Jim Selman, a 70-something-year-old guy, is determined not to let the cultural conversation of what it means to grow older and what is and isn’t possible as we age define the rest of his life.
Over the course of my lifetime, I have heard many ‘bottom-line’ bits of wisdom. For example, “the key to happiness is loving what you do”. Or, “at the end of the day, you can either resist life or surrender and live life on life’s terms”. These kinds of nuggets are usually true and are certainly valid in a list of maxims and aphorisms for living. “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum is a great example of this genre. My favourite (and the one that I have personally found the most useful) is one I first heard in the 1970s in something called the ‘est training’. The ultimate choice we have as human beings, we were told, is whether we are ‘at the effect’ of our circumstances or whether we can relate to them ‘at cause’, meaning be responsible for everything in our lives.
Over the years, I’ve found this to be the case. Today I would say it a bit differently – I have a choice about whether my experience and behaviour is a ‘reaction’ to whatever is going on or whether I take action as an expression of my vision and commitments in the moment. Am I the actor or the ‘re-actor’? To even be aware that we have the choice to act or react seems to me to be the foundation for mastery of anything.
In my work, I define three relationships as constituting our lives and our experience of life. These are: 1. Our relationship with our self and other people, 2. Our relationship with our circumstances, and 3. Our relationship with time. I have learned that whenever things are not going well in my life (or when I am stopped or frustrated or not having the results I want) that both the problem and the solution is in one of these three areas.
For example, when I am having issues in a relationship with someone, I almost always have the view that someone (myself or the other person) is wrong and I need to say or do something to make it right. I am ‘at the effect’ of whatever I perceive is wrong and doing my best to fix it. If I have learned one thing in my life, it is that people are not broken and don’t need to be fixed and, in fact, the more I try to fix them the more they (or I) will resist. As the saying goes, “we get what we resist”.
By the same token, when I am able to accept people as they are – just love them as they are without the need to change them – the more open they are to listen to my point of view or see what I am trying to show them. If what I am seeing is relevant and useful for them, they have a choice and can, more often than not, learn or change something.
It seems to me this kind of acceptance, combined with a commitment to offer something of value, while giving others a choice is the essence of mastery. When I am no longer ‘at the effect’ of myself and others, my circumstances or time, I have mastery over my ‘way of being in the world’ which is the foundation for expressing myself in whatever areas of life are of interest and important to me. It is also true that I need some talent and competency. But without mastery of my ‘self’ – my way of being in the world – all the talent, skill and success in the world won’t lead to satisfaction and the mastery to change and contribute to the lives of others.
What words of wisdom have stuck with you throughout your life? Share with us in the comments below.
To read more from Jim’s blog, visit his website Serene Ambition here.