I am so excited. Yesterday, I walked my way to closure. I crossed the finish line, arms raised, triumphant and a little emotional over marking the end of chemotherapy. I had amazing friends and family in tow, love and support of people near and far, and a confidence in my heart that I was going to be able to move forward on to the next phases of this battle against cancer.
As an added bonus, the Missoulian sent a reporter, Chelsea Davis, to interview me and write this incredible piece. She was well researched and smart but also kind and thoughtful which made it easy for me to talk with her. As we chatted about cancer, love, loss and life, her questions helped me crystallize my own thoughts about this journey and even cracked the door on the future.
Between the overwhelming difficulty of planning for something as simple as tomorrow and the day-to-day constant consuming survival mode, I haven’t had much space to think much about my future. I have thought about how I’d like to be alive and how I’d like for my business to be marking new territory helping people and improving the way they interface with the law. But I have not thought much about what life will look like beyond a general fear that the lessons learned over this time will slip away from me. I realize after reading Chelsea’s article that I should be focusing not on what might be lost, but on what is there is to gain. I must start dreaming again.
Fortunately, I have a plan. In fact, I have a little theory. It came to me on a hike and it had the same sensation as when I would wade into the crashing waves of Lake Michigan as a child. The weight of it would hit me and lift me off the sandy bottom and push my body back a few feet. It was a powerful, full body sensation and it would make me so excited to be caught up in such incredible energy. So too, was the theory. It came to me and hit me like that wave. Lifting me up and reorienting my life. It clarified things for me. It crystallized what needed to be done. And it will be my new life’s experiment- to test my theory and see what happens.
I believe, no matter what our circumstances, that we can create lives that are deeply satisfying and meaningful.
My word for that quality of life is wholeness. A whole life is one that is grounded in living out our values. A whole life is balance between our heads, hearts, and soul. When that balance is honored, we create the circumstances necessary to live awesome lives.
Our heads give us the Vision for our lives and help direct us where to go. Our souls give us our sense of Purpose and speak to our deep inner desires and callings. And my favorite, Values, are guided by our hearts. Our values are the things we are passionate about. They are our principles, our judgement of what is important in life. A value demands satisfaction or else it will eat away at you. There are hundreds of values- things like authenticity, or justice, fairness or connection, honesty, integrity, fun, play, notoriety, quality work, efficiency, etc. A value resonates in you in a way that feels so familiar you may not have even noticed it before. It is also most likely the thing that is driving you nuts, causing you to be miserable in your work or to snap at your spouse. When our values are not honored, we become symptomatic, unhappy, unbalanced beings.
I believe our talents feed our vision, values and sense of purpose. When we are clear on our purpose and values, we use our talents to help us accomplish our vision. Everything works together to help us create a balanced, powerful life. When we are out of that balance, we have a hole in our life that we traditionally try to stuff with distraction. Distraction is easier than the hard work of sorting through our mess to find out who we are capable of being. It’s living on our cellphones, it’s too much tv time, it’s the pursuit and ideation of money (not a value, interestingly enough), it’s all the addiction behaviors we so often struggle with.
It’s tuning out rather than turning in.
Distraction numbs the pain of living outside our values. It tampers down the self-doubt and loss of not being connected with our true selves, and with being out of alignment with the best version of ourselves that we are capable of.
And it’s where I lived for years before my diagnosis. I kept thinking if I could reach this landmark, or that goal, or put enough money in the bank, I would finally feel I made it, that I was okay. Instead, I engaged in every numbing behavior under the sun, trying to quiet out the pull of my heart and soul toward a more meaningful life. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with cancer and the deck was cleared that I could listen to what my heart and soul had been begging of me. I know now that my top values are authenticity, vulnerability, connection, problem-solving, efficiency and integrity. When I turn toward those values and align my conduct and energy with those principles, I literally feel joy in my life where there used to be pain. It has been incredible already, and I’m just getting started.
The challenge is that we don’t receive societital messages about values, or vision or purpose. We receive messages about entitlement and the about “Having It All.” We are taught that if our houses look like what we see on movies, and our bodies in magazines, and if we take this trip and own this car and dress this way- we will be happy. It is a life based on consumerism, false appearances, and superficial, temporary, pursuits of happiness. And yes, it does feel good to indulge in those things almost every time. And they on their own are not bad things at all. They just aren’t real fixes and they certainly aren’t values. The only way to feel deeply and truly satisfied is to live a life that is consistent with what our purpose, vision and values require of us. Otherwise, the rest just doesn’t stick.
But still, living out your values is tough, too. We just don’t have a cultural roadmap for that life. In fact, we have a societal expectation that degrades and sometimes mocks such soulful living. Even so, I cannot adhere to living a life that is meant to impress and satisfy anyone else anymore. No one else has to live in my skin, deal with my demons, or rest their head on my pillow at night. No one else pays my bills, raises my children, or slow dances with my husband in the kitchen.
Cancer has taught me that this beautiful crazy life is mine and mine alone, and I will not yield this gift to anyone else any longer.
I will experiment in living contrary to what I have been sold, and in full alignment with what my heart, head and soul speak to me. For how can I fail if I create the rules and measures of success, and then put my best, united, and God given talents behind my efforts?
And so, bravely forward go I. I don’t know if it will work. Sometimes I don’t know if I will have the tenacity of heart to stick to a life that abandons the message we have all adopted. It takes a lot of guts to understand that people will reject you for being different, but it’s a space I have practice living in and I believe I have the fortitude to thrive. I was gifted a bracelet from another cancer family that I picked out today. It’s message is clear and it spoke to me. It says simply, “I Can & I Will.”
I have chosen this path after cancer chose me. I can create a meaningful, exciting, and deeply satisfying life. And I will. And then maybe you will, too. And we will go on an incredible adventure together.
Give Em’ Hell.