What am I? Who am I? Why am I here? These are questions we sometimes ask ourselves. When we answer these questions to our satisfaction, we lead happy, fulfilling, and rewarding lives. That being so, wouldn’t it help if they taught us the answers in school? Well, life itself is the most important school we will ever attend, and the teacher is experience. Life will gladly answer our questions if we follow seven simple steps.
STEP 1. ACCEPT AND APPRECIATE YOUR PRESENT SITUATION
Sure, life is a school, but how can you learn anything if you don’t attend classes and fail to study? Let’s use Tom as an example. Perhaps you know someone like him. He is unhappy and always changing jobs. He always has an excuse for quitting. “I can’t stand the petty office politics. The boss is too demanding. The people I have to work with refuse to cooperate. I don’t get the recognition I deserve. This job is too boring. There is no opportunity for advancement.”
Tom wants to graduate from the school of life, but he isn’t willing to do the homework. Rather than complaining about people being uncooperative, he could have been studying how to get along with others. Rather than whining about having too much to do, he could have been studying how to get organized and manage his time. Rather than demanding respect from his company, he could have been studying how to earn it. Rather than bellyaching about tedious tasks, he could have been developing self-discipline. And rather than grumbling about lack of advancement, he could have been busily creating his own opportunities.
Step 1 is important because it is only when we are satisfied with where we are that we will be ready to move beyond it. To bring this point home, I will share a zen story and a poem. First the zen story:
A long time ago, a Japanese stone cutter named Michihiro was unhappy with his lot in life. He was envious of his neighbor, a wealthy merchant. “I wish I could be as rich as he.” he said to himself. After making the wish, he was magically transformed into a wealthy merchant.
One day a nobleman and his accompanying warriors walked by on horseback. All the villagers had to prostrate before the procession. “How powerful that nobleman is!” thought Michihiro.
“I wish I were a nobleman.” To his surprise, he suddenly became one.
As he trotted to the garrison, Michihiro cursed the blazing sun, for the long robes he was wearing caused him to be drenched in sweat. “I wish I was as powerful as the sun.” he said. No sooner said than done.
Thrilled by his new power, he started to scorch the earth. But a menacing storm cloud appeared and blocked the sun. “That cloud is more powerful than I,” he thought, “I wish I were a cloud.” Soon he was.
But he felt himself being pushed away by the wind. “The wind is more powerful than I. I wish I were the wind.” he said.
Michihiro laughed as he blew the tiles off house tops and fell trees. But there was something he could not budge. It was a mountain made of solid stone. “That mountain is more powerful than I.” he thought, “I wish I were the mountain.”
Michihiro stood tall and erect, for he was now a mighty mountain.
But then he heard a clinking sound from down below. And with each clink, he felt a little weaker. “Is there something more powerful than I?” he thought. Looking down, he saw a stone cutter chipping away slabs of stone.
Perhaps, like Michihiro, we can learn that we don’t have to look elsewhere for power, contentment, and success, but we can find it right where we are. Here is a poem by H.C. Jensen that teaches the same lesson.
WHY GOD PUT ME HERE
I don’t know how to say it
But somehow it seems to me,
That maybe we are stationed where
God wants us to be.
That little place I’m filling is
The reason for my birth
And just to do the work I do,
God sent me down to earth.
If God had wanted otherwise
I reckon He’d have made,
Me just a little different
Of a worse or better grade.
And since God knows and understands
All things of land and sea,
I fancy that He placed me here
Just where He wanted me.
Sometimes I get to thinking
As my labors I review,
That I should like a higher plane
With greater things to do.
But I come to the conclusion
when the envying is stilled,
That the post to which God sent me
Is the one he wanted filled.
So I plod along and struggle
In the hope when day is through,
That I’m really necessary
To the things God wants to do.
And there isn’t any service
I can give which I should scorn,
For it may be just the reason
God allowed that I be born.
STEP 2. LISTEN TO YOUR INNER VOICE
Attending school isn’t helpful if you refuse to listen to the teacher. After all, the first stage of learning is listening. All of us get bright ideas and good intentions, but most of the time they are set aside, and later forgotten, making them worthless. We need to listen to these urgings because it is life’s way of showing us what can be.
Accepting and appreciating what we have should not be mistaken for passivity. Just because we are happy with our present situation doesn’t mean it cannot improve. Life is synonymous with change and evolution. It is always stretching, reaching out, trying to become more today than it was yesterday. We can either join in the call of life and march forward, or we can sit by the wayside as mere spectators.
STEP 3. WRITE DOWN YOUR BRIGHT IDEAS AND GOOD INTENTIONS AS THEY OCCUR
There is magic in the written word. By jotting down our ideas we transform intangible thoughts into something concrete. Once we write them down, we can refer to them again and again, clarifying and building on them.
STEP 4. CHANGE YOUR IDEAS INTO AN ACTION PLAN
Now that you have some helpful ideas, how will you bring them about? What steps do you need to take? What resources are necessary? When will you start and when will you complete your plan?
STEP 5. START TAKING ACTION
The most difficult part of a new plan is starting. Don’t allow yourself to get stalled. Simply choose the simplest step you can take and do it. No matter how small your baby steps may be, each one moves you closer to your goal. Also, you will find that as you repeatedly take baby steps, you will pick up momentum and baby steps will gradually grow into giant steps, until, at last, you sprint to the finish line. The only thing separating us from where we are to where we can be is action. So, act now.
STEP 6. FOLLOW THROUGH
A good plan isn’t enough. We have to follow it through to completion if we wish to succeed. In fact, the original meaning of SUCCEED is to MAKE THE NEXT MOVE, or follow through. Here’s what a very successful woman has to say about follow through, “Those who are blessed with the most talent don’t necessarily outperform everyone else. It’s the people with follow-through who excel.” Mary Kay Ash (1918 ~ 2001). And Sir Walter Scott (1771 ~ 1832) cut my seven step plan to just two: “Think things through – then follow through.”
STEP 7. DISCOVER WHO, WHAT, AND WHY YOU ARE BY THE ACTIONS YOU TAKE
Who, what, or why we are here has nothing to do with our occupation, which is just one of many ways we express ourselves. It is not what job we have that counts, but what kind of father or mother, son or daughter, wife or husband, friend, relative, neighbor, employer, worker, coworker, or citizen that I am. In a word, it is not what I DO but what I AM that defines me. Reworded, it is not my position, but my disposition that counts.
Am I generous or selfish, caring or cold, helpful or troublesome, encouraging or demeaning, cheerful or grumpy, arrogant or modest, resentful or forgiving, truthful or dishonest, demanding or understanding, patient or hot-headed, courteous or rude, gentle or cruel, moody or even-tempered, aggressive or friendly, thoughtful or thoughtless? In other words, when I die, will others say, “I’m sorry he is gone.” or will they say, “Good riddance!”
Can you see how we discover who and what we are by listening to the promptings of our inner voice and following through? As we awaken to our power, we discover why we are here as well. We are here to add to life, to contribute to it in our unique way. We are here to make a difference; here to change the world by making it a better place. We are also here to celebrate life, share in and spread its joy. The two great personal moments in our lives are the moment we were born and the moment we discovered why (we were born).