Living a Life with Purpose: So what?

Recently, I attended a personal growth seminar through the TurningLeaf Wellness Center. I decided that I have been writing this column—“talking the talk,” if you will—for long enough, and it was time to “walk the walk.”

I started writing this column because I wanted to share my experiences with like-minded people and hopefully help others to feel that they are not alone and that they are of value and to realize that that value doesn’t change—no matter where they come from, what life has dealt them, or where they happen to be in their journeys. I wanted my column to be that story that they could relate to on some level and that would inspire them to create their own happiness—to pull their own weeds, to plant their own seeds, and to grow their own gardens.

I made a deal with myself a few months ago to start really facing my fears. You see, it is easy (for me) to sit in front of a computer screen and share about what scares me—my insecurities, my struggles, and my successes. But to stand in front of real people and do this terrified me. Not like, “it made me kind of nervous” terrified me but like, “there’s someone with a chainsaw chasing me to saw me in half” kind of terrified me. Sharing my true self—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and speaking in person to a group of strangers about these things made me shake inside like a baby foal taking my first wobbly step out in the harsh cold world away from my mother’s soft warm body for the first time. So I signed up and committed.

This is the first step. Whatever it is that scares you, commitment is the first step to overcoming it.

Now, mind you, I have been through drug rehabilitation, faced the Utah State Board of Education Ethics Committee, given natural childbirth, welcomed a classroom full of nine-year-olds (as well as a classroom full of college students) to their first day of school, walked away from car accidents, faced judges, doctors, test results, angry parents, dying elderly, and spent years in therapy, but talking to a bunch of strangers about my innermost feelings and beliefs stopped me in my tracks. I was paralyzed with fear about sharing my story (talking about my fears) in this type of setting; so I signed up. I suited up, and I showed up literally shaking in my boots and sweating like a pig at a bacon factory.

As horrible as it sounds, I highly recommend it.

If you are not familiar with what a personal growth seminar is, here is the explanation given on the website: “TurningLeaf Seminars will take you through experiential challenges and reflective processes that teach you how to rid yourself of unnecessary pain, fear, and negative emotions. You will learn how to see yourself differently and as a result you will experience a greater capacity to pursue and achieve your goals and dreams. Oftentimes the parts of ourselves that seem to tear us down are actually tools we are misusing. They are tools we have allowed to become weapons. These seminars teach you how to turn these weapons into some of your greatest strengths.”

I cannot really explain the journey that I experienced in the three days I spent with these strangers or all of the changes that took place within me (you will have to experience it for yourself), but the one phrase that stuck with me the most that has been replaying in my mind on a daily basis is this: “So what? Now what?”

“So what? Now what?” is one of the most powerful catch phrases I have had the opportunity to synthesize into my thinking and, therefore, into my actions and reactions. What does it mean?

It means that no matter what has happened to us or what challenges we have had the opportunity to face in this life, they do not define us. So that happened to you; now, what are you going to do about it?  So what, you were born with that disability, into that situation, or someone did that to you? Now, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to let it define you or motivate you? I used to let things define me. Now, I am ready (finally) and able to take my “so whats” and use them to motivate me.

For example, take the fact that I was abused. I could let that continue to be a fear for me. I could be afraid of relationships or men and women in general. I could allow what happened to me to control my future, to limit my life, or—worst case scenario—to turn me into an abuser; or I can say “so what?” “So what? It happened.” It wasn’t about me, and it doesn’t mean that anything is wrong with me. It was about that other person and his or her demons. Once I can accept that I have no control over what happened (or whatever disability I may feel that I have), I can take control over what I am going to make out of the experience.

We have the power to turn any negative into a positive. If I was a drug addict, I can share my story of recovery with other addicts and help them get into treatment. If I was abused, I can become an advocate for victims and spread awareness to help stop abuse. If I lose my leg, I can learn how to use a prosthesis and become a role model for people without legs everywhere. I can take whatever has been a debilitating source in my life and create a rehabilitating resource, and so can you!

In my mind, I had a lot of these “so whats”—experiences that I used as excuses to be afraid, to stay small, or to limit myself. I’ll admit that it takes courage, oftentimes some outside support, and a willingness to walk through some pain to get to the other side, but when you do—when you face your fears, your past, or whatever your “so whats” might be and realize that they are just that—you become so strong, so resilient, and so bright that your light shines not only for you but lights up everyone around you. So, “now what?”

I highly recommend attending a personal growth seminar of some kind when you are ready to face your past experiences with a willingness to change your future. You, and only you, have the power to do that, but a seminar is a great place to start. This type of seminar has the capability to change not only your thinking but the way you view the world. It did for me. Facing your fears may be one of the scariest things you’ll ever do, but I can tell you that it is also one of the most rewarding. So with a new shirt (devoid of sweaty armpits) and new boots (devoid of shaking), I am ready to grow my own garden, filled with fearless, beautiful plants that are ready to brighten up the whole world.