I recently watched the inspiring movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus” starring Richard Dreyfus, Olympia Dukakis, and other amazing actors. I hadn’t seen this film since it was first released and had forgotten the details yet remembered how good it made me feel the first time.
How profound to watch this movie through the person I’ve become. I observed how I, like Mr. Holland, have held a secret wish for fame and fortune through a different path and walk around often without a clue about the positive difference I make or have made in people’s lives. A thousand times or more I have set free my ego’s desires to be a NYTimes Best-Selling author, to be an honest, brave writer whose books sell, or even a person earning a living as a writer and a guide. In an ongoing humble surrender to something I cannot see, I continue to write because I love to write; I have stories and ideas to share. I may get to work at Starbucks to keep the lights on, and the rent paid. Yet an unexpected experience, tiny affirmation of “you might be on the right path” arrived this morning.
I received a text from a client I worked with earlier this year. At the time she hired me, she wanted very much to reconnect with her inner joy. Like many people, she grieved the death of her son, the death of her father, and had been navigating assorted other very challenging work and life experiences so many of us endure. In the text, she happily shared she had become a grandmother for the first time and that another daughter announced her engagement. She feels a love and joy inside herself that she hadn’t thought possible to experience again. “It amazes me to feel that love and joy again. Amazes me!” She thanked me for my help, for understanding what it means to rediscover one’s humanity again.
For some people, success looks like a gazillion dollars in the bank and paparazzi snapping their photo every single time they are in public spaces including going to get groceries, a coffee, or to work out at the gym. Our culture tends to fuel the myth and mystery of this glamorous pathway and like a carrot or a stick hold it out as the gold standard bait of a successful life. Yet is this lifestyle rich with purpose and meaning, with mental, emotional, and relationship health, with joy?
Just because you haven’t achieved the so-called “brass ring” that culture defines as a delectable treasure doesn’t mean your life is a failure. This I know for certain.
Months ago, I received an unexpected, surprising phone call from a woman I deeply respect and admire. She had just finished reading my book, Live Inspired. I heard her voice full of emotion, the flood of her many loving, appreciative words including, “You’re like Brene Brown and I love Brene Brown!” Her unfettered enthusiasm for my book fed my heart and soul. Tears gathered in my eyes. I kept breathing and receiving. To know one person became moved by the stories I shared, the wisdom I’ve gleaned so far about being a humane human being meant more than she may have realized. That phone conversation infused my soul as an unforgettable experience, worth more than ten written testimonials, or a thousand-dollar check. One person. This person.
A cherished friend often says to me, after I gush with utter surprise after I share about receiving completely unexpected, kind, loving feedback, “You’ve been hiding from yourself, Laura.”
Why do so many of us do this? Have we been so beaten down by criticism and cruelty, by our own inner critic, that it seems impossible or improbable that our lives richly infuse other lives with goodness?
I appreciate Brene Brown’s definition of humility from her latest book, Atlas of the Heart. “Humility is the openness to new learning combined with a balanced and accurate assessment of our contributions, including our strengths, imperfections, and opportunities for growth.” I don’t know about you, but I’m painfully aware of my many human imperfections and opportunities for growth-always. Where I seem to have blinders, though less so as I keep discovering myself and receiving heartfelt feedback from others, is the “balanced and accurate assessment of our contributions.”
In the final scenes of the movie, Mr. Holland has an unexpected, uplifting experience of how his teaching music at a high school for thirty years positively altered the lives of many of his students.
How do any of us begin to embrace our contributions? Maybe some of you have crystal clarity with little self-doubt about your strengths and impact. And maybe others of you are consumed with worry and wonder about your influence. And then some of us are detached or simply not tracking contributions. Happily expressing our passions and/or furiously hustling for a seemingly unachievable culturally defined sense of our value-or some combination of these, we barely pause to consider this aspect of humility.
In my brave showing up in my passion to serve and love others, I began to realize I am seen, heard, and valued. This can be an astonishing, difficult to receive, experience if this hasn’t happened much in your lifetime.
For too long it hadn’t felt safe to unapologetically shine my light of joy, love, and compassion. It still may not be totally safe out there and yet I experience greater comfort in my own skin, grounded in the truth of my life, the positive difference I continue to make for one person, then another, and then another.
When you stop feeling so invisible, you begin to pay attention and see, hear, and value people who likely have felt, and still feel invisible.
They show up organically, naturally in the ebb and flow of essential human existence. Because you know what it feels like to hide from yourself, to minimize or keep secret and shroud your accomplishments and character qualities you’ve quietly nourished in solitude, you can spot other people’s beauty, gifts, and courage underneath their invisibility cloaks.
Unleashed human joy, creative expression, and love cannot ever be contained by a bank or a wallet. Inspiration cannot be bottled and sold. The human gut and body can discern and see truths. Kindness, compassion, and caring can grow and flourish inside human hearts and in everyday actions. Irrepressible and unlimited, liberated and unleashed, you can remove your own cloak of invisibility because your beautiful gifts and strengths, resilience, and courageous creativity are needed now more than ever.
I invite you to look in the mirror and see yourself, as if for the first time; to look at your life through the hearts and loving, grateful eyes of every person your life has touched and inspired. Listen closely to what honest, intelligent, heart-centered, thoughtful, caring people have to say about themselves and you. You are speaking and listening to one another heart to heart. You matter. We matter. Love matters.
May you continue to show up imperfect, vulnerable, honest, brave, willing to listen, and willing to speak. May you know being ever-evolving You is your contribution.