Living Courageously

“Many of my problems arose because I chose to play small, thinking that there I would find safety. But I was born with wings, and I was meant to spread them. Anything less will hurt me, will deny love to myself and others, and will mean that I will end my life never having flown the flight of spiritual glory.”  A Year of Miracles, Marianne Williamson

Last week, I explored one of the regrets that was listed in an online article entitled, “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” published by Huffington Post. In case you missed it, the top 5 regrets as noted in the article include:

  1. 1.       I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. 2.       I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. 3.       I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. 4.       I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. 5.       I wish I had let myself be happier.

Last week’s blog post explored the “I wish I had let myself be happier” regret. This week I wanted to delve deeper into the #1 regret, which was: “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Much of what I do as a life coach is help people discover who they are at their core and be able to live authentically. That means, living a life that is true to yourself: knowing and honoring your joys, your goals, your dreams, the people you love, the things you care about and being able to look in the mirror each day and be happy with what you see. It doesn’t mean living a selfish life (because many people find tremendous joy in giving), but it means living a life that rings true for you. It means letting go of who it is everyone else thinks you should be and falling in love with who you really are. It means showing up in your life, in your relationships, at the office in your own skin.

We learn about expectations at a very young age, don’t we? Our well-intentioned parents have expectations about our behavior, our performance in school or in sports and what we will do with our lives. If the expectations of us are low, the prevailing thought is that we won’t amount to much in this world. And if the expectations are high, then we may rise to that occasion and become all that was expected of us.

But, what if the divine design for your life happens to be so much greater than what your parents are capable of seeing? What if the calling that’s been tugging on your heart for decades is something that makes your spouse or partner uncomfortable? What if the thing that lights you up inside is so different than anything you’ve seen before that you think it can’t possibly be done? What if how you choose to live your life made your friends and co-workers think differently of you? You can ignore those desires, but that doesn’t mean they go away. It just means that a big portion of your life goes unfulfilled and leaves you with regret.

Sometimes we play small in our lives so that we don’t make others uncomfortable. It’s like this unwritten rule of mediocrity. Maybe if we all just do the same thing, even if we’re miserable, we’ll at least feel like we’re not alone. Playing small doesn’t serve you, your family, the world and certainly doesn’t honor the gifts you’ve been given. Whatever those gifts, they were given to you to serve a purpose and the world needs what it is that you have to give. Again, you can choose to ignore them, but not without a cost.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength … to persevere and withstand…fear, or difficulty.” It takes courage to live a life that is truly your own.

The opposite of courageous is fearful. And it is fear that causes us to live our entire lives according to other people’s expectations, rather than following our own internal compass. We fear what others will say, we fear being judged, we fear the impact of doing and being something different than what all “the others” in our lives expect of us.

I have an Uncle Bob who, for as long as I can remember, has lived his life authentically and unapologetically. I know this because everything he’s done, there was no blueprint for him to follow. His dreams and desires and how he lives his life had to come from his own internal compass.

He dropped out of college early and spent years learning all he could about the printing business so that he could start his own printing business. No one in his family was an entrepreneur, knew anything about printing or starting a business and I’m sure his family expected him to complete college and get a job, just as all of his siblings had done. But he started that business and decades later, it’s still thriving.

He once told me, “I’ve done this once successfully, so I don’t ever fear losing what I have because I know that I can always do it again.” He’s confident and fearless. And sometimes that makes people uncomfortable.

He lives from a place of joy: he and his wife go on vacations, they go out to eat often, they go camping and boating, to football games and concerts; he has a wide circle of friends and he enjoys life. But no one else in the family lives that way; he comes from a pretty conservative background. So, sometimes, that makes people uncomfortable. He knows who he is, he lives right in the place where he finds the most happiness and he lives without regret.  He lives in freedom and I adore that about him.

I love the stories we hear about people and their last breaths. When Steve Jobs left this world, his last words were “Oh, wow. Oh, wow. Oh, wow.” A 26-year old cancer patient’s last words were, “Oh Mom, it’s so simple.”

I believe living a life that is truly your own can be so simple. That doesn’t mean easy, but simple. Simply acknowledging who you really are and simply living authentically each day. Simply spreading our wings, living courageously and letting our true self come out and play.