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Ordinary Brilliance

“I feel frustrated that I cannot seem to touch the core idea of what my deepest desire really is. I have feelings around it, but not the ability to articulate this…and I recognize that I must be somehow standing my own way.”

Some of us get the bolt out of the blue, the crystalline, perfect answer, the guidance we have been waiting for. Others of us get the small feelings, the intuition, the subtle unfolding moment by moment, day by day. Either way, our work is the same: we show up, we take the next step. We commit to becoming ourselves.

Yes, we stand in our own way a lot, but not being able to fully articulate our deepest desires is not necessarily a sign of this. Our response to the lack of articulation however, can become a new way to stand in our way, to slow ourselves down, to let doubt creep in to our lives. If we can allow the deep feeling we have to become the first step in our knowing of desire, we can act accordingly.

Follow those feelings. Keep listening for the answer to the question: “What is my work right now?” Show up. Trust yourself. Trust the guidance of you inner voice.

We can often make the mistake of thinking our desire needs to be something large, showy, or grand. For some of us, this will be the case, but for most of us, this is not so. For most of us, following our desire feels ordinary, even when it doesn’t look that way to the outside. Even for a rock star, following desire means practice, time spent writing music, time spent keeping fit, time in the tour bus, grinding out the miles on the road, laughing a lot or getting snippy with band mates and managers, having a blood sugar crash, or running on too little sleep. Ordinary time. What the rest of us see are those moments on stage, all lit up and larger than life. What the rock star sees are all the hours spent just showing up.

Last year, someone I know declared that she was going to have a “Year of the Rock Star”. This meant taking herself seriously, pushing beyond the forces of inertia and really focusing on being the best partner, the best academic, the best researcher, or the best friend she could be. She was going to shine, even when mostly that meant planning more online classes, grading papers, spending time with her love, cooking meals with friends, getting some exercise, doing the research needed for her next writing project, and making sure she presented at some conferences. Ordinary. Yet brilliant. That is what this sort of showing up allows us.

Derek Sivers says that what seems ordinary to us is often amazing to others. He writes about being in awe of other people’s creations and ideas and yet: “I continue to do my work. I tell my little tales. I share my point of view. Nothing spectacular.” Nothing spectacular. He’s just living his life, and showing up for what is next. He is also a person guided by a deep desire. How do I know this? From the outside, Derek Sivers looks pretty darned successful in pretty much every sense of that word – in music, in business, in fun. How has he done it? By showing up to what he really wants to do on a consistent basis. He did not set out to make a wildly successful music distribution company, he just saw something he both wanted and needed for himself – my definition of desire – and followed up on it. When it no longer served to excite his imagination and he found his ideas and energy had been lagging for too long a time, he sold it for 22 million dollars. Sivers donated most of the money to a charitable trust for musicians, keeping enough to live on and start some new projects that felt interesting to him.

I’m sure Derek feels like an ordinary guy, just doing what comes next, deciding what to have for breakfast and when to spend time with his love partner. What looks to us like a clear desire that he had articulated within himself from an early age probably has just felt to him like showing up every day, following what seemed necessary or intriguing.

Our deepest desire is sometimes helped by being articulated, but at other times, can feel hindered by pinned down too much with words. What is best for you? Find that. I would hazard to guess from looking at my own life and the lives of clients, heroes, and friends, is that most of us take that deep sense of inarticulable something and use that feeling as a guide against which we test the answers to the question, “What do I want to do today?” Following the energy will lead us more deeply into knowing.

How do we find that feeling? We start now, by slowing down and breathing. Take a moment for yourself. The world will still be doing its thing when you return.

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