A counterintuitive method to self-discovery.
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“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service of others.” — Mahatma Gahndi
It’s an interesting day when it finally sinks in how selfish and insecure you really are. The day for me was Saturday, September 15th 2018, and it’s one I’ll never forget.
My entire life has been based on shirking conflict and discomfort. I’m the guy who has to know— I’ll badger you until you tell me — right away what you want to talk about when you ask to speak to me later. I’m the guy who is so resistant to thoughts, feelings and body sensations that don’t match my ideal, I’ll work harder to rid myself of such perceptions than I will for any meaningful accomplishment. I’m the guy who can’t sleep a wink until my conscience is clear (even if I have to lie to myself).
Naturally, I’m sure you can see how this isn’t a sustainable framework for living — not very long or pleasant, at least. I’ve written in the past about how my self-centered behavior and deep-seated fear of not being enough caused problems for others, but to be honest, I had never taken my eye off myself long enough to truly appreciate the impact of how I was being. You cannot really be with someone if you’re all the while still concerned with yourself.
Every hour, every minute, every second, was about me. About what I was getting. About what I was learning. About how the situation was making me better. About how much time I had left. Don’t get it twisted — there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing things for yourself and thinking about you. But ideally, the result of thinking about you would be other people benefitting from your growth and contribution as a by-product. My vision began and ended with me — self-serving, self-promoting, and self-fulfilling.
It’s no wonder why the apex eluded me. It was all about me. And when it’s it’s all about you, the impossibility of perfection gets placed on a pedestal. You don’t see how you’re lucky, the grace you’ve been given, or the progress you make. You see what’s wrong. Not even “accepting your imperfections” is a suitable response, for it will eventually lead to resignation — the human condition is far too cynical to deal with that for lengthy periods of time. What it takes to be free is playing at a much higher level of life.
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Now, there’s a caveat to this, as I had heard and implemented everything I’m saying time and time again to no beneficial avail. There’s a certain baseline level of security, trust and faith, not just within yourself but with life (and/or your creator) and humanity, for you to actually suspend focusing on yourself. I’ll tell you right now, I didn't have that. I was absolutely, positively, stone-cold, paralyzed with fear — every waking moment was viewed as an opportunity to get exposed, disappointed, or hurt.
It’s pretty clear this type of behavior transpires amongst people who haven’t the slightest clue how to be grateful. I’m certainly not going to instruct on how to “practice gratitude”, as Instagram has devolved the virtue to a level below cliché, but I’ll leverage a quote from Eckhart Tolle so you get the picture:
“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
Again, gratitude is a tricky one because if you cannot check out of where you’re at physically in the here and now, free from comparison to anyone else in the world, it won’t work. I experienced this far too often as something I intellectualized, but never deeply felt or was moved by.
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Beyond being thankful, getting outside of yourself and experiencing freedom is contingent upon being okay with not receiving credit for every accomplishment or good deed you perform, and knowing you’re enough. This is inherently correlated with knowing you’re enough, knowing there’s plenty of recognition to go around, and knowing that profoundly affecting one disheveled soul long-term can make the same difference as a surface-level influence on 1,000 people through a screen, if not more.
I’m not sure exactly what did it for me. Maybe it was the countless trials of attempting to surmount perceived lack. Or realizing that the superficial ego boosts I garnered from low-key, yet deliberately aiming for praise from people were so fleeting that it all-too-closely resembled a nasty, drug-like dependency.
Or maybe it was finally getting a grip on the fact that no matter what people think of me, how much they love me, what I’m doing or where I’m living, I can only consume so much. So much praise, so much comfort, so much joy, and so much love, as a singular human being. The limits are finite. And the only way to transcend the allotment, is to stop being a consumer and start being a contributor.
Not for a superfluous reason or because you think it’s going to come back around — we’ve been over this, you can only consume so much. And the reality is, for most of you, you’ve already got plenty.
Contribution, in it of itself, is an honor. It allows for your life to stand for something. It gives way to things far more precious than your thoughts, feelings and body sensations to take their appropriate place atop the mountain. Things like kindness, respect, support, love, and all the other uplifting efficacies. The immeasurable forces that were here long before us and will be here long after us.
I cannot bring anything with me when I die, but it’s my hope and belief that a certain type of legacy attaches to my soul for my trip into oblivion. More importantly, I humbly hope that the difference I can make for others stays with them long after they’re gone, as well. Not because I need it to be me specifically, but because I want people to believe in people. I want to keep hope alive forever.
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In closing, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. It’s your life and you get to choose how it goes. There is no call to a specific action here. Do whatever you please. Whatever it is, consider doing it with velocity. As Kevin Costner said, “There is too much at stake to be apathetic.”
Just know that if you grow frustrated while the spotlight remains on you, there is a way out. The second you step out from focusing on your own comfort and benefit — taking your honorable place looking in the same direction of another — the closer you are to feeling more unrestricted than you have in your entire life.
One of my best friends called me out on this exact thing recently and I dodged his insights. I responded to a concern with another concern, instead of a commitment. He called me out for making everything about me, something I didn’t want to believe. And regardless of the way in which he delivered the message, how factual his evidence was, or for anything he may have stepped over in the process, I resisted being with him and his concern. I was too worried about myself and how I was viewed, about not being enough, to actually accept that the way he was feeling was real and make a difference.
No one is going to remember the petty nuances of communication when we’re gone. No one will remember the score we’re so intent on keeping. No one will remember the breakdowns. They’ll simply remember the closeness of their relationships — i.e. how you made them feel.
Quite frankly, they’ll remember moments like this:
Sometimes I lay
Under the moon
And thank God I’m breathing
Then I pray
Don’t take me soon
’Cause I am here for a reason
All my life I’ve been waiting for
I’ve been praying for
For the people to say
That we don’t wanna fight no more
There will be no more wars
And our children will play
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