Posts tagged with #Introspection
A good friend recently recommended I read The Pathless Path by Paul Millerd, a book that describes the author’s journey in finding meaning and fulfilling purpose in his life. In the book, Millerd lays out a concept that he calls the Default Path, a blueprint for life that outlines purpose, value, and success. It is a one size fits all path that we are all expected to adhere to. He asserts that for most people, the notion that a second path exists is almost entirely unbelievable.
The Default Path, Millerd argues, is the one that our upbringing, background, social, and economic systems work together to daily reinforce. It is the model for our lives that has been imprinted and reinforced in every interaction and every experience. It is so deeply engrained, so fundamentally expected that we never stop to ask if life must in fact be led this way. And when we eventually (and, arguably, inevitably) question the path at an inflection that many have taken to calling the midlife crisis, there is such an overwhelming amount of peer pressure and societal structure to overcome that we often end up concluding that rather than being an issue with the path there is instead something wrong with us.
For North Americans, that default path often resembles what’s globally known as “The American Dream” - the belief that anyone can achieve financial and social success through hard work and dedication to that work. Images of single family homes with white picket fences, a pair of cars, a pair of kids running around with a happy spouse, and financial independence - all attained through hard (and recently updated to include meaningful) work.
Everything in our upbringing reinforces that message so strongly that most of us never stop to consider if there is another path. Legendary economist John Maynard Keynes (aka “Our Hero, Lord Keynes” to anyone who has ever had the great privilege to have taken Larry Smith’s Econ classes at Waterloo) famously said that “worldly wisdom teaches us that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally”.
And so we play to not lose.
We play the game of life in a way that doesn’t seek to win, doesn’t seek to conquer new horizons and be filled with awe-inspiring experiences and journeys. No, we play in a manner filled with fear of losing, fear of failing. We fear missing out on what everyone else is doing, fear being left behind by the masses moving in the direction of the inevitable path.
We feel so strongly that not only is this the right path, but it is the only path. And so, on we go, putting all our energies and resources into working harder, making more money, having more social influence, and raising children who do the same.
We play this fear-driven and defensive game with the hope of not losing for so long that we inevitably wake up one day sometime in our 30s and 40s and wonder what it was all for. We have spent the entirety of our youth and the majority of our most productive years on a path that we didn’t even set for ourselves! No wonder we come to a moment of crisis. Coined in 1965 (coincidentally a short decade or two after the beginning and wide-adoption of the 9 to 5), the midlife crisis is a recognition that we have been passive players in the direction of our lives, and this terrifies us.
A rude awakening
We wake up one day realizing that we don’t have any earthly clue what our life’s purpose should be, and that our goals to this point were not in fact our own. Worse, we are thoroughly unequipped to set meaningful goals for ourselves and define what a rich and fruitful life looks like, so we revolt. We buy sports cars. We get plastic surgery and update our wardrobes. We do any number of nonsensical things in an attempt to silence that inner voice telling us that we’re playing this game wrong. What many of us never realize until much too late in life is that there is another way to play this game, another path that we can be on.
We can play to win.
We can learn to play the game differently. We can endeavor to gain much more clarity on the rules of the game, the terms of engagement, and, most importantly, the conditions for victory.
Most people spend the majority of their lives sitting in the passenger seat, having fully assumed the role of spectator in the unfolding narrative of their life and having fully accepted that the majority of decisions are made for them. We were never told that there is another way to play, another path to victory, and another role that we can assume.
Think back to the first big decision you made in your life; the one where you felt the true gravitas of the situation. For a fair amount of us, this was the act of deciding which college to apply for, and hopefully to attend upon acceptance. Think of how that decision was made, of the inputs, the factors taken into consideration. How small a role did one’s passions play in that significant decision? How much more did we consider things like future earning potential, prestige of the school, respectability of the profession, desires of our parents, or just plain ol’ common wisdom?
From that early age we were taught to make decisions by someone else’s standards. Playing to win means that we need to throw out those standards and to come up with our own. We need to first discover ourselves, to do the hard work of uncovering the things that bring us joy, that excite us and ignite the passion within us.
We need to let go of the need for external validation, the compulsion to measure against what our peers are doing. We need to remove the mental pollutants in our lives - the likes, the retweets, the perpetual feed of an abundantly glamorized default path - and instead look within for validation, for meaning. We need to learn to trust our internal compass.
And then we need to own it. Once we’ve discovered what makes us tick, what things bring us joy, what types of people we desire to become, we need to unapologetically own it.
One of my great mentors told me once long ago that as a society we have become so focused on the next big thing - the next promotion, the next million users of our product, the next milestone in our children’s lives - that we forget to think about the people that we are becoming. We get so wrapped up in impressing someone else that we forget about what it does to our character, our morals, and our decision making framework. If left unchecked, we become like the environment we place ourselves in.
So we need to own it. We need to own how we show up at work, what we’re willing to do based on our boss’ orders or company expectations, and how we determine what a successful time in our place of employment looks like. We need to own what we work out with our children to actually be the best for them, and not what all their peers happen to be enrolled in. We need to own what traits in a partner make us happy, whole, healthy, and growing human beings, regardless of their social standing or their pedigree.
Playing to win means playing by your own standards, and not conforming to the expectations of the world. It means being okay with walking off the beaten path. It means spending the time and effort to discover your unique personal path that will bring you much lasting joy. And that is an incredible thing.
You’ve both often heard me talk about having discipline, being efficient, and living intentionally. Without a doubt those are great things to work towards and to cultivate in your lives. Yet as with most things in this world, there is a balance that when struck correctly brings out an undeniable beauty. That balance is the skillful art of creating space, and knowing when and how to do so.
The finest art is that which speaks most loudly to you. As the observer, yours is the only opinion that matters. Regardless of the artist, the medium, the subject matter, the artist’s intention as they created the piece, or even the opinions of the critics, the finest art is that which speaks most profoundly to you alone as the one experiencing that art.
Truly great art leaves space for the observer to explore, discover, and to savor.
It has been said that art is that which you leave out. It is the space created for you to fill with your thoughts, your background, your experiences, your worries, your struggles, and your triumphs. And once filled, it is the gentle nudge that begs us to deeply contemplate.
This concept is one that transcends art and finds its home in many other areas of life. In sports, coaches tell their players to train hard before the game and then to clear their head to give space for their instincts to take over. In love we give space to those we love to allow them to work out their feelings and choose to reciprocate. In music we have natural breath marks, spaces intended to allow the mind to settle and root itself on a mood or theme before being whisked away again. In friendship we share our thoughts and opinions with our friends and then give them the space to choose their own path while we support them wholly. Even in the act of Creation, God rested on the seventh day and made space.
Space to remember
It is with great intention and reverence that we create space to remember. At funerals we create a solemn space to remember the deceased and the life that they led, their impact on us, what they meant to us. At memorials we create an aura of silence to honor the dead and their sacrifice. At graduations we prompt our graduates to pause and reflect on their accomplishments in preparation for what is to come.
Space allows the heart to reminisce, to slowly and deliberately consider that which we are remembering, and to place ourselves in the midst of that experience once more. It allows us to experience more deeply, to love more deeply, to honor more deeply.
Space to heal
We need space to heal. The body cannot heal if we continue to put pressure and strain on our injury. The heart cannot heal if it is constantly being battered and under attack. The mind cannot heal if we continue to relive our trauma without the space or the tools to rewire our thinking. The soul cannot heal if it is not given the time to receive nourishment. When we have broken relationship, we instinctively ask for time and space to think, to ponder, and to heal. Without ever being taught, we know this. Deeply.
It is in that space that we are able to choose to heal, that we are able to take action towards healing. It is not a coincidence that many cultures have mourning rituals that specifically call for time and space to mourn. It is not a PR stunt for companies to offer bereavement time to their employees. It is because the space allows us to mourn, to remember, to honor, and then to integrate the reality of loss into our lives.
Space to grow
As a species, we are wired for growth, for forward movement. It is no wonder we have so many metaphors and images for growth. Perhaps one of the most common and well known images is that of spreading our wings and flying. We know this. We feel it. At a very early age, we instinctively spread our arms wide as we imagine taking flight and going to places currently out of our reach.
The beauty and glory of that image is not only in the jubilant and expectant pose we take, but also of the space around us; the space to explore, the vast horizon spread before us, the breathtaking view of the mountain we are about to soar over.
Human beings are meant to grow, and we need space to do that.
And so I urge you to create space. It may seem counterintuitive. It may feel awkward and unnatural. It may appear destructive at worst and not helpful at best. But we all need space. As you navigate your lives, my prayer for you is that you learn when you need space, how to skillfully create it, and how to confidently and unapologetically take the space that you need.
I love you boys.
Something I’ve always valued is retrospection and introspection. Looking back at our experiences to learn from them, and looking within to thoughtfully consider the choices, decisions, and actions we’ve taken are two very good habits to build. As with any habit, it’s best to start building them early and when one doesn’t need them yet. Taking a page from Robert Redford in Spy Game:
“When did Noah build the ark, Gladys?”
“Before the rain.”
Looking back on this year, it has definitely been one for the history books with all the unexpected twists and turns. It’s been a trying year for most, full of challenges, upset routines, and new and very real fears. It’s brought folks face to face with many insecurities: meaning, purpose, relationship, isolation. It has caused many to look forward, to desire a different future, and to even take action towards making that different future happen.
As we think through those new beginnings, I want us to consider a few important things.
The future is decided by optimists
I’m not just being optimistic here myself, hoping for a future that is defined by optimists. The future will always be decided by optimists.
Why? Because it’s human nature to desire inspiration, to follow those that are inspiring. We are wired to move life forward, to strive for a tomorrow that’s better than today. Optimists paint those pictures, tell those stories, and dream of those grand and epic scenarios.
We aren’t attracted to pessimists. We may resonate with their negativity, and we may seem to connect over a shared disdain, fear, or dislike, but ultimately they don’t attract or inspire us in the long run. It’s the optimists that attract us, and ultimately it will be the optimists that change the world for the better and decide what our future looks like.
Be FOR other people
Coming out of this isolating time, I would challenge us all to be more for other people. We’ve already had enough focus on ourselves this year. Let us make tomorrow more about other people than ourselves. Let us make it a time where we think more of others, do more for others, care more for others, and love others more.
It’s never too late to start
Lastly, it’s never too late to start making the changes you want to see in yourself! If I’ve learned anything at all this year, it is that it’s never to late to get started.
You may have had a rocky start. You may have rough soil to work with. You may have spent years down a path that you’re not happy about. But that’s okay. We move life forward, one step at a time. Tomorrow isn’t defined by what you did yesterday; it’s defined by what you set your mind to do tomorrow. So as we start this new beginning, my challenge to you both is to start it by being optimistic that the best is yet to come, and by setting your minds on being for other people.
Happy new year!