27 July 2011

Defining Success

I often wonder about success–how we define it, how we approach it, when we think we’ve reached it, why it’s so important to us.  It seems that the other people in our world reach their own definitions and ideas about success and then expect others to live up to their expectations, and that we for some reason buy into that paradigm as the “way things are.”  The problem I see with this, though, is that few of us ever really take the time to sit down and define success in our own personal ways.

A man named Christopher Morley once said that “There is only one success–to be able to spend your life in your own way.”  When I think of this definition, it makes me feel good about being human.  After all, there have been many monks and religious people who have spent their lives in meditation and contemplation, really contributing nothing tangible to other people in the world.  And who would I be to say that their lives weren’t successful just because we can’t measure their success at all?  There have been many housewives who have never been in the public eye and who never have written a best-seller on mothering, yet who have lived incredibly successful lives–on their own terms.  People of all career fields in all countries in all towns and villages and cities have lived incredibly successful lives without us ever knowing about them, and that’s important for us to keep in mind when we think about our own visions of success.

It’s very easy to start to think that we have a good idea of what success is, and that we somehow have a right to judge whether other people are successful or not.  But we can’t truly know what’s going on in anyone else’s minds and hearts, so there’s no real way that we can decide whether another human being is successful or not.  Someone who makes almost no money and spends his or her days sitting in a park or walking through a forest may be more successful than the person who has a high-paying job and all the toys that their pay can buy.  It depends what’s in their hearts, what they feel called to do, and we really can’t judge that for anyone else but ourselves.

Why is this important?  Obviously, because I go through my own life taking on challenges and facing obstacles, and it’s always up to me to determine my own level of success in the things that I do.  If I adopt the definitions of success that other people have, well, that’s fine.  But then I have to realize that I may not be living from my heart, and that I may not be giving myself a decent chance to become the person I’m truly meant to be.  On the other hand, if I am able to look at my actions and judge them based on what I feel called to do and to be, then I can make decisions on what to do and what not to do in the future based on what I know to be important to me as a person, to me as a spirit.

My success is up to me.  And often in failure there’s significant success, too.  But that seems to be something to address later. . . .

I must admit that I personally measure success in terms
of the contributions an individual makes
to her or his fellow human beings.

Margaret Mead

19 July 2011

A New Look

Sometimes all that things in our lives need in order to become something new and different is for us to take a new look at them.  When we get used to them and start taking them for granted, or when we stop seeing them for the special and unique things that they are, we can lose our sense of perspective.  We can lose our appreciation for their beauty, their uniqueness, their specialness.  But they don’t really lose those things at all–we simply stop seeing them because we’re so caught up in seeing them in the ways that we think they should be.

In the movie Dead Poets Society, one of the characters does a good job of reframing something for a friend of his.  When the friend’s parents buy him the exact same desk set for his birthday that they had bought him a year earlier, he finds humor in the situation and convinces his friend that the desk set is very aerodynamic–and gets him to throw it off the roof to make him feel better.  The desk set didn’t change at all, but by reframing the set and the situation, the young man is able to make a depressing time much more bearable for his friend.

Sometimes all we need is reframing for ourselves.  When we stop seeing the specialness in a spouse or another family member, perhaps it’s time to try to see that person through someone else’s eyes.  When we get tired of our car, it can be time to start thinking of life without a car, or with the first car we ever had.  Trying to imagine how something would look through the eyes of a child can be very helpful–after all, kids still have that ability to feel the sense of wonder that can make something look much more special than it is–or even exactly as special as it is.

In our culture, we tend to think that when something has run its course, when we get tired of something, then it’s time to replace it.  I think that our lives could be much simpler and fulfilling if we stopped replacing so many things and simply learned how to look at things with new eyes, and with new appreciation for the qualities that we liked in them in the first place.

13 July 2011

Compassionate People

Isn't it a shame that the compassionate people of the world don't tend to make the headlines?  It seems strange to me that our newspapers and news broadcasts tend to be full of people who practice deviant behaviors, such as hurting or killing other people, stealing money, deceiving people for their own gain, and other such things.  If I were a stranger to this planet and I were to pick up a copy of most of the papers that are published, I might even think that there is no compassion in this world, or at least so little that no one valued it.

I know for a fact, though, that our world is full of compassionate people.  There are many human beings who focus strongly on helping and serving others, who love and care deeply for others.  I know that there are people who give constantly out of a sense of compassion, and not out of a need to have others think they're generous.  There are many people who listen to the problems of others, who help out people who have been hurt, who have a very strong sense of compassion for their fellow human beings, for animals, for the planet we live on.

It's kind of interesting sometimes to try to recognize compassionate people, to try to recognize acts of compassion for what they are.  I like to see people helping other people, for it makes me feel a sense of hope, as well as a desire to act in the same way.  When we act compassionately, someone else benefits from our feelings and our actions, and usually it's someone who has a pretty strong need to be on the receiving end of compassion.

Who needs to feel compassion in your life now?  Can you share your compassion with that person by finding some appropriate and useful ways to help him or her?  Perhaps you can be the light that shines, the example that other people would like to follow, just by finding out the needs of someone else and fulfilling a small portion of those needs.  The world has many, many compassionate people in it, people who never will be on the news or on the front page of the paper.  One of my biggest hopes is that when I die, someone who's mentioning my name will find the word "compassionate" when they're describing me.  For that to happen, of course, I need to act in ways that will make someone think of that particular word.

The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of
the interdependence of all these living beings, which are
all part of one another, and all involved in one another.

Thomas Merton

06 July 2011

My Legacy

I’ve often heard the question:  If you were to die today, what kind of legacy would you leave behind?

I prefer to ask myself another question, though:  Because I know that I’m going to die someday, what am I going to contribute to my legacy today?

There are many things that we can contribute to life today.  Encouraging, teaching, helping, giving, sharing, loving, smiling, being patient. . . . none of these are all that difficult to do, and all of them can leave a positive mark on the lives of other people with whom we share this planet.

Our legacy doesn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with money or major contributions to charities.  Perhaps our legacies won’t have anything to do with money at all.  Perhaps I’ll be remembered as a person who helped others to push ahead in life simply through encouragement and teaching.  Maybe people will remember me as someone who gave of his time and energy to help others reach their goals and make their lives more fulfilling.

And perhaps I won’t be remembered at all.  But that’s okay, too–some of the most important legacies of all never shall be recognized as the valuable contributions to our world that they are.  This is often the case with people who have devoted themselves to being loving, compassionate parents, or people who have worked their whole lives long behind the scenes, never getting or taking credit for what they do.

But the bottom line is this:  In order to make my legacy what I’d like it to be, I must work at it, help it to grow, and continue to contribute to it.  So what can I do today to add to my legacy?  One day I will surely die, and what will I leave behind as my contribution to this world and the animals, people, and plants that live in it?

05 July 2011

Bumps in the Road

Sometimes on this road of life, we face some pretty rough traveling.  There are times when the road is full of potholes or ice heaves or even small fault lines, and we have to pay very close attention to where we’re going and what we’re doing so that we don’t hit the potholes and do some damage to our vehicles–or in other words, ourselves.

What makes the difference in the trip, though, is how we respond to the potholes.  We can sit in our cars and complain about them because they make the trip more difficult, or we can be grateful for them because they force us to be more aware of our surroundings.  And let’s face it–potholes or not, at least there’s a road that will take us where we want to get to, isn’t there?

I know many people who would do nothing but complain about the potholes, threatening to write letters to congresspersons and Department of Transportation people.  All they seem to be able to focus on are the obstacles, even when they’re successful in avoiding them.

I know other people who just look at a pothole as a normal part of life.  “At least I didn’t hit it,” they say, and immediately forget that the thing even exists, focused on the next part of their journey.

The former people tend to be unhappy and miserable, always looking for the next thing to be upset about.

The latter tend to be pretty content with their lives and the way that they’re living them.

It’s a pretty easy call for me to say which group I’d rather be a part of.  So I work really hard at minimizing my complaining, looking for the positive in the situations of my life instead of the negative things.  So far, I find that this strategy pays excellent dividends, for I find myself feeling at peace, calm, and aware of my surroundings.  It’s a much more pleasant way to go through life, and I really would like to go through life in as pleasant a way as possible.  I know that bad times will come, but when my choice is involved, then I’d much rather see potholes as simple parts of life rather than as major annoyances that make me lose my peace of mind.

People of character find a special attractiveness in difficulty,
since it is only by coming to grips with difficulty
that they can realize their potentialities.

Charles DeGaulle