“You must give up the life you planned in order…”

May 28, 2015

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” – Joseph Campbell

I’ve always loved that quote because it appealed so strongly to 12-year-old me, the me who carried a copy of Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe everywhere, and told anyone who asked (and many who didn’t), “I will never live an ordinary life.”

The me who thought living in the suburbs and having a regular job was tantamount to death.

The me who judged adults for doing so. (Oh so smug, that young me was.)

The young me who was so sure she would fearlessly live a life of making movies, writing books, traveling to wild places, journeying deep within…

Now I bow down before this quote, shaking my head at younger me with tenderness and a measure of chagrin.

Because now I know: giving up the life you planned is hard. Much, much harder than declaring, “I will live an unconventional life!”

Because the “life you planned” isn’t just about leaving a job that has gone stale or a relationship that has folded in on itself. It is not just insisting your siblings help you care for your father or that your marriage continue to evolve. Those are all important,


Giving up the life you planned is also about leaving dreams you have outgrown or that will never grow.

It is about giving up the someone you once were but aren’t any longer.

It is also about leaving your plans to become someone better than you are right now and your fantasies about what will happen in a fabled future.

Our stories of the past and our fantasies about the future, our woulda-coulda-shouldas and our “But I used to be able to…” block the life that is waiting for us just as effectively as any need for job security or ideas adopted from our culture or parents, or any fears of vulnerability and intimacy.

Here’s the good news: The life that is waiting for you is here now. There isn’t any waiting – I think Mr. Campbell got that part wrong. Life is continually informing you, nudging you right now. But, as the saying goes, you must be present to win.

For me, it’s much more fun to imagine that living unconventionally or doing something brave will unleash the life that is waiting for me. But that is just another story blocking the life that is here now. (That idea makes me dizzy but it’s so true.)

To open to the life that is here now means welcoming what is here now.

Welcoming my jiggly thighs without veering into a fantasy about how much exercise I will get starting this afternoon and for the rest of my life.

Welcoming how tired I am without wishing I had the energy I had last month when I was feeling great.

Welcoming how sad I am about my mom’s steep decline instead of bolstering myself with, “But I’m a good daughter, I’m doing a great job.”

Welcoming saying goodbye mindfully to my home I will be leaving soon rather than vaguely pretending it’s not actually happening because we don’t have a firm move date (or a house to move to).

To open to the life that is here now means I keep stopping as I write this to listen deeply, to feel if I am telling my truth in the best I know how, without veering off to check email or veering back to tinker with words.

This life is here now. All it requires to show itself to you is for you to show up for it. To welcome reality as it is now.

Just that. (Said with a wry grin.)

I’m so glad we are doing this welcoming together!



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