A good friend of my mother’s asked me when I was 18 or 19 – what makes you happy? She said it’s the hardest question you’ll ever ask yourself and for so many years it was. So here I am now, so many years later, trying still to answer that question. A few years ago now, my good friend and colleague Kinga Parrot asked me something similar over lunch. I was bubbling over about the amazing three days I had at the conference we were at. I was talking about how much I loved my job, my team and how wonderful my family is. I told her I felt blessed. That I felt like I was unfurling. She asked me why I thought that was, reminding me of the amazing year I had in 2014 and that this had been going on awhile. She asked if there was a moment when everything turned and what sparked that. And I had been asking myself that very question. How did I get so happy? When did I get so happy? Why am I so happy?
I have been on this journey for almost as long as I can remember. This blog series will share some of my go to ingredients for my recipe for happiness. I am imperfect and I don’t have the answers to anyone’s problems but my own. I suffer from depression and anxiety despite my best intentions and hardest work. I don’t pretend to have a formula that can be perfectly replicated (and I’m not sure anyone would ever want to!). So yeah – my sauce includes Prozac. But it also includes music, mindfulness, some Buddhist and Christian concepts, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and a lot of specific tools that I took away from different teachers like Tony Robbins, and it includes the wise, wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I want to blog about these things.
I’m going to start with Emerson, but future blogs will talk about what I learned from Tony Robbins, cognitive behavioral therapy, the Dalai Llama and more….. This blog series has no end in sight……
I read Compensation when I was 13 or 14 and not too long after Self Reliance. Every word branded itself in my soul. Without knowing it, it became the religion to which I would live my life. To which I live my life to this day. Everything else enables me to live by that principle. Thank you to my mother for having me read Compensation and “report out” on it over breakfast one morning. Here are a few of the things I learned from these two amazing essays.
Let’s start with my favorite quote : “A man is relieved and gay when he has put his heart into this work and done his best ; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace. It is a deliverance which does not deliver. …..Trust thyself : every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine Providence has found for you ; the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.” There are so many layers to this quote!
For one, I know I feel better when I am putting my “heart” into my work. Check! on that one! And how long have I spent over the years mulling over whether or not I was doing what I should be doing in life? When I have been willing to put my all into my work without resentment, I have been most fulfilled. I had these moments in most jobs I ever had – so it’s not about having the perfect job. But I also had a lot of resentment over the years with IBM that I had to continually stamp out. I was able to do that again and again because I do trust my place in the world, because I believe in my personal value. I believe things happen for a reason. Emerson is basically laying out a foundation for loving oneself and accepting that the universe is connected and we are only at peace when we are at one not only with ourselves but with the universe. Wow!
Next up – the difficulties of not following the “norm”. “It is harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion ; it is easy in solitude to live after your own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” I have lived my life holding fast to my right to forge my own opinion. Thomas Watson liked to use the analogy of “wild” ducks vs tame ones. Whether in the workplace or outside of it, I refuse to follow group opinions without dissecting them and understanding whether or not I personally agree. That can be an asset but boy can it also get you in trouble!
And what of the equilibrium of life? “Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess. Every sweet hath its sour; every evil its good, Every faculty which is a receiver of pleasure, has an equal penalty put on it’s a use. …For every grain of wit there is a grain of folly. For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something.” Remembering this, accepting this and acknowledging it’s place in life has helped me stay sane. Everything has (at least!) two sides, two faces, pros and cons. It’s the ripple in the pond. Everything has consequences, we must be ready to accept them.
Finally – the ultimate. “What will you have? quoth God : pay for it and take it.” This is one I would that everyone take to heart – every choice we make costs something. Better be willing to pay it. I tried very hard to teach this one to my children (although I never made them read the essay). Life is a question of choices. If you want something, you must realize that there is a price. Want to be a pro athlete? Don’t expect to be able to live like other people – you have to train, you have to eat well, you have to give up any number of excesses, you have to go to bed early and etc and etc and etc. It’s not enough to dream – you have to pay the pied piper. Look deeply at every successful person and you can find what they had to give up in exchange. BUT if you are willing, if you are determined, you can do anything.
I come back again and again to Emerson, so don’t be surprised if somewhere down the line I blog about the man’s great truths again! Next up, I’ll talk about what I learned from Tony Robbins. Stay tuned……