BIG FAT SOULS — Why Not Now (Part 1)
A series of essays written by Liz Faidley, created in collaboration with Life Artist & Guide Noam Kostucki
It’s no small loss to abandon your own authenticity. But what if you’re like me and you’re in your 30s before it even dawns on you to ask, who am I? What am I doing with my life? It’s not as easy as taking off one life and putting on another. I tried to do that and it worked for a time, but later I realized it was just the beginning of a rather painful but worthwhile journey of self-discovery.
We had everything and we were miserable. My husband and I had a home on the lake, a red speed boat, a fire pit in the backyard, a deck that looked over beautiful Iowa farmland and forest. We were in the top 5% and living the American Dream. We didn’t understand why exactly, but we were also alcoholics with failing health who had very little time with our children. We agreed that something was very wrong, and sold everything (including the home and the boat) to move to Costa Rica with the things we thought we would need in suitcases.
I met a lot of free spirits painting their own life masterpieces. It seems that Costa Rica grows great fruit and great dreamers. With absolutely no previous plan to do so, I was instantly enamored with the dream of writing about these friends that I met organically during our family adventures on the Gold Coast. At this time in my life they were saints to me, shining examples of finding purpose and chasing huge dreams. I saw a world hungry for these stories, because I couldn’t be the only one living through this kind of upheaval. I drafted my book during our time there, profiling an Argentinian jewelry designing duo and a British artist, among others.
We live in a world where people feel very free to list why the lofty dreams of others are crazy, irresponsible, and worth abandoning. Attempts to escape the tendrils of conformity expose wounds that can’t be healed by simply re-conforming.
“if we cringe before the collective & acquiesce to pressures for mindless conformity, we are protected from exile, but at the same time also treacherously endanger our wildish lives.” (Clarissa Pinkola Estes)
Our return to the states was punctuated by a kind of grief I had never known. A quick return to alcoholism, a yearning for actual death. I was quite dramatically coming down from my year off in a new country, head spinning in confusion and despair, heart aching for the Pacific Ocean. Somehow my exercise of writing other people’s stories was both clarifying and dizzying, illuminating the realization that I had no earthly idea what I was doing with my life or why. I published my e-book in the summer of 2016.
The people I want to write about and share with the world are on the same journey that, for me, started with Costa Rica. Somewhere along the way, while everyone around us tried to talk us off the ledge & keep us in the fold, we broke free and went after a life more reflective of our truest desires and biggest dreams. Imagine for a moment what your biggest, craziest dreams are or might be. Feel yourself living those dreams. Let that feeling seep into your bones and light you up from inside. There’s nothing more inspiring to me. In the words of Mary Oliver, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Many years ago I watched a TED talk of one Caroline McHugh. She spoke about remarkable individuals, their uniqueness, like they glow so brightly that they seem to have swallowed the moon. One of her first sentences struck me: “Most of us don’t take up nearly the space the universe intended for us.” My whole life I have felt gravitationally pulled into the orbits of people with big fat souls.
My best friend in High School was at that time already Juilliard trained, one of the best violinists in the entire world. To hear him play was to literally leave this planet for a fleeting moment, and experience life as star stuff. Since then he studied philosophy for 8 years, culminating in his PhD, and then decided that he’d like to learn how to use law to help people and apply his philosophy knowledge in a new context. Now he’s a New York City lawyer who, in his free time, writes, creates and sings music, makes music videos, interviews other musicians, and blogs about music. I admire him because he has always written his own story.
Recently I’ve met another big fat soul through the online Guanacaste, Costa Rica community. This is the same province I spent a year in some years ago, when my husband and I moved there with our 2 kids and old lady dog. Around the time I was leaving Costa Rica, Noam Kostucki was just arriving. At age 28, he had already lived all over the world.
Born in Belgium, he attended five different primary schools, finally landing in an international school where his teachers preached critical thinking and consciously living your biggest dreams. Noam thought they were nuts, “crazy fucking Americans, you can do whatever you want! Yeah right!” But he eventually believed the concept, and a culminating event occurred after a year at university when he realized he was totally, utterly free to go anywhere, do anything and be anyone.
Having come from a family of Polish jews, Noam says, “if there’s no one around to kill you and you have a roof and food, you’re doing awesome!” This context may have helped him approach his life with a less tethered mind than many of us. He dropped out of university and went to the land of his ancestors, Poland, to become a life/business coach. His mother told him he couldn’t simply improvise this idea. His Polish friends (not business owners themselves) said it was a terrible time to start a business in Poland. He did it anyway.
The next years would see him building a coaching business in Poland, against the advice of people who didn’t own businesses there but insisted it was the wrong time. He started building his clientele, but at this time in his career he was basically doing what he loved for free. People would say to him, “you’re doing too many different things,” and, “what’s your vision?” Noam’s response surely irritated them; refusing to fall into line and provide some black and white answer, he said, “I don’t know exactly, but I know what it feels like: to feel freeing and expanding, and organic like it’s not being forced on anyone. They’re all pieces of the same puzzle and I don’t know how they’re going to connect but I think they will.”
When he attended a workshop in Singapore he realized it was time to make money from this passion. At this same workshop he internalized the concept that in order to gain respect of potential clients, “you need to be trusted by the people they trust.” He wanted to be a trusted force for education and critical thinking, but was not interested in becoming a dean of a university. He decided to hack the system by aiming his sights on coaching businesses directly. Universities trust businesses, after all, and if businesses would vouch for his services, institutions of education may come to trust him.
He presented TED talks, coached a speaker to create more “fearless” versions of her own work that received well over twenty million views on TED, and provided (paid) coaching with business leaders of companies like UniLever and HP. He authored a book that became required reading at the Fashion Institute of Technology of New York.
Though there were people who were critical of his lofty dreams, Noam credits all of these major successes with the encouragement he received from others, the many people who said “that’s awesome!” with each jump forward in his various careers. He addressed his whole personal philosophy of helping others so that they may help you in his TED talk about why altruism is actually a selfish act. In that talk, he referenced the book “The Origins of Virtue” by Matt Ridley, who would later ask Noam, “how did you get a TED talk before me?!”
Doing what he loves and making important connections with people who are key voices in trusted organizations around the world has enabled Noam to stay on the path of his biggest dreams throughout his life. He refers to each evolution as “little cool shit, lights in the dark,” but explains that for every great success there are at least a few rough stories between.
This is the real stuff that stops most of us in our tracks: these psychological barriers, these rough stories that bring us back into line with what society wants because that’s easier than figuring out what WE really want. Part of the purpose of my own mid-life crisis is to share my story of leaving my country and society behind for a year. To share my continuing, evolving journey. To share the stories of others that may offer encouragement to you if you sense a chasm between your “dream life” and your “real life” but see no way, or reason, to build a bridge.
I want you to feel a calling to live your most authentic & bold life. Noam shares this mission. He says, “I want to help people experience life as magic.” To begin on this journey, we need to find the courage to define what that looks like for each of us. Are you living your biggest dreams? Do you even know what they are anymore?
I promise you, the earlier you consider these questions, the more lights you will find to illuminate your own unique path in this crazy, beautiful world. It’s OK if you have no idea! Sometimes you need to step outside your own experiences and learned limitations to see life anew. Sometimes you need help believing it is possible and imperative that you live life truly and brightly.
I would like to offer you a few questions. If life is like a continuous series of doors, how do you decide which doors to walk through? Are you waiting for them to open for you, or are you doing the work to see what’s on the other side? Are you, perhaps, ignoring the doors completely? So numb to the magic of life that you cannot see them anymore?