My First Year Living the Life I Never Dared

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One year ago, I left my job behind with the purpose of becoming what I never thought I could be ‒ an artist.

And with a bang, that year has passed. Except there was no bang. No sudden fold of time or snap of fingers brought me to today. In the last twelve months, the grand purpose fueling that first day unfolded into a deep understanding and respect for what it takes to truly live the life you never dared. It takes destroying the self you once knew.

You must reclaim every bit of yourself from the people, expectations, and doubts that have hacked away at your life. And you must do this every single day for the rest of your days.

Because the self you once knew isn’t you; it’s a deception. It is a deception that has existed since before you were born. It convinces you to live trying to uphold everyone else’s ideals instead of discovering your own. It outlines exactly who you are allowed to be and makes you believe in nothing more. It feeds on your worst impulses, all your excuses, and every self-deprecating thought that flickers through your mind. It exploits your fear of the unknown so that you settle for what is, instead of creating what could be.

And it is a tireless deception, one rarely met with the ferocity needed to raze it to the ground. Its only weakness is you, ready every day to fight for who you never dared dream you could be.

Living the life you never dared takes stamina and patience. You will lose some battles, but this is an ever going war. You will be met unguarded and fall prey to old habits ‒ busying yourself with errands, absorbing yourself into a screen, doing everything possible except for the work. The deception is playing the long-game, so you must as well. You must grant yourself self-compassion when you stumble. You must be strict in your belief that one misstep does not define your progress. You must designate time for your work and then time for everything else. And if you’re like me, you’ll put it into your calendar. You must wake up every day and do the work so that on the days you don’t, you have faith that tomorrow you will.

But sometimes, the deception pulls its trump card ‒ the ever-present doubt that you aren’t good enough. The only way to create the work you want to be known for is to create. The only way to live the life you never dared is to dare. But without the guarantee of perfection, your past self knows you will hesitate and stall. Here is one guarantee that will baffle the self you once knew ‒ you will not live forever. You have been led astray by the illusion that you have all the time in the world to become who you want to be.

You don’t.

Fight for the one life you have. Fight for it until you weep, exhausted from dragging your demons into the light to burn.

You must fight back your old self to let a new one emerge. It will feel unfamiliar at first, but do whatever it takes to grow and nurture this fledgling self. I distanced myself from my own name, Diana Zeng, the name I have gone by for nearly all my life. That person felt like someone who couldn’t be an artist. In its place, I created Zen She as an identity to remind myself of how I want to be ‒ free from the anxieties that have gripped me. I was innately connected to this new identity because it came from my Chinese name, Zeng Xi, and still felt distinctly open to possibilities and unburdened by past restraints. Embodying Zen She gave me the space to grow confident in myself, and it has done its work. I am now reclaiming Diana Zeng as my namesake from my past self. This newfound freedom has flooded my being and my work

The deception is starting to burn away.

Once you begin to fight back, you realize that what could be starts to become what is. You learn that what you need is actually very little, and what you can be is boundless. This knowledge will become the fuel that ignites your will to do the work that can seem like self-destruction but is a rebirth from the ashes. You will do this every single day as I have done for a year. And we will continue forward creating the life we never dared.

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