On Being Fearless

This morning I found out the cause of death of a good friend and colleague of mine who died—suddenly, shockingly, perplexingly—about a year ago. Untreated diabetes. She had known about the diagnosis for some time, but had chosen not to treat it or share the news with anyone. What seemed like a stubborn refusal to face the truth, to acknowledge her fears, led to an untimely death that left her friends and family reeling.

The news shook me, lingered in the back of my mind even as I went about my day. It got me thinking about fear and loss: of life, love, dreams, passions. I thought about how my own fears hold me back from living a full and vibrant life, how I, in my own way, often allow fear to have the final word. I mulled over how easy it is to convince myself that what I fear is immovable and insurmountable, and how this belief leads to the loss of life.

The truth is, I want to be fearless, to go boldly where no one named Yuniya Khan has ever gone before, but…I’m afraid.

What would I do if I were fearless?

  • I would tell my mother I love her, every day.
  • I would pick up and move back to LA next week.
  • For that matter, I would pick up and move to Brazil next week.
  • Even better, I would leave everything behind and travel the world for a year.
  • I would throw myself wholeheartedly—fearlessly—into writing, maybe making documentaries, and doing my part to make the world a better place, and I would find a way to make a living doing all these things.
  • I would walk up to that guy and tell him, “You can justify things however you want, but you’re a fool to let a good thing—and a good woman(me)—slip away.”
  • I would look my dream job employer in the eye and say, “Take a chance with me. You won’t regret it.”
  • I would close up the office in the middle of the day and take some much-needed quiet time.
  • I would get a dog. And a cat. Maybe two cats.

But I’m writing this from the safety of my comfort zone, comfortably situated on my couch. Nothing is stopping me from taking on any one of these items. And yet I can feel my Day of Reckoning fast approaching, when I will stand before the opportunity to make a fearless choice.

I can almost hear my friend whispering to me as I write. Choose life, she says. Always choose life. Give it all you’ve got.  Don’t turn your back on fear; make fear your friend and go conquer the world together. And when things backfire, when you trip and fall, when someone hurts you or breaks your heart, get up and choose life again. You won’t regret it, I promise you.

Will I choose to be fearless?

Part 2 – What I Want to Be When I Grow Up

I have not followed a predictable or traditional career trajectory, by most people’s standards. Certainly not by the standards of my mother, who, as an immigrant, possessed a starkly different set of expectations for me in this country. But this unique trajectory of mine has always been a source of pride—I’m immensely proud of the places I’ve gone, the experiences I’ve had—and a source of shame.

Can you feel both proud and ashamed of the same thing?

The shame gets triggered when people ask me certain questions or make certain observations:

You move around a lot.

You change jobs a lot.

What were you planning to do with that?

You’re changing jobs/apartments/cities again?

When will you settle down and grow up?

Or, when I tell people that I have degrees in Television & Radio, Spanish, Theology, and International Development, and a perplexed frown settles on their face as they try to find the logic in that. Where’s the pattern? What’s the point?

I can hear the shame in my voice, feel it all over my body—in my lowered eyes, shrugging shoulders, and diminished posture—when I attempt to explain my actions, my unorthodox choices. Somewhere underneath is usually a hidden plea for understanding and affirmation, for someone to tell me, “Don’t worry. You’re okay.”

Okay, you know what? The pity party’s over. It’s time to nix the shame.

My Career Intention for 2014? To reclaim my past and recreate my future.

My life to this point is a reflection of who I am: insatiably curious, always wanting to learn something new. Compassionate. Deeply concerned for the underdog and those who tend to live on the margins of society. Creative. Idealistic. But pragmatic and realistic when the situation calls for it. Always in pursuit of personal growth and development. And truth. Impatient with the status quo.

It’s in my nature to take the less-traveled road. To explore new places and new opportunities. To encounter new people and cultures, to absorb their worldviews and assumptions and allow them to enhance my own. I’m driven to make connections—between people, ideas, movements, opportunities—and bring our vast and deep (and often hidden) interconnectedness to light. I could not do this without a collection of experiences to draw from.

All the places I’ve gone, the jobs I’ve had, the places I’ve lived, the courses of study I’ve pursued, have given me a richness and depth of life experience, captured and recorded in every cell in my body, and beyond my ability to fully articulate. I am very, very grateful for these experiences, and for the person I’ve become as a result.

That’s not to say there isn’t more work to be done.

Even as I reclaim and embrace my past, it’s also time to recreate my future. To take the lessons learned, the successes and failures, triumphs and losses, and use them to reshape and even redirect my career trajectory.

I will make different choices now, choices aligned with who I know myself to be. I will allow myself to be led by my strengths, my inner wisdom, my curiosity, and my limitations. Yes, I look to my limitations with respect and high regard, much as you would look upon a childhood teacher whom you experienced as unbelievably hard-assed and mean, but whose acerbic words contained truth and wisdom only your adult mind could understand and appreciate.

I will take my inklings, instincts, and curiosities seriously, allow them to direct and guide me in my career choices. And I will trust them enough to risk going a little deeper, letting myself put down roots, so to speak, in those career areas I choose. And if I trust my instincts to guide me, I will also trust that I can develop levels of skill I never dared to imagine, and choose not to dash away too quickly for fear that I just won’t be good enough. I will, instead, allow myself to be seen.

There’s a lot more work to be done on this project called Me. Still more of this mountain to scale. But I think I’m off to a pretty good start so far; a good chunk of the work has already been done.

She’s Baaaaack – Part 1

Well, whaddya know—I’m still alive.

More to the point, my blog still lives. Let’s hope I can get to more than one post per year this year!

Last year I set love as an Intention for 2013, to see it manifest in my daily life, my career, and in a romantic partner.

I got the ball rolling in a variety of ways: a surprise opportunity to manage a bed & breakfast; connecting and re-connecting with friends and family in ways I hadn’t before; and yes, experiencing a taste of romance (the full spread waits in the wings).

But this year, 2014, I’m looking to take things to another level. I’m looking for breakthroughs.

Specifically, breakthroughs in the areas of love and relationships, home, and career. And not necessarily in that order.

But I’ll start with Love, since that’s the heart and source of everything else.

For this year I set the Intention to love more deeply, open my heart wider, risk feeling more joy, satisfaction, happiness, disappointment, heartache. To live and love more fully.

I want to expand the boundaries of the love I’m capable of giving and receiving. To learn to accept and embrace the ways in which people love me, understanding that they will love as they are able, as far as their limits and imperfections allow. I’m learning to love myself better, to tap into that internal space where no judgment or condemnation exists. Only a deep, abiding love, patience, understanding and complete acceptance. In this space even the harshest truths find a soft place to land. The more time I spend in this space, the more my heart expands, giving, receiving and accepting love in all its forms, regardless of imperfections, including my own.

From this space I can continue to dream big, open my heart even wider to love in my life because love always abounds, whether I receive it from the people or circumstances in my life or not. There’s always, always another chance to love better and sweeter, to receive love more openly and graciously. And this year I strive towards this goal.

Home is a new Intention for 2014. It’s one manifestation of love I haven’t allowed to flourish in nearly two decades. I have lost count of the number of apartments I’ve lived in since leaving the home of my youth. My mother half-joked with me years ago that she has to have a separate address book just for me — by now she likely has two. I’ve lived in multiple cities and dozens of apartments, but have never claimed any of them as Home. I always seem to take with me a sense of non-commitment, a temporary mindset, when I move into a new place. Not much on the walls, just a few personal touches, and a largely impersonal feel. It’s as if I’m waiting for something (or someone?) to tell me, “Put Stakes Down Here.”

Well, something IS urging me to put down roots now. But it’s something internal, deep, telling me it’s time to claim my Home. I admit that this thought frightens me, fills me with agitation and nervousness. I’m afraid of being tied down, tethered to one place, not being able to flee when the going gets tough or boring. I’m afraid of my freedom being intruded upon in any capacity.

But I’m starting to realize that I need Home if I want to continue to grow in love and life. Home is the diving board from which I can launch myself into the world. Home is the ball of twine on the ground that allows a kite to soar in the wind, dipping and diving and having a good old time. Without this ball of twine to ground it, the kite would simply drift aimlessly away. Home IS freedom.

More on my Career Intentions in the next post.

Love, Actually

I created three New Year’s Intentions for 2013.

The first: to launch my 365 Days of Delight project, reminding myself that each day and moment matters, regardless of what’s going on around me. (See January entries here).

The second: to develop a career plan, a roadmap of sorts, that I can put into action by June 2013 at the latest.

The third—the most elusive and tricky, but encompassing all three Intentions: to fall in love.

041I’ve managed to get this far in life without ever falling in love. Or rather, without ever allowing myself to fall in love. Lust, infatuation, admiration, longing—yes. Love—no.

And I’m not just referring to romantic love.

Well, that was my intention at first. But being of the more inquisitive and probing sort, I of course began to think more deeply about it. Why do you want to fall in love? Why now? Why haven’t you allowed love to touch your life thus far? In what ways do you shut it out? What impact has this avoidance had on your life? What are you committed to doing now to turn this around?

I’ve kind of tiptoed around love, I think. Chosen not to give my whole heart to any deserving person or thing for fear that I would be found lacking and be burned at the stake for it. I see it in action now, when I consider certain career choices: I’m afraid to commit fully, to fall in love with any of these choices because…what if I don’t like it? What if it doesn’t like me? What if I turn out to be an utter failure? And goodness gracious—what if I turn out to be a success?? So I reign in my natural excitement and enthusiasm. Tell myself sternly to settle down, to shackle all love impulses.

But I want love in my life. I really do. In all its manifestations.

Love is passion. Love is risk. Love is commitment. Love is embracing possibility even when satisfaction is not guaranteed. Love is taking a leap of faith. Love is reveling in one moment of joy even when anxiety lurks around the corner. Love is saying, “Why not me?” Love makes room for fear, failure and rejection, and then transforms them into powerful allies. Love is an open heart.

This Intention, then, is about falling in love with my life as it is today (the 365 Days of Delight project).

It’s about falling in love with all the myriad ways my career and calling may manifest (my career roadmap).

And it’s about falling in love in a traditional, romantic sense (maintaining an open heart and mind). I’ll be sure to let you know when this part happens!

Out of the Belly of the Whale

P1000769

I’ve been coming to terms lately with the fact that I have big dreams. So big that I don’t even fully understand them. My spirit senses the bigness of my dreams, has always sensed it, but my mind tends to shy away from it.

Instead, I spend a great deal of time in avoidance mode. I seek jobs and opportunities that are far too narrow in scope and vision. I make myself smaller in order to fit the status quo, to conform to other people’s expectations. I downplay my accomplishments so as not to draw too much attention to myself. When glimpses of these big dreams flash in my mind, a powerful NO rises up to chase them away. I allow impossibility to call the shots.

I’m a little like the biblical Jonah, in that I keep trying to hide away inside the belly of a whale to avoid embracing a larger vision. But Jonah’s calling and purpose were larger than his fear, and the whale eventually had no choice but to vomit him out. In the same way, my big dreams are calling to me, and my whale knows I can’t languish in its belly any longer. It’s time to spit me out.

I don’t yet have the words to describe these dreams. I still don’t understand in my mind what my spirit knows to be true. For now I’m learning to curb my instinct to run from them, and to just let them rise up and take form without judgment or admonition.

Delightful Days Ahead

P1020277

2013: A brand new day. A brand new beginning.

I was really struck the last few weeks by the sense that the first half of my life has come to a close. 2012 was an intermission of sorts, a time to rest, reflect and release. A time—mixing metaphors here—to turn over the soil in preparation for new growth.

The curtain now rises on the second half, and it’s as if I’m born again, starting over, beginning anew.

That’s why I’m launching “The Mindful Misfit: 365 Days of Delight” on this blog (on a separate page–see menu bar above), as a way to “launch” my life’s second half. It’s a daily reminder to myself to pay attention: to notice those moments that trigger a sense of peace, wonder, gratitude, joy, laughter. Every day is full of them, if we take the time to pay attention. Even on days where darkness won’t let go of its painful grip. So I’m going to record these moments with a photo and a brief written description, and I’m going to record them and post them every single day in 2013.

That’s 365 days. 365 meaningful moments, regardless of what else might be going on in my life. A reflection of and commitment to the way I want to live my life going forward.

Reality Tests

If my life were a movie, this would be the point where, having finally yielded to the call of my dream, the perfect job materializes, the perfect man saunters onto the scene, and my story line moves inexorably towards a happy ending and sweet resolution. The universe, waiting with bated breath for just this moment, now breathes a sigh of relief, releasing all the blessings and goodwill and miracles it has stored up for me.

And I revel in the joy of finally getting it right, of finally arriving at my happily ever after.

Sigh.

Regretfully, my life is not a movie.

In fact, I have the bruises and cuts and myriad wounds—from slamming headfirst into the hard wall of reality—to prove it.

You might say that, having chosen to let go of the rails and glide onto the ice, reality—disguised as gravity—rewarded my brave efforts with a broken ankle and skinned knees.

I let go of the rails to pursue my dream of an authentic life, defined by passion and purpose. But in the stark face of reality (i.e., face-planted on the ice), I question the validity of my dream, of my decision to embark on a big-time career change as a first step.

In the stark face of reality, of closed doors and lost opportunities, and with movie-style miracles in short supply, I’m tempted to call it a day, to shrug and say, “Oh well. At least I tried.” My old fears and self-defeating voices clamor in panic, urging me to walk away, insisting that my dream is just not worth the pain and effort and discomfort. Better to forget about dreams—they’re just nonsense, anyway. The stuff of fairy tales and movies.

Not too long ago, I would have accepted those warnings as truth. I would have fought and railed against them, but in the end I would have embraced them as sensible, practical, immutable truth.

Enter my inner warrior, all grown up now, and unwilling to simply lie down without a fight. She has a few choice words for me:

Yes, you did a face-plant on the ice. Yes, you slammed hard into the wall of reality. Yes, you’re sore and bruised and wounded on multiple levels. So, what now? You’re just going to roll over and give up, slink away with your tail between your legs? Here’s your chance to test your mettle, to see what you’re really made of: Who are you in the face of disappointment and rejection? What do you do when adversity slaps you in the face? You like to think of yourself as resilient—will your fortitude, your vision, withstand this test? You like to think of yourself as creative—can you create a new reality out of the current one? Can you rise to the occasion and conquer Goliath? When everyone else tells you no, will your YES be loud enough, forceful enough, to keep you going?

“The fate of all faith is that it will eventually be tested,” Gregg Levoy observed in his book, Callings.

And how I respond matters. Life is full of challenges and obstacles, disappointment and rejection, fear and anxiety. I can’t escape this reality, whether I’m living out my dream or not.

So if I’m going to fight, it might as well be in service to my dream, my vision for my life.