Your Wild and Precious Life

“How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”

—Annie Dillard

Go hang gliding. Ride a horse. Learn a new language. Start singing again. Walk the Camino. See the pyramids. Write a book. Some people refer to this as a bucket list, but let’s call it what it really is: It’s an inventory of the things we haven’t done yet but that we’d like to do before we die.

Everyone’s list is different, but there is a shared universal quality. Most of us don’t ever get to the things on our list. In fact, most of us don’t even get close.

Why? Because we are more tuned to the outside than the inside. I need to be responsible. I need to make money. I need to put supper on the table for my kids. Sound familiar?

It’s easy to ignore the small voice inside that wants big things. It’s so easy to relegate those desires to a bucket list. What everyone else wants and needs seems so much louder and more important. Everyone else’s needs are harder to ignore.

But, at the end of your life, there’s only you and the choices you’ve made. When you look back, what do you want to feel about how you’ve lived? Will your life have had meaning? Will the story of your life be what you intended?

“I do not want to die…until I have faithfully made the most of my talent and cultivated the seed that was placed in me until the last small twig has grown.” 

—Käthe Kollwitz

For years and years, I wrote things for other people and it was okay because I was making money and I could call myself a writer, which is what I always wanted to be.

One day, a few years ago, I realized that my business had evolved to a place where everything I wrote was for someone else. Sure, I wore the title of writer, but my writing wasn’t aligned with a sense of inner meaning or purpose. What I most wanted was to write things that would impact other people. This felt like a soul calling and something that had sat on my bucket list for far too long.

I began to slowly shift my focus and assigned part of each day to “writing for me.” My inner critic, of course, had a field day, insisting that any writing activity that wasn’t making money was a waste of time. I  started small with a weekly blog and quickly felt the (non-financial) payoff. Time seemed to stand still when I was writing for me. I absolutely loved it. And every time someone reached out to say that my writing had touched them, I became more and more lit up. I knew I was on the right track.

I started to dream up other ways that I could help other creatives, and a year later, The 40-Day Writing Project was born. Since then, I’ve been working on a raft of new courses and ideas, plus a fresh website that reflects all of this change and evolution. I am well and truly flying on my own now.

This process hasn’t been easy. Small steps have been important. I didn’t stop writing for others all at once. And during the times when I was still doing both, I had to work extra hard. On days when I’m worried about money and find myself longing for the safety and security of my former corporate and business clients, I remind myself why I’m doing this.

I don’t want to reach the end of my life and wonder what I could have done if only I’d been more brave.

Despite the fear and uncertainty, there is a feeling of rightness that comes with these changes. My soul feels happy.

“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

—Mary Oliver

I’ve been learning as I go, and I’ve discovered there is a bit of a holy triad we can employ when it comes to taking bucket items off the page and actually living them.

Intention. Energy. Time.

There is power in a simple intention, made even more potent by the investment of our energy and our time. Day by day, week by week, month by month. Only in this way can the dreams we have for our lives become a reality.

Back to the Annie Dillard quote. How are you spending your days? What are you putting your energy toward? Is it in line with what you actually want?

If it’s not, what small steps can you take? Take the top thing on your bucket list. You know what it is. The thing you most want to do; the thing you will regret not doing when you reach the end of your life. Whatever that thing is, start by taking a small step toward it. Now. Today. You don’t have to alter your whole life.

Just begin.

“I argued with my soul for a long time before I came to know it as my wisest self, my compass that would direct me to a different kind of safety, an inner stability that far surpassed anything the noise in my head could imagine. Getting quiet enough to hear the voice of the soul became my practice. Learning to distinguish what was soul from what was dread, or guilt, or pride—that became my purpose. To dig for the soul, and then to gather the courage to put it in charge of my life.”

Elizabeth Lesser, from Marrow

Author: Renée Hartleib

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