don’t try — play!
In some earlier medium articles I wrote that life is a struggle, which gives you the opportunity to find your greatness, if you so choose. I also wrote that you have to show up in your own light in the world, process failure as learning, and know who you are and what you want, in order to “just be you”. This article is about how to make choices every day, as you’re becoming more you, and figuring out what you want to do with your life. How do you make these choices? How do you have faith in your choices? Read on if this resonates with you.
For the longest time, I’d been afraid to make choices, because I simply wasn’t sure why I was gravitating towards a “thing” — was I making a choice because I had to defend against some fear I had, or was it because I was listening to others, or was it because it is something that I needed or wanted. My instincts / gut feeling / intuition were not discernable to me from my the negative beliefs and patterns that I had cultivated inside me. Some of these negative patterns had stuck around for so long, they became beliefs. A lot of choices that I made were to seek control, in order to avoid my fear of feeling pain, and this didn’t work very well.
“The illusion of control, and fear of losing it, created a tremendous amount of confusion in me.”
be careful what you wish for
Human beings are creatures of habit, and this confusion served to keep the tenuous balance in place that had been set by my past experience of my life (which was propagating itself into my future). This balance wasn’t serving me, but it was homeostasis that kept all the things in place. The balance was pretty rigid, and any change in variables would just disrupt it (and me). This is not the way towards inner peace, without which there is no chance of happiness.
So I embarked on my reboot 3 years ago, since I finally accepted that my life wasn’t working for me anymore. At the tail end of the reboot, I’d figured out a lot of foundational things (which was great). However, I was open to any and all possibilities which was necessary for me to get here, but this complete openness wasn’t serving me to get to the next step, and confusion emerged again!
“What is the next step?” — “Whatever I choose it to be.”
“How do I make this choice?” — “By being clear about who I want to be, and being that person, in this moment.”
It has taken me a while (since my reboot ended) to understand what it means to be clear. It is a simple concept but it has profound impact and it is really difficult to do!
clarity vs confusion
Clarity is the opposite of confusion or inner conflict. Clarity doesn’t imply that you know the how, when, and who of what you want. It just means that you know yourself deeply enough, and are sure of what you want and need, that you make it clear to yourself in all situations in life, no matter what the consequences — and make difficult choices to be the person that who you want to be. This emerges from the deep and strong relationship that you have with yourself, and radiates outwards to impact other people (in all classes of relationships) and other things (our ecosystem) that you exist in. Clarity doesn’t emerge from simply listening to gut instincts, or intuition. It emerges when you distill all the inputs from the outside world (all the people you interact with), all the inputs from your own self (instinct, intuition, etc) along with your knowledge of self (to mitigate whatever biases and negative patterns or beliefs you might have), and come up with who you want to be, in order to have the life that you envision.
connection to self
A lot of people oversimplify this and claim that you should just follow your heart. Well it depends on how deeply you know yourself, and if you’ve done the work to discern what your heart truly needs and wants, vs the patterns / beliefs that have been cultivated by losing your sense of self somewhere along the way. A deep trust of your own self is required. And it forces you to let things go that you think you have to hold on to, in order to be at peace or be happy. This is where it stings a lot. Usually we have to let go of the desire to control a thing, and not the thing itself. This desire to control things comes from fear, because we don’t want to lose a thing, because that hurts, and if we lose it, then we will never get it back or get another thing that is different (and might even be better), in it’s place. Right here is the root of the dark side. These notions of control and scarcity are very strong manifestations of fear that caused me to end up on the wrong side of the force (before my reboot).
the illusion of control
When you let go of this notion of control over a thing, then you understand and accept that you don’t directly wield influence outside of your own self. What you can do is make choices to be whoever it is that you want to be. And in doing so, you end up influencing outcomes. This is a very indirect approach and its counterintuitive, because you’re letting go of control of a thing in order to make that thing actually happen! Letting go of this control, which we never had, actually unlocks the energy of the universe that assists you in making the outcome actually happen!
And there must be clarity in holding true to this version of yourself that you want to be. Because often times, it will take you to places where you will want to hold onto control over someone or something, or want something so badly that you will want to control that outcome. Sadly, these are all manifestations of fear and don’t really get you to the desired outcome — instead they just set the intention to be afraid, and that’s what ends up actually happening (more fear).
fear of letting go
We are all afraid to let something go that we currently are holding on to. This fear based pattern is what the old adage “a bird in the hand is better than … “ comes from. However, you’re not even “holding any birds”, when it comes to controlling things — it’s just an illusion that we have this control in the first place. When you know who you are, and you know what you want, and have set an intention for this, then oftentimes, you are going to have to let go of more than just one bird. You might have to let go of entire flocks of different kinds of birds that you’re holding on to. And this requires a tremendous amount of faith and trust in your own self. You are the authority that is validating all these choices. You are the master of your own ship. You always have a choice — even if that choice is not to make a choice, or delegate this responsibility to another.
power of letting go of control
Giving up control over other people and things seems difficult, and it is, and it almost seems like a defeatist attitude, something that one who isn’t passionate or committed might do. Ironically, when you let go of control, scarcity, and fear, then this acts as a force multiplier (or lever) that allows you to make it so. The universe simply reflects who it is that we are on the inside to our outside world. This is known as the universal law of attraction — it’s a thing. If you can align yourself internally and you can cultivate some inner peace and allow this clarity to emerge, then whatever intention you set from this clarity will come to life — you will bring it to life.
“What you seek is seeking you.” — Rumi.
I won’t lie, doing all of this isn’t easy — which is why I ran away from this for so many years. However, if you can put in the work to get to this state, then things happen much more quickly than you might expect.
doing the work
In practice, this means that you have to do these hard things … which fall in the category of “get out of your own way:”
- Identify what fears you have been cultivating and stop cultivating them and eventually let them go. These fears might come in the form of needing to control people or outcomes, and believing that everything is scarce.
- Identify what people in your life are not aligned with you and change your relationships with them, or even let them go.
- Identify where you need to be (and not fixate on all the things that are currently messed up), and take big leaps in faith that you will get there, even though the immediate actions you’re taking might actually reduce your chances of getting there in the near term (or so it might seem at first).
In addition to these, you have to do other hard things:
- Identify what it is that you want, hold firm to it, and take steps to being the person that you need to be in order to get there.
- And to start, you have to create some empty space in yourself, by letting the things go that you’ve been holding on to (which haven’t been serving you) in the first place.
Creating this space is really difficult; and making the choices on what to let go of is hard too. With each of these steps you’re disrupting your internal homeostasis, and are moving towards creating a new balance. And this is just painful — because we all have change aversion (to both good or bad change). However, it is well worth it. It doesn’t seem that way as you start to take actions which are really painful, and seem risky because you’re letting things go that probably feed your fears. And it’s not easy to face fear in any form.
However, once you start living in this way, momentum builds very quickly, and things happen fast like dominoes that must be lined up at first, but then all fall in the way you want when the first one is triggered. It takes time to set up the dominoes — this is the letting go of control, scarcity, fear, and making choices to the person that you want to be. However, once you get going, things fall into place very very quickly. And using this paradigm, positive change results in more positive change.
examples of choices I’ve made
Here are some examples of these things in my life, since some of these concepts are really abstract and easy to misinterpret.
- I used to be a workaholic and get burnt out all the time. In order to end this, I had to stop working for a few months and then really force myself to create some space in my life every single day when I just stop working. This habit was really hard to form at first, but on a daily basis, it creates empty space in my life that are being filled with all the things that I really want to do in order to have a full experience of my life, that isn’t tied to just what I do for a living. It was difficult to let go of this “work all the time” mentality because I was deriving my self worth from ONLY what I did, and not who I was. Once you derive value from who you are, you can derive value from what you do as well, but this can be accomplished with much less energy, since you’re not clinging on to things that are causing internal friction that just gets reflected in the outside world and the outcomes.
- When I first started my UX Design for Developers 20 percent project at Google (which ended up becoming my 100 percent project) I created some space between what I did in my day job, by taking some time off and really allowing myself to do nothing. This created the space that I needed to be able to naturally fill it with my passion for the UXD project. This led to my entire life changing, because I had no idea how this 20p project was going to become a “thing” but I was clear that I wanted to do this. So instead of fixating on controlling how this will be done, I just let go, and was open to it failing miserably, and believing that if this failed, I would find something else to focus energy on instead. And in a matter of months, it had become a thing and I was presenting the UXD workshop at Google IO13! I got a room on the 3rd day to present that held 70 people, and 500 showed up! Then I repeated the workshop again, since serendipitously the room was open for the next 3 hours! I could not have imagined this outcome in my wildest dreams! But if I didn’t have clarity around what I wanted to do, none of the elements (people, things, places) would have come into alignment in order to make this happen. There are many other people who are clear about what they want as well, and when these intermingle, synchronicity happens!
- I founded a startup (trnql.com), and for the longest time was just so afraid that if I did some little thing that was wrong that it would just implode. Startups are risky in their nature, and there’s a good chance that it would fail. Having accepted that, by letting go of my fear of wanting to control trnql’s success, I was able to create some space, calm down, and start seeing what customers and investors were telling us that we simply didn’t have good product market fit. And I tried to pivot the company towards stronger product market fit, which we weren’t able to find. And alas the company went our of business. And what I learned is that holding on to my belief that product market fit existed wasn’t really helping me. And even though this venture failed, I accepted that despite the best efforts of me and my team there are many factors outside of my control. And it’s good to learn, let go, and move on instead of being stuck. So things don’t always work out the way you think but as long as you’re clear on what you want, you might be surprised how much peace and happiness certain outcomes bring you that you didn’t expect.
- I have had the hardest time applying this to my personal relationships. This is where my fear of scarcity really showed up (of not being able to find enough of the right people, and have a lack of sense of community). And my fear of losing control — since there’s a good chance of getting hurt when you become open and vulnerable to other people. The irony has been that because I was just fixated on this fear of losing control, I ended up finding people that would just reflect that in life, and before I knew it, it had become a self fulfilling prophecy. In order to connect with another person, you must both be open to each other. In this moment, you have to let go of the illusion that you can control any of this — them opening up, and then predicting how the interaction will go! In attempting to exert control over this interaction (in the other person), many wires get crossed, and the worst outcomes emerge. With this fearful mindset, we end up attracting other people who have the same approach, and that doesn’t really work. So, to change all of this, the difficult step of letting go of the fear of not having control (which we don’t have over other people in the first place, so this fear is just baseless) must be taken, and then it all starts to work out. Of course, plenty of pain might be experienced, but then again, that’s the case in any relationship — so this is unavoidable. However, hiding from the possibility that pain might be experienced is missing the point of having a relationship with another person, and causes a barrier to be erected that just reduces the quality of the interaction, and also allows interactions to happen with the “wrong” kind of people (people who do the same thing).
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” — Albert Einstein.
Let’s not let the game play us! To letting go of control, finding ourselves, connecting to ourselves, aligning ourselves and our lives, being clear, and acting on it!