Last week, in the online course I am teaching for en*theos Academy, one of the exercises I talk about is the value of thinking about and writing out your greatest epiphanies. And if you think you haven’t had one, you just pick a moment you’ve had of any revelation or realization and when you really think about it and are writing things down, other moments come to you and you’ll discover a lot more than you think. You’ll probably end up uncovering a buried epiphany or two. This happened to me when I was writing about the evolution of the Epiphany Project. I wrote about it in one of my earliest blogs ever.
My earlier epiphany came from a wonderful exercise that will serve anyone who feels stuck in life or can’t make a decision OR who has suddenly lost a job or has been thrust in a situation unexpectedly where you don’t know what to do next. This exercise really helps you get clear about what you truly want in life. I’ve excerpted my blog called Epiphany and The City below.
As I was writing my book proposal and was working on the part about my background and how the Epiphany project came into being, I had a realization about my epiphany (an epiphany about an epiphany!…happens all the time, I’ve discovered…). I realized that, actually, I’d my first major life epiphany while living in New York in my early 20’s — an epiphany that put me on a completely new direction and life path. (This is not the epiphany that is in the book or that I talk about as being the catalyst for my starting the Epiphany project.)
I never, ever knew (or admitted) what I wanted to do when I “grew up.” My major in college was Undecided (yes, they actually had that as a major) until they finally forced me to pick a real major second semester my junior year. I would “accidentally” get into plays and musicals as a kid and took drama all through high school and college even though I opted never to try out for parts or ever take it seriously – probably because I was a big chicken, simply terrified that I wouldn’t get parts. It was only when I found myself suddenly jobless in New York City after a brief stint at a marketing company right out of college that I finally had to really examine what I wanted to do in life. New York City has the best of the best of every profession operating there, and I had been interviewing, exploring opportunities and gathering information in every field I had ever been interested in: fashion, publishing, film production, literary and entertainment agencies, public relations, Wall Street, and even politics, and I had also somehow bluffed my way into my first professional acting class, even though I don’t think I even knew what a headshot was at this point. Of course, I told everyone that it was just for fun anyway. One day, while confiding in a friend that I was freaking out about all this research I was doing and still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life and career, he said this to me:
“If anything was possible in the world, there were no obstacles, no fear and nothing at all was impossible – it’s only you and God in the world – what would you do? Write it down. That’s really what you want to do. Then, from there, you figure out how to back into it or build up to it with small steps.”
I thought, “uh-huh, whatever”…but later, I went ahead and grudgingly sat there with a pad and pen and thought about that scenario over and over… “no obstacle, anything in the world is possible, no obstacles, anything in the world is possible”…and much to my surprise, eventually I had a revelation! I slowly put that pen to the paper, took a deep breath and witnessed myself writing “ACT.” And then I slowly circled it. Huge exhale. I felt such relief! And then I slowly wrote under that “BE THE CREATIVE.” And underlined it. It dawned on me that I had been dancing around what I really wanted to do, dancing around with all the businesses surrounding the arts and acting, because I was too scared to admit that what I really wanted to do. What I really wanted to do was be an actor. Be the creative. I didn’t know what I’d really do about it in the moment but man, it felt great to really admit it — even to myself! I was actually a bit in awe that that is really what I wanted to do.
Once that and the excitement that, “Wow, I really do know what I want to do!” sunk in (and trust me, you will know if that’s what you really want, you’ll feel it), the next thing was to figure out steps of how to really go about doing that — how was I going to “build up to it” or “back into it” as my friend had explained. Because no one in my family had ever done anything in the arts professionally, I hadn’t really ever considered it an option for me. I really started taking the whole thing seriously. I think one of the first things I did was buy BackStage newspaper which is a weekly paper primarily for actors. And I went from there. I started taking acting classes, studied the entertainment business, got headshots, went on random auditions from BackStage, eventually got an agent, got into the union, started booking jobs, etc., and within a year, I was working professionally as an actress. This path has continued to lead me over the years to other avenues in the entertainment business of producing, directing and now, writing.
This is probably my first epiphany as an adult. This happens a lot as I interview people. While describing what led up to the “greatest epiphany,” many times they discover that another earlier epiphany had occurred to bring them to that point. Many times, we discovered this together while doing the interview, and sometimes they discovered it while thinking about what their greatest epiphany was and then shared the various epiphanies with me.
From this exercise, I realized I didn’t want to be the agent or the producer or the marketing person in entertainment. I realized I wanted to be the creative, and since that moment, my life has never been the same. It’s not always been easy and sometimes it’s even painful, but it’s amazing to be on what you feel is your right path. This exercise always keeps me honest. Now that I have interviewed 100’s of people about their greatest epiphanies, I have come to believe that our hearts wouldn’t yearn for something that isn’t what we’re supposed to be doing or that something about it won’t serve us in some way – maybe it’s about just taking some steps to get there that is the purpose, but you’ll never know until you get clear and honest about what it is you truly yearn for. A wonderful teacher of mine always says… If not now, when?
If. Not. Now. When.
“GET HONEST ABOUT WHAT YOU TRULY WANT” EPIPHANY EXERCISE
If it were just you and God in the world (if you believe in God or a Higher Power, of course – otherwise, just say it’s you) and there is no fear, no lack, there are no obstacles, no commitments, no responsibilities or obligations blocking you — ANYTHING, ANYTHING is possible – nothing is impossible – what would you do? It can be ANYTHING – backpack through Europe; meet a girl or guy and have a baby and be a househusband or housewife; climb a mountain; become a farmer, an actor, a doctor, a writer, a race car driver – whatever – but what is it, really? What would you do? Where would you live? Who would you be? Think about or meditate on this question with a pen and a piece of paper in front of you and be open to being absolutely honest with yourself. It will come to you. And then, Write It Down – it’s only for you, no one else has to ever see it, you might even throw it away later – but write it down. Write down what is really, truly in your heart when you answer this question. Whatever it is may surprise you…but when you answer truthfully, it is such a relief. And then sit with it for a bit, absorb it, and – beginning with what you truly want – start backing into it – start by write down the smaller, attainable steps that will build toward your ultimate goal. Take the steps. Even one baby step every week or month. It doesn’t matter. Just move. Take action. And then watch the world conspire to support you.