A Former Monk Asked Me a Question That Changed the Course of My Life

A stream of light shining down at a cave opening.
Photo by Iswanto Arif on Unsplash
“I did it. I let it go.”

This old journal entry from 20 October 2020 marked the end of a three-year hustle. But it was a seemingly simple question I’d asked myself a few days before that gave me the courage to finally face my fears. I was ready to admit that for the past three years I had been chasing someone else’s dream life.

It was time to start living mine.

Social Media — The Root of Comparisonitis?

Comparison doesn’t just steal our joy. It robs us of our uniqueness. Sure, we’re told to embrace our True Selves. We’re encouraged to stand out and break the rules. We’re told to be our unique selves so we can find our tribe.

The invention of social media has been a blessing and a curse. We’re able to connect with like-minded humans which, according to this study, leads to increased social connectedness. On the other hand, social network platforms can leave us vulnerable for upward social comparison which, in return can lower our self-esteem.

The social highlights of our mentors and peers leave us compulsively comparing their seemingly picture-perfect lives to our own accomplishments to affirm our worth, otherwise known as comparisonitis. In our pursuit of success, we look to “micro-celebrities” to aspire us towards a picture-perfect life. Unfortunately, one size does not fit us all.

Inevitably, we are left with trying to fit ourselves into someone else’s dream life. But what if there is a way out?

Building Someone Else’s Dream

When I dabbled in network marketing — I say dabble because I never showed up to it as my True SelfI constantly compared my business to the “successful” people within that network. I would go on their training calls to get to the bottom of their success, looking for that one secret ingredient that everyone but me knew about.

I would try out so many different personas that I didn’t even know who I was underneath it all. I didn’t just burn myself out. I burnt myself to smithereens. There was no trace left of who I was. My whole existence was attached to the business I thought I needed to build to get to the life I wanted, the life that would allow me to be my unique self.

Whilst treading down that path, I would constantly scroll down my peers' feeds and dream of my breakthrough. In the meantime, I’d compare my imprisoned life to their freedom. I’d feel shame for my empty existence whilst admiring their fun-filled social lives. I’d fantasise about the day I finally found my tribe.

Instead, I dug myself into a deeper hole of self-loathing.

“What you run from only stays with you longer.” — Chuck Palahniuk

I kept running from the reality that this business was not working. Despite the frustration and stuckness, I would show up day in and day out with no results to reflect the effort I was putting in. I never questioned why it wasn’t working for me. “Follow the system and success will follow” was my personal mantra until I could no longer lie to myself.

The Question That Changed Everything

What am I really afraid of?

This seemingly simple question proposed in Think Like a Monk, written by the British author and former monk Jay Shetty, eventually stopped me in my tracks. It was the question I had been ignoring for too long. Turns out my truth was hidden underneath all the superficial fears I’d been telling myself for the past three years. The deeper I dug, the more layers I uncovered until slowly I reached the bottom.

My initial investigation revealed the fear of failure, of admitting defeat publicly. Fearing what others would think of me. I kept making this about everyone else. So I kept going until I got to the good parts, the raw bits that revealed the whole truth.

I was afraid to not live up to my own expectations of success.

I was afraid to get to my deathbed, look back on my life, and realise that I had not followed my own heart. I was petrified of getting to the end of my life and seeing that I had wasted my time on things that did not bring me joy. The potential of the regrets spurred me into action.

Letting Go of the Chase

Once I’d reached underneath the superficial fears, the only natural next step was to sit in stillness and figure out what brings me joy. I had to cut out the noise of social media and stop looking for validation for my existence from the people that were not living my life.

In the darkness, I found my courage to let go of the life I thought I wanted. It was in the stillness I realised what true success meant to me. I’d been striving for external attributes that we often attach to success. Somehow that chase no longer fulfilled me. On the contrary, it left me empty, confused, and alone.

It was the stuff hidden deep beneath the surface that guided me out of the darkness: my creativity in all its forms, the joy of mundanity, the quiet contemplations that did not have to leave the confounds of my journal.

Success became an inside job.

It became the courage to follow my path, to not conform to society’s rules and expectations, to harnessing the power of my quiet nature, and to embrace the stillness.

Success became tapping into my inner knowing and following the nudges. It became an exploration of the past, of the present, and connecting the two to the future — the future not determined by my peers on social media but by me.

Takeaway — In the Darkness, You Find Your Light

It is at the bottom of the hole that we are faced with our truth. When we stop striving for a life that is not ours to live, we find a life that belongs to us. When we stop allowing others to define what success is, we’re able to start treading down a path that leads us to our abundance.

We need the courage to face our darkness. Through the discomfort, we will arrive at our place of stillness. Once we’re there, we are ready to define success on our terms. It is rarely the external stuff but the things hidden deep beneath the surface that make our lives fulfilling.

The question is whether we’re brave enough to follow the nudges to get to that place of stillness. As Jay suggests, we need to be willing to dig deeper to reach underneath the superficial fears holding us back. You never know — doing so might change your life.

What does success mean to you?

This piece was originally published on April 6 2021 on Medium.