I’m going to tell you what I define as success.
To me, success is only two things: personal freedom and living a life of massive service. Freedom: to live life on my own terms and at peace in my own mind, untethered to my demons and my past, in awe of my great future. Service: to inspire others to be and to do the same. In this way my two great passions go together, as I think they must.
When I was 24 and my friends were graduating law school and working in high level corporations or enrolling in PhD programs, I was ashamed of my decision to drop out of college and live a life of adventure, studying a healing tradition that would never parlay into a high-paying job. I love my family but it was sickening to say over and over, “No. Back off. You don’t know what’s best for me. I don’t want to be a doctor. I don’t want to go back to school.” I wasted a lot of energy and tears and vain pleas for approval on people who would never understand, because they were born in a different reality and with different values.
Instead I kept to my strange path and blew around the globe led by my vanities and emotions, my pathologic unemployability. I worked for excellent companies and I left, over and over. I started my own excellent company. I made it up from scratch, from the impractical substance of my idealism. It worked. No business plan, no formal training, no degree. I created success out of the form of my vast experiences. There are a lot of external measures of success in my business. I won’t go into them here because they don’t matter. What matters is that I did this with very little support and no permission from anyone I cared about, and I did it in service to my greater purpose and myself.
No one is going to give you permission to have the kind of life you want, because your life doesn’t make sense to them. The things you think need to be in place in order for you to move toward your freedom are false. I know that a lot of would-be entrepreneurs are struggling, waiting for the house, the job, and the kid situation to be “taken care of,” whatever that looks like, before they take the leap. You will wait forever if you wait for the circumstances to line up. People ask me how I got my ducks in a row to move to Belize, to go to the Virgin Islands, to start my own company, to travel the world, and I tell them my ducks were never in a row.
I never “knew enough,” and I never had a job lined up before I got on the plane. I ended relationships more than once in order to pursue my greater dream.
I woke in the night in utter terror as hurricane rain pounded on the crumbling zinc roof of my shack on the Caribbean Sea, and asked myself what the hell I was thinking to do this alone at age 21. I almost drowned in a river in the jungle. I mentally composed a goodbye letter to my family as I was summoned into a Burmese immigration office at the age of 19, 20 days overstayed on my visa. I was hit by a car on the streets of Istanbul. I dragged myself to the bottom of despair and self-loathing and I would not listen to sense.
I do not possess the qualities one thinks would be necessary for adventure, for self-starting. I am not the American prototype of success. I did not win most likely to succeed, ever. I do not have a high tolerance for pain. I do not have a well of burning type A energy inside me at all times.
I am scattered, easily distracted, and often self-absorbed. I am impatient and too proud. I have broken my own heart more times than I can count. I am attached to outcomes. I am rigid when flexibility is required, and have retreated when my boundaries were pushed. I am afraid of rejection. I am introverted and often oblivious to the opportunities flinging themselves in my path. I have ended things sloppily and exited gracelessly. I do not flagellate myself with my shortcomings; I only place them before you so you can see they are just ordinary human flaws. And I act in spite of them.
More important than my deficiencies is my understanding that life is a short, brief gift and so I can’t wait another day to try for what I want. I have a willingness to leap into the void, to do what others will not, because when I am dying I do not want to regret a thing. I tell you about my deficiencies because they are inconsequential in the light of my greater purpose, the growing flame inside me that burns to be of service and to take my place in this great generation of healers.
I have lived this incredible life and done these incredible things in the midst of these overwhelming reasons not to. If I can do this despite what I am and be successful, you can too.
The secret to success is only this: it never lines up. Not all of it. Not all of you. You must not wait another day to commit body and soul to changing the world. At some point, you must recognize that where one “unbreakable” tie exists another will always be waiting to take its place, and you will move from one to the next like worry beads on a string of “not yets” unless you decide one day to put the whole thing down and walk away from it, unfinished, imperfect, with a lot of shoulds, because your great purpose is waiting for you and your time is very, very short.
Yes, you must always commit to the inner work, but never wait on your character to improve before you step boldly into your purpose, however crazy, coarse, callous, and bizarre. Dreams and madness grow from the same soil, and you must defend the madness of your dreams until they have taken root in the world, shaking with joy in the sun.
Start your business, your art, your vision now, not tomorrow, not when the kids graduate, not when the savings account looks right. Learn all the hacks to work around your deficiencies; don’t waste a moment regretting or trying to change yourself. Not now. You have been measuring yourself against your shortcomings when you were meant all along to inspire those around you with your beautiful imperfection. Be messy and make others uncomfortable. Get used to it. It’s glorious to be written off as a lost cause, because then you can focus on your own.
It will be easy when you are inspired; every molecule in your sphere will align to create your vision. The secret is that you must double down on your vision in those moments when you are discouraged and doubtful and out of sync. You must be pig-headed and stubborn about your greatness. You must. It’s a terrible mistake to retreat into mediocrity just because you want the reassurance and coddling of those who are happy with ordinary things. You must be irascible and unafraid to excise well-meaning people from your life, even if you are kind. Especially if you are kind.
You have your own definition of success, the one you were born with, not the one you adopted out of fear. You will know its truth once you are honest about how flawed and brilliant you are. It is waiting for you, but not patiently. There is no more time for patience. The fatuous, decadent, and self-indulgent truth of your great purpose is dancing below the surface, scratching with disdain at your sensible, responsible life. It is getting louder in you because it is getting louder in all of those who have the calling.
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