Follow Your Own Path:

Why you have nothing to lose finding and walking your own path.

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For all of you none-sports fans out there, I promise the greater message behind this short story is worth the wait. So, bear with me!

At some point last year, I had just finished watching the Chicago Blackhawks knock out James Neal and his Nashville Predators in game six of their first-round NHL play-off series.

It was one of the most exhilarating play-off series I’ve seen in a very long time. It was full of goals, hits, skill, clutch plays, over-times, heroes, villains, and drama. In short, it was everything that sports fans watches hockey for. 

James Neal, Alternate Captain of the Nashville Predators
James Neal, Alternate Captain of the Nashville Predators Photo Credit: Nashville Predators Official Twitter Page (@PredsNHL)

When the game ended, Chicago being victorious, I  couldn’t explain why I felt a deep sense of injustice inside of myself. That injustice followed me around all day, a looming shadow constantly nipping at my heels. Why was I so rattled over the result of a game?

It bothered me until I was forced to stop and face the feeling in an attempt to understand it. I wanted to sit with the emotion in the hope that eventually I would let it go. Catch and release.

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On the surface, the source of that feeling seemed fairly obvious. Nashville had done everything that every young player is taught would result in their success on the ice. Not only had they done everything right, but they had done it better than Chicago.

And yet there they were, eliminated from the play-offs.

I felt as though something had been taken from Nashville. Like they deserved better. But why?

The more I took a deeper look at this feelings, the more I began to realize the root of the problem wasn’t specific to sports. It’s something we all deal with, every day, a humans.

In this particular instance, my negative feelings lay in a strange idea of hockey “justice” that had been indoctrinated into me at a young age. As athletes, we are taught to place all of our faith into the notion that if you play the game a certain positive way, a specific positive result will follow.

The problem with investing so much faith into this belief is that in sports, as in life, there is no actual guarantee of that desired result.

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In life, we’re faced with these false promises every day of our lives.

If we just follow these simple academic guidelines, we will get into a good university and find a respectable job. If we just master these certain athletic skills and systems, we will soon be playing in the big leagues.

If we find a beautiful or handsome spouse, own a white picket fence, a family dog, two new cars in the garage, and make six figures, we will find happiness. If we act in this holy manner, we will go to heaven when we die.

child-praying.jpg
“Dear God, I’m sorry I didn’t eat my broccoli. Please let me into heaven. And give me that big red fire truck toy I asked mum for.”

Most of the time it is either implied, or explicitly stated, that not following these guidelines will lead to the opposite result. We will fail out of school, get cut from the team, be unhappy in life, or burn in hell.

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I think that these inferences hold merit on a basic level.

If you refuse to attempt a mastery of your athletic skills, you probably won’t make the show. If you refuse to dedicate yourself to reading and writing, your academic pursuits will definitely be more difficult. I think basic instructions on the improvement of dream-specific tools serve as strong groundwork for anyone pursuing those dreams.

There are certain things you can’t ignore while chasing your dreams. Things like hard work, passion, and sincerity will always be crucial to your success.

So why do I think our How we should do things sense of justice is such a potentially dangerous set of beliefs to put our faith into?


Because we ignore the possibility that a team like Nashville can follow the age-old formula, preached by hockey clergyman, and still lose the game.

We ignore the possibility that we can obtain that corner office and own the dream house in the suburbs and still be unhappy.

We can experience hell on earth even if we are morally good people.

We can have a chiseled six-pack and still be unhealthy, or unable to truly love ourselves.

We ignore the possibility that we can wake up at twenty nine years old in peak physical condition, be highly skilled, but still be in the minor leagues.

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It is in our ignorance of these very real possibilities that we create very real suffering for ourselves. We see life as unfair or unjust. We’re shocked and appalled when these negative possibilities come to fruition. We waste years pursuing something because someone else told us it will bring us joy. Then we feel as though life isn’t fair when that joy doesn’t magically appear.

Yet, there is absolutely no logical basis for us to feel this sense of injustice when these perverse results occur. The injustice lays only in the vast faith we’ve put into the doctrine of “how things should be.”

In cases where one acts correctly but still suffers disaster, one is left bewildered and unable to fit the event into a scheme of justice. The world seems absurd.” – Seneca the Younger, as quoted in The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton.

This may seem like a negative perspective, but it’s not.

I believe that understanding these very real negative possibilities gives us – as human beings – real strength.

If you can fail by following the rules then you can succeed without fanatically following them.

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There are no rules. Only choices. See the world, chase the sun.

You can be a respectable person without pursuing a traditionally esteemed occupation. You can publish an influential academic piece without attending Harvard, or topping all of your classes. You can be a great champion without a pedigree or without following the traditional path of your respective sport or discipline. If heaven is your goal, you can still find that stairway if you step outside of the three thousand year old guidelines written in scripture.

You can be a happy person without following the status quo or chasing the American dream.

I can’t give you a blueprint that guarantees success for your pursuits in life. I can’t tell you the way to happiness. But neither can anyone else.

So break the chains of expectation. Free yourself from the prison of how things should be, the shackles of how we should live. Stop wasting time following other people’s blueprint for happiness, achievement, success, or spirituality.

Carve the path that calls to you. Follow your dream whether or not convention considers it probable, because convention can’t guarantee you success or failure. All you can do in chasing your sun is keep your feet moving and your eyes on the light.

And let come what come may.

Be good to each other,

~ MG.

Photo Use Courtesy of:

(1) Cover: joecoculo.tumblr.com
(2) Boy Praying: ministry-to-children.com
(3) Girls at Bondi: blog.ishine365.com

On The Journey:

I think when any of us take that leap of faith in ourselves, pull up our ancient roots, and jump outside of our comfort zone, these buried feelings will naturally float to the surface. We need to embrace these feelings because, in the end, they will always be our greatest pillars of strength.

Airport regulations had determined this was as far as we could travel together. I put down my carry-on bag, kissed my mom, and hugged my dad goodbye. I told them I loved them, picked up my bag, and trudged toward the terminal.

It all felt rushed. It felt like it somehow wasn’t enough of a goodbye, but deep down I knew there was no such thing. We all know it. We will never truly be ready to take a leap of faith, especially a leap of faith in ourselves.

I wanted to look back as I was walking away, but I couldn’t risk letting my parents see their twenty six year old man-child of a son with tears in his eyes. So instead of seeing them one last time I just kept walking, step-by-step and teary eyed, until I found my way through security and into my seat on a plane heading to the city of angels. Those were the first official steps of a personal journey that was long overdue.


Sanzio,_Raffaello_-_Putti_(Madonna_Sistina)_-_1512-1513
In my entire (short) stay in L.A, I didn’t see one single angel. [Artwork: Part of the piece “Sistine Madonna” by Raphael (1512)]

I remember the feelings swirling inside of my stomach after I had left LAX and was floating from cloud to cloud somewhere above the pacific. Each moment took me further away from a net of safety I had kept under myself for my entire life.

Without that net to fall back on, my fears and vulnerability were naked and exposed. I felt a deep sense of loneliness, fear, uncertainty, and had absolutely no trust in myself.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu.

I think when any of us take that leap of faith in ourselves, pull up our ancient roots, and jump outside of our comfort zone, these buried feelings will naturally float to the surface. We need to embrace these feelings because, in the end, they will always be our greatest pillars of strength.



AFRAID:

I had just taken a massive dive into the depths of the great unknown. It can be dark and terrifying in there – for any of us. The journey can be anything. Whether you’re changing schools, considering a swap in professions, or moving to a foreign land, always remember that the inherent fear that accompanies such a leap does not define you.

It is the bravery you’re showing in facing that darkness that makes you who you are. You are strong and brave for even taking those little steps into the unknown.

The best part? You will never break. You may feel like you’re bending at times, but the unknown will never snap you. It will only show you your own durability. It will show you that you’re not made of glass, you’re not fine china. Instead you’ll see that you can bend and twist. You are as strong as the blacksmith’s hammer and as unbreakable as the anvil he hammers upon. The great unknown will teach you to trust in yourself.



LONELY:

I remember the feeling of loneliness eating away at my insides as I lay in bed over 18000km from everything and everyone I had ever known and loved. I had confused not having those people with me in the physical sense with having lost them completely. Yet time alone has the unique ability to change profoundly how we understand the things nearest to our hearts.

In time, we learn that we are never truly alone. The relationships you have with those closest to you have created bonds of immense love that you carry within you always. That love shines through you.

That love returns to you perpetually in the form of those people in your life that love you just as dearly as you love them. You will see that you don’t need them physically present to have them by your side.

Love is the one thing we can possess as humans that transcends both physical space and time. With this understanding also comes the realization that we’ve actually brought our safety nets with us. That reassurance is our protective light. For the dark depths of the abyss feasts only on those who are alone and unprotected. The courage and strength we get from knowing, deep down, that those close to us are still supporting and loving us is all we really need.



LOST:

Even with a rough plan of obtaining my Juris Doctor in place, I still had no real sense of moving forward and no real end goal in sight. I was lost. But something inside of me forced me onward. I kept moving, and so will you. We keep moving because we know inherently that it’s better than standing still and letting the entire world spin around us. We keep moving so we never get stuck.

And then a funny thing happens. We look back at our own footprints in the sand and we realize it’s never been about where we’re going. It’s about the thousands of steps we’ve taken along the way. It’s about the steady hardening of our soft little paws. It’s about seeing how we grow with each step, each moment of progression.

It’s about the pieces of yourself – what makes you whole – that you’ll rediscover and collect along the way. For on your journey you won’t be finding a newer, better version of yourself, you’re simply remembering who you’ve always been. And who you’ve always been has always been perfect.

So keep your head up. Keep yourself moving. Travel down your personal path, whatever it may be, every single day. Some days you’ll only muster a few small steps, and that’s okay. Just as long as you stay the course.

Be excited to look back on the steps you’ve left behind instead of stressing every day about where you may or may not end up. It’s never been about the destination. It’s about the journey, and yours belongs to you.

You are not alone and you will not break. Trust in yourself, because you’re already on your way.

Be good to each other,

– MG.

On Failure:

We humans have a tragic desire to oversimplify everything.

Even the infinitely complex relationships of universal forces are not safe from us. We have an incessant need to group these forces into simple, conflicting, polar relationships.

Light vs dark, night vs day, love vs hate, and good vs evil are all examples of our tendency to simplify intricately woven dichotomies into singular conflicts between two opposing forces.

But life isn’t that simple. We all exist in that blurry somewhere between black and white.


Youdothistoherorhim
A classic struggle between good and evil. [Source: The Lion King].
I’m not sure when exactly it happened, but our perception of failure has also fallen prey to this same oversimplified categorization.

We see it as the opponent of success. We see it as success’ polar and negative opposition.

We’ve villainized the idea of failure to the extent that we’ve systematically set about eradicating it from our lives. We avoid failure. We avoid putting ourselves into situations where failure is even a possibility. We avoid the memories of our past failures and we shudder at the thought of future failures.

Many of us cannot think of anything worse than becoming a failure in the eyes of our friends, family, and complete strangers. We’ve come to fear the notion of failure and, as such, we’ve given the word power.


The power we’ve given the idea of failure affects us all in our daily lives. It bothers me to see so many of us struggle against the possibility of it.

Whether it’s the mastering of Olympic lifts, speaking a new language, learning an instrument, trying to dance the tango, pursuing an intimate relationship, or perfecting the handstand, we’ve all allowed the concept of failure to hinder us from experiencing so many of our passionate desires – big or small.

It’s heartbreaking to think that we’re willing to sacrifice so many of these miniature adventures in life because of our fear of failing.

What’s worse is the realization that this crippling effect is only magnified when it comes to our biggest dreams and life’s ambitions.

Especially since failing is an essential part of achieving those dreams.

There are people who never make mistakes because they never have sensible projects.”Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Maxims and Reflections.

Think back to when we were children.

Think of the scraped knees, the summers we spent in casts and slings, the reprimanding we received when we came home with ripped and muddied clothes, and the countless other war stories we wrote as little gladiators.


child-knocked-out-tooth
We’ve all been this little dude. [Source drgreene.com ].
We were certainly fearful as children.

Whether it was fear of the dark, of the big dog next door, or of the monster we believed was in our closet, childhood could be a terrifying time.


When it came to the prospect of failure, however, we were fearless.

We were Roman legionnaires, Greek myrmidons, and Apache warriors.

We crashed our bikes, we played in the mud, we fell off the monkey bars, we slipped on frozen ponds, and we doggy paddled hopelessly until we sunk to the bottom of the pool.

We tried and we failed, and then we got up to do it all over again.

We did this literally thousands of times.

Eventually, at a point in time I doubt any of us really remember, we stopped failing at those things. We could ride our bike, we could skate on ice, and we could swim laps. That road to success was laid with countless bricks of failure.

As much as we benefited from our childhood mistakes, our witch hunt against failure has fooled us into stealing these lessons away from our youth.

I see an overabundance of participation ribbons. I see schools removing failing grades. I see sports being played without the score being kept.

I see jungle gyms being replaced by rubber prisons to serve as the vanguard against the dark arts of scraping one’s knees. I see kids with headsets on playing their x-box and growing up without team mates because their parents believe hockey or karate is too dangerous for their fragile son or daughter.


We don’t have much as children.

We have to go to bed before the grown ups. We have to eat that smelly broccoli before we’re allowed to leave the table.

We’re not even allowed to wear our favourite Ninja Turtles shirt because it has mustard stains on it and it’s picture day at school.

It’s bullshit, really.

The one thing we truly possess as children, however, is freedom from socially constructed fears.

We don’t care if we look stupid. I mean, we cut our own hair withCrayola scissors and actually think it looks good for Christ’s sake. We don’t care if people see us fall, drop the ball, or crash into a tree.

We’re determined and unbreakable.

We’re made of rubber on both the inside and the out. We bounce, we’re bouncy.

So why then are we so hell-bent on destroying that for our earthly heirs? Do we really want a planet full of people who have never experienced the lessons and subsequent growth of failure?


I’m sure most of us have seen Jim Carey’s speech on fear. I think it’s a wonderful way of looking at life and at failure.

I agree completely with his line of reasoning – if the potential to fail exists in both playing it safe and chasing your dream, it doesn’t make sense to choose the former – but I also think it extends further than that.

Failure is an absolute necessity in obtaining the things we want.

If we want to achieve anything in life, we will experience failure. This is a certainty and we must accept it. Only through accepting and embracing that simple fact can we take that first sincere step in our personal journey.


ninja-assassin
There is still a little warrior in all of us.

Instead of removing childhood from the child, we should be re-discovering that childhood as adults.

We should all be learning from the little warriors we used to be.

Be the tiny gladiators who innately understand the importance of failure on the way to success.

Be the mini commandos who were not socially conditioned to equate failure with the opposite of achievement.

Those kids are still in us, somewhere. We are still bouncy. So go out today and scrape your knees. Fall off of the monkey bars and look stupid.

Do something you suck at.

Fail every single day and I promise you that we will never stop learning and growing together.

Be good to each other,

– MG.