Following on the themes of authenticity and setting your life free from my last few articles, two quotes from African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader Howard Thurman perhaps take us a next step.
There is something in every one of you
that waits and listens
for the sound of the genuine in yourself.
It is the only true guide you will ever have.
~ ~ ~
Don’t ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive and go do it.
Because what the world needs is more people
who have come alive.
To be fully alive – to be full of exhilaration and purpose – is one of the most incredible feelings one can experience. I’ve been blessed to experience that feeling at several points in my life for extended periods of time.
As I reflect, I realize that none of those times happened by coincidence. They happened because I chose to follow the sound of the genuine within me. I chose to follow what I knew in my heart that I had to do. They happened because an invitation or opportunity showed up, sometimes out of a significant challenge. Each time, I was faced with a choice. I could say “Yes” to the invitation or opportunity, which usually required stepping out of my comfort zone, or I could play it safe.
I admit that early in my life there were times when I chose to play it safe. I wasn’t ready. I was too scared. What if I didn’t know enough? What if I wasn’t good enough?
Then as I was finishing my undergraduate degree in music, I was offered a job as the Director of Music in a church in Kentucky not far from where I had grown up and gone to school. That job represented safety in a familiar world. It seemed like such an obvious next step in the world that I knew.
However, the sound of the genuine deep in my heart told me that if I stayed in that familiar world, something inside of me would never come alive. In fact, I felt like some part of me that I didn’t even know yet would die – a greater potential that I could only sense was there.
Instead of accepting the job, I applied to a prominent music conservatory graduate school in the Northeastern United States and was accepted. I left my home and family and the only world I had ever known. For the first time, I listened to that voice inside. I was afraid to leave the world I knew, yet I knew I couldn’t stay.
Everything about that choice took me out of my comfort zone. Except perhaps one thing – my field of study was to be Church Music. At least I was pursuing a career that people back home would understand.
Yet as I made my way through that degree program, I soon realized that Church Music wasn’t going to bring me fully alive. I was good at it. Sometimes I even enjoyed it. Yet I knew there was something more waiting for me. What I really wanted to do was to sing – to have a performing career and to be a voice teacher for opera singers. The more energy I gave to singing, performing, and teaching, the more alive I felt. And so when I completed the Masters degree in Church Music, I chose to continue my studies for one more year to complete a Masters degree in Vocal Performance.
From time to time throughout my professional and personal life, I have arrived at choice points – times when that feeling of being fully alive was fading and I could sense that a new growth edge was on the horizon. Each time, there came a moment where I had to choose between playing it safe or breaking out of my comfort zone and following my inner calling.
One of those choice points came in 2000 when I chose to leave my successful career as a New York City voice teacher and step into coaching. My heart was calling me in a new direction. I knew that I had to say Yes. It was scary. There were no guarantees. Yet I knew that it was the right choice.
Shifting my profession to coaching was only the beginning of an incredible new journey that would lead to yet more choice points. While I’ve certainly had my ups and downs over the years, every single time I have chosen for what would bring me more alive, it has paid off in every way – personally, emotionally, spiritually, professionally, and financially.
Every now and then someone says to me, “You are so lucky to do work that you love.” As if it just happened on its own.
Yet in truth, it wasn’t “luck” that brought me to where I am. It was intention and clarity. It was paying attention to the sound of the genuine within me and being willing to say Yes to what was calling me. And it was being willing to walk away from a path that was no longer bringing me alive.
We all make choices, and those choices create our lives. Some of those choices, in retrospect, feel really good. Others, we may regret. Or we may wonder what could have happened if we had made a different choice.
If some of your past choices have held you back instead of set you free, first be gentle and compassionate with yourself. What’s done is done. At the same time, start being creative. Work with what is, and find a next step.
For example, if you are not feeling fully alive in your life and work, what is one choice you can make today that sets you on a new path or begins to change your course?
Set an intention that within a year or five years or whatever time frame feels right, you will be on a path that brings you fully alive. You don’t have to know how that’s going to happen. Just take one step towards that path today. And another one tomorrow, and another one next week. And keep going.
To paraphrase Howard Thurman’s message,
Listen to the voice of the genuine within you.
Let it guide you to what will bring you alive.
And then go do it.
It’s the greatest gift you can give.
It’s the gift that the world needs from you.
The world can’t afford for you to do anything else.
~ ~ ~
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