One Question to Direct Your Life

This morning I was listening to an episode of Brene Brown’s podcast, Unlocking Us, which was recommend by a friend. The episode featured Glennon Doyle, whose work I have always respected and admired. They were discussing Glennon's new book Untamed.

I saw this episode pop up on my feed several months ago, and shied away from it, as I sometimes do Brene’s work, because it frequently feels like being hit by a 2 x 4. But this morning I listened. The episode opened with a vignette that Glennon shares, which gives shape to the whole book. She tells the story of going to the zoo with her children. While at the zoo, they visit the cheetah enclosure with the hopes of seeing the cheetah in its glory, splayed out, full sprint. Cheetahs are, after all, the fastest creatures on the planet.

When they arrived to the enclosure for the “cheetah run” demonstration, they were surprised to see a Labrador retriever, not a cheetah. Yes, Labrador as in the breed of dog, clearly not a cheetah. The zookeeper explained that the lab had been raised with the cheetah and that both animals had been trained to do “the run”. The Labrador would be the first to demonstrate. A pink stuffed animal was tied to the back of a jeep, the jeep took off, the Labrador chased.

Out comes the cheetah. Like its best friend, the cheetah followed the same course of action. The jeep took off, the cheetah chased. The cheetah had been raised in captivity and trained just like the Labrador.

Glennon describes watching the cheetah after the demonstration as it stalked around the enclosure, its eyes wide with wildness, and its undeniable instincts to pounce and run. She had a felt sense that this cheetah had a deeper knowledge of what it was put on this earth for, and that it wasn’t to chase a stuffed animal tethered to a jeep. Somewhere deep in its DNA was the knowledge that it was born for something greater, something untamed.

The story was a methaphorical punch in the gut for the way most of us live our lives, myself included. Most of us have glimpses of the other side; those glimpses are often fleeting and evoke a stirring in our soul, a feeling of alignment to our purpose, a deeper sense of love that we often fear because pursuing that love or calling means giving something up. That something being the expectations we have held for our lives or the expectations others have put onto us.

Finding meaning

Glennon tells the story of meeting and falling in love with her wife. It was the deepest and most true experience of love that she had ever experienced; yet she almost missed it because she feared disappointing others. Everything in her wanted to accept that she could suffer the pain of living without the relationship if it meant playing it safe. Loving her wife meant stepping out of the cookie-cutter hetero-normative expectations that she had placed on her life, the same expectations that her family had placed on her. In that moment, she felt safer living a life without fulfillment rather than upsetting the apple cart, fearing disapproval from her family.

Ultimately, she chose love. She chose risk, and because of that, she is living a more fulfilling and authentic life than she ever imagined. In doing so, she has opened the door for others to do the same. Her modeling gives unconscious permission to anyone who is “playing it safe” because the more we see others embodying their truth, the more we feel that we can embody ours. This is why representation matters.

How many of us play it safe? How many of us live our lives with an enduring sense of obligation and expectation?

This is not to say, “responsibility be damned”, but it is to call into question how many of our decisions are made out of fear and a made out of a set of expectations that were never ours to own?

We are parents, we are employees, we have mortgages, we have responsibilities, and to even have this conversation implies privilege.

There is little-to-no room for contemplation of “dreams” for the single parent who is trying to make ends meet. There is no “choose yourself” for the person who is trapped in a relationship where all means of communication to the outside world and a controlling partner has cut off financial viability. Survival is the name of the game.

I do, however, wonder what it would be like if there were an opportunity for space and contemplation in the form of one question;

What would life look like if my decisions were made out of love? Made from a place of deep knowing that our lives are inextricably connected and purposeful?

There exists a difference between cerebral understanding that we are here for a purpose; that we are worthy of giving and receiving love, and embodying it.

Embodying it means that we live it in tangible ways.

We become intentional and orient our lives with love as our true north.

We go about our work, our parenting, our relationships with love as the guiding compass.

So often we move from a place of reactivity rather than a place of intentionality. Just the other day I apologized to a friend who shared something with me that I found unjust. I reacted. I projected my experience and spoke from a place of frustration and anger based on my experience. I doubt that it was helpful. My aim was to validate my friend’s experience, but I inadvertently made it about me. How different would that conversation been if I had come from a settled place, a place of intentionality in which my responses were out of concern and love rather than my own projected anger.

Anger has its place. We are human. We will be angry. Anger has value.

Anger is a red flag that serves as an alarm indicating a deeper issue. It has the power to mobilize and move us to action.

The news I woke to this morning was of the little town next to ours where a group of Black Lives Matter protestors were met with men carrying confederate flags and assault rifles to “protect” a confederate statue in the town square. Anger and disgust were the emotions that I felt in that moment. Anger that we live in a place where it is legal for men to carry assault rifles in public, anger that if a Black man were to hold the same weapon in the same situation that he likely would not be alive this morning, anger at the implied threats of the “Confederate defenders”, disgust at the confederate symbols which plague the south...the list goes on.

What will the anger do? What can it do?

If anger moves us to action and love is the orienting force, how can our daily actions reflect this? Below is a series published by Giselle Buchanan on How to Be an Ally. Her work is amazing and I encourage you to check it out at

So I ask you again and I invite you to get quiet and truly contemplate, how would life be different if love, not fear, was your guiding compass?

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