Our lives are made up of moments, each strung together like beads on a necklace; they can be pearls, stones or turds. It is up to us. At first an oyster thinks, “this is a problem. This piece of sand is very irritating. It is making me work to be comfortable, work to be okay, work to be whole.” Of course, I am paraphrasing for the oyster given their huge vocabulary. That piece of sand, the small grain of sandstone irritating the oyster and us is the beginning of beauty, art, character and all that is good. Those things are born out of being uncomfortable. This is a foundational stone of change generated out of fear that gives us milestones we earn rather than ones we are given.
What do I mean? This month I turn 55 which is a milestone. What did I do to achieve it? I didn’t die. For me sometimes not dying is no small feat given my proclivity to rushing about without paying attention, playing with sharp knives, dallying with fire, and my keen love of adult beverages, all of which can happen on any given Sunday afternoon in my apartment. I am also not talking about struggling with a serious illness, where making it to a birthday is a huge feat of bravery, stubbornness, faith and fortitude, just to mention a few. So that said, my living to this birthday was not born from anything other than refusing to stop breathing and maintenance.
The milestones we earn can look like anything or nothing to the world’s naked eye, as they are generated from the inside out and might look like this blog, number 100. I was terrified for a long time for anyone to read my work. It was suggested over and over by many people for years to create a blog. I would have rather set my hair on fire than do that (see the prior paragraph on dangers of fire and me). Tony, Chris, Marsue and did I mention Tony… they encouraged me to put myself out there. But Tony pushed because he knew it scared me and he loves and knows me. So I did, slowly, with great fear and fumbling, create a blog, then went on to write for Flickspin, a now defunct web magazine, and back to writing my own blog. What went into this milestone was blood, sweat and tears over years, and that is just how my editors feel.
The milestones we earn can be fearless or fearful, but they happen with courage, abandon, foolishness, alcohol, grit, intensity, faith and grace. They are about acknowledging the fear and being uncomfortable but not giving into it, and doing what we need to do despite the fear. This is whole-hearted living. It might look like stepping out onto the stage at an open-mike night, or open-mark night having invited people you know to watch you perform. It might be that plan to bring your box of kazoos next time up at bat. It might look like taking a big job or turning one down. It could be moving into your first sun filled apartment on the Upper East Side or talking to a stranger on a plane to work on your shyness and build an unexpected connection. It could mean reaching out to an old friend, enemy, or family member in kindness and forgiveness. These are not easy things: they are fraught with worry and overthinking, and they are paralyzing and polarizing in how we feel and what we do. They are indeed what we build the life we want if we choose to step forward, make a choice and jump, crawl, scramble or trudge up that stone path to the top.
Once there I advise a few things: First is to pause, then stop, take a deep breath and take in the view. Take in the satisfaction of achievement, the learning, the struggle, and the beauty. Do not diminish your view or your milestone in any fashion. The “anyone could have done it” does not apply here and never did. We are individuals and our struggles are our own growth, which gives each of us our own Hero’s Journey that Joseph Campbell talks about. This is about our journey, our road and our choices. There at the perch of your milestone, take a good long time to just be in it, be with it and soak it all in before rushing past to the next climbing spot. Dive deeply into the collective experiences of what that accomplishment or milestone felt like, what was learned and how does it apply to the next part of our journey. Breath, smile and drink it in. This is how you make a pearl and that is a big-ass-pearl to be strung up.
Stepping stones, milestones, gravestones, the stones we throw and the ones that are thrown at us all are part of this process. What we do in spite of loss, pain, grief or fear matters. What we choose to do when someone irritates us, or we find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation. Do we make a pearl or does it stay a stone, or do we turn out a turd? I don’t have to explain a lot about how we make a turd, do I? What I will say about it is that it is about making us, and more importantly others, smaller through meanness, sloth, carelessness, lies, fear, anger, righteousness, arrogance, or silence. Hey folks, what we do–not what we say–show people who we are and we wear that around our neck right across our heart. So I implore you to live purposefully, choose wisely what you do to yourself and others, celebrate all the stepping stones, milestones, and pearls and learn from the times you turn out something less than that. And when you get to the top of a well-earned milestone, pause, stop, take a deep breath, laugh, cry and celebrate the hero’s journey, the human experience and maybe indulge with a little champagne!