begin | discovering an on-purpose life

To begin can be a difficult thing.

Beginning requires choice. And choice requires a willingness to release the alternatives and risk uncertainty of the outcome. To begin takes conviction, clarity and focus.

Before beginning, I always felt the need to have a plan. One that was well formulated, having clear objectives and measurable targets along the way. One with considerable buy-in from everyone whose opinion I valued and many others whose opinion I claimed to dismiss. I quickly subscribed to an external definition of success without even considering the possibility and importance of writing one for myself. This might have worked out in my favour had my truest desires lined up nicely with those imposed. But that wasn’t the case.

I chose my future at the kitchen counter one afternoon while hanging out at home with my dad. I had five different programs printed out, each assuring probable success and prosperity. We weighed the pros and cons and selected the most logical destination. Essentially a spin the bottle version of what I’d be doing with the rest of my life. And, as luck would have it, I landed on Accounting. The plan was in place, approval was secured, and off I went. There was only one small problem: Accounting and I had little chemistry from the start. And yet, I chose to direct all of my attention towards making it work. Or else I'd die trying. Why? What was it that kept me trudging along a path that I always knew wasn’t right for me? Why didn’t I just spin the bottle again?

I was afraid. Afraid of failing. Or rather, of being seen as a failure. I didn’t believe I could have anything I wanted nor did I even know what it was that I actually wanted. I figured I’d be better off relying on the opinion of others who all seemed to be in agreement about how to make it in this world. I learned that struggle was the agreement I needed to sign on my way to success. Forget about fulfillment and freedom - I hadn’t earned it yet. Deep down I knew I wasn’t where I was meant to be but the light within me was dim and I didn’t trust it.

I found myself trapped in a dark room, too afraid to turn on the lights.

And so, for years, I worked towards goals that truly meant very little to me, thinking that once I got there I’d be satisfied to have figured it all out. To make matters worse, I appeared to be succeeding. At University I had one of the highest GPAs in my graduating class. I made the Dean’s List and was hired by one of the top professional service firms in the world. I was surrounded by people who praised and celebrated my achievements, which only served to amplify the fear. I’d ask myself, do I dare go after the things I might actually want? Wouldn’t I be better off doing this thing that has promised to ensure my success? The risk was always too great.

I felt I had too much to lose.

The struggle carried on this way for years and I worked hard to extinguish that light until I finally accepted that no matter how hard I pushed or how far I strayed, I couldn’t put it out. I began asking myself, if not now, then when? At what point does it become easy to start over? I mean, technically, it is easy. Assuming you can overcome the fear and the sacrifices, you simply stop doing what you've been doing. When you really think about it, there is nothing physically forcing us to do the things we do each day.

What would life be like if we had no courage to attempt anything?
— Vincent Van Goh

So let’s say you’ve made the decision to stop. Then what? Where do you begin? Which direction do you go when you don't know exactly where you intend to end up? And what's the point? What if you wind up further behind than you were in the first place? What if you start off in the wrong direction and, by the time you realize it, you've gone too far to get back, let alone start over again? The fear of regret is one of the most debilitating of all.

It takes courage to start over, to walk away from who you’ve been and let go of so many beliefs that brought you to the place at which you stand.

And not everyone is fortunate enough to see the goal, crystal clear and calling out to be won. For some, it’s an aching heart. And no matter how hard you try to do the things that ought to bring your joy and satisfaction, you are forever avoiding that part of you that knows something isn't quite right. For years I've told myself that as soon as it became clear what it was I had a burning passion to do, there would be nothing stopping me - no sacrifice I wouldn't be willing to make to get there.

The problem is, what if that pure unwavering clarity never comes?

That clarity doesn’t seem to exist within my rational, logical mind because my most heartfelt desires aren’t what most would consider to be rational or logical. Evolution has taught us to stay put, or we won’t survive. And so my brain calculates the odds and tells me to ignore that voice that encourages me to step off the path, away from certainty, security and approval.

Clarity exists only within moments where I am swept away by my experience. My senses are on fire and I'm fully present in what's going on around me. I feel alive ... lit up, overjoyed, limitless. I keep grasping for this indescribable sensation and I feel my way through the dark. I tune in to the beat of my own heart, following a path only I can see.

After more than ten years since that fateful spin, I finally turned the lights on in that room I had for so long feared.  And I found what I had least expected - the room was empty. The space surrounding me was filled only by possibility, floating as softly as dust in the warmth of the sun.

So it’s simple. Begin. Get to know what lights you up, what sets you free. Be willing to accept and appreciate what is while getting creative with what could be. Don’t allow yourself to be paralyzed by choice or by constraints around what you believe is possible for your life. Take a step towards what feels good, without regard for what comes next.

It’s never too late to turn on the lights. You are in the perfect place to begin.

♡ Jen