What you’ll discover: Stop banging your head against the wall. If you give yourself permission to drop the old dreams that haven’t quite come true, you might open new doors of opportunity, new sources of fulfillment that will make you even happier and more successful. All that hard dream-building work from your past won’t be going to waste. It has just been preparing you for an unexpected, and even better, outcome.
I have this friend who isn’t all that big into reading. So I can talk about her here without worrying about hurting her feelings. Let’s call her Sally (just in case).
Sally is spectacular. She’s closing in on 60 (which, frankly, blows my mind, until I remember that I’ve rocketed past that mark myself). She is gorgeous, with long, full, glossy, black hair and a trim, well-defined body that comes from a life of yoga, tennis, and quinoa. The age is showing just a tiny bit on her face. But just barely. As far as I’m concerned, she looks just the same as she did when we met 20 years ago.
I lead with her looks because, frankly, she leads with her looks. Not in a shallow way. She doesn’t actively traffic in her attractiveness (well, not all the time). It’s just that doors fling wide open for her wherever she goes. So why shouldn’t she walk through them? Her appearance represents a life of lovely living. And who doesn’t want a piece of that? Or at least be in the same room with it?
Ever since I’ve known her, Sally has had two burning desires: To find a brilliant life soulmate who is self-actualized and living uniquely in his own spectacular space on the planet. The other desire has been to have a thriving practice as a life coach.
The mate…she finally found after a very long wait. And boy howdy! Was he ever worth waiting for! I’ve never seen a couple more perfectly suited. He’s a business man on the world stage. And together they travel the world being all gorgeous together, as they visit only the most beautiful places, eating the best food the world has to offer, and taking pictures of each other at bucket list landmarks.
They don’t inspire jealousy or judgment. They inspire inspiration. Two very nice people who have finally found each other and are happy together on an extraordinary magic carpet ride. Gathering friends all around the globe.
Here’s the issue with the second goal: She ain’t doin’ it.
And it’s frustrating her. Terribly. She feels as though she’s letting herself down. She worries that she might be subsuming her identity in service of the needs of this great guy she’s got. All her time, attention, and energy go into supporting his business. She’s got a great entrepreneurial brain inside that beautiful head of hers. And from what I hear, her new husband, who was world-class when they met, has seen an unprecedented growth in his work because of her influence.
Frankly, I don’t think she’s all that great at being a life coach. She’s a great listener and offers creative insights and perspectives from an empowered place of some eye-opening possibility thinking. But that’s what you get from a close girlfriend. Not someone who wants $500 a month from you. But people have told her over the years that she’s an inspiring leader, and would make a great coach. So she’s been banging her head against the wall trying to make it happen. And it has never really taken off for her. At least so far.
My suspicion is that the main reason is that she’s not an especially deep thinker (although she’d love to think she is). And being a good coach requires at least some original, deep thought. That requires a certain amount of reading, which requires a certain amount of sitting down. And the only time she can tolerate sitting down for any extended period of time is on a plane going someplace fabulous. And I’ve seen her travel pack. It’s filled with healthy snacks. Not books.
When we met, life coaching seemed like a viable idea. “I should write a book,” she’d say. And I’d say supportive, encouraging things just short of blowing smoke in the general direction of her yoga pants. But I was thinking, “Let’s see you read one first.” Naturally, I would never in a million years say that aloud. That would be unkind. And she’s my friend. I figured time and tide would tell. And it has.
So yes, I think she should drop the whole life coaching idea, thoroughly embrace the role of being this fabulous guy’s extremely savvy business partner, and travel the world until they want to stop. And then see what’s next for themselves.
She’s got the best gig ever and the life she’s dreamed of ever since she and I said, “Hi” to each other for the first time. She just doesn’t fully know it, because she’s too busy beating herself up for the thing she has failed to achieve.
So, enough about her. Let’s talk about me (and my delusions).
I am an author. Twenty-five books in 20 years. Well, yay for me.
Twenty years ago, after more than a decade of freelance writing, when I landed my first book contract, I thought: “Hot dog! Now my life will change!” I would leave my solitary writing life behind, become the celebrated author of the bestselling, life-changing book. And even if I didn’t get on Oprah, I would transform my work into a corporate workshop and speech. And rake in the really big bucks.
Didn’t happen. One book contract led to the next, which led to the next, which led to a string of truly accomplished and deserving people asking me for my help in getting their books published. Which then morphed into my being able to give them help fashioning their workshops and their speeches. Which then morphed into a whole package of platform building services.
And I am now the trusted advisor to generals and CEOs. From my little house on my little cell phone. With a blind cat on my lap.
Over the last two decades my life has blossomed. My work has been featured by CNN, NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc. I have made multiple, life-improving moves, from the little guest house I lived in on Deep Creek, outside of Annapolis where I wrote my first book, to a couple of homes in Silicon Valley, to a lovely Florida bungalow just one beach down from Palm Beach, to a light-filled cottage in the New Mexico high desert where I can watch the snow fly over the Sangre de Cristo mountains from my home office window.
In my heart of hearts, I have realized that all along I did not want a lifestyle of hauling on panty hose and heels to speak to corporate audiences around the world. I am as indifferent to Ann Taylor business suits and business cards as my friend is to book learning.
I have given up the dream that wasn’t mine to begin with. But in pursuit of that dream, I built the skills I have needed to be relevant and essential to my clientele: Helping them tell their stories in a way that will build their platforms so that they can take the stage and give their talk that inspires.
I get to do what I love: Which is listen to others, help them shape their message so that not only do they get to be paid those impressive fees but they also get to build the body of knowledge around hope and fulfillment in the business context. And I can do all that without finding my shoes!
In high school we’ve all been put through some kind of aptitude test, designed to answer the question: “What are you most likely to be good at and have a natural affinity for?” In my case, the answer was taxidermy or hair dressing. Time and tide took me in other directions.
Life is the ultimate aptitude test. Despite Sally’s most fervent desires and frustrations, throughout her life (so far) she would reach for the tennis racket before she reached for a book. Despite my most fervent desires and frustrations, I would reach for a book before I reached for my car keys to head out to a business meeting.
We have both built the lives we love based on our strengths and natural affinities. We laugh at how different we are, and yet so alike, and how much we would each benefit from a healthy portion of the other’s life playbook. But this is what we’ve ended up with. Our lives reflect the accumulated results of the choices we made from our natural aptitudes and affinities.
And instead of beating our heads against the wall for falling short of the mark of our ambitions, we would all do well to reconsider our choices in a positive light. Give up the frustrations. Choose to grow in the direction our natural inclination pulls us toward. And be amazed at the surprising gifts and opportunities waiting for us, once we simply decide to let go of the struggle to hang on to the thing that wasn’t ours to begin with. Or that we simply don’t want to do anymore.
As I write this, I’m reminded of a drawing that a Christian friend of mine posted on Facebook during an especially difficult time in her life when she was tragically forced to let go of an old dream. Jesus is hunched down, eye-to-eye level with an obviously reluctant little girl. She’s clutching a teddy bear in front of her, saying to Jesus: “But I love it.” She doesn’t know that Jesus is holding behind his back a much bigger, much better teddy bear.
All she has to do is give up the old dream and better things wait for her.