“Don’t worry, be happy, Sessa.”
Whenever I was caught in the death spiral of preteen angst, that’s what my mom would say. She used that Bobby McFerrin line long after it faded from collective memory. In fact, I’m pretty sure she said that when I came to her with my working mother’s lament the weekend before she died so suddenly in the summer of 2009.
My mother was my best friend, and I treasured her wisdom (it went deeper than song lyrics, truly), but I always used to hate it when she said “don’t worry, be happy.” Maybe it was just because she was my mom. Maybe it was because I knew she had her own worries and I assumed that meant she didn’t have the authority to wave my troubles away with something as simple as happiness.
After all, I was contending with real, life-shattering drama (like a math test or whether I could quit my job and make it as a mom and an entrepreneur). She was dismissing my dilemma with a pop song. The indignity!
But I’m carrying on the tradition. Suddenly I find myself trying to soothe my five year old’s wild mood swings with the same exact medicine. In the midst of her kindergarten maelstrom, my daughter seems to find the proclamation just as irritating and meaningless as I did.
Thing is, I finally understand that my mom was right. When it comes to most daily stresses, “don’t worry, be happy” is perfect advice.
It may be perfect, but that doesn’t mean everyone qualified to give it.
Some People Have the Authority To Offer Crazy Simple Wisdom
“The purpose of our lives is to be happy.”
When the Dalai Lama says that, you sigh into the perfect clarity of that wisdom. You’re grateful that he stripped away all of the striving that we attach to material success and all of the ritual we drape over spiritual expression.
Happiness is a baby’s laugh. Happiness is a cat lolling about on a sun-warmed sidewalk. Happiness is a lover’s embrace. Happiness is it.
You believe him. We all believe this smiling bald man. Even if you don’t have a Buddhist bone your body, you feel there’s a truth in those words.
Most People are Just Wordsmithing
Now, what if some average looking person you didn’t know made a similar declaration? Not quoting some famous, trusted source, but just asserting something just as simple as “the purpose of our lives is to be happy?”
Most likely, you’d dismiss them as a dispenser of fortune cookie wisdom and proceed on, unmoved by their statement, still hungry for real, venerable truths.
Talk is cheap - especially when anyone with an internet connection can throw their ideas into countless online arenas. And yet, some people’s pronouncements just seem to be imbued with special meaning.
Why is it that Bobby McFerrin can craft a #1 hit and the Dalai Lama is revered as a sage for offering simple wisdom when most other people are dismissed for being too simplistic when they share a similar message?
People Are Listening for Something More: Devotion & Presence
To be honest, you might also imagine that line gracing a Dove soap ad. We all have the same 26 letters to work with, after all. An advertising agency could easily churn out nice words that sound a lot like those from the man people call Thây (Vietnamese for teacher).
Regardless of how much market research goes into a tagline, it’s the resonance of time, depth, and awareness that really matters.
When that sentiment comes from a Zen Buddhist monk who Martin Luther King nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, something much more profound ripples through to the reader. It’s an intangible quality, the essence of a truth that transcends the art of copywriting.
(I believe so much in this transmission of truth that comes from devotion and presence that I swore off being a writer-for-hire and now work as a writing coach, empowering you to discover your own story. More on that below…)
Devotion to Your Own Story Builds Your Presence as a Storyteller
The exemplary voices I am using in this piece belong to spiritual figures (from what I know about Bobby McFerrin, it isn’t a stretch to include him in such company). “Devotion” makes sense for them. Clearly the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn built their stores of wisdom over decades of devoted practice.
But devotion is equally as important for us everyday folks leading secular lives. Especially when you’re the kind of person who knows she has a Bigger Story that wants to be told.
It’s not sexy or exciting in our “do it now” world to say that it takes a long, steadfast commitment to your work to become a credible authority, but it’s every bit as true as “The purpose of our lives is to be happy.”
You must explore your origins, your experiences, and your theories as assemble a Greater Story that conveys your signature magic and really connects with others.
Uncovering and telling your Greater Story takes time and focus. It takes devotion.
In time, you own your story so that people recognize the power of your message either in person or through the written word.
When the Greater Story Becomes the Sovereign Story
Through my own devotional process, I am working to understand the Greater Story as the Sovereign Story.
Thanks to much journaling, discussions with friends and colleagues, and by looking at all of life in the spirit of discovery, I’m figuring out how my small “s” stories can be woven into the Sovereign Story that I was born to tell.
Your own Sovereign Story could be a novel, a school of thought. a product, a memoir… In my case, my Sovereign Story is the exploration of Sovereignty itself. I’m called to help people uncover and tell their Sovereign Stories and to empower them to understand why that process to them as creatives and as entrepreneurs.
Devotions are often an arduous, knee-bruising pursuit. It feels more like labor than enlightenment most of the time, but I am watching the ripples of my Sovereign Story reach new shores thanks to every deeply considered piece I publish and every conversation I have with allies and prospects. I trust that my own presence is gathering around me like a cloak lovingly woven, row by row.
You and I don’t aspire to be to next Dalai Lama (the position won’t be available anyway), but we can devote ourselves to unlocking and sharing the story we were born to tell.
And we can aspire to something even more vital a noteworthy presence - the chance to stand sovereign in our own lives and the opportunity to share a Sovereign Story that makes others’ lives more beautiful, bearable, or bold.
Is it time to connect with your own Sovereign Story? I’d be honored to walk beside you on your journey.