I'm writing on the 4th of July 2017, which marks 241 years since thirteen colonies determined they would prefer to decide their own fate by declaring "Independence." This yearning for self-determination required a collective sheer force of will against the most powerful empire of the era. It took many years of suffering and uncertainty before Independence became a reality in the form of the United States of America. As I observe our political dialogue today, it is clear that the path to independence is a constant struggle of ideas, ideals and hopes crashing into one another in a messy, passionate experiment.
I'm reminded of a book I recently read, "Transitions" by William Bridges. Originally published in 1980 when Bridges was in his mid-40s, he released an updated 25th anniversary edition in 2004 when he was in his early 70s. An elderly man looking back over the decades to appraise his own work as a middle aged man, he could see quite clearly the psychological tasks that had driven him in each phase of his own life. With effort, each one of us can discern the meaning behind the patterns of behavior in our past. I've found it even more difficult to recognize them in our present. But the effort is worth it. It is often not until much later that we can articulate what our nudges are trying to tell us, and they are usually helping us become the person we are meant to be.
"Transitions" offers a helpful framework to describe the internal movement at play within each of us as we pass through life's phases. Each transition starts, ironically, with dying: We experience a kind of death, as part of our old way of being no longer suits us. Then we go through a frustrating period of disequilibrium and lostness. Finally, we can emerge reborn with deeper insight, wisdom and clarity about who we are and where we're going.
This was the case when I decided at age 40 to "dream up adventures with my kids." That led me to cycle the length of Japan the following year with my 8-year-old son. I took a 2-month unpaid leave of absence from my position at Intel Corporation, was nearly fired, but instead convinced Intel to sponsor the trip. On the last day of that 67-day, 2500-mile journey, I told my son I would write a book about the experience. It would be my gift to him so that, after I died, whenever he missed me, I'd be waiting for him right there in the pages. That book is Rising Son.
Two years later, I left a 14-year corporate career to become an "Adventurer." I declared my independence from an old way of being and decided to chart my own future and craft the most meaningful life I could dream up. The decision was frought with risk. The suffering and self-doubt have been debilitating at times, but the rewards have been exhilarating. The transition from my stable corporate identity required a part of me to die in order to make space for something new to emerge.
I developed a workshop called "What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?" and in the past three years have delivered it to groups of CEOs all over North America. I've given a version of this talk to people of all ages, from Kindergarteners all the way up to executives who retired decades ago.
The message is the same for all: It is up to each one of us to craft our meaningful life. It will take focused effort and a sheer force of will in the face of any and all opposition. That opposition may take the form of your pre-conceived notions about who you are. Or it may be the opinions of others, financial realities, irrational or well founded fears, or any other reason that keeps you stuck right where you are.
But if you spend time thinking about the internal process of transitions, you will see that you are never stuck. You will move through life's phases whether you like it or not. So, you might as well take the reins and choose the direction yourself. Like a set of thirteen uppity colonies nearly 2 1/2 centuries ago, you are free to declare independence from whatever perceived limit makes you feel trapped. You are free to direct the course of your life in a way that is most deeply satisfying to you. The path will not be easy, and you will suffer. But you will wake up. You will come to life. You will be full of vitality.
And in doing so, you will give everyone around you a gift: the profound hope that they can do the same.