“Tell us a few things about yourself which the people here don’t know.”
This was a task I had set, and it came round to me at the end, after all the other participants had already told their stories. We had come full circle. My turn.
“This is actually quite difficult for me,” I began, having to speaking loudly over the sound of the sea, “I tend to reveal every tiny little thing about myself in the articles on my website. I view it as a form of self-discovery; through writing about my own experiences I see them from a new perspective. You have probably already read a lot about me. But I’ll give it a try. So, a few things you might not yet know about me…”
With the crash of the waves as a continuous background music in our Balinese cafe, I shared life stories with nine incredibly creative and open people – participants of the retreat, Misha and Alena, our yoga instructor – and I offered my contribution of as-yet-unpublished titbits of information about myself.
Fact number one:
“I never really know exactly how an article is going to turn out. There is always an overall concept and a central thread, but how the subject will develop, and what discoveries, examples and conclusions will arise from the topic, I do not know in advance. Or rather, I know somewhat, but not all the way to the end. Apologies for this controversial revelation, but that’s how it works. I’m not saying I get some sort of divine inspiration from above, but I do get into a state of creative flow, where one word leads directly to the next, and sometimes together they construct idea that comes as a surprise even to me, the author.
If, by the way, this flow doesn’t come, I don’t write. Articles that come from the intellect alone are a rare torture. The intellect is only needed for the editorial stage; the essence must always come from within. In flow. Even though I might seek out the path to this flow intentionally. I call this “the ache of creativity” – my faithful companion.
Fact number two:
I am a big coward. Seriously. I am afraid of many things. I am not being melodramatic, or just saying this to lighten the tone. I only want to convey the truth of my history. These days it is very fashionable to discuss escaping your comfort zone. Ever since I was very young, my comfort zone has been extremely narrow. I was always afraid of everything, and I still am. At the sight of tiny harmless spiders I would scream so much that my stepfather literally wouldn’t believe me. He said I was making it up. I was too afraid to jump over the ravine when all the other kids were doing it. I was absolutely terrified to go travelling alone, even in Asia. I brushed my teeth with bottled water the whole time because I was afraid of the tap water. I remember people laughing at me: “But you wash in it, don’t you?” I couldn’t swim until I was 28 years old, again out of fear. Now I have learned. I swim by the shore just fine, but I’m still afraid of going into deep water. However, in Bali I managed to face my fear: without a life jacket and without holding Misha’s hand, alone with nothing but flippers, a mask and snorkel, I explored a coral reef in the watery depths 80 metres away from shore. Sure, I looked for all of two minutes and immediately went back, but it was still a personal best. A couple of years before that even 10 metres out without a life jacket would have been out of the question. I am making progress with my fears, for example, those tiny little spiders in the forest near my home no longer freak me out…”
“And the bigger ones?” Misha interrupted.
“Of course I’m still afraid of the big ones. I think that as soon as I had encountered the big ones in Asia I stopped fearing the small ones.
In general, like I said, the territory of my comfort and safety is extremely limited, and always has been. My set of life ambitions and wishes, on the other hand, are extremely far-reaching. I need a lot of things. And it has always been that way. If the universe could troll…
The following quote from Paulo Coelho has always been close to my heart:
And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear
All my life I have tried to keep on going forward. Incidentally, it seems to me that I move towards my goals quite slowly. But, as runners often say: even the slowest run is faster than the fastest walk. And that fact applies to me.
And fact number three (the final one for today):
Many people from many walks of life share a very common dream: to earn money doing what they love. I also wanted this. But I always held another idée fixe close to my heart. I didn’t want to just earn money doing what I love, I also wanted my work to allow me to pay other people who earn money doing what they love. To not just be creative, but to pay others to be creative too.
A few months ago I concluded an almost year-long contract with Isreali artist Avita Flit, who illustrates my articles, bringing a language of colours and images to my website “Create yourself anew”. These pictures inspire wonder in me, and provoke me to question, challenge and interact with them. In each set I have my favourites as well as those that would go under the tag “strange”. However, I have never yet refused a piece of work, even though our contract allows me to turn down several pieces per month. They make me think. Even the strange ones.
And so the messages of re-self.ru took on visual shape.”
No time left for the discussion. According to the agenda it is time for evening meditation and bed. Tomorrow we get up at 5am to greet the sun which rises, quickly yet gracefully, from the water each day.
And so, there we are, all doing the downward dog pose together (which our yogini Alena graciously called “the slide”) for the second time that day, when suddenly I realized what it really was I had done. And was still doing. Together with Misha, from our tremendous discussions and exciting debates. I realized I could touch my dream with my own hands. That I already was: the floor of this open, spacious yoga hall, where such different people with such incredible spirits had gathered from literally all over the world, united in their search for personal transformation and answers from within.
In reality everything is a lot simpler than it seems. This was my conclusion from my six-month trip around Asia, and I have carried it with me for eight years now. Seriously. Just get up and do it. Give it a try. Don’t be afraid to shake it up. Don’t get too attached to the result. And don’t save any strength for the way back.
But is this enough?
If somebody achieves their goal, everyone immediately asks: “So how did you do it?” But I have another question that is just as important as a true indicator of your intention to move forward on your path: “What did you give up?”
What sacrifices did you make in order to get to where you want?
I don’t mean out of necessity: “I don’t have enough money to go abroad so I’ll spend my vacation locally” . I don’t mean because you missed your opportunity. What have you consciously denied yourself? Wanted, but let go, in the name of your goal? In the name of recreating yourself and your life according to your own design?
This is not a popular question. Nobody has ever answered it directly. It’s all simply a question of tolerance and compromise. Everybody must make these decisions for themselves, and bear the responsibility of their choices. There are no shortcuts, and it is easy to make mistakes. There are no guarantees that your sacrifice will be worth it. There are no guarantees that it will all work out. I’m just presenting my examples and sharing my conclusions, and every one can make their own decisions about the ins and outs of their life.
The things I have given up, temporarily or permanently, at different stages of my life, for the sake of progressing toward my chosen destination of desired changes:
I sacrificed the well-trodden path
If you have ever worked in sales you will understand what I mean. At the beginning everything is so messy and difficult: starting from scratch and developing a client base with minimal earnings. But then, if yours inner salesperson succeeds, you can reach your professional peak within a couple of years: strong client relationships, deals made, contracts signed, money coming in a steady flow, earning a stable salary (that is the envy of your friends). It is the same in any context: high risk, high dividends. And it was precisely at this peak of success that I quit, instead of buying a car and getting a mortgage, like everybody around me was doing. Just when the iron was hot. Extremely foolish by anyone’s logic. I quit and I went to see the world.
Since then I have often been compared to downshifters. They say, wow, you gave up a good job just to go to Asia. You went down on the social ladder. But the people closest to me understood that I gave it up because I needed significantly broader horizons. I don’t mean twice or three times broader, which I could attempt to aim for within the same lane, but more like 20, 30, 100 times greater. A qualitative leap, not quantitative. And I understood I would not be able to achieve this on the path that I was on. I had dreamed of travelling to Asia, sure, but still I remember very clearly the feeling of sitting on the airplane thinking: “Maybe all I really wanted is the chance for something completely new.” But that was a part of my dreams. In reality I sacrificed the easy route without any concept of how I would broaden my horizons. And I only moved beyond that last (!) level six years later…
I sacrificed my past
With my rhythm of life, travelling the world and engaging in different activities, I cannot physically keep hold of the details of the past in my mind. I am 31 years old and I have already forgotten the names of all my classmates and teachers, and many things I learned at school and college. I don’t remember much about living in Thailand. Or in Nepal, for that matter. I realize that the more examples I give the more it casts doubts over my inability to remember things, but that’s hardly the point. After five homes in different countries, travelling, more than ten different places of work, the development of a personal project and business, old memories are naturally pushed out. I’m fully occupied with the present; I’m not interested in my past. I don’t remember my childhood, I don’t analyze it, I don’t draw parallels with the present, I don’t search through it for excuses for my slip-ups. I have a good understanding of the mechanisms of a developing consciousness: if you bear the responsibility for everything you do, here and now, then your past is of absolutely no importance. It only controls you if you give it your energy. When it comes down to it, the past doesn’t exist. What exists are the knots in your thoughts that draw your energy away from the present and do not pave a decent Path for the future. I don’t waste energy on maintaining treasured memories for the sake of it. In my life there really is no past. Only the present and a flexible plan for the future. Yes, I immerse myself in old experiences for the sake of vivid illustrations in my articles, but that is different; that is serving the creative act in the present. I have no memories of a workaday state of mind; it doesn’t appeal to me.
I sacrificed money
I have sacrificed money more than once at various stages of my life. The crowning example is when I turned down all work in order to develop my project re-self.ru. At that time I had already worked for a year and a half as a copy-writer and online journalist, having several continuous freelancer projects with a fixed income. I made ends meet, despite living in Moscow and no longer in south-east Asia.
Incredibly, this freelance work left me time to develop my own business. At least I did not need to spend every day between 9am and 6pm in an office somewhere with a restricted internet account. I decided my own hours. I could get up earlier, and clearly plan and manage everything. The operative word being “could”. In reality this didn’t happen. Creating texts for others meant I could not write for myself. So I made the most important decision of my life: I turned down all forms of income, leaving myself no choice but to learn how to earn money independently and eventually develop my own business. Words cannot express how scary it was (without a financial safety net). But it was also totally worth it.
I sacrificed more money
Oddly enough, turning down more money when I did have a safety net turned out to be much harder than turning down an average but decent salary. It probably wasn’t noticeable from the outside, but re-branding from online programs to retreats around the world cost me a fair amount every month. This was the real downshifting. Oh, sorry, only my Misha laughs at this joke. Never mind. This shift brought with it a vision of progress. Of course, there is still a long way to go before any kind of conclusion or landmark, but I can say, as with anything that yes, there is risk involved. There is always a risk that it won’t work. There are no guarantees. Everyone simply decides for themselves, and takes responsibility. This was my decision. At the very least these shifts have provided me with then years worth of things to write about.
I sacrificed half-measures
Most normal people think: “Why bother make sacrifices?”. Surely, if you work part-time a couple of hours a day, you can start your own business. Or if you already have online programs, you can organize retreats around the world. Piece of cake. Why make sacrifices?
This is the sly energy equation involved in moving on to a new level. You can, of course, stay on your former level, doing everything slowly, bit by bit, but I had completely different aims – I wanted fundamental changes, in the literal sense of the word “fundamental”. I wanted to progress to a new level, and give up my easy existence in the old one.
I sacrificed relationships
Or to be precise, thinking about relationships. Imagine: I’m 29 years old, I have no family, no children, no boyfriend, no lover. And, by the way, had been this way for a long time. I decided to stop thinking about it and instead take steps towards reaching my aforementioned goals. I gave priority to the development of my own business. I was honest with myself. I understood that there was no other way to move forward. This was not an attempt to trick the universe: “I’ll pretend not to want this for the moment, so that I can get it more quickly”. No. It was painfully candid. “I don’t want it. End of story”.
I mean, I wasn’t adverse to the idea of a relationship. I did not turn down dates, but how many times do you think I got asked out while I was working at home on the computer for eight to ten hours a day, six days a week?
The truth is that I did not sacrifice these thoughts forever. Only during that stage of development. But it was a given that it would require a minimum of a couple of years. I find it curious that when I raise this issue in my article or programs, young women in similar situations are horrified by the prospect. It is a bizarre ability of the mind – to fear giving up what you do not have!
I sacrificed friends
It sounds awful, doesn’t it? But it is true. I drifted apart from some because of distance. The fact that I went travelling automatically broke some ties. Other friendships broke down because of the lack of synchronicity that became apparent after my personal re-branding. With all my changes, I suddenly become incomprehensible and even strange to some. At times, each step I took away from a specific person or people enabled me to move forward. But there is a bright side to all this: friendships with people who accept you exactly as you are, despite changes and distance, are not affected by your transformations and shifts. When they look at you they see you, and not your life path. The strongest bonds survive the years and distance.
I sacrificed travel
Again, this was only in the period when I was setting up my business. I am a person who is used to constantly being on the road, in different countries, living and breathing travel. Yet, I consciously made the decision to stay put for at least a year and devote all my attention, means and energy to one single process. Even if I had the money, time and opportunity to travel. I was sure of my decision. I knew that I now would not go anywhere, so that later I might go away at least every quarter – four times a year. That was the plan. And today I write these lines after my 20th flight in nine months.
Trim one branch to give strength to the main stem. Nature is full of hints. It seems obvious, doesn’t it? Yet so many people around me talk about developing their dream business and so few of them make any sort of sacrifice, especially when it comes to the “holy question” of travel!
I sacrificed buying myself things
When I gave up money, as previously mentioned, my expenditure went down to a minimum. I had to make cuts. I denied myself things. Clothes, treats and entertainment. Any kopek that appeared, I spent it on the project. That was the plan. There was always a reason. In my case the reason was never to have to deny myself again.
I gave up Christmas/New Year and my birthday
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve spent the holidays alone. When travelling and in unknown cities. I was far from my loved ones. But I wanted changes, expansion, an interesting & eventful life, and this was part of the way.
It is important to comprehend that every single one of these sacrifices hurt; it was pure austerity for the sake of a transition to entirely new horizons. Every sacrifice was a decision, and not a necessity. A choice, and not a chore. And behind every one of these choices stood the intention of everything I wanted to become.
I sacrificed a comfortable existence and good job for the sake of genuinely meaningful and enchanting work; sacrificed money for the sake of a little more money; sacrificed more money for the sake of transforming quantity into quality, which inevitably gives rise to quantity, though in a different way; sacrificed half-measures for the sake of concrete actions; sacrificed thinking about relationships for the sake of genuine connection with a soulmate; sacrificed travel and spending money on myself for the sake of never having to make these sacrifices again.
Someone once said: “Freedom always begins with self-denial”.
It’s a good start.