I know I hold tightly to things. Relationships. Beliefs. Expectations. Directions. I pride myself in thinking deeply about things so when I commit, I am fully there. And once I grip onto something, I grip it so tightly that it takes a Herculean effort to get me to release the grip, even when the thing I have been gripping is unhealthy, unproductive or just unwise.
Perhaps most challenging for me is that I realized how tightly I hold on to things when I challenged myself to define what a good life was for me.
I was always told that, growing up in a large Italian family, a good life meant having a good job, a healthy marriage, a few kids and staying tight with the family. It was as if life were a mad-lib and all I had to do was fill in the words that came from a carefully selected list given to me and my siblings by my parents. After all, they had been on the planet longer than me so who was I to challenge their world view?
Mind you, this “pro-forma” life my parents were suggesting was done with love. They created for themselves the things they felt belonged in a good and happy life and were sharing their formula. Well-intentioned. Done with great care. But what they didn’t realize was that their definition of a great life was not the same as mine.
So how do you let go of the life you were raised with when it doesn’t make sense for you?
I came out when I was in my 30s. Though I always knew I was the gay son in my large family, their way of doing life never included, or precluded, this particular road. It was not the road to happiness, success or even salvation. The requirement of being something different than who I truly was felt like wearing a backpack of bricks each day – heaving, exhausting, tiring and overwhelming. This is why many people who struggle with this call it quits. They end it.
I admit that there was one day when all of the hiding and pretending to fit in was reached a dangerous place. I was faced with a decision: join those who ended it or develop the courage to embrace myself and live my life.
This, as I eventually told my dad, was like being dropped into the middle of a jungle with no compass or tools and told to find your way out. I had to let go of many of the things I thought to be true – the things that had guided my life – that I now realized were someone else’s beliefs. They were the roadmap for someone else’s life.
Though scary to cut the cord from so many past traditions and beliefs that used to help me feel safe, grounded and secure in my world, it was also exciting to actually see what, for the first time, could actually be possible, to make choices that actually fit me.
One of the big moves I made was to quit my accounting job. Truth was that even though I was good at it, I was never a passionate accountant. Instead, my passion was in coaching, speaking and teaching – things I had always been drawn to.
But here is the most amazing part of this and the reason why I share it: it wasn’t ever about being gay. It was, however, about living someone else’s life. It discounted my own self to accommodate and live the beliefs of others.
The most profound thing I learned (and built a coaching practice around) is that in each of us there is an element of greatness that is ours to discover, develop and live. When we make this discovery and have the courage and confidence to bring it to our world, we make the world a better place. Said another way, we shortchange ourselves and our world if we allow others to restrict who we are and how we contribute. Any time we hide some part of ourselves – whether from shame, fear or lack of awareness – we show up smaller than we could be. Life is smaller. Opportunities are fewer. Our ability feel fully alive is reduced. And if we don’t feel great, we won’t do or be great.
So now I help people discover, develop and live who they really are. I help them see clearly. But I had to do this for myself first to learn how to help others. My small, fear-of-being-found-out and always-looking-over-my-shoulder life was traded for a courageous, confident and loving life, committed to being authentic and helping others discover their unique ways to bring their A-game to work and life.
In this moment, my entire life opened. Great opportunities regularly appear. Great people have come into my life. Work is no longer work but a passionate opportunity to help others realize their inner greatness – whatever it looks like. Wow.
Today’s trials are tomorrow’s opportunities. Today’s struggles aren’t here to weaken you – they are here to strengthen you. For that to happen, you may have to let go of what you think is supposed to be in favor of what actually is – or who you actually are. It is in this moment you finally see yourself clearly. Letting go of what you need to let go of to create space for new and better things. In the process, you will connect with what makes you great. And that becomes available for you to use to make your world great.
Seems a win-win.