An epiphany refers to a striking breakthrough or or manifestation or “enlightening realization” that enables someone to more deeply understand a problem or situation. Epiphanies usually come after much thought, study, deep consideration of the problem.
For some time, I’ve been grappling with issues about where to best focus my efforts to fulfill my purpose. I’ve had inklings, over the years. In short, this isn’t a new quest. But this isn’t a post about the past. My point here is to say that I’ve been deeply considering this question for at least 20 years.
My epiphany actually came last summer (2012), during a long run:
Take action, the results will amaze you.
I was so struck by that epiphany that I tweeted it a couple of times.
And I so started taking action. Baby steps. I planted an experimental fall crop of vegetables to launch my dream of building an organic farm. I started a podcast. In the words of Chris Brogan, I took a couple of brave steps and had a couple of small victories.
(Teaser: If you are looking for specific action items on how you can use this epiphany in your own life, scroll down a bit for the takeaways–that way you can skip my personal bit).
The Tyranny of Approval
And then I froze. I got busy with my daily work responsibilities (to which I’m committed and which relate, quite significantly, to my purpose) and I took my eye off the bigger picture.
I let trivial matters distract me.
I started to think about “approval” and whether others liked my work, whether others appreciated my efforts, whether enough people actually care, whether I’d ever succeed. Seth Godin talks about what happens to artists who get distracted by the desire and need for approval in his new book, The Icarus Deception. Guilty.
I might have been just a teeny bit afraid.
As I approached a milestone birthday in late November, I returned to my self-study project.
I felt like I needed to really understand my purpose, to make sure I’m on the right track. Not chasing ephemeral shadows.
So I’ve devoted several hours each week since late November to exploring this question of purpose, to making sure I’m on the right path.
I signed up for Chris Brogan’s Brave New Year program (affiliate link) to jump start my efforts. I found out about the course two days before my birthday, signed up and the first video arrived in my email box the morning of my birthday. Perfect timing that, I believe, was not a coincidence.
So I revisited the questions of purpose, values, goals and recommitted to the journey I’m taking. But still, there’s been something holding me back. Distractions of holidays and things that really do matter to me. Distractions of daily life. Maybe a little bit of fear. Or maybe not so much fear as an awareness that the clock is ticking, life is short, and I don’t want to waste time on things that don’t matter.
But every time I ask a question: Where do I focus? How can I afford…..?
The answer I get back is: “Do it. Your efforts will be rewarded. But you MUST DO. Stop focusing on the details and the outcome. Take the next steps. You know what they are.”
So, as something of an accountability exercise, on December 30 I filmed a video of myself, talking about the big picture vision. I shared it on YouTube. Baby step. It’s still there, if you want to see a first rough draft of where I’m going with The Ben Franklin Follies (and beyond).
Bogged Down In Marketing Analysis
One step forward, then stall. All this past week, I’ve struggled to put aside the need to know more about the details of where I’m going with this vision.
Good marketers know the audience they want to reach and design a specific product to reach that audience. As Derek Halpern says, “know who you want sitting in the chairs.”
So rather than writing the posts that I have on my calendar and to-do list, I keep putting off the work to think more about “who” this is for and “what” specifically I’m trying to accomplish.
I’ve been thinking and analyzing, rather than doing, even though I know I’m supposed to be doing.
I know that I need to take action. I even know some specific “next steps” I need to take.
I keep insisting on knowing more. After reading The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? (affiliate link), I’m willing to bet that it’s industrial-era thinking that’s convincing me to have a marketing plan before I create the art.
Last night, I got the message again: “You’ll get what you need if you do the work. You must take action, do the work, create the art, execute, ship.”
A New Epiphany
Today, January 6, 2013, is Epiphany Sunday in the Christian tradition. It’s marked by the arrival of the wise men from the East in Bethlehem, where they bestowed gifts upon the baby Jesus and worshipped him as the newborn King.
Other spiritual and religious traditions also have concepts similar to epiphany. Wikipedia describes these as bodhodaya (Hindu), kensho (Zen) or the moment when Buddha realizes the nature of the universe.
This morning, as part of my own faith journey, I read a daily meditation from ForwardMovement.org and it inspired another epiphany about the importance of taking action with complete information and several lessons that have application regardless of your own faith.
Take Action: Don’t Worry About A Roadmap
According to the book of Matthew in the New Testament, the wise men from the east set out on a journey to the west because they had seen a star that, according to their astrological interpretations, signified the birth of a new king. They ended up in Jerusalem where they paid a visit to King Herod, the Roman ruler in power at the time.
What’s interesting to note here is that the wise men had a sign to take action but not a roadmap to their destination. They did not receive specific instructions about specifically where to go.
Herod didn’t know about the king, so he called the Jewish priests and scribes together and they advised him about the prophecies calling for the birth of the messiah in Bethlehem. Herod shared this with the eastern wise men and sent them off to Bethlehem, with a request that they return with details.
At this point, the story and the epiphany gets really interesting: After the wise men set off on phase two of their journey they THEN received specific guidance from the star about how to find the baby Jesus.
How Does This Apply To Me and You?
What we have here is several examples of how taking action, without the assurance of an outcome, gets us to the next part of our journey. The story also shows us that guidance comes from many sources, sometimes even from the “bad guy” (in this case, King Herod).
First, the wise men embarked on a lengthy trip from their home country to a foreign land without having a complete understanding of where they were going or what, specifically, they were looking for. That acted without detailed instructions.
The wise men had seen a star but that star was not guiding them to a specific place–they went to the wrong place to start with. They went to Jerusalem. If the wise men had known where their journey was taking them, they’d have gone straight to Bethlehem.
The wise men took action based on incomplete information. Their efforts were rewarded.
It should be noted that these wise men took MAJOR action, not little baby steps. They set out on a journey that would take months without even knowing their final destination. They obviously had resources and wealth to make this possible, but the journey was still into the unknown, required massive effort, and offered the potential for much danger along the way.
Through Herod, they learned to proceed to Bethlehem to find the baby king but their information was still incomplete.
Although they had a more precise destination, they didn’t know the identity of this new king child or specifically how to find him. Still the wise men set out to complete their journey.
It wasn’t until AFTER the wise men were on their way to Bethlehem that scripture says the star actually appeared to guide them to the precise location of Jesus’ birth. (Matthew 2:9: “When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.”)
The wise men took action based on:
- Knowledge, study and preparation (That’s how they knew the star that first appeared to them in the east was different and signified the birth of a king). They didn’t go off on a whim.
- Intuition and faith: The star meant something and they were going to find it.
- Advice from an independent source: King Herod (who was not a upstanding guy)
- Divine Guidance: The star that reappeared after that set out for Bethlehem on the second phase of their journey and the dream that said to go home a different route, because Herod has something bad in store for you.
Most importantly, though and here’s the takeaway:
The wise men took action. After each action, they received more information. Which led to another act.
What we have here on this day of Epiphany is another example, another epiphany, that it’s time for me (and you) to act, to do.
Time to stop thinking about the outcome or how it will be received by others.
Time to create the art, put it out there and see where it goes.
Take action. The results will amaze you.
Consider this post today’s Brave act—my piece of art for today.
Mastin Kipp blogged about this same topic yesterday on The Daily Love. As it happens, I read his post just before I went to sleep, so it’s possible his thoughts also influenced this post. Just wanted to acknowledge that.
What actions are you holding back?
What’s the art that are you not creating?
What’s the art that you are you not shipping?
Do you know why you’re sitting on the sidelines?
I’d love to hear your story and help you move forward. I hope you’ll share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.
Here’s the second video I’ve created to help launch my brave new direction: