Heed your call
1 THE ABYSS AND THE ASCENSION
“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
The abyss. We all know it—that deep, seemingly bottomless chasm of the soul. Many of us have experienced this burden on our spirits at some point in our lives—and for many, those experiences probably took place while at work. I used to be a corporate lawyer, so I know from experience. At the law firm I worked at right out of law school, success amongst partners and associates was solely defined by who could bill the most time. I found myself bogged down in detailed research, writing, and billing time in six-minute increments. I was completely cut off from all human contact, but I thought I was doing what I had to—what was required of me in order to be successful.
Since the eighth grade, every academic and professional pursuit had put me one step closer to becoming an attorney, but when I finally landed the job, only a very small part of me felt I had arrived. As I took a seat at my oversized mahogany desk, only a fraction of me was proud. Amidst the tinge of relief for having arrived was a more
pronounced, very real, and truly terrifying sense of dread. There was a black cloud of uncertainty that accompanied me.
While I sat there taking it all in, I thought, Wait a minute—everything I have pursued for the past twenty years of my life has led to this? Is this really what I want? Do I really want to be dressed in a suit every day, choking on a tie, and numbering my legal pads? It wasn’t until I had exhausted myself for years that I actually stopped to think about whether or not I really wanted to be there. Unfortunately, I very quickly woke to the realization that being an attorney was unequivocally not my calling, that this had all been an act and in no way represented who I truly was. I realized that, up until that point, I had been in service to something that wasn’t true for me. I’d been living someone else’s idea about what I should be doing—not mine.
On that first day, I was already suffering and went home that night nauseous and thinking, You’re totally fucked, David. My mind raced with petrifying thoughts: Everyone in my life thinks this is who I am and that this is what is best for me. In fact, it is what they’ve all helped me to achieve. My dad paid an exorbitant amount of money for me to attend a prestigious and private law school; teachers pulled strings and wrote glowing recommendations. If I turn my back on this now, I will disappoint everyone. So I sucked it up, and starting the very next day, I became an actor who, for a year, would play the role of an attorney. I promise you, faking that role is painful. It’s tough enough to be a lawyer in a big firm when you legitimately enjoy it, but when you add to that the energy required to “fake it till you make it,” it’s untenable.
In a law firm, there are partners and associates. Partners are owners of the firm and are the decision makers. They have earned their spot at the top, and once a partner, you become a tenured teacher—or in many cases, a tenured torturer because you have likely spent six, seven, maybe even eight years as an associate earning your rank. Much like being a part of a fraternity, once partner status has been
achieved, those who lasted that long are welcome to abuse associates. You might say it’s a partner’s rite of passage to do so. Granted, the dynamics of firms vary, with some partners being very kind, but generally, they get off on making the lives of associates miserable—it’s considered earning one’s stripes to get through it.
Unluckily for me, I had to endure some of the “rites of passage” engrained in this particular culture. I won’t go into too many details, but an example of a very common law-firm torment occurred at 5 PM on the Friday before Labor Day. All week, I had exhausted my every breath by pulling ten-hour (at the minimum) days. Putting in seventy-hour workweeks is not unusual because you are only as successful as the time you are able to monetize, but in this particular case, I was experiencing an extreme deficit of energy. More than ever, I needed a break. I needed a reprieve from my attorney role. As I was packing up my belongings for the weekend, a senior associate walked into my office and said, “What are you up to this weekend?” Before I could reply, she said, “Actually, don’t answer that. This is what you are up to,” and she threw a huge packet on my desk. It was a brief we needed to respond to ASAP and the research would need to be conducted over the weekend and delivered first thing Tuesday.
I spent the next four days in the office working. At that point in my life, if I had let people see me fail, it would have felt like dying to me. This is not meant to be overly dramatic; failing would have meant my identity and all I knew of myself—all I thought anyone else knew of me—would die, which was not an option for me. So I pressed on, being sure I wasn’t “disappointing” anyone.
My emotional suffering was so severe, it was causing my body to breakdown. My stomach was bound in tightly twisted knots, and I was sure my gut lining was plagued with ulcers. After the Labor Day incident, I couldn’t take it anymore.
In fact, I was having a nervous breakdown. I was in my very real and terrifying abyss and had to ascend, or I was going to die—not
just figuratively but also quite literally if I didn’t change the unhealthy trajectory I was on. I was utterly broken and couldn’t fake it anymore. I didn’t think I could overcome my abyss.
We all use coping mechanisms to overcome our challenges, but we can’t and shouldn’t overcome our abyss. I realize that sounds crazy, but doing so means we move into survival mode. We use ego-minded techniques, like placating, faking it, and manipulation, in order to get by. These are all strategies we call on to just get through the grind because our ego tells us giving up is not an option. But that is a lie. It is the Protestant work ethic that says life is supposed to be hard and that only those who rise at dawn and put their back into the plow will be seen and recognized. Our culture, society, and government want us to believe this lie because if we do, we create a country where people are too tired to question authority, and when we don’t question authority, we can be controlled.
In truth, we do not need to even be in control of our own lives, our own journeys—we need to trust in and relinquish control to the universe. And so we do not need to work and toil and sweat to overcome the abyss. We need to learn to surrender to it. When we surrender, we enter a state of being where we are fully open to possibility, and our guides and mentors can help us ascend. We give up control to universal will, and because of this, we ascend from, rather than conquer, our bottomless chasm. So, finally, eventually, I found myself in a situation where all I could do was capitulate to the divine.
At about 11 PM one night not long after Labor Day, I was still at the office and had to use the restroom. While in the stall, I glanced down and, sitting on top of the toilet paper dispenser, I beheld an industrial-sized tube of Preparation H. It had been squeezed down to the last bit like a roll of toothpaste. Right then and there, I thought, This is the universe telling me something. It’s saying it is time to get the fuck out of here! During those final weeks leading up to that point, I had become totally disconnected, and every minute at the office felt
like an hour. I would stare at the clock and examine how long the day was taking to end. Every morning, I woke filled with dread that I had to do it all over again.
I don’t doubt you have experienced exactly what I’m talking about. And to be clear, I am well aware that one person’s challenging-in-a-good-way situation is another person’s hell, so it’s not a judgment on the people who work in those jobs. We’re all different, and for me, that night was the turning point that led me out of my abyss. Maybe you’ve experienced such suffering and have already ascended from your abyss. Maybe you’re actually not quite to the bottom yet. Maybe your abyss is the job you’re in, the business you started, or the fact that you’re currently struggling to find work. Whatever it is, know that it’s good that you got there because hitting the seemingly bottomless pit is the exact thing that needs to happen for you to finally make a change, for you to finally surrender.
For me, when I was in the restroom that night, I knew it was time to leave my situation. My energy shifted. From the depths of doom, despair, and depression, my mind still managed to light up in hope for future possibilities. My breathing changed, and my posture straightened. I went home that night and slept like a baby for the first time in nearly a year. It’s when you capitulate that you are raw and your spirit is wide open to receive inspiration. As a result, your life can shift in a nanosecond. You can ascend from the abyss instantaneously if that is what the universe wants.
The next morning, I woke with excitement and had a bounce in my step. Even though I still worked at the firm, I knew it was only a short time until I would be moving on. I had told my ego to fuck off and decided that, even if everyone thought I was a loser, I didn’t give a shit anymore. I didn’t care if my parents were embarrassed about my decision. If leaving the firm meant I would lose all my friends and family, fall off the edge of the earth, and die, then so be it. When I said to the universe, “I’m done. I can’t do it anymore. This isn’t me. There
has to be more than this,” the universe heard me loud and clear—and I could have sworn it was relieved I had finally decided to listen to what it had been saying.
That very day, my mentors and guides (which I’ll talk more about in part 2) showed up to lead me from my abyss. They began to introduce tools of transformation to guide me through the rest of my journey. Some came in the form of synchronicities, some were ideas, and some were promptings or nudges to do something.
I started talking about my wanting to leave the firm with friends and began putting feelers out for a new job. At that time, jobs were not plentiful in Portland and especially not for someone only a year out of law school with very little other work experience. I put the energy out there anyway. While having lunch with a friend that afternoon, I told him about wanting to change directions, and he told me he knew someone who worked at adidas and that he could pass my info on. I gratefully agreed, hopeful and ready for the universe to help me not just ascend but to flourish now that I was getting out.
When I arrived back at my office, the message light on my phone was flashing. This typically would have filled me with dread because it normally meant a senior partner needed to put me on a research project that would confine me to hours in the law library. But instead, my heart skipped a beat with excitement—it was the CEO of adidas America. I was shocked.
“David, I just got a phone call from a mutual friend and it sounds like we should meet. Call me back and let’s setup a time.”
I called him immediately, thinking surely it would be a while before we could meet, but much to my surprise, he asked if I could meet with him that afternoon. An hour later, I was on my way to adidas. Our meeting was easy and natural; everything seemed to flow, and I was able to be myself. I was open, honest, and completely relaxed. I left feeling positive. It was an interview unlike any I’d ever had at that point in my life, and I felt like, regardless of its outcome, it was a turning
point for me. Things could be easy and happen organically! It was a revelation.
When I arrived back at the office, the light on my phone was flashing. It was the CEO asking me to call him again—and when I did, he offered me a job.
The universe is always working to illuminate our heroic path, and the spark may come at the least expected moment—like the night I stumbled upon the Preparation H. But it is those brief moments in time that invite us to make a choice—the choice to either heed the call or not, to pick up the phone or to ignore it, to surrender to what the universe has planned or to force something that feels unnatural. I’ve discovered one of the main differences between joyful people and those wrestling with their lives is the joyful bunch not only hear universal calls and impulses, but they also choose to heed them. They even do so regardless of how insignificant the call may seem. Those who wrestle with life and work hard to overcome their challenges are too busy to even notice an impulse or, worse, choose to ignore it when it sounds.
We all too often find excuses that feel like they give us permission to ignore the calls we hear. Obstacles in our way often give us the excuse to throw in the towel; they keep us stuck in our known world, unable to move forward in our journey. Yet, if we succeed in moving past these challenges and accept that they are part of our unique calls, our lives will be much more harmonious and rewarding. We evolve; we expand and are blessed by the universe as we choose to keep moving and growing.
Some of these obstacles will come by way of egocentrism or perhaps pretension, fear, insecurity, fame, or vanity, but no matter what, they are essential to the process; the cycle is not complete without them. These challenges must be surrendered to in order for you to evolve and continue on your path of transformation and reach your defining moment.
The Hero’s Journey
The late Joseph Campbell, considered the foremost authority on mythology, found there to be one myth, consistent through all of history, that is central to every religion, spiritual practice, and geographic location. This über myth was first introduced in Campbell’s work The Hero with a Thousand Faces and is referred to as the Hero’s Journey, a term he borrowed from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. What he tells us is that mythos is the collective unconscious reduced to story, and it provides a road map for us to learn and live from. The Hero’s Journey is among the most important and powerful of all myths. It is everywhere and central to the most prolific and powerful forces in life. Our journeys, through our lives in general and through our careers specifically, mirror this Hero’s Journey. Campbell tells us that the hero’s purpose is not as complex as we often try to make it. It is not to save all of humanity, to slay the dragon, to literally save someone’s life—at least, it is not only these things. It can be as simple as seeking truth, searching for enlightenment (much like you’re doing now).
While on the journey, Campbell says the hero will inevitably encounter obstacles. Some of these are your abyss, though some may appear as roadblocks on your journey once you are out of your abyss. Once this part of the journey has been completed, the hero can return to his or her community to effectively lead them on their journeys. Because of the hero’s great actions and wisdom, the tribe as a whole grows stronger and wiser. This is the journey you are now on. As you ascend from your abyss (perhaps even abysses), you will be on the journey to find wisdom and purpose in your work, to realize that you are the hero of your own life.
In a number of popular books and films, such as The Matrix, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings, the protagonists go through the very same stages of departure, initiation, and return. In a 1999 interview with Bill Moyers, George Lucas speaks about how the material for
Star Wars was inspired by Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. During the interview, a number of clips from Star Wars are shown that explicitly demonstrate how the film speaks to our individual journeys, and that, if we have a relationship with an energy much greater than us—in the case of Star Wars, it is the Force—we can better overcome darkness and move through our transformation.1
With this in mind, we can see how it is more than mind-blowing visual effects that cause us to become enthralled with these films. It is the relatable stories that connect with us on a deep, soul level that make us diehard fans.