My uncle has four grown daughters. Each year on his birthday, he will spend the day complaining about which daughter took the longest to call, why none of them call often enough, and how he can relate to Rodney Dangerfield’s, “No Respect.”
On the other figurative hand there’s my dear friend Steve who wanted but didn’t have children. His phone regularly rings with calls from the many former students who want to thank him for changing their lives.
Both men grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, raised in dysfunctional and abusive homes.
So, how did these two men end up with such different lives? Why does my uncle repel company while Steve attracts it?
There’s an old saying by Buddhist, Haruki Murakami:
“Pain is inevitable: suffering is optional.”
While my uncle and Steve both experienced some particularly bumpy roads in their childhoods, my uncle kept his wounds company, allowing them to fester and bleed into the landscape of his adult life; Steve, however, allowed himself to feel those wounds and learn from them. If my uncle were a character in a play, he’d be emotionally stuck in Act I. He hasn’t stepped away from the events of his youth and looked at them objectively, so he’s a mouse in a spiritual maze, destined to experience suffering.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s not to measure success solely on the external. As of this writing, 612,000 people in the United States have died from COVID; 4.19 million people worldwide are no longer on this beautiful Earth due to the respiratory virus. COVID doesn’t care if you drive a Ferrari or a Ford, it doesn’t care if you wear Ferragamo’s or flip flops, and it certainly doesn’t care if you work on Wall Street or a Walmart.
COVID has shaken the infrastructure of our economy, our politics, and our personal and professional relationships. COVID is The Great Wake Up Call to consider success from a place that cannot be destroyed or taken from us.
Remember: Pain is temporary and inevitable in this life; suffering is, thankfully, optional.
So, what is this new measure for success that COVID cannot take away from us?
Joy. Fun. Laughter. Our free-will choice to perceive this life from a different perspective.
Author and life coach, Gabrielle Bernstein offers the following insight:
“It’s our job to find the fun in everything. Some of the happiest people I know have the innate ability to find joy in the most joyless scenarios.”
We all possess this ability to find joy, regardless of our circumstances. My uncle has the choice to be grateful that all four of his daughters are healthy and enjoying their adult lives. The irony here is that if he stopped focusing on his perception of lack, more would flow to him: his daughters would want to call him—and not just on the obligatory birthday time. Respect is a natural by-product of self-respect. My uncle only needs to look within for his suffering to abate.
Steve finds joy in helping others, in learning, in using his body and mind in equal measure; my uncle spends his days blasting the news, intermittently yelling at the anchors on television who cannot hear him.
When we measure our success by the sense of pleasure that we experience, instead of the external world that will continue to alter, we are living a successful life. Everything else is just gravy.
So, savor that cup of coffee, relish the scent of fresh cut grass, and notice how tonight’s sunset makes you feel. It’s our job.
Source: The New York Times, Miracles Now, Wikipedia