By all external measures, I was leading a very successful life. I was in a long term relationship, I had swiftly excelled through the ranks of a well-respected company, I had a flat with a beautiful view of the City, and I drove the car that I had declared I would own just two years prior when I spotted it sitting on the tee box at a golf tournament as a prize for a hole in one. Yet, as surely as I did not hit a hole in one that day, I was not content in the life I was living. What it was exactly, I did not know.
In just about every major element of my life, I felt as though my true self was being stifled. At work, I felt as though I were being forced to fulfill an image that did not highlight my strongest assets. I would spend hours upon hours trying to perfect skills that I did not value. At home, well, I suppose it was a similar problem. I struggled with this quandary for a while. I wanted people to be proud of me; I wanted to fulfill the anticipated path for a goal-oriented, college-educated, Generation Y'er; I wanted to be the "successful" son. My desires were aligned with the pursuit of an ultimate happiness that had been defined by a combination of many different sources and images.
One evening during a particularly hard week of work, I was riding my bicycle home from the office. It was a beautiful evening, one of those rarities in the City that you really come to appreciate. As I was cruising along, I passed a street corner with a man just standing there holding a sign. I assumed he was homeless, but you never know in this City. Regardless, his housing or financial situation had no bearing on this story. Anyways, the sign simply said "Be yourself." I would have thought nothing of it, but I happened to make eye contact with him and he addressed me as I rode by. Not verbally, but literally pivoted with the sign as if he were holding it just for me.
The next day, I went into work having completely dismissed what had happened the evening before. The workday ended similarly to the last, only I was there even later than before. I hopped on my bike and began my trek home in the dark. This time, I decided to take a different way home. When I was about a mile away from home, I passed a different street corner, but there stood the same man with the same sign; "Be yourself." I stopped peddling and coasted about another 100 feet where I finally came to rest. I just stopped. Thought about it for a bit. Chuckled, shook my head, and was back on my way.
By this time, this "sign" had worked its way into my head and was doing some serious conjuring of thoughts. "What does it mean?" I asked myself. I have to tell you, it really got me thinking; but to be yourself, you really have to know yourself. At that time, I wasn't even sure hot to accomplish that. So, I tried to go on with my life while being cognizant of this idea that I should probably find out what it is that I really wanted to be.
The next day comes and goes with me in a fog. No signs. No drastic events to make me rethink everything that I've done in the past decade. The next day, more of the same ... until that evening. After sitting at home for a bit and realizing I'm not in the mood to cook dinner, I headed out for a drive and to grab a bite to eat. Again, I found myself about a mile from home when I pulled up to a red light. A pedestrian began to cross in front of me, not an uncommon occurrence in the City, but then he stopped in the middle of his traverse, right in front of my headlights that had just switched on. He then turned towards me and held up a sign to be illuminated by my headlights.
"What the f*%&?!" Sorry for my french, but to my best recollection, this is verbatim for the words that left my mouth. He just stood there for what seemed to be an eternity. Obviously it wasn't because he had moved on by the time the light had turned green. I drove for the next ten minutes laughing hysterically to myself. "Fine, I get it. I'll take a hint." I don't know who I was talking to; the divine intervener? This pretty much set off a long period of deep psychological self exploration. I needed to do something and I needed to do something now. But what? Well, I came up with some answers that I thought would surely lead to me being myself. To solidify my decision, I immediately looked to validate my story and what I had concluded. I turned to the person I trusted the most, someone who has had a deep spiritual relationship for as long as I knew him, my father. Now, my father has always been a very religious man. You know, one of those who go to church on days other than Christmas and Easter; every week in fact, but he has never been one to push religion on to others, not even his own kids. This day, when I told him my story, he gave me the best advice anyone has ever bestowed upon me. It was a single sentence. So simple, it is something I will never forget: