must create structures for my life that provide space and time for parenting, self-care, writing, and coaching.

I must dig deep. I must not shy away from the work when it gets hard. I must surround myself with people who understand and appreciate who I am and what I am doing.

I must forgive myself my imperfections and not let them get in the way of my continuing to push forward.

I must remember that truth and goodness without beauty are not enough for my soul and that without beauty, the energy I have to contribute to truth and goodness withers.

There will be opportunities every day to make choices, small or large, that have an impact of whether my life is following the drives that are an innate part of my being or whether I am resisting out of fear or cultural programming.

Making choices that shape my life’s story into a story I am proud of will require me to live with awareness and be willing to stand apart from others, to speak the truth as I see it, to claim my time as I need it, and to disappoint and offend those who would prefer me to make other choices.

It is not the easy path, but it is the path I must walk if I wish to live authentically and whole-heartedly.

*TODD HENRY is a foremost voice and authority on how teams and individuals can execute brilliant ideas every day. CEO of Accidental Creative and author of the books The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice and Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, Todd travels the globe like a creative arms dealer to equip people and companies with the right systems and habits that lead to everyday brilliance. 

Why it is Hard to Speak Our Truths

The Buddhist tradition recognizes five great fears: fear of death, fear of illness, fear of dementia, fear of loss of livelihood, and fear of speaking in public. In The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music, W. A. Mathieu interprets this fear as fear of our own deep selves, fear that at some level our basic selves are unacceptable. We are afraid that by revealing our true selves, we will see clearly that we are worthy of hatred or isolation. That a major religious tradition recognizes this fear as a “great fear” tells me that this is universal human condition. To suffer from the fear of speaking up is to be human. To speak up any way is courageous.

Where does this fear come from?

I think this fear comes from our deep childhood.

Is there a person alive who has not been told by a trusted caregiver, probably a parent, that what we were doing was wrong? And who has not received such a message in a way that we interpreted as telling us we were unacceptable in some way?

Much as some churches would like to convince us otherwise, it is exceedingly difficult to “hate the sin and love the sinner” in a way the sinner recognizes. All of us bear scars from some moment where we believed who we were was unacceptable to some one whose opinion we prized above all things.

What happens then?

There are two standard responses to this moment.

Some people decide the other person was wrong and their life becomes about proving it. This first group become active doers, thrusting out into the world, often developing a chip on their shoulder and having difficulty seeing the value in other people’s positions.

Others turn inward, seeking to fix themselves, and hide until they are perfect. This second group is less visible in the world because their journey is inward. And this is the group that finds themselves in danger of being paralyzed by fear. Add to this natural psychological development a few cultural heroes who were killed for acting on their deep beliefs and you have a recipe for a mythic fear of speaking out.

How to Proceed?

For those who are held back by their own fear, they must find ways to deprive that fear of its hold over them. But how?

The platitude of “feel the fear and do it anyway” has a lot of truth to it, but isn’t always easy to follow. We must be compassionate with ourselves, understand the fear, teach ourselves that it is fear not a prophecy, and proceed.

For some people, fear must be leaped through. Some people cannot push gently against a fear and wear it down, but can blast right through it with the right support. Others, must dance with their fears, become friends with them, and dissolve them. Some people need different approaches to different fears.

In The Joy Diet, Martha Beck advocates a daily practice of doing something that scares you and that you know is heading towards your goal. For me, the key word in that idea is practice. Moving fearward benefits from practice. As you practice moving fearward, you learn to be comfortable with the feeling of fear; the part of you that observes your life and sees your patterns starts to recognize that fear is not a promise. Just because you fear things will fall apart doesn’t mean they will. And, if they do, you can pick yourself up and try something different. But, without a habit of moving into and through those fears, we never develop the understanding that only comes through experience.

Be Gentle With Yourself

Retraining yourself to move into fear instead of away is a difficult process, but one with huge benefits. Taking the time to practice while holding yourself compassionately if you struggle is a huge gift to your future self.

You might need a support structure, a spouse who nudges you, a mastermind or accountability group, a writers group, networking group, buddy you check in with by phone or email once a day or once a week. You know the way you sabotage your own growth. Can you think of a way to reduce the power of that sabotage by leaning on somebody else?

Is there a fearward step that you could take today? What support would you need to move in that direction?