There’s a pretty amazing story about Lady Gaga making the social rounds. It talks about her ability to live a life of passion by unabashedly and unapologetically being herself. (I’ll refrain from using “authentic” here, as I fear it’s starting to get overplayed and lose its intended meaning.) The piece ends with a question:
Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
I love this question. If I totaled all the time that I’ve spent thinking about this question, talking about this question, asking it to other people and meditating on it, I should be an expert (based on the 10,000 hours to master a craft). And yet, after all that time…I’ve never had an answer. EXPERT, MY ARSE!
But the truth is that I do know the answers. It wasn’t until I read this article for the third or fourth or 50th time that I accepted them. I know the answers. I’m simply afraid of them. The fear keeps me from accepting the answers and instead creates the easy out: “Wow, ummmm, those are really great questions. I don’t really know. I’d have to think about that.” Or “I’d be (insert famous person here).” In an age where vulnerability is still defined as weakness and not courage (read Brené Brown), this is a perfectly acceptable response. Especially if this exchange is followed by uneasy laughter.
Okay then, who would you be if you weren’t afraid?
I’d be myself. There I said it. I don’t want to change. I don’t want to be something I’m not. I just want to be comfortable, finally, in my own skin. I want to be me. I want to be vulnerable and crude. I want to be compassionate and sarcastic. I want to be fearless and considered. I want to be collaborative and alone. I want to laugh and cry. I want to be apples and pickles. Hippie and Hip Hop. Because these are traits that make up who I am. (Okay, maybe not hip hop. Can’t really pull that off.)
Doesn’t seem like it should be much of a challenge, really. On the surface, I think most people might see me this way. But I don’t. I’m not comfortable being all of those things. I feel like a walking contradiction and that makes me uncomfortable. I need to be one or the other. Pick one: Compassionate or Sarcastic. Pick one: Collaborative or on your own. Pick one. Pick one. Pick one. The Lady Gagas of the world don’t care about the contradictions. They all just get put into the blender to create this one amazing, passionate life.
And that’s where I stumble. I think that in order to live a true life of passion, I need to accept my contradictions. I need to celebrate them as part of a unique concoction that is simply…me. If I consider my “traits” (and contradictions) only as one-off ingredients instead of honoring them as parts of a bigger recipe, a true passionate life will continue to elude me. If I continue to just “pick one,” I can’t be whole. And wholeness is where the good stuff really, truly happens.
I’m not only vulnerable, sarcastic, considered and funny. Those bits alone won’t make up the whole me. I need to accept that I’m also crude, collaborative and pig-headed. On my own, I genuinely like the whole me—even with several cups full of mistakes and pain. The voices of fear and unworthiness, however, are constantly whispering in my ears, “You can’t say that,” or “You can’t show them that.” What if you’re not perfect?” “They’re not going to like that part of you.” And I believe them, which is what has kept me from ever accepting that I know the answer to this first question. I’m answering it now. Demons be damned. After all, if I don’t accept the whole me, I won’t ever be able to answer the second question.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
My stock answer to this (and one that I believe) is “I’d find a way to earn a living running A Day Well Lived.” I know exactly what it wants to be. I know exactly where it needs to go. I even know exactly what I need to do. And yet? Here I am answering that question again instead of actually doing anything about it.
See the first part of this post. Those whispers. Those voices. “What if it fails?” By keeping A Day Well Lived somewhat in a fantasy state, it can’t ever fail. I protect myself from falling short. It allows me to tell people about what it is and what I plan to do without ever having to do it. It allows me to get the “oohs and aahs” and “wow-that’s-really-cool” responses, which gives me a boost of worthiness.
That’s hardly the recipe for a passionate life, though. Passion isn’t found in the plans. It’s in the actions. So why do I hem, haw and hesitate? Because I’m not allowing the “fearless” and “risk taking” ingredients to be added to the recipe. I’m cherry picking what goes in and what stays out in an effort to “protect myself” from disappointment. (I can hear the line from the movie GOOD WILL HUNTING, “Well, I think that’s a super philosophy Sean…”)
And this is where the demons and voices really go to work. They sense weakness and they attack. Now they start to mock me for listening to them in the first place. “Seriously? Aren’t you just the biggest p*ssy on the planet?!?”
But this is bigger than what I might do for a living. What would you do if you weren’t afraid? I’d have big, difficult conversations. I’d put all of the ingredients into the blender without fear of what the result might be. I’d stop trying so hard to create the course of my life and let some of the pieces just fall where they want to fall. I’d follow my heart. I’d ignore perfection. I’d write. I’d let more love into my life. I’d stop looking for my worthiness in others and find it in myself. I’d smile back at the person in the mirror and wrap him in a blanket of acceptance and compassion. I’d keep trying to learn how to play the guitar and someday maybe even sing in public. I’d be even more vulnerable, more accepting and I’d answer the first question with a kind of swagger that I lost somewhere long ago. The real irony is that if I did all of these things, the second question and A Day Well Lived would take care of themselves.
Looking again at the questions: Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid? The answers are actually found in the headline: I’d live the Life of Passion.