The time just before the sun rises over the ridgeline of the Sangre de Christos mountains north of my home in Santa Fe is a precious one.
It’s cool and quiet, with an almost enchanted quality of invitation. Genius ideas, bold new thoughts, sweet little opportunities and possibilities all can be heard whispering to our just-waking minds.
But those whispers can disappear in a sudden flash of sunlight, sometimes forever, as dawn becomes day.
Not so very long ago, I was driving to my office, the local public radio station playing in the background. All of a sudden, something caught my attention. The station was calling for submissions for new shows.
“Hmmmm … that sounds fun.” That afternoon I checked the station’s website, looked at their submission guidelines, and quickly jotted down two pages of ideas to submit.
It was that easy.
Here’s the Thing
And then? I choked. Got scared. Talked myself out of it … “Another dumb idea. What are you thinking? You don’t know anything about radio shows. Too much work. Too hard. Too weird.”
That two-page list of creative ideas and inspired thinking? It faded into the background of mundane, everyday tasks. My fatigue, and my fear mostly disappeared that shimmering new idea.
Here’s the thing about ideas and inspiration and opportunities … and happiness. The magic of creative ideas and imaginative inspiration are sacred gifts offered by the universe. And they just won’t stick around forever.
If we’re not paying attention, or if we’re too afraid to dance with them, we risk losing an awful lot.
As Elizabeth Gilbert puts it, in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear:
“When an idea thinks it has found somebody — say, you — who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. … . The idea will try to wave you down (perhaps for a few moments, perhaps for a few months; perhaps even for a few years), but when it finally realizes that you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else.”
Mind you, it was true that I’d never once, in my entire long life, ever thought about producing and hosting a public radio show. Rather, it just showed up out of the beautiful cool blue of the northern New Mexico sky that morning.
At least I heard that initial “Hmmmm … .” At least I quickly wrote down the ideas, all of which were right there, just waiting. Hardly anything has ever been easier.
But I took no more action. That was that. I (mostly) forgot about it. Another opportunity shot down by fear.
Who (or What) is Making Your Choices?
And then? Weeks later, on a frigidly cold November morning, I called the station to donate an old car. The program director happened to answer the phone. We finalized all the details of the donation.
I wasn’t going to say anything about my ideas. We were finishing up the call when she asked me a seemingly random question about my email address.
I clearly remember that small, quiet moment before I responded.
“Here is the opening. Do I take it? Do I take the risk?” (Which was entirely made up in my fearful little mind, remember.)
I did it. I plunged into the conversation about submitting a proposal for a new show. Pulled out my notes, started talking. We had a fantastic 15-minute conversation about those ideas.
She told me to get the proposal to her by the end of the week; the committee was choosing new programs that weekend.
2-1/2 years later, I’ve met more cool, interesting people because of the show than I had during the previous two decades. I’ve taken more risks, and shown up in the world, no matter what. I worked through dumb resistance, stubborn refusals, and small, silly thinking (all mine).
I’ve been able to thank several people who have been profound teachers in my life … in person, sitting in living rooms or coffee shops or on porches.
I would’ve missed an entire, ginormous, wonderful chapter of my life if I’d allowed my fears to make the choice for me. In retrospect, it’s crazy to me that I was so resistant. So scared.
If we let our fears make decisions, we are going nowhere. Ever.
How to Listen
Thank goodness I’ve learned to hear, to feel those exquisitely subtle opportunities from the universe. What I’ve come to understand is that we can hear those whispered opportunities to the extent our hearts are open to them.
- One way to open your heart, and listen to your truth is by slowing down a little bit, using mindful meditation. Tara Brach’s work is good, and easy, and free.
- A creative way to slow down is Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages (who, by the way, I had the honor of interviewing for the radio show — one of my biggest, most influential teachers ever, and I’m sitting in her living room, talking with her. This is what I might’ve missed out on if I had let my fear choose for me).
- Contemplative walking — simply meandering by yourself without any clear purpose, open to whatever is waiting for you — is a powerful way to listen.
- Working with a good coach or mentor helps you hear yourself, and the truth that’s underneath all the fears. As a business coach said to me just last month, “What can you do to inch the project along?” She didn’t suggest I leap the Grand Canyon. Just move forward one tiny, little inch.
- Music and dance can also be helpful to feel into what’s true for you. Process painting is another good way to drop out of fear-based thinking, and into our deeper knowing.
What’s the Point?
Stepping up, into our just-right selves, is the whole danged point. As entrepreneurs searching for our sweet spot, as individuals struggling to find happiness.
Honestly? I don’t know how many opportunities I may have missed in my life because I wasn’t listening, or have been too afraid to try. Plenty, I imagine.
In the case of the radio show, I got a big shove from the universe, through the loss of my car. I was given an opportunity as wide open as the northern vista from my portal, where I can see for hundreds of miles — all the way to Colorado, for heaven’s sake.
And I still almost missed the invitation.
But eventually, I managed to step up, by moving on through what was almost debilitating self-doubt and internal resistance. The opportunities, the gifts, the invitations to keep stepping into our most true selves are right in front of us.
Keeping our eyes and our hearts open to the opportunities is how to stay on the path of happiness and fulfillment. It’s the secret to living a rich life full of treasures.