In my many years as a leader I have supervised hundreds of people. It has been my experience that most are hard-working, dedicated, salt of the earth types that always strive to do a good job. There is a small percentage that are driven and ambitious. There is another small percentage that are unfocused, immature, lazy, and who have a lot to learn about life. Talent is not always found in the ambitious and it is not always lacking in the low performers. There are truly exceptional people and there are ordinary people who think they are exceptional. I have also seen extraordinary people who think they are ordinary. Sometimes there are hidden diamonds among those who seem unexceptional. When they find their gift or purpose in life they often blossom. One of the most difficult things for most people to accept is that they are ordinary. However, in my experience, even the ordinary have gifts and purpose. Maybe you aren’t the greatest at what you do but you can still be a great person. Maybe you are not the smartest person in the room but you can still offer your opinion and insight. Maybe you will never get an award for your productivity but you can still be a positive influence and morale booster to those around you. Most of my life I have been an ordinary person. I got average or poor grades in grammar school and high school. I did, however, perform significantly better when I took college classes. When I was young and I played sports I never made the All Star team. When I graduated from high school I was not “Best Looking”, “Most Likely To Succeed”, or “Most Popular”. Much of my life I have felt ordinary. It wasn’t until I was 50 years old that I realized I have a gift for writing. Even though I still feel pretty ordinary most of the time, people tell me I’m an excellent writer with a lot of insight about life. If any of this is true, I don’t know how it happened. Some talents are simply a gift. Most of us are ordinary people but do not let that keep you from doing great things. I know I have touched and even changed some people through my words. You can do good things too. The first step is to find your gift and how you can give back to those around you.
Monday, June 29, 2015
Worry is the most natural and spontaneous of all human functions. It is time to acknowledge this, perhaps even learn to do it better.
-Pathologist Lewis Thomas
I know people…one of them is my wife…who worry about everything. Such people are almost incapable of not worrying. It is in their nature to worry about everything, no matter how irrational it may be. I worry about nothing. I sometimes have concerns and on a rare occasion I do get stressed. My wife would say that I don’t worry because I am clueless about reality. She would probably say this about all men. Admittedly, there are probably times I should worry. I do sometimes make molehills out of mountains but I am an eternal optimist who always believes things will get better even when they don’t. What does worry accomplish? It seems like a terrible waste of energy to me and I don’t have any that I can spare. Such energy could be spent seeking a solution to whatever it is that you are worrying about. I think many people worry because they cannot differentiate between an inconvenience and a real crisis. I don’t know exactly why I do not worry. I believe it is because of my belief and experience that God and life has always taken care of me. One way or another I have almost always gotten what I need to live. When I haven’t gotten what I thought I needed, I probably didn’t really need it. As we all know, there are needs and there are wants. Sometimes what I want is not what I need and it might take me a little while to accept that. I wish people, especially chronic worriers, would take all the time and energy they waste on worrying and use it to just think deeply about their life. They might want to reflect on the question, “Why do I worry so much and how many, if any, of my fears have actually come true”? We all need to deal with the challenges that life gives each of us but we would also be doing ourselves a big favor if we could simply relax and live.
Sunday, June 28, 2015
The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.
-Comedian Lucille Ball
Lots of words have been written about staying young. Some people say age is all about attitude. This idea has been humorously captured by the famous baseball player, Satchel Paige, in his quote “Age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter”. Some people also talk about being “young at heart”. I don’t think we should obsess about being young. As Bob Dylan once sang, “Those not busy being born are busy dying”. Sometimes our attempts to be young are little more than immature behavior. There’s nothing more pathetic than a man or woman my age trying to act like they are twenty. As we grow older we should trade our immaturity for wisdom. If there is a quality we should strive for, it is not youthfulness, it is being childlike by living our life with a sense of wonder. One of the pitfalls of aging is that we often become cynical and we can no longer be awed by anything. If I end up physically old, wise, and with a childlike sense of wonder and awe, I will be happy with myself. Never lose your openness to awe and wonder. Fight your cynicism. When nothing impresses you or causes you to be lost in the moment, you are already dead. Life is tough and it can sometimes feel boring. Every day there are the chores of life and the demands of making a living. Don’t let making a living, however, replace having a life. Be open to the extraordinary within the ordinary. Pay attention and be present when moments of wonder and awe reveal themselves to you.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
I don’t care, frankly, what people think. I do what I like.
-Chef Julia Child
I don’t believe this quote means that we should have no concern whatsoever about other people and that we should just do whatever we want regardless of the impact on those around us. Unless you’re a hermit, and you have little contact with the rest of the human race, we do have to live our lives with some degree of cooperation and tolerance of others. I think what this quote tells us is that you can’t live your whole life trying to please other people, trying to impress them, or comparing yourself to them. Each of us has been given one life and we have to live it the best way we can. We will go through different stages of growth, immaturity, pain, and awareness until we have achieved some level of self-actualization. What is self-actualization? I believe it is that point in our lives, usually when we are past our middle age, when we become who we really are and we begin to realize our true potential and personal power. Self-actualization is at the top of Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”. You will never be who you are meant to be if you spend your entire live trying to please others or meet their expectations. I think Julia Child is saying that pleasing yourself is not inappropriate, or selfish, and that each of us must walk down the path that calls us. In her case, it was the call to learn French cooking so that anyone could cook like a chef with a little effort. Each of us is more than someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s mother or father, or someone’s husband or wife. We may be one or more of all these things but self-actualization is when we discover our true essence and our true self. Do not confuse identity with roles. Doing what you like may be selfish but it can also be the path to your self-awareness.
At eighty I believe I am a far more cheerful person than I was at twenty or thirty. I most definitely would not want to be a teenager again. Youth may be glorious but it is also painful to endure. Moreover, what is called youth is not youth; it is rather something like premature old age.
-Writer Henry Miller
I am not yet eighty but I am a long way from twenty or thirty. I don’t know if I am happier in my sixties than I was in my twenties or thirties. I have always found happiness elusive. Usually the best I can do is to feel reasonably content. I can say one thing with a fair amount of certainty. I would rather be sixty than twenty. Looking back there were too many parts of my life I found difficult and I would not like to relive them. In my current age I feel a sense of relief that many of life’s challenges are behind me. Daily life is still challenging and I don’t know what lies ahead but in general I am more relaxed and more comfortable in my own skin. When one gets older you think more and more about less and less. You have a greater appreciation for life’s simple joys and it doesn’t take much to make you happy. You are past the stage where you want to build an empire and most would rather have less. A simple life has great appeal. Perhaps it is in this simplicity, when you spend more time letting go than gathering, that people find the greatest happiness. Occasionally I do wish I had my sixty four year old life experience and wisdom in a twenty year old body. However, that might be a dangerous combination. You cannot experience old age without doing time as a young person. In all fairness, every stage of life has it’s joys and sorrows, it’s challenges and rewards, and it’s pros and cons. If you are lucky you will experience them all. Some of us have old souls when we are young while others are young at heart in bodies that are falling apart. Happiness and age are in the mind and in our attitudes. As I once said in a previous daily thought, “When we are young our bodies drag our minds around, when we are old our minds drag our bodies around”. Think about it. If you are young I advise you to live well now while you still have the energy.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Sometimes I find myself asking the question "How do you know when you have become who you are"? The spiritual journey of life is basically a journey of returning to your original essence in order to be who you really are. We are born pure and innocent. Along the road of life we acquire our personalities and other defense mechanisms that we use to shield and protect ourselves from life. One way or another most of us overcompensate in the ways we react and respond to life. Our experiences, good and bad, mold us into the people that other people see. The second half of our life journey, if we are on the path to enlightenment, is spent attempting to take off our masks and to remove the armor that we have acquired in order to rediscover our purity and innocence. The Buddhists call this "discovering the face we had before we were born". When I look in the mirror, and during moments of introspection, I wonder how far along I am on this journey of uncovering who I really am. What is my true essence? What is my original nature? It is nearly impossible to know these things when you are young. In our youth it is far more important for us to fit in, to be like others, and find acceptance from others. We are also too busy building our lives to worry too much about who we are. These concerns and tasks are considerably less important when you get older. I am still struggling to get from behind the masks I wear and to break through the armor I have created. When I do I look forward to meeting the real me.
Monday, June 22, 2015
You make what seems to be a simple choice: Choose a man or a job or a neighborhood…and what you have chosen is not a man or a job or a neighborhood, but a life.
-Writer Jessamyn West
This quote reminds me of another quote attributed to John Lennon that goes, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans”. I have written before about dreams not realized, lives that seem more accidental than planned, and how many of our days are simply ordinary. Some would say these points of view represent a negative attitude about life. Let’s look at life from a different point of view and one that I truly believe is true. Let’s accept that our lives have turned out exactly the way they should and that we are exactly where we are supposed to be. I truly believe this is true even when it doesn’t seem logical. Many of you know that as a young man I lived in a monastery and I thought I would be a monk for the rest of my life. It was a romantic ideal for me that I would live in a beautiful place, that I would walk on air, and that I would be in a blissful aura of sanctity for all eternity. Obviously that didn’t happen. If I had stayed in the monastery, blissful or not, none of you would be reading these thoughts because I would not be here to write them. In addition, my wife would be married to another man, my children would not exist, my much loved granddaughter would also not exist and who knows what great things my children and granddaughter may do in their futures. It is easy to think our lives do not make a difference but they do. Your life has more value than you realize. You affect the lives of others in ways you may never know. The lives we have now are where we are supposed to be today and today is all we have.