A few weeks ago, I left a monastic residence. The experience was among the most beautiful, challenging and affirming of my life. And it nearly destroyed me. The grueling 16-hour days took a serious toll on my body, and my sleep suffered enormously. Living with epilepsy, this put me in a dangerous position. My health was at serious risk, and although the experience was wonderful for my heart, it was terrorizing for my body. So I left—profoundly changed—both personally and professionally. Because while I was there, some of my writings went absolutely crazy online, exposing me to millions of people and radically shifting my trajectory.
I had a steroidal moment of fame, while living with in a monastery—a cloister—with no marketing whatsoever. All while my body was screaming at me; begging me to get the hell out. So I did. I left in order to care for my body, and to fully step into this role of leadership I have been presented with the opportunity to embrace.
As millions have read my work and I've had a sampling of the attention that comes with that sort of experience, I've been deeply honored to have my profile raised in the way that it has been. I'm well aware that I've been exposed to more people than most writers ever will be.
However. I beseech every single creator, please, don't try to be famous. It won't satisfy shit, trust me on this. If you happen to have an experience of notoriety like I have and it happens to be in alignment with your values—as it has been in my case—then by all means, ride with it.
But please, NEVER expect the notoriety to fulfill you, because it won't.
Being read by millions is a privilege. But the experience of this—in and of itself—is actually relatively empty.
It's what comes in the wake of this experience—the connections with other souls and the opportunities to touch lives and the responsibility to share your work with those who need you—that's what fulfills you.
But I'm not supposed to say that. I'm supposed to say that it was all a great blessing and beautiful and that I'm the luckiest man alive.
Well guess what? I have and I am. All of those things are true.
But it hasn't been all bunnies and rainbows. In the time during and since I've left my monastic residency, two friends died, I suffered a scary knee injury, I came dangerously close to seizures multiple times, and I've had to reckon with the almost debilitating exhaustion that the monastic experience brought about.
Being an epileptic with cerebral palsy while living in a monastery and barely sleeping and having my work go absolutely ballistic online at the same time was beautiful and extraordinary while also incredibly stressful, overwhelming and surreal. The fact that my work focuses on adversity, grief, and loss only exacerbated the stress, because I received literally thousands of messages from people in pain, all of whom I wanted to answer. Though I knew that simply was not possible, and that weighed on me mightily.
With that said, did I have moments of glee and ecstasy—amazed that what had happened to me had, indeed, happened? Hell yes. I totally allowed myself to celebrate my accomplishments, because although it might have appeared to be an overnight success, it was years in the making.
What so many don't understand is that my journey from "there" to "here" involved more turmoil, adversity, death and self-sabotage than I had ever experienced. Not only that, I spent years and thousands of hours reading, editing and writing before I wrote something that got any attention, and it was a few more years before I was read by a gazillion people.
It was a long, messy, beautiful, terrifying pilgrimage, and even now I have no idea what's going to come next. I only know that I must keep going—I must not relent or succumb to the beasts of fear and indecision—because this is my vocation. This is what I fucking do. My circumstances and losses and disabilities do not have permission to take me away from what I am called to do. The work is the mission, and if I don't use my gifts for good, people suffer.
I get messages all the time from people asking me how to change, how to take risks, how to be happy. My answer is always the same: move people. How? Just do shit. Seriously. You want to write a book or reconcile with your estranged confidante or travel the world or talk to your wife more honestly? Try it. Really try it. Give it everything. When you fail, try it again. And again. If that's not a satisfying answer, then don't start, because you won't succeed, and even if you're fortunate enough to find some semblance of success or progress, you'll be miserable. Why? Because you won't know why you're doing what you're doing.
Don't fret over what's going to make you happy, because you usually won't have a clue. A much more powerful question is this: what are you willing to suffer for? What are you willing to give up? What are you willing to try not just once or twice, but thousands of times? The creation of anything is a commitment of mundane beauty, whether you're composing a masterpiece or you're developing a more authentic relationship with your child. It doesn't happen as a result of a few hours of effort, but a few thousand hours of effort, repeated over an expanse of time, with no guaranteed result whatsoever. It's vulnerable, scary, and profoundly uncomfortable. But it's what changes lives.
Because it moves people.
After all, think of it this way: everything that's ever moved you—every piece of writing, every vulnerable conversation, every intimidating adventure, every gorgeous piece of art, came into your orbit because someone took a risk. They did something that had never been done before, and no matter what anyone says, none of them had any idea of the impact they would have.
As amazing as the attention to my work has been, I'm not being facetious when I say that I don't really care. What makes me happy is the work. The hair-splitting, mundane, excruciating work, done behind closed doors. This is true, by the way, of virtually all of my friends and mentors who have achieved professional success, and most of them are far bigger names than I am.
My friends are changing lives not because they're trying to get anywhere, but because they're willing to do whatever it takes to move people. To tangibly change lives through the bold, daring call to take action when it's inconvenient and terrifying. To do the work that rips your fucking heart out and lays it bare.
Everything Doesn't Happen For A Reason—one of the most viral pieces of writing of the past several years—was a manifestation of that. I had no idea what would happen with it; I just told the truth and threw it out there. The results have been magnificent, yes, but the "success" is not at all what's fulfilled me. The work itself—the act of creation—that's what's filled me with purpose. What infused me with joy and meaning has been the seemingly inconsequential and ordinary: all the hours writing, alone. The embrace of a woman I loved. The vast landscapes of Asia. Meditating in an old chapel. Speaking in vulnerability to a wounded soul.
Almost nothing has gone according to "plan", and learning to live in that uncertainty has resulted in the greatest joys of my life.
You can't control your life. But you can control whether you're living in congruence with your values. Do that. Don't copy anyone. Don't hide. And don't let fear control you, because we're all afraid. Every one of us. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you.
Give of yourself. Stop avoiding the pains that haunt you. Offer your being to someone who needs you. You might get hurt or fail. But you might change a life in the process.
What could be more moving than that?