My daughter and I have been talking a lot about following the road less travelled these days.
Actually, it's been an ongoing conversation for the last 2 years, spawned by her decision not to go to college/university to instead follow her heart's desire to be a singer-songwriter.
It's been a rough go. And she's doubted her decision more than once.
She's already, at her young age of 20, sacrificed a lot: top of the list is the built-in community of peers that she would've had and that she longs for, had she gone off to university.
But also, she's had to go without the praise, admiration, and acceptance from people who would give it if she were in a university program, replaced by their doubt and distrust in such a 'risky' path.
In my guidance as her sole parent, I reach for the highest, deepest, most profound wisdom I know in support of her. The stakes feel high: this is her life we're talking about. We can't be dealing in theories.
I don't pretend to know what I don't know but I do tell her what I do know, what I have come to learn. And I also tell her what I'm pretty sure about, even when I can't be sure. I have some experience with this, having left many jobs/careers, countries and relationships in my lifetime to follow where I felt my heart was telling me to go.
(And not, it should be said, so that I could have more life satisfaction or fulfillment, although this is surely an outcome. Rather, it seems to me we all have our realm of genius ... our gifts and talents, no matter how small or mundane we may think them to be, that make the world better. And that is what we are being called to.)
One thing I know is that following the path of heart is not for the faint of heart. And from what I've seen, most people aren't up for it. It's too risky. This isn't a judgement; I get it.
Most of us want guarantees, like a guaranteed income/pension, a guaranteed value or status in the eyes of the world, and a guaranteed partner for life (that's what we tried to create marriage for and even had people taking vows to try to make it permanent but, well, you know how well that worked).
In short, we want guaranteed success.
But success, of course, is a subjective term. We get to define it in our own terms.
It seems to me that many let the culture define it for them, which looks like looking around and seeing what the majority of other people are doing ... and since the culture has been created almost entirely from mind, then the definition of success has been acquisition based.
You see, the mind-created identity which we carry around with us is based on accumulation -- a sort of How much are you? ... List your accomplishments, acquisitions, attributes. (Btw, that's why schools are all about adding knowledge ... things that can be measured ... as opposed to inquiring into the seemingly unknowable.)
And so, success is measured in measurables.
When you follow this thread down to its root, you can see the fear it's based in. So this definition of success is built around safety -- safety of the body and of the identity (who would I be if I lost everything?)
But this is not our highest self's definition of success.
To me, when I think of success, I think of this awesomeness:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the one who points out how the strong one stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if they fail, at least fail while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
~ Teddy Roosevelt's words made popular recently by Brené Brown and made gender-neutral by me
Goosebumps. Every time. Tattoo it on your arm! (That's what I'd tell my students every time I felt there was a particularly powerful piece of guidance I wanted them to remember. And yes, they were often about this long.)
I read this quote to my daughter yesterday when she was about to go on stage to perform two of her songs in a competition for a spot at a summer music festival.
She wasn't chosen. But she did crush her performance in my very objective opinion.
And in the car on the drive home she said, "I didn't make it. But I didn't fail." Yep. That's a crucial distinction.
Like Edison who said that indeed he had not failed one thousand times to invent the lightbulb; he had successfully found one thousand ways that didn't work.
I love this. It comes to mind often and I think of it as Life cheering me on when I'm awash in shame and my perceived failure and I fantasize of travelling back in time and making the 'guaranteed success' decision, the one where I make buckets of money and don't have to live in the uncertainty of what comes next.
But this path of uncertainty has taken me to living in an ancient Mayan city and in South America, to being certified as a facilitator of The Work of Byron Katie, through my PhD and being a solo mom. Things that I wouldn't trade for all the tea in China (and I like tea).
I never had the grand plan. Sure, I had ideas of what I thought I wanted, but somehow I always knew that my heart was queen and I would know when I would need to know and not a moment sooner. I still see my path like that ... unfurling before me as a I walk it.
It takes courage to be the gold miner, the treasure hunter, who heads deep into the unknown territory to see what she might find. We're going to 'fail' a lot before we 'succeed.' And that's hard.
Finding our vein of gold as Julia Cameron calls it, is not a fixed path and there is no play book. There are no guarantees. And that's the point. That's the way. It must be encountered step by step.
A scene from Indiana Jones comes to mind (a character created by George Lucas who was a big fan of Joseph Campbell's gathering of world mythologies, The Hero's Journey, who took his idea for this scene) ...
Indiana is deep in a massive cave about to come upon the Holy Grail cup that was the only thing that could help his mortally wounded father just outside the cave, and a chasm -- a massive drop -- separated him from crossing to the other side to retrieve it. "Step and the path will appear," was told to him.
There was nothing for it but for him to place his foot into the void, into thin air hundreds of feet above solid ground. Sweating bullets, he did.
And a bridge appeared. One step at a time.
This mythology, discovered by Campbell and made famous by Lucas is the way of the heart.
The one who chose the path not taken in service of following the still, small voice within has already succeeded. THAT is my definition of success. No matter how bruised and bloodied, battered or broke.
I bow to those willing to follow where the heart leads. My daughter is my hero. She adores writing music. And singing. And performing. She feels it is her ... the most essential part of her. She needs it like she needs sleep and water. Her heart has told her all of this and she has listened. She's been walking into the void, one step at a time.
If you feel you don't have this in you, get still and listen. It's there. Your heart speaks very softly.
I know for sure that there is a higher purpose for our each being here than in tending to our own safety and security. And a life lived in pursuit of that tends to strip those away.
Like Jesus said, "A man cannot serve two masters:" we're either serving the truth -- the instructions, the calling -- that arises within us day to day, year to year, or we are serving preserving ourselves. Well, preserving our egos is what is really going on.
And that's a big cost. Let Steven Pressfield say it:
Our job, as souls on this mortal journey, is to shift the seat of our identity from the lower realm to the upper, from the ego to the Self.
Art (or, more exactly, the struggle to produce art) teaches us that.
When you and I struggle against Resistance (or seek to love or endure or give or sacrifice), we are engaged in a contest not only on the material, mental, and emotional planes, but on the spiritual as well. The struggle is not only to [create our art] or to raise our child …. The clash is epic and internal, between the ego and the Self, and the stakes are our lives.
After all, what else could life possibly be for? If our being here is a mystery -- and maybe it needs pointing out that it is -- then being willing to live in that mystery instead of chasing guarantees is the only sane, rational thing to do when all is said and done.
I wish you well on your journey of mystery in service of the heart.