This week, I’m proud to have my brother, Timothy P. Shriver, as guest editor of the site, and guest blogger for my weekly I’ve Been Thinking column. He’s releasing a new book, Fully Alive, on Tuesday, November 11, and I can’t wait for you all to read it. It’s about discovering what matters most, compassion, people with intellectual disabilities, finding yourself and much more…so much more that I’m letting him tell you himself. I hope his mission inspires you. I hope you buy his book. And, as always, I hope you #PassItForward. —Maria
Growing up, I was taught that every person can make a difference and each of us should try. As children, we looked up to Presidents and political leaders, civil rights leaders and Nobel laureates, great figures on the world stage who bent the arc of history toward justice.
Not surprisingly, most of those people were men. So naturally, I thought my job was to be like them. I thought if I too could become powerful and famous, I would feel fully alive.
Nothing could have been more wrong.
[Read: Anthony K. Shriver, "I'm In To Hire — Are You?"]
As it turns out, the person who made the most remarkable difference in my family wasn’t the one who became President of the United States or any of the ones who made the cover of Time Magazine. The biggest difference maker was my aunt, Rosemary Kennedy, a woman who never wrote a book, gave a media interview, held elected office, made a salary or won a prize. She mattered because of who she was, not because of what she could do. Without ever realizing it, she taught her family—all of us—the secret of what matters most.
I wrote a book, Fully Alive: Discovering What Matters Most, to share her story and the story of the humble and unlikely teachers who taught me how to live a fulfilling and meaningful life. Who were my teachers? People with intellectual “disabilities,” teenagers from “disadvantaged” backgrounds, spiritual masters who are “disconnected” from the real world. Each of these “teachers” has a “dis” associated with their names, but when it comes to what matters most, they turned out to be the smartest people I’d ever met.
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The lessons they taught me are as simple as they are hard to follow. First, the most important expectation to fulfill in life is not that you become like someone else but that you become yourself. To do that, you have to do the hard work of going inward, of seeing yourself with all your gifts and weaknesses too—and of realizing that in all your vulnerability, you are more beautiful and powerful than you dare imagine. Learning to trust that being lovable isn’t something you earn, but rather, is a quality you already possess, is the first step to feeling fully alive.
My sister Maria reminds me over and over again that everyone can be an “Architect Of Change.” She’s right, but most people still think they’re too small or insignificant to make a difference. Most of us feel that something is holding us back; that circumstances are preventing us from living the life we want to live. In the search for what matters most, my teachers taught me that what was holding me back wasn’t something “out there.” Instead, it was my own fear that I wasn’t important enough to matter. It was the fear itself that was holding me back. So I’ve adopted a “believer’s mind”: my way of describing the belief that we each have a sacred purpose and we should stop at nothing to fulfill it.
[Watch — 'The Interview: Maria Shriver & Jennifer Lopez]
Being “fully alive” however, is not just about you. My teachers also taught me that to find myself, I also had to give myself away—to give myself to those whose weaknesses and challenges scared me. I’ve heard this referred to as the “caring cure,” because giving yourself to others helps heal our fears and can reduce stress, depression and anxiety. Compassion shouldn’t be seen as a duty or an obligation. Instead, it’s an opening to an experience of deep connection with another human being, an experience of feeling a part of something bigger because we really are in this together—each of us part of the beautiful whole, weaknesses and all.
A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter Caroline was working on a high school project—studying the women’s movement and analyzing what went right and what went wrong. “Women still don’t get equal pay and still don’t get the same respect, Dad,” she concluded. “Why do you think that is?” I asked. “Because so many of the roles women play still aren’t valued. Mom’s generation of women made a lot of progress in getting opportunity for women, but my generation needs to finish the job by making our culture value women for whatever choices they make.”
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I think Caroline is close to what matters most. Making a difference isn’t measured by fame or fortune and being fully alive isn’t achieved by what you put on a business card or the name of the school you attend or what you look like. Fully Alive is learned in the quiet of looking inward and loving what you see; in the tenderness of helping others and loving even the most vulnerable; in the fun that comes from pursuing your dream no matter the risk.
In the end, those are the lessons that my Aunt Rosemary taught us all. I’m hoping she and the other brilliant teachers in Fully Alive will inspire you to find your own path to what matters most.
[Read: All of Maria Shriver's 'I've Been Thinking' essays]
Why not start right now and share your own story? When did you feel closest to discovering what matters most to you? When did you look within and see a beautiful you? When did you experience your own moments of generosity and compassion? What is your dream and how will you fulfill it?
Don’t be afraid to share. In fact, don’t be afraid of anything. Then you’ll be very close to feeling fully alive.