Uncertainty

Glance through any textbook and you will quickly notice a pattern.

Sir Edmund Hillary was the first Western man to summit on Mt. Everest, the tallest mountain on Earth. Mary Kingsley was an unmarried English woman who used part of her inheritance to travel and study in “uncivilized” parts of Africa during the 19th century. Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Martin Luther King Jr., Amelia Earhart, George Washington, Jane Goodall, and many others tuned out their voice of reason and resistance from the outer world and leaped fearlessly into the unknown. Those who face uncertainty head-on are the leaders and heroes who go down in history and who, in their own unique way, change the world. 

I’m the type of person who hears a lecture, is deeply moved, and is then inspired to go buy the book. Uncertainty was no exception. Jonathan Fields is a lawyer turned entrepreneur, innovator, writer, speaker, creative, and embracer of uncertainty.

In business, science, art, and life, all progress stems from risk-taking; and facing said risks involves looking beyond the fears that permeate that unexplored territory. Though so many of us have unanswered questions and big dreams, fear of failure often holds us back from completing, or even starting our big projects and adventures. Life becomes more fulfilling when one chooses to pursue the unanswered questions, explore bold new ideas, and create rather than replicate.

“…uncertainty is a signpost of novelty and innovation, telling you that what you’re creating is really worth creating.”

Uncertainty is not a bad thing. Success is not a matter of eliminating uncertainty, but instead developing a tolerance for that unknowing, and amplifying it in ways that will help you to grow. It’s natural to feel pain and anxiety in response to the unknown; however, this reaction has outlived its evolutionary purpose and now hinders us from the ideas and endeavors that could bring more meaning into our lives. We prefer the safety net provided by a financially secure job, widely accepted ideas, and regularity. The potential to lose money, be judged harshly, or fail miserably are simply the terrifying flip-side of innovation, success, and fulfillment. Yet, we as humans have a propensity to stare into the vast unknown and see the blinding darkness, rather than the millions of far-off stars.

Since overcoming fear and uncertainty does prove to be such a challenge, the author provides practical guidance, broken into relatable and helpful chapters.

  • Find your creativity anchors: Rituals and routines serve as a source of psychological bedrock and help you to maintain confidence in at least some areas of your life; this allows you to fearlessly delve further into lesser known areas, but also know when you need to come back to reality. Example include exercise, meditation, meals, religious services, classes, and time spent with family and friends.
  • Build your creative hive: Maintain relationships with mentors, people who support you, and those you look up to. Create an environment in which you can receive constructive criticism and positive feedback, as well as offer the same to others.
  • Socialize creation: Incorporate feedback-driven technologies into your creation process; release your product or service early on and continually tweak it based on what your audience thinks could be improved. This method drastically cuts down the time it takes to reach an optimal product.
  • Train your brain: Attention training (such as meditation) and exercise help keep your body and mind in shape; in conjunction with one another, they are the strongest known creation-force multipliers.
  • See the forest: Is what you’re doing a project, a calling, or the thing that you can’t not do? This question will help you know when to exert more effort, change your path, or call off the project. Be familiar with your biggest dreams and drives, maintain balance between your heart and your head, and don’t lose yourself on the deeply meaningful quest.
  • Own the story line: Rather than jumping to negative conclusions about your situation, resort to a place of equanimity and ask yourself what other interpretations might exist. Find the silver lining, accept the dark clouds, and keep on working towards your dream.

As you begin to accept uncertainty, work around it, and face the associated fears, its power over you will slowly fade, further expanding your creative potential. Understanding how uncertainty functions, as well as how to befriend the unknown can benefit entrepreneurs, artists, and everyone else

This book came into my life at the perfect time, as I am currently drowning in uncertainty and fear of what’s to come. I tend to soar high on hopes and dreams and then crash hard when I drop my rose-colored glasses and notice the backlog of ignored failures catching up to me. The book is aimed at entrepreneurs, artists, and other creative types, but offers guidance and resources that we can all benefit from. We are all creative geniuses with the potential to do great things, but that requires that we step out of our comfort zone, discern our life’s purpose, and jump in without hesitation.

Remember the list of famous leaders and creators above? Transform your fear and doubt into fuel for brilliance, and perhaps one day your name will be added to that ever-growing list of world-changers.

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Fear, Secret Identities, and Superpowers

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose? Invisibility, invincibility, flying, or perhaps mind-reading? Consider this: you already have superpowers.

As attendees entered the theater for Chris Brogan‘s presentation, we were each handed a Marvel superhero trading card. As often happens in these situations, everyone asked their neighbor why we’d acquired pieces some poor boy’s treasured collection, though not one of us had the slightest clue.

Photo by Armosa Studios

Chris took the stage and launched into some thoughts on fear. One of the most common and overlooked fears is the fear of letting people down, of not being good enough. As  Brené Brown shared in her talk on vulnerability and belonging, molding yourself to meet others’ standards can lead to feelings of shame and inadequacy; failing to meet those expectations can have devastating consequences.

Contrary to popular belief, the opposite of fear is not courage or bravery. The opposite of fear is surrender. Letting go of the need to control and manipulate will free you from the fear of failure. Courage and fear are simply different sides of the same coin; you can’t have one without the other.

Chris shared that if he were able to go back twenty years, he would tell his younger self to learn to untangle, both from criticism and praise. Live your own life, and learn to separate your story from others’. When someone say that they’re disappointed with you, that simply means that you’re not living out their script for you. The statement says nothing about you, so don’t take it personally. Continue living out your own script and chasing down your personal dreams.

If you can figure out confidence, your life will be awesomer sooner. If you have done something and failed, you’re way ahead of those who haven’t even tried. Often, trying something different – regardless of the outcome – can provide a boost of confidence, as well as new insight and knowledge.

You will succeed the weirder you get. When you embrace your strange self, more interesting things are bound to happen. Owning yourself and honestly sharing both your strengths and faults with the world will allow you to connect with people and become more confident in yourself.

If you don’t earn it, you don’t win. Go out there and earn it! It took Chris eight years to reach 100 blog followers. Work at what you love, have patience, and things will eventually pan out. Don’t settle for less. Stop reading bad books and eating bad food. If you hate your job, leave and find another.

It’s not who you say you are, but what you do that matters. Superheros often have representative symbols. What is the symbol that defines you? What is the function of your superpower? Are you skilled at synthesis, extrapolation, articulation, or empathy? Figure out what you’re good at and build up those abilities. Become better at what you’re already good at.

When you do become successful, don’t get big on yourself. It’s important to stay vulnerable and humble. Tenacity is key, and more helpful than either skill or knowledge. Pay attention to your audience; awareness of what others are interested in will help you stay relevant. Work hard and get things done. Find a super-team because doing everything on your own will lead to burnout and failure.

Take on both amazing challenges and small everyday adventures. And, most importantly, always use your powers for good. 

Sweet Darkness

Earlier today, I was thinking about apocalyptic moments. My life is teeming with those instances of surreal hyper-awareness. Visual stimuli, audio input, self-inflicted emotional strain, and the rhythmic oscillations of sinusoidal energy waves often overwhelm me. I’ve said before that my life is a perpetual existential crisis. Though a bit of an exaggeration, it’s quite true.

Each day I feel as if I’m tumbling into the abyss, one calculated step at a time. Attempting to manipulate the unknown, fitfully at best, is all part of the plan. Oftentimes that mastery of mystery involves playing it safe, thus limiting opportunities for growth. I’m admittedly guilty of diverting down this path a bit too often. Though the past few years have shoved me tumultuously from my comfort zone on many occasions, though I’ve been completely transformed as a person, I’ve barely set foot into the elusive territory of self-actualization. I like to believe I’m heading in the right direction.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about that inexplicable, yet all too common scenario in which you willingly walk away from something that you actually want. It’s perplexing and perturbing. However unsettling the moment is, the dust will inevitably settle and reveal some inherent truth. One of those truths is that the challenging and hard-to-understand periods in our lives do, in fact, serve some greater purpose. Cataclysmic calamities offer incredible profundity. Progress often stems from frustration. The painful past is intricately linked to the hope-filled future by the present moment.

Before we can find the answer – before we can even know the question – we must be immersed in disappointment.

– Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works

I have a morbid imagination, and I’ve had a lifelong fascination with death and darkness. My dream job for most of my childhood was to examine the remains of decomposed and mutilated bodies as a forensic anthropologist (back before CSI). Before reaching middle school, I was deeply intrigued by stories of serial killers, such as Jeffrey Dahmer. (My parents were understandably worried.) I began my college career on course to become a neurological researcher and I’ve seen the Body Worlds exhibit three times so far. The body, mind, soul, existence, and post-existence are my favorite little medley of thought.

I’ve never feared death, but rather I’ve been enamored by the incomprehensible phenomenon, and the unanswerable question: What happens when we die? That falling off from one life into the next, that blissful transcendence. Death is the ultimate phantasmagorical exploration. I adore that contemplation and the unknowing.

“Death is the road to awe.”

– Darren Aronofsky, The Fountain

The most difficult pieces to write  – for myself, and I’m assuming most – are those drenched with personal angst and despair. Yet, delving into the darkness brings about the same sense of aliveness as more positive and upbeat compositions. In my NaNoWriMo novel last year, I was outrageously cruel to my protagonist. Why is that? I’m honestly not sure, but when you’re writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, an emotionally loaded story helps propel it forward quite effortlessly. I’ve just begun the dreadful editing process and am ripping my hair out at what that poor girl is going through. I love that feeling. I love when something I see, hear, or read can affect me so deeply; instances of emotional pain, darkness, and feelings of uncertainly – experienced firsthand or artistically conveyed – nearly always elicit that.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

-David Whyte, Sweet Darkness

Perhaps we turn away from beautiful perfection because it doesn’t stretch far enough in both directions. Could it be that – despite our aversion to negativity – tapping into thoughts of death and darkness actually benefit and build us? Might solitude and sadness help us to realize what we truly need to be happy, and push us to feverishly dig up that overwhelming joy?

This past weekend, I met up with some local women who also attended World Domination Summit at a quaint and eclectic coffee shop. We had a wonderful conversation, which grabbed the attention of a nearby women. She was an entrepreneurial and radiant spiritual guru – exactly the type of person I strive to one day be, the type of person I’d love to have as my best friend. Words of wisdom and understanding flowed from her lips as the rest of us smiled, in awe. One of the young woman’s lessons was that you have to stretch out from your center – both towards the alluring light and the terrifying darkness – in order to attain wisdom. It was an instantly recognizable truth, a known insight that I’d never succinctly articulated.

People are often disturbed by my propensity towards talk of death, disease, darkness, and uncertainty. However, darkness is simply the opposite side of light; you’re just as likely to land on tails and heads. It is an uncomfortable topic, but talking about that which scares you helps to scratch away some of the inherent fear. Sometimes, exploring the positive end of the spectrum can be difficult, as well. It’s imperative that we expand our horizons in every direction possible, as life is about fullness, and that complex schema entails both pleasures and pain.

Simply existing can be exhausting. But you’re alive, so why not live fully and openly explore all aspects of life, including that terrifying and tabooed end/beginning called death?

Heaven or heavenless, we’re all headed for the same sweet darkness.

-Rocky Votolato, Makers

Is anyone else fascinated by death? I’m curious. I feel like I might be alone on this one…

Explore the darkness; carry your light.

Bringing Big Ideas to Fruitation

Most ideas never happen. Fleeting moments of brilliance are neglected in favor of mundane and seemingly necessary obligations. Just think what might be if you had followed through on just one or two of your great ideas…

“Just one great idea can revolutionize your life.”

-Earl Nightengale

Photo by Armosa Studios

Scott Belsky, CEO of Behance and author of Making Ideas Happen, has built a life and an empire around a system of living that melds creativity and organization to create an impactful product, service, or methodology.

He suggests that four different elements contribute to an idea becoming fully realized:

  1. Creativity
  2. Organization and successful execution
  3. Communal forces and teamwork
  4. Leadership capability

To begin, Scott advise everyone to react to your inflow of ideas, rather than proactively work to develop new concepts. Creativity is all around us and does not need to be forced.

In this day and age, we’re continually inundated by external stimuli – phones and emails, social media, and opportunities for instant gratification, and that’s on top of our most basic needs and obligations. One way to remedy this is to build windows of non-stimulation into your day.

It’s also important to exert energy into becoming organized, and to train yourself to focus on things that are of long-term importance to you instead of everyday distractions.

Take a do-it-yourself approach to organization. Organize with a bias towards action and structure your life and days in the way that best matches your values; create a system that will help you do do high-quality work with the greatest efficiency.

Creativity x Organization = Impact

As many before him, Scott believes that the best place to find success lies within the overlap of your genuine interests, skills, and opportunities. However, he goes beyond that, addressing the future of creative work. The new era of workers, often referred to as free radicals, seek intrinsic rewards for their work, are willing to share ideas liberally, demand certain freedoms, try often and thus fail often, and expect to be fully utilized and constantly optimized in their workplace. To discover your tribe and be applauded for your way of thinking is an important key to creative progress that it is often overlooked. (Check out Belsky’s wonderful article for more on the topic of free radicals: A Manifesto For Free Radicals: Less Paperwork, Less Waiting, More Action.)

In order to for an idea to come to life, one needs leadership skills. Thankfully, taking charge, leading others, and executing plans takes all different forms. You no longer need to be loud to be the leader of a group, but instead you must simply have conviction and presence.

Many of Scott Belsky’s ideas resonate deeply with my own, though my thoughts lack the cohesion and brevity so eloquently captured by Belsky. He was a fast-talker at the conference, so I wasn’t able to digest everything until rereading my notes later, but I quickly realized that he’s articulated many aspects of my own personal philosophy, as well as defined how I fit into the modern work space and creative landscape. Though he received my sincere applause while on stage, I owe him my standing ovation right now.

Nothing extraordinary is ever achieved though ordinary means. Thinking differently is not only okay, it’s a form of creative innovation and the future of success in business and human relations.

Reinventing Charity: The Story of charity: water

In many third world countries, the women and children spend several hours each day trekking  from their isolated villages to the nearest water source, often several miles away. They collect the bacteria-infested water from swampy, stagnant ponds, and then lug home 40-pound jugs. When they arrive back in their village, they will filter the filthy water through a piece of fabric to remove larger bit of debris. Then comes the decision of how to use the water – drinking, cooking, bathing, or cleaning?

The consequences of distant and dirty water are expansive – heath, education, families, and businesses suffer. The consequences of the water crisis are also preventable.

When Scott Harrison first visited Libera in 2004 as a volunteer photo-journalist, he saw countless individuals who had been mutilated by disease and disabled by their harsh living conditions. After several years of living the high life and partying for a living, the reality shock brought the grown man to tears. After one year abroad, Scott vowed to give up all of his vices and his old style of living. He swore that, despite his debt, he would start a charity to help the people he’d met in West Africa.

Though he explored many options, water seemed the obvious choice. Everyone should have easy access to easy water, and there’s already a solution; it’s simply a matter of funding. Scott did his research and quickly realized that the other water charities were making little headway. Many people don’t trust charities because they can’t see where their money is going, and they may not understand exactly what the charity is working towards.

Photo by Armosa Studios

In 2006, Scott Harrison founded charity: water. In doing so, he not only started a charity; he reinvented charity.

  • charity: water follows the 100% model. Every cent donated goes towards projects that provide clean water and the organization has full transparency. All overhead costs are covered by private donors.
  • charity: water provide proof that your contribution has funded a completed project. Within about 18 months of your donation, of any denomination, you’ll receive a notification containing a picture of the well or filtration project, as well as the GPS coordinates.
  • charity: water has developed itself as a brand. The organization is about aspiration and problem solving, not just fundraising. They rely heavily on social media (Facebook and Twitter), word-of-mouth, relevant and emotionally affective advertising, and fundraising events.

The smallest investment can have a monumental impact:

  • Every $1 invested in the water project leads to $12 profit for the village receiving access to clean water.
  • $20 provides one person with clean water for 20 years.
  • $5,000 will build a well and sustain a village indefinitely.

I’ve been aware of charity: water for about three years now and have donated a few times, but building that personal connection with the founder, understanding the ins and outs of the cause, and then learning about the recipients of the water really bolstered my support. These aren’t foreign sub-humans; these are real people just like you and I, with families, dreams, and amazingly, hope .

In a few short months, I’ll be pledging my 24th birthday to charity: water. Rather than asking for money, books, or a night out with friends, I’ll be requesting that my friends and family help me raise $5,000 to build a well and water a village, and truly enhance the lives of others in need. I can only imagine the immense satisfaction that will bring me, those who give, and those who receive. For once in my life, I’m actually kind of looking forward to my birthday. (Click here to learn about giving up your next birthday to bring clean water to people in need.)

charity: water is an incredible organization with an enthralling back-story and brilliant, ever-evolving plan of action. Scott Harrison’s goal is for everyone on Earth to have access to clean water. I believe that’s entirely possible. Water changes everything. We all have the power to make a different, and in this case, to actually see the impact.

How $100 and Synchronicity Led to an Awesome Free Idea

A week ago, I was handed an envelope containing a $100 bill and instructions to put the money to good use. Check out Chris Guillebeau’s explanation of why he invested $100 in each attendee at World Domination Summit. Essentially, he believe’s it’s not about the money, but rather the vision. What can 1,000 inspired and highly motivated people do with $100 each?

I spent my entire flight home from Portland brainstorming ideas of how to invest my funds. I could invest the money in myself by taking classes and learning new skills, taking the necessary steps towards grad school, working to edit and publish my NaNoWriMo novel, or self-hosting and enhancing my blog. I could invest in my community by performing several random acts of kindness, buying and collecting books for underprivileged kids, promoting social justice and diversity, working with others to start a scholarship fund, finding ways to incorporate beauty into drab and mundane areas, or hosting a monthly meetup of free-thinkers and world changers. I could invest on the individual level by working with Big Brothers Big Sisters, sponsoring a foreign child, or giving the money to someone I know personally whose cause I support.

When you’re making minimum wage, $100 is a lot of money. However, when you examine the costs of many of these ideas, $100 doesn’t go very far at all. So, I began thinking more globally. What could I do to change the world without a huge monetary cost?

Well, ideas are free. And time is free. (Time is not money. If you’re investing your time in something that you believe in and enjoy, it is never wasted.)

I returned home from WDS to a letter I had written to myself back in 2008 at a social justice and diversity camp:

Dear Erin,

In January 2008, you attended the Anytown camp where you learned about social justice. One of the most important things was understanding how to implement change in your own life and then spread that knowledge and love to everyone you encounter. Upon first arrival, everyone was comfortable and loving, constantly sharing hugs and starting conversations with people they didn’t know. The trust and bonding developed very quickly and was unbelievably strong, allowing everyone to not only get along, but to truly connect on a personal level. Everyone shared their stories and you quickly realized that that people you have stereotyped or discriminated against in the past lead excruciatingly challenging lives because the “normal” and “majority” fear and work to hinder those of different ethnicities or sexual orientations. Growing up in a middle-class white neighborhood, and attending private schools prevented me from experiencing much diversity in my childhood. In light of that, I realize how lucky I am to have grown up in a family that encourages acceptance and tolerance. Before this week, I had never met anyone who was homosexual, but over the course of the week I’ve had several amazing conversations with these people and no longer feel the need to label them. It really hurt me to hear that when several of these individuals “came out,” their families disowned them, were completely unsupportive, or simply didn’t want to talk about the issue. More often than I could have ever fathomed, homosexuals and other minorities are mocked and discriminated against by society, and if they don’t have the support of their family, who can they turn to? I hope that I can remain friends with these people and support them. In my discussion group, E said that he was hurt than his family wouldn’t talk to him about his sexuality and wished that he could could bring his gay friends home for holidays if they had been disowned by their families. I was so touched by these individuals’ stories and wish I could do something to help. I also noticed that none of them felt bad for themselves – though regularly discriminated against, members of these minority groups were happy with their lives and comfortable with who they are. I admire this so much! I don’t know if I could ever be that strong. I was also exposed to people of different ethnicities, nationalities, and religious backgrounds, which was truly eye-opening. I was vaguely aware of stereotypes and prejudice before, but did not realize how pervasive and strong it still is in our society. In one activity, we stood in a circle and stepped into the center when the leader called out a group that we belonged to. I really admired those who stepped into the circle even though they may have stood alone. In another activity, we looked at discrimination and violence. I was struck by how many people have encountered physical harm and verbal abuse for simply being themselves. I never felt that I was particularly privileged until today. I hope to carry the things I’ve learned this week into my everyday life. I hope that I can plant seeds of change throughout my community and the world I live in. Instilled with this new knowledge and experience, I feel that it’s my responsibility to go out and help ensure social justice and the acceptance of diversity; it’s my job to go out and make the world a better and more welcoming place. 

Erin

After reading that, I knew I wanted to put the money towards some larger, community effort. I felt inspired to help those who may be struggling to integrate into society and yearn to feel accepted. As a member of nearly every majority, I have still struggled to feel that sense of belonging throughout my life, and one of my ultimate goals in life is to help people move through that.

I’ve been running ideas past my family and friends for the past week, including those listed above. This morning, my sister and I had a lengthy conversation, laced with ridiculous levels of excitement. I’m pretty sure I know where I’m going to invest my $100

Start a project, surprise someone, or do something entirely different – it’s up to you.

My family recently became involved with The Welcome to America Project, which helps newly arriving refugees integrate into American society by providing them with furniture and clothing, helpful resources and, most importantly, gestures of kindness. My younger sister happens to be pursuing her Girl Scout Gold Award and I now have $100 to invest in a good cause, so she and I be teaming up to create a free, accessible, aesthetically appealing, and heartfelt guide for immigrants that will help them start their new lives in America – how to use the public transportation system, where to find work, what to do in the case of an emergency, how to become a citizen, etc. Once the basics guide is complete, I think it would be wonderful to provide, in addition, resources aimed at immigrants that address money management, city-specific maps and resources, idioms and cultural facts, success stories of established immigrants, and tips and advice from others who have already gone through the process.

I spent my flight home from WDS brainstorming dozens of plans for my Ben Franklin. Upon my return, I found in my mailbox a letter which I had written to myself while at a social justice and diversity camp in 2008; in the two-page letter, I vowed to implement change in my own life and spread knowledge and love to everyone I encounter. Though I already do that on a small scale, the synchronicity of that letter showing up 4.5 years after being written, right after I had received $100 to put towards a good cause was taken as a sign that my investment needs to transcend borders, be self-sustaining, and truly help people feel like they are accepted member of society. Shortly thereafter, my sister shared her idea of creating a fun and colloquial guide for immigrants. I knew then exactly what I wanted to invest in. I am totally piggybacking on my sister’s idea, but it’s a project that I’m excited to contribute to in way possible.

As an added incentive, If I’m able to complete the project for less than $100 (ideas are free and time is free, right?), the remainder will be used to either self-host my blog or hire a professional to help me edit my NaNoWriMo novel, both of which are personal projects “to be completed” when I have the funds.

What do you think? If you were given $100, how would you spend it?

On Cages, Freedom, and Taking Flight

This is just want I always wanted…but maybe it’s not what I truly want. Have you ever experienced that? You find exactly what you’ve always hoped for, your on-paper ideal, and then realized that maybe thinking you know what you want doesn’t mean a thing?

I’ve spent the past several weeks exploring the same insidious thoughts, inside and out, and from every possible angle. Most of my posts are written in under an hour; this one has been written, deleted, edited, and rewritten about twenty times. Two months ago, I wrote about how I’d met someone who I really connected with and how blissfully exciting that was. One month later, I changed my mind.

I recently read an article in Real Simple magazine about a married woman with children who looks back on her life and realizes that over the course of the last ten years, she’s let go of her dreams and identity. The things that once made her feel alive have faded from her day-to-day life. The woman who one prided herself on being independent and adventurous had disappeared. That thought terrifies me beyond words.

I tend to be guarded and slow to warm up. The castle of my consciousness only has one entrance open to the public, and most don’t have the patience or tenacity to ever discover it. Those who meet me, and are interested in getting to know me better are often intrigued by my sincerity, intelligence, and drive to realize my full potential; yet the dichotomy of the situation is this: that is the exact same reason things never work out. A few months ago, I read a post by Erik at Susserative Aspirations about his junior high crush, Emma, which hit me like a ton of bricks. He fell not for the young girl’s beauty, but for her brilliance and her power to exist without someone at her side.

“The male hegemony is built on containing the will and love of women. It’s built upon not risking the wings by which a woman will grow, the independence she will undertake should we let her become her most intelligent, powerful and intuitive self. We do this with any creature we don’t understand and wish not to lose. And because we want to protect them from the world, and we do not want to lose them to the savagery of so many concrete hearts, we become it ourselves. By choosing hard edges over soft…because ultimately, we don’t want to be alone. So we near subconciously drive that which we love into submission or worse, never let it flourish in the first place. Sometimes we are more forceful about it, and sometimes, we subjugate our own wishes simply because we fear the flighty ways of an independent heart choosing us only temporarily.”

I’ve been called independent and flighty on multiple occasions, and I can’t deny it. When I told my family and friends I was dating someone, I got a handful of “Congratulations,” but the more common responses were “What?! You? No way!” or “I’m happy for you…we were starting to worry.” Yeah…

I should probably pay more attention to other people’s responses, rather than fighting to justify how a new situation is different from the past. Perhaps I need to truly examine what it is I absolutely need and refuse to settle for less, refuse to settle at all.

I need freedom. I need flexibility. In all honesty, there are days where I want to lock myself in a room and write from dusk until dawn, and then continue on through the next day. There are weeks where I’ll turn off my phone, shut off my social media accounts, and fall off the radar. I take unplanned day trips, spend my money on books and classes, and pour my heart out to strangers as I seek out that high obtained from human connections. It seems that what I need is neither normal, nor acceptable.

I read another great post recently by Rue at Hooray Rue, aptly titled The dating profile I wish I could post and not seem completely insane. The fact that asking for a bit of independence and authenticity in a relationship can come across as “insane” and improbable is a bit disheartening. I want someone who is normal, but extraordinary. Is that too much to ask for?

“I am independent and I do not need to have my hand held 24/7 (both literally and figuratively)… I want to have adventures around the world with you… My job is really important to me and takes up A LOT of my time, so I can’t see you all the time either…If you put your height as 5’8, can you actually be 5’8 (and not just on tip toes). Preferably with your own hair… It is perfectly acceptable for you to have your own interests away from me and for you to hang out with your friends, in fact, I encourage it. Please don’t create drama; I just can’t cope with it… I’m actually pretty funny during normal conversations. I don’t really care if I look stupid in front of other people. After all this, I swear I’m really very normal, and that’s all I want you to be too. Normal, but extraordinary.”

At this point in my life, I need to invest time into myself, into figuring out what’s next. Career, school, and hobbies are higher on my priority totem pole than trying to understand someone else; or perhaps I simply don’t have the patience or willingness to mold my life’s plan around someone who may just be passing through. 

One my my closest friends has been with her boyfriend for four years and I really admire their relationship; however, their plans for the future diverge. I don’t know how I would manage that uncertainty; yet, that is precisely what every relationship is built on – trust, hope, and an agreement to set aside the anxiety of the unknown and focus on the positives and the yet unrecognized potential. It’s not an easy feat.  

I’m admittedly a bit controlling. Not of others nor of situations, but rather of my own personal situation. I actively manage and work on a dozen small projects and ideas, I read incessantly, I take classes on obscure topics, I talk to strangers at the park. The chaos is intricately micromanaged, never to be understood by anyone outside myself. The equilibrium is carefully maintained so long as I’m in control. Figure out my system and you’ve got yourself a golden ticket; make an effort to discern the entanglement that is my life, and I will forcefully push you away. I realize I’m walking the fine line between sounding pretentious and ashamed; I assure you it’s the latter.

At World Domination Summit, I talked to everyone and befriended several successful middle-aged women. “Are you attached?” After taking a moment to translate the Southern term into normal English and shaking my head “No,” one of the women innocently commented, “There are several handsome young men here.” I nodded gently and fell behind. That is not what I’m here for. Over the course of the weekend, in three different conversations, it was noted that most successful male bloggers are married, whereas most successful women bloggers are “unattached”. I can’t help but wonder why that is, or whether that can be extrapolated to the real world. Were those two days spent surrounded by free thinking feminists? Or does the concept of having to choose between family and career still permeate our culture? I don’t have an answer, but it’s something to ponder.

For me, that pondering has transpired into an entire series of thoughts. I realized this weekend that there are others, like myself, who are not too keen on giving up their own dreams to start a life with someone else. That was encouraging; however, it led me to wonder whether some people simply are not meant to settle down.

I feel a connection to people on the level of humanity; I always have. If a friend is emotionally anguished, I hurt; if a stranger is smiling, I’m able to internalize their joy. I value intimate one-on-one conversations and feel that they serve as a bridging of the collective undercurrents of emotion. An intensely felt knowing fluxes below the surface, on a level that perhaps Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell could better explain. I’m not sure how I feel about the theory of collective consciousness; but I believe that there is some fine thread that ties everything together, and I feel that connection everywhere I go, and with everyone I meet, though the strength of those bonds is variable.

I don’t think I could ever single out an individual and direct all of my love towards them; I don’t think I could care more for one exceptional individual than I do for the rest of humanity. Isn’t that one of the primary demands of an intimate romantic relationship? I could never bring myself to sever those ties which bind me to the lakes of emotional energy that lurk beneath the surface of our day-to-day experiences and the clouds of thought which linger overhead. Connecting singularly seems absurd to me, and it feels completely wrong. I’m not by any means suggesting that it is inherently wrong, rather that I place the same value on relationships with my family, friends, significant others, and strangers across the globe. Everyone deserves to be loved. Who am I to withhold that?

I’m at a place in my life where the thought of being tied down on any level sounds atrocious. Throughout my life, I’ve generally not deviated too far from that place. Am I afraid of commitment, selfish and unwilling to compromise, or knowingly passing up great opportunities? No contrived answer is ever going to answer that question. A more accurate explanation would depict the ongoing conversation I actively choose to carry on with myself. What are you passionate about? Where do your skills and talents lie? What are your dreams and goals? Once all those questions have been answered, or at least deeply explored, then comes the question in question: How can another person fit into that framework? How can you stay true to yourself, while yielding in ways that will allow you to grow both as an individual and as an intricate half of a partnership?

I’ve never been particularly interested in settling down, though it’s admittedly hard to unwind my personal dreams from the ideals which society has been presenting me with incessantly for the past twenty-three years. Maybe I’ll one day reach a point at which I can confidently say what it is I need, in terms of a relationship, or perhaps that day won’t ever arrive. Either way, life will continue on. As we’re told time and time again, it really makes no difference what other people think. Why is such a simple and obvious idea such a challenge to internalize and hold on to? In this moment, I want to find a job I love, learn new skills, publish a book, pursue a PhD, have a positive impact on the world, and build up my net worth. Maybe tomorrow or ten years from now, a romantic relationship will be a priority. Right now, it’s not.

I’ve reached a place of full acceptance, at a unshakable level. I used to feel bitter, misunderstood, and upset with everyone. I’ve realized as of late, we often don’t have to go too far to uncover the love and appreciation we so desperately seek. I’m kind, intelligent, interesting, and not too hard on the eyes. Am I not exactly what most people claim to be looking for? Am I not worth a little extra effort and compromise? Taking a step back from the situation, I’ve come to realize that the problem is not some out-to-get-me world or individuals who aren’t willing to take time to get to know me. The issue is me. I am so engulfed in trying to figure myself out that letting anyone else into my tiny work space is irritating. Trying to live up to others’ expectations will only lead to disappointment, on both ends. It take a bit of courage to step out of line and go your own way; but realize that is always an option.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were to start providing birds with a comfortable perches, food, affection, and the freedom to come and go as they please? Then fervently pray each day that they’ll return home to us, eager to share stories of the day’s adventures? Inhibiting someone from experiencing life on their own terms may work in some situations, but is not necessarily conductive to a healthy relationship. At least not for me, in the current moment.

Life is full of confounding variables and very few obvious answers. Oftentimes the best path toward understanding what’s right for you is to sit back and reflect on your own experiences and dissect your beliefs. In doing so, you are empowering yourself to not only survive, but thrive; you’re building yourself a launchpad from which to take flight in the direction of your truest self.