Your job in life is to surrender
When I was in my late teens and early 20’s, I wanted to be rich and famous, to build a Fortune 500 company, and to convince as many people as possible to volunteer in the developing world.
In fact, I believed so strongly in volunteering globally that the first program I developed for Ignited Leadership was designed to motivate people to do exactly that. But if I’m being honest, I’m no longer convinced that volunteering in developing countries makes sense for the vast majority of people.
Most of the organizations that run volunteer programs, though well intentioned, are only marginally effective, at best. The academic studies on international development suggest that it’s making a disproportionately small impact in relation to the dollars and hours invested.
Today, my ambitions are much quieter: to improve a few people’s lives, to connect with the people I love, to take good care of myself so that I can give back, and to enjoy the process of living along the way.
This illustrates one of the biggest mistakes that I see emerging leaders make: holding themselves hostage to versions of who they were, as though their 28 year old self must be consistent with their 18 year old self.
A lot of the people I work with, especially the young adults with massive potential, get worried about finding the purpose of their lives: to be a graphic designer, to enter Christian heaven, to make their parents proud, to be “successful” in business, to create transcendent art, whatever.
But the truth is, most of us don’t have just one singular purpose that will stick with us for our entire lives; our purpose evolves as life expands and the world shifts shapes around us.
Maybe after 15 years of being a doctor, you’ll wake up one day to face the fact that medicine and the human body no longer inspires you. Or maybe you’ll build a stable life in a city that you love only to realize that you need to pack your bags and move on to the next locale, the next circle of people, the next adventure. That’s where I’m at right now as I write.
This can feel impossible, heartbreaking, and confusing, yet inspiring, energizing, and life-affirming all at once. In fact, if you’re doing it right, it will feel that way. And that’s ok. Your job is to stay true to yourself, even when 18-year-old you would be perplexed by who you’ve become at 28.
If you’re able to step out of your context and truly feel the way you feel, you’re doing something right. You’re alive.
When you find the courage to follow your internal compass, you start to strip the protective layers of yourself back and back and back and you get closer to your specific truth. Your power grows as you allow each experience that shaped you yesterday to create a new experience that shapes you today.
This isn’t to say your new iteration is totally without context – ideally, you draw on your past versions and purposes to animate the present version of yourself. For me, the insane partying of my early 20’s gave way to my interest in meditation and my interest in creating a deeper connection with the world. The years spent onstage doing magic equipped me with the skills I use to be a professional speaker. The experience with international development taught me to be critical of how we improve other people’s lives, both locally and globally.
And your job, as impossible as it seems, is to surrender. Surrender the old you, the old purpose, the old vision, to allow space for the new you to gain more power, clarity and truth in the present.
For me, this phoenix process of destruction and creation happens every couple of years. I think that’s normal. Maybe one day, I’ll get to some singular purpose and spend decades working on that. But until then, I’ll accept that my obligation in life is to peel back the layers.
Because each new purpose, direction, and iteration of you becomes better equipped to shape your life and serve the people around you.
Hat tip: the structure and arrangement of this article was notably influenced by my friend and editor, Meredith Whitfield. Thanks Meredith.
Photo credit: “Rebirth” by Alice Popkorn