I love talking about this topic because no one ever does. It’s pretty straight-forward, before you “find yourself;” before you transform your life; before you can show others the way; before you leave your mark on the world; before your dreams become a reality; you will experience the dark night of the soul.
How do I know? Well, first off, every great leader, writer and artist across the ages has told us so.
There was Jesus’ 40 days & 40 nights of temptation, futility, and powerlessness.
And then there was the Buddha who renounced his father’s palace, his family and the world to sit under the Bodhi tree vowing not to get up until enlightenment. And like Jesus, he too was visited by evil spirits challenging his transcendence.
The prophet Muhammad was orphaned at a young age and later spent long days & nights praying in desert caves outside of Mecca to be ultimately rejected and persecuted by his own tribe.
If the gurus of humanity’s foundational religions are not your thing, then how about less controversial historical figures.
Both Vincent Van Gogh & Paul Cezanne died with relatively little critical acclaim from the art salons of their day; only after a lifetime of toil and death was their work truly appreciated.
Then there was Albert Einstein, who showed promise in physics and mathematics at a young age, but nevertheless, ran away from school and military service at the age of 16. When Einstein was finally able to finish formal schooling, he was rejected from nearly every job he applied for because he had earned the ire of a former professor whose classes he would skip in favor of his own advanced studies. Needless to say, Einstein’s former teacher never wrote him a positive letter of recommendation. Albert settled on being a patent clerk to earn enough to ask for his beloved’s hand in marriage. Working as a clerk, Albert would soon alter-reality for the entire world.
And my all-time favorite anecdote is that of good ole Abe Lincoln. This guy! We’ve heard a lot of it before, born in a log cabin, lost his mom at a young age, walked miles to return borrowed books, worked odd-frontier-jobs for years, and finally educated himself out of poverty and obscurity. But the hardships of youth weren’t all, once Lincoln became a lawyer, he consistently struggled to keep his legal practice afloat and support his family. And before confronting the single worst crisis in American history and preserving the Union, Abe, repeatedly lost high-stakes political races. For most of his life, Abe was an unremarkable person; to most his only striking feature was his tall gaunt frame capped with a face full of hard lines and dark shadows. And yet, Abe would save America with courage, humility and wisdom.
So what’s my point? Mostly, that life can suck for a long time and you can still be delivering an insane amount of value to society. The great people mentioned above suffered with immeasurable amounts of doubt, fear, confusion and even self-loathing. And yet, despite the darkness surrounding them for years, they kept a small flame ablaze inside of them. Perhaps the flame had been extinguished altogether, and yet, these people found, once more, the stength to rekindle it and start again.
But social media would have us believe that influence is about being beautiful, sexy, popular or extremely wealthy now. True influence is none of those things. To be an “influencer” today is to constantly be praised and adored for trivial matters. And maybe that’s why I started this blog mentioning the father’s of the world religions, in some sense, they all preached “the way” as being removed from those worldly objects. The folk who change the world, tend to first remove themselves (or are removed by circumstance) from the brokenness around them, and in search of some higher understanding, they finally pass through humanity’s seemingly endless cycles of suffering to enter into peace, bliss, transcendence, enlightenment or whatever you’d like to call it. The point is, no one is spared the dark and long night of the soul. Stepping into the unknown of adventure is a thrilling moment, because it risks the old in search of something new. But the thrill of adventure is soon deflated by the slow & constant onslaught of forces that would kill the old way that still resides in you. You may have decided to seek the new, but in the end, a decision or act of volition is insufficient. A decision lacks the gravitas; it is too conceptual, to heady for enduring change. True change, requires the death of the old as a living sacrifice for the new to take life. If your desire is a new paradigm, a new world, a new “you,” well then prepare yourself for the pains of death and the pains of rebirth. You’ll need to feel both before you reach your promised land.