Seriously considering what you actually care about most can be challenging. Previously, we recognized that it helps to spend enough time asking yourself why you care about what you think you care about in order to get to the most solid foundation. Sometimes it even helps to talk through things with someone else who can respond with open and detached curiosity. (It isn't as helpful to have a conversation with someone who has a tendency to be closed-minded and judgmental.) When what you care about seems not to be life-affirming, you can ask yourself what you're afraid of, work to dismantle irrational fears, and dig deeper to get to what really matters most to you.
Even when we get past the temptation to run what we most deeply want through an "acceptability filter", and we're able to say what we really care about with clarity, our ever-active anxious minds can still give us reasons to hesitate. Sometimes we second-guess and question our passions before we even have a chance to be boldly honest about them. Other times, we test the waters of bold honesty about what we want with someone and our first attempt receives a less-than-satisfying response. So we keep what we most want to ourselves, out of shame or fear, which means much less of a chance to create something meaningful.
A little bit of inward questioning is helpful. That's how we're able to dig deeper and get to the heart of what we really care about. It's important for us to ask ourselves, "Is this life-affirming? Or is this coming from some anxiety or fear I need to deal with?" Our minds ask other questions, though, and some of these inner questions hinder our ability to live into our deepest values. We second-guess ourselves in multiple ways, but two common ways we sabotage ourselves are through thinking our deepest desires are too small or too big for us to care about. Both of these tap into our tendency to feel shame, and as Brene Brown has pointed out in a number of books and TED talks, shame is a destructive force that limits our ability to live authentically.
We might think what we care about is too small and insignificant for us to take pride in. We might feel ashamed that our personal creative life dream isn't big and dramatic and world-changing. All around us we see stories of people accomplishing incredible things. The role-models we have for living into a compelling vision for our lives are people who make international headlines or change thousands of lives. Our deepest life-affirming desire might seem much less significant by comparison -- maybe only affecting our neighborhood or one community.
What we fail to realize is that any life-affirming vision we cast for our lives is going to have a positive influence on the world around us. We know that our actions have ripples -- that what we do has an impact on people we never meet. And yet, when we allow our minds to drag us into (inaccurate) shame about how little and insignificant our goals are, we forget all about how much of our influence is unseen. We may never know how our life-affirming actions in one small part of the world influence an entire system toward greater wholeness. The point is not that we make a big splash, the point is just that we get in the water. If everyone in the world decided to live with greater intentionality and chose one "small" and accessible life-affirming purpose to live into, humanity would thrive like never before. Your job isn't to find a way to change the world. Your job is just to live into your life-affirming values in a way that is deeply meaningful to you. And that begins with bold honesty about what you really care about most. There is no personal life dream that is too small. Everyone who lives on purpose makes a difference in the world.
Our shame is similarly evoked when we dream big, except that instead of being ashamed that our vision is not enough to make a difference, we become ashamed that we are not enough to make a difference. This is also a lie. When we get really honest about what we want for our lives and for the world, we may come up with a mammoth-sized creative life dream. We may realize that what we really care about means enormous change for a huge number of people. We may need allies and collaborators. We may need to learn things we don't yet know and develop skills we don't yet possess. Shame will knock us back from the threshold. Shame will convince us that we can't possibly do what we most want to do, so we'll just have to settle for a life of being less than our dreams. Which means not living into our values because where our values lead us is too scary. If we can be boldly honest about our big, daunting dreams for the world, though, we may find we aren't the only ones who are committed to dreaming big.
"Scary" and shame are partners in all of this. Our shame is actually a very clever defense mechanism to keep us safe. It's a survival trait that kicks in when what we may want to do seems dangerous. We don't need our shame when we are living into a bold creative purpose, but because we feel anxious about jumping in the deep end, our shame tries to convince us to stay out of the water entirely. Our shame tries to keep us safe by making sure we never take a risk. No risk equals maximum safety. Except that change requires a bit of risk, even when it's positive change. Living into a personal creative life dream requires vulnerability, even when it's an amazing and inspiring vision.
If our shame wins, we get to feel safe and unfulfilled. If we push past our shame and let our deepest life-affirming values guide us instead, we get to feel vulnerable and fully alive. Believing that what we most deeply want is too small or too big to share honestly with anyone else will mean that we never risk the possibility of having what we want. How crazy is that? That we would know exactly what we want, and never risk having it? That's the survival purpose of shame. Our primitive brain equates less risk with greater chance of survival. But shame is not a separate intelligence guiding our lives and trying to keep us safe. Our shame doesn't know anything we don't know. Our shame is not the voice of a supernatural trying to direct our actions. It's just leftover thought routines we don't need.
Once we know what our deepest life-affirming values are, and once we are willing to live intentionally with integrity to those values, shame is useless to us. Our guiding principles may not always make us feel completely safe, but they will help us take meaningful risks. Our life-affirming values can keep us focused on the kind of person we most want to be, so that the risks we take are part of living into a bolder vision for our lives. We are fueled and empowered by our willingness to be boldly honest about what our deepest life-affirming values inspire us to create.
One last little piece of this part of the conversation: Other people will sometimes try to take the place of our shame voice. When we are boldly honest, other people -- without meaning harm -- may not have the kind of inspiring and encouraging response we hope for. They may want us to back down from a big creative life dream. Or they may try to convince us that what we want is insignificant and not worth pursuing. They will probably think that they are helping us by "talking sense into us" or by "giving us a dose of reality." And there are times when we certainly need other people to help us clarify what we most deeply want. Sometimes our initial exploration of dreaming big really is unrealistic and could use a little honing. Sometimes, though, people are unconsciously prompted to convince, compel, or coerce us into staying safe -- remaining right where we are and not taking unnecessary risks. This isn't always helpful.
So, as we become willing to be boldly honest about what we most want to create in our lives and in the world around us, it's important for us to listen openly to multiple voices. One person trying to shame us into giving up on what we most deeply want shouldn't deter us from living into a creative life dream with intention and integrity. Seven people warning us that there are some challenges we aren't considering, however, can help us become clearer about how we can realistically cast vision in our lives in alignment with our deepest life-affirming values. When people's feedback sounds like our own internal shame voice, it's worth acknowledging that their own anxiety and fear may be more important to them than your vision for your life or for the world. When people listen deeply to your own bold honesty and their words help you dig more deeply into how you can live into your deepest values, you may have gained a powerful ally or collaborator.
This all means that part of bold honesty is also being willing to listen carefully to the responses we receive -- internally and externally. Our own shame voice will try to keep us safe, but we are capable of being guided by our deepest life-affirming values instead. Other people may try to keep us safe, too. Or they may be inspired by our bold honesty about what we most deeply want. Or they may not have much of a response to us at all. It's important that we listen carefully and thoughtfully. And it's vital that we maintain connection to our life-affirming values -- our internal guidance system -- as we clarify what we care about most and become more fully alive.