Finding Serenity

Sometimes you have to leave things just as messy as when you found them. This is a hard concept for my Type A personality to grasp. In fact, I push against this concept with every fiber of my being. I don’t like loose ends. They seem sloppy, ill prepared, like I wasn’t quite up for the challenge, so a lack of success falls on my shoulders. But I’ve recently learned, this simply is not true.

Whenever I’ve transitioned from one stage of my life to the next, it has generally been on my terms. I chose the day to “move on” from a project/job/person. It was always mutually beneficial, you see. I was able to tidy up and package things just so, leaving things/staff/people well equipped in my wake. It was important to me to prove my vitality. It showed that a situation/organization/person was better off for having been associated with me. That I was important. That I mattered.

This logic supposes that I always have the control, which, as evidenced in the Genesis of Living Wide, is flawed. Not always is there a place for everything and everything is in its place. Sometimes you find yourself in an “I’ve done everything I know how to do, I’ve done everything right. Why is this not working? Why can’t I fix it?” situation. Sometimes the needle simply won’t budge. Even if you’ve given your best. Even after you’ve attempted to bargain for a better outcome. And yes, even when you’ve begged a higher power to make it all work out.

When I came to this realization, I didn’t want to believe it at first. In my mind, there is always an answer. If you can’t go around a wall, you go over it, under it, and, when necessary, through it. Obstacles are not impossibilities, they are simply obstructions. But for every rule, there is an exception, I guess. A situation or circumstance that is much bigger than you and your talent/drive/ambition/creativity/stubbornness. And when that happens, you have to make a decision. Do you press on until you completely burn out, or do you leave said person/place/thing just as messy as when you found them and move on.

Many years ago, a succinct little prayer started making the rounds:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Now the mantra of most groups devoted to battling addiction, this prayer serves as a reminder that we are human. We are not limitless or perfect. Sometimes, things will not change because of our associations. Sometimes there are loose ends. And sometimes, we were meant to simply learn from a messy situation and grow because of it. Living wide isn’t about the vanity of a perfect exit and its affirmation of your value. It’s about accepting those things you cannot change just as easily as those you can and using that knowledge to grow your horizon.

Be Unapologetic

When it comes to living wide, I’ve realized you have to be unapologetic.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

As I shared in the Genesis of Living Wide, my acquaintance who recently passed was very much unapologetic about his life. He wanted to play music for a living, so he did. He never felt the need to rationalize it to other people. If at any given moment he felt convicted to tell you exactly what he thought/felt about you or a decision you’d made, he did whether you needed or wanted to hear it. His choices and decisions were all made unapologetically; no looking back, no second guessing. I have no doubt he picked his path based on the information he had in front of him at the time, and that was it. He charged forward. He didn’t get tangled in the vines of other people’s judgment or expectations.

These “others” are not the authors of your dreams. The day-to-day of your life isn’t their responsibility, it’s yours and yours alone.

When someone seems intent on knocking down your sandcastle, you have to ask, what is their motivation for questioning or doubting me? You then need to stop, remind yourself of all the reasons you chose to spread your arms wide and embrace your decision, and proceed unapologetically. Their choice to only see the obstacles, to dwell in the limitations, is not your problem. You’ve got a life to live. Stop letting other people’s mire matter to you.

The Genesis of Living Wide

About a year ago, in one of those rare moments where I truly was not thinking about anything in particular, I had a vision.  I had forgotten about this vision to an extent over the course of the past 12 months until this weekend when I attended the funeral of fantastic man who left us far too soon.  I seem to have said goodbye to several people gone too soon this year, much more so than in any in the past.  Each affected me in its own unique way, but this most recent death, which no one expected, affected me in a way that was, for a lack of a better word, profound.  It was surprising really, given that I was more of an acquaintance to this man.  We knew each other, we went to church together, I spoke with he and his wife on occasion.  I know it sounds crass, but I thought I would go to his funeral, shed a tear or two in remembrance, be a support for those who had a deeper connection with him, and that would be that.  But a recurring theme in my life reared its ugly head in that expectation was not matched by reality.

As I pulled yet another tissue from my now half-empty pack, I realized how much the world lost when this truly cool man passed.  Here was someone who had lived a wide life.  He experienced it out loud and completely unapologetically.  His family: close-knit, involved and completely in it together.  His career: doing something he loved, which was making music.  His faith: hard won and embraced with abandon.  His funeral was one final lesson to all who knew him, life is meant to be lived, not squandered.  That there is a distinct difference between experiencing and existing.  It was during this time of eulogy that my vision from a year ago came flooding back into my mind.

The Vision
The horizon transformed right in front of me.  Concrete and glass disappeared.  A range of some of the most beautiful, snow-capped mountains appeared several hundred miles in the distance.  The sky was clear, as was the road leading to the majestic peaks, with the exception of one roadblock.  A person standing directly in the center of the road.  I can’t really describe what the back of the person looked like because it wasn’t very distinct.  All I could say is they looked to be about my height.  As I drew closer to the figure, it turned around.  Standing directly in front of me was… me.  I was an arm’s length from myself as if I were standing before the mirror in my bedroom.  Blinking at the revelation, I stared at my own face for several moments, and then, just as quickly as the scene appeared, it was gone.

Now I know there are those out there who would argue that visions are any manner of things.  I think the one I’ve heard most often is that visions are merely latent desires transitioning from our unconscious to our conscious mind.  However, I immediately knew the author of this vision was not me, it was God.  God wanted me to make no mistake that what was currently “in my way,” in every sense, was me.  I was the obstacle to living the wide life he very much wanted for me.  That I, in essence, needed to get out of my own way.

All of this was reinforced to me as I sat among the family and friends of a wonderful man who seemed to do just that, get out of his own way and experience the life God gave him.  I realized, I live small.  I’m like a horse with blinders on, only cognizant of what is directly in front of me.  I only see the obstacles to those things I really want:

  • I need a steady paycheck, I can’t take a sabbatical and figure out what I really want to do with my life.
  • I can’t travel right now, that takes money I don’t have.
  • I have to save for my retirement now because that’s what all the experts say.
  • I’m so tired from work, I don’t have time to: write the rest of my book, learn to sing, learn to knit, learn to dance, learn to play chess, etc., etc.

I am the classic oldest child in that dreams come after responsibilities.  If I’m responsible, then maybe I can achieve one of my dreams… some day.  In her book “Eat, Pray, Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert summed up my life in two sentences:

I’d been such a diligent soldier for years – working, producing, never missing a deadline, taking care of loved ones, my gums, and my credit record, voting, etc. Is this lifetime supposed to be only about duty?

In the lines that precede this statement, she talks about always wanting to learn Italian, but never quite getting around to it because she had no practical reason, no future application, with which she could justify the investment of time it would take to learn the language.  Dear Lord does that sound familiar!

So now what?  In light of all this, what do I do with all the realizations that have been ping ponging inside of my head for the past week?  How can I stop living small, and start living wide?  Wish me luck as I seek to find out.