At a certain moment in Nietzsche's life, the idea came to him of what he called 'the love of your fate.' Whatever your fate is, whatever the heck happens, you say, "This is what I need." It may look like a wreck, but go at it as though it were an opportunity, a challenge.
If you bring love to that moment - not discouragement - you will find the strength is there. Any disaster that you can survive is an improvement in your character, your stature, and your life. What a privilege! This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow. Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true.
Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not.
Bob and the Lord stood together, watching a baseball game. The Lord's team was playing Satan's team. The Lord's team was at bat, the score was tied zero to zero, and it was the bottom of the 9th inning with two outs. Bob and the Lord continued to watch as the batter, Love, stepped up to the plate. Love swung at the first pitch and hit a single, because Love never fails. The next batter was named Faith, who also got a single because Faith works with Love. The next batter up was named Godly wisdom. Satan wound up and threw the first pitch; Godly Wisdom looked it over and let it pass, because Godly Wisdom does not swing at Satan's pitches. Ball one. Three more pitches and Godly Wisdom walked, because Godly wisdom never swings at Satan's throws. The bases were loaded.
The Lord then turned to Bob and told him He was now going to bring in His star player. Up to the plate stepped Grace. Bob made a face... Grace certainly didn't look like much to him! Apparently Satan's whole team agreed: they all relaxed and laughed a little when they saw Grace. Thinking he had won the game, Satan wound up and fired his first pitch. To all but one's amazement, Grace hit the ball harder than anyone had ever seen. But Satan was not worried; his center fielder, the Prince of the air, let very few get by. He went up for the ball, but it went right through his glove, hit him on the head and sent him crashing to the ground; then it continued over the fence for a home run! And so the Lord's team won.
The Lord then asked Bob if he knew why Love, Faith, and Godly Wisdom could get on base but could not win the game by themselves. Bob, looking a bit sheepish, admitted that he didn't know. The Lord explained, "If your love, faith and wisdom could win the game, you would think you could win it by yourself. Love, faith and wisdom will get you on base, but only My grace can get you home. My grace is the one thing Satan cannot stop."
It started out innocently enough. I began to think at parties now and then to loosen up. Inevitably though, one thought led to another, and soon I was more than just a social thinker.
I began to think alone - "to relax," I told myself - but I knew it wasn't true. Thinking became more and more important to me, and finally I was thinking all the time.
I began to think on the job. I knew that thinking and employment don't mix, but I couldn't stop myself.
I began to avoid friends at lunchtime so I could read Thoreau and Kafka.
I would return to the office dizzied and confused, asking, "What is it exactly we are doing here?"
Things weren't going so great at home either. One evening I had turned off the TV and asked my wife about the meaning of life. She spent that night at her mother's.
I soon had a reputation as a heavy thinker. One day the boss called me in. He said, "Skippy, I like you, and it hurts me to say this, but your thinking has become a real problem. If you don't stop thinking on the job, you'll have to find another job." This gave me a lot to think about.
I came home early after my conversation with the boss. "Honey," I confessed, "I've been thinking..."
"I know you've been thinking," she said, "and I want a divorce!"
"But Honey, surely it's not that serious."
"It is serious," she said, lower lip aquiver. "You think as much as college professors, and college professors don't make any money, so if you keep on thinking we won't have any money!"
"That's a faulty syllogism," I said impatiently, and she began to cry. I'd had enough. "I'm going to the library," I snarled as I stomped out the door.
I headed for the library, in the mood for some Nietzsche, with NPR on the radio. I roared into the parking lot and ran up to the big glass doors... they didn't open. The library was closed.
To this day, I believe that a Higher Power was looking out for me that night.
As I sank to the ground clawing at the unfeeling glass, whimpering for Zarathustra, a poster caught my eye. "Friend, is heavy thinking ruining your life?" it asked. You probably recognize that line. It comes from the standard Thinker's Anonymous poster.
Which is why I am what I am today: a recovering thinker. I never miss a TA meeting. At each meeting we watch a non-educational video; last week it was "Porky's." Then we share experiences about how we avoided thinking since the last meeting.
I still have my job, and things are a lot better at home. Life just seemed... easier, somehow, as soon as I stopped thinking.
I had one of those ‘pinch-me’ moments thanks to a friend who invited me to dinner with Neil Armstrong who passed away (this weekend) at the age of 82. For three hours I saw across from Armstrong as he regaled us with stories of the first moon landing. Remember, Armstrong was one of the most humble and private heroes our country has ever known. He rarely gave interviews or talked publicly about his experience. But with a few good friends, good wine, and good food, the reluctant hero opened up.
The year was 2003 and I was making the transition from broadcast journalism to entrepreneurship, thinking about starting my own practice. I was also writing about leadership and communications. My first book would be published two years later. I was absorbing every word.
In one funny moment—after several bottles of Barolo—one the members of our party asked the question we had all been thinking: “Mr. Armstrong, did you come up with the words, ‘That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,’ or did someone write it for you?” For the record he did.
I loved the story, but Armstrong taught me a far more important lesson that night: Nothing great happens without an inspiring leader who articulates a vision that challenges the status quo and unleashes our collective imagination.
Armstrong was a humble man and refused to take credit for his achievement. I got the impression he was uncomfortable with his fame. During dinner Armstrong reminded us that it took 400,000 people to send him to the moon: thousands of the world’s best engineers, scientists, researchers, support staff, and even seamstresses who carefully stitched together the space suits required to withstand extreme temperatures. None of these people would have been galvanized to action if it hadn’t been for the vision first articulated by John F. Kennedy in 1961. His vision was bold, concise, and had a deadline attached to it: “By the end of the decade we will land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth.”
A vision sets forces in motion. In 1961, most scientists didn’t think it could be done. They thought Kennedy’s vision was absurd and unrealistic. The rocket technology to achieve a moon landing didn’t even exist! Kennedy’s vision, however, did spark ideas. Scientists began to ask themselves, “If we had to send a man to the moon by the end of the decade, how could we do it?” By attaching a deadline to the vision, Kennedy inspired a generation to challenge what they previously thought was impossible.
I’ve often said that passion is the fundamental building block of inspiring leadership. Passion, energy, and enthusiasm are contagious. But while passion fuels the rocket, vision directs to the rocket to its ultimate destination. The moon program proved that anything is possible when a team of smart, dedicated people commit themselves to a common goal for the benefit of others. One NASA engineer said the vision of going to the moon took such hold of his imagination that he never wanted to fall asleep. He couldn’t wait to return to work the next morning. Armstrong felt the same way. He had become a believer, an evangelist.
The American architect Daniel Burnham once said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Bold ideas that are effectively communicated inspire people to do more than they thought possible. I recently wrote a column about SanDisk co-founder Eli Harari who pioneered the flash memory fundamental to digital cameras, smartphones, and iPads. He once told me that when he entered Princeton in 1969, man had landed on the moon, inspiring him to pursue physics and space technology. He committed himself to ideas that would change the world. The moon landing had that effect on people.
We need more moon landings. Not literally, of course. But we need leaders in business and public life who challenge us do what we thought was impossible, who stir our souls, captivate our imaginations, and elicit the kind of bravery Armstrong showed when he took those first magnificent steps.
Shortly after my daughter Juli-Ann was born, I started a loving tradition that I know others (with whom I have subsequently shared this special plan) have also started. I tell you the idea here both to open your heart with the warmth of my story and also to encourage you to start this tradition within your own family.
Every year, on her birthday, I write an Annual Letter to my daughter. I fill it with funny anecdotes that happened to her that year, hardships or joys, issues that are important in my life or hers, world events, my predictions for the future, miscellaneous thoughts, etc. I add to the letter photographs, presents, report cards and many other types of mementos that would certainly have otherwise disappeared as the years passed.
I keep a folder in my desk drawer in which, all year long, I place things that I want to include in the envelope containing her next Annual Letter. Every week, I make short notes of what I can think of from the week's events that I will want to recall later in the year to write in her Annual Letter. When her birthday approaches, I take out that folder and find it overflowing with ideas, thoughts, poems, cards, treasures, stories, incidents and memories of all sorts - many of which I had already forgotten - and which I then eagerly transcribe into that year's Annual Letter.
Once the letter is written and all the treasures are inserted into the envelope, I seal it. It then becomes that year's Annual Letter. On the envelope I always write "Annual Letter to Juli-Ann from her Daddy on the occasion of her nth Birthday - to be opened when she is 21 years old." It is a time capsule of love from every different year of her life, to her as an adult. It is a gift of loving memories from one generation to the next. It is a permanent record of her life written as she was actually living it.
Our tradition is that I show her the sealed envelope, with the proclamation written on it that she may read it when she is 21. Then I take her to the bank, open the safe deposit box and tenderly place that year's Annual Letter on top of the growing pile of its predecessors. She sometimes takes them all out to look at them and feel them. She sometimes asks me about their contents and I always refuse to tell her what is inside.
In recent years, Juli-Ann has given me some of her special childhood treasures, which she is growing too old for but which she does not want to lose. And she asks me to include them in her Annual Letter so that she will always have them.
That tradition of writing her Annual Letters is now one of my most sacred duties as a dad. And, as Juli-Ann grows older, I can see that it is a growing and special part of her life, too. One day, we were sitting with friends musing about what we will be doing in the future. I cannot recall the exact words spoken, but it went something like this: I jokingly told Juli-Ann that on her 61st birthday, she will be playing with her grandchildren. Then I whimsically invented that on her 31st birthday she will be driving her own kids to hockey practice. Getting into the groove of this funny game and encouraged by Juli-Ann's evident enjoyment of my fantasies, I continued. "On your 21st birthday, you will be graduating from university." "No," she interjected. "I will be too busy reading!"
One of my deepest desires is to be alive and present to enjoy that wonderful time in the future when the time capsules are opened and the accumulated mountains of love come tumbling out of the past, back into my adult daughter's life.
I slipped through the revolving door of the office building I worked in and stepped onto the cracked sidewalk that lined Broad Street in Newark, New Jersey. A light drizzle and a depressing grey sky enhanced the depravity of the area. The buildings on both sides of the street were old and in need of repair or, in some instances, a wrecking ball.
A few seconds later, a woman wearing a coat four sizes too big for her - probably a throw away from the used clothing store down the street - stepped up to me, displayed a smile of many gaps and begged, "Mister, can you help a person out? I haven't eaten in almost two days."
I handed her a few quarters and watched her saunter off. She held her hand out as she walked and counted the change she'd collected on that dreary afternoon. I guessed food was the furthest thing from her mind - crack was more her line of nutrition.
That area and most of Newark were poverty stricken and ruled by drugs and crime. In the few short months I worked there, I'd witnessed a stolen car, pursued by police, turn a corner and hit another car head on. The thieves leapt from the wreckage and ran off with the police in hot pursuit. A month after that, a man's car was stolen from the parking lot behind our building while he negotiated the fee with the attendant. This was a place where you held your belongings tightly and didn't venture far after dark.
I walked to the corner, stopped by the door of the ATM machine, checked to be sure no one followed close and quickly slipped my bank card into the slot. There was a buzz and click as the door unlocked. I walked inside and made sure no one stepped in behind me.
I put my card into the machine and deposited my paycheck with a sigh of relief. As I turned to leave, I saw a wallet sitting on the counter. It sat next to a pen on a chain so thin a kitten could have snapped it. The wallet was brown, well used and contained three dollars, a driver's license, two credit cards, a bank card and a work permit from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The name on the license was one I would not attempt to pronounce, but whoever he was, he was going to be in a panic over a wallet with his identification on it being lost in this city.
I put it in my pocket, walked to Penn Station and took the train home to Jersey City. In my apartment, I checked the online phone book and found no one to match the name on the cards in the wallet. I wanted to help the guy. If it had been my wallet, I would have been sick to my stomach with worry. I picked up the bank card and had a thought. On the back was the number to his bank.
"Thank you for calling Wachovia Bank. My name is Cindy, how may I help you?" "Hi, Cindy. I found a man's wallet at one of your bank machines today and am trying to track down the owner to return it to him."
"That's very nice of you sir. Can you give me the number on the card please?" I gave her the number. "Sir, that card has been reported stolen."
"I'm sure it has, but what he did was leave it on the shelf in the room where the ATM is. Can you give me his phone number? I want to arrange to meet with him to return his wallet."
"I'm sorry, sir, but we cannot give out the personal information of our clients."
"I understand. Can I give you my contact information? You could call him and tell him who I am."
"I can certainly do that, Sir."
I gave her my information and hung up.
I'd done all I could.
Two days later, a very thankful gentleman appeared at our front desk and received his belongings. He never dreamed he would see his wallet again, not one left at a bank machine in Newark.
I smiled all day long. Doing good for others, does good for you.
Today, we mourn the passing of an old friend by the name of Common Sense.
Common Sense lived a long life, but died from heart failure at the brink of the Millennium. No one really knows how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape. He selflessly devoted his life to service in schools; hospitals, homes, factories and offices, helping folks get jobs done without fanfare and foolishness.
For decades, petty rules, silly laws and frivolous lawsuits held no power over Common Sense. He was credited with cultivating such valued lessons as to know when to come in from rain, the early bird gets the worm and life isn't always fair.
Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn), reliable parenting strategies (the adults are in charge, not the kids), and it's okay to come in second.
A veteran of the Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and the Technological Revolution, Common Sense survived cultural and educational trends including feminism, body piercing, whole language and new math.
But his health declined when he became infected with the "if-it-only-helps-one-person-it's-worth-it" virus. In recent decades, his waning strength proved no match for the ravages of overbearing federal legislation.
He watched in pain as good people became ruled by self-seeking lawyers and enlightened auditors. His health rapidly deteriorated when schools endlessly implemented zero tolerance policies; when reports were heard of six year old boys charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; when a teen was suspended for taking a swig of mouthwash after lunch; when a teacher was fired for reprimanding an unruly student. It declined even further when schools had to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student but couldn't inform the parent when a female student is pregnant or wants an abortion.
Finally, Common Sense lost his will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband, churches became businesses, criminals received better treatment than victims, and federal judges stuck their noses in everything from Boy Scouts to professional sports.
As the end neared, Common Sense drifted in and out of logic but was kept informed of developments, regarding questionable regulations for asbestos, low-flow toilets, smart guns, the nurturing of Prohibition Laws and mandatory air bags.
Finally, when told that the homeowners association restricted exterior furniture only to that which enhanced property values, he breathed his last.
Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents Truth and Trust; his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son Reason. His three stepbrothers survive him: Rights, Tolerance and Whiner.
Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.
By Oriah “Mountain Dreamer,” Native American elder
It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.
It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!
I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with JOY, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic, or to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.
I want to know if you can be faithful and therefore be trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see beauty even when it is not pretty everyday, and if you can source your life on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon.
It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done for the children.
It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.
It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.
Once upon a time, there was a king who ruled a prosperous country. One day, he went for a trip to some distant areas of his nation. When he was back to his palace, he complained that his feet were very painful, because it was the first time that he went for such a long trip and the road he traveled was very rough and stony. He then ordered his people to cover every road of the entire country with leather. Definitely, this would need thousands of cows' skins and would cost a huge amount of money.
Then one of his wise servants dared himself to ask the king, "Why do you have to spend that unnecessary amount of money? Why don't you just cut a little piece of leather to cover your feet?"
The king was surprised, but he later agreed to his suggestion, to make a "shoe" for himself.
There is actually a valuable lesson of life in this story: to make this world a happy place to live, you better change yourself - your heart; and not the world.
Once upon a time, when God had finished making the world, he wanted to leave behind a piece of His own divinity, a spark of His essence, a promise to man of what he could become, with effort. He looked for a place to hide this precious gift because, He explained, what man could find too easily would never be valued by him.
"Then you must hide this gift on the highest mountain peak on earth," said one of his counselors.
God shook His head, "No, for man is an adventuresome creature and he will soon enough learn to climb the highest mountain peaks."
"Hide it then, O Great One, in the depths of the earth."
"I think not," said God, "for man will one day discover that he can dig into the deepest parts of the earth."
"In the middle of the ocean then, Master?"
God shook His head. "I've given man a brain, you see, and one day he'll learn to build ships and cross the mightiest oceans."
"Where then, Master?" cried His counselors.
God smiled, "I'll hide it where every man and woman will be able to find it if they look sincerely and deeply enough. I'll hide it in their heart."
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone in the wise woman's bag, admired it, and asked the wise woman to give it to him. The wise woman did so without hesitation.
The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the jewel was worth enough to give him security for the rest of his life.
But a few days later he came back, searching for the wise woman. When he found her, he returned the stone and said, "I have been thinking. I know how valuable this stone is, but I give it back to you in the hope that you can give me something much more precious. If you can, give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”
My grandparents were married for over half a century, and played their own special game from the time they had met each other. The goal of their game was to write the word "shmily" in a surprise place for the other to find. They took turns leaving "shmily" around the house, and as soon as one of them discovered it, it was their turn to hide it once more.
They dragged "shmily" with their fingers through the sugar and flour containers to await whoever was preparing the next meal.
They smeared it in the dew on the windows overlooking the patio where my grandma always fed us warm, homemade pudding with blue food coloring.
"Shmily" was written in the steam left on the mirror after a hot shower, where it would reappear bath after bath. At one point, my grandmother even unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper to leave "shmily" on the very last sheet.
There was no end to the places "shmily" would pop up. Little notes with "shmily" scribbled hurriedly were found on dashboards and car seats, or taped to steering wheels.
The notes were stuffed inside shoes and left under pillows. "Shmily" was written in the dust upon the mantel and traced in the ashes of the fireplace. This mysterious word was as much a part of my grandparents' house as the furniture.
It took me a long time before I was able to fully appreciate my grandparents' game. Skepticism has kept me from believing in true love, one that is pure and enduring.
However, I never doubted my grandparents' relationship. They had love down pat. It was more than their flirtatious little games; it was a way of life. Their relationship was based on a devotion and passionate affection, which not everyone is lucky enough to experience.
Grandma and Grandpa held hands every chance they could. They stole kisses as they bumped into each other in their tiny kitchen. They finished each other's sentences and shared the daily crossword puzzle and word jumble. My grandma whispered to me about how cute my grandpa was, how handsome and old he had grown to be. She claimed that she really knew "how to pick 'em." Before every meal they bowed their heads and gave thanks, marveling at their blessings: a wonderful family, good fortune, and each other. But there was a dark cloud in my grandparents' life: my grandmother had breast cancer.
The disease had first appeared ten years earlier. As always, Grandpa was with her every step of the way. He comforted her in their yellow room, painted that way so that she could always be surrounded by sunshine, even when she was too sick to go outside.
Now the cancer was again attacking her body. With the help of a cane and my grandfather's steady hand, they went to church every morning. But my grandmother grew steadily weaker until, finally, she could not leave the house anymore.
For a while, Grandpa would go to church alone, praying to God to watch over his wife. Then one day, what we all dreaded finally happened. Grandma was gone.
"Shmily." It was scrawled in yellow on the pink ribbons of my grandmother's funeral bouquet. As the crowd thinned and the last mourners turned to leave, my aunts, uncles, cousins and other family members came forward and gathered around Grandma one last time. Grandpa stepped up to my grandmother's casket and, taking a shaky breath, he began to sing to her.
Through his tears and grief, the song came, a deep and throaty lullaby. Shaking with my own sorrow, I will never forget that moment. For I knew that, although I couldn't begin to fathom the depth of their love, I had been privileged to witness its unmatched beauty.
We convince ourselves that life will be better after we get married, have a baby, then another. Then we're frustrated that the kids aren't old enough and we'll be more content when they are. After that, we're frustrated that we have teenagers to deal with. We'll certainly be happy when they're out of that stage.
We tell ourselves that our life will be complete when our spouse gets his or her act together, when we get a nicer car, are able to go on a nice vacation, when we retire. The truth is, there's no better time to be happy than right now. If not now, when?
Your life will always be filled with challenges. It's best to admit this to yourself and decide to be happy anyway. One of my favorite quotes comes from Alfred D. Souza. He said, "For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life."
This perspective has helped me to see that there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So, treasure every moment that you have and treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time with... and remember that time waits for no one.
So, stop waiting ... until you finish school, until you go back to school, until you lose ten pounds, until you gain ten pounds, until you have kids, until your kids leave the house, until you start work, until you retire, until you get married, until you get divorced, until Friday night, until Sunday morning, until you get a new car or home, until your car or home is paid off, until spring, until summer, until fall, until winter, until you're off welfare, until the first or fifteenth, until your song comes on, until you've had a drink, until you've sobered up, until you die, until you're born again to decide that.
There is no better time than right now to be happy!