The day I got the call to do the biggest interview of my career, my life was a hot mess!
I was years into my spiritual quest to “know thyself,” to understand what this whole life thing is really about. But I felt like I knew nothing.
Flashback to me reading countless books on living my best life, clocking dozens of hours with my life coaches and therapist, and meditating with crystals to “balance my chakras.” Yet I was still doubting that I had what most people refer to as a “calling” for my life.
At the time, I defined my calling as the way in which I was to make my millions and buy my mansion in Tuscany. I thought my calling was this unique gift or talent that I was to discover.
I knew that I’m really good at making TV shows and even better at conducting interviews, but I wondered if either of those was my calling. Was that how I was to leave my mark on the world? If it was, why wasn’t that idea totally resonating with me?
For years, I felt like I was simultaneously chasing and running from something. There was a void in me, one I thought would be filled if I knew my existence had a purpose with some tangible means of measurement, like large and steady deposits into my bank account.
My Introduction to Emotional Hygiene
Cut to my hot-mess self (seeming totally together, of course) on the plane to Minnesota where His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is scheduled to speak with one of the most prominent philanthropic figures of our time Bill Austin, the founder of Starkey Hearing Technologies and The Starkey Foundation. It’s a company known worldwide not just for its innovation in hearing technology but for its work around the globe donating hearing aids to impoverished communities.
I met Bill and his family when I was producing their show “Operation Change” for the Oprah Winfrey Network. We partnered with different NGOs throughout 12 countries to help rebuild communities and highlight everyday heroes. It was an epic, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The joy I felt producing that show was immeasurable.
Before our interview, His Holiness spoke to a couple hundred people on the topics of compassion and conscious kindness, things I glaringly lacked toward myself. He said, “Compassion brings a calm mind and inner strength.” He spoke about how fear and anger can be combated with compassion, emotional hygiene, and the power of being able to let go.
He said, “Just as a strong immune system can fend off viruses and other infections, a healthy mind can fend off destructive emotions like anger. It’s important to understand the way our minds and emotions work.”
“For example,” His Holiness explained to the audience, “one of the causes and conditions of anger is fear. And once anger has erupted, it can lead to hatred, so we have to tackle it early. Anger tends to arise spontaneously, but we can develop compassion through training.”
That training is emotional hygiene. Similar to the way we observe physical hygiene through exercise and cleanliness to maintain our physical health, it’s necessary to learn how to cleanse ourselves emotionally.
Why Is Letting Go So Hard?
While I thought I was doing all the right things to manage my emotions, the truth was that my emotional hygiene was not yet enough of a routine.
The key principle of emotional hygiene — letting go — wasn’t easy for me. In fact, my knuckles were hurting from the death grip I’d had on life since, well, childhood. #ControlFreak.
Have you ever thought about what you struggle to let go of? What are you Stage-5 clinging to? Your relationships? Your money? Your time? The way the dishes are washed or how the carpet is vacuumed?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of what I was clinging to was rooted either in the past or the future rather than the present. But we can’t change the past or predict the future, so the only moment that really matters is now.
His Holiness ignited a curiosity in me to understand the root cause of my emotions so that my emotional hygiene wasn’t just surface cleaning but a deep excavation. He had said that one of the causes of anger — and I had a lot of it — is fear. So what was I so afraid of (besides spiders)? And where/at whom was I channeling my anger? And why the hell hadn’t I let it go?
Afterall, we let go all the time. We walk into our homes with groceries and let them go as we set them down. We take showers and let go of all the dirt and sweat we carried throughout the day. We let go of our kids’ hands when they go off to school for the day. We let go of work emails as we delete them from our inboxes. We let rocks go as we throw them into lakes. We fart. We know how to let go. We do!
But when it comes to intangible things — an argument from 10 days ago or even 10 years ago, a breakup, a mishandled moment — we can’t let go. Does this seem right? Does it seem fair? I feel confident in saying this is not what His Holiness would consider emotional hygiene.
A Simple Answer to a Big Question
Fade in on me preparing for my much-anticipated, private interview. As our crew anxiously prepares and patiently waits, I go over my intention for the interview and pray to all the gods not to fuck up.
When his translator says, “His Holiness is on his way,” I become instantly aware of the sweat dripping down my back. I hear my inner demons getting louder as they shout, You’re not worthy of being here! I feel ready to burst into tears any moment as so many emotions overwhelm me at once. And, let’s be honest, I feel like I might put a buttonhole in my thong.
I am finally going to get the answer to a question I have been asking myself for years: Does everyone have a calling?
We greet each other with grateful hellos, and I take in the vibrancy of his red robe — electric, almost alive. His hands slide across mine like silk, his skin radiates with a vitality that cannot be bottled and sold, and the smile stretching his lips clearly blooms from within.
As security guards hover nearby, the presence of His Holiness alone feels like an emotional cleanse. He wraps everyone up in a warm blanket of peace, acceptance, and love; anger and fear have no power around him.
Although he doesn’t say it, his eyes make sure everyone knows their sole existence has immeasurable value. His energy, without pressure, requires us all to elevate ours to a new level of awareness that will never return to less than this moment. With three feet between us, we begin our conversation.
I ask first about compassion and the importance of teaching it to children all over the world. Can you imagine if we were taught compassion as kids? Emotional hygiene as a kid? How much less self-destructive would we be? How much more forgiving and loving would we be to others and ourselves?
When the moment is right, I take it.
“Do you believe everyone has a calling?”
“No, not specifically.”
Quick-cut to me throwing my papers in the air as I yell, “That’s a wrap!” before dipping my feet into a cement block and thrusting myself into the East River.
Cut back to me sitting stoically in front of His Holiness. I am a pro, afterall. I smile, totally unfettered, and say, “Tell me more.”
We all have one calling: to help others. To spread love, kindness, and compassion to all, and you choose the vehicle in which to do that,” he explains.
I hear the words as they leave his mouth, but I want to be sure I truly understand him.
“So my calling is to spread love, kindness, and compassion to all?”
Copy that! I feel some relief that I sort of have a calling, but it isn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be. Now I have another question: How the fuck am I going to figure out the vehicle in which to deliver all my love, compassion, and kindness? Then, I remember a clue His Holiness gave in his morning lecture.
He advised that when you don’t know where to start to solve all the world’s problems — the despair, the war, the hatred — start with communication. That is definitely something that comes easy to me.
This advice helped me zoom out from my extreme focus on the vehicle. It helped me remember that I had just traveled the world producing a show dedicated to spreading love, kindness, and compassion. On that show, in fact, we had helped to create a conversation between an Israeli and a Palestinian who otherwise may never have spoken. Who knows, but maybe that kind of communication helped in some small way lead to a kinder, more compassionate world.
See the Operation Change episode shot in Israel and Palestine with Harry Connick Jr. here.
The Greatest Lie…And How to Find the Truth
I decided to take his advice and start communicating with myself more consistently. I started a very difficult dialogue with myself, one that began with identifying what I was most afraid of. That led to secret doors with anger behind them — doors I hadn’t even known were there.
Through these regular check-ins, I realized that it was the pressure of that subconscious anger pushing on those hidden doors that sometimes caused me to react defensively or cry in secrecy. I learned that when I feel myself getting irritated at someone or something, or when doubt creeps in, I need to stop and ask myself, What are you really scared of here?
As I continued my daily talks with myself, I saw more clearly how fear and anger covered me in judgments that were not so kind. You know them: too fat, not married, no kids, no mansion in the vineyards of Tuscany…all signs of a total failure, of course.
These judgments buried in fear and anger were the root cause of my mental suffering and my obsession with needing to know my calling — so that I could once and for all feel like I was enough.
I realized that’s what it all comes down to: feeling like we’re not enough.
That, my friends, is the greatest lie we’ve ever told ourselves. Our existence alone is what makes us enough.
Once I really knew this and believed this with all the cells in my being, I had limitless forgiveness for the lack of compassion I had shown myself over the years. That forgiveness evolved into kindness, compassion, and love for myself and then for everyone else in my life.
This evolution didn’t happen overnight. It was part of a spiritual journey that happened in 10 stages. And the work continues, because forgiveness
is a muscle you have to train every single day. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY!
Discover Your Calling
These daily conversations with yourself become your emotional hygiene routine. Like going to the dentist, the more often you do it, the less work it eventually becomes. The more you converse with yourself (no shame in getting help to do so), the less the past and the future have control over you.
Here’s the big secret: The more you grow forgiveness within yourself, the easier it becomes to see that kindness, compassion, and love truly are the bases of life — my calling, your calling, our collective calling.
The vehicle in which you decide to deliver it to the world will change many times over. Today, my vehicle looks like this blog. For the last couple years, it’s been my book. Before that, it was Operation Change, and before that it was producing reality TV. But tomorrow, it may be a feel-good rom-com I write or a lunch date with my mom. Or when the inevitable road rager cuts me off on the highway, maybe I’ll just smile.
Whatever your vehicle is, remember that as long as you’re delivering those three words to the world, you’ve tapped into your calling. And when you find yourself getting off track — because you will, from time to time — all you have to do to find your way back is show a little love, kindness, and compassion to yourself and others.
You have unique talents and special gifts to offer in this life. Are you using them in the way you’ve been called to?