Success: Is It Worth It? (Part 2)

Even among non-runners, many people want to be able to say they’ve run a marathon, but not many people actually want to run a marathon, let alone prepare for one. I see my dad’s extraordinary business success the same way— many people want to achieve the same caliber of success, but they don’t want to pay the price.

And I understand.

The high price my dad paid for his success included the amputation of both legs below the knees due to complications from diabetes. I was powerfully impressed when I saw my dad in the hospital after his amputation, and it caused me to deeply consider the nature, value and definition of “success.”

The price my dad paid for his success also included his relationships and his spirituality, both of which I think he would have liked to have been richer and deeper, particularly early in his career. He did, however, put a great focus on both of these areas toward the end of his life, and his happiness was greatly enhanced because he did. I wonder how much happier he might have been if he’d begun striving for that balance earlier in his life.

I often think that if my dad could go back, although he might do some things differently, I don’t think he’d do different things. For one thing, it’s just the way he was wired. At his funeral it was said that “He gave everything he had to everything he did.” And the saying’s perfect for him, “The star that burns twice as bright burns half as long.”

For him to have done things differently, I often think, he’d have had to have been a different person.

Each of us is always doing the best we can with the knowledge and perspective we have in every moment. Sometimes we have to go a long ways down a road before it’s clear that that road’s a dead end, or that it’s not the one we want to be on. Carlos Castenada explores the roads our lives take and the paths we follow in The Teachings of Don Juan:

“Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. I warn you. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary.

This question is one that only a very old man asks. Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long long paths, but I am not anywhere. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.

Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realizes that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him. At that point very few men can stop to deliberate, and leave the path. A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.”

Life is a continual process of learning and expansion, and our failures often contain greater lessons for us than our successes. The truly wise among us learn from the mistakes and failures of others.

In The Bridge Across Forever, Richard Bach adds a perspective to failure, “There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go.”

And so it is that forward is the only direction left to go. Forward is the only direction God gave us.

(To be continued…)

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Aliveness and Purpose

I learned a process from Jack Canfield that I sometimes use in workshops I run that’s designed to help participants find or clarify their life’s purpose.

Before beginning the exercise I ask how many people believe that each of us has a unique life purpose- something that we were put on Earth specifically to fulfill. Usually about two thirds of the participants say they believe that we do, though a few hands are clearly raised uncertainly.

Then I ask how many people know what their purpose is- how many can articulate it- and usually only a few hands remain raised.

What’s tricky about life purpose, of course, is that we didn’t crash land on Earth with one neatly typed and tucked into our back pocket. When we were young, nobody told us what our life’s purpose is, and probably nobody told us HOW to go about finding it. And, to add additional challenge, I don’t think that any life’s purpose can be put easily into words.

But if you DO believe, as I do, that our lives do have specific purposes, then it follows that in any given moment we are either living true to our purpose or we are not. (Living on purpose ALWAYS involves serving others, by the way.)

When we live on purpose we are healthy. We enjoy the work we do AND we are able to enjoy our leisure time- something that’s surprisingly challenging for the Type A, “always on,” achievement-oriented personalities among us. When we live on purpose our relationships bring us fulfillment and satisfaction. How well things in our lives WORK is in direct proportion to how “on purpose” we are. When we’re not on purpose, things in our lives don’t work as well.

If our lives aren’t working like we want them to be- if any aspect of our lives don’t look like we want them to- the good news is that in any moment we can orient our lives towards the true north of our life’s purpose. And the instant we do, our lives begin to work better.

The great American thinker Werner Erhard tells us, “The only two things in our lives are aliveness and patterns that block our aliveness.

When you get rid of the blocks, what you have is aliveness, and when the blocks are gone, purpose emerges.

There is no use searching externally for purpose, or trying to “pull it in.” It is already there. Just focus on clearing out what is between you and aliveness….

Aliveness and purpose are practically the same thing.”

Now the question becomes, dear reader, how do you get rid of the blocks in your life?

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Does Your Life Have a Unique and Specific Purpose?

I have this theory that the most powerful, accomplished and happiest people are those that have the greatest clarity. Clarity about who they are, what they want, and what they believe. Clarity about what’s important to them and the reasons behind the things they do. Clarity about the purpose of their lives.   

For the first 35 years of my life, I didn’t believe that life had meaning. Unsurprisingly, I spent a good portion of those years in a pretty dark place. For a long time I didn’t understand my own emotions of loneliness and despair as signals that something in my life needed to change- and even once I grasped this, it took a while longer for me to understand that for something in my life to change, I had to be the one to change it. 

The pain of emptiness spurred me to search for meaning. In a conversation with a Rabbi, I came to believe that I have a unique and specific life purpose- that each of us does. I also came to believe that our purpose always involves serving others, and that our degree of happiness is in direct proportion to our ability to express our purpose. 

But I still didn’t have any idea what my purpose was, or even how to find it. I thought of words I’d heard attributed to Buddha, “Your work is to discover your work, and then with all your heart give yourself to it.” 

And I thought about George Bernard Shaw’s words, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” 

Which left me to wonder, if our lives do have purpose, do we discover it or do we create it?

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