If you haven't yet read my 'hope story', I would start there. Last year, I hit rock bottom. I knew there had to be more to life than the way I was experiencing it. I was humbled before God and discovered the truth and strength in my own weakness. It was with undying hope, that the 'Yes Year' blossomed. My life transformed the moment I came to one undeniable truth. Everything in life is only temporary. We do not truly own or possess anything. We are spiritual beings in physical bodies, and when we die, we can't take anything with us. Even the people we love eventually return to the earth. So the real question I asked myself was, "what the heck are we doing with the time we have left??"
In January of this year, a friend of mine told me about this story she heard on the radio. It was about a young woman in her early twenties that had just been dumped by her boyfriend. He not-so-politely informed her that she had three days to move out. She was left with very few belongings and a job she didn't like. She went on to explain that despite the fact that her entire life had just been turned upside down, it was actually a blessing in disguise because it made her aware of all of the things she still wanted to do in life but had never had the guts to do. She called it her 'Yes Year.' When the radio show hosts asked her to explain what a 'Yes Year' entailed, she said she made a commitment to herself to say yes to all of the dreams she had once put on hold for others.
This story breathed new life into my being. Why had I been putting my dreams on hold? What was preventing me from doing them?
I met my best friend to discuss these things and together we created a pledge. A pledge that agreed we would say 'Yes' to all of the opportunities and challenges life handed us in 2017. We set a timer for two minutes and ferociously jotted down all the things in life we had always wanted to do in addition to the dreams we wanted to achieve. Our lists began with silly things like 'get a nose piercing' or 'dye hair platinum blonde' but it quickly escalated to life-long goals, like 'run a marathon', 'qualify for Boston', 'start a blog', 'find a meaningful career', and 'travel the world.'
Next, we set another two minute timer and created a list of all the reasons people had convinced us why we shouldn't or couldn't do these things. We specifically listed the names of the people who told us these dreams weren't possible, and the list went on and on. We had to set an extra five minute timer just to write all of these things out.
It was astounding to me that we were able to so easily identify what our dreams were, yet when we had to think about all the reasons people had convinced us not to do them, it took more than double the time. No wonder aspirations get crushed so easily in the world today. We spend so much time making each other smaller so we don't feel insecure about ourselves, that naturally our dreams are silenced over time. How many of us have remained status quo, ordinary, and complacent in some areas of our lives because we have allowed ordinary people to convince us that our dreams didn't matter? In the words of Maryanne Williamson, "There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you." Steve Jobs once said, "Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you and you can change it and you can influence it. Once you learn that, you'll never be the same again."
After creating these lists, I had an exchange with one of my co-workers that shifted my perspective even further. She was showing me pictures of her cousin climbing a mountain in a foreign country, and after a few enthusiastic minutes of us conversing and vicariously living through his experiences, she sheepishly sunk back into her chair and said, "Yeah, I wish that was my life." It felt as if someone had thrown a brick at my face. What I wanted to say to her was, "Of course that can be your life! That can be my life too! The choice is entirely up to you." And that's when I knew I had to quit my job. There were so many things I still wanted to learn and see and do. Regardless of how amazing the people I worked for were, or the fact that I was up for a promotion, didn't seem to matter anymore. I wanted to wake up every damn day and feel like my purpose was being fulfilled doing the work I was giving so much of my time to. The only person holding me back was myself.
I met my parents for dinner that night after an exhausting day and laid it out. I was going to quit my job. I wanted to become a teacher and educate people instead. I would apply to schools and upon the contingency of getting in, I would spend my first year's income on traveling across Europe by myself. I wanted to become a Christian-based yoga instructor, so I'd have to find a way to get my certification abroad too. I didn't know what, where, or how any of these things were going to fall into place, but in my heart I knew it was right. The gentle voice within was finally speaking truths and making known all of the dreams of my heart.
For a moment, I forgot all the hell I had put my parents through the past six months and was paralyzed with fear they were actually going to reject these ideas. But then I remembered my mother's face in the hospital and the letter my father had written me with a list of the things we still needed to do together. It was the first time I had seen him cry in years as he gently reminded me that life was still so very precious. These people sitting across from me loved me more than anyone in the world could possibly understand. They didn't care what I wanted to do in life. They just wanted to see me in love with my life again. They both smiled and we started laughing out loud at my obvious fear of rejection. Of course they supported me. Sure it sounded a little crazy, but most things worth pursing in life are crazy. It was the first time I declared to anyone out loud that it was going to be my 'Yes Year'.
So that's how it began. But it was only the beginning.
Before I left for Europe, I had the intention to run my first full marathon and qualify for Boston. I figured it would be a healthy way of occupying my time and it would kick off my 'Yes Year' on the right note. So I started training at the beginning of February and by the time the race came in May, I felt extremely prepared. I lost 15lbs, was eating clean again, and remembered why I had fallen in love with running in the first place. It made me feel free, and no longer constricted to the daily happenings of every day life. I felt comfortable and confident in my body again for the first time in months. I wasn't running for a team, or to perform in front of others; I was just running for myself. When I walked up to the starting line on race day, I felt prepared to take on the world.
Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that no amount of self-confidence or ambition can make up for starting out the race at 7:25 minute-mile pace. I ran the first half in 1:39 and felt great, but by the time I got to mile 18, I thought I was going to have to crawl over the finish line. I finished 15 minutes behind the qualifying mark and my body has never been in that much pain in my entire life. I understood why my mother once said childbirth had been easier. Despite the fact that I had not reached one of my major life goals, I couldn't be more humbled by how metaphorical the experience was. It represented my healing journey.
At the beginning of the race, I was overly confident that I was capable of getting to the finish line by myself. In my stubbornness and pride, I thought I was capable of surviving the storm alone. When I got to mile 15, my two best friends hopped in the race with the intention of running 5-6 miles to help pace me. They immediately recognized that I was not myself and running significantly slower then I had hoped. Despite their encouragement, around mile 18, I asked if I should continue running or even finish the race. Those that know me well, know that I am not a quitter. Because I was blinded by my own pain, I was unable to recognize what was truly important. In my despair, I wanted to give up. My best friend looked at me and said "I will run all the way to the finish line with you, if you promise not to quit." That was 11 miles. And they ran next to me every step. Like so many others, they selflessly gave of themselves to get me back on my feet. They carried me quite literally and figuratively through all the trials of life. I would never doubt that I was loved in some capacity by them. It was incredible to be a witness to the love and selflessness they continued to pour over me. I only hoped they knew how much I loved them in return. At mile 20, I could see my mother in the distance holding a neon green sign that said in big bold letters, "GO MEGAN!!!!". My entire life I had been afraid of disappointing her. This race was no exception. As I approached in my crippled state of jogging, she started bouncing up and down and screaming, "GO MEGAN!!" as if I was winning the Boston Marathon itself. Others around her started cheering my name as well. Tears of joy streamed down my face as I passed her and was assured that I was never a disappointment in her eyes. Some days she would have to physically get me out of bed just to ensure I wasn't left alone to wallow in my own self-pity. She was there for me when I needed her most, and through our transparency and vulnerability with one another, our relationship has never been stronger. There were so many people along the way that continued to fuel me with words of encouragement and sustain my physical exhaustion. At mile 22, my high school coach joined us and after learning that I hadn't eaten anything throughout the race, started asking random strangers if they had a Goo pack. You will never receive the things you don't ask for in life. When someone handed her one, at first I refused it, but then after hearing her rebuttal of making me eat the waffle we had seen on the curb a few strides prior, I choose the lesser of two evils. After I ate it, I felt significantly better and was able to jog to the finish. Although growth was not easy, I learned that I needed to be an active participant in my own healing and I could not afford to refuse the resources others were willing to offer me. At times I needed to learn the hard way, because it only humbled me more and helped me appreciate all the help that the people I loved were trying to offer me.
As I came down the final straight-away, I was overwhelmed by the impression this experience had left on me. Like my healing journey, I was overcome by the love so many others had given me just to help get me through the darkness. I was never alone, and God's love continued to pour over me through other people, even when I wasn't fully aware of it.
So, what I'm trying to say, is that sometimes life requires us to do some crazy, faith-required things. We may not know what the end result is going to be or how we are going to get there, but it's often not about getting to the finish line. It's all about the journey. I challenge you to examine the things in your own life that are truly important, and what your own version of a 'Yes Year' would entail. Take a moment to write down both your dreams and the reasons why others said you couldn't do them. It's an exercise that I hope gives you as much perspective as it did for me. If nothing else, I hope it at least helps you realize how full of crap the people who doubted you were.
Take those blind leaps of faith and allow your life to be unleashed. Leave expectations and the judgments of others behind and give yourself permission to believe with all your heart in the hopes and dreams you were once told were impossible. I promise you won't regret it.
The brilliant author, Paulo Coelho, once said, "Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity."
I believe that when you find your true purpose in life, the universe conspires and does everything it can to help you achieve those dreams. You are more capable than you know. We are all capable of manifesting the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us. It's in all of us. And as we give ourselves permission to let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.
Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire. Make 2017 your Yes Year too.