What lies behind us
and what lies before us
are tiny matters
what lies within us.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
I think that very often we define ourselves by what we dream of being or becoming — I am studying to be a doctor; I am a lawyer, I am a musician; I am hoping to become a millionaire, etc. Often we set goals for achieving certain things, for moving us toward the dreams that we use to shape our image of ourselves.
But so often our dreams don’t take the shape we expect. Or at least the pathway toward the dreams doesn’t meet our expectations. Or the goals don’t hit our deadlines. It is easy to view those un-envisioned forks in the path as limitations, obstacles and setbacks. It is easy at those moments to feel like a failure.
And yet, there may be another way of looking at life’s unexpected and unasked for situations. I have always wanted to do important things with my life. For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to raise awareness and motivate action to take better care of this planet and one another. I’ve wanted to feel as though I have used my life well to make a positive contribution. I’ve set a lot of goals and worked really hard toward that end. I became a first generation college graduate. Straight out of college with no financial backing I launched a non-profit organization to work on environmental issues. I’ve taken courses, served on non-profit boards and volunteered for causes I cared about. I’ve been politically engaged, even running for office and serving as first lady of Oregon when my fiancé was elected Governor. It seemed like I was on a trajectory, slowly but steadily, toward my dream of making a positive difference.
And then, a year and a half ago, my life seemed to blow up and my career came to a screeching halt. It felt like my whole life was off the rails and my dream of being a powerful force for protecting the environment and increasing kindness in the world was now completely out of reach.
For months the pain of that seemingly lost dream literally took my breath away, sent me restless nightmares and made me question the very core of who I was/am. In my effort to cope with the loss and shame, feeling like a failure and a fool, I spent a lot of time writing. And in that process I remembered that in addition to my dream of being an effective change-maker for good, I have long held another dream. I have always wanted a big life, but I’ve never wanted to achieve that through becoming a famous singer or actor or musician, or even politician. I have always, always wanted to become a successful writer and speaker in a way that served our common good.
And yet, for twenty-five years I had worked so hard on my education, my non-profit work, my consulting business and my political roles that I only occasionally wrote anything beyond personal journaling or technical work. I wasn’t acting on that vital piece of my dream.
But when all the consulting, the political position, the busyness was yanked away, after several months of just grappling to get my feet back under me and start healing, I returned to my True North, which was not just to continue my lifelong effort to bring about healthier relationships with the Earth and one another, but to do so primarily through my writing.
Last August I started a blog about my personal journey through these challenging times. I was super nervous about how it would be received and if the media would rip me apart, but I took the leap. Taking that scary step resulted in my blog taking off and I hope and have been told that some of my posts have been helpful to readers who are navigating their own personal challenges and emotions. That feels so good. After learning how to blog I finally also set up my professional New Economy blog, which I’d wanted to do for a few years. The blogs led to my becoming a salaried staff writer for a new exciting publication, Issue Magazine. I have full freedom to write about the topics I care so much about and have worked on my entire career. Who could have seen that coming?!
Next, by the end of this year I will have completed my first book. I never expected my first book would be about the unbelievable experience of becoming click-bait and the bulls-eye in a sensationalist media-driven feeding frenzy and learning how to cope with being publically shamed. But I have always dreamed I would write books and this is the obvious before me. Who knows what’s next?
Many times through this transformational phase of my life I’ve encountered and been captivated by caterpillar and butterfly images and stories. Right now I find myself thinking about how caterpillars in the cocoon, before they can transition, must reach the point where their previous form is in its most disintegrated, unrecognizable identity. But under all of that mess, that seeming chaos, is their True North, and they emerge beautiful winged creatures taking to heights a worm that believed itself just a worm might never have seen.
May we all find our True North and our wings!
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