A Little Life – Or so Much More – What Will You Choose? ©

I’ve led such a little life. I have allowed myself to lead this little life, when inside me there is so much more.” From the movie, Shirley Valentine, the heroine is 42 when she realizes that her spunky, risk-taking, outrageous self of her youth has disappeared a midst the layers of a “normal” life.

Just like Shirley Valentine, I’ve had this yearning to be more and do more – I’ve had it all my life. I suppose if I compare my journey to most others, I’ve done my share of scary, outrageous things and achieved quite a lot.

Yet there were many times I applied the brakes on my desires, rather than going full speed ahead. (Sometimes I’d tromp on the brakes and the gas at the same time – imagine the tailspin then!) When I watch what others have achieved, I sometimes feel as if I’ve been standing still.

Phrases that start with, I wish I could… I’d love to…Wouldn’t it be great if…I always wanted to… are all signs of that inner drive to be bigger, to be more than we currently are. What stops us in our tracks from fulfilling our hearts’ desires?

It often starts when we’re young. A dear friend recently shared that she had loved music and art in school, but because she struggled with book-learning, the teachers removed all the activities she was good at and forced her to focus on those weaknesses. She’s done some amazing things despite those set-backs, but it makes me wonder how much more she could have done had the focus been on her strengths.

The story we tell ourselves about who we are plays a role, too. “I’m nobody fancy.” I’m just an ordinary guy.” I recently heard the lyrics to a new country western song that had me bubbling with indignation – o.k. it was rage. He said, “I don’t want to be someone’s super hero, I just want to be an average guy.” Give me a break! My personal belief is that each human being is not only unique but extraordinary in his or her own way. It’s important to acknowledge that specialness in every one of us.

When I first ventured into the online dating world, I can remember reading and discarding an astounding number of profiles that boasted of being ordinary. Mostly they were looking for a good, honest woman who was willing to settle for ordinary. I felt I was so much more than that. It took some time to find extraordinary – someone who wanted as much as I did and knew his own worth.

In the business world, complacency, risk aversion, and too much time in a particular comfort zone can signal the death knell for companies. I believe the same holds true for us as individuals. It’s so easy to get distracted by gadgets, re-runs and external things that have no meaning and add nothing to our lives – far easier to settle for less.

Now don’t think that I’m advocating that we strive to be someone we’re not. But I do think it’s about challenging ourselves, stretching ourselves, and growing ourselves in ways that add to the meaning of our lives. For example, when I was 40, I gave myself piano lessons. As a child, I’d taken a year or two of lessons but I hated practicing, so Mom stopped the lessons. It left me with a yearning to try again.

It was hard work, far harder because I’m better at playing by ear – musical notes on the page didn’t make much sense at first. Imagine my horror when the teacher begged me to play on stage at the year-end recital – along with all those 8-year old prodigies!

My goal was to get up there, play my piece without too many mistakes, and not have a heart attack. Mission accomplished. That was over 20 years ago.

At 50, I enrolled in a stand-up comedy course. Our goal – perform five minutes of our own material at Yuk Yuk’s on Amateur Night. Now that was scary – more terrifying than anything I’d done previously. My fear escalated each week when no one laughed at any of the material I wrote and delivered – it was all crap. Disaster loomed!

I wanted to back out more times than I could count. But I didn’t. I just didn’t invite anyone I cared about to the event. If I was going to make a complete fool of myself, I would do it in front of strangers! None of my fears of impending disaster came true; my routine had the audience laughing and clapping, and it gave me a high that I can still feel to this day. Even the headliner that night commented, “Very funny material.”

The message I’ve taken from all those “out of my comfort zone” experiences is that I am capable of so much more. It isn’t about doing more because I’m not good enough as I am, or that I don’t feel I measure up. Rather, it’s that I feel compelled to do more to show myself that I can do even better than I’m currently doing. I can grow beyond what I first thought was possible for me and successfully venture in many new directions that call to me.

Knowing all this, I also know that I’m still just scratching the surface of all that’s possible for me and for others. Now what about you? Are there things on your bucket list begging you to play, do and be more? Please share – I’d love to hear your stories!

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