“…And then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom…” Anais Nin
The parade was beautiful. We were lucky to have such great weather on a day like this. Those who walked in front of the crowd carried white balloons with them and the sun shone as we walked in silence. One of the balloons was red, it stood out. It reminded us of why we were there. Pretty soon we would release them. Just like we were about to relinquish her to her new destination. So she could be free at last. Our Danielle. She had lost the battle with her disease and we had lost her. Yet in my heart I know that she ultimately won a “battle” far more essential: The one that it takes for a person to blossom.
Less than ten months before, on a mild and sunny day in October of 2004, the two of us sat in a cafe in the south of France. She had moved there with her mother a few years prior and I came down for a visit. As we enjoyed our lunch we talked about life. She told me about her plans to move back to Holland and live on her own. Dreaming of a place where she could entertain guests and be herself. A place she could call her own. For her this decision was huge. Having lived with a hereditary life-shortening disease her entire life, there were days she couldn’t even wash her own hair. It was on those days that she relied on her mother, who took care of her like only a mother can. Moving into her own house came with risks. Real risks. She was ready to face them, though. It was her time to blossom.
“I want to show the world who I am,” she told me. “Instead of being identified with my illness, I want to let everyone know what is alive deep inside of me. I’m not my disease, I’m so much more than that!” Her options for coming into being, however, were limited. She gently reminded me of my career and my hobbies through which I can express myself. “And it will also show in my relationships.” She was right: What I value shows through in the way I decorate my house, my social life, as well as the career choices I make. Basically, in everything I do. The world is my oyster! She didn’t have this multitude of options. Not like most of us do. Yet she had the same desire we all have: to be authentic. To show the world who we are by actualising our highest meanings.
So she chose to move into her own house and decorate it in her own unique way. Everything, every detail, would be a reflection of who she felt she was. It definitely felt like fate when she got an email from the housing agency after we came back from the cafe. An apartment became available and she was first on the list. Infused with excitement and a sense of urgency, she couldn’t wait to get the keys to her new place.
The months that followed took a lot out of her. Completely decorating a house takes a lot from a healthy person, let alone if you have less than 50% of your lung capacity. Yet she showed perseverance, resilience and focus in getting the results she wanted. Putting together wardrobes, kitchen cabinets, painting the walls, wallpapering – she managed to do all these things and more. In her own pace, by her own standards. For those of you who have fixed up your own house, remember how tiring that is? Well, when she finally moved into her house, she was exhausted. The strain it took on her body was incredible. Still, at the same time she was proud and felt a deep sense of satisfaction and joy over her accomplishment. It had been worth it. For along with this crucial step in her life came a kind of emancipation – the journey of becoming an individual in her own right. Her dream had come true.
I remember visiting her again—it was the beginning of May 2005 and the sun was mild and promising. We weren’t in France now, though, but at Danielle’s new house. She had two chairs that could spin around. As we sat in them, she shared her new dream with me. “Can you imagine sitting in these chairs around Christmas time”, she asked. “It’ll be snowing outside and we can turn to face the window and stare at the snow flakes that come swirling down from the sky. We’ll be sipping hot cocoa with whipped cream and marshmallows, while we talk about life and love.” We practised the twirling in our seats, and decided it was a sweet dream.
A dream, however, that wasn’t meant to be. On July 1st 2007 it will be two years ago since she passed away. Shortly after she moved, she got so ill that she had to be admitted to the hospital. One of her doctors mentioned to her what a shame it was that she only got to enjoy her house for three short weeks. His eyes welled up with tears when she told him she didn’t see it that way. “It’s not only three weeks, it’s been three entire weeks of living my dream.”
“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” Anais Nin
Had Dani stayed in France, things might have been different. Had she chosen the “safer” option, there’s a possibility she would still be among us. Something would most probably still be nagging at her, though. A dream, waiting to be realised. A life, waiting to develop into being. I believe that life is a process of becoming. From a developmental viewpoint, we seem to move naturally toward the state of self actualisation. It's something we don’t have to actively pursue, something that is innately present within us. After all, unless there’s a secret society where two-year-olds make a pledge to drive their parents crazy by saying “no” to everything, every kid naturally goes through that phase. And this moving through stages continues all the way to adulthood. As adults, as fully self-response-able individuals, we should be ready to actualise our highest potentials. To fulfil our biggest dreams and wishes, and to put our vision into action. So why is it that so few of us actually reach the stage of actualising the best version of our self?
Why do we stick with jobs that don’t excite us? What drives us to stay in relationships that have gone way past its sell-by date? How come we fear change and embrace status quo, even though it has long stopped bringing a sparkle to our eyes? Why do we wish to elect a state and remain in it?
“Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together.” Anais Nin
When growing up, common advice Dani got was “Think of your health.” The focus being on playing it safe, and prolonging life. And since she was so full of life, she had the dilemma of pacing herself on the one hand and going after something she desperately wanted on the other. Her decision was literally one of life and death. And with so many of us, we treat our life-altering decisions the same way. As if they were a matter of life and death. I know I certainly did with some of the bigger life choices I had to make in the past. And when thinking of the future, it’s the deep and meaningful dreams that can leave me feeling powerless to implement them. I’m not alone in this. Inventing excuses, pondering over what if’s and building worst-case-scenario’s can keep us from going for that one thing we really want in life. We’ll listen to our pounding heart that says: “turn back now!”
Yet how valuable is a dream that stays in fantasy land? What will we gain when we just “go through the motions” while doing something that’s not our greatest passion? Wouldn’t you rather live the highest vision of what is possible? Is it that you want to, but don’t know how? Michael Hall discovered that self actualisation occurs when our intentions are brought into connection with our actions, as well as the other way around. He illustrates this in his Diagram of Self-Actualisation, as shown below.
As we perform our higher meanings, we can reach the area of peak performance. A place where everything around us seems to disappear and where we are fully in the moment. Self-Actualisation is all about closing the knowing-doing gap. And in order to do that, we need rich meanings, as well as the ability to perform these meanings through our actions and behaviours.
Some of us are naturally more inclined to create wonderful dreams and have inspiring visions that carry a lot of meaning within them. Moving up the meaning scale, without executing those visions, is a one-way trip to la la land. I know from experience that it’s a beautiful place to visit, though ultimately not very satisfying. The trick is to learn how to implement those visions and become more and more skilled and disciplined in our follow through.
Others are more focused on doing, activity, planning, and building. When moving along the performance axis without adding meaning to it, the doing itself can become addictive. That’s where we’ll run the risk of becoming compulsive workaholics. Though achieving a lot of success and making money, this is where we can wear ourselves out and burn up. Those best skilled in this area need to learn the skill of reflection, and how to “dream” (i.e., create high quality meanings that are engaging and attractive).
Is it easy, this process of synthesizing meaning and performance? No, I can tell you it’s hard work and can be incredibly challenging. And as meaning makers it is solely up to us to invent the best meanings we can and gradually develop the skills to perform those meanings. So what will ignite us to go out into the world and be the best that we can be? What do we need to be able to do that? First of all, we need to recognise ourselves as meaning makers.
“We see the world as 'we' are, not as 'it' is; because it is the "I" behind the 'eye' that does the seeing." - Anais Nin
Meaning makers? That is correct! Meanings don’t just appear out of thin air, we invent them. Ever wondered why we call a chair a chair, and why bread is bread? We need labels to make sense of the world around us. Yet it’s that same use of language that can “make us” lose our senses. You see, it doesn’t stop at labelling. As we represent the outside world in our mind, we will then create associative meanings, evaluative meanings, metaphorical meanings, and so on. As we validate these meanings in our minds, and confirm them with our thoughts and feelings, they’ll start feeling real in our bodies. As if it were the truth. That’s when it becomes our attitude towards life: The way we experience the world, not the way the world is. And the meanings we make can be either toxic and devaluating, or they can be life enhancing and embracing.
Unleashing yourself to the path of self actualisation starts with setting a frame of robust and rich meanings. Where they can act as the foundation for envisioning your highest dreams, and gradually turning them into a reality by ever increasing performance. Deleting and transforming toxic meanings already in your system is a crucial step in this process.
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage” - Anais Nin
Someone recently asked me whether you can transform limiting mindsets and frames. I told him the truth: “Yes, you can. I even give workshops that help you make a first step.” He then said, “Oh, but I don’t want to.” I told him it is possible, but that he didn’t have to. He grabbed my arm and said: “You don’t understand, I want to but at the same time I don’t. I’m scared of it!” I already knew he was, but for him to come out and say it was very exciting. It takes a lot of courage to admit to being scared of change. Acknowledging, accepting and appreciating fear clears the path to owning that fear. When we feel our hearts pounding, screaming us to turn back and be safe, we all need the courage to step out of our comfort zone. Only then can we be brutally honest with ourselves about where we are and how our frames of mind limit us. If we can do that, our life can expand and reach out of the ballpark, beyond the horizon and past the milky way. That way we can find the star that shines just for us and have the time of our life.
“I’ve had the time of my life” - Danielle Sparreboom
Danielle is my cousin, but beyond that we had a deep soul mate connection ever since we were little kids. I miss her every day and I carry her in my heart. Knowing she had the time of her life is a huge consolation and brings a smile to my face every time I think of her.
She had requested a standing ovation at the end of the funeral service. She believed she deserved it for living her life. As her coffin was carried out of the auditorium, it was my heart that did the clapping. I am very much in awe of the bravery she showed in her life. And I believe that if more of us shared her guts, we would be able to actualise our hopes and dreams and feel the glory that comes with it. She taught me that life is all that it’s cracked up to be. It is worth fighting for, being brave for, and risking everything for. And that not risking anything is in itself a kind of death...
Femke Stuut (a Noneuclidean Cafe Contributing Editor) is an internationally certified NLP trainer and meta-coach (neuro-semantics). She has an extensive background in international business and specializes in organizational change as well as personal and professional leadership. She is founder of "Completely You - The human quality headquarters" in the Netherlands. Her vision is to facilitate in connecting people with their core so they can live the purpose of their existence. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo "Dani" Courtesy of Femke Stuut.
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Article and Photo Copyright © 2007 Femke Stuut. All rights reserved.