(a version of this article originally appeared in the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health’s Fall catalog)
by Tama J. Kieves
I used to feel sad when trees lost their leaves. Now I see this season as a time of abundance and power. The trees drop their leaves because they have reached the pinnacle of their expression, and now they are willing to reach further. Autumn is a festival of casting off jewels and color—and an unmistakable invitation to a new life.
As a career coach, I am often in the sacred role of helping someone lose their leaves. Clients outline their current situation, yet I am not drawn to the conditions they already know. I am in love with the brilliance and potential of the unknown. I am listening to the radical force that is so strong it’s calling to them and shaking up their established existence. Always, I find myself in awe of the human spirit’s unremitting need to shed limits, and become even more alive.
Of course, it takes courage to let go of anything that has worked. Some of my clients are lawyers, therapists, or own their own companies. “I’m great at what I do,” they confess. Yet in a sad undertone, I hear what they don’t know how to say: I am not touching my greatness.
They come to me because it is their time for more. Sometimes, this expresses itself in seemingly negative guises: depression, layoff, boredom, or a frustrated longing to take their creativity or contribution into a new dimension. It’s all the same. It’s the hunger to grow, to express who you have become—and to keep becoming. It is not a loss to let go of something we’ve fulfilled. Sometimes, it’s a loss to hold on.
“I need to be practical,” my clients say, as though growing into everything they were meant to be would somehow be impractical. What they’re really saying, is I want to stay comfortable. I want to stay within the parameters I know. I recognize myself in every single one of them. We are all desperate for our own magnitude, yet still clutching to decisions that diminish us.
It’s taken years into my own journey to understand that I can never lose by daring to be more of myself. I first encountered this when I walked out of my law practice. I had an honors degree from Harvard Law School and I left everything (without money or a plan) to pursue my dream of writing. When I first left, I wanted to wait tables, serve nachos and fries, and wear hot pink lipstick and feather earrings instead of a designer charcoal gray suit. I wanted off the merry-go-round of ambition I knew. I yearned for adventure. “You can’t do that,” shrieked my ego in terror. “You have a law degree from Harvard Law School.” Yet one night I scrawled in my journal a clarity that set me free: “I went to law school to increase my opportunities in life, not to limit them.” Success is useless when it stops you from living.
I needed the freedom to taste all of life, and that meant I didn’t want one identity or role defining me for the rest of my life. I wanted to explore new choices, chase my love and creativity, and discover what life could call forth from me now. I couldn’t have said it then, but I can now. That willingness to step down from the pedestal allowed me to dare and live a bigger, truer life.
Many of my clients want to hold on to what they know, because they fear the unknown. My job is to help them trust that the unknown is not empty, but teeming with energy, possibilities, and expansion. A significant new expression is often what is pushing the old way of being aside. This I’ve seen from experience: when someone embraces the unknown, and learns how to trust their natural instincts, they will find more aliveness and certainty than they ever had in the known.
Sometimes, it’s not about letting go of a successful career or marriage. It’s about giving up a story. Maybe the story is that you haven’t succeeded in the past, so you won’t succeed in the future. Another story might be that creative people don’t make money. Or maybe another story might be– it’s too late to make a change in your life. It can be frightening to release these perspectives. Yet that is the nature of being consciously alive. We let go of old presumptions and become available to the intelligent life force that beckons us now. We will not lose our edge. We only lose expressions that hold back a higher expression.
That’s why the work is never really a choice about what we do for a living. It’s always a choice about the reality we will live in. It’s a choice of how we see this life and what we permit ourselves to experience.
Will you choose to subscribe to a reality of limits and static conditions? Or will you step into the reality of mad love in which you can do anything, at any time, –and everything pulses with electricity and purpose.
Where are you clinging to one life and blocking the new expression? Take a lesson from the trees. Let go and keep growing. It is not a loss to let go of one life, one career, one old story, or one former burst of color. But it is a loss to let go of your potential.