Whoever you are and whatever you’re up to, you know when you set about to do something new—whether it’s write a new piece, go to a new class, talk to a new client, start that exercise program, or learn something new, especially if it pushes against your boundaries—resistance is lurking. Resistance that hides in that tightness in your gut, in that irresistible urge to clean the refrigerator, in that seductive call of a bar of chocolate, or the allure of that nasty website.
Here I am writing, as a dozen little itches, distractions, thoughts, desires, judgments and genies try to draw me away and keep from doing my work this morning. “Why are you doing this?” they ask me. “No one will listen. It won’t make a difference. It won’t be any good. It’s been done already. Who are you to do this work anyway? Don’t you need to go do something more productive that will make more money?” Resistance will try to make you forget what you are doing and why.
You have to pull yourself back to the center where your work and your life is waiting for you. I saw an amazing interview with Neil Young on the Charlie Rose show—Neil Young of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, who wrote “Ohio” and “Southern Man,” and has been rockin’ in the free world for over 40 years. Day in and day out, married to the same woman, suffering from epilepsy, father of kids with cerebral palsy, Neil plays on.
Neil explained to Charlie Rose that everyone who knows him knows that when he hears “the call” he’s going to answer it, unless there’s a life or death reason not to. Tired. Having fun. Down. Busy. Worried. Guilty. Afraid. None of this is going to stop Neil Young from heeding the call to go write that music and those lyrics. It was a gift, he explained. It had been not given to him, but offered to him. He had accepted. Now it was his responsibility to show up.
That was the deal. He’s given his life to this thing, and it has given him his life.
I imagine some of you are saying, “Damn, I wish I were Neil Young. Where’s my muse? I wish I were called to write a song, or a poem, or to paint, or to sculpt, or take a photograph, or design a product, or create a business, or choreograph a dance, or code a cool iPhone app, or run an amazing experiment, or think of a new line of work, or come up with a novel solution to a problem. I’d give anything! Just please call me!”
Like former President Clinton, I can feel your pain, but, sorry, I don’t believe you. You have heard the call. We all have. More than once—but you didn’t heed it. You were too busy, too tired, too afraid, too something. And now, you think you don’t hear it anymore.
But it’s there. The whole universe is bursting with the call. No matter where you look, there is change and creation. You are part and parcel of a God-refined creation machine. There’s destruction and decay, too. That part can be really scary, but we have to destroy some of the old creation to create anew.
In Rolling Stone, Eminem shared that fear was one thing that made him do so many damn drugs in the past—fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, fear of being too connected to all those adoring fans. One of the most successful musicians alive has to face fear and anxiety. Neil and Eminem have to face their demons before they can do their work. So do you and so do I.
The particulars are going to be different for each of us, but once you get the inkling of the direction of your contribution, whether it’s to make your job more meaningful, to write that poem, or to be more present to those children, you’ve got to show up every day, like Neil. Like Eminem. Commit. Get professional. Get your b.s. out of the way.
Sit down, stand up, go in, go out—whatever answering the call looks like to you, do it everyday—at least every workday. Act like you hear the call even when you think you don’t. Keep doing your work. Keep showing up, literally. The call is there, like leaves rustling in the wind. If you’re not paying attention, you won’t hear it.
In doing the work, the call becomes clearer. You don’t wait. You act. You don’t clean the refrigerator. You don’t call that friend. You sit down and you write. You go out and take those pictures. Learn that skill, send that resume, go to that exercise class. Even with nineteen kids, four husbands, and eight cakes baking, you do what has to be done. Because your life depends on it just like Neil Young’s life depends on it.
So learn your craft, which includes studying the ways of your own mind and personality. Observe the deviousness of your excuses, the disabling power of your limiting beliefs and self-criticism. Observe your broken-heartedness over the past. Forgive yourself for things done and things not done. Your life is calling you to be who you are. That’s pretty exciting and damn frightening.
“My God, if I could just be fully and completely who I am, it would be like heaven. But what if I fail? What if they laugh? What if they ignore me?” That’s fear we have to face, step by courageous step, as we work to become who we are called to be. And we do it knowing we will never be fully who we are. We’re too much of a mystery for that. The best we can hope for is to be a living part of a universe that is a becoming more than it is a thing, more of a dance than a sculpture. There’s no end to it.
So, where is your place in the great dance? What music do you hear? Who are your partners? What is your instrument? Be open to it. Work to find it.
Listen. Do you hear it? Your life is calling.
Namaste. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805/680-5572.