It dawned on me as I reviewed my last post that I missed an opportunity to provide some perspective on just how you go about “making it up as you go.” Yes, yes, I appreciate that it is a contradiction to establish “rules” for such a thing but we must learn to love the contradictions! So, lets all rest easy and think of them as “guidelines” or “recommendations.” The larger point is that I do believe there is a method to the madness of living life without a playbook.
1. First, know thyself. To put it bluntly, there’s not much chance of you weathering the storm of isolation that comes with creating something new if you don’t have a firm hold on who you are. By that I mean the vulnerability and awareness that comes from stretching yourself to really discover what makes you tick; at your best, your worst and everywhere in between. Knowing this means you know what sets you off, how you react under pressure, how good you are when you’re really good, how you respond to and recover from disappointment, how much tolerance you have for ambiguity, uncertainty and the reality that the world is not going to roll over for you just because you’d like it to.
2. Stand on the shoulders of giants. Assemble the best group of supporters, mentors, teachers, coaches and friends you possibly can and use them as much as you can. What’s the point of having people in your life who truly care about your success if you’re not willing to ask them for help? Take stock of those you most rely on in your life. If this group doesn’t inspire, challenge and implore you, doesn’t push, cajole, beckon and admonish you in the best, least comfortable way (meaning, they actually tell you the truth) to be the person you are most afraid of being, well then, you’d better find a new crowd. It’s not happening without them.
3. Practice courage every day. You don’t have to win every day. You just have to practice. Small acts of well-placed, well-timed insubordination against the known and the expected are exceptional ways of reminding yourself that (a) you are, indeed, alive and (b) you can break away from the pack and plant a new crop of awesomeness in YOUR section of the field. I’m talking about mild and enjoyable insurrections like striking up a conversation with someone you don’t know or practicing a new discipline even though you are confident you will be terrible at it (meditation comes to mind). It might be starting a blog or volunteering to help kids or anything that requires you to get out of your own way, to get a little exposed and to wrestle with the unknown.
4. It’s not all about you. At precisely the time that it feels like it is all about you (you’re exploring the undiscovered country, right? you’re moving towards this big, scary risk, aren’t you? you’re well-being is on the line, isn’t it?) it is the perfect time to be reminded that it absolutely is not. It’s all about everybody else and what you can do for them. Deepak Chopra taught me the law of Karma and I am 1,000% certain he is right! In my family we like to say “give a little, get a little.” It means that the world is reciprocal and you’ve got to go first. No matter what. (Check out this article I just read in the NYT that discusses this at length.)
5. Go slow to go fast. My guess is that if you know you’ve got something important to create; some new possibility to bring to life that’s got you tied up in knots you have spent considerable time thinking about how big and scary it all is without doing much about it. You know, of course (because everybody does) that small steps, those seemingly insignificant acts (and funny, isn’t it that we tell ourselves that they are insignificant because they are “small” and “small” is just so undervalued in our culture even though any one – ANY ONE – who ever accomplished anything worth writing about will tell you that they started SMALL?) that are related, directly or indirectly, to your larger purpose, are essential to getting the snowball started. This may strike you as tired advice – baby steps and all that – and perhaps it is. And, it’s funny to me how the “tired” advice is typically only tired for those who have never put it in play.
One of the best admonitions I have ever heard is that if the path you’re on is clear/smooth/straight/easy, you’re on someone else’s path. My hope is that you are on YOUR path and that these “rules” are helpful for the way forward.