'The world doesn't need more 'successful people.' The world desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.
Lately, something has been bugging me. It took me a while to figure out what it was. This morning I found it after reading an article discussing mass media influence on our way of thinking. It brought up an irritation to being told how to be successful.
Being an entrepreneur and an adviser in digital communication, the idea of success and how to be successful has always eluded me. It is a difficult subject, and thinking about it irked me with all kinds of questions:
Do I really want to be successful? What is success? Is success achievable with integrity? Should I play a role in order to be successful?When we look for advice on success on the internet, it seems to be easier to find than a recipe for a simple apple pie. The net is riddled with blogs, video's and how-to's on success. It's especially true for LinkedIn. Most of the time, certain methods are advised.
For example, we have to be diligent, intelligent and persisting. We are being told to give our best every day and grab every opportunity possible. We have to write, blog and meditate. We are also encouraged to eat healthy, be kind, and come up with new innovative ideas. Next to all that, we should invest in our networks, build (business) relationships and meet new people every day.. on the whole, a very intimidating list.
A standard deviation on success
What started to bug me about all this, is that exact approach on success. The promise that when everyone would just walk this trodden path, we would all be instantly successful people. There is a lot amiss with this idea. For starters, the idea of success varies per person. That is why we have to start defining success for ourselves first.
For one person, being successful is raising a family, for another, it's mastering a certain form of art. For others it's the ability to retain freedom in their lives.
Most of us focus on and aspire to the worldly view of success. The idea of being rich, important and beautiful is being dangled in front of us as a juicy orange carrot by the media. Many of us share a meritocratic worldview in which we think all of that can be obtained if we work hard enough towards success.
The moment when we subconsciously agree that there is only one true path to and one true way of success (the aforementioned worldly view of success), is the moment we get completely stuck in the common rat-race of life.
When we think of it, most of us would agree that there are different measures of success. Most of us are plagued by the thought that we should strive for worldly success, while our inner self dreams of another way.
Many of us have been taught in our younger years to strive for material riches. And indeed, shouldn't we always strive for better, more and greater? Perhaps.
Relax, nothing is under control
There is an underlying assumption in methods and advice on success: that we are in total control over our lives. For example, we have certain means to control our health. We eat healthy and exercise - two points of advice often to be found in methods to success. On their own, definitely good ideas - but eating healthy and exercising will not always save us from developing cancer or being hit by a bus at an inattentive moment.
Just as we have only partial control over what happens to our body, we are very inexperienced - even unable - to control our thoughts. Some of us are not even aware that our thoughts can be observed in the first place. We are often encouraged to meditate in order to be more successful, but I think the Buddha would wince to see his methods are used in order to attain exactly that which he warned us of: success, wealth, and material gain. Jetsuma Tenzin Palmo says it very well in this short video.
Next to our inner world, the outer world revolves completely on it's own. We try to impact it with our actions, but from time to time many situations just hit us unexpectedly and uncontrollably. Our loved ones might leave us, fall ill and die. All these situation are not - or only partial - under our control.
People who we love might no longer love us back. Friends come and go. Housing prices go up. We get fired. Taxes go up. Our cars breaks down. We miss an important meeting or fail to see a business opportunity, which we only realize at some point at home, while taking a shower. Only seconds later a bar of soap flies through the bathroom, flung away in a desperate fury.
Life is full of unpredictable changes and gratefully so, because it also provides us with the flip-side: positive and lovely surprises. One is not without the other. The thought that success is something that we can form, control and manage totally by our own means seems highly unlikely.
Maybe we've been luckyNext to that, we need a lot of luck in order to be successful as human beings. First of all, we are quite lucky when we are born as moderately mentally and physical healthy beings. Second, we are even more lucky if we have been brought up in a stable, loving and reasonably happy family. We might have been raised with high standards, offered high quality education and bequeathed with enough wealth to leave us time to day-dream, read good books and make interesting friends.
The way the cards are dealt for us at the beginning of our lives has a big impact in our ability to be successful later in life. Little of this is actually under our own control. This is a moment to show a little bit of appreciation if we were born in certain lucky environments.
Leaving the well-trodden pathIf we take all this into account, the so called 'methods for success' - as we find them on commercial websites - seem a little bland. These methods always seems to favor a certain kind of approach. A sure path to success.
Blindly following a certain ideology - even on success - could rob us of creativity and block the birth of new philosophies and ideas. We might lock ourselves into thinking a certain way. We seem urged upon a well-trodden path, instead of exploring new routes. For an ever changing world, with so many unique thinkers, a one-way approach will never do.
In relation to happinessThere is another assumption for our need for success: we have a deluded idea that being successful - and the fruits of that success - will make us happy. Is our hunger for success driven by our need for love, fame and recognition? Do we yearn for money and status?
Do we have to feel envious at the sight of the gigantic car of our neighbor? Or are we mature enough to understand that basing all our self esteem on material goods will only make us miserable? The expensive car might break down, costing us even more money.. and of course.. there is always a bigger, more beautiful and faster car around or in development to top us.
Being the boss of a big company might give us status and financial freedom, but brings a of responsibility, overtime and stress. We see less of our children, friends and family. We might get quite lonely at the top.
Status and praise will come and go. The admiration fame brings us can swiftly transform to envy, dislike and even hate. The chase of material richness and status are part of a never-ending rat race that we are bound to loose in the end.
It seems essential to develop a personal view on success. What is a successful life for me? How much do we really need in order to live a well-lived life?
Success as a band-aidWhen we look at ourselves and our desires (for success) honestly, we find that the craving for success is often based on an emotional hunger, a hunger or a want for something we haven't received in our youth or trauma we haven't got to terms with.
It could be due to our parents; we missed out on love, attention or simply being accepted the way we are. It could be due to society; we might felt pressurized to follow higher education and success in order to be valued. But it could also be due to our situation. Maybe we grew up in poverty and war and are determent to find our happiness in a world of abundance.
Paradoxically, it may be that we grew up in a too safe and wealthy environment, where we have grown jaded and addicted to comfort and praise. We might have been set in the world in search for more.
As mentioned earlier, the way we were raised and the environment that surrounded us when we grew up, deeply impact our character and our worldviews. When we desire certain things in our life, that thirst is almost always related to something we emotionally lack on the inside.
We could be more grateful in life when we take the time to get to know ourselves - the good and the bad - and try to heal ourselves in truth instead of finding empty ways to fill the endless lacking inside.
It doesn't mean that all forms of success are bad, evil or misguided. There is a big difference between wanting success because you are craving for it out of a feeling of deprivation and the feeling of wanting fervently to do something good in the world. It is a matter of intention.
What is true success?
True successful people - in my view - are people who are wanting to improve our world in an ethical way. These are people who try to broaden our minds, teach us kindness and compassion and share their humanity with us. They aren't perfect, do not take themselves too seriously and invite criticism as a gift, as they know themselves well enough to not have all the answers. They celebrate collaboration and will not think of themselves as leaders, more as motivators.
One can think of great people like Mandela, Carl Sagan and the late Maya Angelou, but those people might feel a little out of reach.. So we can look more close to home. It can also be the woman next door, who cares for her sick neighbor and the tired father who is patient with his children. Friends and colleagues who are always there for people in need.
True successful people treat others with kindness, honesty and respect. Those people who enable others to grow and celebrate them in the process. We are successful when we try to live a life of compassion and kindness, and work accordingly. We should try to help others where we can, as opposed to working only to gain in a selfish way (either financial or emotional).
Striving for worldly success only should never be our goal, because it doesn't ensure our happiness. We need the necessary to survive and grow, but we do not need material gain and status to survive. Those gives us a false sense of identity, but are a mere shell to who we really are.
Our goal should be to truly know ourselves, to know why we think and act a certain way. To dare to think, choose and act differently according to new truths. To challenge the status-quo and therefore our own assumptions.
Only we - you and I personally - can command the power of self-transformation. We are ultimately responsible for our thoughts, our words and our actions.Our ultimate goal - and therefore our ultimate success - might be in reaching the core of who we really are and to be able to cherish and appreciate life, benefiting ourselves and others accordingly.
Perhaps then, and only then, can we find true success.
If you spend too much time thinking about a thing,
Check lists. Who doesn't abide by them? I must admit that I do. Making lists of the most important tasks and actions I need to finish each day is actually my ideal way to start the day at work. Along with a good cup of coffee or green tea. Preferably on paper, so I can feel the physical satisfaction of crossing them of my list.
The magic of three
A couple years ago I read an article on the Dutch website SoChicken which claimed it is most useful to pick three goals a day to fulfill. Three essential things. The rest was to be extra.
I have found this 'philosophy of three ' very useful and still use it on a daily basis. It has helps me to have a sense of accomplishment each day. Just three important tasks next to all the ad hoc things that come my way. Either at work or in private life. Three is enough, either small or big steps.
This method has brought me a lot of peace and I advised colleagues of mine to do the same. Many of them have embraced this simple way of making (a little) progress each day. But still, my to do lists grew in the back of my mind and I felt a sense of unease growing in the back of my head.
But wait...While I was relaxing on the lovely Dutch island of Terschelling - a perfect place to let go of lists, to-do items and social obligations - I read about the idea of time surfing. Paul Loomans, a Dutch Zen Buddhist, came up with the term from his own experience of being a zen practitioner, a father of three and co-managing an international Zen Center.
As you can imagine - like any of us - he is well aware of the stress of modern life. Plagues by the daily demands of his responsibilities, Paul set off to find a way to keep his 'zen' meditative state of mind during the day. He wrote a book about abandoning to-do lists and working purely on intuition.
Wait. Abandon my precious lists? Losing complete track of the tasks at hand? The idea scared the meticulous organizer inside of me, but also piqued my curiosity.
As a former zen practitioner and a busy entrepreneur, I was curious to experience this idea of time surfing. Here's a small summary of his philosophy as I understood it.
7 ways to surf time
Paul shares with us 7 'rules' to retain our inner peace and surf time during the day.
1. Preform one task at the time and finish
Concentrate on one task at a time and finish it. As most of us nowadays know, multitasking is an illusion. It just means that your brain switches from one task to the other very quickly, but the cost of this jumping to and fro in the back of your head is the loss of precious brainpower. Just think of your computer processor overloading with simultaneous tasks. They slow down your computer as they do your brain, one of the reasons you seem to need coffee all the time.
Focusing on one thing at a time gives us peace of mind. It also frequently improves our results as well. Finishing the task means we can drop the thoughts around the task in our head. No reminders necessary. Done is done.
2. Be aware of what you do and accept it
When you hate doing the dishes and try to rush through them in annoyance, you might break a plate, burn your hands and ultimately snap at your partner. By accepting in your mind that you have to do the dishes and focus only on the dishes, it might not be such a hassle. All of our likes and dislikes originate from our mind: our ideas, expectations and feelings. Simply accepting a task and focusing all our energies on that task, makes that task more bearable.
The "scary" thing is, you might even begin to like doing the dishes.. the soap bubbles popping up, the smell of fresh soap around you, the gleaming plates after you washed them.. And even if you are still in a state of dislike. you can at least pat yourself on the back for finishing a dreaded task.
3. Take a break between tasks
Going on from task to task in a hurry can make you feel frazzled. Take breaks before you really need them and make those breaks qualitative. Stare out of your window, make some tea/coffee or - even better - take a swift stroll outside. The time you 'lose' is gained by being refreshed.
4. Give ad hoc emergencies your full attention
You are totally engrossed in your zen-moment and your colleague stumbles in, demanding assistance right this instant. Or your partner. Or your kids. Or maybe even your cat. The world will never be 'zen' and these things will always happen. If it is urgent, give it your full attention and aid where you can. You would want them to do the same for you, don't you? Letting go of what you were doing will free up your mind to concentrate on the present.
5. Take the nagging (rats) in the back of your mind seriously
Nagging rats in the back of your mind are the tasks or actions you are trying to postpone or avoid. These can make you feel hastened or pressurized, it is hard to relax when these rats are wrecking havoc in your brain. Acknowledge them, describe them to yourself and put them into action. Instant relief.
6. Observe the programs that run in the background of your mind
These are not rats - however, they can bring them along - but feelings, worries and anxieties that run in the back of your mind. These take away your precious energy. Bring them at peace by any means that suit them. Acknowledge, express, write, act upon or simply accept them en let them be. Stop them from having power over you.
7. Choose your next task spontaneously
The cornerstone of Paul's philosophy - saving the best for last - is that intuition is the best planner you own. Trust your gut. The only way to correctly trust your gut is by being at peace.When you are reaching a state of distress, take a little time to reflect. In the midst of deadlines? Yes! That is the time you need your focus and concentration the most.Intuitively - Paul reasons - you know very well what your next action should be.
My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.
No more hurry, no more to do lists.. Simply letting your intuition decide which task deserves your full attention. I am trying to implement this in my life and I indeed notice that many things are resolved simply because they matter in the present moment.
Continuous worry about things in the future will keep me jittery in the present, whilst I can only influence the future in the present. So, why not address those future worries at the appropriate moment in time required? Continuous planning ahead might seem smart according the books, but robs you of your inner peace.
In cases where you do have to prepare actions or tasks in advance, intuition still will trigger you to do so, as long as you keep your mind clear. In the end, you are intelligent enough to know when and where you are needed at this point in time.
Actions and tasks that are minor, might slip away in oblivion. But were they that important in the first place? Living a simpler life also means accepting that you cannot do everything.
Do you think you could surf time? Stop trying to be in control so furiously and trust your own senses? What would you gain?
Paul Loomans is a practicing Zen Buddhist since 1984 and co-responsible for the European Zen Center in Amsterdam. He is married and father of three kids. His book "Ik heb de tijd" (I have time) has not been translated to English yet.
'The easiest thing is to react. The second easiest thing is to respond.
In our busy lives, we are prone to react or respond to situations. Of course, in many situations, we simply have to deal with the things that pop up in our lives, but just responding and reacting can easily become daily habits. We should not forget that we have a choice: to initiate something new instead of just trying to battle with life at every corner.
Why is reacting to a situation easier than initiating something new?
It can be scary
Initiating something new can be a scary thing to do. Think about making the first move, starting up a new project at work, volunteering or trying to pitch a new, weird idea with the risk of looking ridiculous in the process.
We tend to keep to the well-known paths of reacting and responding because starting something new always comes with a chance of failure (and possible loss of image). Initiating something new feels risky to many.
Using our busy schedules as a shield
Since initiating is a scary thing to do, we tend to hide behind our busy schedules. It can feel safe, sure, but is it a satisfying way to live our lives? We all have duties and responsibilities, yes, but honestly, how many of our appointments and planned actions are really necessary and interesting? And - more importantly - do we really want them to run the course of our lives?
Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.
Some of us might not hide behind our busy schedules, but simply feel too overwhelmed to even entertain the notion of initiating something new into our lives.
In this situation, it can be even more important to make time to initiate something new, something that springs from your own heart and brain. It can help us retrain a sense of purpose and direction in life instead of feeling victimized by our Outlook Calendars, the public transport schedule and needy family members.
Feeling 'lived' by our life can rob us of our energy, turning us into a grumpy and unhappy people, which ultimately will not do anyone any good. We'd be grumpy colleagues, impatient parents and uninterested partners. We should remember that our lives are quite short and time passes quickly. We shouldn't forget to try and take charge of the course we'd like our lives to run.
Take time to think, plan and act
So part of learning to initiate and develop our own course, is learning to say no to things that aren't important - or necessary - to us and spend our valuable time and energy on things that are worthwhile to pursue. I once read that if we want to know what the future will look like, we should look at what we are doing & thinking about today. That is exactly why it’s so important to take time to review, evaluate and initiate.
Sort out your priorities
Does not the very word 'creative' mean to build, to initiate, to give out, to act - rather than to be acted upon, to be subjective?
It is not a selfish thing to ask for a little time out to sort out our priorities. Our friends, family and coworkers might be disappointed when we take some time for ourselves, but we can explain to them that it is also an investment.
Simply explain to them that initiating something new and reaching out of our comfort zone, can bring us so much. It rewards us with personal growth, inspiration, creativity, new friendships and a lot of joy, which in turn will be reflected on your loved ones and your (professional) environment.
But it’s still risky..
It is. That's basically also the fun of it. Overcoming fears, finding the edges of your comfort zone and learning to stretch them. Being able to surprise yourself and others. It's the juice of life. It doesn't even have to be big. Also small changes count. They count a lot. And might be a start to something larger.
Just remember that if you happen to fall flat on your face, there are always kind people around you to help pick you up and dust you off again. Don't take yourself too seriously. Go out and start something new.
“I took care of all the little things I’d been putting off because I’d been focused on more important tasks.”
Thoreau said it already. 'Our lives are frittered away with details. Simplify, simplify, simplify.' If Thoreau would have lived in our day and age, he would be baffled by the increase of details and complexity in our daily lives. We have electronic devices yelling and beeping at us all day round.
We have a hard time focusing on one thing at a time. Writing and good quality conversations have been become increasingly rare. In worst case, some people can only relate to each other in small text messages and emoticons.
Next to our dwindling powers of communication, we have become obsessed by status, consumerism and greed. Most people around me - including myself - complain about anxiety, stress and the feeling to be 'lived' by life, instead of living it true to our own terms. Many of us are in search of some serenity in our lives.
This is an article with 5 little pieces of advice to start you off in order to improve the quality of your life and to cope with the 'details' and distractions that surround our daily lives.
1. Tune down: find silence
The starting point of the mess we call our everyday lives, is our focus, or better said, our lack thereof. Most of us lack focus because we are constantly over flooded by messages from media, friends, our cellphone and social media. We need to disconnect to find some silent time in order to reflect on our own lives, to find out what we want and what we don't need in life.
You can meditate if you want, but a stroll through the forest, a walk in nature, or simply just sitting by yourself for half an hour or simply enjoying a cup of tea, can already help to remove the static in your brain. In many religions and philosophies, and also modern psychology, time for rest and introspection are highly valued and even viewed as being essential to our well being.
Silence also gives us an opportunity to contemplate death, to look at our daily drama's from a distance and notice what is truly important and which things seem futile to pursue.
Contemplating death might sound a bit grim to your ears, but it is actually quite freeing. It makes you care less about the drama's and rubbish in your head and raise the understanding that your life is precious and fragile and meant to be lived now at this moment and not when you are 60 years of age and retired, while praying you will be still in good health (and around!) by then.
Becomingminimalist gives 10 tips on how to bring more peace into your daily lives here.
2. Simplify your life
Just as our digital lives are a continuous distraction, our material and social lives are also 'frittered away by details' - in Thoreau's words. For the one's unfamiliar with him, Henry David Thoreau was an American author (1817 - 1862), poet, philosopher and cultural rebel. He despised all the needs and desires of his fellow humans for gold, status and wealth and recommended the living of a simple, easy life.
His views can be read in his essay 'Civil Disobedience' and his book 'Walden' about his 'humble abode in the woods' where he loved spending his time in natural surroundings. Thoreau urges us to enjoy birdsong, the simple pleasures of a cup of tea and a simple meal. With him, Wordsworth, Emerson and others also have urged us, through the centuries, to enjoy a simple and good life.
Also in many of the great faiths, a simple and humble live was preached as pleasing to God, understanding that fulfilling all our own desires where a) not the most important and b) in the end not ensuring us happiness. More of the contrary.
It's for this particular reason that Buddhist monks own virtually nothing, and I've never seen happier people in my life. Clutter takes away your energy, it requires constant guarding, fixing, storing and using, and makes our life more complicated in the end. In Buddhism, it is said that our clinging, our detachment to both material things as people - and ultimately, our own existence - is keeping us from happiness.
Trying to detach from all this is a (sometimes painful) process, but I can assure you, you will feel more free and happy as you go along parting with stuff you no longer need.
Some people, like me, are choosing for a minimalist lifestyle in order to live a simple live, and we try to cut things out of our lives that cost us too much energy. If you want an idea about what simplicity can offer you, please read this post 'Why buying stuff won't make you happy' by Joshua Becker and 'How I Cleaned House & Simplified My Work Life' by Leo Babauta.
3. Be generous
This point is a follow up of inviting silence and simplicity into your life. When you get less attached to status, wealth and material things, it becomes easier to share. The things you own are only temporary, because at the moment of death, there won't be a you anymore to own anything. Share stuff you don't use with others, share your time and set your loved ones free. Don't sit on them and view them as your property.
In relationships, remember the dislike when a friend or relative tries to claim you? Kids on the schoolyard playing, saying 'you cannot play with any other child but me!' and holding on to your hand. Sounds quite childish, but most of us continue this behavior as adults, afraid that we are not worthy of love and that people will leave us if we do not cling to them (or even bribe them into staying friends with us!). We all know that being clung on to is a suffocating and unloving feeling.
Sting sings 'If you love someone, set them free' and he's right. True love, friendship and contact can only be established if there is no set boundary, no trade-off.. Of course you can make appointments and create rituals with your dear ones and tell each other what you would like to achieve in your personal contact, but both you and the other can only grow in freedom, by choice of contact. You will see that people would much rather be with you, if you let them be themselves and do not try to claim or change anyone.
In the beginning it might feel like you are 'loosing' people and/or material goods. Maybe you'll loose some friends who do not understand the new you. Some people might still believe in the whole 'claiming' business, and feel you've abandoned them. But, in most cases, when you share your love, time, friends, family and material objects, you will notice that the same courtesy will be extended to you as well.
4. Find like-minded people (and media) and travel
When I state you should let people be free, it also means that you have to choose carefully which people you would like to spend your time with. Letting people live their own life, in their own way, is considered tolerance, but the people you interact with at daily basis influence you even more than adds and marketing efforts do. So try and find some friends who you can relate to, who also want to grow and be better people, because they can and they will affect you.
This is not only true for real life contact, but also in the digital realm. I follow blogs and Facebook pages/groups that provide me with inspiration on a daily basis. I read books that inspire me to be a better, kinder human being.
It's about developing a keen insight for new, usefull and inspiring information. You are confronted with negativity on a daily basis anyway (just put on the 8 o'clock news), so don't over invite it in your life by other people and media that you can choose to abandon.
You can also form like minded groups, where you meet up with regulary, enjoy good food and wine (or soda :)) and talk about the important things in life. Talk about what makes you tick and what doesn't. And why. Make sure that these people, places and media give you renewed energies and insights.
I don't mean all these people have to agree with you, on the contrary, it's good to have debates and discussion, but these people should accept the same goal you have: to understand your lives and your motives, and be open enough to accept other views and ideas.
Even your enemies will prove to give you valuable insights on yourself and human nature. Try to be honest and authentic. It will be a little uneasy to do this at first, but the more authentic you learn to be, the more people you will meet that will truly like you because of who you are, not who you try to be.
Traveling is a great way to meet new people and cultures and give you insight in the nature of both humans and their cultures. It doesn't always mean to fly half-way around the world. Even a city, town or landscape near you, or even a new coffee place, where you'd never been, can hold new exciting insights and experiences.
5. Blog, write and evaluate
Alain de Botton says rightly in his book 'Religion for Atheists' , that we humans tend to forget. We are rather prone to forget the things we learned in primary school, and nowadays, in our busy adult lives, even tend to forget the events of last week. This has a lot to do with trying to bring more focus in our lives.
Our forgetfulness is the reason why we tend to make the same mistakes and same excuses time and time again. So, we need to remind ourselves. Point 4 (Find liked-minded people and media) will certainly help with this as will silence (Point 1) to make sense of it all. A diary, or notebook can help us evaluating our time, our actions and remind us of the ideals and goals we cherish.
A diary is very private, and safe, whilst a blog is out for the world to see. The latter can be a scary thing, so maybe you'd like to start with the former, but blogging has - in my opinion - one big advantage: it gives people that don't even know you the opportunity to share feedback, which can help you to grow. Also, blogs can be great reminders of the goals and ideals we say we cherish, but are so bad at achieving ourselves. It makes us very much accountable for or own process.
These are a couple ideas that can help bring the bonus of religious and philosophical practice into your daily life without the need of actually believing in a secular worldview.
There is of course, much more that you can do: form your own tradition, study the works of religions and philosophers to learn from them, all the while daring to shift your worldview as you go along.
Just remember that you will be learning your whole life, and life will get new meaning if you keep your curiosity and an open mind, and minimalize the - unwanted & unimportant - distractions in your life.