“The should road…the could road…the one day road… the someday road…
should only ever be taken in moderation, and on your way to the MUST road.”
—Elle Luna, from The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion
Life circumstances rarely happen by chance, and in some of our endeavors the first go-around may be riddled with misfortune, making a second chance seem impossible. Yet all first acts contain seeds of second, third, and even a multitude of chances to try again—to grow, change, and transform throughout one’s life journey. However, like in any garden, in order to blossom or bear fruit, these seeds need to be cultivated with proper soil, water, and nutrients, or they lie dormant. Second chances are best fueled by our passions, even those we left back in childhood. Armed with the best intentions and goals, our passions can sweep us up and take us in directions we never would have dreamed of. The origin of the word passion is in the Greek word “pathos,” which means “suffering, experience, or emotion.” Taking a second chance is not for the faint-hearted, as the effort can be accompanied by struggle and suffering. But there are times when it seems there is no choice but to take the leap.
Have you ever felt you were being called to do something? For example, when you reach a fork in a road, without hesitation, you take one road over the other. An opportunity presents itself and it may feel like you’re being called down that path. This is the inner voice of your true self sending you a message. Heeding this call may provide an opportunity to right a wrong, overcome an obstacle, or even open yourself to a new vocation. Interestingly, the word vocation is rooted in the Latin word “vox,” or “voice.”
To start over, we often need to move away from cultural conditioning telling what we should do. We need to step back from the well-intentioned people who have influenced us along our journey. Their guidance comes from their inner voice, not ours. Instead of pleasing other people, we must learn to listen to our inner voice. Our wise inner self is telling us what we must do to move toward greater fulfillment.
I have heard this voice many times in my journey. Often after accepting a new challenge I have found myself terrified by what I’ve committed to. At times this voice has taken me down a path leading to apparent dead ends. Then much later I reflected back and realized how a seed of that earlier experience or lesson became useful in the endeavors. I’ve always been involved with multiple ventures, but never would have dreamed I’d one day co-found a not-for-profit organization offering meditation programs to veterans. Who would have thought that the military would embrace yoga practices!
My second chance
When I had lunch with Mae, an 89-year-old family friend I’d known all my life, it was clear that she was struggling and needed to move into a retirement community. She and my mother, who had died seven years earlier, were good friends. Mae had a vivacious personality and I always adored her. She had a very full life – widowed in her early 30s, embarked on a long successful career, married again at 75 and widowed again five years later. She always loved children but never had any of her own. Neither have I.
Our luncheon came at a time when my relationship with my partner, Dennis, was ending, leaving a huge void in my life. I realized I was being called to become deeply involved in Mae’s life. The timing was perfect, but I had no idea what I was in for! Over the next six years I helped her settle into her new home and organize her financial affairs. Caring for her as though she were my mother, I became her regular companion and, whenever I could, bought her nice clothes and gifts.
Mae’s health rapidly declined and she moved from independent living into skilled nursing within nine months. During my regular visits to the nursing facility, everyone came to assume we were mother and daughter. Mae became a powerful role model as I watched her adapt to her changing circumstances with relative ease and grace. As our bond grew, I became more and more like her daughter—she loved that idea—and she gave me a chance to have a different kind of familial relationship.
After Mae passed, I reflected on some differences between her and my mother. Both were adaptable and resourceful, but Mae was more worldly and basically a happier person. All the nursing staff loved her. My mother, who had many talents, was more introverted and had been primarily a homemaker. She had an unhappy childhood, which I believe she carried as a burden throughout her life, her marriage, and our relationship. I was able to connect with Mae in ways not possible with my mother, whom I know did the best she could.
Status quo versus change
Life seems easier when we choose not to take risks. After all, it requires a scary leap of faith to plunge into the unknown. But whether we like it or not, change is inevitable, and it can often be just as hard to hold on to the known as to act on our dreams and passions. Unfortunately, many of us wait until we’ve had cumulative disappointments and our life begins to unravel; we often need to reach a crisis before we choose to act.
It’s important to be alert to the changes constantly happening around us—in our job, finances, relationships, and family—to determine when it is time for change. We can learn to tune in to our true self by practicing meditation or just being quiet. The messages that make us feel fully alive are usually the truest. Taking advantage of the opportunity to explore a second chance can reveal unknown possibilities and offer direction.
One must be open and ready to engage in second-chance opportunities. This may require letting go of things that drain us or hold us back, like relinquishing guilt and regret, forgiving those we feel have harmed us, and understanding that everyone, including ourselves, is doing the best they can.
Some second chances involve radical transformation. After Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple Computer, he revitalized Pixar Animation Studios, only to return to Apple to reinvent the company and revolutionize the tech industry with his “i” products. My client George was a highly stressed trial attorney who decided to follow his calling: to move to Oregon, go back to school, and become a teacher for children with special needs.
Second marriages often provide opportunities to apply lessons learned from failed first marriages and bring more ease, understanding, and loving acceptance into the new relationship. With the proper support and resources, everyone can have a second chance, start their lives anew, and contribute to society in meaningful ways; those who are homeless, those who have mental or physical disabilities, and those with criminal records are not excluded.
Anne Martindell, a New Jersey state senator and US Ambassador to New Zealand, had her Smith College education cut short during her freshman year when her father, a federal judge, pulled her out. He believed she would not be marriageable if she had an education. Seventy years later, following her political career, Anne dared to take a second chance: she re-enrolled at Smith and graduated at the age of 87!
Let your life speak
“The most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why,” wrote Mark Twain. Should is what society tells us to do, while must is the call from our authentic self. Is it time to discover what compels you and take a second chance in the great unknown of possibilities? If so, listen for clues to your passions and what will give your life meaning. Do one small thing, anything, to honor your personal truth—today.