“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Did you ever feel as if you were about to explode with an extreme amount of energy held inside? Are you waiting to burst forth to begin the day or to start a new project? Maybe you feel you are going to break apart at the seams wanting to do something or be something that you feel strongly about yet… you hold back. Do you feel tied to what you are currently doing or the identity you currently project? Well in the past few years this has been my M.O. It seems a slow progression but I am and have been moving with consistent change and great fortitude – away from a former definition of who I was and toward a new rendition of me or as I call it an upgrade.
In 2011 I left my home of Baltimore City. With that move, I left behind a community I was deeply engaged with, a series of jobs and many relationships that I had been identifying myself with. All of which was wonderful at the time but became more a box to live within rather than a space to grow from. Since then, I’ve spent much time untangling from this former life, deciphering what is important to hold on to and what to let go of. Free from any fixed community, job, or home I’ve moved fluidly and freely, stripping away pieces of the past life I created. Much like participating in a detox, focusing on taking in the healthiest aspects only I have systematically worked to release patterns and ideas that were no longer serving me. Could I recognize details and facets of my inner self while balancing external obligations and expectations? This essentially was and still is the core goal of the Living Chapters experiment that I am still exploring and attempting to understand.
What I do understand though, is that it seems each year we try to out do ourselves. We compare our conquests and achievements as if they are the measurement of life’s success. “Did we make enough money? Did we make the right friends? Go to new places? Have enough fun?” What did we accomplish? And is there a way to prove it or show it off?
There are many things that we can all be proud of in our lives. We can all point to things we have done, have said or relationships that we maintain and develop. We can own many things and go to many places. Some people call this a list of goals or a bucket list. Others claim that these things are what make them unique individuals. Like the rest of us, I have done this too, comparing one year to the last looking back and keeping track. Not a bad thing to do really. We should recognize and share our core talents and skills. It’s called a resume! Heck I made a whole website that acted as my master accomplishment list. Yet I realize now, only two years after creating it, that this list no longer defines me as a person. It is simply a list of my external accomplishments and I need to stop identifying myself by pointing to it alone.
In this past year, I stepped away from building on this list and started developing lines on my internal resume. I am looking beyond my work, belongings or relationships as an indicator of my self-worth. I am looking outside of the accomplished tasks or my productivity of what “got done” as a way to measure my success. The first year of Living Chapters focused my ‘to do’ list internally but still operated on the “checking off the list” mentality. It did however provide a great tool to monitor external actions while developing internal ideas. My question and desired exploration now is how to learn to accomplish external ideas through internal change and action. How can one balance and value both internal and external accomplishments?
“You can not change your destination overnight but you can change your direction overnight” Jim Rohn
It has been a full year since I lived my every day by the words of a chapter writer. I put my trust and faith in the ones I loved most, I asked my friends and family to offer support and suggestions on how I could become a better person. Living Chapters in its first year was an experiment testing out living in a fluid and flexible way. It challenged me to let go of controlling each step of the journey and asked me to risk stepping outside of my known comfort zone.
In the early days of the experiment, the idea of letting someone else choose my path or make decisions for me seemed foreign or unheard of. The self-created structure of the project was a chosen as a way to pry myself out of my box and try something new. Now, free of the experiment’s rules, I look back and know that following instructions or chapters was not foreign at all. I have followed instructions and guidelines from the time I was born. I’ve been taught to follow rules, stick to the guidebooks and make specific efforts to not push my boundaries too much. This is what we are trained to do our entire lives. “Color inside the lines please and get your gold star!” Without the structure I find myself cravign and creating it in new ways. At first, I almost felt lost without it. What do we do without the recipe, road map or reference manual? We are told that if we follow closely and precisely, we will arrive safely and successfully. And we start to believe that arriving is the best (or only) thing we are destined to do.
I must admit that by the end of my first year of living through intentionally planned chapters, I certainly did not feel as though I arrived anywhere in particular… yet nor did I feel lost or disatisfied. After the experiment, I found myself wandering wide-eyed somewhere in the state of witnessing who I am and recognizing who I was about to become. After spending a year pinpointing my own patterns and following other people’s guidelines, I found where I was aligned and also out of alignment. I kept some of the guidelines that had been given to me and threw away many of the external suggestions. I created my own navigation system not out of any manual but from my own experience. This is what the first year of experimentation gave to me.
During the last twelve months, the real letting go has actually begun. Without the chapters to follow and without my old plan to abide by, I have started living my days allowing the current of life itself to push me along. It’s been a perfect opportunity to test out the navigation tools I acquired. Living independently, I have released my old controlling habits as well as any chapter guidelines. It’s been a year in which I could have never predicted planned or dreamed up. Most people would call it a transition – the time between stories, the time between chapters – when I was doing this and before I started doing that. I see it not aa a sabbatical but a departure from (what I am calling) my ‘former life’. I am not sure what else you could call it, but for me I am beginning to look at it as less of a transition and more of an adaption to a different way of existing.
It has been a time of many emotions: complete freedom, utter fear, confusion, gratitude and great pleasure. Shifting 180 degrees from living in one kind of pattern – the one of controlling, expecting and planning to a new pattern the one of free fall has been a valuable experience. I don’t find either pattern to be quite balanced but have learned important lessons from both. I am returning here to the blog to share with you some of the journey from the past year and some ideas of where I might go next.