Summon Your Inner Mandela
At Nelson Mandela’s memorial, President Obama said, “Nothing about Nelson Mandela’s life was inevitable. He channeled his sense of justice into wise (and shrewd) actions that busted opened fresh and free ways of living for millions. There is an Inner Mandela in all of us and we can honor his memory by practicing radical forgiveness, staying true to our convictions and not being hindered by the limited vision of others.”
As the New Year approaches are you yearning to take your life in a bold new direction? Perhaps you are in a relationship that needs to end already; or you belong to a religion or other community that no longer feels like home. Some of you might be entwined in a business collaboration that isn’t collegial, profitable or satisfying. Others might feel trapped by a career that keeps you playing small.
What are you waiting for? With all respect to President Obama, there is one thing that was inevitable about Mandela’s life: that it would end. Nothing is pre-ordained and our human agency grants us the power and license to live our lives as we see fit.
Sweeping change can paralyze us with fear, even when we are the ones pulling the trigger. After sorting out my doubts about my religion and facing the limits of my nine-year marriage, it took me eighteen months to leave the faith and the relationship. Just the idea of breaking that news to my family gave me the sensation of being strangled. I knew (without any doubt) that their religious devotion would cause them to see me as spiritually ailing and they would shun me. Living without the support of my community seemed catastrophic, like I might die from the separation.
That kind of fear keeps people trapped in “lives of quiet desperation.” Mandela faced the real possibility of being killed for his ideals. Here’s what he said about this: “I learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
How do you conquer fear? Summon your Inner Mandela. Look beyond the obvious. Don’t believe everything you think. Get support from like-minded people. Tune into and honor your intuition. (If you feel like a fish out of water, then you need to find a new pond.)
With my family this involved mustering my courage to speak up. Telling the truth about where I stand on important matters is the best way I know to honor those I love. It is terrifying and liberating all at once. Yes, my truth disappointed a lot of people. My family did shun me—but I’ve learned a lot about anger, compassion and forgiveness that I wouldn’t know otherwise. I didn’t die, and I’d do it again.
Life demands that things end, so new things can be born. Completions are a sign things are working, that you are growing and expanding. Just do the best you can and practice Honorable Closure with each ending or exit. Like Mandela’s South African mourners, you can dance in celebration and cry tears of grief all at the same time. Time’s a wastin’.
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