Category Archives: Blog

Are You Afraid to Fail? If So, There’s Something You Should Know.

afraid to fail rabbit

“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.”
–Oprah Winfrey

We human beings have a complicated relationship with failure. We almost instinctively fear it at the same time that we acknowledge its benefits. We know from platitudes and after-school specials that we have to be willing to fail if we want to succeed, yet the vast majority of us still go out of our way to avoid it.

Knowing that failure is part of the game is one thing; actually being willing to do it is another. Or maybe it’s that it’s okay for other people to fail, people like Oprah Winfrey who are now successful beyond their wildest dreams, but it’s not okay for us.

It’s almost like failure is a cat and we’re the mouse. Other people keep telling us that it’s friendly, but all we see are its sharp claws and jagged teeth as it eyes us hungrily from the corner.

afraid to fail cat

We do need to stop fearing failure if we’re going to be willing to step into the risks necessary to change careers or otherwise realize our dreams. But how can we befriend something that looks like it’s thinking we’d make a delicious mid-afternoon snack?

Failure: The Enigma

To do this, we first need to question our assumption that we know what failure is.

When I ask members of my Pathfinders Group Coaching program what images, words, or associations come up for them when I say the word failure, I get responses such as incompetence, shame, broken, lonely, bewildered, lost, and permanent. They share how it often feels less like “This thing I was working on failed” and more like “I am a failure”.

But when I ask these same people targeted questions about the actual results of a specific failure they’ve experienced, I get entirely different answers. Words like helpful, necessary, and freeing start to come to mind.

Here’s how you can see this phenomenon for yourself:

  1. Recall 2-3 times in your past where you feel like you failed. Choose the one that has the most emotional charge for you.
  2. Channeling your Inner Critic, write down the worst things this failure could say about you. Don’t hold back and include all your worst judgments.
  3. Now write down all the bad things that actually happened as a result of this failure. It’s important that you stick to verifiable facts (such as, “I invested $10,000 and never got it back”) and not assumptions (like, “Everyone thought I was a loser” or “I lost my chance to land my dream job”).
  4. Finally, write down all the good things that came of it. For example, what did you learn? What did you gain from your efforts? What new qualities or skills did you hone? What other possibilities did you discover as a result of your failure?
  5. Considering everything you wrote, what are some more accurate statements about what failure is or what it means to fail?

Failure: The Experience

You can read a beautiful example of one person’s answers to these questions on the blog of a former Pathfinders Group Coaching participant.

Here’s my own true-life example:

When I ran my first online course, I spent nearly 5 months planning, creating, and launching it. I poured my heart and soul into the program, invested a lot of time and money in its development, and very publicly invited everyone and their second cousin to take part.

Sales were…disappointing, to say the least. I got less than a quarter of the number I needed to recoup my financial investment, let alone what would have made me a profit or paid for the hundreds of hours I’d devoted to the project.

I felt humiliated. My Inner Critic was yelling at me that nobody wanted what I had to offer, and that I had been foolish to think they would. It went on to tell me that this was proof that I was less capable than everyone else, that I made terrible decisions, and that I would never be successful or run the kind of business that I wanted to.

My list of verifiable negative outcomes, however, was surprisingly short. I invested thousands of dollars without seeing a return (yet). Everything else, including the sense that I had wasted my time, was only an assumption.

And when it came time to list the positive outcomes—well, it was far longer than I expected:

  • I learned how to create, run, and market an online course.
  • I grew past my fear of sharing more of myself more visibly with the world.
  • I got all my content in one place, which helped me see how much I had and generated ideas for other ways to use it.
  • I now had a product I can continue to offer in the future with minimal additional effort.
  • Perhaps most importantly, I learned that I didn’t really enjoy leading a live online course and prefer offerings that allow me to get to know people better individually and go deeper with them on their journeys.

It wasn’t painless; failing to meet my goals was disappointing, and I didn’t have as much money as I’d hoped. But I still had options, I managed to adjust, and the disappointment didn’t last forever.

Failure: The Impact

There’s a Zen story  about a farmer whose crops all grow big during a particularly rainy season. His friends in the tea house tell him how lucky he is. He just nods and says, “Perhaps.”

The plush crops then attract a herd of wild horses, which trample his fields and ruin his harvest. In the tea house, his friends all commiserate with him and tell him how unlucky he is. He just nods and says, “Perhaps.”

Shortly thereafter the farmer’s son captures one of the wild horses and tames him. The stallion is worth more than several years’ harvest. The farmer’s friends all tell him over tea how lucky he is. He just nods and says, “Perhaps.”

The next day the stallion kicks the farmer’s son, debilitating him. The farmer’s friends express their sorrow and tell him how unlucky he is. The farmer just nods and says, “Perhaps.”

A little while later the army comes through the town, conscripting all the able-bodied men and taking them to war. The farmer’s son doesn’t have to go, as he is no longer able-bodied. The farmer’s friends all tell him how lucky he is. You already know how the farmer responds.

Though the story is about events outside of the farmer’s control, it has much to say about failure. In any given moment we may like or not like where we are, but no situation is final. Everything changes, in ways we cannot predict.

In other words, it’s impossible to ever know the true impact of failure.

Failure: The Benefits

In 2011, Harvard Business Review dedicated an entire issue to the topic of failure. One of my favorite articles from that issue defines a spectrum of reasons for failure that stretch from blameworthy on the one hand to praiseworthy on the other.

Blameworthy failures come from “preventable failures in predictable conditions.” These are usually caused by deviations from routine and well-defined operations (like in a factory).

Less blameworthy are the “unavoidable failures in complex systems.” These happen where there is a lot of uncertainty at work; in other words where “a particular combination of needs, people, and problems may have never occurred before.”

Praiseworthy are the “intelligent failures at the frontier.” These are experiments conducted to establish the viability of an idea or design, or to expand knowledge and investigate a possibility.

When you think about it, almost anything we do to answer our calling involves uncertainty; it’s never been done before by us in the exact way we mean to do it. Every time we make a change or step into something new, we’re conducting an experiment. All failures in this field, by Harvard’s definition, are not just inevitable—they’re beneficial. They help us find out what’s possible and discover the best ways to realize our intentions, regardless of what limits we run into.

Failure: The Reality

If you don’t already have your own definition of failure, I recommend you do the exercise above and create one.

For my part, I’ve come to see failure as nothing more than things not going according to plan. It’s the discovery of limits so we can find ways to work within them. Or, as a Pathfinders participant put it, it’s simply stepping onto a new path tomorrow.

When we see past the jaws and claws to what failure really is, we quickly realize that what we’ve spent so much time and energy fearing isn’t just unlikely; it’s impossible.

Last Chance to Join Pathfinders Group Coaching to Find Your Calling

Pathfinders Group Coaching is one of my favorite programs because I get to coach amazing people while witnessing how the feedback and love of their peers helps them rediscover their confidence, clarify what they most want, and take big steps towards making that a reality. Things that seemed impossible become probable with a powerful community to help them out and cheer them on.

I’m super excited to get started with a new Pathfinders Group Coaching cohort in just a few days. We have only 3 spots left, and I’d love to find someone who feels they’re meant to do something more than they are now but aren’t yet totally sure what that is or how to do it to join us.

If that might be you, then click here to schedule a brief, no-obligation call so we can discuss your needs, answer your questions, and explore whether Pathfinders is a fit for you. This is the last call for this cohort, and I don’t know when I’ll be offering this program again.

I would love to help you make 2018 the year you find your calling and start doing work you love.

Over to You

What benefits have you found in failure? I’d love to know, and I’m pretty sure everyone else would too. Please share in the comments below.

afraid to fail cat tongue

Rabbit photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash
First cat photo by Shubhankar Sharma on Unsplash
Second cat photo by Shlok Wadhwana on Unsplash

Little One and the Two Failures (Or, the Secret to Being Powerful and Powerless at the Same Time)

Following is the sixteenth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.


The second time Little One found himself in front of the gate to the City of the Children of the Serpent God, his mood was only slightly less ebullient than the first.

After all, he had just saved his father, one of the most powerful gods that existed, pretty much single-handedly. He had subsequently learned how the world began, discovered who he really was, and found his life’s purpose. Perhaps even more exciting, he had tried pancakes for the first time.

As he watched the black and brown metal snakes of the gate writhe above him, he recalled his father’s parting words.

“Do not thank me too much,” the Serpent God had warned when he expressed his gratitude yet again. “I have real reason to be grateful; you brought me back to myself. But all I have done for you is given you knowledge.”

Little One had wrinkled his nose in disbelief. “But isn’t knowledge power?” he asked. He couldn’t remember who had said it first, but he was certain he’d heard the elders in his village repeat the phrase often enough.

His father shook his giant, serpentine head. “Do not misunderstand me: knowledge is valuable and quite necessary. It is a very good first step. But it is not, by itself, enough.”

Little One just looked at his father.

“Knowing something does not change anything,” the god continued in his low rumble. “You must wrestle with the subject of your knowledge, experience it, act on it, defeat it and be defeated by it over and over again for anything to shift.”

Little One nodded, though in truth he didn’t understand. “I see,” he lied. “But surely this knowledge can help others if I share it with them?”

The Serpent God shook his head again, then nodded, then shook until his enormous head looked like it might roll off of his neck and onto the white tiled floor. “Yes and no,” he said as he cringed and massaged what appeared to be a crick in his neck. “The knowledge is helpful, but you can’t just tell others about it. It won’t mean anything to them until they experience it for themselves. You only understood because you’d already felt the truth of it.”

“I see,” Little One lied again. “And how do I help them experience it for themselves?”

His father laughed. “You already know that,” he said so confidently that Little One was afraid to suggest otherwise. “Now, are you ready to go?”

Little One nodded and picked up his backpack, which weighed more than it had when he’d put it down. “Whenever you’re ready,” he said, smiling. He was excited to be teleported for the second time in his life, this time willingly.

When he looked up, he saw that the god was looking at him strangely. “I forgot to say one last thing,” his father rumbled, frowning now. “It is a danger I have seen often when humans first learn who they really are.” He seemed unsure for the first time. “Just don’t forget that though you are all powerful, you alone are powerless,” he said slowly. When Little One opened his mouth, he shook his head and spoke more quickly. “No, I’m afraid I cannot say more than that. As I said, I find it never helps to explain paradoxes. This piece of advice you’ll have to figure out for yourself.”

This one, Little One thought, and all the others as well.

Still, by the time they were standing outside the iridescent walls of his father’s palace, he was smiling again. The Serpent God had seemed genuinely sad to see him go. He’d made him promise to come back and visit, and told him to bring his family with him. He’d even bent down to give Little One a hug, or the closest thing he could, being about a thousand times his size.

Then, after a few moments in which the earth beneath him had shifted uncomfortably and the forest around him blurred into swirls of color, Little One had found himself standing by himself in front of the familiar gate to the City of the Children of the Serpent God. He was eager to find out if what he was looking for was here, and, he admitted silently to himself, to share what he had learned.

This time he knew what to do. Walking through the gate as the metal snakes churned and hissed above him, he didn’t so much as glance at them before approaching a tree and pressing his hand against its trunk. As he did, the earth shifted with a groan and the top of a stairway appeared through the roots. Little One stepped onto it carefully and made his way down.

When he reached the bottom, a large, well-lit chamber opened up before him. The walls glowed with scenes of trees, mountains, and rivers laid over the stone. The images shimmered and moved as if real, so much so that Little One could almost feel the breeze that was stirring them against his own skin. The top of the chamber was blue and infinite, like the sky, but today there were no clouds gathered anywhere.

Little One looked around. After seeing a few new faces he didn’t recognize, he spotted one he did. He walked over.

“Well-met, brother!” yelled Sebastian as he approached, looking up from what he was working on at the table. “Long time no see!” He spoke loudly even though by that point Little One was close enough to reach out and touch him on the shoulder.

“Hi, Sebastian,” said Little One. He was too excited to waste time with niceties. “Has Ginger been here recently?”

Sebastian’s smile turned to a concerned expression. “Yeah, brother, she was here not long ago. She came back to pick up her invention. We asked her what was going on, where you were, what she needed it for…but she said she didn’t have time to explain. She told us she would tell us everything later, said she had something very important to do first. She didn’t even stay for dinner.”

Little One was vaguely aware that he should have been frustrated, but all he could feel was pleasure at having been right. When the Serpent God had offered to teleport him home, he’d politely declined, saying he wanted to find Ginger first. His father’s powers were still recovering from his imprisonment, so unfortunately the god couldn’t tell him where she was. More fortunately, a theory of his own had already begun to crystallize in Little One’s mind.

He’d first thought about it when his father told him he’d had a conversation with someone before Little One returned back to the palace to save him. Little One knew it hadn’t been with him. Then he recalled that during his first visit to the palace, there was a trail through the dust on the floor that he’d originally thought had been made by his father’s captor. Only there was no captor; his father had been in the palace the entire time.

Together these two clues led Little One to deduce that Ginger had managed to make it into the palace before he had. He knew she wouldn’t leave without doing something to help the Serpent God, however, and he was admittedly stumped for a moment until he remembered her invention. He still didn’t know what it did, but she had finished it just before they left the City of the Children of the Serpent God. He concluded that she must have gone back there to pick up her invention so she could return with it to the palace and help their father.

Warm satisfaction bubbled up in his belly as he realized that he’d been right. He felt so good that before he knew it, he’d blurted out a question he hadn’t meant to ask.

“Have you ever met the Serpent God in person?” he asked in a voice like a bell; it was so loud, in fact, that a few nearby siblings looked up from what they were doing.

Sebastian’s eyebrows shot up. “Met the Serpent God? No, man, nobody has. He disappeared a long time ago. Nobody knows where he is or how to find him.”

“I found him,” Little One said quickly.

“That’s impossible,” Sebastian said, dismissing him with a wave of his hand. “A group of older siblings tried before I got here. They were some of the strongest, smartest, most gifted children I’ve ever met. They even knew where to find the palace, but when they got there, they couldn’t get inside. Nobody was home. They tried everything to be able to enter, but nothing worked. Eventually they had to turn around and come back here. If they couldn’t do it, brother, there’s no way you”—he winced—“anybody could.”

“I did get inside,” Little One persisted. He saw out of the corner of his eye that two other siblings, a brother named Corbett that he knew from his previous tenure in the city and a woman he’d never seen before, were walking over to join them. “With Ginger. Well, at least we found it together. We got separated going in. But the Serpent God was there. He was just…unable to greet us.” He didn’t want to share the whole story right now, not with such a large audience. “But after a while we talked, and he explained everything to me.”

“Everything?” the woman who had joined them asked.

“Well, lots of things. Like, did y’all know that we’re made of light?” The woman shook her head slightly while the other two looked at him doubtfully. “Yea, we’re made of the same light that everything else is made of. Only, in these forms we feel separate, and we forget that we’re not. We forget that we’re all made of the same courage, strength, love, joy, wisdom, and all that stuff. That’s why the gods were made, to help us remember. And that’s what our job is as their children, too. We’re here to help others remember who they really are and where they come from.”

Little One smiled as he looked up at his siblings. He didn’t say it nearly as well as their father had, but he was pretty proud of how clear it was nonetheless. As he scanned their faces, however, his smile faded. All he saw were furrowed brows and stubborn frowns. “Maybe I should start at the beginning,” he went on uncertainly.

Sebastian shook his head as if waking himself up. “No, man,” he said forcefully. “You must have met an impostor. There’s no way that was really our father.”

Little One opened his mouth, but before he could respond, his sister was speaking.

“Why would our father only tell you this?” she asked, her eyes narrowed. “Why wouldn’t he come here to tell us all, if that’s really what he’s here to do?”

This time Little One didn’t even have time to open his mouth before Corbett spoke up. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he said, his voice deep. “We’re here to vanquish evil, not help people remember. What’s the use of remembering? It doesn’t make any sense,” he repeated.

“Yea,” said Sebastian. “We’re here to use our superpowers to accomplish things that other humans can’t. That’s why we have them and they don’t. It’s simple.”

“Perhaps,” Little One said when there was finally a moment of silence. “But that reminds me of something else the Serpent God told me. All humans have superpowers of some kind because by now they’re all descended from one god or another.”

Sebastian whistled and rolled his eyes while the others shook their heads. “Now I know you’re confused,” Sebastian said. “Have you ever seen a normal human fly, become invisible, or invent the things that we do?” He shook his head disbelievingly.

“Confused?” Corbett said. “More like delusional. I remember you from when you were here before. You didn’t have a superpower, right? I think you got so jealous that you went off and came up with this big story to impress us and convince us that you’re better than we are.”

Anger flared up in Little One for the first time. He had been trying to stay calm, as he imagined anyone sharing this kind of knowledge should be, but the heat inside him was impossible to ignore. “I did no such thing,” he growled. “I’m telling you exactly what the Serpent God told me. And for the record, I do have a superpower.” As soon as the words left his mouth, he wanted to pull them back in.

“And what would that be?” Corbett asked, a sneer on his face.

The word sensitivity died on Little One’s lips as he imagined their responses. Perception sounded little better. “I—I don’t know yet,” he said softly, staring at the table. Harsh laughter met his ears.

“You still haven’t answered my question,” the woman said. Little One looked up and realized that she wasn’t laughing, just frowning slightly. “Why wouldn’t our father come here to tell us all of this himself?”

Little One opened his mouth, half expecting somebody to interrupt him again, but nobody did. Suddenly it was as if all words had fled his mind. After a moment, he closed his mouth again. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted.

Sebastian moved his chair back away from the table and stood up. “I’ve heard enough,” he said, looking at Corbett and the woman. “I’m going for a walk.”

Corbett didn’t give Little One another glance before spinning on his heel and stomping off as well, but the woman looked at him for a few moments with a flat expression on her face before finally sighing and turning to leave. Little One watched them go, trying desperately to think of something to say but failing to come up with a single word.

Giving a sigh of his own, he walked back up the stairs and out of the City of the Children of the Serpent God with slumped shoulders and heavy feet, nearly as discouraged as he had been excited when he’d arrived just a short time before. He began to walk dejectedly back in the direction of the Palace of the Serpent God, determined at least to succeed in finding Ginger.

By the time he came across the road, he was so caught up in trying to figure out where he’d gone wrong that he nearly missed seeing it. He walked over it lost in thought and only paused when he felt sunlight warming his back. Looking up, he was surprised to see that there were no trees overhead, which caused him to look around, which made him realize he was crossing a road.

He’d never come across a path this large before. Estimating that if he stood with arms wide it could fit three of him across its width, he wondered why it was so big and where it led.

He had just decided against walking along it for a bit to try and find out when he heard footsteps behind him. Turning around, he saw a young girl waving her arms high above her head at him.

“Hello!” she yelled, a big grin on her freckled face.

“Hello,” he said, returning her smile.

“Have you come to try and rescue us?” asked the girl, lowering her arms and coming to a stop in front of him. She sounded breathless, as if she’d been running.

“Um, no, I’m afraid I’m just passing by. But who needs rescuing, and from what?”

“My village,” she answered, her green eyes sad. “It’s just down the road. You haven’t heard? They sent me out to meet you because we thought you were here to help.”

“Who sent you out to meet me?”

“The other children, silly.” She laughed, as if it were obvious. “We’ve put out a call for help because a demon has taken over our village. Many heroes have come, but none have been able to defeat it. Oh, please do help us. You look so strong and smart. I think you might be able to do it.”

“What demon?” Little One asked, flushing despite the ice beginning to form in his belly. “And why the children? Where are your parents?”

The girl glanced back down the road behind herself impatiently. “Our parents are the ones who need rescuing. The demon has taken them hostage. He tortures and abuses them day and night. Oh, say you’ll come; then you can see for yourself.”

Little One thought for only a moment before nodding his head. “Yes,” he said. “Of course I’ll come. I’ll do whatever I can to help.”

The girl clapped her hands excitedly and beamed at him. “I knew you would!” she said happily. “Come, it isn’t far at all.”

It was true. They reached the village after walking only a short while. Soon the forest gave way to fields and then houses with small gardens began to appear next to the road. Little One saw other children, goats, and plenty of chickens, but no grown ups anywhere.

“Where are the adults?” he asked the girl.

“I told you, the demon took them hostage. They’re at the demon’s headquarters.”

Little One scowled and started to ask a question, but the girl skipped on ahead of him.

They walked like that a while longer—the girl skipping as if headed to play, Little One trudging along behind her, his feet growing heavier and his belly more tangled with every step—as they made their way through the center of the village and out to the other side. The girl didn’t slow as trees appeared beside them again and the road climbed a large hill.

When they approached the top and Little One was about to ask where they were headed, he suddenly looked up and swallowed his words. There in front of them was the largest building he had ever seen. It appeared to be made entirely of smooth, gray stone. Little One couldn’t see any windows and could make out only one large door at its base. Nearly twice as tall as the surrounding trees, it had what looked like a huge chimney jutting out of its roof that was belching dark gray smoke into the air above it.

“Come on,” the girl said, and Little One realized she hadn’t stopped skipping. He hurried to catch up to her.

When they approached the door, she finally stopped. “This is the demon’s headquarters,” she said. Little One was about to ask the girl if the demon had any defenses he needed to overcome before entering its headquarters when without warning she flung the door wide open and a terrible stench met his nose. As he covered the bottom half of his face with his arm, he steeled himself as best he could for whatever torment and abuse he might be about to see.

But as his eyes adjusted to the relative darkness within, he saw only men and women walking quickly about, speaking hurriedly with each other in small groups, and sitting in chairs staring intently at small pieces of paper.

“Is everything all right?” he asked a tall man in his middle years who was passing close by.

The man looked at him in surprise. “Of course. But if I don’t get this report done by the end of the day, it won’t be, so if you’ll excuse me…” he said, walking on.

Little One watched the adults go about their business for a few more minutes before turning to the girl. “I don’t understand,” he said. “You said they were being tortured. They look just fine to me.”

“You would say that!” the girl shouted, crossing her arms over her chest. “That’s what all the other heroes said too before they turned around and left. What a bunch of cowards! I know it doesn’t look that bad, but can’t you see what’s really going on? They work here, day and night, never coming home, never eating, never sleeping, never seeing their children. If we come here, they just ignore us or yell at us for getting in the way. They stopped working the fields months ago, and now there’s almost no food left. And they don’t even play anymore!” She was wailing now. “And the worst part is, the demon has some kind of spell on them, because when we tell them to stop, they tell us we’re being silly and say it’s for the best.”

Little One shivered. Looking more closely at a woman passing by, he realized that there was something strange about her eyes, almost as if they were glazed over and not really seeing what was in front of her.

“Okay,” he said. “That does sound strange. So where is this demon? What do I need to do to find it?”

Little One wasn’t sure what he’d expected, but it wasn’t for the girl to immediately point to a normal-looking, rather stocky man who appeared to be starting to lose his hair standing on a balcony on the second floor.

Little One cleared his throat. “Got it,” he told the girl. “I’ll be right back.”

“Be careful,” she said, her eyes wide. “He’s the most dangerous demon I’ve ever seen.”

Little One nodded and walked towards the demon. As he did, he felt his stomach begin to twist around itself once again. The closer he got, the colder he felt as well. By the time he was within shouting distance of the demon, he was nauseated, shivering, and wanted nothing more than to crawl behind a rock and hide.

I am made of light, he reminded himself, planting his feet firmly on the ground beneath the balcony.

“What exactly do you think you’re doing?” Little One called out loudly, cringing as he heard his own words and realized they sounded more like a statement of confusion than the challenge he’d imagined in his mind. I am made of light, he reminded himself again as some of the hustle and bustle around him quieted down.

The demon turned slowly from whatever he had been looking at to study Little One on the floor beneath him. “Why, isn’t it obvious?” he answered after a long silence. “I’ve persuaded these people to do my bidding so I can take over the world.” Little One realized with some discomfort that his eyes were red and shone in the dimly lit interior like flames.

“So you admit it!” Little One yelled. He wasn’t sure what the demon meant by taking over the world, but he could tell it wasn’t good by his tone.

“Of course,” roared the demon. “And why on earth wouldn’t I? There isn’t anything anybody can do about it, much less you.” He spat out the last word like it tasted bad.

Little One felt the heat of anger rising within him. He searched for a feeling of strength and golden light instead. Finally he felt it, a small but steady sense of solidity beneath the anger. “Oh, yes there is!” he shouted. “You don’t know who I am. I have powers you can’t even imagine, and I’m going to use them to help these people fight off whatever spell you’ve put on them so they can return to their village and be with their families!”

The demon threw his head back and cackled towards the ceiling. “Go for it! Be my guest! These people are free to leave whenever they want. Nobody’s forcing them to stay.”

Little One didn’t believe it. He looked around at the men and women who had for the most part stopped what they were doing to watch what was happening, though a few still had their heads bent over scraps of paper or were huddled together speaking quietly in the corners.

“People of the village!” Little One yelled, turning around so he could see everyone in the building. “There is no need to stay here helping the demon! He is using you for his own ends and does not have your well-being at heart. Do his bidding no more! Put down your work, come with me, and I will take you back to your children and your fields so you can once again attend to what matters.”

The men and women looked at him as if confused, shaking their heads and muttering, then turned to go on about their business. With flushed cheeks, he realized that a few had already done so even before he finished speaking.

Little One heard a sharp rasping noise behind him. When he turned around, he saw that the demon was laughing again. “You waste your time, son of the Serpent God.” Little One realized his mouth was open and closed it quickly. “Yes, I know exactly who you are,” the demon continued. “Which is why I’m so confident I have nothing to worry about.” With that, he turned around and walked through a doorway at the back of the balcony, disappearing from view.

Little One looked at all the people around him, but none were watching him anymore. He tried to think of something else he could say or do, but nothing came to him. Sighing heavily, he walked back to where the girl was standing in the doorway.

“I’m sorry,” he told her sadly. “I have failed yet again.”

She looked up at him, her forehead creased. “Again? Have you faced the demon before?”

“No,” Little One admitted as they stepped back out of the building and closed the door behind them, “but I’ve still managed to fail more than once today.”

As they walked back, Little One tried hard to think of a plan, but if the people weren’t willing to leave, he didn’t see how he could make them. He didn’t know enough about magic or spells to be able to do anything there, and he had a feeling the demon wouldn’t allow him to try anyway.

Having no plan and no hope for helping the children of the village, he began to doubt the confidence he had felt while talking to his father, which felt like eons ago, not earlier that morning. It was no wonder his siblings didn’t believe him or his message—he was the wrong person to be carrying it. The idea that he was made of light made him want to laugh and cry at the same time; at the moment it felt more likely that he was made of dung than anything else.

When they reached the village, the children all ran to form a circle around them, chattering excitedly and asking what had happened.

“He failed,” the girl said, her voice miserably low. The other children’s faces fell, and a few began to cry.

“You have a plan for how to go back and beat him, right?” a little boy asked, pulling his thumb out of his mouth to do so.

“Mm-hmmm,” Little One said noncommittally. The faces that stared at him looked drawn and haggard, and he remembered what the girl had said about running out of food. “I do at least have something to give y’all,” he added quickly, thinking of the few rations he still had from his previous journey. As he pulled his backpack from his shoulder, he noticed again how heavy it was, and when he opened it up, he finally realized why.

Inside his backpack, piled on top of his things, were stacks of thick pancakes his father must have slipped in when he wasn’t looking.

Little One smiled. “Have y’all ever tried pancakes?” he asked, pulling them out and handing them over.

As the children eagerly ate their breakfast with a few shouts of pleasure here and there, Little One thought of his father. He now had something else to be grateful for. It’s a good thing I have you helping me, he thought. Without you, I’d be lost.

As if in answer, his father’s words rang out in his mind: “Just remember that though you are all powerful, you alone are powerless.”

This time he heard the words differently than he had before. It wasn’t that he was the only one who was powerless, it was that without others…

Suddenly he knew what to do. He jumped up, grabbed his backpack, and handed out a few more pancakes. “Children!” he yelled. He had to say it again a few times before everyone was listening. “I know what to do! I’m going now, but I’ll be back soon. I am going to vanquish that demon, but not in the way that I thought.”

The kids gave him strange looks but continued to eat their pancakes. Little One smiled to himself and found his way back to the road.

He walked until he was standing in the same spot where he’d first seen the little girl. Turning around to be sure, then nodding to himself when he was, he stepped off the road and into the woods. Hope lightened his steps as he considered the possibility that by returning to the City of the Children of the Serpent God and asking for help from his siblings, he’d soon be able to reverse two big failures in one fell swoop.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

25 Ways to Loosen Fear’s Grip

As I prepared to write this post, I realized that I’ve written a lot about fear.

Maybe it’s because most of the people I talk to mention fear as one of their biggest challenges. Whether it’s fear of failure, fear of making the wrong decision, fear of not making enough money, or fear of something else, being afraid is one of the main reasons people struggle to change careers.

Or maybe it’s because I personally face fear a lot. And by a lot, I mean all the time. And by all the time, I mean several times a day.

Or maybe it’s because fear is actually an important key to finding your calling, especially if you’re not sure where to look.

The one Evite you might prefer not to get

Stephen Pressfield has a great quote in his book The War of Art that you’ve probably heard me use before (it’s one of my favorites):

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

My own experience backs this up. Every time I’ve gotten clear about the next step towards my calling, I’ve been absolutely terrified, whether it was moving cross country, starting my own business, or sharing words I’d written with the world.

I used to be embarrassed that I felt so afraid, but then I began to notice something pretty amazing: I’m not scared all the time. I don’t feel afraid when I’m staying small, keeping quiet, or hiding inside my comfort zone. I’m only afraid when I try to do something important, grow and expand, or engage more deeply with what I care about most.

If you believe, as I do, that we’re here to learn and develop so that we can share our unique gifts with the world in increasingly powerful ways and have fun while doing it, then fear is a really good friend who points out the best way to do just that.

In other words, fear isn’t a weakness; it’s an invitation to your calling.

Showing the fear who’s boss

Fear, however, is a fickle friend. In addition to showing you what to do, it also gets in the way of actually doing it.

But that’s okay. Because you’re bigger than your fear, and it doesn’t have to rule your life. You can’t kick it out of the car, but you can pry its claw-like fingers off the wheel.

Here are 25 ways to feel the fear and do it anyway:

1. Breathe.

Sometimes fear is really just your body telling you it needs more oxygen. Breathing slowly and deeply into your belly  lets your nervous system know it can relax because all is well.

2. Come back to your body.

Unless there’s an actual threat nearby, fear is a fire stoked by our thoughts. Focusing on your body (say, by feeling your feet on the ground or the breath in your chest) removes the kindling and brings you back to the present moment.

3. Show some compassion.

Self-compassion makes fear a whole lot less overwhelming. The three steps to self-compassion are:

  1. Acknowledge the pain with sympathy and kindness;
  2. Recognize that all humans are imperfect and that in any given moment thousands of other people are feeling the same way you do; and
  3. Observe your negative thoughts and feelings with curiosity rather than judgment.

4. Give it a name.

Naming the fear and exactly what it is you’re afraid of reduces its intensity and power over you.

5. Get to the root of the fear.

When you see the fear beneath the fear, you often find that what you’re most afraid of is extremely unlikely, not truly harmful, or (more frequently than you might think) downright impossible. Ask yourself what you’re scared of, then what’s bad about that, then what’s bad about that, and what’s bad about that. Keep going until you find the true essence of what you’re afraid of.

6. Don’t believe everything you think.

Fears are based on beliefs, and beliefs are often usually flawed. Byron Katie has a powerful process that can help you discover the truth behind your fears. First you identify your beliefs (for example, if I ______, ______ will happen). Then you ask 4 questions:

  1. Is it true?
  2. [If yes] Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

7. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen?

Often your worst-case scenario is not actually dangerous or devastating. Regardless, if you can find a way to accept it, fear will have no way to stop you.

8. Determine probabilities.

If your worst-case scenario is truly terrifying, get clear on how likely it is to really happen. Of all the possible outcomes, what’s the probability that this is the one you’ll be stuck with? To make sure you’re being realistic, have an objective third-party check your numbers.

9. Calculate your track record.

While we’re talking numbers, go ahead and calculate how accurate your fears really are. Write down all your worries for one month and then go back and note which ones came true. If we take the time to do this, most of us find that we’re batting somewhere close to zero (apology for the mixed sports metaphors).

10. Become your own mentor.

In The Fear Book, Cheri Huber offers the idea of becoming a mentor to the scared part of you. It’s a brilliant and effective strategy. To use it, just ask yourself anytime you feel scared: what would a wise and loving mentor tell me right now?

11. Turn it over.

Whether it’s God, goddesses, the universe, love, your highest self, or your dog, turning your fears over to something more powerful than you are is incredibly freeing. You don’t even have to believe in anything to get started. Just write your fears down, put them in a box, and say, “I’m turning this over to you, [insert higher power of your choice].” Then let go and see what happens, knowing it’s no longer in your hands. Review the items you’ve put in your box periodically and see how they’ve turned out to find evidence that regardless of how you feel about God, you are supported and cared for.

12. Take tiny baby steps.

Fear feeds on big, overwhelming tasks. To reduce the fear factor, break your goals down into steps. Then break those steps down into smaller steps. Then break those small steps down into even tinier steps until you have a task you can do in 10 minutes. You can do anything for 10 minutes, right? Afterward, be sure to celebrate your win and plan when you’ll take your next tiny baby step.

13. Make a back-up plan.

If things don’t go as you hope, what will you do? Create a plan for how you’ll take care of yourself during any setbacks and how you’ll continue to move towards what you want, even when things go awry.

14. Share with peers.

There’s something about sharing your fears with others who are going through something similar that inevitably breeds courage. Just be sure you’re sharing with people who are actively embracing and facing their fears, not running away from them.

15. Get feedback.

In his book Uncertainty, Jonathan Fields urges people facing anxiety in the creative process to get feedback from mentors, peers, and potential end-users early on as a way of building confidence and comfort. Asking people you trust to give you feedback on your efforts can be terrifying, but paradoxically, it’s also a powerful antidote to fear.

16. Practice discomfort.

When we fail to take action, we’re not usually avoiding a theoretical bad outcome so much as the immediate discomfort of fear or anxiety. Like someone with bad breath, most of us find fear so unpleasant that we’ll do just about anything to avoid it. To stop avoiding fear, you need to develop your ability to sit with discomfort. To do that, just engage in something that brings up anxiety on purpose every day, then practice sitting with it for slightly longer periods of time. When you’re able to tolerate discomfort, a whole new world of possibilities opens up.

17. Slow down.

Kindness is wonderful medicine for fear. If your fear is overwhelming, slow down and maybe even take a break. Do something comforting and familiar, something that makes you feel good about yourself, and then go back and try again.

18. Feel the edges of the fear.

Get curious about how your fear feels in your body. Notice where you feel it, what it feels like, and how it changes over time. After observing it for a little while, start to feel for its edges and begin to notice the places in your body where you don’t feel the fear (your little toe perhaps?). You’ll start to see that fear is actually just a bunch of sensations in your body, that it too has boundaries, and that it’s really nothing to be afraid of.

19. Address the fear’s concerns.

Your fear isn’t the enemy; it just doesn’t want you to become harmed, homeless, or humiliated. You probably don’t either, so let your fear know how you’re going to take care of what’s important to you even while you take a risk; remind it that things like what other people think of you don’t really affect your well-being; and watch as your newly consoled fear steps aside so you can open the gates of change.

20. Imagine a positive outcome.

If you want to loosen fear’s grip, you need to stop playing the worst-case scenario over and over in your head. Since you don’t know what will happen, and good outcomes are at least as likely as bad ones, you might as well choose to obsess about your best-case scenario in vibrant, gory detail.

21. Talk to someone who’s succeeded.

Fear likes facts. When I tell my fear everything will be okay, it demands proof. Finding someone who’s done what I want to do and flourished is pretty strong evidence that success is possible, and learning from their perspective makes it all the more likely. My fear is smart, but it can’t argue with that.

22. Talk to someone who’s failed.

When you do this, your fear is going to want you to use it as an opportunity find all the reasons you’re going to fail too. Resist this urge. Instead, ask this person all kinds of questions about how they recovered from their failure, what they learned, what skills they gained, and what new possibilities it opened up. When we’re afraid of failure, we forget that it actually carries many gifts, and your job is to discover from this person exactly what those are.

23. Find a purpose greater than the fear.

Fear usually stems from our egos’ concerns, like not having enough money or status, or looking bad to others. These aren’t the things that truly make us happy, though. To focus on what matters, define a better purpose for any given venture, one that you can fulfill regardless of where you end up. What might you get out of embarking on this adventure that’s more important than wealth or popularity? What might it allow you to give to others? What would make this effort worthwhile regardless of the outcome?

24. Meditate.

Fear isn’t the problem; believing everything it tells you is. Meditation is a great way to practice noticing your thoughts without buying into their conclusions all the time. It gives you the awareness you need to question your thoughts and the ability to let them go when they aren’t serving you. It also gives you a way to experience fear without being paralyzed by it. An ongoing meditation practice is one of the main reasons I’m able to do things that scare the pee out of me, over and over again.

25. Meditate.

Am I repeating myself? Yes. Is it for a good reason? I think so. In addition to giving us the ability to let go of unhelpful thoughts, meditation also connects us to our serenity, wisdom, and courage. We all have these qualities at our core, but we become unable to access them when fear is yammering in our ears all the time. Getting quiet, even if only for milliseconds at a time, helps us reconnect to the part of ourselves that is always compassionate and unafraid.

26. Bonus Idea: Meditate.

I’m not being lazy here, I swear. It’s really that important.

Over to You

What helps you feel your fear and do things anyway? I’d love to know, and so would everyone else. Please share in the comments below.

Hungry for More?

I recently re-released Passion Quest: 5 Steps to Find Your Calling in a Fear-Based World. It’s an affordable, structured, practical, and easy way to break through your fear, get clear about what kind of work you want to do in the world, and start actually doing it. Click here to find out more.


Photo Credit: Jade Craven // CC

Little One and the Serpent God (Or, Why Being Flawed Is a Good Thing)

Following is the fifteenth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.


“Wait, what?” Little One asked.

He could feel his face flushing as he forced himself to put the strange, black fruit down on his plate. He was horrified to realize that he had actually missed what the Serpent God said because he was so focused on the fruit’s unique—and quite delicious—flavor.

“I said, did you have to do anything to make the rainbow lightning machine show you the memory?” The god’s voice boomed throughout the cavernous, sunlit room they were in, but it remained calm.

“Oh,” Little One said, wiping his hands guiltily on his pants. “No. It just kind of came to life on its own once I got near it.” He thought for a moment. “Actually, I think it was already rumbling a bit by the time I got into the palace.” He picked up his cup and took a sip of the sweet, creamy brown liquid inside. “What is this again?” he asked his father.

“Xocoatl,” the god said. “Also sometimes referred to as food of the gods.”

“I can see why,” Little One said, nearly burning his tongue as he took another gulp.

“And you said you saw me arguing with someone?” the god persisted.

“Yes,” Little One nodded. “I couldn’t see who, but you seemed to be angry at first, then…” His voice drifted off awkwardly as he took a more calculated sip of his drink.

“Then what?” the Serpent God prompted gently. He made a motion with a pitcher for Little One to let him refill his mug.

“Then you seemed kind of frightened and sad.” He swallowed awkwardly but still managed to hold out his mug while his father poured. “You told him that you couldn’t do it anymore, sacrificing yourself in order to keep him happy. You said, ‘You are not who I thought you were. You win. You are free to do what you will.’”

The god’s eyes narrowed as the pitcher dropped back to the table with a loud thump. Little One wondered if he’d said too much. “I only vaguely remember saying that,” his father said. “It’s like my memory has holes in it, and everything else is…blurred.”

Little One moved something that looked like potatoes but tasted much better around on his plate. “That’s why I thought you were kidnapped at first, though I had no idea by whom.”

“So when did we talk?” the Serpent God asked, straightening suddenly and nearly bumping his head on a ceiling so high that Little One could barely see it.

“When I got back,” Little One answered, “after figuring out what had really happened.”

The giant serpent head shook. “No, I mean before you left. It’s blurry, but I remember two visits. One when you helped me to awaken, but one before that too.”

Now Little One shook his head. “I’m not sure,” he said. “I spoke with the memory at first, not realizing it wasn’t you”—he felt his cheeks flush again and quickly took another sip from his mug to hide it—“but the first time we actually conversed was last night, after I returned.”

His father was silent for a moment, his eyes searching his son’s as if probing for the truth. “Yes,” he finally said, “I believe you’re right. And yet I do remember speaking with somebody else, before last night, and getting very angry. It was several days before I could sleep again, and when I did, I slept for two days straight. Perhaps that is when you came to the palace, when I was still inert.”

Little One nodded. “Perhaps,” he agreed. He suddenly thought of the trail he had followed through the halls of the palace, the one he thought had been made by his father’s kidnapper. An idea began to form in his mind, giving him hope.

“So how did you figure out what really happened?” the Serpent God asked.

Little One abandoned whatever thought had been forming in order to answer his father; this was the third time he had asked this same question, after all.

“It was while fighting the Guardian of the Guru,” he said, noticing that his father’s gaze was fixed on something on his face. He hurriedly scrubbed his mouth and chin with his hand and flushed when he realized that the drink had left a foamy mustache on his upper lip. Taking a deep breath, he went on. “I probably should have figured it out right away based on the fact that the Guardian not only looked exactly like me, but fought like me as well.” He went on to tell the god the whole story of their fight.

“But I didn’t really understand,” Little One explained once he’d finished, “until the Guru told me something more. ‘There is no difference between you and me,’ he said. “Just as there is no difference between you and him.’ That’s when I realized: I was very nearly defeated by something that was a part of me. It didn’t want me to hear the Guru’s answer. Though I think the Guru is really part of me as well.” Little One paused, looking at the table in front of him and realizing that it looked as if a tornado had passed through, leaving crumbs everywhere. The cakes—pancakes, his father had called them—had been so delicious he hadn’t been very careful about how he was eating them. He winced. “I realize this sounds crazy, but that’s how I understood that you were also fighting a part of yourself. Because the Guardian wanted me to give up, and that’s what you did in the projection I saw. Somehow it just felt…the same.”

To his surprise, the Serpent God didn’t look at him as if he were losing his mind. Instead, he simply nodded his huge head. “So that’s when you came back to my palace?” he asked.

“Yes,” Little One said. “I figured that if you had been defeated by—if you had surrendered to a part of yourself, it meant you must still be in your palace. I had no idea how I was going to save you, but I hoped it would be clear enough when the time came.” He shrugged uncomfortably. “And I suppose, when the time came, it was.”

His father looked him in the eyes for a long time without saying anything. “I’m impressed,” he finally said, picking up a tray of the black fruits and adding three more to Little One’s plate.

Little One picked up one of the fruits and bit into it. Sweet juice exploded in his mouth and ran down his chin. He wiped it off on the back of his forearm. “Father,” he said. “What is this part of us that wants to defeat us?”

The Serpent God looked thoughtful for a moment. “I believe you know more than you think you do,” he said. “This Guardian of the Guru. Was he familiar at all to you?”

Little One considered the question, then nodded slowly. “Yes, actually. I wasn’t sure, but as I was fighting him, I got the sense that I had…engaged with him before. I think I felt him when the genie was offering me his gifts. He’s the one who wanted me to take them. It was the fear, I think, that convinced me to do it. And I think I have felt his presence other times, mostly when I’ve been afraid.”

The god nodded again. “And what about what you said to me earlier? ‘You have helped me to find my true self,’ you said. What do you know about this true self?”

“It is what told me to stop fighting the Guardian,” Little One answered without hesitating. “And to come back to the palace to find you. It is the courage I found in the Chamber of Doom, the love I feel for my sister, and the strength and freedom I discovered when the Guardian defeated me. It is the antithesis of the fear.”

“That’s exactly right,” the Serpent God said, and Little One felt a wave of warmth crash in his chest. “Except for that last part,” continued his father, as the wave quickly subsided.

“What do you mean?” Little One asked. “It’s not the antithesis of fear?”

“Perhaps it would be most helpful for me to start by telling you the story of how the world began.”

“Sure,” Little One said, smiling. He wasn’t sure if he was more excited to hear the truth about the world or to have time to eat the last two pieces of fruit on his plate.

“Well,” the Serpent God began, “in the beginning, all was one. There were no separate forms or individuals. All was one and all was light. If the light could have been refracted into its various colors, you would have seen courage, strength, love, joy, wisdom, freedom, and clarity. But in the beginning, they all made up a single whole without border or boundary.”

The god paused. “Perhaps it could have gone on that way forever,” he continued after a moment. “And perhaps it should have. But the light did not know itself, and it never could so long as nothing else existed to be able to perceive it. Without self knowledge, without movement, the light was not complete, so it created space and time. It then poured itself into diverse forms that would exist separately in the realm it had created.

At first it seemed that all was now in order. But the forms the light created knew what they were and where they had come from. They had no desire to stay disconnected from their source, and so they let their separate forms wither, decline, and die so that they could return to whence they came.

The light was back where it started, and so it began again. This time it gave the forms it made something special; something that would make them want to live and thrive in the world it had built for them. This part of them would not only want to survive, but help them know how. It would identify threats, seek advantages, and concern itself with their material well-being so their forms would not wither and die before they’d had a chance to know themselves.” The Serpent God had been looking off in the distance; now he turned to look his son directly in the eyes. “This gift, Little One, is the Guardian that you fought.”

“Gift?” Little One asked, remembering how the Guardian had nearly slit his throat.

“Yes, a double-edged gift, as all gifts are,” said the god, his eyes distant again, perhaps remembering his own imprisonment. “You see, it turns out that the same thing that gives us the desire and the means to survive also serves to make us forget. For as the inhabitants of space and time began to proliferate, they became so focused on threats and advantages that they failed to see what else was there; they saw only what their eyes perceived and grew blind to what lay underneath. In short, they forgot who they were and where they had come from.”

The Serpent God grunted and shifted around in his chair. “This situation was no better than the first, for without this memory, self knowledge was again impossible. That’s why the light created us.” He turned to meet Little One’s eyes again. “The gods, I mean. We were charged with helping mortal forms to know themselves, their true selves, before they died.”

Little One thought about what his father had said, and his first experience with the god. “So that’s why you built your palace the way you did, so that whoever sought you would have to discover their own light in order to enter?” he asked.

The Serpent God’s eyes suddenly became sad. “In part,” he said, shaking his head. “But I’m afraid that isn’t the full story.”

Little One looked up at him, a question he didn’t dare ask in his eyes. The god sighed heavily. “Yes, I will tell you the tale, painful though it is.” He looked away again, staring at something Little One couldn’t see. “You see, we gods fall somewhere between form and formlessness. Being immortal, we don’t need the Guardian in the same way you mortal forms do. But we require it in other ways. We are not pure light, after all, but we must remember where we come from, in order to remind you. It is a painful thing, to be separate, to know what it’s like to be whole, and to know you will not return to the source at the end of your lifetime as you mortal beings do. It takes a strong and stubborn Guardian to keep us willing to engage in the world with its separation and forgetfulness for all eternity.”

He looked at Little One again before continuing. “But all of this is perhaps an excuse. Because the truth is, it was me who allowed my Guardian to get too strong, who believed in its demands for power, prestige, and utter perfection. It has always demanded these things—it is part of its nature—but I always knew them to be shallow, unable to satiate or address the true nature of who and what I was.

And yet at some point I forgot. That is the worst thing a god can do—we are charged with helping others remember, after all. But somehow I forgot who I was, and why I was here, and I began to give the Guardian what it was demanding.”

The giant god sighed again. “Even now I am being vague, trying to avoid the truth of it. I know when it began. It was after one of my daughters, a particularly young one, I recall, knocked upon my door. This was before I built this palace, when I still lived with the other gods.

When I came to the door, she was already furious. ‘How could you?’ she asked, and went on to tell me how her entire family had been killed in fighting between her village and the next. ‘I prayed to you every night,’ she said, ‘asking you for help. I thought you were my father! And yet you did nothing, and now my family is dead.’

I remembered her prayers; they had nearly made me weep, in truth. But we gods have very specific purposes; there is much we cannot do. I tried to explain this to her. I tried to help her see her own light, that she might know she did not need me to weather this storm. But she did not feel it, no matter what I did, and she left my house more angry than she was when she arrived. And so I failed her twice: once in being unable to save her family, and once in letting her leave while still misunderstanding exactly who she was.”

The giant serpent head sank. “I could not forgive myself for my failure. Unable to face any more of my children—no, unable to face the prospect of failing any more of my children—I built this palace and hid it from the world. I created the rainbow lightning machine almost as an afterthought. I told everyone that it was because I was too harried and could not handle the number of petitioners I was receiving. I said the rainbow lightning was to make sure that only the worthy were able to reach me. I think I even believed it at the time. But I know now that I was hiding, unable to admit how terrified I was. The rainbow lightning was not a test; it was a way to ask for help without acknowledging what I was doing.”

“Father,” Little One said. “I am so sorry.”

“I am too,” said the Serpent God, his eyes glistening. “The great irony is that in my fear of failing, I failed more people than I will ever know. For a while my children kept coming to find me, and now and then one of them would make it through. But no matter what I did, it never felt like enough; the Guardian always demanded more. More results. More admiration. More devotion. I grew tired of arguing with it, and equally tired of trying to appease its insatiable appetite. Finally I stopped answering my door, and my children stopped coming. That was the last straw. Exhausted, without visitors, without purpose, I finally gave up. I let the Guardian take control and lost myself completely.” The god exhaled loudly. “Until you came,” he added, offering a sad smile.

Little One was surprised to find that he was angry. “The Guardian would not let you forget your failure. It made you believe you were not enough. It sowed so much fear that you hid yourself in your palace and gave up your purpose, and yet you say that it is not the antithesis of light? How can that be?”

The Serpent God’s smile grew both bigger and sadder. “You would think the Guardian is the enemy, based on my story. I’m almost tempted to believe it myself, because it would mean I could separate myself from my mistakes.” He turned to look at Little One. “But the truth is more complicated than that. The Guardian is not all of who we are. But it is part of us, and an important part at that.”

“Yes,” Little One said sourly. “I understand that it helps us survive. But it also destroys that which is best in us!”

The Serpent God shook his head slowly. “No, you misunderstand, my son. The Guardian is a gift, remember? It is inseparable from the light.”

Little One realized that his mouth was open. He closed it quickly and waited for his father to continue.

“In the beginning, when I first came to form and found out what I was to do, I used to fight the Guardian. I believed, much as you do, that it was a necessary evil. I thought that if I could somehow diminish it, or even—such was my arrogance—eradicate it, the humans I helped would remember their light and never forget it again.” He laughed, a bitter sound. “What I found was the same thing you did. When you fight the Guardian, you cannot win. It is as infinitely strong as you are, and it cannot be defeated.

But I found something even stranger when I did manage to weaken somebody’s Guardian. Because instead of remembering who they were and embracing it, they grew even more forgetful. Able to live a comfortable life free of the Guardian’s demands and criticisms, they had no further need of me or anything else that might wake them up to who they were. They lived their lives comfortably, perhaps even happily, but they did now know themselves. Not truly.”

The god paused, his head cocked. “Over the years I found many ways to help people remember who they were. Strangely, one of the fastest and most effective is to let their Guardians run their lives completely for a time. This tends to create such destruction and devastation that at some point they realize something is wrong. They begin to wonder if there isn’t something more to them or the world than what they’ve seen so far, and they become curious about what that might be. In that state, it doesn’t take much to wake them up or help them remember.”

Little One thought about this. He remembered how many times he had broken through to a new discovery after what felt like his darkest moments. “I suppose I can see that,” he finally said. “But I have to say I’m still confused. From what I understand, the Guardian creates fear—in my case, a whole lot of it—and when I’m afraid, I don’t feel that I am made of light. Far from it. So how can the Guardian help us remember, if it creates conditions under which memory is impossible?”

“Ah, yes, well, there’s the paradox,” said the Serpent God. “The Guardian will try to keep you from waking up. But it also makes it inevitable that it will happen, given enough time.”

Little One’s brow furrowed. He was about to ask another question when he realized his father was offering him more pancakes. Still puzzled, he nodded his head quickly.

“I generally find it best not to try to explain paradoxes,” the god said. “It tends to set the mind spinning, which is not conducive to remembrance.” He set three more pancakes on Little One’s plate. “But perhaps this can help clarify. You seem to think that you are afraid more often than you should be; perhaps even more than everyone else.”

Little One nodded, his mouth too full to speak.

“Well, first of all, I can tell you that almost every human I’ve spoken to believed the same thing. It’s a funny habit you all have, assuming that you know someone else’s internal experience from the limited things you can see, and then comparing yourselves to whatever it is you think you saw.”

He shook his head. “At any rate, the thing you miss is this: your pain points towards your true self every time. It is a sign that you have strayed away from it. The pain—whether it’s fear, anger, shame, or any other type of misery—can lead you to the exact place where you forgot who you were. It brings you back to that place where you can remember over and over again. And the truly magical thing, which even I do not understand fully, and which I have seen save untold numbers of humans, is that should you ignore its wisdom, the pain does not give up. It gets greater. It grows in intensity until it is strong enough to overwhelm you and your Guardian, so that you may listen.” He trembled slightly. “It is miraculous.”

Little One had a hard time believing that his fear was miraculous. “But it was only when I overcame my fear that I ever made progress,” he argued. “It was courage, not fear, that helped me.”

The Serpent God smiled. “And how did you overcome your fear? By going around it? Avoiding it? Destroying it? No, my son, you overcame it only by walking through it. In the Chamber of Doom, beneath the Tree of Life, even in the city of my children, you felt your fear completely, and that is what allowed you to move beyond it. It is the only way to overcome anything, because your greatest weaknesses are tied to your greatest strengths. Only by embracing them can you discover your true gifts.”

“What do you mean?” Little One asked, wiping some crumbs from his chin with the back of his hand.

“Your fear is part of your sensitivity,” the Serpent God said, handing Little One a napkin. “You feel things deeply. This is what helps you see beyond the external forms of this world. And seeing beyond the forms of this world is what will allow you to accomplish what you are here to do.”

He said it so matter-of-factly that it took Little One a moment to realize what he had just said. When he did, he nearly spit out the Xocoatl he had just poured in his mouth. “Wait, what am I here to do?” he asked, his eyes suddenly fixed on his father.

“You still do not see it?” the Serpent God asked. Little One shook his head slowly, wondering what he missed. “Long ago we gods realized that we were too few to help all those who needed us. So we began to have children, that they might help us with our task.” The diamonds in the center of the giant god’s eyes grew large. “You are my son,” he said. “You are here to help others remember who they truly are, as we gods do.”

Little One’s mind went blank. He had no words, no ideas, no response, but he was intensely aware of the iridescent walls, the sunlight playing off of them, the soft napkin in his hands, and the light in his father’s eyes. He felt warmth rising in him, as well as a settling sensation, as if all the bones and muscles in his body had just found their perfect place.

“You feel it, do you not?” his father continued. “The fit of it. Just as you felt the call to leave your village and seek me, even before you knew what it was you sought.”

There were still no words in Little One’s mind. He just stared at his father with his eyes wide and his mouth open. He barely registered the food in front of him.

“And you felt which way to go, even if you were not sure of it. It did not really matter, for all paths lead back to the one you’re meant to be on, but you knew which path to take.”

Little One nodded mutely.

“All of our children have this capacity to hear the call, and to follow it, despite uncertainty about where they are going. It is in following the call, mysterious as it is, that they discover who they really are, and what they’re here to do.”

It felt to Little One as if the entire world were vibrating, matching the rhythm of his own heart. “I am here to help people remember that they are made of light?” he finally managed to ask in a breathless voice.

“Yes, my son,” said the Serpent God. “That is your mission.”

Little One felt as if he were suddenly nearly as large as the Serpent God before him.

“But there is one more thing you should know,” his father said. Little One noticed that there was now a glint in the god’s eyes, and his lips twitched slightly. “Most of my children get big heads when they first hear their mission. They are proud to be the son of a god.” He laughed. “As well you should be. But you should also know that while you are special, you are not that special. For by now every human is the descendant of some god. And you all have the mission to help each other remember. You do it in vastly different ways, and you focus on different aspects of the light, but you—we—are all tempted to forget our purpose and use our gifts for the Guardian’s goals, and we need each other to remind us of who we really are.”

The room was still vibrating, but now it was spinning as well. The Serpent God laughed. “You look like your head is about to explode. It’s never happened before, but I’d hate for you to be the first. I have given you much to process. I will leave you to your meal, and afterward you will sleep. I will return after we have both had time to rest.”

Little One nodded. As his father stood up and turned to leave, a lone thought appeared in his mind. “Father!” he called, and the giant serpent form turned towards him.

“Yes, my son?” rumbled the god.

“Thank you,” Little One said. “I am deeply grateful.”

The Serpent God winked. “For the knowledge, or the breakfast? I am still not sure which you enjoyed most.” He laughed to himself, then turned and walked through a towering doorway in the iridescent wall.

Little One turned back to the table. He thought he was too overcome to want to eat anything more, but as he stared at his plate and tried to form a coherent thought, he found himself picking up pieces of pancake, dipping them in syrup, and placing them in his mouth.

His first recognizable thought was a prayer that pancakes be a part of his calling.


Click here to read the next story in the series.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

 

Little One and the Key to Power (Or, What Even the Gods Need More of)

Following is the fourteenth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.


Little One soon realized that there were two problems with his plan to return to the Palace of the Serpent God in light of his new understanding so that he could rescue his father.

The first was finding the palace.

The second was finding his father.

He had already walked dozens of miles through the grasslands before he figured out how to solve the first problem. His feet were sore, his muscles ached, and he had eaten his way through his entire supply of food and water now that he had rejected the genie’s gift of a backpack that continually restocked itself. He almost wished he had kept that one boon, but the genie’s other presents had all led to equally unforeseen and undesirable outcomes, and he didn’t want to take the risk of something else derailing his quest.

The problem was, he wasn’t sure where he was in relation to the palace. He had traveled here directly from the palace, true enough, but he’d reached the grasslands by falling through an enormous abyss, and as if that weren’t enough to disorient him, he’d also gotten lost multiple times since arriving.

He was staring at the stars when the answer came to him. He’d been trying to sleep and having a hard time of it because of an empty belly. Wondering how far away the stars were, he began to think that it must be very far indeed if they were truly little suns, as they looked. He considered the fact that he might very well be losing his mind but allowed himself to speculate anyway that one of the stars might be his father’s palace; at the very least, that would explain the long fall on the way here.

But that didn’t make any sense. He and Ginger had found the Serpent God’s palace when they were in the mountains. He’d walked all the way around the mountains before finding it, and there were no adjacent grasslands, nor any abysses. He was pretty sure he would have noticed a giant chasm of nothingness you could fall through for days if there had been one nearby.

That’s when it hit him: his father’s palace wasn’t in any one, fixed location. Rather, it was everywhere and nowhere at once, accessible only to those who knew how to find it.

To find the god, you must enter the palace. To enter the palace, you must find the god.

The god he’d had to find was within himself—his own strength, courage, and wisdom. Reconnecting with that had been what allowed him to enter the palace.

That meant he knew what he needed to do to return. Rolling up his blanket and packing his things into his backpack, he recalled how he’d felt when he defeated the guardian of the guru. He could feel his power, the golden warmth of his gifts as it spread from his core all the way out to his hands and feet. As he did, the night around him began to darken, eventually going completely black. Not even the stars were visible anymore, and it was almost as if he were floating weightlessly through another abyss.

This time, though, he didn’t have to wait long. Within a few minutes the darkness began to resolve itself into shapes—a dark box just in front of him, with cylinders extending out to all sides. A little ways off he could make out curved walls with periodic columns like spines forming a perfect circle around him. A grimy dome above him let a dim patch of moonlight shine through where some of the grease had been haphazardly rubbed off.

He remembered the last time he’d been in this room, and what he’d seen through the circle he cleared on the dome.

His father had appeared as a giant god far bigger than the tallest tree. He had a human body covered in scales and a snake’s head and thrashing tail. Congratulations, he’d said. You achieved everything you set out to do.

Little One had thought he was talking to him.

But for the sake of what? the God had boomed. What did you really gain?

Little One hadn’t known how to answer, but it didn’t matter; his father had continued regardless.

You have no idea. Oh yes, sure, you have plenty of answers for everyone else, but absolutely none for yourself. And now in your quest for recognition, in your insatiable hunger for success, you have lost the one thing that you actually cared for.

Only later did Little One realize that his father’s words weren’t directed at him. The Serpent God wasn’t actually there; he was witnessing a memory somehow recorded and replayed by the box with the cylinders surrounding it.

Well, I can’t do it anymore, his father had said. I can’t keep sacrificing myself in order to give you what you want.

It was the sadness and the fear in his father’s voice that had made Little One conclude that he had been kidnapped by someone he used to know and trust—that and his final words.

You are not who I thought you were, the Serpent God had said just before disappearing. I give up. You win. You are free to do what you will.

Little One shook his head as he remembered. His initial conclusion had made sense at the time, but he still had a hard time believing how wrong it had been and how long he had taken to see that.

Standing in the circular room once again, he took a deep breath. He had solved his first problem of finding the palace. Now it was time to address the second.

Finding his father, however, turned out not to be a problem at all.

Before he had finished exhaling, Little One heard something snarl above him. Looking up through the dome, he saw the same figure he had seen before with huge feet, brown- and green-scaled legs, an enormous tail, and a snake’s head so far above him that it nearly disappeared into the sky.

Little One looked at the black box in front of him and the multicolored cylinders around it. All were dark and motionless. His mouth went dry and the golden warmth disappeared. This wasn’t a memory, or a recording. His father was really towering over him.

“So you’ve come to find the great Serpent God,” the giant figure said, its huge tail swishing back and forth. “Well, here I am.”

Little One swallowed, reminding himself of his reason for being here. “Hello, Father,” he said, the words no more than squeaks by the time they left his mouth.

“I can’t hear you!” roared the Serpent God. “Speak up, boy!” Little One saw something huge and dark descend like a falling boulder. Before he could react, the dome above him exploded into thousands of pieces and the god was straightening back up.

Little One wondered if the god had meant to smash him along with the dome. He didn’t wait to find out. “I said, Hello, Father.”

Father, yes,” the Serpent God rumbled, his voice like a distant earthquake. “So the errant son returns. I suppose now that you’ve passed your tests, you’re here to claim your reward.”

Little One felt panic rise within him. He had to wait for it to pass before he could feel that a small current of warmth was still coursing through him.

“No, Father,” he said more firmly. “I’m not here for any reward.”

The red eyes seemed to bore into his face as they searched him. “I see,” boomed the god. “Then you must be here to beg my assistance.”

Little One swallowed again. “No, Father,” he said. “I’m not here to ask for aid either.”

The enormous tail swung back and forth in the sky. “Wisdom, then? Many of my children used to come for wisdom. Gods, too. What type of answers do you beseech?”

“I do not come seeking answers,” Little One said.

“Then why on earth are you here? To worship me? To get in my good graces for a future favor? To tell all your friends that you spoke with the great Serpent God?”

“No,” Little One said. He felt his feet on the ground, the quiet strength running up through them. “Father, I have come to save you.”

The enormous tail swung towards him and smashed into the palace wall to his right, leaving a dark hole in its wake. As he flinched despite himself, Little One couldn’t help but wonder if the blow was meant for him. He shook his head, reminding himself that if the god had meant to hit him, he would already be dead. The thought gave him hope.

“Save me?” the god laughed. “You must be confused. Why would the most powerful god in the world need saving?”

Little One had to make an effort to keep his voice calm. “Because you’ve lost the one thing you actually cared about,” he said quietly, just loud enough to be heard.

“And what’s that?” the god asked, his face contorted into a sneer.

“Yourself,” Little One said softly.

The red eyes glared at him. He could almost feel them burning holes in his skin, despite the distance. “I have lost nothing,” the Serpent God rumbled, his voice like crashing thunder. “Nothing that matters. I am the most powerful god in the world. I can have anything I want. Anything! Even the other gods worship me. I had to build the hidden palace that you’re standing in just to get away from them. But what would you understand of such things? You are nothing but a human, and a failed one at that.” The tail lashed back and forth.

Little One looked up at the God, a question in his eyes.

“Oh, yes,” the deep voice rolled on. “I know what you have been up to. I am a god, remember? I see all. I saw you lose to the guardian of the guru, saw you fail to get the answer you sought, saw you squander the genie’s gifts. You are nothing but a feeble, pathetic loser.”

Little One fought the urge to defend himself, to clarify what had actually happened. “That may be true, Father, but I also learned something that I believe can help you. It has already helped me.”

“I do not need your help!” roared the god. “Are you stupid as well as weak? I have told you. I am the most powerful god there is. I have everything I have ever wanted. I am successful beyond your wildest dreams! What could I possibly need from you?”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Little One continued calmly. “Perhaps there is nothing you need from me. But tell me this: Is this really all you’ve ever wanted? It looks awfully lonely to me.”

Something flickered quickly across the Serpent God’s face, but in the next instant it was gone. “You have no idea what you are talking about, boy,” he hissed. “There is no one who is more respected, feared, or admired than me.”

“Yes,” Little one said, nodding his head. “I see that. You have done very well, far better than I ever could. My only question is, how does it feel to be so successful?”

The red eyes were glowing again, but the god didn’t say anything.

“Do you feel satisfied?” Little One asked. “Peaceful? Fulfilled? Do you feel good about all that you’ve done? Can you feel the strength of your gifts?”

Suddenly the tail came crashing down on the other side of Little One, smashing another section of wall. “I am tired of your idiotic questions!” the Serpent God roared. “I have no time for this! I will destroy you like the ant that you are!” The tail flew back up towards the sky, this time directly over Little One’s head.

“Because I can, Father,” Little One said quickly, resisting the urge to duck. “I can feel so much beauty, light, and love within you, even if you can’t.”

For a long time there was silence. Finally the god said in a low growl, “And why should I care about these things? Why should I listen to you about any of this?”

“I have been lost too, Father,” Little One said. “I know how painful it is. I want you to find again what I know is within you. So that you and the world will know your light once again.”

The tail descended slowly back to the ground, where it lay motionless. The giant body slumped, and there was a soft noise like wind passing over mountaintops.

“Why will you not worship me?” the god finally asked, his voice a hoarse whisper.

Little One looked up at him, his heart both heavy and full. “Because you have helped me to find my true self,” he said equally softly. “And so for you I am able to feel nothing but love.”

He heard a loud whimpering sound as the giant serpent head stared at him for a long moment before closing its eyes. Time passed, and Little One wondered if he had saved his father or destroyed him. Then suddenly the eyes flew open again, and he was surprised to notice that they were no longer red.

The large head descended from the sky until it had reached the height of the surrounding treetops. It was huge in front of him; he realized that the head alone was at least three times as wide as he was tall.

“Thank you, Son,” the Serpent God said softly, his black eyes glittering in the night. “You have no idea what you have done for me tonight.”

“It is surely no more than you have done for me,” Little One answered, hardly daring to believe that he was finally speaking with his true father.

The Serpent God straightened back up to his full height. “How did you know?” he asked from above, his voice booming now. “How did you figure out what happened, and how to save me?”

Little One was about to answer when he heard something growl quietly very close to him. He jumped, startled, and looked around for the source of the noise. When he realized what it was, he flushed, hoping his father hadn’t seen. “It was you who showed me,” he finally managed to answer. “You and this box.” He nodded his head towards the black box with the cylinders in front of him.

“The rainbow lightning box?” the Serpent God asked, a furrow appearing on his serpentine face.

“Yes,” Little One said, smiling in self-satisfaction at having been right. “It played a…sort of memory of you that I could see when I first came here. I misunderstood what it meant at the time, but eventually I figured it out.”

The god’s face grew dark. “Strange,” he said. “I didn’t know it could do that.” He paused, and Little One could just make out his eyes narrowing against the sky, which was beginning to lighten with the coming dawn. When he spoke again, his words sounded more like demands than questions. “But you still haven’t told me: what did you misunderstand, and how did you come to learn the truth?”

Little One opened his mouth to answer when he heard the snarling noise again, this time much louder.

“What was that?” the god snapped, disbelief clear on his face. “Are you growling at me? Boy, I will make you regret the day you were born. I will—”

Suddenly the sky exploded into thunderous noise and the ground beneath Little One shook. He instinctively ducked down, covering the back of his head with his hands. When the sound finally faded, he peeked out from beneath his arms. The Serpent God had a huge smile on his face.

“You’re hungry,” his father said. “That was your stomach growling, was it not?”

Little One straightened up enough to look at his father directly, but he kept his hands over the back of his head. “Yes, sir,” he said.

“I apologize, son,” said the Serpent God. “I’m afraid I developed some bad habits over the last few years. Would you do me the favor of forgiving me, and accompanying me into my palace for some breakfast?”

Little One lowered his hands back to his sides and nodded slowly.

“And please, call me Father,” said the god.

“Yes, Father,” Little One said, feeling strangely reassured that even a god could have such a lapse, and what’s more, that he could laugh about it.

As he watched the walls around him grow to fit the giant form before him—given the dynamic location of the palace, Little One supposed he shouldn’t be surprised that its size was relative as well—there was only one thing detracting from the lightness that he felt. Standing up straight and rolling his shoulders behind him, he decided to assume that she was on her way and would arrive at any moment.

As his father looked down at him with an amused smile still on his face, Little One saw something sparkle in his eyes. It wasn’t the sun, he realized, which was shining somewhere behind the god’s ankle. It was peace, rather, and freedom, and a wide ocean of joy.


Click here to read the next story in the series.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Not Sure Where to Start to Find Your Calling? Here’s One Super Powerful Thing You Can Do (in < 10 Minutes a Day)

School teaches many things, but in 13 years most of us learn almost nothing about how to live a fulfilling life.

We’re not taught how to identify what’s most important to us or be true to our deepest desires in a dynamic and imperfect world. We’re not taught how to make difficult decisions with complex and unknown variables. And we’re not taught how to recognize when we’re getting in our own way or what to do about it.

So it makes sense that according to Gallup, over two thirds or US workers report feeling unengaged (defined as not being involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work).

Most of the work that I do with clients is helping them learn the skills that school didn’t teach so that they can identify what type of work would be fulfilling and make their way through the quite challenging but also very rewarding process of moving into it.

I understand, however, that not everyone is in a position to hire a coach right now, so I thought I’d share the one practice that I consistently see making the biggest difference in my clients’ lives.

Before I share what it is, I’d like to say a few more words about why it’s so important.

The Magic Bullet? (No, But Not Too Far From It)

When my clients begin doing this practice, most of them uncover some pretty huge clues about what matters most to them, as well as what type of work they want to do next.

Even some clients who feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of options they have, and others who have no idea what would possibly fulfill them, find that this activity makes it much easier to know in which direction they want to go.

I had one client, for example, who had so many interests that he didn’t know how to choose among them. Through this activity, he discovered that it was most important to him to have some element of entertainment in his next job so that he could make others laugh and feel good about themselves. That realization led him to explore clowning, improv, and corporate teambuilding options.

But the great thing about this practice is that it not only makes it about a million times easier to identify your calling; it also helps you feel more alert, more aware, and more in control—in other words, more connected to yourself. It helps you deal with stress more effectively, and manage your emotions more skillfully. Finally, it lets you know what levers you can pull to find more joy and satisfaction in your day-to-day, in work and outside of it.

I had another client, for example, who was motivated by this practice to stop drinking in bars so much so he could do more of the things he enjoyed, like running races with his friends and daughters.

When I began doing this activity on a daily basis, I was mired in depression and having regular panic attacks. After a few weeks, I was still panicky and depressed, but I had a much better sense of what I needed to do to feel better. Over the next few years, as I continued to work this practice into my daily routine, it helped me heal my anxiety and depression, take bold steps towards my deepest desires, and rediscover my creative talents.

How does one activity do all this?

 Moving the Thermostat Indoors

This practice, and several variations on it that can also be used, are so powerful because they close the feedback loop.

Most of us are so busy running around taking care of what we need to do that we don’t take the time to check in with the impact of all this activity—or, more specifically, its impact on us (most of us are very aware of the external results, and whether or not we’re achieving the outcomes we want).

A meditation teacher of mine one time explained this phenomenon as being similar to having a house whose thermostat is outdoors. When we don’t take time to check in with ourselves and how we’re doing, the feedback loop is broken and the thermostat can’t know whether the air needs to be cooler or warmer in the house.

The activity I’m about to share is one very powerful way to close the feedback loop (or, in the metaphor used by my meditation teacher, bring the thermostat indoors). It gives us the information we need to know how to adjust our systems and actions in order to take better care of our own well-being.

In my experience, when we do this—when we close the feedback loop—we begin to automatically make the adjustments that we need most in our work and our lives, often without even thinking about it.

So, Without Further Ado…

What is the practice? It’s actually quite simple. Perhaps even better for most of us, it’s also free and not terribly time consuming.

The idea is to pause a few times a day to reflect on what you’re feeling and why.

There are many ways to do this. The easiest way to start, in my experience, is to identify three times every day when you can take a few minutes to ask yourself two questions. I recommend either doing it before a regular activity (like eating) or setting an alarm or reminder on your phone to prompt you until you get in the habit of it.

When the time comes, pause whatever you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. Then ask yourself:

  • How am I feeling right now?
  • What’s my best sense of why I might be feeling this way?

I recommend taking brief notes so you can begin to notice patterns.

Your feelings contain powerful clues about what you want, what’s important to you, and what’s key to your well-being. Getting curious about your emotions and what’s contributing to them will give you lots of incredibly valuable information about your work and your life.

If, like most of us, your emotional vocabulary is limited to “fine,” “good,” and “bad,” then print out Nonviolent Communication’s list of feelings and consult it when you do this.

And if you’re not sure why you’re feeling a certain way, don’t worry about it. I find that it’s extremely helpful to ask the question, but that it doesn’t matter so much if you don’t get an answer every single time. With enough repetition, you’ll start to see patterns, and what’s most important will be revealed if you just keep asking.

One final word of warning: please don’t do this practice as a way to get rid of your feelings. Paradoxically, listening to our feelings can help them move through us instead of getting stuck on repeat, but in order to listen to them, you have to be willing to embrace them with compassion and a bit of loving kindness.

 For Those Who Want More…

Once you’ve incorporated this practice into your daily habits, if you’d like to go deeper, you can add a third question between the first two:

  • How does my body feel?

Scan your body to answer this question and use sensation words like “light,” “heavy,” “warm,” “cool,” “tense,” “relaxed,” “tingling,” “prickly,” “energized,” “tired,” etc.

Finally, one of the other most powerful practices I personally use is a natural offshoot to this one, and that’s to set aside time each day to let yourself feel and express your feelings. Beyond identifying, this means sitting with the emotions (perhaps in meditation), taking time to feel them in the body, or doing things that express them (like crying, yelling, hitting pillows, etc.).

Feelings we don’t feel get stuck, but when we find ways to be with them and move their energy through us, they stop leaking out in our daily lives as irritation, impatience, and anxiety.

Instead, they simply move over and through us like waves on the ocean. And these waves whisper words of guidance to us as they go, if we’re only willing to pay attention and get curious as to what they have to say.

For Those Who Want Even More…

I’m now offering a new way to get the guidance and structure you need to move into meaningful work you love.

Passion Quest: 5 Steps to Find Your Calling in a Fear-Based World, the online course I ran last year, is now available for self-study. It’s a comprehensive program with videos, downloadable PDFs, and supportive emails to help you work through the same process I use with my individual coaching clients. This is the first time that you can access it anytime, anywhere, and work through it at your own pace.

Because I want this material to be as accessible as possible, I’m offering it now at a super special rate (almost half the price of what I charged for the live version, and a small fraction of the cost of individual coaching). You can check it out here if you’re interested.

Over to You

If you try the feelings check-in, I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

What went well?
What did you learn?
What was challenging, and what questions do you have?

Any new practice is going to have its high and low points. I’d love to hear yours in the comments below.

Ant Rozetsky

Little One and the Guardian of the Guru (Or, What to Do When You Realize You Aren’t Going to Succeed)

Following is the thirteenth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.


Even as his attention was split between dodging blows, seeking openings for counterattack, and searching the land around him for anything that might offer protection, Little One became aware of a strong, insistent thought taking shape in the back of his mind.

He tried to push the thought away, focusing instead on the fight at hand, but it persisted, a tickling, relentless noise in the back of his mind. When he evaded a particularly strong attack and his opponent found himself temporarily off-balance, Little One had a chance to catch his breath. In that moment, the thought rushed to the surface with more precision and force than even his foe’s most powerful strikes. A split second later, it landed squarely in the center of his consciousness with the undeniable weight of truth:

This opponent was undefeatable.

As his foe regained his balance and started his next attack, Little One tried to convince himself it was just a desperate thought born of fear and stress, inaccurate and unworthy of his attention. But even as he raised his sword to defend himself again, he knew that it was more than that. He had sensed it in his bones and somehow known it before the words had even taken shape.

It wasn’t criticism; it was fact: No matter how skillful he was, no matter how strong and persistent and clever, there was no way he could vanquish this adversary.

He hadn’t felt this way when he started.

In fact, the very act of finding this foe had been a type of triumph. After getting his three wishes from the genie and learning about the existence of the wise man from Abdul, he had immediately set out to look for him so that he could ask him where his father was.

Abdul had warned him that to ask the wise man a question, he was going to have to defeat his bodyguard. He had also told Little One that there was no way to find the wise man. “But if you believe in him, and if the need is great, he will find you,” he had said.

After wandering the grasslands for days on end, Little One had realized his need may not be as great as he had thought.

He had tried walking determinedly in each of the four directions. He had tried staying in one place, waiting to be discovered. He had tried following streams, the wind, and the stars, but none of it had worked.

Fortunately, food and water weren’t a problem with his new, genie-designed backpack that gave him access to a continuous supply of both.

Trying to control his thoughts and feelings was a different story. Each morning he woke up optimistic and determined; each night he went to bed filled with hopelessness and despair.

He had time to think about all the reasons he was failing, then to refute them, only to come up with new ones later on.

He spent many hours thinking about his father, how he was kidnapped, and what in the world could possibly be strong enough to overpower the Serpent God.

Most of the time he worried about what the bodyguard of the wise man would be like, and whether he could defeat him. Abdul had warned him that the strength and fighting prowess the genie had given him may not be enough to vanquish the bodyguard. Little One tried to come up with fighting plans and strategies, but it was hard to do when he wasn’t even sure what type of creature he would be facing. He worried that he wouldn’t be strong enough to beat the bodyguard, then resolved that he would have to be, then gave over to doubt once again in endless ongoing cycles.

After weeks of this, Little One finally began to give up hope of ever finding the wise man. He figured he didn’t believe enough, or his need wasn’t sufficient. He had no other clues about where to go to look for his father, but he began to make plans to backtrack the way he had come in an effort to rediscover the trail.

Then one night after dinner when he was pleading, praying, and yelling at the stars in frustration, a habit he had fallen into of late, he suddenly realized that for the first time, something had answered him.

It was a deep voice. At first Little One didn’t realize it was a voice at all because it sounded like distant thunder. But the thunder kept repeating itself, and eventually Little One could make out the words:

“What is it that you seek, Little One?”

Little One looked around, but he didn’t see anything except shadows of grass and stars expanding in endless patterns above. “I seek the wise man,” he said loudly, trying to project his voice in all directions at once.

There was only silence for a moment. “I prefer to be called guru,” the voice finally rumbled.

Little One sat up quickly. “Guru, I’ve been looking for you. I have an important question to ask.”

“To ask a question of me,” boomed the voice, “you must first face my guardian.”

Little One felt a lump in his throat and swallowed uncomfortably. “Yes, Guru, I understand,” he said. “I am willing to do whatever you ask.”

“Good,” the voice said. “That is as it should be. He will come with the dawn. Be prepared.”

Little One looked around again but still saw nothing. “Yes,” he said. “I will be. But who is he? How will I recognize him?”

Thunder rumbled like a laugh in the distance. “You will know him,” was all the voice said. “Though not as well as you think.”

Little One asked what he meant, but received only silence in answer. The voice didn’t come again, and he spent the night trying to sleep but thinking instead of what the dawn would bring.

As the black sky began to turn gray in the east, Little One sat up, dressed himself, and tried to eat something. He watched the Eastern horizon carefully, scanning it for strange shapes, shadows, or any sign of life.

He was so focused on his vigil that he nearly jumped out of his skin when something tapped him on the back of his shoulder. He whirled around and found himself face to face with…

Himself.

He was so surprised that for a moment he couldn’t move. In front of him was an exact replica of himself. He had only seen himself this clearly a few times in his life when staring in water that was perfectly still, but even so he was certain. The face, the body, everything were exact copies. He even had the scar on his forearm from a childhood fall. At the last moment, Little One realized something else.

His opponent was not the Little One who left his village so many moons ago, or even the one who discovered that the Serpent God had been kidnapped. No. His opponent was the Little One who had already visited the genie—bigger, stronger, and—he could only assume—gifted with greater fighting prowess.

As if hearing his thoughts, his foe reached behind his back to grab something. A weapon, Little One guessed. He spun to the side to get out of its path and found himself staring directly at his foe, who had effortlessly turned along with him. His mirror image was holding out his hand, offering a sword hilt first.

Little One didn’t move. ”What are you?” he asked.

His replica just shook his head then nodded towards the hand holding the sword. Reluctantly, Little One reached out and took it. As soon as his fingers closed over the hilt, he saw something metallic reflecting the first light of the sun fly towards him faster than a diving hawk.

Without having to think about it, Little One ducked, turning the movement into a spin from which he let loose an upward stroke of his own. His replica blocked it and immediately countered with another attack. Little One noticed that the Guardian’s face was expressionless as he moved, as if he were doing nothing more than tilling fields or watching the clouds.

They exchanged blows in rapid succession, each evenly matching the efforts of the other.

After multiple rounds of this, Little One began to realize something. The two of them weren’t just evenly matched; they were perfectly equated. Each time he evaded and countered, the Guardian did the same. If he took a deep breath and summoned his strength for a particularly aggressive attack, his foe almost immediately followed. Even when he thought he’d figured out a weakness to exploit—he somehow knew that his replica was weaker on his left side, for instance, and always followed a jab with some sort of slice—his opponent seemed to instantly find some flaw in his own defense and would shortly begin to take advantage of it.

Before long, an insistent thought began tickling the back of Little One’s mind. The realization that he couldn’t defeat this enemy, no matter how well he fought or how hard he tried, hit him with the force of a blow.

He staggered as his sword deflected a deafening strike that fell on him like a boulder.

Even as he came back with his own series of slashes and jabs and cuts, he wondered if all his triumphs so far had really been for naught, leading him to nothing more than crushing and certain defeat. He resolved with grim determination to keep fighting and find a way.

The Guardian regained the upper hand and began pounding on him from all directions at once. As he parried the blade away, Little One became aware that he was growing weary. His movements were getting slower, and his arms were trembling in between blows. When he thrust one leg forward to make his next strike, it nearly gave out. As he defended against the immediate counterattack, he realized that in this alone his opponent was not his equal; his replica appeared to show no signs of lethargy or fatigue.

It occurred to Little One that the genie’s gifts had been a double-edged sword. The stronger he felt, the more powerful his opponent became. The better he fought, the more skillfully his replica opposed him. He remembered how the genie had acted as if he had some sort of secret knowledge he wasn’t sharing, as if he had known this would happen. Heat rose in Little One as he realized that the genie had tricked him.

Furious, Little One gave a sudden backhand slash with his sword, forcing his replica to take half a step back. Breaking his previous rhythm, he pressed his advantage and hacked angrily at his foe, his sword in constant motion.

The Guardian used the space he had won with his half step to deftly avoid all the blows. Then, just as Little One’s arm was starting to tire, his replica gave a savage upward cut that left his side momentarily exposed. Howling with rage, Little One put all his weight behind what he meant to be one final, punishing thrust.

When the Guardian turned away at the last possible moment, evading his sword with an abundance of ease and grace, Little One’s momentum carried him forward faster than his feet could keep up. He belatedly realized that it had been a trap; by then, however, there was nothing he could do.

His opponent swept his feet out from under him with his foot, and Little One fell heavily to his knees. A split second later he felt cold metal pressed against his throat.

A wave of despair washed over Little One. He was debilitated, alone, and powerless. There was nothing more he could do. He was now at the mercy of the Guardian, a creature infamous for having none.

As he knelt and the sword remained motionless on his throat, shame followed hot on the heels of despair. The genie may have tricked him, but he was the one who made the wishes. He had willingly walked right into that trap, just as he had eagerly jumped into this one. He deserved whatever happened next.

A single thought arose, as undeniable as it was hard to believe.

It is over. I have failed.

As if reading his mind, the Guardian spoke for the first time. It was strange to hear his voice coming from outside his own head. “Do you give up?” his replica asked.

Little One considered that if he admitted that much, perhaps the guardian would spare his life. He hung his head, trying to form the bitter words in his mouth.

But in this too he failed. Instead of saying anything, he heard a hissing sound, followed by a familiar voice.

“Sssssso what does failure look like?  What does it sound or smell like?  Tell me so I know how to recognize this failure in the future.” He wasn’t sure if the voice came from inside or out of his head. He decided it didn’t matter.

It looks like this, Little One thought sadly. It looks like me on my knees with a sword at my throat. Like my father remaining captive forever. Like me letting Ginger down. Like never seeing my family again. I didn’t make it up this time, Snake. I’m afraid this time my failure is real.

“Fear is a lack of vision. What you are most afraid of doesn’t exist.”

A lack of vision? Little One asked silently. What am I not seeing?

He considered what he could be missing. Failure was what he most feared, and now it was upon him. Other than that, facing the Guardian of the Guru had scared him most. But the Guardian did exist, and he was even stronger and more dangerous than Little One had feared.

A thought started to form at the edge of his mind, but when he tried to pursue it, a rough, urgent voice interrupted him.

“Do you give up?” the Guardian asked again. Little One turned around to look and saw that his face was no longer expressionless; his eyes were narrowed, and his mouth was set in a snarl.

Little One tried again to say the words, but he choked before he could get them out.

He heard another hissing sound, this one even louder.

“If you fail, Little One, then perhaps you will find that what you were looking for was within you all along.”

The thought tried to surface; he could feel it consolidating, trying to make itself clear. It was there, calling to him, just beyond the edge of his reach.

“This is the last time I will ask,” the Guardian growled. “Do you give up?” The metal pressed more firmly against his skin.

Suddenly the thought crystallized in Little One’s mind. What he was looking for was already within him. Before receiving his wishes from the genie, he had successfully navigated every challenge he faced. He hadn’t needed size, or power, or fighting prowess; what he already had had been enough.

He’d had enough strength to face every obstacle he’d encountered head-on and enough wisdom to know what to do even in the most difficult situations. Though he was constantly terrified, he somehow found enough courage to keep doing what he had to, and enough compassion to forgive himself for doing it less than gracefully. It occurred to him that he’d always had everything he needed, even if he hadn’t known it at the time.

With a start, Little One understood that his greatest fear hadn’t really been failure or even letting his family down. It was that when put to the test, he would find that what he had—that who he was—simply wasn’t enough.

He almost laughed out loud as he realized that the snake was right; what he feared most didn’t exist. He had always been more than enough. But believing the fear and acting as if it were true had nearly caused him to fail.

Despite being on his knees with a sword at his throat, he felt a sense of lightness and power. He could feel the strength of his gifts filling all the hollow spaces within him. He realized that it didn’t matter so much what happened now. What he thought was at stake wasn’t, and never had been. He still wanted to save his father and find Ginger and return to his family, but he didn’t have to. They were all as bright and indestructible as he was at their core. True failure was impossible. He laughed again, understanding that he was free.

As he turned to look back at his replica, he understood what he had to do.

“No,” he said in a low voice. “I do not give up.” He turned his head back and saw the Guardian’s eyes grow wide in surprise, then narrow once again. The sword left his throat as his replica pulled it back and prepared for another assault.

Little One spoke quickly. “But I also will not fight.” Praying he was right about what would happen next, he flung his sword as far as he could to his right.

At first the Guardian’s face grew red and the snarl returned to his lips. Little One flinched, wondering if he had been wrong. But as his replica raised his hand as if to strike, it was as if it hit an invisible wall. Hand and sword bounced back down by his side. He tried to lift it again and hit the same unseen barrier. Then he watched with wide eyes as his arm hurled the sword to the side, where it landed next to Little One’s, even as the muscles and tendons of his arm strained beneath the skin as if attempting to resist the motion.

The Guardian looked at Little One in disbelief. As he did, Little One turned around to face him and saw that something strange was happening. His replica was shrinking. Little One looked down and saw that the same thing was happening to him. They were getting shorter, their large muscles melting away. A few moments later, he found himself facing a mirror image of himself as he had looked when he first left his village.

Little One gave a sigh of relief. His replica, eyes bulging, looked down at his body. Even as he did so, it began to fade as if becoming a ghost or a shadow or the shadow of a ghost. Within a few moments, he had disappeared entirely.

Little One fell on his back, breathing deeply and looking up at the sky, which was an uninterrupted deep blue around a glowing orange sun. Despite the lack of clouds, Little One heard thunder in the distance.

“Well done,” the thunder said. “How did you know to do that?”

Little One sat up and looked around. Even in daylight, he couldn’t see anything other than grass, sun, and sky.

“We were perfectly matched,” he said, addressing it all. “The harder I tried, the stronger he got. I figured—hoped, more like it—that if I didn’t fight, then he wouldn’t either.” He paused. “And he was my mirror image. I guessed that if I tried to go back to the old me, the one without the genie’s gifts, then perhaps he would as well.” Little One shrugged slightly. “I’m not really a fighter at heart,” he admitted.

The thunder rumbled once again like laughter on the horizon. “Very good,” the Guru said.

“So can I ask you my question now?” Little One asked, scrambling to his feet.

“Yes,” said the Guru. “But only if I can ask you a question first.”

Little One’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “Sure,” he finally said. “I suppose that’s only fair.” He wondered what the Guru could possibly want to know from him.

“Where is your father the Serpent God?” boomed the deep voice, sounding as if it were coming from all directions at once.

Little One’s mouth dropped open. “But that was my question for you!” he said, sounding more like a child than he’d intended. “I don’t know! That’s the point! The whole reason I fought your guardian was so you would tell me.”

There was silence for a moment. Finally, in a quieter rumble, the Guru said, “There is no difference between you and me. Just as there is no difference between you and him.” A slight breeze rippled the grass where the Guardian had been.

Understanding, like the first edges of the sun breaking over the horizon at dawn, began to light Little One’s mind.

“So I ask you again,” said the guru, and the land seemed to vibrate with the bass of his voice. “Where is your father the Serpent God?”

Little One looked at the sun, the deep blue sky, and the grass where his replica had been. He felt the vibration of the Guru’s words in his belly. He could still feel the strength and fullness of his gifts pulsing through his body with a golden warmth.

Suddenly the sun broke free from the horizon in his mind and lit every corner of his being. He knew exactly where his father was. And he knew too how wrong he had been, how big his misunderstanding. He hurriedly began to gather his things in preparation for a long journey back the way he had come.

A few minutes later, he was ready to go. “Thank you, Guru” he yelled at the sky, the grass, the rumble of his own heartbeat.

“Thank you,” rolled the deep voice, and Little One could feel now how it began in his own mind before extending out over the infinite grass.


Click here to read the next story in the series.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Little One and the Disingenuous Genie

Following is the twelfth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.

To read the first story in the series, click here.

To read the previous installment, click here.


Little One was so caught up in his thoughts that he almost didn’t see the strange metal object lying on its side in the middle of the stream.

He had been walking for three days. The landscape hadn’t changed in that time; the water in the stream sometimes flowed smoothly over pebbles and sometimes bounced noisily around large rocks, but otherwise the same immutable green grass, rolling hills, and blue sky stretched on endlessly.

The monotony of the scenery and the gentle bubbling of the stream had lulled him into a kind of waking dream filled with thoughts and images that seemed to come and go of their own accord.

As the minutes stretched into hours and the hours into days, the thoughts moved from an irritated challenging of the fly’s definition of “not far from here” to a curious imagining of the mysterious creature it had told him about, the one who could give Little One everything he was looking for.

Eventually the thoughts moved beyond the creature and on to his father. Little One imagined himself finding the Serpent God and rescuing him from whomever—or whatever—had captured him. He pictured how grateful the God would be, how he would proclaim Little One his favorite son and offer him gifts in gratitude.

Little One went on to think about how he would tell the story to Ginger when he found her again. He imagined walking with her in triumph back to the City of the Children of the Serpent God and telling all his other fancy brothers and sisters who could fly and become invisible and invent miraculous things that he was the sibling—small and frightened and without obvious talents as he was—who had delivered their father from danger. He felt warm, tall, and strong as he considered the possibility.

Then a cold thought struck from nowhere. He didn’t know where Ginger was. Maybe she wasn’t wandering or lost, as he had imagined, but closer to finding their father than he was. Maybe, he thought with a start, she had already found him. He had run into so many delays that it was entirely possible that she had not only found him but also had time to rescue him, receive his accolades, and by now be halfway back to the City to tell their siblings of her success.

Little One suddenly felt chilled, small, and empty. It was then that he belatedly realized that something in the landscape had changed.

He found himself rubbing his eyes, a sharp pain and brightness lingering behind his eyelids. Letting the images of his theoretical defeat fade, he looked around. The stream gurgled happily in front of him, tall, green grass surrounded him on all sides, and the sun bore down on him from the sky directly above as usual. When he turned to look behind him, however, he saw something shining in the middle of the stream.

He couldn’t believe he had missed it even momentarily. It reflected the light like a signal fire, demanding the attention of any living creature within eyeshot.

As he walked up to it, squinting to protect his eyes, he began to make out its form. It was unlike anything he’d ever seen before. It looked like an elongated cup with a handle on one side and a long snout on the other with a hole on the end. When he leaned down to pick it up, he saw that it had a wide base that would allow it to rest evenly on the ground. It was made entirely of thin metal that continued to shine brightly in the sun as he held it up to his face.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” asked a high-pitched voice from behind him. He wheeled around. There was nobody there.

Remembering the fly, he began to search the air and ground around him for insects, worms, or other talking animals. He found none.

“You won’t be able to see me until you do what you’re supposed to do with the lamp.”

“The lamp?” Little One asked, unsure of which direction to address as he spoke.

“Yes, that thing you’re holding. Have you never heard the stories, boy?”

Little One’s face grew warm. “No, I guess not,” he said. “What exactly am I supposed to do with this…lamp?”

There was a frustrated exhalation of air. Little One could feel it like a sudden warm breeze on his cheek. “Everyone’s heard the stories. What cave did you grow up in?”

Little One felt heat rising within him. “No cave, sir, but I’d be happy to cooperate if you would just tell me what it is I’m supposed to do.”

“Nobody in the last thousand years has needed to ask me what do with the lamp,” the voice squeaked unhappily. “My master wouldn’t be happy if he knew. But fine. It’s been such a long time since anyone’s sought him out that I don’t think he would object to me saying, not even to someone as clueless as you.” Little One scowled. “Everyone knows you’re supposed to rub the lamp three times. But my master likes his belly rubbed in a slightly different way.” Shrill laughter that reminded Little One of a baby donkey braying for its mother rang out across the grass.

Growing impatient, Little One prompted him. “And how do I do that?”

The braying stopped. “You need to appreciate the lamp.”

Little One spun the lamp in his hands. “Appreciate it?” He looked at it closely. “Well, it is very shiny.”

He heard a groan. “If you want my master to appear, you’re going to have to do better than that.”

“Okay, it’s very shiny and…pretty. It has a nice shape, and the way it reflects the sun is quite beautiful.”

“That’s better,” said the voice, sounding slightly less squeaky now. “And what else?”

“Well, it has a nice feel to it. It’s so smooth and cool from the water. It feels good in my hands.”

“That wasn’t too terrible. And what else?”

Little One thought. It seemed odd to have to put so much thought into complimenting a piece of metal. “Well, I suppose it’s very well-made. I didn’t work with metal in my village, but I never saw any of those who did make something so consistently thin and even and shapely. It’s pretty impressive I guess.”

There was a short silence. “You guess?”

Little One sighed. “It’s impressive. Very impressive.”

A singe clap of thunder boomed through the cloudless sky. As Little One looked up to see where it came from, the lamp began to tremble in his hands. Soon it was shaking so much that it fell through his fingers and onto the ground in front of him. Its shaking grew so violent that it began jumping back and forth across the grass. A loud clanking noise reverberated from within.

He had just started to wonder whether he should run in the opposite direction when something long and thin shot out of the lamp, disappearing into the grass beside him. Just then, a giant, blue hand erupted out of the snout of the lamp. A thick, blue arm followed it. Just as a shoulder began to emerge, there was a loud clunk and what sounded to Little One like a muffled curse.

After a long moment in which Little One debated once again whether to help or to run, a huge head squeezed its way through the opening, followed in quick succession by another shoulder and arm, a giant trunk, and two thick legs covered in blue smoke. The body was huge and at least six times the size of Little One, but it floated above the lamp as if made of air and settled on its side a little above eye level, a large elbow and hand propping up its enormous head.

“This infernal lamp gets smaller every time I come out of it,” the monster complained to nobody in particular. His loud voice was not exactly shrill, but it somehow lacked bass. He looked around, his eyes finally landing on Little One. “So you like my lamp, eh?” he said, his swollen lips curving into a smile.

“It’s very nice,” Little One said.

The smile disappeared. “Nice?” accused the blue man, his eyes bulging and his chin jiggling. “Nice?” His giant head swirled around, searching the grasslands on either side of them. “Abdul. Abdul, you fool! Where are you?”

The grass to Little One’s left shuddered slightly. After a moment a thin, blue man appeared from between the blades. His face was drawn and his ribs showed; it looked like he hadn’t eaten for weeks. Though his skin was the same bright blue as the other creature, he otherwise shared nothing in common with him. “Yes, master?” he asked in a tremulous voice.

“Abdul, you useless man. We’ve talked about this! Only those who are worthy are to be allowed to summon me.”

Abdul’s body shrank back as his eyes studied the ground in front of him. “Yes, master. I’m sorry, master. You are right. I am a fool. It’s just that it has been so long since anybody came to seek you, and this man—this boy—he said your lamp was beautiful.”

“He did?”

“Yes, and he said it was impressive too.”

“Impressive?”

“Yes, ‘very impressive’ were his exact words.”

“Well, then,” said the giant, blue man. “I suppose you may not have been entirely useless in this instance.” He turned his large head back to Little One. “So I suppose you are going to ask me now for your three wishes?”

Little One looked at him in surprise. “Three wishes?” he asked.

The giant eyes rolled. “Don’t play dumb with me, boy. Everyone knows when you rub a genie’s lamp, you get three wishes. That’s why everyone comes looking for me. That’s why you’re here, no doubt.” The genie’s chest puffed out and his head rose a few inches higher.

Little One wondered if this was really the same creature the fly had told him about. This genie seemed so much less magnificent than he had been expecting. At the same time, he was offering him three wishes, and the fly had said the creature would be able to give him what he sought. Little One made up his mind.

“Yes, genie, sir,” he said, trying to sound as respectful as possible. “I am here for my three wishes. I would be most grateful if you would help me to find my father.”

“That’s not a wish,” grumbled the genie impatiently. “Ask me for something you can touch, be, or do—something you can hold onto. Something that means something, boy!”

Little One was confused. “Like what, sir?”

The genie looked back at Abdul with disgust. “Where do you find these people, man?” Abdul kept staring at the ground in front of him as he began to mumble a response. The genie interrupted him. “It’s a rhetorical question, Abdul. I don’t really want an answer.” He turned back to Little One. “I’m a powerful genie, boy. Possibly the most powerful in the world. People come from all over to seek me out. Why? Because I am almighty, not to mention generous. I alone can give them anything they want, in the blink of an eye. Anything! They understand that, and they don’t waste their time with wishes as inconsequential and idiotic as that one.”

Little One swallowed. It felt like he had a rock in his throat. “What types of things do they ask for then?”

The genie roared in laughter. “Important things! Gold, silver, everlasting riches! The ability to accomplish such feats as will guarantee them fame for generations to come! Knowledge of their enemies, or the power to vanquish them! You’re thinking too small, boy. Stop wasting my time.”

Little One thought about it. “I don’t mean to waste your time, sir,” he said slowly. “But I don’t see how any of those things could help me right now.”

The genie’s eyes became hard. He pushed himself up from his side and stood to his full height. He looked at least twice as big as he had a moment before. He leaned over until his nose was almost touching Little One’s. Little One could feel the air around him vibrate with power, and his heart began to beat rapidly.

“Not able to help you, boy?” The genie’s voice was as quiet as a viper getting ready to strike. “I ought to kill you and put you out of your misery right now. But I’m a good guy. An understanding guy. I get that sometimes you humans need a little help to appreciate what’s staring you right in the face.” He straightened back up, but that didn’t slow down Little One’s pulse.

“You dream of rescuing your father, no?” the genie asked casually. Without bothering to look for Little One’s response, he continued. “Most unlikely son saves the Serpent God. What a wonderful story. Your siblings will be so jealous. Ginger especially.” Little One’s mouth dropped open. The genie just grinned. “Oh, yes, I know all about you. But then again, I know what to wish for.” He paused. “So you think you have what you need to be successful, eh? With that body and those skills? You think you have the strength you need to find your father and the prowess to defeat whatever is holding him?” The genie laughed, but his eyes remained hard. “I’ll say this: I wouldn’t bet a copper penny on you. Sure, you’ve gotten this far, but you have no idea what evil lies ahead. I assure you, the foes you’ll have to defeat will make those you’ve already faced seem like puppies in comparison.”

Little One felt small and cold again. The genie continued. “Of course, you don’t have a hope to rescue anybody without proper weapons and equipment. And where will you get this equipment? You clearly can’t make it yourself. But with enough gold and silver, you could buy it in the next village. And what about food? You think you’re going to just find what you need forever? That’s not the way the world works, boy. You’ve been lucky so far, but sustenance is scarce. Your survival hangs by a thread. One wish from me and you won’t have to worry about starving or dying of thirst like so many have before you.”

Little One’s mouth was dry. He swallowed hard. “Well, I guess it would be helpful to have plenty of food and water, though I would need to be able to carry it. Maybe in a backpack! Could you give me a backpack that creates an endless supply of food?”

The genie glared at him. “Can I? You dare to doubt my ability? Stand by and watch, foolish human.”

The genie waved a hand and suddenly a backpack appeared next to Little One.

“Well, test it out,” the genie said. “I know you humans need to see it to believe it.”

Little One picked up the backpack and looked inside. There were all kinds of fruits, nuts, bread, and eggs inside. He pulled out one piece of fruit to examine it and saw that another appeared immediately in its place. He smiled. “Wow, that’s amazing.”

The genie’s shoulders settled on his back. “I am, aren’t I?” he said, smiling. “So what’s you’re second wish then?”

Little One thought for a moment. “I suppose if I am to find my father, it would be good to be stronger.”

“Strength?” said the genie. He clapped his hands and it sounded like something had exploded. “Done!” he yelled, a smile showing sharp teeth in the back of his mouth.

Little One looked down. He was taller, and his arms and legs looked almost unrecognizable to him. They were covered with large, well-defined muscles. Flexing, he could feel the inherent power within them. He grinned.

“Now you’re starting to understand,” said the genie. “So what is your third and final wish?”

This time Little One didn’t have to think at all. “Fighting skills,” he said. “I want to be able to defeat any enemy that comes my way.”

The genie’s smile grew bigger. “Coming right up,” he said, and Little One felt a warm breeze blow over him. He felt like something had changed, but he wasn’t sure what it was.

“I can see your doubt,” said the genie, shaking his giant head. “There’s so little trust these days. Abdul! Abdul, come here and show him what he can do.”

Abdul sighed and stepped forward. He held his hands in fists in front of him. Suddenly one of them came rushing towards Little One’s face. Before he knew what he was doing, Little One’s hand flashed out and blocked the punch. In the same moment, his other hand formed a fist and smashed into Abdul’s face.

“I’m so sorry!” Little One said, pulling his hand quickly back to his side. “I really didn’t meant to—”

“Oh, relax,” said the genie. “Abdul is used to it. You’re hardly the first person who’s wanted to test out their newfound power. You’re alright, aren’t you Abdul?” Abdul nodded. “See, he’s fine. It’s part of his job. But how about you? How does it feel?” The corners of his lips peeled back in what looked like part snarl, part smile.

Little One had to admit he felt good. He was excited. With a guaranteed food supply, and strength and physical prowess guaranteed to help him vanquish any adversary, he was sure that he would never fail at anything again. He started to tell the genie this when an image flashed in his mind.

It was Ginger. She was smiling, sharing his excitement. He suddenly felt sad that she wasn’t here with him.

His smile faded. Beneath the sadness he became aware of something else. He wasn’t sure what it was at first. Then he realized—it was nothing. Beneath the excitement in his chest was a vast emptiness that felt almost big enough for him to fall into if he focused on it too long.

The genie suddenly began dusting off his hands as if in a great rush. “Well, no matter. I can see how satisfied you are. Three wishes, fulfilled once again. My work here is done.”

Little One tried to move his attention from the nothingness back to the excitement and the sense of power in his limbs. But something kept nagging at him, bringing him back to the void.

“The greatest compliment you can give is a referral. I’m here 24/7, always waiting to make dreams come true. Come, Abdul, it’s time to go.”

“Wait,” Little One said. He wasn’t sure what he needed to say, but he felt like something important was missing. The abyss swelled, threatening to engulf him and extinguish the flame of happiness.

“No time to wait, boy. I’ve got many more wishes to fulfill. A whole world of them. I gave you everything you wanted; you can’t ask for more than that.” He grunted as he tried to shove his toe into the snout of the lamp and it fell onto its side. “Abdul, hold that cursed lamp still for me!” Abdul bent over to place both hands around the base of the lamp.

Little One realized what was bothering him. The genie was wrong. He still wanted something more than what he had, something far more important. “No, wait!” he said desperately. “I appreciate your gifts, I really do, but I still have no idea where my father is, or where to even go next to try to find him.”

The genie paused in his efforts, looking down at him. His eyes were ice. “I will not stand here and be insulted by your ingratitude. If you are too stupid to know what really matters, that’s your problem, not mine.” He grunted as he finally got his toe into the hole at the end of the lamp. His leg followed quickly. He was inside up to his waist when he growled quickly, “No give-backs. No exchanges. And absolutely no returns.” With that, the rest of his giant, blue form was swallowed by the lamp.

Little One stood looking at Abdul, who shrugged his shoulders. “Nobody really knows what to ask for,” he said, almost apologetically. “Or they don’t until it’s too late.”

Little One searched his face. “Do you know where the Serpent God is? Or how I might know where to find him?”

The thin, blue man shrugged again. “Strength, survival, hunger…those are our specialties. Knowledge and wisdom aren’t really our thing.”

Something inside Little One fell.

Abdul looked at him with something close to compassion. “I know how you feel,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been tied to him, I feel like no matter how much I eat, I’m always hungry.” He looked around himself, as if half expecting the genie to be hiding in the grass surrounding them. He lowered his voice. “I’ll tell you something, though. There is someone nearby whose gift is wisdom. He knows everything, and can answer any question you have.”

Little One stood up taller. “Where can I find him?” he asked.

“Finding him isn’t the problem. It’s accessing him.” Abdul looked around again and leaned in closer. “To ask him a question, you first have to defeat his bodyguard. I’ve met many who have tried, but none who succeeded. He’s a vicious, heartless, inexhaustible fighter. Without mercy, they say. Without weakness. I’m afraid even your new strength and prowess may not be a match for him.”

Little One’s blood grew cold. “Where can I find this man and his bodyguard?” he made himself ask.

“That’s the thing,” said Abdul, who was nearly whispering now. “You can’t find him. But if you believe in him, and if the need is great, he will find you.” He stood up straight. “I have to go now,” he said.

The blue man stared at the lamp with a look of such combined dread and revulsion that Little One felt compelled to say something. “Is there anything I can do to help you?” he asked.

Abdul’s eyes widened. “Nobody’s ever asked me that before,” he said. He sighed heavily. “Not that it matters. I am irrevocably tied to the genie. As he grows strong, so I grow weak. As long as he is fed, we are both prisoners. It is only when somebody sees our true nature that we will be set free.”

Little One started to ask for clarification, but Abdul just shook his head firmly, looked over each shoulder, and dove head first into the lamp. It rattled for a moment, jumping around in the grass, and then finally shot into the sky and disappeared.

Little One looked around. He had so many questions, but there was nobody to ask. Sighing, he picked up his new backpack and started off downstream on legs taller and stronger than they had been that morning.

As he walked, he no longer thought about future victories or defeats. Instead, he wondered about true nature, tried to believe, and fervently hoped that his need was great.


Click here to read the next story in the series.


Photo credit: Randen Pederson // CC

Self Doubt: A Love Letter and a Guide

self doubt giraffe

A few weeks ago a wave of self doubt overwhelmed me like a particularly bad case of the flu.

I struggled to make important decisions, like whether to watch a movie or take a nap. The consequences were clearly enormous, and I was afraid of getting it wrong. When I did finally manage to choose something, I made up for my momentary success by spending more time second-guessing my decision than actually carrying it out.

Nothing I did felt good enough, and I was critical of every effort I made. I looked for evidence of failure everywhere, and when I found that I did something with less than optimal consequences, I chewed on my mistake like a dog on a bone and snapped at anyone who tried to take it away from me.

The worst part was, when I realized what was happening, I turned it into more fodder for my self doubt. I know better, I thought. I can’t believe I’m doubting myself again. I proceeded to beat myself up for beating myself up.

An Epidemic of Doubt

Self doubt is incredibly common in people who are struggling to find their purpose in life or who feel trapped in jobs they don’t like.

For example, one woman I spoke with recently has a job that she knows isn’t sustainable physically, financially, or emotionally. She wants to move into something that’s more enjoyable and rewarding, but she worries that she won’t be able to successfully transition into a new industry, fears failure, and finds the tasks necessary to make a change overwhelming.

Beyond these common symptoms, however, self doubt has an even more destructive component. It erodes our ability to be true to who we are.

When things aren’t going the way we’d like in our external lives—in our jobs, families, friendships, or other pursuits—we start to believe the corrosive voice in our heads that tells us that there’s something wrong with us. We turn on ourselves, and instead of embracing the things that make us unique and allow us to work through our challenges and contribute great things to the world, we condemn them, seeing irredeemable flaws not just in what we do, but in the fabric of who we are.

The Love Letter

It would be easy to condemn self doubt itself as another irredeemable flaw. I would propose a different way of looking at it, however.

Self doubt comes from our desire to be good. It’s a sign that we care about ourselves and our world. It’s misguided, yes, but it’s also a sign of a beautiful heart. If you didn’t care, if you didn’t want what’s good for yourself and others, you wouldn’t doubt. And as I mentioned in my previous post, wanting and caring are key to transforming not just your life, but also the world for the better.

Perhaps because of this, self doubt is also one of the best guides I know of to help you find your path. It points to the exact place where your gifts are needed and where you’re likely not sharing them freely.

I can probably explain this most clearly with a story from my recent meditation retreat.

The Gift of Self Doubt (Based on a True Story)

I’m a loud meditator. I meditate in a tradition that encourages you to become aware of and then surrender to whatever emotional, physical, or spiritual energy is moving through you. You’re also invited to express it through sound and movement. Over the years, I’ve found that my energy often wants to express itself through deep and relatively loud noises. The group I meditate in, however, is filled with other noisy meditators, so I’m usually not the loudest one in the room.

Then last weekend I found myself in a meditation retreat where the group was much quieter. My urge was to override my energy and remain silent as well. My teacher, however, encouraged me to stay true to whatever energy was arising within me. To my constant dismay, that meant making loud sounds.

The first night I was filled with self doubt. I could almost hear the other participants’ internal judgments and feel their irritation through the walls. I convinced myself that the only reason I needed to be loud was because I’m an emotional mess and can’t manage to get my $#*! together like everyone else.

The next morning I shared my doubts with the group. They were encouraging, but I wasn’t convinced. When we paired up for the next meditation, I was with a woman who was new to this particular practice. She was dealing with a lot of sadness but having a hard time letting herself feel it. As I settled into my meditation, I felt energy rise within me and want to be expressed. I will not make a noise, I thought to myself. The teacher came over and put her hand on my back. I knew she was trying to assist me in moving energy, but all I could think of over and over, was I will not make a noise. I will not. I will not.

Suddenly I had the image of the entire energy of the earth beneath me knocking on a trapdoor at the base of my spine. “Will you open the door and accept this gift?” it seemed to be asking. Part of me didn’t want to. Part of me desperately wanted to keep that door shut. But I knew enough to know the power of the gift being offered, so I opened to it.

A wave of incredibly strong, rooted energy immediately flowed through me. I opened my mouth and let it all come out. Aware of the power of the energy, I extended it to the woman in front of me, offering it to help her as well in any way it could. I sat with her for what felt like a long time, feeling connected, compassionate, powerful. And loud. I was very loud.

When we were done, the woman looked up at me in tears. “You energy was so strong, and so helpful,” she said. “I felt it there assisting me the entire time. I’ve never felt so held, so surrounded by support.” She said she was finally able to access some of the sadness she had resisted earlier. “I finally feel like everything’s going to be okay,” she said at the end.

What I learned about self doubt in that moment is that it is wildly inaccurate, almost humorously so. I also learned that it has the ability to point us to both the exact thing that makes us unique and the best way to share our gifts at any given moment in order to help those around us. All I had to do was resist the temptation to turn on myself, embrace the very thing that felt worthy of shame, and go in the direction the doubt was trying to steer me away from.

Not easy to do, sure, but a signpost couldn’t have been clearer in helping me find my way.

The Guide

There’s no easy way to work with self doubt. Positive affirmations work for a lot of people, but they’re never worked well for me. Or at least, not by themselves.

In my experience, you can’t talk yourself out of self doubt. That’s always my first instinct, but it rarely works for long. There are other things you can do, however, to transform it into self love and a powerful gift to give to others. Here are some ways I’ve found to work with self doubt:

1. Listen for the story the doubt is telling.

Self doubt is born from the stories we tell ourselves, consciously or not. Get curious about what these stories are saying about who you are. You can often do this by paying conscious attention to your thoughts or through stream-of-consciousness journaling about whatever situation is triggering the doubt.

Is your doubt saying that you’re too (strong, weak, loud, quiet, selfish, lazy, fearful, indecisive, impulsive…) or not (calm, generous, clear, productive, enlightened, loving, selfless…) enough?

As you’re listening for the story, it can be very helpful to feel the fear as well. Usually self doubt comes up when we’re scared about something. Admitting to yourself what that is and letting yourself feel the fear (I do this by getting curious about where I feel it in my body and then letting it be there without trying to get rid of it), can be very powerful in transforming the doubt.

When I was doubting myself the other weekend, the story I was telling myself was that I wasn’t doing enough to take care of my house, my marriage, my family, my health, or anything, really. I was scared that I wasn’t the type of person I wanted to be, and that I would lose what I cared about most. The basic message came down to “I’m a lazy, selfish person, and I’m going to lose everything I love because all I want to do right now is lay around and take a nap.”

2. See the truth beneath the story.

This can be tricky, because the doubt can feel so convincing. See if you can look at the situation as if through the eyes of someone who loves and respects you very much. Can you find any evidence that the opposite of what the doubt is saying is true?

In my case of feeling I wasn’t doing enough, I began to remember many things I had done over the past week to take care of the people and things that are important to me. I could also see that my house, overall, is in good shape, as are my relationships, my health and well-being, etc. Once I started looking for it, I found evidence that not only do I do a lot, but I’m pretty darn effective at taking care of what matters most.

What my doubt was missing was that while taking care of business is well and good, it’s not the most important thing. Staying in touch with the present moment, my Inner Wisdom, and my connection to something larger than myself, is actually what’s most important to me. It’s what allows me to move away from ego and towards my true self, feel greater joy and serenity, tap into my creativity, share my gifts with the world, and grow towards health and wholeness. It also requires lots of space, rest, and time to be and not do. For me, that often looks like moving slowly, not getting much done, and yes, taking naps.

Self doubt is like a giant arrow pointing away from your most powerful and unique strengths. Go in the opposite direction of the arrow, and you’ll find your greatest gifts like a pot of gold at the wrong end of a confusing rainbow.

3. Get others to help you.

If you’re having a hard time seeing what the truth really is, ask someone you trust for help. Compassionate family members, friends, or colleagues who get you can help you find a new, more objective perspective than you might be able to access on your own. They are also usually able to recognize and articulate your talents and gifts when you simply can’t.

Other people can also help in another important way. A lot of times we feel self doubt because we haven’t done something before. Chances are you aren’t incapable of doing what you feel called to, but you may need some time and help to learn new skills. Other people can help you navigate learning curves, whether as teachers, coaches, mentors, or peers. Asking others for help can not only speed up the learning process, but make it much more enjoyable as well.

4. When in doubt, experiment.

Instead of believing your self doubt, which tells you that you’re incapable or unworthy of getting what you want, find out the truth for yourself. The best way I know to do this is to conduct experiments.

It’s hard to convince yourself that you can do something without actually doing it. But when you try it and find that you don’t fall flat on your face, it provides evidence to the skeptical part of yourself that you may not be such a nincompoop after all.

So the next time your doubt is trying to talk you out of something, come up with a way to do an experiment and test your hypothesis that you’ll  ___(fail, be rejected, embarrass yourself, find out you’re not as good as you thought you were, etc.)____. In the case of the woman who felt stuck in an unsustainable job, this might be signing up for a class or volunteering for an organization in a new field she’s interested in. For me the other weekend, it might have been taking a nap when I worried I should be doing something more productive.

No matter what experiment you decide to try, be like a scientist and observe your experience carefully. What thoughts, emotions, and body sensations arise during the experiment? What happens as a result? Do things fall apart? Do you fall flat on your face? Or does something good actually come about?

Pay attention to your expectations as you do this as well. (This is true for everyone, but especially for those of us with a tendency towards perfectionism.) Are you allowing yourself to be a beginner and get more effective over time, or are you expecting yourself to be a prodigy and pick this up in a day, week, month, or even year?

5. No matter what, be extra kind and gentle with yourself.

In many ways, the antidote to self doubt is self love.

That means being compassionate with yourself, recognizing that this is something that everyone struggles with in one way of another. It’s also not something you should already know how to do. Learning how to be true to yourself despite fear and self doubt is a lifelong process, and we’re certainly not taught anything about how to do it in school. Rather than getting in the way of progress, I actually believe it’s one of the most worthwhile things we can spend time on while we’re here.

Loving yourself also means being kind and gentle. Allow yourself to go slowly. Let yourself make mistakes. Do all the things you can think of that feed and nourish you. For me, that’s walking in nature, spending time with animals, connecting with loved ones, taking hot baths, napping, doing something creative, reading fantasy books, and watching funny movies.

You don’t have to wait until you’re confident or over your self doubt to treat yourself well. Often confidence comes once we’ve made the decision that we’re worthy of a little kindness and tender loving care.

Support for Transforming Self Doubt

I don’t have any openings right now for individual coaching clients, but I am thinking about starting another group coaching cohort this summer. If you’re interested in working in a safe and compassionate community of peers to transform self doubt, identify your calling, and take steps towards work you love, you can  find out more and apply for the program here.

Over to You

What self doubt is coming up for you right now? What gifts is it pointing you towards? What action feels most important to take in order to transform it?

Please share in the comments below.

The Power of Desire and How to Use It to Transform Your Life

Last Monday I did an experiment after getting back from vacation. I wanted to see if I could maintain the level of relaxation I’d established the previous two weeks while traveling when I returned to work and my more stressful To Dos.

I decided not to do anything unless I wanted to. I was going to let what I wanted to do, not what I thought I should do, organize my day.

The conversation in my head started off something like this:

“So, what do I want to do now?”

“Are you crazy? You need to answer emails, make your group coaching plans, catch up on bills, and call the dentist, the doctor, and your insurance provider just to start. You don’t have time to ask that question, let alone listen to the answer.”

“No, I know, it’s a lot, but this worked when I did it before. Let’s try it and see what happens. What sounds good to me to do now?”

What you need to do is work. You won’t want to do any of it, but it’s important. We’re talking about your livelihood, your health and well-being, not to mention the well-being of your clients…should I go on?”

“Yes, I know. That’s all really important. I don’t think I’ll actually want to endanger any of that. It can’t hurt to ask, can it? I promise I’ll take care of what I need to. Can I please go on?”

[Internal groan and rolling of the eyes] “Okay, fine.”

So I asked again. And this time, with my Inner Critic willing to stay quiet for the moment, I heard an answer. I wanted to create plans for group coaching. It felt important, meaningful, and even enjoyable.

I focused on the task with freedom and ease. I also didn’t feel rushed; I was curious to see what I would get done rather than engaging in my usual habit of going over and over the list of tasks I expected myself to complete before the end of the day.

I thought it would probably take most of the day and part of the next to complete the plans. Instead, it took 2 hours. When I finished, I asked myself again what I wanted to do. This time my Inner Critic was quieter, having seen what happened the first time.

I heard that I wanted to go on a walk outside, so I did. Then I heard “return phone calls”. Then “catch up on emails”. Then I wanted to take a nap. I made my way through the day in this way and ended up getting everything done on my To Do list. I hadn’t thought that was likely when I started, or even really possible.

The best part, though, was that at the end of the day I still felt relaxed and energized, and that night I slept great.

I say all this because paying attention to what we want is incredibly powerful, but it’s also surprisingly rare. I think most of us have forgotten how to listen to our deepest desires, though we often don’t realize it. The result is that we lack a sense of joy, meaning, and satisfaction in our lives, and it becomes almost impossible to find our calling.

Craving ≠ Calling

I realize that it’s strange to say that we’ve lost touch with our desires in a culture that’s set up to create and then cater to an ever-increasing number of appetites. We all have a list of things, services, or experiences that we want: a new car, the latest iPhone, a thinner body, someone to clean our house, a meal at a hot new restaurant, etc. These are cravings, and they’re not the type of wanting I’m talking about. As I wrote about recently, there are different types of desire.

Cravings, as I define them, are all about quick fixes. We may want deep nourishment and satisfaction, but we crave fat and sugar. Cravings are about what’s immediately available to us, what’s marketed to us, or what we see those around us doing. They promise to satisfy us and make all our problems go away in one fell swoop, but the truth is, they rarely do. Cravings are more often a distortion of what we really want.

In my experience, our true desires are much bigger than what we crave. Often we aren’t even consciously aware of them.

I had a client, for example, who wanted to make a career change but swore she had no idea what she wanted to do next. Then, after several months of working together to discover her passions, she casually mentioned to me, “Oh, didn’t I tell you? Yeah, for a long time I dreamt of being a photographer.” It’s like she herself had forgotten about this longing until that very moment.

I think maybe we dwell on all of our cravings and small aspirations in order to avoid the really big ones. We’re afraid of what we’d find if we let ourselves focus on what we really want. We might find that we want to do work that matters, seek out flexibility and autonomy, quit a job, start a business, write a novel, be a professional artist, get married, have kids, or do something else that’s equally terrifying.

What We Can Learn From the Cool Kids

I believe that letting ourselves want something is one of the scariest things we can do. It makes us vulnerable. There’s a reason that the cool kids act like they don’t care about anything—they’ve already learned that longing, desiring, and hoping open you up to all kinds of potential danger.

There’s something raw, personal, and uncontrollable about desire. It reveals something important about who you are and what matters to you. For some of us, that alone is scary enough to keep our desires safely locked in a deep, dark place.

What’s more, when you want something, you might be disappointed. You might fail to find it, or worse, (the thinking goes) discover that you’re not worthy of it. These prospects can feel so painful that it can seem better to never desire anything at all.

Beyond taking risks, longing also asks you to be uncomfortable. The most important things we want are usually not immediately clear to us. We have to be uncertain and potentially confused for a long period of time before we know what we truly want or where to find it. We have to ask, keep asking, and try and often fail before it becomes clear.

It’s no wonder we avoid our deepest desires like a used handkerchief.

There’s a great cost to doing so, however. What makes our longings so hard to embrace is also what makes them so valuable. Our deepest desires are an integral part of who we are; they bring us home to our essential self, beyond our fears, our ego, or the person that we think we are or that others want us to be. Longings are stronger than steel, out of our control, and bigger than our tiny, willful plans. They force us to share our gifts with the world in ways we might be too terrified to try were the desire not so strong. Finally, wanting things inevitably leads to obstacles, disappointments, and failures that help us grow and learn the things that we’re here to learn.

It turns out that the cool kids aren’t usually the happy kids, at least until they learn how to embrace who they are and what they want.

Learning to Want Again

My own history with desire involves a lot of delayed reactions.

For example, I’ve always wanted to write. But after experiencing a huge disappointment when I wrote my first novel at age 12, I abandoned that desire for years. I decided that I didn’t want to write professionally because it would be too much pressure, and I convinced myself that writing wasn’t really as important to me as I’d thought it was.

None of this was true. After a spiritual, mental, and emotional breakdown in my mid-20s, I began to learn how to decipher what I truly wanted, and little by little, those desires pointed back to writing. It took more than 20 years for me to circle back around, but eventually I found great joy as I started a blog, wrote some short stories, and eventually got started on another novel.

Now I’m waking up to new desires. Coaching and running my own business take up the vast majority of my time and, more importantly, my energy. I love them, but I’m also starting to recognize a desire to have more time for creative projects, and to invest more of my energy in my family life. These desires feel scary to me; they require me to make significant changes in how I work, and I’m still not sure what those will look like or how they’ll turn out.

I feel both excited by new possibilities, and at the same time shaky, vulnerable, and uncertain.

What I do know is that if I want to find the big answers, I’ve got to listen to the little ones I already have. That means committing to doing what I want more, regardless of the fear that that brings up.

As part of that effort, I’m going to change how I publish this blog. For two years now I’ve published a post every other week, mostly because I’d heard that you need to publish regularly and frequently to be successful. Starting now, I’m committing to writing and publishing only when I want and feel inspired to. My Inner Critic is saying that this is an incredibly selfish thing to do and that I’ll be letting people down, but I believe that it’ll mean better content for y’all because I’ll only be writing when I have something I really want to say.

It’s an experiment. I don’t know how it will turn out, but I’m curious to find out. If you have any feedback about this change impacts you, I’d love to hear it.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep listening for what I want. I don’t know where it will lead me, but I do have the strong sense that if I stay true to it, it’ll all be for the good.

An Exercise to Reconnect with Your Deepest Desires

Following is an exercise that can help you remember what it is you truly want. It can also help you reconnect to more joy, energy, and satisfaction when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, exhausted, overwhelmed, or burnt out.

Start by setting aside a block of time to do only what you want, sometime between 1 hour and a full day. When the time comes, ask yourself:

What do I want to do right now? What sounds good to me?

Your mind will probably come up with all types of things that you should do. Let it know you’re doing an experiment and promise not to let it mess up your life too profoundly. Then ask again.

Pay attention to how you feel, emotionally and in your body, as different ideas arise. Which ideas bring up a sense of excitement, energy, or lightness within you?

When you land on an answer that feels good to you, do it, regardless of how silly, crazy, or unproductive it sounds. If it’s something you can’t do right now, make a concrete plan to do it later and ask for what else you want to do right now.

Most of us worry that if we only do what we want, we’ll become lazy couch potatoes, selfish brats, or mean bastards. In my experience, nobody truly wants to be any of those things. Those are the types of things that tend to happen when we listen to our cravings rather than our true desires. If you get an idea and you’re not sure if it’s a craving or a true desire, try it out and see how you feel. You’ll be able to tell the difference by how satisfying (or icky) it feels.

Once you finish an activity or no longer want to do it, ask what you want to do again. Do this as many times as necessary.

When the time period is over, take a moment to check in with how you feel, both emotionally and in your body. Is this better or worse than usual? Also take note of the things you wanted to do. Did any surprise you? Finally, check in on the results of your actions. Did things fall apart? Is there evidence that you harmed anybody else? Did anything good result? These are the outcomes of your experiment, and it can be helpful to write them down.

I recommend doing this exercise/experiment regularly, at least weekly to start. My current intention is to do it all day every day, though I’m not nearly there yet. It can be surprisingly hard to do, but like any skill or habit, it gets easier with practice. And as you uncover your little desires, the bigger ones are revealed.

It seems like a such a small thing, to risk wanting what you want. But it isn’t. It has the power to transform you, your life, and your ability to contribute, not to mention the world.

Over to You

What do you want that’s scary to admit?

What gets in the way of doing more of what you want?

I’d love to hear from you (and I have a feeling I’m not the only one), so please leave a comment below.

If You Want Help Finding Your Answers…

I offer individual and group coaching programs at various levels of investment designed to help you reconnect with your desires and discover the confidence and courage you need to follow them.  To find out more, schedule a free 1:1 call with me.