Your Book of Life

Rosetti (self-portrait) Image by Wikipedia

Sudden Light by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before,—

How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turn’d so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.
Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time’s eddying flight

Still with our lives our love restore
In death’s despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?

You were born with an empty book before you. Your life quickly began filling its pages, the pages become chapters and before you knew it your little notebook transformed into a novel that told the tale of another of humanity’s grains of sand.

The chapters of life are a fascinating thing to me. While Rosetti was likely speaking of the death known as “physical death” (the kind that ends in a grave), I have to wonder if he wasn’t speaking to the chapters of life as well.

One life can be divided up in so many ways. Childhood and adulthood. Educational years, working years, retirement years. All can be seen as chapters in a book.

When you’ve moved from chapter to chapter in life, have you found some strings of continuity? Are there persistent themes that appear and reappear with comforting or at times alarming consistency, times where you say to yourself as Rosetti put it: “Has this been thus before?”

Threads of success as well as failure weave through life in a predictable fashion until the pattern is broken, one way or the other. You can succeed where you’ve failed in the past and you can fail where success was previously the norm. As such, it is important to take note when you do succeed and take heed when you fail. Both will offer important clues as to how to be a greater success in the next chapter of your life.

You cannot learn about who you are or what successes will be wrought through you from a book. There is no manual. You may glean bits and pieces of advice from here and there, but ultimately the story you tell has to emerge in and through you.

There is no doubt that we live in a tough world. It is not ideal. No one had an ideal upbringing. We’ve all had our bumps and bruises and we each have the scars – physical, mental and emotional – to show for it.

Just as you should never scratch a mosquito bite, you are wise not to dwell on the irritants in your life – past or present. Ask yourself instead, “What can I do – here and now, based on what I know and what resources I have at my command – to handle this situation successfully?” Doing anything else is not only a waste of time, it will likely result in further bloodshed and scarring.

Creative thinking and timely action is your lifeblood. Forego either or both and you will add sad stories to a subsequently less successful chapter in your life. There are far more tales of woe in the history of man than there are bright examples of success and victory.

What will it be for you?

The Hands of the Craftsman

Lee Iacocca

“In times of great stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.” – Lee Iacocca

Arguably one of the greatest CEOs in American history, Lee Iacocca’s 47 year career in the auto industry helped define American corporate culture. Iacocca led Ford and then Chrysler through thick and thin, and he always held his head high.

Here we are, 17 years after Iacocca’s retirement from Chrysler, in period of history most notable perhaps for its uncertainty. I cannot help but wonder why it is that we as human beings, sitting atop all life on the planet, tend to create more hell for ourselves than we do anything else. We claim to evolve and to be the product of long chain of evolutionary progress, yet the more time passes the more it seems the earth is like a clock without a craftsman.

Successful living in times like these requires boldness, persistence and stamina. We human beings are in this for the long haul. Like the rats and cockroaches we love to malign, we are survivors. Yet we are more than mere insects driven by an innate desire to propagate the species. We are creators with craftsman’s hands.

The hands of a craftsman are steady, confident and meticulous in action. Controlled by a mind conscious of right, the craftsman’s hands are most dextrous when applied to positive action. We, when in our right minds, can channel any energy – no matter what its provenance – into positive action.

If you find yourself under pressure, dare to live your life free of compromise. Maintain your integrity, keep your head high, no matter what comes your way. Know that life will never give you anything that is larger than your ability to handle it. You may require the assistance of others and as I’ve said in previous posts, no man or woman is complete unto him or herself. We need one another. We complement one another.

And, well, as Jerry Maguire put it, “We live in a cynical world. A cynical world. And we work in a business of tough competitors. I love you. You…complete me!”

Keep your heads high, your spirits up and have a great day.

What makes life worthwhile?

What makes life worthwhile? What matters to you? What counts in your life?

In this fascinating TED2010 talk, Chip Conley, CEO, author and founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, makes a persuasive case for the reconsideration of the metrics used to guide our companies and our nation.

At what point do we get off of the “treadmill of aspiration,” as Conley so cleverly put it? For most Americans the idea exists that the treadmill ride ends at retirement. “You’ve gotten as far as you’ll go and now it’s time to sit back and enjoy it,” they say, and rare is the individual who manages to move beyond the confines of that thinking earlier in life.

Why not create the conditions in our companies and in our great nation that are conducive to the generation and maintenance of the intangibles, such as happiness? Sure we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but how often do we really exercise that right?

Life matters. People matter. Goodness counts. I, for one, am concerned to make a difference while I am here and I love to see evidence of others who are not only dreaming of transforming the world, but who are also doing tangible, catalytic work to get the ball rolling.

Thank you Chip Conley!

Smile! (You are getting old)

A recently published Gallup poll of 340,000 people between the ages of 18 and 85 indicates that the happiness waxes, wanes then waxes again in the life cycle of the average American. Late teens note a high sense of satisfaction with life as do people over the age of fifty. What happens in between is another story.

Nicholas Bakalar summarizes the findings of this study in his New York Times article entitled “Happiness May Come With Age, Study Says” ( Bakalar notes: “In measuring immediate well-being — yesterday’s emotional state — the researchers found that stress declines from age 22 onward, reaching its lowest point at 85. Worry stays fairly steady until 50, then sharply drops off. Anger decreases steadily from 18 on, and sadness rises to a peak at 50, declines to 73, then rises slightly again to 85. Enjoyment and happiness have similar curves: they both decrease gradually until we hit 50, rise steadily for the next 25 years, and then decline very slightly at the end, but they never again reach the low point of our early 50s.”

A fascinating set of results, don’t you think? Other studies show that happiness is not directly correlated to the amount of leisure time, so the fact of retirement is not likely driving the increased sense of happiness later in life. Whatever it is, according to this study, fear of the aging process, from the standpoint of happiness, is unfounded. In fact, we are wise to look forward to that time!

What about the no-man’s land that exists between our teen years and our late adult years? In many ways my thoughts for this blog have centered on developing an understanding of the tools necessary to enjoy life more fully in all phases of life. Given the results of this study, I wonder if this collection of ideas might be well-considered by each age group in different ways.

You are as young as you will ever be, right now. Tomorrow you’ll be a little older and hopefully a little wiser and a little happier. My father-in-law noted yesterday that he’s experienced a deeper sense of appreciation for the resource of time now versus when he was a young man. It is a precious resource. The question posed to everyone in life is this: what will you make of it?

I am convinced that happiness is not derived from material possessions, neither is it obtained by accumulating the perfect mix of friends and family and arranging them thus-and-so. There is no “perfect” set of factors or experiences, no red pill that magically makes happiness appear. In fact, happiness is an internal state that is internally driven. Happiness is something that you give to the world around you and that you can and must receive in return, through the attitude of appreciation.

Appreciation is obviously a key, as is an understanding of the principle of reciprocity. Most learn to share at a young age, but the sense of sharing often does not evolve beyond a simple sharing of material possessions. To be happy you must share of yourself, of your soul. To be happy you must learn to look beyond petty grievances, pet peeves, the little things. As you do, you find there is space in your heart and your mind to hold a higher vision for yourself and for those around you.

I look forward to hearing more about why things begin to change at the age of 50, for happiness is one of the elixirs of the fountain of youth. Thank you Mr. Bakalar for your article!