Life is funny. Life is sad. Life is hard. Life is good. Life is unfair. Life is a blessing. Life is questions. Life is illumination. Life is regret. Life is anticipation. Life is solitary. Life is shared. Life is a roller coaster of highs and lows but each day life is a gift. Life is good!
I wish I had understood the rhythm of life much earlier in my own life. I spent far too much time fluctuating between mentally replaying mistakes I’d made and wishing for things I thought were out there for me someday. I understood very little of the “precious present.” I lived my life according to the gospel of the expectations of others. Little did I know that these revered others were, more often than not, just as clueless as I was.
So here I am…a man who has seen six decades come and go. The vicissitudes of life have shaped and molded me, admonished me and encouraged me, and have led me on a life-long vision quest…a journey of growth and self-discovery. The journey never ends and I’ve never known what awaited me around the next corner, but I can genuinely say the the last three years have yielded more self-understanding and clarity of life purpose than all the preceding years together. I have a peace and contentment, and a sense of gratitude that had been absent in my life. I can finally answer the question, “Who is Ronnie B?” And I have learned…and continue to learn…how to express who I am in my life and work. It’s a fabulous place to be, to use my wife’s favorite “f” word.
The key is to continually ask ourselves, “Am I doing the most I possibly can with my life?” Many times the answer will be “no” or “I’m not sure,” but it is the repeated asking that keeps on the path toward purpose and meaning. One of the stories of this search that has been most impactful to me is the story of Ann Linnea found in Gregg Levoy’s book, Callings, Finding and Following an Authentic Life. I read it again just today. Below is an excerpt that I hope will whet your appetite to begin your own journey of finding and following an authentic life.
Ann Linnea and a friend, Paul Treuer, regularly kayaked on Lake Superior for several years. One day Paul said, “I bet we could kayak around this whole lake.” Ann resisted at first but the seed of a dream with a purpose had been planted. From Levoy’s book…
“Lake Superior is an inland sea. It is the largest lake on the planet, more than 1,200 miles around, and one of the most volatile, capable of whipping itself into a frenzy of thirty-foot seas, and it is famous for its shipwrecks. It is also one of the coldest. For most of the year, the water temperature in in the mid-thirties…
“Kayaking around the lake would be the most dangerous thing she had ever done…
Ann said, “…I knew, vaguely, that I was approaching the end of some kind of life cycle, the life my parents lived, the life I thought I was raised to live: wife, mother, home, good citizen. I wondered, Is this the fullness of what I can be doing? I wanted to reset the course of my life, to come to clarity about what the gift is I’m supposed to return to the world, and I thought the trip could teach me. The question that I brought with me, and kept asking over and over, was ‘Am I doing the most I possibly can with my life?’
“My purpose was to find a purpose, to find the deepest courage in myself, to look for extraordinary growth, not just the ordinary, day-to-day growth, which is certainly valid, but it was the kind of incremental journeying my whole life had been about. I wanted to step outside of that, to really open the door wide, which is why I liked the symbolism of Lake Superior. It was so wide I couldn’t see across it, couldn’t see what was on the other side, and that was just the magnitude of change I was inviting. To grow beyond the expectations we’re raised with is a radical act, but one I felt was necessary to claiming my true self.
“…There weren’t many people who said, ‘Oh, that’s really a great idea.’ In fact, there were none. It was very tough being on the receiving end of not only my own doubts, but everyone else’s. It’s really hard to stand in your own truth when everybody around you is telling you, ‘Why don’t you just keep things the way they are?’
“…Ann Linnea’s grueling rite of passage in the wilderness, a journey of more than 1,200 miles and sixty-five days, long stretches of which were spent entirely alone after she and Paul decided to take different routes, and the daily practices of keeping a journal, prayer, ritual, and asking for dreams enabled her to find the coordinates of her own center, to find her way back to her deepest courage, the courage to ‘live beyond a focus on safety and security,’ and to reset the course of her life.”
My journey has not included such a radical departure from daily life (at least not yet). Yours may or may not. Either way, we must not miss the journey. We must not settle for a life of simply doing what we were taught and meeting the expectations of others. We must do the work. We must question the gospel according to the expectations and teachings of others. We must explore and learn and find ways to be of help and service to others…to return our gift to the world…in ways that allow us to express our authentic self. It’s work, yes. But I can promise you it will be the most rewarding work you’ve ever done. My life purpose is to encourage you to begin your journey to finding and following an authentic life and to help you along the path.
There’s no time like the present. Start now. How? Get a copy of Levoy’s book. Read it. Mark it up. Absorb it. Start a journal. Spend time thinking and praying about your purpose and the answer to the questions, “Am I doing the most I possibly can with my life? What is the gift I am supposed to return to the world?” You won’t regret it.
Wishing you grace, peace, and simple abundance…and that you constantly strive to do the most you possibly can with your life. We get one spin. Let’s make the most of it!