Learning to get out of my own way changed everything.
I am a big believer in karma, humility and appreciating the flow of the universe. Arriving at the understanding that I am only a bit player in a much bigger story proved a life-changing experience. Call it “getting religion” or finding enlightenment, but arriving at this point in life was a game changer.
Youth brings a wagon full of conflicting emotions and underdeveloped instincts. Some useful, others dangerous. In our discovery, we can fall under the spell of telling ourselves there is no such thing as too much of a good thing.
But fortunately, life is rather stubborn. Bigger, stronger and immune to the petulant demands of our youthful wants, life moves on without hesitation. The secret is to learn not to allow our selfishness to get in the way.
I remember decades ago when the markers of adulthood were seemingly defined in significant part by the accumulation of material objects. The right emblem on a car, the hot logo on a shirt or even the overbuilt neighborhood indicated the achievement of success. Happiness was measured by playing a fancy — and expensive — game of picture bingo.
Big house, cross off the picture. Luxury nameplate on your car, mark off another. Second home, mark off another. Five across, and you’re a winner.
But one day, you realize this is a game of fool’s gold. And if COVID-19 teaches us anything, it is material objects pale in comparison to one’s health. Yes, you can have four across, but if you are on a ventilator nothing is more valuable than health care workers risking their lives to save yours.
At this point in my life, the world consistently demonstrates when we become too inwardly focused, a slap is coming our way. My mother used to warn, “Don’t get too full of yourself; coming down is hard.” And she was right.
Years ago, my life crossed paths with a remarkable man a half-century my senior. I’d stop by his office periodically. Ten minutes or an hour, our conversations would wander the rich landscape of life. And regardless of how many zeros lined his bank account (many), he always focused on first being a good person.
Take care of others, take care of your family and take care of yourself, he said.
He told me the true measure of life is what people know and think about you as you stroll the sidewalk. Are you someone they recognize as generous to others, caring for strangers and always willing to help? Or are you someone they can only project on based on your outwardly material objects? It was then I understood he played a different game of bingo.
Since then, I’ve tried to stay out of my own way and become a person of quality and good character. I openly admit I am imperfect and at times come up short. But learning to play by a different game card allows me to better understand my role in life.