I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale. A beautiful tale filled with smiles, sunshine and love, that has a happy, wrapped-up-in-a-pretty-bow ending. Packaged in spectacular Disney precision, as a cheesy teen chick flick, a beautiful melody, a classic dramatic love story, a triumphing underdog, or a rags-to-riches success story – the results are the same – a glowing feeling in my heart and gut – a joyful feeling that makes me want to stand up and cheer and hug everyone – and the thought that all is well with the world.
I’ve often daydreamed about my own fairytale ending. Or a lightning-bolt moment where all of a sudden, everything becomes clear, I have all the answers I have ever wanted and my life magically changes, every little thing is sorted, and I can live “happily ever after.”
And then I started learning about life being about the journey, about those juicy “in-between” places – the transitions that are where the most powerful and beautiful growth is – the sludgy muck from which the beautiful lotus blooms. And I started believing that life is about the experiences I have and learning from those experiences. So I am starting to find great joy and satisfaction in even the smallest of progressions in my learning. I do, however, also often get frustrated that I am not learning at lightening speed and wonder how it is possible that I seem to have to keep learning certain lessons over and over again.
So, back to the fairy tales…they don’t really offer any reference point for this, or if they do, it is such a fleeting mention, vastly overshadowed by the dreary start and the shiny, sparkly finish. When I hear about the impoverished maiden who gets swept off her feet by a knight in shining armor on a white steed, or the inspired 20-something who built an empire from her parents’ garage with $20 scraped from between the sofa cushions, I get swept up in the details of the extremes – it’s so exciting, do we really even want to hear about the how? Or the many hours and days in the process where nothing at all seemed to happen and the exciting ending was still just a far away thought? But how did they get from point A to point B? Did they also have days when they struggled to take the next step and procrastinated a day away watching series? When I’m feeling cranky, I feel deceived. I’ve been duped by these fairy tales I’ve been watching, reading, hearing my whole life – I’ve been believing that this is how it works! That I just must merely believe and hope and try and in one fell swoop my dreams will come true. What, and where, is my happily ever after? Is there a crystal ball I can look in to tell me? How will I know when it arrives? Is there a soundtrack?
There are a lot of days and moments that are just, well, life happening. Mundane, day-to-day life, filled with moments that are beautiful, exciting, sad, frustrating, and just plain ordinary. Sometimes this feels groundless, and like there is no reference point for this. Have I been here too long? How long should it take to work through this particular challenge? How hard do I actually have to work on this? Am I working too hard? Should I just sit back and let the universe unfold and deliver what it will? Should I change? Should I fight? What am I supposed to be doing now? Shouldn’t something more exciting be happening right now? Does anyone else out there feel like this??
I know that other people out there feel this way. Perhaps even you feel this way sometimes. I know this because, gratefully, at some point in this journey, I’ve learned the importance of community and vulnerability, and how critical these are for my own personal success. Finding people you can connect and share with, who choose to accept and celebrate all of you – the ups, the downs and the many places in-between – is, for me, integral to succeeding in this journey and to living happily ever after. My mom has often said to me, “No one is perfect, you just have to figure out which imperfections you can live with.” She’s right, you know, and you know what’s more? This is a trial and error thing. In order to learn what you can live with, sometimes you actually have to live with it and see.
The reality is, the “in-between” IS where the magic happens. And that is the real-life happily ever after. It is the waiting, pondering, false starts, researching, exploring, practicing, talking, crying, wallowing, panicking, mistake-making, success-bearing, little-step-celebrating place that is the foundation of the happy ever after. And every fairy tale actually perches on a foundation of this “in-between” muck. And the happily ever after is an ending, a beginning, and another experience on this beautiful continuum of our lifetime.
Let’s re-write the script and immerse ourselves in this real-life fairy tale, surrounded by our own star-studded cast of supportive characters, who help us find the sweet spots in success and failure and are there in the ordinary moments that make up our happily ever after lifetime. Believe in yourself and your capacity to move through, over and around the speedbumps, the slow downs and the full-on obstacles along the way.
So, go ahead, continue to take inspiration and entertainment from fairy tales. And at the same time, let’s accept and embrace all the very real steps it takes to move between our own unique “once upon a time” and “happily ever after.”
P.S. Have you seen Jia Jiang’s TEDTalk on rejection? I love this talk. It’s vulnerable and inspiring. He actually set out to tackle his fear of rejection by trying to get rejected every day for 100 days. In this courageous venture, he learned an incredible amount about his capacity for success. And you can bet that in this 100 days, he also had some really ordinary experiences, which were critical to allow him to be able to truly learn and understand the impact of the experiment.
Written by: Marissa Dana
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