You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. - Mae West

“What’s holding you back?”

A friend of mine recently asked me this…a simple, yet profound question. We were at a conference in Austin Texas a few months ago, which is an amazing place for those who have not been. Although it was a tech conference there was really good energy there. Good vibes, great talks, amazing food, and inspiration all around.

We were talking about what some of our respective plans were going to be after the conference. You know, goal setting, cultivating better routines, coming to the office earlier (staying later), and just trying to level up all around.

It’s very easy to talk about getting up earlier and going to the gym at 6am when you’re at a conference in Texas where they feed you, but…all of us were pretty motivated after an impactful trip. One of my friends and colleagues on the trip has been making powerful strides personally and professionally. I’ve seen a lot of his progress over the past few months. He actually has been getting up earlier, going to the gym at 6am, and doing great work at the office.

Thus…when I was telling my friend Zekerias my master plan for when we get back into the city, he listened intently, then asked me a simple question:

“What’s holding you back?”

I was baffled. I shook my head for a moment.

I said, “What?”

The question was so elegant in its simplicity, as too the answer if I’m being perfectly honest with myself. It inspired me to write this post.

“What’s holding you back?”

I shook my head again.

Nothing….I said softly.

“Nothing and no one is holding me back but me, I guess.”

I thought about his question again and again on the flight back. Zekerias’ question reaffirmed something I’ve known for much of my adult life…but I needed a swift reminder. Many of us, often times, lose sight of this simple truth, especially these days.

I believe, generally speaking, we are pretty much responsible for our destiny in life. For the most part, who we are, and where we are, is largely the product of our own actions. There are certainly things that happen which are beyond our control….who our parents were, where we grew up, the hand we were dealt. What matters is how we play that hand. Life is full of challenges…how we respond to those challenges is what defines us. If we ask ourselves what’s holding us back…and we’re perfectly honest with ourselves, we might come to realize we’re the only ones standing in the way of our dreams.

Before I conclude, I’d like to pause for a moment.

I’m aware of the problems this country is facing…let alone the world. The socio-economic cleavage that has decimated our middle-class (my (single) mom lost everything in 07/08, I was homeless in my teens, put myself through college, etc), the political divide, the growing opportunity gap, etc. I’m not undermining the severity of the crises the world is presently facing. Alas, what I’m saying is this; don’t give up, don’t give in, believe in yourself and recognize you have more control over your destiny then you may realize. All of us have baggage. Most of us can write a laundry list of reasons why we’re not living the life we want, the life we deserve, whatever that may be.

Though, if we do have a laundry list of reasons why we’re not where we should be, that seems like a terrible misallocation of our precious cognitive resources. Even if all of those reasons are true (and yes…they mostly are), I implore you; try your best to rise above it. Don’t let the background noise drown out the music in your heart. Live your best life. Be your best self. Give your all each and every day. Have love in your heart, for yourself, for others, for the world in which we live.

I’m not much of a resolution person anymore. Change is often times the product of slow, meticulous action backed by purposeful intent. There are no shortcuts in life. Dig in. Draw your line in the sand. Make ready to fight a long, perilous battle. Life is a lot like trench warfare…it will wear you down…you will feel like quitting…it will seem hopeless at times…there will be many days where it seems impossible, like an indefinite stalemate. Embrace the pain. Remember, it is always darkest before the dawn. Each and every one of us is born with something special. It is merely a function of the miracle of life itself. Every one of us has a completely unique set of life experiences, a unique perspective and something beautiful to share with the world. Remember you are unstoppable.

Ask yourselves, what’s holding you back, and be honest. The answer might surprise you. Nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams but you.