Last year about this time, I shared an experience I had at age 30 — a moment when I decided to rethink who I was and what I wanted for myself, when I dared to ask myself questions I hadn’t before, and to really listen to the answers. (See “What’s Your Plan?” at ELmag.com/whatsyourplan.)
I’ve often wondered how my life might have turned out if I hadn’t taken the time to ponder those questions. Quite probably, this magazine wouldn’t exist. RevolutionaryAct.com and the 101 Revolutionary Ways to Be Healthy app wouldn’t have come to be. Almost certainly, the amazing group of people who make these projects happen would not be working together in the way they are now. And the millions of individuals whose choices and lives are in some way touched by what our team does every day — well, there’s no way of knowing how things might be different for them, too, and for the people and projects all of their lives touch.
None of us can ever know the extended outcomes of all our choices, or how they’ll play out over time. And frankly, I can’t think about that too much or I get kind of freaked out.
What I do know is this: Somewhere inside each of us lies an unopened box of potential and possibility. And somewhere inside each of us lies both the desire and strength to open and unpack that box — if we choose.
That’s a power-packed “if,” because when we strive to harness even a portion of our innate capacity, our lives stand to be transformed in extraordinary directions. The gifts we are able to offer our loved ones and communities are dramatically magnified and multiplied.
I believe that the act of recognizing this capacity, this potential, is a sacred one. But it’s rarely a simple or easy quest. That’s why we dedicated this issue to the art of self-transformation. It’s also why we believe wise facilitators and gifted coaches like our cover subject, Lauren Zander, are so valuable.
During a recent conversation I had with Lauren (for whom coaching is a reflexive instinct, like breathing), she asked me a couple of probing questions and promptly offered up a number of powerful observations about ways she saw me inadvertently limiting myself.
She told me she suspected I might have some trouble owning my personal desires, that I was more comfortable with the notion of “being of service” than of freely pursuing my own passions, and that this amounted to playing keep-away from the source of my own best energy. The ironic part, she pointed out, was that this was probably blunting rather than catalyzing my ability to offer my very best to the world around me.
Huh. I hadn’t quite thought of it that way before. So we talked about that for a while, and then she gave me the assignment of writing down everything I’d accomplished to date (no downplaying allowed) and articulating what those accomplishments had prepared me to do. She challenged me to dream big, and to fully commit myself to whatever felt exciting and energizing to me right now — even if I could not be sure of the outcomes. It was a mind-blowing, imagination-expanding conversation.
I believe that the act of imagining is inherently transformative and empowering. (For more on that, see Bahram Akradi’s column.) And once we’ve gone through the process of imagining, once we’ve seen ourselves in a different light, some part of us is forever changed and expanded.
We invoke new futures. We let go of old habits. We call new friends and collaborators into our midst. We go in search of new information. We generate fresh motivation. Our old limits crumble and fall away to make room for new growth.
I like the way philosopher-poet Rilke put it : “I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie.”
We are not meant to live folded. But freeing ourselves and our lives from unnecessary constraints is not a one-time project. It’s a lifelong exploration — one fueled by our most central desires and shaped by our willingness to move beyond self-imposed limitations.
If each of us was living at the truest, healthiest, most expansive expression of ourselves, how might our lives be different? The process of considering that question unfolds us. Once unfolded, we begin taking all kinds of unpredictable, arching shapes. We never fit neatly back into our original packaging. And that is precisely as it should be.