A friend recently informed me, “On the day you die you will have email in your in box . . . Then what will you do?” Hmmmm. . .
If your happiness hangs on getting it all done, this prognostication is a sobering one. When you judge your worth or success by the number of tasks you complete, you set yourself up for some victories and lots of frustration. Like the Greek mythological character Sisyphus, you will eternally roll a big rock to the top of a hill, only to have it fall back on you, to start again.
If you think that life is about getting somewhere, you will almost do it. If you think that life is about being somewhere, you can always do it. Are you a human being, or a human doing? Are you here to arrive at a destination, or to enjoy the journey?
Certainly goals and projects give our life meaning and purpose; choosing and achieving a valued goal liberates energy and reward. You will never be satisfied not doing something, so you are wise to choose goals you believe in. Just be sure that the process of completing them lifts your spirit rather than crushes it, and your soul is intact when you cross the finish line.
A college business student sat down to take his final exam, ten questions that would largely determine his grade. When he came to the last question, he could hardly believe his eyes: “What is the name of the cleaning lady in this building?” Since he didn’t know her name, he challenged the teacher as to the validity of the question. The professor answered, “If you intend to get anywhere in the business world, your success depends not simply on spreadsheets, but relationships.” Often the happiest people in a corporation are the custodians. They are more interested in saying hello than closing a deal.
The satisfaction you feel when you complete a project is a blessing and an illusion. It is a blessing because our nature is to feel complete, and we will remain hungry and wanting until we do so. It is an illusion because we are already complete. You could have enjoyed a sense of wholeness before you even began, or while you walked through the steps. If you are not good enough without the medal, you will not be good enough with one.
The purpose of an adventure is not where you end up; it is what you discover along the way. Theologian Martin Buber explained, “All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” You think you know why you are marrying someone, taking a job, or buying a house. Meanwhile, the universe has a bigger reason, which has to do with what you learn along the way. It is the awakening that gives your journey meaning. As Patrick Swayze’s character exclaimed in the last scene of the movie Ghost, as he is about to enter heaven, “It’s amazing ― you take all the love with you.”
If you get all hung up in getting things done and miss the love, when you arrive at Hotel Paradise, your suitcase will be empty. When you finally come home to love, you will realize that it was always here. That is why the only thing you cannot afford to postpone is joy. So embrace Paradise now, and beat the rush later.
Here we are again at the end of a year ― one more trip around the sun. Hopefully we are wiser for it, closer to living our truth and our purpose. We keep returning to the same point in the orbit, with a new chance to make the choice for our joy. “If not now, when?”
As you set your goals or make your resolutions for the coming year, I have a radical suggestion: Rather than setting goals for what you will do, set goals for how you will feel. Replace your “To Do” List with a “To Feel” List, or a “To Be” List. The only thing more important than what you get done is how you feel when you are doing it. If you get everything done, but lose your joy in the process, what is the good? And if you get less than everything done and you feel great, how valuable is that? It is the spirit in which you live that makes all the difference. So set spiritual goals, and the material ones will follow. Set material goals only, and your spirit is tossed about like a cork on a stormy sea. The name of the game is happiness, so don’t leave home without it.
New years are new chances. Every new day is a new chance, a life unto itself. You are literally reborn every time you wake up. Enlightenment is but a shift in perception, a refocusing from the number of emails in your inbox to the memory that there are real people on the other end of the @’s; from maximizing your billable hours to stopping to ask the cleaning lady if her son won his soccer game; from “What am I going to do to?” to “Who will I be when I do it?”
A friend told me that last year he made the biggest step of his life, and it was only 18 inches. He made the journey from his head to his heart. Not far by the ruler, yet monumental by the soul.
By Alan Cohen