In this article I intend to shed some light on how to define who you are by facing your fear(s), how to validate that definition, and how doing so can and does open the door to experiencing the greater truth of who you are.
Almost every day, in some way, in some conversation I share my core approach to life, which is a commitment to vulnerability; what I like to call,the path of vulnerability.
Through an infinite assortment of circumstances, situations and experiences life presents us with choices, and the number of choices seems to be growing exponentially.
Where to eat, what to eat, what to wear, what to do with our time, what to do for work, for livelihood, where to work, who to hang out with, what to attend, which way to proceed amidst a diversity of options, who to share our life with, who to discontinue sharing our life with, which path to take to get us to where we think we want to go, and more.
On top of choice is significance; some decisions could be argued insignificant while others feel to be life or death.
How does one choose?
How do you choose?
For the majority of my life I was plagued with the proverbial “[ahhhhh]which do I choose? Which way? What is best” It’s no exaggeration to say that I made myself sick. My family thought I was insane (I’m not kidding). Making a decision was by far the most difficult aspect of my life.
The significance of the decision did not matter, well it mattered, but in the moment it didn’t seem to matter — making a decision, small or big, was almost always a timely and exhaustive process that left me curled up on the couch, fatigued at a cellular level.
As a degreed Mechanical Engineer I love to solve problems, especially the ‘problems’ one inevitably runs into when seeking to live an intentional life. Some time ago, when exactly I cannot know, I put on my engineer hat, got out some graph paper and hit the books as the saying goes — just kidding.
Through an analysis of countless decisions and through an identification of core values, I’ve solved the problem, at least for me, of making a significant choice. I’ve identified a core criterion by which I choose and a subsequent ‘litmus test’ for validating that decision. Does it work all the time? No, but does it work most of the time…yes! Does significance matter? Yes. Is significance subjective? Yes. I’ll give you the pieces, what you do with those pieces is up to you.
So, before we proceed we should define vulnerability. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, vulnerability is defined as, [being] open to attack, harm, or damage.
As I see it, according to this definition we are always vulnerable, being alive, simply breathing, deems this true. Yet paradoxically so many live their lives seeking and doing all they can to shield and protect themselves from attack, harm or damage.
From personal experience I know there are times when we are not vulnerable, when the risk of attack, harm or damage is near non-existent, we build a mote around ourselves, protecting ourselves from threat.
For the sake of clarity a re-define seems appropriate. To me vulnerability is to be placed into a situation, circumstance or experience that feels uncomfortable, that is outside of one’s comfort zone, and in what may feel to be mentally and/or emotionally threatening. Simple as that, vulnerability is stepping outside of one’s comfort zone, consciously or unconsciously, deliberately or undeliberately.
Two weeks ago I attended the annual Woodstock Fruit Festival in upstate NY. If you’re unaware of this event, check it out — 500+ plant based, fruit loving, heart opened individuals seeking connection, conversation and shared experience.
The Fruit Festival is jam packed with speakers, events, and activities — seriously from the moment you wake to the moment you go to sleep there is some activity available to participate in.
On Thursday, I awoke to find ‘talent show audition’ as one of the day’s events. See, one of the highlights of the Festival is the talent show. This is one of two or three of the major events, an event that brings the majority of attendees together, amidst the cacophony of smaller activities.
The thought crossed my head to audition.
A conversation with myself ensued.
…but I have no talents.” Au Contraire said the still small voice.
“What about the native american flute? Everyone is always complimenting you on how well you play…”
“…ah no, that’s not really a talent, that’s just something I do here and there…”
“…yeah, but you’re good at it, it’s a talent of yours.”
“…yeah I suppose so…”
“…ok, well then you know what to do…”
Everything in me wanted to not audition, to avoid the talent show. I watched as a story shrouded in fear unfurled before me. To not audition was easy, it was convenient, it was comfortable and most importantly it was familiar.
The story of fear was pretty darn appealing. It was enticing. It made sense. Fear wanted me to stay put, just where I was, just as I was. Yet I could not deny the facts that I had a talent and there was talent show audition that evening.
In this moment a decision was required, “to try out or to not try out?” I tried, actually the ring master of fear tried, with all its might to reject the rationalization that argued I had a talent, but no matter what I said to myself, I was left with one simple question…
Remember earlier I mentioned a criterion for making a decision? Here was a golden moment when having some tool, some systematic way of making a decision would prove deeply beneficial.
“Which is the path of greatest vulnerability? Which causes me to feel most vulnerable, trying out or not trying out?”
The answer was, auditioning. Committed to the path of vulnerability I knew, to be in integrity, to be in alignment with my own life philosophy, the decision would be to audition. Done, decision made.
This decision definitely made me uncomfortable — I was required to step out of my comfort zone, to step out of the familiar, to face head on both rational and irrational fears and it definitely felt to be emotionally threatening.
The ego pleaded, “What the fuck are you doing Ken, are you really going to put yourself into a situation in which 100’s could judge you?”
“…first I have to try out and I may not make the cut…slow down now Mr. Ego.”
Losing my appetite that evening, I simply observed the droves of flapping butterflies within. A little while later, I mustered up the courage and arrived for the audition, performing in front of a dozen or so people. “That wasn’t too bad, back to normal festival life.”
We were told the finalists would be notified the following day. The next morning the results were posted. Check out #13.
“Shit! I made it”
I spent the remainder of the day watching those butterflies as they flapped. I watched the fear, doubt, uncertainty and nerves rise and fall like a surfer waiting for the next wave. I did my best to be present to each moment, seeking to enjoy the now.
Everyone who I told about the performance was excited for me, more excited than I was for myself. Yet I knew, despite my lack of enthusiasm, that what I was choosing to do was a great choice, that it would serve me to grow, regardless of how I felt about it.
As I sat for dinner with my friends, the big event loomed. As the sun set I desired to be alone. I desired quiet. I desired withdrawing from the massive amount of stimulation that surrounded me. I was nervous, yet much different than in the past I observed the nervousness rather than identifying with it. I saw it, but wasn’t it. I saw the doubt, but was not the doubt. I saw all that was passing through me, but identified with none of it.
Earlier in the day I made the decision that I would clear myself internally, I would center myself, stand on stage, and follow the trail of what sought expression. Some would call this ‘improv’. I had no agenda, no plan, and no official talent-show practice. My only intention was to empty myself and stand on stage; in front of approximately 500 people and feel into the experience and ‘let it rip’ as felt right.
After some quiet meditative time I walked up the big hill to the the event hall which was filling up quickly — soon it was standing room only. I sat next to Chris Kendall in the front row with the other performers. It was hot and I was sweating. We assured each other it was going to be alright as we chuckled. Inside I felt calm, in fact I was surprised at how calm I felt.
As each performer was called, I knew it was only a matter of time before my name would be called. Quietly I sat, present to the moment, present to what I was feeling. I continued to observe and simply be with what was. I was ok and I was surprised that I was ok, I should have been nervous, at least that’s the thought that ran through my head, but I wasn’t. More than anything I was shocked and awed at my lack of disturbance and that put a smile on my face.
“I’m not the guy who performs in front of people,” at least I thought I wasn’t, yet here I was about to perform in front of a room full of people and surprisingly I felt totally cool with it.
Who I knew myself to be was beginning to shatter — I was proving myself wrong about myself. I was shattering the self-concept I believed to be true about who I was and what I do. I was being and doing in a way that was totally new and fresh and it made me feel alive.
Finally, 45 minutes in, “Kevin Fried”.
Yeap my name is Ken. Eh, who cares.
I stood and walked up the stage. I stood there for a moment and realized I did not want to play, at least not yet. I wanted to prime the playing with a quick meditation, a brief reminder about vibration, about sound, about breathe, about the breathe that flows through each of us, the breathe that is each of us.
I asked everyone to close their eyes and feel into the vibration. If they didn’t want to close their eyes, to not just see me playing the flute, to not just hear the sounds of the flute, but to feel into the energy passing through the flute.
I closed my eyes, put my mouth on the flute and began to play, just like I do when I’m by myself or playing around a camp fire. For the next four minutes I played what wanted to be played, totally free — I allowed my breathe to be a vehicle for a larger breathe.
I took myself out of the equation and that made the performance impeccable. At the end I opened my eyes and again stood, this time taking in the energy that was present in the crowd.
Thank you Adam Berry, @fruitographer for this beautiful photo.
I walked off the stage, feeling alive, feeling in many ways like this was the most normal and natural thing that I had ever done. I realized I had officially become more. Who I knew myself to be, who I was, was now officially bigger than who I knew myself to be one hour prior.
I sat down, proud of myself — if I could I would have given myself a high five. I think Chris and I high fived. I never would have imagined just a day prior that I would have performed a native american improv flute solo to an audience of more than 500 people.
For the remainder of the night and the festival countless people stopped to tell me how amazing the performance was, how it impacted them, how refreshing it was and so on. One women even shared that the flute performance was one of the highlights of her Fruit Festival experience! Humbling to say the least.
I soon came to the realization that this experience, even this life isn’t about me. I mean it is, but it isn’t.
It’s so easy to consume ourselves with our own worries, doubts and insecurities yet the truth is, the more we show up, the more we challenge the self-concept that keeps us small, the more we challenge the originator of that limited concept, the ego, the more we take ourselves out of the equation, the more impact we make, without ever having to .
We’re steeped in a culture that tries so hard to try to make an impact, when all we need to do is push the limits, challenge who we think we are and let the impact magically and mysteriously unfold.
There’s so many lessons contained within this experience (share what stands out most for you), but the major lesson I seek to transmit is that it would have been impossible to show myself how much bigger I was than the self-concept I believed to be true up until that moment, had I not acted in a way that was in alignment with my core approach to life, vulnerability.
I chose to be a me and to act in a way that took me beyond the confines of a self-concept that was limited by the actions of my past.
I became more by being more…and you can too!
So, in short here it is,
‘Three Simple Steps to Define and Validate Who You are’
#1 — Identify what you stand for. Do you stand for possibility, do you stand for opportunity, or like me do you stand for vulnerability? Do you on the other hand stand for safety, do you stand for comfort, do you stand for security, do you stand for ease? What do you stand for!?
If you stand for more than one attribute, identify which is numero uno to you.
#2 — Given a circumstance, situation or potential experience who would you need to be and what would you need to do in order to be in alignment with what you stand for?
I stand for vulnerability, that translated to stepping out of the safe shores of comfort and acting in a way that made me feel uneasy — auditioning for and performing in the talent show. If instead I stood for comfort, my action would have been to do nothing, trying out would have never crossed my mind. That would have equated to staying in integrity with comfort.
#3 — Here’s the the ‘litmus test’ I mentioned earlier. Does acting in alignment with what you stand for serve you? Does it cause you to face your fears head on?
Let’s just assume for a moment, whether you agree or not that your purpose while alive is to grow, to grow into the limitless and infiniteness of who you can be. Here’s the thing, though your actions might be in alignment with what you stand for, the ultimate question is whether what you stand for serves you to become who you can be. If it does not, then ask yourself how is what you stand for really serving you? The short answer is, it’s not.
If what you stand for does not serve you to grow, then it’s serving your ego to keep you small, to keep you confined, to keep you separate from the intangible wealth of who you truly are.
Decide what you stand for, then be the you that does what is required to be in integrity with what you stand for. Validate your foundation, through the litmus test and see whether it serves you or not. Need be, re-decide what you stand for so it serves the bigger you that you are and can become.
Truth be told, I still find myself sometimes wondering, “have I made the right choice?” Fortunately, nowadays I have the awareness to know there is no right nor wrong, there is only choice and the part of me, ego, that seeks to judge is the part that keeps me confined to a life unlived.
In my opinion this is what it means to ‘set the bar’ on who you will become and to then determine in any moment who you will be relative to the assortment of opportunities that life will inevitably present to you. The choice is yours. You define who you will be and it all starts with deciding what you stand for. Demonstrate your commitment through concordant action and reach for that higher possibility.