As the sun crossed the sky this past Friday, the wheels of my rattling 2003 Mazda traversed the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to come to rest in Chestnut Ridge, North Carolina. Several of us had traveled down for the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite retreat, and although the contents of the weekend were still a mystery to me when I arrived after 10 hours, my aching legs and cramped shoulders screamed that it had better be pretty damn good to make the drive worthwhile. Fortunately, the people I met and the tools I learned this weekend proved more valuable that a dozen drives of that length, for I left with a clarity in my mind and a fire in my soul.

The facilitators of the retreat ranged from administrative directors of innovation and entrepreneurship at major universities to professional poets to CEOs of technology companies, and the winding path of their careers seemed to leave a trail of inspiration, not because they were set in stone, but because they arose organically as a result of someone following their passion and listening to the deepest desires of their inner heart. All of us, to some extent, see uncertainty as a realm where fear blossoms, so we try so hard to prune and pluck the uncertainty out of our lives. We define our paths into ones already well trodden, law school or academia or a corporate job. However, this weekend taught me that we are all capable of sustaining ourselves on a life lived at the intersection of our heads and our hearts: following our passions and utilizing our skills.

There were a few big ideas that I took away from the retreat, and that I want to share:

  • Love drives progress. Self-love, understanding, and caring for others always outdoes self-criticism, competition, and cutting others our of your life. While one must focus on first loving yourself and watering your own soul, that self-love has a funny way of overflowing into the lives of others around you.
  • It’s amazing how rare good questions are in this world. People crave to be asked those powerful questions, and the only thing stopping us from asking us is our own inability to frame good questions.
  • Listen 1) to the facts 2) to the music behind the words 3) to the deepest level of what someone’s soul says. Listening like this can change the world.
  • Freaking out can be fuel, as long as you have an intentional idea about how you want to make an impact.
  • Live life, don’t let life live you. 

Sometimes, we all need a reminder about how important these things are. I feel so grateful for the space that I was given this weekend to clarify my own goals and life path, and I feel more confident than ever in my abilities to forge a trail through this world that affords me with joy and authenticity, and those around me with love, wisdom, and happiness.

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