Are you living the shadow life?
Here is a simple test. Answer these two questions:
- What makes you feel most alive and improves the well being of others?
- Are you doing whatever that is on a regular basis?
If you find it hard to answer the first question—or your answer to the second questions is “No”—then there is a good chance you are living the “shadow life.” The good news is, like any problem, the first step is to recognize that you are doing it, and the second is to recognize it is time to make a change.
Escaping the Shadow Life
The shadow life is a concept I recently read about in Steven Pressfield’s Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work. (It is a quick, but great read, though I suggest beginning with his The War of Art first, which is also a quick, great read.) Pressfield’s premise is that each of us has a great work to do on the earth—a work that the world needs to continue to grow and improve—but most of us settle for doing a shadow of that work rather than the actual work itself.
At best, that means a man like himself who a writer at his core, might live the free-wheeling life of a truck driver instead (his example from his own life), exploring the highways and byways of the outer road rather than the inner roads and explorations he was actually called to. At worst, it means we let addictions—drugs, alcohol, sex, video games, making money, pleasing others, etc. (the more social acceptable the addiction, the more insidious it actually is)—null the effects of living without creating our “life’s work,” because doing that work is the hardest thing we could ever do, but it is also the thing that makes us feel most alive.
The way of the addict is to live parallel to our true calling—just inside of our comfort zone from what we are actually meant to do. We use our addictions to anesthetize the pain of living without fulfillment.
The way of the artist is to step outside of our comfort zone and actually do the work of creating our contribution to the history and fabric of the world. It is the work of the professional who does it regardless of its initial success or impact. The amateur plays at it, but never seriously buckles down to do the work for a thousand different, and usually pretty good, reasons. The trouble is only the professional really lives the life that is truly life while the amateur hides in the shadows.
So, which are you? Addict or artist? Poser or professional?
Follow the Signs
I recently watched an online video interview of Adam Braun by Marie Forleo. In it, he described his journey from a shadow life to his true calling of building schools in developing nations. It literally crystalized when he read a sign painted on a cardboard box in front of his house tagged with: “Become your dream.” It inspired him to do just that.
In concluding that interview, Adam said:
You have your own extraordinary journey to live out, but first you have to find your purpose. You find that once you get outside of your comfort zone. Then, once you read the signs that you will inevitably be surrounded by, you’ll find that thing that makes you come alive and you’ll take that small step and then follow the signs along the path.
Is there something inside of you that burns to do more? Is there a nagging idea you think the world needs, but you have a thousand different reasons why it won’t work?
Then maybe it is time to ignore the debate in your head and start looking around you for the signs and clues God has inevitably placed around you to lead you in the direction of leaving the shadows and turning pro.
So what is it that burns in your heart and makes you feel most alive? What small step can you take towards that thing today?