“How we remember, what we remember, and why we remember, form the most personal map of our individuality.” ~Christina Baldwin
Look in the mirror. Who returns your gaze?
Is the face looking back at you a fulfilled being, or a mere shell of longing for something better?
If you would’ve asked me these questions a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you.
Fresh out of college and on a mission to convince my ego of its importance, I began down a path that, unbeknownst to me at the time, would teach me more about myself than I’d ever committed to learning before.
It taught me who I am.
As I suffered through recovery from a brain tumor, the wild emotional rollercoaster of becoming a tech entrepreneur, social insecurities, and the straining of interpersonal relationships, my ego assumed the form of a beaten and battered soldier, pushed to the brink of surrender.
And that’s when the magic happened.
Three things occurred in this process. If you’re going through a hard time, these may help you come out the other side better and stronger.
1. Understand your limitations.
Before my tumor diagnosis and the ensuing melee between my thoughts and the reality of the outside world, I had never really needed to push myself. Success came easily.
Sure, I worked hard, but nothing like the excruciating mental work and rapid maturation of emotional intelligence required to successfully trudge through to the other side of those trying years.
I had no need to test my limits before I was actually challenged.
But amidst the storm, I learned that I’d just begun to push. There was still a lot of room to grow—and nothing to be afraid of.
So I decided to perform another form of slow torture on myself.
I started a company.
Eighteen months later, I was broke. Like “barely pay the rent, eat only oatmeal, and do laundry once a month” broke. Things didn’t work out financially, to say the least. But on the flip side, starting that company was the most incredible, educational thing I’ve ever done.
I spent eighteen months pushing myself to the brink of what I considered possible—doing things that I never could’ve foreseen myself doing.
Yet I did them, all in a short amount of time. At times the impossible became possible. Or it was just outside my reach. But I saw it.
It was as if the mere act of doing opened my eyes to an invisible line that I could not cross, but I could push back—further and further until eventually I was in new, uncharted territory.
We all have a line like that—our limit. It awaits acknowledgement, and it becomes an opportunity.
2. Understand your value.
Before pushing my limits, I never had a grasp on how much value I bring to the table.
For example, I’ve always been good at science—heck, I’ve got a degree in neuroscience—so I allowed myself to be grouped into a certain categorization, one that I wasn’t particularly content with.
Because I’m also an artist. With engineer tendencies. And Asperger focus. And I love business, innovation, and technology. And writing about issues as seemingly mundane as fitness by reaching in and pulling them out by the heart, Temple of Doom style.
I didn’t understand my value before because I had never taken the time to give it away. You cannot give that which you don’t have.
Taking the time to push boundaries and dive headfirst into things that scared the heck out of me—voluntarily or involuntarily—forced me to reassess just how valuable I actually am.
I can do a lot of things! And I’m sure you can too.
Many people fall into the trap of not knowing what their gifts are, or what value they can bring to others.
And they never actually take any action in terms of seeing just how much they have to give.
Sitting in a room thinking about what gifts you may have will not help anyone. Going out into the world and succeeding or failing at something will. A gift is meant to be given. How can you know your gifts until you try to give something, anything, to someone else?
Don’t make the mistake of underestimating your worth.
It is far better to overestimate yourself and fail, to take that learning experience and recalibrate your direction, than to underestimate your potential and miss out on opportunities in the process.
When I finally accepted my gifts and embraced the idea that I could use them to not only make a living, but also to create a meaningful life—a congruent existence that mattered—I was instantly free to explore.
Free to pursue. To create. To add value.
Will I continue to overreach? Fall flat on my face? Fail?
Of course; only a fool would expect not to. But at least I can rest easy knowing that I’ll never again under-reach. I’ll never regret a chance untaken.
Because heck, I’m going for it, and you should too!
3. Surrender yourself.
Life is a journey.
And when, after climbing mountains and enduring valleys, you’ve come to that point in the trail where you’re weathered and beaten, your feet pulse from the incessant pounding, and your mind screams to please stop, you realize that you’ll never reach the end of this journey alone.
That alone, you’re too insignificant to go on.
That’s when you surrender yourself.
You don’t quit, no. Instead, you acknowledge your role in the big picture. That’s when you learn your place in relation to all other things. And you can relate your purpose to the plans of that kingdom.
So when I fully absorbed the fact that I am here to serve others, to use my gifts selflessly, and in turn reap the goodwill I sow, well, I gained a purpose.
For the first time ever, life became so overwhelming that I realized I couldn’t go through it alone, like I had been. Growing up, I barely talked to anyone, including my parents. I began reaching back out to them, finally asking for help, and a strong bond resulted.
I also always focused on my gifts as something to be cherished and cultivated for my own purposes—so I could be outstanding or excellent at something. But this was leaving out a key ingredient to true success: context.
Without someone else to receive it, a gift is nothing more than a selfish toy. Something we use to amuse ourselves.
To truly find your relation to other things, you must first surrender your self. Start relying on other people for help and support. Start giving freely of your gifts. Define a religious purpose. Self-discovery is a long, arduous process, but the alternative, complacency, is fatal.
We already have far too many ill-defined shells of individuals floating through life, not making a difference, not making an impact, and, quite frankly, not even living.
What we need is more warm bodies.
More passionately congruent, ambitiously purposeful individuals—people who know that what they do matters.
People who understand their value and limitations, and have not only brushed up against their dreams, but embraced them.
So from here I breathe my challenge to you: Will you realize that you matter?
Photo by Zach Dischner