When I attended Oprah's "The Life You Want" tour in Seattle, Washington, I sat mesmerized as I listened to speeches from Oprah, Mark Nepo, Elizabeth Gilbert, Rob Bell and Iyanla Vanzant. Oprah and her team created an equally intimate and fun space to discuss "the things that matter in life...things like joy, resilience, awe, connection and gratitude."
I left feeling empowered and excited to author my own story.
Below are a few of my takeaways and interpretations from the seminar. May you be as inspired as I was to begin living the life you've imagined for yourself.
1. The life you want begins by embracing the life you have
Rob Bell spoke about the importance of accepting and appreciating the life we have. It's easy to look perpetually toward the future and what we hope will happen, rather than recognizing the aspects of our lives that are good and already in full swing. Maybe we don't have everything we want (and surely we have a few things we don't want), but we have so many things we enjoy that we take for granted: our health, our freedom, our intelligence, our educations and even our very aliveness.
Maybe you're in an uninspiring job position, but you have a consistent paycheck that affords you many liberties -- and you want that. Maybe you're living with your parents, but it means that you have a loving support system -- and you want that. Maybe you're drowning in debt from your college education, but you have a degree -- and you want that. Maybe your best friends or family live far away, but you have people you care about enough to miss -- and you want that.
When we pause to absorb and feel gratitude for the beauty in front of us, we realize that nothing is as urgent, desperate, or miserable as we build it up to be in our minds. We can still want and aspire to many things, but acknowledging the positivity in our current situations is the only foundation on which we can do that. Because how can we want more of anything if we don't cherish what we already have?
Take some time each day to recognize what brings joy and fulfillment to your life.
2. Life always tells you the truth. Your job is to recognize and accept it
Both Oprah and Iyanla Vanzant explained the process though which life speaks to us. First, we hear a whisper. A whisper is the little voice inside our minds that senses something is amiss. When we disregard the whisper, the universe tosses a pebble at our heads to remind us to pay attention. Look around you and adjust accordingly, the pebble warns.
When we ignore the pebble, we get a brick. The brick is the crisis in our life that knocks us down and disorients us. If we continue to move forward without change, eventually an entire wall will topple over and crush us, signaling that full-blown disaster is in effect.
We can avoid disaster by recognizing and responding to the clues the universe sends our way. When we feel uneasy about a person or place, when we dwell in anxiety, when we face the same problems time and again, it is an indication that whatever we are doing is no longer working.
We need to listen when life speaks, no matter how much we might dislike what is being said. Any pain or discomfort that we experience is a wake-up call designed to prevent future devastation or tragedy. Whatever occurs in our lives is for our highest good. The sooner we embrace this notion, the more easily we can move with the tide of life, instead of against it.
3. Co-create your life
Oprah stressed the point that we all have the power to play an active role in our own lives. It's far too common to sit in the back seat of the car and hope the circumstances of our lives will change eventually, all the while taking no action to alter the course of our journeys. Taking a passive approach to life manifests self-doubt, insecurity and fear. Waiting for what we want to occur is a vicious cycle of inactivity that eventually renders us paralyzed.
The truth is that we do not need permission to participate in our own lives. We do not need the go-ahead to star in our own stories, nor do we need a sign to indicate that we have an opportune moment ahead of us.
All we have to do is realize that we are directly responsible for the energy we create around us. There is no single event in our lives that we have not been part of, no moment of reflection or growth that has not seen us at its center. Therefore, it is we--and not some external force--who possess the power to shift our thoughts and our lives.
As Elizabeth Gilbert said, "Be the hero of your own journey."
4. You are meant to share your calling
Have you ever felt that your passion doesn't have a place outside your own life? That your talent exists only in the room where you paint or dance or write stories? That it would be vain or self-important of you to invite others to experience your gifts?
Oprah stood on stage to tell us otherwise. She said that the joy we feel for the things we love is an indication of our life's purpose. And that our purpose is our spirit's way of seeking expression. Your life's work -- whether it's hair styling, motocross racing, sculpting, reporting, teaching or whatever else -- is valuable. Each of us possesses a unique gift that has the potential to spread light and love when we share it with others.
Deepak Chopra says that anything worth having only increases when it is given. So don't withhold your passions from others, for when you do you withhold the beauty inherent in these passions. I wouldn't be inspired to write this piece if so many remarkable men and women hadn't shared their purpose with me this past weekend.
Next time you feel inclined to keep your gift to yourself, remember this: if you give your talent and your enthusiasm to those around you with the simple intention of increasing love in the world, you always will.
5. You become what you believe
Since we are products of our thought patterns, we manifest the circumstances and events in our lives that reflect what we think at any given time. If we feel fulfilled, we manifest fulfillment. If we feel peaceful, we manifest peace. If we feel miserable, we manifest misery. If we feel confident, we manifest confidence.
Whatever we give our energy to -- good, bad, or otherwise -- we strengthen.
There's a two-step process to mindful thinking. The first is learning to recognize when we are devoting our energy to the things that no longer serve us. Ask yourself the necessary questions: does it serve me to perpetuate my sadness over job rejections? Does it serve me to carry resentment for things people have said to me in the past?
The answer is always no.
Once we're cognizant of this habit, the second step is learning to let go of whatever we clung to so that we might transfer our energy toward the people, ideas and events that enrich our lives. And in times of challenge and loss, it is all the more crucial to devote effort to switching our mental language from a self-defeating vocabulary to a self-affirming one--whether or not we initially feel positive.
Today and every day, let's choose to focus our energy where it will best produce love, to embrace our roles as the sole authorities over our emotions, and to consciously determine how we are going view every situation.
Our energy is powerful -- let's not waste it on what does not deserve to wield its power.
6. Have the courage to ask for what you need, but practice the ability to accept what you're given
Mark Nepo gave the above response when asked the question, "How do we find balance between continuing to strive for what we want and achieving contentedness?"
I've often felt that if I'm not striving for something greater than what I have that I will become complacent. But I've also worried that looking forward to circumstances that don't yet exist will undermine or invalidate the happiness I currently have.
In fact, neither extreme scenario needs to occur. We can be both ambitious and satisfied, simultaneously yearning and at peace. Iyanla Vanzant said, "Give yourself permission to dream without obsessing about the outcome." That is, trust that the process alone of dreaming and creating will lead to your success and fulfillment, rather than relying on the far away result of these dreams and creations to cultivate your happiness.
Be ambitious. Reach for what you want. Then surrender to the outcome. Accept whatever the universe gives to you and trust that it will be exactly what you need.