For much of my life, I had a plan for where I was going and goals to chart the way. In my early teenage years, these goals involved racing motocross; in my late teenage years going to a good school and getting a good job; in my twenties, starting my own company. I was never the smartest or most talented person, but I could work hard and had a high threshold for pain, allowing me to continue on when most people would stop. Looking back, I can see how easy it was to get caught up in the goals and the process that made achieving those goals possible, with little thought or reflection as to the deeper forces that got me to that point. Grinding away and routine yield little time and space for reflection, and in many ways those are powerful sources of comfort and solace – a balm coating the deeper questions we could ask ourselves but do not, and providing us with a false-sense of purpose that yields a quality of inevitability to our soldiering on. In the rare moments we do find the time and space to question our path, often pressure and expectations – self-imposed or from the world around us – keep us maintaining the status-quo in our lives.
I’ve been reading a book that talks a lot about living your authentic self. This book is in the context of parenting and speaks to the imperative of raising children who are able to live their authentic self, not the “self” we may try to impose on them, consciously or unconsciously, based on our past experiences as well as the expectations we bring to the parent-child relationship. I also recently listened to a podcast with author and endurance athlete Rich Roll, where he speaks, in part, about his struggle both finding his authentic self and living a life in line with that self. Both spoke to me in different ways and inspired me share in this post. But who is that person? What is our authentic self? If asking this question is hard enough, knowing the answer can prove just as elusive. One of the most powerful moments in Rich Roll’s interview is when he speaks about the “okayness” with not yet knowing that answer. Not having an immediate answer can often bring about feelings of guilt and shame in a world of social media that makes it seem like just about everyone else knows their answer and is living their authentic life. Yet it is simply asking ourselves these questions in the first place that is the most important step in this journey – even if we don’t yet have the answers. When he spoke of this, I was reminded of Bronnie Ware’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, where she shares her experiences as a palliative care nurse working with dying patients and the regrets these patients most commonly shared with her. At the top of the list: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” – a powerful reminder that to question our path before we reach our deathbed is an incredible gift that we give to ourselves. From a place of curiosity and openness, it takes faith to embrace this uncertainty wholeheartedly, to let things unfold and to trust that life will show us the way. It also means having the strength to let go of the expectations and pressures that would otherwise keep us in our box. For Rich Roll, this meant surrendering to no longer “having a plan,” leaving his job as a lawyer in Los Angeles and adopting a lifestyle in line with his authentic self; for me it meant leaving Silicon Valley, training for UTMB and trusting that I will figure things out as I go. For others it will mean something different but something that is true to their authentic self.
I found a few things helpful in finding my authentic self. The first was writing down a list of 10-year goals – one of which was completing UTMB. The second was creating a Vision Board for 2018 and 2019. The third was organizing my day-to-day life across the thematic buckets that will help me develop my authentic self that I revisit weekly and monthly in my journal. These life themes – Home & Family, The Great Outdoors and Learning & Growth – bring structure to the life I want to live (a life revealed in both my goals and Vision Board) through my daily, weekly and monthly “to-dos” and help me maintain balance, and an overall well-roundedness, in my life. My 10-year goals helped me identify the big things that mattered most to me in my life. Had I not yet sought to know and understand my authentic self, nor given myself the space and time to explore who that person was, my list would have looked quite different. David Brooks spoke once of the difference between items listed on a resume versus items shared in a eulogy, and I hope that more and more of what I prioritize in my life is helping me develop what one might speak about at my death over what I could ever put on a resume. Not only would my goals have been quite different, I no doubt would have been more concerned with the outcome – and blinding myself with the repetitive motions needed to get there – than caring about the journey itself, the why behind it and how this journey was developing my authentic self. Nor would I have been able or willing to reflect along the way and question whether this was still my path. I wrote down these 10-year goals a little over a year ago, and made my 2019 vision board with Andrea in December of last year, laminating at a local Kinkos and using it as a daily visual reminder of who we are and who we want to be as people. For me, nature and the outdoors is such a powerful part of my authentic self, as is art and creating. I’m struck by how in line my authentic self with who I was as a kid – a little boy who loved playing in the woods, climbing to the tops of mountains and making art. Somewhere along the way that got covered up, layer by layer, with expectations that had little or nothing to do with this little boy, but that thankfully, I’ve been able to re-discover by peeling them back piece by piece. While this means I’ve had to “let go” of the master plan and have faith that things will reveal themselves to me along the way, it also means that I’m finally leading a life true to my authentic self. It means that looking back 5 years ago I could have never imagine myself being where I am today: with Andrea, Benson, Bear and Arya, in a small cabin in France, at the bottom of a glacier, without Wifi, surrounded by woods and trails that lead in all different directions.