My life used to suck. Not because anything was particularly wrong; in fact, in many ways things were going quite well. Yet I was insecure, fearful, lonely, afraid of my own gifts, absurdly private and often quite ill.
Worst of all, I did not walk the talk. I was smart, ambitious and had a keen talent for helping others in pain. Yet I hid from the world, talked the good talk, and set up a nice, comfy life for myself in NYC.
Doing absolutely nothing that actually mattered.
Things are very different now. My life looks nothing like it did six months ago.
This is the part where many bloggers would say "but now my life is awesome and if you do what I say yours will be awesome too."
Life still hurts sometimes. I still feel broken, depressed, forgotten. And given that my health challenges have only intensified as I've gotten older, my day to day life has only become more difficult in recent years. Yet I have found a sense of purpose. And I have devoted myself to a life of service, and in so doing, I've had opportunities that I never thought were possible.
There was no secret formula that brought about the extraordinary changes that have occurred in my life. But there was one consistent thread that brought my life a potent sense of authenticity, confidence and love: Resilience.
Amidst a health crisis that literally threatened my sanity, I started researching grit, resilience, and endurance. I devoured journals on post-traumatic stress, neuroscience and mental illness. I interviewed countless experts in medicine, psychology and philosophy. I visited monasteries, conducted experiments on myself, and most importantly, I changed my habits. And I began to write about the darker corners of the human existence. Since this blog was launched a few months ago, my writing has been read by thousands, and I've made many new friends.
Resilience is what has allowed me to embark on the journey of a lifetime; ditching corporate America, paying off tens of thousands of dollars of debt, launching my own business, training at one of the world’s elite gyms, and traveling the world.
Achieving all of these milestones took years of preparation and endless execution. The work hasn’t been easy, and it still isn’t. In fact, it can be downright brutal. During this time, I also endured numerous life-threatening allergic reactions, a resurgence of an often debilitating epilepsy, a devastating breakup, and the death of several friends.
I have—in the words of my friend and mentor Megan Devine—found myself both blessed and bereaved.
Indeed, I am most blessed, while also bereaved. These often exist in a sort of harmony that shouldn’t seem possible, but is.
Living with our contradictions and frailties while pursuing our goals is one of the greatest challenges of being human.
Most people say they want to be resilient and courageous, but few are willing to do the work needed to get there. Let me begin by saying that I am broken, lazy, wounded and I often don’t live up to my ideals. Yet my life has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few years. Through endless research, testing and experience, I have developed a set of precepts that have served me quite well.
When I am in pain, lost, or frozen, I return to these principles. These are not sappy platitudes, but difficult, cleansing truths. They have never let me down. This is the closest thing to a mini manifesto I will ever write. I don't particularly like manifestos, because they are often comprised of saccharine nonsense.
Yet I felt compelled to share what follows, for these are raw, unfiltered meditations to bear in mind when navigating The Adversity Within. So take them in, and let me know how I can help:
1. The fulfilled life—in its essence—is found on the narrow path.
2. Forsake instant gratification, for it is the source of indescribable suffering.
3. Not everything belongs. Not all viewpoints are equally valid, or useful. People are often dead wrong.
4. Understand that you will never, ever "beat" your darker natures. They will remain with you, unencumbered, for the rest of your life.
5. Devotion and commitment are not stifling, but liberating.
6. When you are devastated by loss, your life will not ever be the same. Do not fool yourself into thinking otherwise. Your only option will be to piece together a new mosaic out of what remains. What you create will be up to you.
7. Handle your wounds with care. You will feel as if part of you has been amputated. This is part of life. Turning to avoidance mechanisms or trying to fix your wounds is foolhardy.
8. Develop your expertise so that it might be of the greatest service to others. Do not partake in too much, that is the way of the dilettante.
9. When you serve, expose that which within you has the greatest capability to heal: your brokenness.
10. Learn to live with your hypocrisy, as well as the hypocrisy of others. It’s not going away and we spend way too much time judging others for it.
11. Rail against platitudes. They serve very little purpose; the equivalent of mental masturbation. They are a quick fix, an avoidance of action.
12. Consciously ask yourself why you believe what you believe, and why you do what you do. If you are not pleased with what you find, you will feel like an impostor, an idiot, or worse. You don’t have time for that. Ask for help, and often. Many will turn you down. A few will change your life.
13. Don’t try to view your wounds as gifts or cosmic blessings. This will lead to a false sense of self-worth, and to the neglect of what you must do.
14. What you must do is often excruciating and mundane. Though it allows a glimmer of your inner power to be engendered. Every time you sit down to indulge your craft, recognize this: a life—even one life—could be radically affected. If you do not do the work, you will not grow. And you will help no one.
15. Think on those who have most influenced you. How many of them even know of the impact they had on you? Chances are, not nearly enough of them. Tell them, sooner rather than later.
16. Don’t attempt to create shortcuts in dealing with life’s greatest difficulties. You’ll be offered many shortcuts by others, almost all of which should be ignored. They don’t exist.
17. Your nervous system is at once a great ally and a great enemy. Learn to understand your own psychology.
18. Speak your mind, but then shut up and get to work. There is a massive chasm between intention and action in most people’s lives. This is the space where the vast majority of our pain resides.
19. Dream big, but do bigger. Speak clearly, but act majestically. This is the only way to truly connect your mind with your heart.
20. Remain vigilant against your own self-sabotage, for it is can never be fully extinguished. But it can be confronted, even cared for. This is accomplished by standing in life's horrors, and choosing to act anyway.
21. Embrace the most difficult task in front of you every day, and do not stop until it is completed.
22. Understand that many will not ever understand. You will be chastised, ridiculed, exiled or ignored if you choose to pursue a course that is congruent with your values.
23. Many people assume that charting your own course guarantees happiness or bliss. It doesn’t. It can be brutal, isolating, and completely unpredictable. Yet those who embark on it do so to serve something greater than themselves, to give of their souls in a way that no conventional path could possibly honor.
24. It’s one thing to say you live by your own rules, it’s quite another to actually come to an understanding of what those rules are.
25. It’s one thing to tell it like it is, it’s quite another to cultivate discernment.
26. It’s one thing to say you’re carving out your own path, it’s quite another to action that path.
27. Love with intention. Love is not free, nor should it be. It aches, wails, cries out for understanding.
28. Accept that you will be hurt. A lot. Most people live their lives running from pain, towards pleasure. Though the opposite often has a much greater impact: incessantly chasing pleasure often leads to meaninglessness, while the act of bearing witness to your pain can transform.
29. Actively practice listening. Yes, listening is a practice, and a dying one.
30. Forgive mightily, especially when you have been horrifically wronged. This will not make everything better, but that’s not the purpose of forgiveness. Forgiveness stretches our humanity; it serves as a navigational tool for our pain. It leads to grace and love. And it serves you more than those whom you choose to forgive.
31. Tend to those who are isolated. Chances are one or more of these people are very close to you right now. Find them.
32. When you are in grief, grieve. Some adverse circumstances can be overcome. Grief is not one of them. Feel everything that has befallen you, and do not make any attempt to “fix” your grief. You can’t.
33. Practice compassion with a vengeance. If you do this, you will be mocked, judged, taken advantage of, and viewed with suspicion. Yet you will wreak havoc on the beasts of hatred and narcissism. And you will develop relationships of such depth it will astound you. Opportunities will arise out of the shadows. Grace will be engendered.
34. Speak the truth, but only in a spirit of generosity. Merely speaking what’s on your mind out of a perceived strength is not strength at all, it’s stupidity.
35. Develop a thirst for hard work and a distaste for indecision. This means that you flee from avoidance. Avoidance is an emergency and almost never treated as such. It tears at our souls, beckoning us to do, and be, nothing.
36. Learn to suffer. Not for egoist purposes, but for the greater good. For the cultivation of your best self.
37. Always limit your choices. More is not always better. Choose quickly and deliberately; giving yourself additional time to make a decision is rarely helpful. When you choose, commit wholeheartedly.
38. Wage war against procrastination. It is a silent killer, the most subtle destroyer of dreams. This means that you learn to do a lot of what you don’t particularly want to do. The key word here is learn. What is difficult must always be learned.
39. Do something you did not believe you could do. Do not stop until you have completed it. The empowerment inherent in that act will be of greater consequence in alleviating shame than years of analysis or theory. You are always capable of far more than you think you are.
40. Be ruthless in the use of your time, else you end up literally wasting your one and only shot.
41. Create solidarity with those you love, and those you don’t.
42. Do not forget that you will die, as will everyone you know. Some will die sooner than you expect. This will remind you that life is both long and short; it weaves its way through paths of righteousness and care, meaninglessness and despair. These contradictions will never be solved, nor do they need to be.
43. Some you care for will face debilitating afflictions. When this happens, run to them. Hold them, honor them, and allow them to pierce your walls. Some will tell you they don’t need you. This is never, ever true.
44. Rage against isolation. It is a perilous, destructive force.
45. Focus. It is a lost art, perhaps the greatest casualty of the modern age.
46. Actively give up what you do not need. You need much less than you believe you do.
47. Accept that sometimes life sucks. There will be people who try to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way; that life can always be awesome, that you can have whatever you want, that feeling good is the key to happiness. None of these things are true. Happiness is not life’s greatest pursuit, it is merely a byproduct of a life well lived.
48. Your heart will be broken. When that happens, a void will appear. It will wail vociferously, beseeching you to satiate it. When this happens, guard your heart with tenderness.
49. You will fail. You will ache. You will have regrets. You will often be angry. What you do in these times will have a significant impact on the course of your life.
50. Face your pains, and act anyway. Take your life by the balls and explode, though understand that the way to do this is via service, not narcissism. Love, not pride. Offering, not taking.
51. Foster vulnerability. It is the ultimate agent of change. In allowing yourself to be vulnerable, you expose your perceived inadequacy. You shine a light on your darkness. You take what’s most inimical within you and expose it for what it is: pain. This is bravery.
52. Don’t lose sight of the fact that people are in pain. Everywhere around you, people are desperate for help. You are needed.
53. In your relationships, attempt to represent who you want to be with.
54. Don’t focus on what feels good, focus on what feels right. These will not always be the same.
55. Recognize that the vast majority of those around you are fighting battles that you’re completely unaware of. This will aid you in challenging your assumptions.
56. Practice self-forgiveness daily. When you fail, reflect and get on with it. Shame is perhaps life’s greatest hidden terror. There is too much to do—and too many people to serve—to indulge in the cycle of self-recrimination.
Life does not come with a trial run.