“The rule says that in order for an individual to master any complex skill, be it brain surgery or playing the cello, she must put in 10,000 hours of focused practice. […] But what exactly are we learning when we’re beating our brains out all those years? […] What these masters were learning was to speak in their own voice. They were learning to act as themselves. In my opinion, this is the hardest thing in the world.
– Steven Pressfield
Like Steven Pressfield, I also feel like it’s the hardest thing in the world to learn to speak in my own true voice; that is, to truly become who I am (as ironic as that sounds).
And, the fact that Western culture does a fantastic job of taking us away from our inner knowings and intuitions doesn’t help much, either. With it’s hyper-focus on business (busy-ness), capitalism and productivity, is actually seems like Western culture is designed to make us forget our own unique way of being in the world…our purpose.
In speaking about purpose and Western civilization, depth psychologist, wilderness guide and cultural change agent Bill Plotkin articulates it this way:
“The near absence of attention to this most essential realm of purpose is not a coincidence or an oversight. For millennia, Western civilization, among others, has shaped itself in ways that suppress access to this realm. Today this realm of purpose is rarely experienced — or even consciously recognized as a possibility. Our educational, media, and religious systems and our mainstream parenting practices are shaped in ways that divert us from this vital domain of human experience. This suppression of human development has become a necessity for Western civilization in its current form; it would simply not be sustainable otherwise. Conversely, widespread access to this realm of purpose would be the single most potent factor in the termination of Western society in its present life-destroying iteration — and in the creation of a just, life-enhancing, and deeply imaginative culture with its roots in the genuine achievements of the Western tradition.”
(italics are mine)
Plotkin’s point – that Western society would not be able to continue functioning in the way it has been if we all had access to this realm of purpose – is a very intriguing one. Why would Western society fail if we all turned toward our unique purpose? Because, the forces of Western culture are currently designed to influence us in ways that are best for the industrial growth machine – not for a healthy culture. The current forces support capitalism at all costs and a healthy “bottom-line,” rather than a healthy culture, planet and her people. So, if we all suddenly began to honor what was true within us (rather than bought what is “fed” to us from our consumeristic culture), the industrial growth machine would suffer. And it needs us to keep buying into it (literally and figuratively) in order to survive.
For me, Plotkin’s perspective about turning toward my unique purpose (and away from the influences of mass Western society) returns my power from “out there” to “in here,” and inspires me to keep tuning my ear to hear that still, small voice within.
While I’m still very much on the path of my own “10,000 hours,” the longer I keep walking without giving up or turning down a different road, the more rewarding my practice becomes (in my case, my practice centers around listening to the heart and soul of others as clearly as I can and helping them them live into their soul purpose).
Conversely, in those moments when I don’t listen to myself and instead pursue outward measures of what my life “should” look like or what “success” is, I can say honesty that I never feel any happier, more successful or more fulfilled. On the contrary, I wind up feeling emptier and like I’ve sold out on myself.
And while I’m still learning ALL THE TIME about listening within and really trusting what I hear, I’d like to hope that as I do so, I am slowly becoming more of who I really am.
To get good at anything takes a long, long, LONG time. It takes effort. It takes heart. It takes making mistakes, failing, learning, and getting back up and doing it all over again. It takes an inner commitment to whatever it is in us that drives us to pursue our longing. But if that longing is true, we can’t NOT pursue it.
So. Let’s plant our flags. Let’s speak in our true voices. Let’s follow that still, small voice within.
What else is there to do, really?
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
– Steve Jobs, Stanford University commencement speech, 2005