Every year has the potential to change us in fundamental ways.
Over a 12-month period we discover and rediscover principles and paradigms that help replace old models on our path to a full(er) life. I'm no exception. I'm still growing, learning, discovering, and rediscovering.
Below is a collection of my top 5 takeaways from 2023 so far. These are the ideas and shifts that impacted me most. My hope is that they may inspire you to ask your own questions, and solidify your own personal learnings as you approach the new year.
None of this is meant to be GURU talk, it’s just a man speaking honestly about what's really happening in his mind, heart, and spirit.
Monk Manual Founder
1. The #1 thing holding me back is me
I don’t think I come off as a fearful person.
In fact I think many people, at least from a distance, would say I’m the opposite of fearful.
But there is the perception and the reality, and the truth is - I feel fear literally every single day of my life.
More often than not, I'm feeling some tension of fear. It’s become the gentle music that is constantly playing in my internal elevator.
The thing is, growth means entering the unknown. And we’re always scared of what we don’t know.
Since I'm highly motivated to go further out and further in, and I’m always scared. Every. single. day.
2023 has been a growth spurt year for me.
Part of this has to do with the fact it’s the first year I’ve really leaned in all the way to Life Atlas process. Another reason is I have some incredible coaches and mentors who have helped guide and encourage me.
But the primary reason I've leapt forward, is I finally accepted the fact that I’ve been holding myself back. And in many cases, that I was the only thing holding me back.
I said earlier that fear is a common experience for me.
But I had gotten too comfortable settling for the low key fear. The small risks, the small changes, the tweaks. And then amidst that I would wonder why I was progressing in some areas like I imagined I should.
The most important things often are the things we are simultaneously most afraid of taking on.
This year I finally accepted that the cost of engaging the things that scared me most was worth it. I decided to be more honest with myself than ever before. I accepted that virtually every area of my life I want to improve is directly tied to the areas of my life where I’m hiding and afraid.
And I’m making a commitment to myself to consciously lean in to what scares me most in 2024.
TAKE AWAY: Most people settle for tweaks, but what they really want is transformation. We want to make the leap from one version of life to another, but the bigger the leap - the scarier it feels. Understand that the barrier between most the things you want and obtaining it isn’t your spouse, your job, your community, it’s the version of you that is really scared of what could happen if you actually change. If you actually allowed yourself to become that which you are.
2. The cost of hiding oneself is really high
I can’t speak to what others are most afraid of.
But for me, by far, the thing I’ve been most afraid of is showing myself.
This shows up in a lot of ways, but I see it most…
- In relationships
- In the Monk Manual
Frankly I’m really scared of being rejected. If I don’t actually show myself, then I don’t have to actually be rejected. People can reject something else - but it won’t be the actual me.
That’s the cost of actually being fully oneself, without editing together a version of ourselves that we think others would want instead.
If you’re really honest, and show who you are - people are afforded the possibility of rejecting the real you.
So we either don’t show up, or we show up as someone else we sense would be more universally appealing.
But the cost of not showing oneself is really, really high…
That’s because hiding yourself
- Makes it near impossible to experience real connection with self or others
- Makes functioning creatively and operating in your greatest gifts remarkably difficult
- Robs the gift of who we actually are from the world
- Is exhausting and complicated
In 2023 I decided the cost isn’t worth it. So in 2024 I’m going to be trying something else. This personal reflection is actually one of my steps in that direction. The podcast I’ll be releasing in January is another step.
TAKE AWAY: The vast majority of humans manufacturer an image for themselves in fear that their real image couldn’t be well received. It’s a strategy, and it makes sense from the standpoint of personal security and safety. But It’s a bad strategy if what you desire is peace, purpose, and impact.
3. At the end of the day, what really matters is relationships
My first turning with the Monk Manual had to do with seeing that being was as important as doing.
My second turning came this past year, where I came to understand that relationships are the main thing.
One of these turnings came through a thought experiment I did last month.
One night after putting my kids to bed, I imagined what it would be like if no one else existed in my life.
Like a Twilight Zone Episode, what would feel like if woke up to a world where all the people I loved were gone? If I was in the same space, with the same things, but without the people to engage life with.
I engaged the opposite experience of "It’s a Wonderful Life," where instead of exploring what it would look like if I disappeared, I explored what it would look like if everyone else did.
This simple exercise profoundly shifted my entire economy for meaning in my life.
For the first time I came to understand that what brings my life the most meaning isn’t really what I do, it’s the people that contextualize me.
Without these connection to other people, all my action loses it's real potency. It just becomes empty, like a choreographed dance with no audience.
And without all the goodness I experience in others, the color of life goes away, at least eventually.
All my goals, all my accomplishments, none of them really have any inherit meaning beyond the context of the relationships they are held within.
We live in a society that is HIGHLY individualistic, where we are indoctrinated to see ourselves as the hero/heroine in everything.
But I came to discover that the story I’m living, at least the one that’s important to me, isn’t really about me at all.
It’s about everyone else.
This experience has changed the way I relate to everyone and everything.
TAKE AWAY: Even though I already had assented to the idea of being and doing, it was still in individualistic terms. It was still through the lens of finding purpose through individual effort and activity.
I’ve come to believe that the majority of purpose our life holds will have nothing to do with our action, at least not directly. It’s going to be the relationships.
How we touched other people through who we were, and how they touched us through who they are.
What this means is fullness comes from a fundamental shift away from purpose as an individualistic terms, and instead purpose as something created amongst people.
It’s not easier per say, as people are difficult and relationships bring risk, but it is more fulfilling.
4. Our lives change as our values change
I used to think that the path to a fuller life was largely driven by one’s focus and dedication to whatever it is one’s pursuing.
But over the past year I’ve realized this is wrong.
Your life shifts not so much by learning to focus, but by shifting our focus.
Everything we pursue is linked to what it is we value, it’s linked to what we believe will make us happier, more peaceful, and more purposeful.
Everything we do is a natural outgrowth of what we think is valuable to do.
Normally when we think about values, we approach them like a personality test. We see our values as something innate to us, and as a result something to cling to and defend. There are even diagnostic tools out there to help you "discover your values and live by them."
But our values are not innate, they are simply a result of our beliefs at any moment in time. And sometimes we get it wrong. Sometimes our values are out of whack.
Sometimes we don’t value something that offers goodness to us an others.
Sometimes we value something that doesn’t offer goodness to us or others.
But most the time, we just tend to overvalue or undervalue things relative to each other.
Last night I was flicking through the channels and watched the end of the Republican Primary Debate. It was clear watching the closing remarks that there are particular values within the Republican Party.
But even amongst the candidates you see variance in how those values stack up against each other.
Democrats and Republicans often share fundamentally the same values on hot button issues, they are just held in very different positions relevant to each other.
Normally when it comes to values we think of them in terms of being deeply personal and subjective, and we do experience them this way. The certainly feel personal.
But values are also radically pragmatic and objective. Some things should actually be valued over others through the lens of human flourishing (individually and collectively).
Sometimes our values are misguided, in that they create bad results for us and those we love.
In 2023 I realized a lot of my issues and barriers to full(er) living have to do with my values. I’ve overvalued some things, and undervalued some others. In the areas of my life where I’m not thriving, I can see a direct link with my weighting of values.
If I want to grow, it’s not likely going to come through just focusing on behaviors, it’s going to come through changing my beliefs and as a result changing my values.
TAKE AWAY: You may be stuck because your clinging too tightly to your principles, when in fact your principles may be the problem. Our values direct our behavior, and if you want to create different behavior and outcomes in 2024, you may find the most effective path is looking at the values and beliefs that may not ultimately be working for you.
5. I’m not in control
I could write a book on this and what's it's done for me, but I’ll keep this one brief.
Over the past year I’ve finally let go of the wheel as it were.
That's actually an exaggeration.
Sometimes I still grip it tight. But in 2023, I did make a commitment to surrendering things more.
As a result - I don't feel in control, but the car still drives. In fact it seems to drive faster, more efficiently. I’m also enjoying the trip more, and I’ve had some friends show up along the way.
Some call it providence, others call it serendipity.
Whatever you want to call it, as I've moved towards letting go, I see it everywhere.
Life feels a lot more open. A lot freer. A lot more interesting.
TAKE AWAY: I don't think letting go is something that can be rationally argued. It's counterintuitive to our conception of things that when we stop self protecting and self directing, we feel safer and more directed. But that has been my experience.
One way to dip your feet in is to try it in small ways. Grip the wheel less tightly than usual. See what happens. See what shows up, and see who shows up. If your experience is like mine you'll walk away very encouraged, and want to do it more often.
All the best,