A Sustainable Legacy

To be a successful father, you must keep two thoughts in the forefront of your mind: 1) do all within your power to leave the world in better condition than you found it and 2) strive daily to leave to leave better children for the world. Both are necessary to leaving a sustainable legacy of wise stewardship.

In my experience, the former happens primarily at work, while the latter work out when I am at home or on vacation. I think about both all of the time, in fact, thoughts about me or my needs seldom punctuate the steady flow of ideas, plans and action steps that I hope will accomplish my goal of successful fatherhood. It’s not that I don’t enjoy myself, neither do I feel myself a martyr for the cause of the future, but I recognize as I have mentioned on occasion that my fulfillment depends squarely on my ability to assist others to their fulfillment.

Enough about me, what about you? On which topics are the bulk of your mental calories burnt? I find it encouraging when you voice agreement with my thoughts and ideas (and enlivening when you don’t), but I find it seriously inspiring when I hear how you – in specific terms – are working to leave the world a better place and if applicable, to leave better children for the world we are so privileged to share.

The Question

The question for each man to settle is not what he would do if he had means, time, influence, and educational advantages, but what he will do with the things he has.” – Hamilton Wright Mabie

Insufficient means, the lack of time, the absence of influence and insufficient education are often used as scapegoats for the failure to make the most of what is at hand. The truth is, however, that such advantages only get you so far in life. Moreover, such advantages are lost on a person who has not yet learned to be creative with respect to his present resources, whatever they may be.

While it may be more comfortable to keep this thought in the abstract, thinking to yourself that “people” should be this or that, my challenge to you this morning is to look at this in very personal terms. What resources do you have at your disposal and how effective have you been at employing them creatively? Are there areas of your life where you are stalling in hopes that one day you might have more time, money, education and so on to accomplish your goals in that area?

There is always room for improvement, but to improve, you must first ask the right question.

Many of us spend half of our time wishing for things we could have if we didn’t spend half our time wishing.” – Alexander Woollcott

 

The Discipline of Life

In life as in war there are times when the wisest course is simply to stand still, to rest on one’s arms, to watch and to wait. When a mist of uncertainty enshrouds us and life seems to come to a pause, when we do not know just what to do, it is best to await the sunshine of revealing that will show us our way. To active, nervous, energetic natures, keenly hungering for action, the hours of waiting are hard. But they are often necessary; they are part of the discipline of life. It requires more courage sometimes to survive the dull, dead tedium of a siege than the tingling, thrilling exhilaration and excitement of the perils of a close fight.” ~ William George Jordan

There is a time for pushing forward and a time for hunkering and whittling. Both are equally important to sustained progress in living. The key, of course, is found in timing it right.

Hunker and whittle when you should act and your life will stagnate. Push when you should be tarrying and you will burn out prematurely. The oscillation of rest and action are fundamental to effective living and learning to discern and cooperate with the rhythmic pulsations is one of the most important lessons in life that anyone – especially those with a naturally energetic nature – must learn.

Some people take a while to learn their lessons. They charismatically and often monomaniacally try to force nature, the world around them, their circumstances, etc. to conform to their wishes as they seek to accomplish their goals. They seek to impose their will, through intention, or their might through physical force in a way that ignores the larger cycles and seasons in which their worlds are contained. Such people end up wasting their lives (and occasionally losing them) hunting down the Moby Dick’s in their world in an effort to avenge the wounds they received on previous hunts.

Man cannot control nature, neither is he the master of the universe. He is a steward of power, a focus of authority and a means of extending control into the range of creation for which he is responsible. To do so effectively he must learn to balance action and rest.

This balance is not easily struck in the world today. We in the western world, particularly in the American model, are conditioned from a very young age to push and push and when that isn’t enough, to push a little more. Is this a healthy and sustainable approach to living? I have to wonder if we’re not missing much of what is available of living by failing to notice the rests that do appear on the sheet music of life if you are watching and listening carefully to the world around you.

 

Heart and Mind

One of life’s greatest lessons is one that relatively few people ever learn. It is quite a simple lesson, actually, but its implications are profound and somewhat difficult to put into words. The lesson is this: your mind and heart must come into alignment for you to be truly effective in life.

You’ve probably heard that statement before, or one of its variants, but what exactly does it mean?

Your heart and mind are the womb of your creative capacity. The seeds of your life expression gestate in this womb. When your heart and mind are working together, the integrity of the womb is assured. When they are at odds, you put the integrity of the womb at risk.

How do you get to a state where heart and mind are unified in function? For starters, they must be unified in purpose. You must have an overarching purpose in your life if there is any hope for a lasting cooperation between your heart and mind. It is best to articulate your purpose in a clear and concise manner, so as to avoid any confusion when the going gets rough (as it does on occasion).

Second, you must consecrate yourself to that purpose. If you can be convinced to violate that purpose, you will be. If, however, you hold it sacred come hell or high water, then you are well on your way to living an uncommonly generative life. One of the side effects of dedicating yourself to a purpose is that it forces you to come to terms with those elements in your life that may be detracting you from its achievement.

In life you will invariably have both supporters and detractors. There will be those who stand behind you if not with you come thick or thin, as well as those who seek to convince you of the impossibility of your goal. Pay special attention to the former group and remember that you needn’t listen to all that you hear when it comes to those who compose the latter.

Third, you must remember that your feelings are not your compass. They are useful to the degree that they allow you to form an impression of the world around you, but they must be tempered by a mind conscious of right. Such a mind focuses the lens of rational thought on anything that comes into view and resists the temptation to rationalize the irrational feelings that occasionally rise up from the heart.

Remember this and you will save yourself a mountain of trouble: you are not your feelings. Neither are you the child of your thoughts. Your feelings and your thoughts are useful vehicles to the degree that they clothe your soul’s finest wishes as you set about the accomplishment of your life purpose.

If you keep these three points in mind as you set about your day you will find that your heart and mind naturally gravitate over time back into alignment. You needn’t wait for a near-death experience or a life-threatening illness to come to terms with your life purpose. The seeds of the “aha” moment are present with you always.

The question is: are you willing to tend to them, to allow the magic of life to transform you from the inside-out? When heart and mind are aligned and working together, nothing can stop you!

The End of Disbelief

In every creative endeavor there is moment just before the victorious culmination where you are called to rise up out of the old state and into the new state. It is the moment, you could say, where you finally release all disbelief that the new state is actually achievable.

The niggling doubts that we as human beings are so keen to hold on to may be healthy in the sense that anything could go wrong even seconds before the goal is achieved, but weighting them overly causes unnecessary drag on movement toward the goal at hand, drag that can in and of itself be an impediment to victory. Herein lies the difference between the traditional skeptic and the honest skeptic: the former is convinced that victory is impossible while the latter leaves room for the possibility of another detour or obstacle while keeping his head high and his eye trained on the steps just beyond the finish line.

You must be careful not to rush matters at this point in the process, for pressing ahead of the natural cycle of fulfillment can also foil the best laid plans. When victory is in sight, keep your wits about you and take care not to get caught up in the heat of the moment. Think of the cartoon runner who is neck-to-neck at the finish line and dives prematurely to beat his opponent, only to slide to an ignominious halt just inches before the finish line. There will inevitably be a natural lift in the final stages that will move you more quickly to your goal but manage it wisely, for perfection cannot be rushed.

That’s not to say that you don’t have to put and keep the coals on occasionally. Slow and steady does not necessarily always win the race. I believe that it is more important to live with wisdom, with a sensitivity to the background timing and impulses in any creative outworking, whether it be an important debate or a complex project at work, than it is to try to stuff life into a collection of idioms and inflexible opinions. When you make room for the natural and invisible impulses contained in the flow of life, something magical begins to happen: you move from glory unto glory no matter what challenges you might face from day to day.

The next time you have a finish line in sight remember these words. Don’t rush. Relinquish doubt. Focus your energy in relation to the goal. Just as the seconds before touchdown on a 10 mile long instrument approach in an airplane are the most critical, so too are the final moments before you move through to victory in any activity you undertake. The tolerances tighten. Wiggle room decreases. The margin for error constrains to zero.

Don’t tense up! For this it the perfect time to relax more deeply into the conviction within you that victory is at hand!

The Crucible of Transition

Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I had a wonderful chat with a friend and associate of mine yesterday. We were discussing his evolving set of professional goals, yet the focus of our conversation narrowed to the matter of handling the transitions he was facing with grace, balance and integrity.

No doubt you’ve had experiences with transitions. Some were easy, while some were not so easy. To be sure, every creative process passes through a crucible of transition, where “what was” gives way to “what is to be.” This crucible varies in its duration and difficulty, and the ability to navigate this no-man’s land is what separates the boys from the men, the simply pert from the expert.

To be effective in handling transitions you must understand the value of a properly set foundation. A foundation can be either faulty or sound, there is no in between. Every sound relationship has a foundation of love and trust, every sustainable enterprise has a foundation of best practices and agreement and every respectable leader possesses a foundation of integrity and a mind conscious of right. A foundation is essential as a starting point for safe passage through any transition.

In the case of my friend, his business is expanding on many fronts. A good problem to have! He faces daily transitions, some easy, some more challenging, and in a larger sense, his entire life is in transition as he moves from one phase of his professional career to the next. There are numerous keys to creatively handling any transition in life, some of which are:

  • Leveraging the strengths present in your current foundation. Every one of your previous successes forms a part of your foundation. What you’ve learned, see, and done was not a one-shot deal, in fact, if you are observant you will find that every one of your assets will come in handy at some point as you grow and develop.
  • Beware of impetuousness. Rash decisions can create a dangerous disconnect between your foundation and the limb you’re exploring. Moving prematurely or overextending yourself can happen quickly, especially when you are caught up in the grandeur of your emerging vision.
  • Seek the counsel of those you trust where appropriate. No one of us has all the experience in the world. Perspective is valuable in transitions as the factors often have not yet revealed themselves and hearing another’s opinion on the matter can be valuable. That said, you must chart your course at the end of the day. The decisions you make are ultimately yours.
  • Be reasonable about your demands. Don’t push yourself or those around you too far. As with exercise, it is best to push it to the present limit and then ask for a little bit more. This is the basis of growth and forward movement. The discomfort – the growing pains – will only be temporary and the oscillation between comfort and discomfort, rest and effort will allow for steady expansion.
  • Refrain from the tendency to question the goal or doubt yourself half way through the transition. Be mindful of the peaks and valleys of pressure in any transition. There will likely be a mix of predictable and unexpected breaches in the transitions and the sooner you can make adjustments to avoid a full-blown rupture the better. The sooner you make the adjustments, the more subtle they can be. This is the key to handling transitions with grace.

There are many more points, but I hope these provide food for thought as you move through your next transition!

People of Accomplishment

It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” ~ Leonardo Davinci

I feel blessed to be friends with a great many people of accomplishment, people whose life work is the betterment of humanity. Some may not describe themselves as such, but the truth of the matter is that anyone who seeks to lead an uncommon life – to lead where others have hidden in the shadows, to persist where others have given up and to shine where others have let their candle be snuffed – is a person of accomplishment.

Rather than choose a specific New Year’s resolution, why not resolve to be a person of accomplishment? If you truly commit, you’ll find that whatever you set your sights on – as long as it is harmonious with the spirit of blessing – is within your power to achieve. While giving up those things which detract from your greatness and your ability to be of service to others is important (the “to-not dos“), more important is what you plan to do with yourself, your faculties and your resources in the year to come (the “to-dos“)!