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The Anatomy of Big Success

But if you are in pain -- if you are stuck in the trenches of a life that feels all wrong for you -- then know that your suffering could actually be the very ticket that will catapult you into a life you could only dream about.
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In a recent Facebook post -- Liz Gilbert, best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, writes: "The dog days were over, my friends. The dog days were done. It's been the happiest decade of my life, since then. Never saw it coming." Liz is referring to a time in her life when she was stuck in an unhappy marriage that left her in a constant state of panic, confusion and depression about the direction of her life. Those were her dog days.

I am on my second reading of Eat, Pray, Love, and I'm struck that her dog days were actually playing themselves out no more than 15 years ago. At the time, she was living in New York City, and she recalls that the terrible tragedy of 9/11 was an unfortunate backdrop and metaphor for her own life -- which she refers to as a smoldering avalanche of ruin.

We all know where we were on 9/11. I was newly and happily married and living by the ocean in beautiful Rockport, MA. By the time 2000 came around, I was thankfully coming out of a long dark tunnel of a life that just wasn't working for me. I had just unshackled myself from a relationship that was all wrong for me and that had been keeping me stuck in all the other areas of my life. I was finally learning how to breathe again. The year 2000 was the year when my dog days were beginning to get behind me. For Liz, she was solidly in the thick of hers.

How odd to think that only 13 years ago, Liz was not happily married as she is today. Her book, Eat, Pray, Love had not been written. She had not sold over 10 million copies of her book. There was no movie version yet with Julia Roberts staring in the lead role. And she was not able to proclaim on Facebook, that she was living her best decade. Back then, Liz clearly never saw it coming.

So how did this all happen to Liz? How does someone actually cause their life to move out of dog days, not merely just to experience some much needed relief or slight change, but to catapult themselves into a life of extraordinary abundance and success the way Liz did?

I believe that whatever is showing up for us in life is commensurate with the degree to which we're willing to put out or caste off things that aren't working for us. Mediocre attempts to improve an unhappy life circumstance produce mediocre results. When you slightly tweak an unhappy life, you end up with a life that doesn't change much -- one that only offers you the occasional sigh of relief.

And so, when I read about someone like Liz and her journey, I think it's worth taking the time to go back and quantify a journey that ends extraordinarily well. And that's what I've been thinking about as I read Eat, Pray, Love. What is clear is that something powerful was going on for Liz. The choices she made were anything but mediocre.

So if this is true -- if we know that powerful choices attract powerful results, what then constitutes a powerful choice? The answer (in part) is written in the first few pages of Eat, Pray, Love: Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth.

I say, in part, because having the guts to tell the truth is not the quite the whole story. Gloria Steinem was onto something when she wrote: "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off." I would also add that not only will it piss you off, but it will also scare the crap out of you. Maybe that's what Ms. Steinem meant by "piss you off."

When I finally got around to telling myself the truth that I had to leave my relationship, it pissed me off because I knew I was going to have to leave familiar territory. It pissed me off because I hadn't a clue what lay ahead for me. It pissed me off because I kept wanting to believe that it's better to have something, anything, even if it's not perfect. It pissed me off because I thought I was going to shatter and ruin my partner's life.

I could have made a mediocre decision to work around it. Tolerate my lot. Make amends. Tweak it. But the quite voice that had been pestering me to listen to it for years, insisted on being heard at full volume. There was no turning it down. And it was telling me to not settle for mediocrity. And that really pissed me off big time. Because, it required two items that I'd always avoided: truth and courage.

Truth and courage are inseparable. Like Siamese twins, they are intricately entwined. They feed off of each other. They deeply depend on each other for their survival. Owning up to the truth is all well and good, but without its counterpart, courage, you'll just end up knowing your truth while continuing to put up with your miserable life. Martha Beck calls this "living in the shallows." It's when you view yourself as limited by a particular identity, and you consistently run away from the things you dread. You tread the shallow waters of your life always afraid to live in the deep end of what's really true.

And there's the rub. Because when you start hanging out with truth and courage, you're swimming in the deep end for sure, and it hurts like hell. Shedding and saying goodbye to a life you've known -- even if it isn't working -- is like a death, and with any death there is a deep sense of loss. And with loss comes grief, depression and loneliness. And who wants to put out the welcome mat for these guys?

This is what happened to Liz. She writes: "Depression and Loneliness track me down while I am in Italy... they come upon me all silent and menacing... and they flank me. Depression on my left, Loneliness on my right." For those of you who've read her book, you'll remember there's a lot of crying, sobbing, and grieving that goes on in this book. And it's all because of the hard decisions she makes. There's nothing shallow about it. This is Liz in the deep-end.

According to Martha Beck: "The grieving process is not warm and fuzzy, but it is a powerful and wonderful magic... because when something 'terrible' is happening to us, something wonderful is always being born...when we utterly and truly let go of the way we once thought things should be, the magic happens."

There's nothing more awful and scary than diving into that deep end of life -- or as Martha Beck calls it, "the ring of fire... but there's nothing, nothing, nothing as sweet as what it can yield."

Does all of this mean that big success like Liz experienced can only get to you if you're willing to be burned alive by a ring of fire? Not necessarily. You may not be in a painful situation in your life. Big success may reach you through some other path. But if you are in pain -- if you are stuck in the trenches of a life that feels all wrong for you -- then know that your suffering could actually be the very ticket that will catapult you into a life you could only dream about. It could be the very thing that will transmute your lead into gold. It all depends on how much are you willing to burn.