"People feel confronted by the word 'passion'. They'll look at somebody and say, 'well I don't know exactly what that thing is for me.' Instead give yourself permission to explore, 'what are you curious about?' If you take the obligation out of what you're going to get out of your curiosity away, and actually just start with, 'how do you want to feel?' Because how you want to feel, and what you want to do, and your legacy, and the impact that you're able to make in the world, it all starts from something."
ON CURIOSITY, POSSIBILITY, & LOGIC
Shelli: The world knows me as a firefighter, a TED speaker, but what I actually am is a possibility hacker. What I've done is I've taken all of my unconventional learnings and gifts, if you will, and packaged them in a way that people can understand that you really can hack possibility, you really can achieve those unachievable dreams and that everything is possible. What I find is people will often lead with logic and it's the worst thing you can do, because our society conditions us to think about what's possible or what the odds are, what the logic is.
It's so funny because society tends to lean so heavily on logic and data but it's actually the thing that's undermining our potential. In fact, I'm a proponent of leading with possibility, and here's how that works. Society tells us about odds, and logic, and what we should do, and have we seen it before, and that's the thing that will shut you down as soon as you feel that spark inside you. If instead you lead with possibility, you know that moment when you're like, "I want to do that thing." In that microsecond, your body will tell you the truth in that zero point before you have a chance to tune into your logical brain.
When you lead with possibility and when you can remember what it's going to feel like, when you achieve the thing you want to achieve, or when you finally arrive at your destination, when you tune into that feeling, and you lead with possibility, then what happens is you use logic to execute on your possibility. Here's what happens if you don't. Sometimes people will lead with logic and they think, "I want to muscle my way through this goal." Maybe it's not the goal that is true to your heart. Yet still, day after day, week after week, you climb that mountain and you're fighting your way up. Then all of a sudden, you arrive at the top of the mountain, and you're still not happy, and you look around and go, "Wrong mountain."
When you start with possibility, you start as you intend to continue and you start with what's true to your heart, and what means something to you. Forget about what everybody says is logical or possible, you get to decide that so always lead with possibility. Logic is nothing more than a tool to execute on your dreams.
FIVE PILLARS OF HACKING POSSIBILITY
Shelli: Throughout my life experience, I've distilled hacking possibility down to five main pillars. The five pillars are foundation, alignment, courage, expertise and community. When you combine and master those five things, you literally can accomplish the in-accomplishable.
With foundation, that's the starting point and the building block for everything that comes after. For me, foundation is believing in magic and believing in possibility and not getting marred down and dragged down by logic. It's believing something bigger than yourselves because when you ask the universe for what you want, you have to understand that you're asking somebody something, an entity. If you don't believe in magic, really, there's nothing that comes after that because you're going to find an excuse or a reason. You always find what you focus on.
The second pillar is alignment. It's so important to start as you intend to continue. Before you do, you have to pay attention to the labels that you've given yourself and you have to pay attention to the labels that society is given. There's something that I call value currency.
Everybody talks about currency being money and it is. Also, pride is currency, and integrity is currency, and passion is currency, and freedom is currency. Of all of those types of currency, money is actually the least valuable. When you're able to tap into what your currency is, what happens is you get to the root of what is in alignment with you. If you're parents are lawyers and you feel obligated to go to law school but really what you want to do is paint, then paint.
The third pillar is courage, and everybody mistakes what courage actually is. It's easy to look at somebody who's on a concert stage, or somebody who's giving a talk, or somebody who's running a seven-figure business and say, "Man, I would love to do what they're doing, but I'm afraid. I don't have their confidence. I don't have their skills." The thing to realize though is that many of those people are just doing it afraid. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is just doing it while you're scared. When you can get to the bottom of what's actually holding you back, your limiting beliefs and the stories you told yourself when you're a kid, what happens is you're able to turn that fear into rocket fuel. That doesn't mean you're doing it unafraid.
It means you're finding the root of your fear and working through it so that you can be courageous. I always say, "People are not afraid of what they think they're afraid of. They're afraid of what fear is asking them to look at that they don't want to see."
When you're brave enough to be vulnerable and look at those hurry bits that are holding you back, what happens is you turn the intangible thing that fear that has no shape or conveniently is over there as you can't touch it or fix it into something that is tangible. Something that is tinkerable. Something that you can mold, or meld, or action, or execute on. That literally is the difference between fear and courage.
The fourth pillar is expertise. At this point, you have foundation. You know that there's something big yourself and we're tuned in the fact that magic exists. You're in alignment with what's true for you, you're chasing the goal and you're starting as you intend to continue. Then, you've turned your fear into rocket fuel and you're executing with courage.
Then, we arrive at expertise. This is the first time we're going to actually introduce logic, because all of the other times, we're leading with possibility. Logic is nothing more than a tool to execute on your possibility. What that looks like is your tangible, executable, logical, tactical, practical, tasks. Instead of looking at this barrage of skills, knowledge, and experience that you may have to obtain so that you can get to where you want to go, if you just break it down into pillars, and break those pillars down into tasks or habits, then all of a sudden the unfamiliar is able to become familiar and the intangible becomes tangible.
Now, a lot of people at this stage will get overwhelmed because it's kind of like a zip file. When you look at all the pieces and they're unzipped it's easy to look at and say, "Well, I can't possibly execute on all those tasks." But when you zip them up into the smallest tasks or habits, then all of a sudden you're not overwhelmed. You know what every daily task needs to look like. Who can't execute on a task or habit day by day, but all of a sudden it's a grain of sand, a grain of sand, a grain of sand, and then you realize you're sitting in the middle of a beach that you've created.
Your final pillar is community, or support as I like to say. When I was that little girl and I was trying to become a firefighter, I would hang out with my girlfriends. This big dream I had of becoming a firefighter was asinine to my friends. They were discovering beer, and boys, and they weren't interested in any of it. Every time I would say to them, "Yes, I know firefighting." They're like, "No, beer and boys." I'm like, "No, firefighting."
Every time I would have that conversation with them I would feel further and further away from the possibility of achieving that. What happened when instead I started reaching out to the people that were heading in the same direction as I was, those same dreams, those same conversations became common place. Instead of saying, "Well, I can't come out with you on the weekend because- " after working overtime shifts so I can take a rescue course, and have my girlfriends say, "Well, that's crazy. You love beer and boys, remember?"
The new people would say, "Well, of course you have to work the overtime shift, and of course you have to take that course. By the way, don't forget about this other course." All of those feats and habits that I was doing, all of a sudden they became common place and normal because everybody was up leveling their game. Everybody was eye on the prize. Everybody was honing their skills and their habits so that they were able to achieve the same thing that I wanted to achieve. Then all of a sudden, my big dream seemed normal.
Shelli: It's so important to protect your inner circle. Then, they say if you show me your five closest friends, I'll show you the life you're living. It's so true and it's really true when you're pursuing, or you're stepping outside of your comfort zone, or outside of that sweet spot, where you stay stuck and small. When you're brave enough to step outside of that and chase that dream, and live the life you want to live, you're going to need support.
Depending on what that is for you, there's always a community of people that have similar values, or beliefs, or pursuing something different, or attending a school or a conference. Maybe you can align with those people, those magical unicorns that make your dream make more sense. Hang on to them tight and don't let them go, because those are the people that are going to support you. Those are the people that will stand beside you when you're waving your freak flag, because those are the people that are going to understand you best.
Shelli: One of the things that you're likely to encounter when you're doing something big, or brave, or bold, or true for you, is that people are going to tell you why you can't do it, or how are you going to make money doing that, or you don't have any of the skills to do it, or you're not physically inept to do that task. But it's important to remember that they are loving you through the filter of their own fear. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with you, in fact, I would argue it almost never has anything to do with you. It's okay to hear what they're saying, but just remember that what they're saying is not your truth, it's their fear.
Sometimes the easiest way to start is just start because if you wait for the perfect time, it's never going to arrive. If you wait till everybody agrees with you, it's never going to happen. The world is full of armchair snipers and spineless bullies that are going to be sitting back in a comfortable place, never putting themselves out there judging you for doing that.
When they're sniping you with their snide little comments, again, it has nothing to do with you. It has to do with the fact that they're not brave enough to step out of their comfort zone and actually put themselves in a position where they can achieve that goal. Because isn't it more comfortable for them to have that goal elusively over here and never be brave enough to try it and never be brave enough to pursue it, but you also don't have to let go of it.
It can be confronting for those people to watch somebody who is boldly stepping out even though they don't know how, even though they don't have all of the answers and putting themselves in a position where they're going to try and fail. The truth is, that's the only way anything is ever accomplished. There was a day when Oprah Winfrey didn't know how to turn on a microphone. What would have happened if she listened to the people who said, well, we don't have any African-American reporters or you're too young or you don't look a certain kind of way or we don't like your name? She's Oprah Winfrey.
Shelli: For me, story is everything, story is breath. My heritage is Native American. The way I like to explain it the easiest is the symbolism of the dream catcher and the talking stick. The dream catcher is the inhale part of your story. It's your worldview, it's what you think is possible. It's the way you see things. It also traces all the way back to your childhood, that pre-cognitive commitment.
When you had a perspective and you made it mean something. The thing is those meanings, building one on top of the next is the thing that either drives your behavior to achieve incredible things or more often keeps you stuck. Over here on the other side, you have the talking stick and that's the exhale part of your story. That's your brand message, or your accomplishments, or how the world sees you.
The thing is though, most people are focused on their achievements. They're focused on what they want to do, what they want to be, what they want to have, but you can't start over here. You have to start at the root. It's like trying to kill a dandy lion, pulling it out one pedal at a time. You have to find the root because if you want to change your output, you first have to establish what you believe and what you think. Once you do, it's like finding the first domino. When you get to the beginning of that, automatically everything changes. What you believe is possible changes, how you execute on it changes and essentially, your achievements change.
The first step for people is truly sitting down with yourself and asking yourself, what do I love? What wakes me up? What brings me alive, what breaks my heart? Because pain is like the binding agent between people and it's also very close to your gifts. If you can be brave enough to sit in your pain long enough, it will inform you about the things that are important to you and the things that matter to you. When you're able to sit in the things that matter and sit in that pain, eventually, what you're going to find is what you love.
I am a big proponent of sitting with your pain. I have a friend, Trevor Boehm and his quote is, "Pain is the teacher none of us want to learn from." It's actually a really true statement because it informs you. It informs who you are and informs your compassion. It informs your empathy. It informs your ability to connect with other human beings. It lives right next to your gifts.
WHAT GETS YOU UP EVERYDAY
Shelli: As a firefighter, I see tragedy every day. I witness people that reach the end of their life when they shouldn't have suddenly, tragically, but what happens to me when I see that, is I have this hypersensitivity to time. I see these amazing people who have these incredible gifts, who are wasting their time because they think they have time.
The truth is we're all on the clock and those dreams that you are hoping to execute on someday are sitting over there waiting, but the clock is ticking. We need those people to stand up and we need those people live their truth. What gets me up every day is switching somebody on, so they can realize their gifts and realize their potential. Acknowledge their greatness and stop playing small. Have that one aha moment when either I said something or I brought them a story of somebody else who's accomplished something incredible and it switches them on in a way that reframes what they believe to be true so that they execute differently throughout their life. What gets me up in the day is being able to show people their greatness because I feel like if I have a gift, my gift is seeing your gift.
Some people think they don't have time to pursue their dreams. When they look at their end goal, it seems so far away so some people will fail to start. What you don't realize is when you are in alignment with what's true for you, instead of moving at the speed of logic, the universe conspires to help you.
ON MASTERING ONE THING
Shelli: I think it's important to follow your bliss and that can take many shapes and many forms. You don’t necessarily need to be the person who's known for one specific thing although, that's fine too. When you allow your bliss and your truth to inform your direction, and when you tune into what's true for you and ignore the clutter, the fear, the filters of all of those other people, then all of sudden you get in a state of flow. When you do, you're able to move with a speed of purpose.
Shelli: I think people should reframe failure. I think failure is yummy, awesome and amazing and one of those things that brings you alive. For me, it’s actually the thing that has led me closer to what I really want to do, it's built my character. So many people will focus on the destination, but the truth is the joy is in the ride. What I've learned from my journey is what I became on the process of getting there was more important than the getting there.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Shelli: I think it's important for people to pursue their passion because true happiness, when you're living what's true for you, not what people say you should do or not what you feel obligated to do or not what society told you is expected of you when you're a little kid, but what's actually true for you. It's so important to tune in to what your heart says. We're trained and conditioned to not listen to that anymore.
The truth is, that sort of disconnect is the root of alcoholism, depression, anxiety and more importantly, there's somebody out there that's sitting on the cure to cancer. Right now, they're wondering, "Well, I don't think I could get in to med school. What are the odds that I'm going to be able to scrape together the cash to go?" What if somebody is going to be the next Picasso and their fourth grade teacher told them that they didn't have enough talent to paint.
As a society, we need these people to step into their truth and step into their greatness because the truth is, when they do, we all benefit.
- Shelli Varela