Stop Living on Autopilot
Chapter 1The Best Thing
“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.”—Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet
It’s in the quiet moments that our voice can speak to us the loudest. Although rarely is it what we want to hear.
These are the moments when we awake before the sun rises and we’re alone with our thoughts. It’s when someone who knows us well asks a deep question, so deep that we can’t immediately answer. And, it’s when we see ourselves in the mirror for what seems like the very first time.
It’s then that we tell ourselves a version of the same story.
One day, I found myself in a completely different situation than I had imagined for myself . . .
Out of the blue, my relationship was in shambles . . .
Suddenly, I realized that I hated my job . . .
Telling ourselves stories like these is far easier than accepting a painful and sobering truth.
“One day” is actually a large collection of days.
“Out of the blue” is seldom a surprise.
And, “Suddenly” is rarely sudden.
The hard-to-accept truth is that the life you find yourself in today wasn’t created overnight. Your journey has been a process—a string of decisions you’ve made rather than one single defining moment. All of this is compounded by silenced doubts and ignored intuitions.
As author, researcher, and all-around awesome thinker Brené Brown once wrote, “The universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.”
These days, when sports teams use the mantra “Trust the process” or career politicians use the phrase “Stay the course,” I have to take a deep breath. Both mottos nod to staying committed to the decisions that we’ve made, which is innocent enough. However, I always want to add, “Before you trust the process and stay the course, make sure it’s the right process and the right course.”
If you’re at a place in life where things are no longer making sense like they once did, don’t worry. You’re at the right place. Consider this book your wake-up call.
Playing by the Rules Has Let You Down
So, let’s answer the question: how did you get here? The irony is that for all intents and purposes, you’ve likely done everything that society, your parents, teachers, and elders told you to do to be successful and happy.
You played by the rules. You chased challenges, checking off boxes year after year. You got your education. You got a good job. You didn’t get arrested (or at least you’ve had that misdemeanor expunged by now). You practiced safe sex (except that one time). You donate every now and then to charitable organizations (even if it’s just for tax purposes). Maybe you are even married or in a good relationship—or at least have experienced one. Hell, you may even have a full-on family, house, garage, dog, and yard. What’s true is that your friends, family, colleagues, and strangers on social media probably consider your life to be a screaming success. It looks like you have it all figured out.
All of this may seem cool, but the truth is that you don’t feel nearly as happy as you look on Instagram or as successful as you present yourself to be on LinkedIn. The simple yet challenging thing to admit is that you don’t have it all figured out. Not even close. To top it all off, odds are that more is expected of you than ever before. From your home to your office, people—your family, friends, and colleagues—count on you.
The stress and anxiety you feel these days is real. Not only do you feel unfulfilled, but you’re also starting to question every decision you’ve ever made. The college you attended. The city you live in. The job you accepted. The relationship you’re in. The name of your child. The money you loaned to your cousin that you know you’ll never see again. That horrible time-share in Hawaii you invested in after drinking too many Mai Tais that you can’t sell to save your life. That damn tattoo (and wow, do I have a tattoo story for you later).
When you dig deeper, what you’re really questioning are the times you played it safe. The moments when you ignored your gut. The instances when you ran away from what was most important to you and didn’t shoot your shot.
What it boils down to is that you’re starting to feel out of place in your own life. It’s been like this for a while and it’s starting to scare you.
On most days, you do a relatively good job playing the role of “adult.” You pay your bills on time. You do the work that’s asked of you at your job. You handle your household duties. You listen to your significant other talk about their day. You get the next round of drinks for your friends. You eat relatively well, except when no one is watching. You get your oil changed before the light comes on. You even do a courtesy flush.
However, your once-rosy outlook on life is slowly being replaced by incoming clouds of pessimism. You’ve become more focused on “What if it doesn’t work out?” as opposed to “What if it does work out?”
Your new normal is feeling like a can of soda that’s been shaken for too long and is on the verge of exploding (of course, while you’re wearing all white). You don’t know if you’ll explode today, tomorrow, next week, or next month. But whoever will be on the end of that magnificent explosion—whether it’s your spouse, kids, colleague, roommate, random guy seated next to you on an airplane, or grocery store clerk—they probably don’t deserve your ire.
I know exactly what it feels like to be on the verge of exploding. Hell, I even know what it feels like to explode at the absolute worst possible times (more on that later). Been there, done that. Bought the T-shirt. The good news is that I also know what it’s like to chart a new path and positively transform my life for the better. So have countless others who I’ve coached, worked with, and interviewed over the years.
Does this mean that my life today is always filled with sunshine and healthy organic food, and that everything is “amazing”? Hell, no. This isn’t an Instagram story. What it does mean is that I live life on purpose instead of by accident.
So, what’s the secret? I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you a short story.
The Best Thing
Back in 2006, there was a big college football game. It was the BCS National Championship Game between the University of Southern California Trojans and the University of Texas Longhorns.
USC entered the game with a thirty-four-game winning streak, and they had two of the best players in the country. Almost no one picked Texas to win the game. They were the underdog. The media billed it as David versus Goliath.
But that night, in front of nearly 94,000 people at the Rose Bowl and with 35 million people watching on televisions across the country, something amazing happened in Pasadena, California. You probably already figured this out, but the University of Texas won the football game and proved the naysayers wrong.
Like most, I love a great underdog story. However, this story goes much deeper. In the locker room after the game, as the University of Texas players were celebrating, their head coach, Mack Brown, arrived to give his post-game speech.
In keeping with tradition, Brown congratulated the players for winning the national championship. Then, he said something that the people in the locker room probably will never forget:
“I don’t want this to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you,” he said. “When you’re fifty-four, I don’t want you to say, ‘Winning a football game was the best thing that ever happened in my life.’ You’ll have it. And you’ll be a champion for the rest of your life. You make sure that’s one of the best sports things in your life.”
Wow. These young men were fresh from winning a national championship and their coach tells them to make sure that something better happens in their lives. Damn right. This story is an important reminder not to focus so much on what we did in the past that we lose sight of what’s possible today and in the future.
So, what does this football story have to do with you? Well, call me silly, but I believe that the best thing to ever happen to you is ahead of you—not behind you. The secret: when you start to believe this, everything begins to change.
For you to believe this, for it to be real, it requires a major shift in perspective. A shift that won’t happen overnight.
It requires a straightforward, direct, and unapologetic approach to life. An approach focused on the right mindset, beliefs, and way of life.
It requires making decisions and taking actions every single day long after the motivation has gone away and even when you don’t feel like it.
It requires remembering that the major moments in our lives are just that—moments that fit into the bigger journey of who we’re striving to become.
It requires our dreams to be bigger than our complaints.
It requires taking ownership to accept that each day is a blank canvas upon which we can create what we choose—from this day forward. You are the artist.