Tag Archives: inspiration

Our Story Is All We Have: I’m Writing A Book!

25 Apr
Smiley's Moleskines

My Moleskines are getting full.

“But then why do we write if not to tackle the fears that others look to us to conquer?” Joanna Penn

Less than a year ago, the voice inside my head telling me to listen to my heart and take a leap finally got loud enough that I couldn’t ignore it. So I quit my job at the Peace Corps headquarters in D.C., moved to San Francisco without a job, and now I’m writing a book about that journey and about taking the leap.

I know many of you reading are ready to make a change, to get unstuck, and to stop settling for mediocrity. With this book, I want to help you do that.

It was really scary to embrace the quarter-life crisis I was facing, move thousands of miles away, and start completely anew in a strange city—so part of this book is about that. Part of it is about empowering you to move through whatever crisis you might be going through, whether you’re about to graduate college, quit your job, launch a new company, travel the world, or turn 30 (or 40, in which case, you’re probably thinking, “Holy shit, I’m 39, and about to read a book by some dude named Smiley, it can’t get much worse than this…”). 

Through telling my story and what has worked (and has not worked) during my recent life transition (ok, quarter-life crisis), my book will be a friendly companion on your journey toward getting closer to who you are and actualizing your dreams.  I will encourage you to embrace rather than dread your current life crisis, and best of all, smile and dance a little bit more.   

The book will be closer to the length of a novella (but true!) and will have illustrations by a friend of mine who is a prolific visual storyteller. 

The goals: To finish my first draft by my 30th birthday (June 29), and have the book completed by August 1.  I’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign in late June to help pay for my wonderful editor, cover art and illustrations, a designer, marketing and publicity, and a book tour. 

A close friend questioned my audacity, and whether I could raise money on Kickstarter, saying “People buy cool products like watches and gadgets on Kickstarter, but why would anyone just want to read your story?,” he said to me.  Just read my story?  My story is all I have.  Your story is all you have.  Our story is all we have. 

So, if you’re with me, if you believe that I, just like you, have a unique story to tell, I need your help!  Embrace the process of creation with me.  Sign up here for exclusive updates on my progress, and sneak-peeks at my Kickstarter campaign which will launch in June.

Ways to Help

1)    Sign up here to join my mailing list so you can spread the word about my upcoming Kickstarter campaign and let other people know about the book!  If you are currently going through a life transition, or know someone who is, please sign up for the mailing list.  The point of this project is to build a supportive community of people going through this arduous process together. 

2)    Let me know if you have any ideas for my book. I’m still working on things like title, design ideas, brilliant marketing strategies, and creative book tour ideas.

3)    Know any brilliant writers? I’d love to pick their brains.

4)    Let me know if you are connected to an awesome publishing company who might be interested in my project.

Thank you!

I would not be able to make this happen without your love, inspiration, readership, and support—thank you!  Feel free to contact me at smileyposwolsky@gmail.com with questions or ideas.  And most importantly, tell your story too—whether by prose, photo, film, installation, music, dance, code, or whatever medium you love.  The world is waiting for you. 

Storyboarding my book at the library.

Storyboarding  at the UCSF library.  A couple medical students looked at me like I was nuts.

Revisiting The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity by James Baldwin

15 Mar
Photo by Allan Warren, Wikipedia Commons.

Baldwin with Shakespeare, London, 1969.  Photo by Allan Warren, Wikipedia Commons.

A few moths ago, after listening to me lament about how difficult it is to sit down and actually write every day, my sister gave me some James Baldwin to read, and it calmed my soul.  I keep returning to one essay in particular, The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity, which Baldwin delivered as a speech at the Community Church in New York City in 1962.  The complete text does not seem to exist online, which is a shame, but it can be found in the collection, The Cross of Redemption, and is essential reading.  

To give you, the reader, the writer, the artist, the social changemaker, a little taste of Baldwin’s fierce tongue, and his ability to spit the truth from the heart—the raw with the real—the brutal with the tender—I’ve included some of my favorite excerpts below. 

What makes this speech so powerful is that it puts forth Baldwin’s personal manifesto, his reason for being, which any writer can relate to.  Being an artist entails a total risk of everything; integrity is the ability to stay true to one’s calling, one’s calling is the very essence of who they are, and this is not something you can turn on and off.  It’s not something that hangs around for the weekend or the summer or for the extent of a hook-up or a relationship or a friendship or even a marriage or while your kids are growing up—you’re calling is you—it is with you forever

And with this great responsibility, this great purpose to do your art, to do the work you were meant to do­—whether that’s to write, to paint, to design, to make movies, to create, to teach, to help, to give, to fight for social change—comes an equally if not more important obligation to practice humility.  You have to respect your craft, to learn its power, as well as respect its ability to cause personal pain and torment.  You have to be humble enough not to let your calling, your art, destroy you, because it can, because in almost all likelihood, will.  

***

Excerpts from The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity by James Baldwin

…The first thing an artist finds out when he is very, very young (when I say “young” I mean before he is fifteen, that is to say, before, properly speaking, he or she can walk or talk, before he or she has had enough experience to begin to assess his or her experience)—and what occurs in this hypothetical artist’s life is a kind of silence—the first thing he finds out is that for reasons he cannot explain to himself or others, he does not belong anywhere.  Maybe you’re on the football team, maybe you’re a runner, maybe you belong to a church, you certainly belong to a family; and abruptly, in other people’s eyes—this is very important—you begin to discover that you are moving and you can’t stop this movement to what looks like the edge of the world.  Now what is crucial, and one begins to understand it much, much later, is that if you were this hypothetical artist, if you were in fact the dreamer that everybody says you are, if in fact you were wrong not to settle for the things that you cannot for some mysterious reason settle for, if this were so, the testimony in the eyes of other people would not exist.  The crime of which you discover slowly you are guilty is not so much that you are aware, which is bad enough, but that other people see that you are and cannot bear to watch it, because it testifies to the fact that they are not…

…You walk into a room what somebody says, “What do you do?” And you say, “I write.”  And they say, “Yeah, but what do you do?”  And you wonder, what do you do? And what’s it for?  Why don’t you get a job?  And somehow you can’t, and finally you learn this is in the most terrible way, because you try.  You’re in the position of someone on the edge and it’s cold in the field, and there’s a house over there, and there’s fire in the house, and food and everything you need, everything you want, and you make all kinds of efforts to get into the house.  And they would let you in; they would let you in.  They’re not being cruel.  They recognize you as you come to the door, and they can’t let you in.  You get in, let us say, for five minutes, and you can’t stay…

…The trouble is that although the artist can do it, the price that he has to pay himself and that you, the audience, must also pay, is a willingness to give up everything, to realize that although you spent twenty-seven years acquiring this house, this furniture, this position, although you spent forty years raising this child, these children, nothing, none of it belongs to you.  You can only have it by letting it go.  You can only take if you prepared to give, and giving is not an investment.  It is not a day at the bargain counter.  It is a total risk of everything, of you and who you think you are, who you think you’d like to be, where you think you’d like to go—everything, and this forever, forever…

…But then one has got to understand—that is, I and all my tribe (I mean artists now)—that it is hard for me.  If I spend weeks and months avoiding my typewriter—and I do, sharpening pencils, trying to avoid going where I know I’ve got to go—then one has got to use this to learn humility.  After all, there is kind of a saving egotism too, a cruel and dangerous but also saving egotism, about the artist’s condition, which is this:  I know that if I survive it, when the tears have stopped flowing or when the blood had dried, when the storm has settled, I do have a typewriter that is my torment but is also my work.  If I can survive it, I can always go back there, and if I’ve not turned into a total liar, then I can use it and prepare myself in this way for the next inevitable and possibly fatal disaster.  But if I find that hard to do—and I have a weapon which most people don’t have—then one must understand how hard it is for almost anybody else to do it all… 

***

So if it was so hard for James Baldwin to write—and yes, he had a weapon most writers can only dream of—how the hell are we supposed to do it?  Because we have to, or have to at least try.  As artists, we have to be true to ourselves; we have to ignore the voices telling us to stop and “get a real job,” we have to ignore the voice inside our own head that tells us every day to go out and “get a real job.” 

We have to continue to put ourselves out there, we have to continue to make courageous acts—through each blog post, each project, each show, each meeting, each event, each painting, each drawing, each piece of work, each and every day—we have to continue to risk everything—“and this, forever, forever.” 

When you have a moment, read the whole speech, which, true to its writer, switches to the subject of racial justice, which in the aftermath of the police shooting of Kimani Gray last Saturday in Brooklyn—yet another black teenager shot (7 times from 11 shots) and killed by the police, is just as relevant today as when delivered in 1962. 

In the end, Baldwin looks beyond the world of the individual artist, arguing that our collective integrity—our civilization as a whole, our humanity—is fundamentally broken and has failed, when we lack equality for our fellow man.    

Say No To Mediocrity, and Yes To Loving Your Life

25 Feb

10 Things I Learned at The Bold Academy

by Smiley Poswolsky, Bold Academy Director

I Will...  Bold Academy San Francisco.  Photo by Nate Bagley.

I Will…  Bold Academy.  Photo by Nate Bagley.

“Who you decide to be and whether you decide to stay true to yourself—is the only thing people can’t take from you—unless you let them.”

–Bold Academy San Francisco, February, 2013

Between February 8-18, 2013, 16 emerging leaders from three countries joined an inspiring team of entrepreneurs, coaches, mentors, do-gooders, and go-getters, and we all lived together in a house on Alamo Square Park for ten days, forming The Bold Academy San Francisco.  Together, we built a community of intention, engagement, passion, and love; with the mission of becoming our best selves, living the lives we were meant to live, and creating positive social change.

This post compiles a tiny portion of the wisdom I gained from the Bold community this February.  In sharing this, my ask is that you share it as well, and encourage others to do the same, ensuring more and more people unplug from The Matrix, as we support each other in living the lives we were meant to live. 

1.  Vulnerability is Power. 

At Bold Academy, every participant, mentor, and speaker has the opportunity to tell their story.  You’d think that bringing together a group of talented Bolders and world-class mentors—some of whom have started multi-million dollar companies—that most people would tell stories of achievement, excellence, and success.  This was not the case.  At Bold, we listened to story after story of failure, of fear, of humility, of embarrassment, of a project gone wrong, of an idea not turning out as planned or desired.  Yet, time after time, these so-called “failures” were in fact life-defining lessons, teachings that led to a transformative experience, a new life purpose, and hard-earned success.  It’s only when we expose our darkest fears and our greatest mistakes that true growth occurs. 

Impactful entrepreneurs, leaders, organizers, and artists, are similar in that they are at one with their own vulnerability; their dark side has been exposed, their dark side forms the core of their work or business, their dark side is what makes them powerful.  That which makes them weak, that which keeps them up at night, that which scares them, also energizes them, and fuels their passion and their desire to create.  Moreover, it’s what makes them relatable, and makes their story so powerful.  Nobody wants to work with someone who knows everything or doesn’t need help.  Why?  Because all of us, the CEO and the intern, have something to learn, and all of us need help.  All of us. 

Be true to your own story, who you are, and what you need, and your story will resonate with others.  The world will come to your aid.    

2.  The journey is the journey.  Embrace it. 

A lot of inspirational books or blogs tell you to “find your passion.”  It’s like, “No shit, if I knew what my passion was, I wouldn’t be reading your blog.”  Instead, at Bold Academy, we focus on creating a community of intention and collaboration, a supportive environment where multiple passions and interests can be explored and shared.  Rather than stressing about finding the elusive “passion,” embrace an attitude of experimentation, of being open to trying, open to failure, open to mistakes.  Focus on living in the present and embrace the journey to explore many passions (or interests, hobbies, instincts, and fears) and be ok with changing course, finding a new passion, or coming back to a passion you haven’t thought about for ten years. 

The journey is the journey.  There is no mountain top or finish line or final award (when you get that award, you’ll still have to go out and do something the next day), there is just this moment, so embrace it, live your life today, right now.  As Bold’s yoga teacher, Julia Winston, reminded us one morning, “We run forward, we push, we have goals, we dream, to get to the present.”

3.  Fall in love with your life.

“How you spend your days is how you spend your life.”Annie Dillard

At Bold we encourage participants to find the daily rituals and habits that lead to fulfillment and success.  If yoga makes you feel strong, centered, and confident, and you love doing yoga, and yet your current job only allows you to do yoga once a week, then you don’t need to quit your job, but you definitely need to make more time for yoga.  If writing makes you happy, then write daily.  If you love teaching other people and working with kids, and your current job consists of listening to music in headphones and filling in an Excel sheet, you need to make a change. 

Take time to discover the things you personally love, the little things that make you smile, and the rituals that make you better, and incorporate them into your daily life.     

4.  Lean Into Fear.

Smash Fear talk by Ted Gonder at Bold Academy.  Visual storyboard by Whitney Flight.  Photo by Terri Simon

Smash Fear talk by Ted Gonder at Bold Academy. Visual storyboard by Whitney Flight. Photo by Terri Simon

“If I’m not afraid to do something, it’s probably not worth my time.”Ted Gonder

Ted Gonder, founder and CEO of Moneythink, a nonprofit that teaches financial life-skills and entrepreneurial thinking to high school students, which is an Echoing Green Fellowship semi-finalist, gave an inspiring talk at Bold on smashing fear.  Ted’s personal credo is one all of us can aspire to:  fear is a tool, fear is fuel, fear is to be partnered with, we can listen to our fears to point us in the direction we need to walk. 

Let me practice what I preach and get vulnerable for a moment.  There is not a single day that goes by that I am not scared shitless of the life I’ve embarked on; I do not know where I’ll be in five years career-wise, whether I’ll be making income from writing and inspiring others, or how I’m going to raise a family one day.  However, I do know that I must do those things, I will find a way, at all costs, precisely because it scares me shitless.  As my friend Ted says, “Flinching is not a luxury that excellence can afford.” 

5.  Take your ideas seriously.  Share them.

“A lot of people never use their initiative because no one told them to.”Banksy 

One of our Bold Mentors, George Zisiadis, led a life-changing session on taking your idea seriously, in which he implored us to use our initiative and tell our friends to use theirs.  If you have an idea, however big or small or crazy or epic or ridiculous, write it down, pursue it, and most importantly, share your idea with others

Why?  Well, take the story of one Bold mentor, social entrepreneur and engineer, Debbie Sterling.  Around three years ago, while eating brunch, she told some friends in San Francisco about an idea she had to make a toy company to get young girls interested in engineering, motivated by the fact that nearly every engineering toy at the toy store catered to the way boys learn.  Her friends loved the idea, and told her she had to pursue it. 

Eventually, she left her job and she started working full-time on building a business and prototyping the toy.  She told more people about her idea at the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation, and the enthusiasm in the room was palpable, so much so that other StartingBloc Fellows started working for her.  Within a year, GoldieBlox raised over $285,000 on Kickstarter and was a big hit at this year’s Toy Fair in New York City.  In short, Debbie was able to launch a business that is starting to inspire young girls all over the world, all because she got vulnerable, shared her idea, it resonated with others, and people came flocking to support her and her vision.    

6.  You can’t do this shit alone.  (Seriously, you can’t do this shit alone.)

As Debbie’s story illustrates, sharing your idea and asking for help can change everything.  At Bold Academy, we practice sharing our needs and gives.  One ask, one email, two minutes spent walking up to a random stranger and asking for help, can change everything.  You have to make the ask.  We can’t help you if we don’t know what you need.  Don’t be shy, this is your life.  Make your ask, and make it often.

Conversely; give, give, give.  Tell your friends and community what you’re unique value-add is, what skills you have, who you are connected to, and how you can help them achieve their goals.  Giving will empower others, who in return, will help you soar to new heights.    

7.  Community is everything.  Find an intentional one. 

Anyone that’s built a thriving business or led a successful project knows this already; you need to surround yourself with people that make you fulfilled, that make you smarter, that support you when you succeed and love you when you fail, that constantly push you to be the best you can be.  This is as tough for me to write as it is for you to read, but if the people you are currently living with, hanging out with, or working with, are not making you better, then as soon as possible, you need to change living situations or find new friends and co-workers.  It’s sad, but I’m sorry, it’s true.    

Intentional communities like Bold Academy and StartingBloc provide a community of entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, innovators, artists, teachers, mentors, and friends, united in the pursuit of self-potential and social impact.  Your community has your back, your community makes sure you’re following your dreams, and holds you accountable to your goals.  Your community looks at your goals and says, “I think you can do better.”  Your community, your tribe, talks about ideas and dreams.  Other people talk about bullshit.   People that make you have a good time, believe in you, give you soul talk, and inspire you to reach new heights; those are very special friends, hold onto them at all costs.  

8.  Fuck mediocrity.

“If you feel the need to justify what you are doing, you probably need to change what you are doing.”  –Teju Ravilochan, co-founder and CEO of The Unreasonable Institute

Life was not meant to be driven at cruise control, placing your dreams on hold until sometime in between age 60 and 75 when your back aches like hell, you can’t even remember what you did every day Monday through Friday for 40 years, and you have a nice 401k and a bag of golf clubs.  I’m not hating on having an office job—don’t get me wrong, I love office snacks, office crushes, and The Office—but I am hating on working a job you hate for a company or organization you don’t believe in.  I’m hating on living a mediocre life.    

Sometimes, yes, we need to work jobs we don’t love to support ourselves and our families, and much of the world’s population simply does not have a choice to pick what they do for a living.   Yet, I know plenty of people who have savings, who actually do have the special privilege to take a pay cut to work on something they believe in, but they don’t, because they are scared, scared of failure, scared of giving up their nice $2000/month apartment, scared of giving up fancy Sunday brunches, scared of admitting they are 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years-old and still finding out who they are.  My friends:  you are not alone.  All of us are still figuring it out.  That’s why we’re alive.  The journey is the journey.    

Your job and your lifestyle should reflect your personal interests, passions, and values.  If you don’t know what you want to do, that’s totally fine, explore internships and apprenticeships and activities and opportunities in areas that do interest you.  Above all, don’t settle for mediocrity in anything you do.  If you need help matching your skills with a meaningful job that has a social impact, check out the resources provided by ReWork, or email me and I’ll do my best to help. 

9.  Once you make an impact, you can’t go back.    

I cannot tell you the joy I experienced this past week knowing that the work we put into Bold Academy directly impacted the way participants (and myself, and other mentors and staff) see their lives and what they are capable of achieving in this world.  I cannot explain that sensation in words, that feeling of gratitude that the solar system has conspired for you to be in that exact moment doing that exact thing at that exact time, that you were actually born to do something in this ridiculous thing we call life, but that’s what it felt like. 

And now that I’ve felt that, and having known 1000% what it feels like day after day to NOT be making a direct impact in anyone’s life, I know that I cannot go back to a life without meaning.  I refuse to, I am physically unable to.  I don’t care if it means I make tens of thousands of dollars less than my friends, live with roommates till I’m 37, never own a car, and have sub-par health insurance until the United States becomes civilized, fuck it, I’d rather make a difference in someone else’s life than waste my time doing something I’m not passionate about.

10.  Life is precious. 

“Do not waste time.”Amit Gupta

You have a finite amount of time on this planet.  Make it worthwhile.  Do want you want to do, maximize your personal potential.  If you need to save up money before you do what you want to do, awesome, save up some money—use that time to experiment and plan your next move—and then take the leap.  But set a date and jump, the world is waiting.       

Please share this post with your friends! 

The Bold Academy is a life accelerator program designed to maximize your performance and empower you to live the life you were meant to live.  The next Bold Academy will take place later this year in San Francisco.  For more information, check out boldacademy.com

Welcome to The Bold Academy- The Ceiling Can’t Hold Us

19 Feb

Between February 8-18, 2013, 16 inspiring leaders from three countries joined an incredible team of entrepreneurs, coaches, mentors, do-gooders, and go-getters, and we all lived together in a house on Alamo Square Park for ten sunshine-filled days, forming the Bold Academy San Francisco.  Together, we built a community of intention, passion, and love; with the mission of becoming our best selves, living the lives we were meant to live, and creating positive social change.  It was one of the greatest pleasures of my life to help curate this transformative experience and be a member of this family, and I am forever grateful to everyone who made it possible.   

Never stop dancing.  Bold Academy SF 2013.

Never stop dancing. #boldsf

Below is the welcome speech I wrote and delivered the first evening at Bold, just after all of us arrived to the house.  I hope it can serve as a perpetual pep talk (thanks, Kid President!) for the Bold community, as well as the world at large.

The Ceiling Can’t Hold Us

Smiley’s Bold Academy Welcome Speech

As prepared for delivery

Chalkboard room @ The Bold Academy

Friday, February 8, 2013

“Welcome everyone to San Francisco.  Welcome to the Bold Academy.  WOOOOOT! 

Let’s all pause for a second and close our eyes.  Take a long deep breath.  Relax.  Ponder for 30 seconds about what this moment means to you, and how you feel.  Cherish this moment; whether you feel excited, exhausted, scared, nervous, stressed, or sad.

Keeping your eyes closed, take another deep breath.  Let it out.  Once more.  Let it out.  Really let it out.  AHHHHHH!  SCREAM THIS TIME, AHHHHHH!!! 

We have come here today from as near as four houses down the block, and as far away as Germany and Brazil.  We have come for many different reasons. 

To grow.  To learn.  To reflect.  To challenge ourselves.  To overcome our deepest fears.  To master our strengths, and acknowledge our weaknesses.  To start projects, to finish projects.  To laugh.  To love. To play.  To breathe.  To stretch.  To eat well.  To practice daily.  To work.  We are not sure where this journey will take us, but we embrace its course and its beauty.  

The journey is the journey.  The journey is the journey.  We are here!  Think about that. 

In all the cities and all the towns and countries of the world, in all the bars and restaurants and cafes and forests and offices and sandy beaches, we have come together in this space, in this beautiful home, next to this glorious park, in this magical city, today, here, now, at this very moment. 

And while our reasons for coming here might be different, we are bonded in a common passion– a passion for life.  A passion for making ourselves and those around us the best we can possibly be, a passion for knocking down walls and barriers and living our lives to the fullest, and thus changing the lives of those around us. 

But, that doesn’t mean it will be easy, that doesn’t mean each of us won’t have to struggle, to fail, to try, to try again, to try another time, to try harder, to challenge ourselves and each other, every single day, now, and in the future. 

This is a special moment.  The future is uncertain, the possibilities are infinite.  Over the next ten days, come back to this moment of excitement, of beginning, of renewal, of possibility and openness, of embracing fear and the unknown, of embracing this journey, whenever you need to.  Come back to the present, for that’s where we are. 

Remember:  If it were easy, it wouldn’t be BOLD

The ceiling can’t hold us!  THE CEILING CAN’T HOLD US!   Everybody up!” 

[BLAST “CAN’T HOLD US” by MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS feat. RAY DALTON >>> EVERYONE STARTS DANCING…]

***

Speech written and delivered by Smiley Poswolsky, Academy Director at The Bold Academy.  The Bold Academy is a life accelerator program designed to maximize your performance and empower you to live the life you were meant to live.  For more information, check out boldacademy.com

Bold SF 2013.

So much love for Bold Academy SF 2013.

Embracing Fear

6 Jun

“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”  -Yoda

Uncertainties are ok, they are healthy in a way, I get that shit all the time.  I stopped trying to get rid of them, cause I always have them, it’s part of my DNA.” -Smiley

Ted Gonder inspires StartingBloc BOS ’12.

The topic of fear has come up a lot recently, talking to my friends and talking to myself in my Moleskine.  Fear can be especially brutal when you’re going through a major life transition, and has been a constant presence through the process of leaving my job and beginning anew as an unemployed yet optimistic I-can-fucking-make-it-as-a-writer, don’t-fucking-tell-me-I-can’t.  I had the fortunate opportunity to hear Ted Gonder, a 22 year-old graduate of the University of Chicago, speak last week on the topic of “Smashing Fear” at the StartingBloc Institute for Social Innovation, and in the course of 90 inspired minutes we watched YouTube videos of the honey badger (motherfucker can run backwards!) sticking his head into a swarming bee hive to get the larvae, Mike Tyson calmly taking endless jabs to the head only to use his impregnable defense to knock-out his opponent with one perfectly-timed, perfectly-placed punch, and then we stood up with 100 other people and bit into a whole lime to suck all the juice out (don’t eat the peel!). 

Gonder, who received his college diploma last weekend, was recognized this spring by President Obama as a Champion of Change in the White House Campus Challenge, for being the co-founder and director of Moneythink, a Chicago-based nonprofit that empowers urban youth through financial life-skills and entrepreneurship mentoring.  This past week Moneythink became the recipient of the $25,000 Chase Community Giving Award and was featured in Forbes.  Gonder lives by the simple, yet powerful mantra:  “If I’m not at least a little scared to do something, it’s probably not worth my time.” 

Rather than a sign of encouragement or motivation, fear all too often becomes a red light that makes us put the breaks on the very ideas, dreams, goals, and journeys that we know we need to take.  Why?  Because the most epic life decisions naturally involve risk and the potential for success or failure—if they didn’t involve risk, you wouldn’t be thinking about them.  However, our fears are rather lame and paltry when we actually say them out loud or spell them out on paper.  Exhibit A:

My friend Shira Bee:  Smiley, what’s your biggest fear right now?

Smiley:  That I’ll suck as writer and never get published or make a living and have to go back to an office job that doesn’t 100% fire me up in the morning.

Shira (looking disappointed): a) You don’t suck as a writer.  b) Even if you have trouble making money from writing, you’ll be doing what you love and have gone for it, and worse-case scenario, worse-case scenario, you go back to an office job that would be pretty much what you were doing before, so… that’s really not that bad is it?

Smiley:  No, I guess it’s not that bad. 

Our fears are not nearly dramatic as we conjure them up to be in our heads.

“If all my friends give me money on Kickstarter for this documentary film and it doesn’t end up getting into Sundance, everyone’s going to think I’m a loser.”  False.  YOU MADE A FUCKING MOVIE, YOU’RE A ROCKSTAR!  How many people in this world have actually written or directed or starred in a film?  Like 0.00001% of the world’s population—you’re basically famous. 

“My parents will be worried or upset if I leave my paycheck to travel the world or be a Peace Corps volunteer or start a nonprofit with my best friend.”  Your parents love you dearly, but they care most about your well-being; following this urge will shape the course of your life and in the end, actually earn your parents’ respect. 

“If I take a gap year to write a book before graduate school, employers won’t hire me because of the gap on my resume.”  Any employer worth working for should value personal growth and exploration and should judge you based on what you did in your time off, not by whether you took it. 

When we spell them out, our fears are actually quite manageable and you don’t need Mike Tyson’s psycho-superhuman abilities to conquer them.  As Marianne Williamson said,  “Our biggest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our biggest fear is being powerful beyond measure.”  Despite this fact, anyone going through a major life decision knows that uncertainty and doubt creep in.  Every run I’ve gone on in the past four months, every yoga class, every time I’ve laid down to sleep, there is some amount of doubt or uncertainty or “what the hell am I doing?” that finds it’s way into my brain.  For months, my approach was to escape this sensation as fast as possible—go away fear, get away, get away get away, leave me alone, alone I said, shoo, fly!  You know what?  Didn’t work—doubt came back the next day.  Then I had a revelation; uncertainty and doubt are part of my DNA, they make up part of who I am.  I have a loving Jewish mother (who I love dearly)—there is no way, no fucking way, whether I want to or not, that I’m living a life without questions or uncertainty or doubt or guilt or worrying should I be doing something else instead or is this a good idea or should I have taken an umbrella?

So instead of running from fear, I embrace it and use it as fuel.  I say to the doubt, directly, “Ok doubt, I see you, I see you doubt, and I raise you ten; I’m gonna run a little faster, gonna work this downward dog a little harder, gonna write some more today, gonna call three friends who live far away today, gonna hug five new people today.”  As my friend Shira writes, “If we stop trying to eliminate fear, and instead use it reveal what it is that we love and value, it can become an incredible source of energy and direction.”  Instead of a dreaded menace to escape from, fear has become fun for me, and embracing it has unlocked a renewable energy source I’m just beginning to discover.  

Daily Smiley: May Day

1 May

“The country is in deep trouble. We’ve forgotten that a rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it. We need the courage to question the powers that be, the courage to be impatient with evil and patient with people, the courage to fight for social justice. In many instances we will be stepping out on nothing, and just hoping to land on something. But that’s the struggle. To live is to wrestle with despair, yet never allow despair to have the last word.”  

Dr. Cornel West, September 27, 2011. 

Happy May Day, everyone.  Let’s leave the world better than we found it.

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