Saturday, April 24, 2010

Paying the Price

Violin virtuoso Friedrich Kriesler was approached by an admiring fan after a concert.

“I would give my life to play violin like that,” the woman gushed.

“Madam,” said Kriesler, slowly measuring his words, “I have.”

Kriesler’s droll response succinctly sums up one of life’s great truths – that evolution toward the ideal, whether of an individual or of an entire society, is never quick and easy. And yet so many of us act like it is.

If we put even a fraction of the energy we waste on envy, coveting, resentment and victim-consciousness into the process of cultivating our own greatness we would be amazed at the beautiful butterfly we have become. But we love our cocoons too much.

The Stoic philosophers of ancient Rome called it paying the price. Craving something that you are unwilling to work for is the height of folly. And from there it’s a steep slide into misery.

Wondering why you can’t keep your weight down while refusing to exercise and reduce your food intake is a prime example of wanting the prize without paying the price. Idly wishing you were a rock star while doing little or nothing to further your mastery of musicianship, singing, songwriting, arrangement, recording technology, stagecraft and the intricacies of the music business is nothing more than a pipe dream. Wanting a lucrative and rewarding professional career without sacrificing years and lots of money toward education and training is simply unfair. Whatever you were doing those six years when you could have been in college and grad school, well, that bore certain fruit too. Every decision and action plants seeds. And there is always the harvest. You can count on that.

Every choice entails sacrifice. When you say yes to something, you are saying no to everything else. That’s what makes choosing so torturous. Kierkegaard, Sartre and the other existentialists are fond of pointing out that we are radically free and that we invent ourselves with every choice. When we refuse to choose, that too is a choice. There is no escape from our freedom.

Let’s not waste any time on remorse and regret about the wasted years and the way fear robbed us of our joy. Own your choices. Forgive yourself. You have a good life. Don’t be tortured by all of the paths not taken. You did what you felt was best at the time. You paid whatever price you were willing or capable of paying. And now you’re home looking in the shopping bag at what you got. It’s too late to complain now. But it is not too late to begin making different choices. Set a new wheel in motion.

It is natural for us to compete with one another. Our tendency to feel envious of others is understandable. We can’t help but notice the amazing lives others have created and wonder, why not me? What do we do with this feeling of envy? Do we let it eat us for lunch, or do we let it jolt us awake and spur us toward the life we so richly deserve? We stand at a fork in the road. Down one road lies a life of creativity, emergence and mastery. Down the other lies a life of safety and regret. Let your envy drive you like a lash. Let it pitch you out of your fear and into your love. Gandhi said that everything we do is driven by one of two things, fear or love. Which road will you choose?

Now it’s time to get to work. Instead of envy, feel inspired. Let the success and accomplishment of others convince you that so much more is possible. The only thing holding you back is your limited and limiting vision of yourself. Success has little to do with manipulating objects and events in the outer world. Begin within. Success is an inside job.

Believe that you deserve it. Trust your instincts. Know that there are people all around you willing and able to contribute in powerful and unforeseen ways to your emerging sense of purpose. Show up in the spirit of cooperation and co-creation. None of us are alone, even when it feels like we are. Feeling alone and isolated? You aren’t. Snap out of it. That’s just your fear trying to take back control.

Do three things everyday to further your dream – just three. By the end of the month, you’ll have completed ninety concrete, specific tasks. Put a few months together and see the inevitable progress. Three years from now a whole new life will have taken shape.

There were three brick layers at a construction site. A passerby asked, “What are you doing?”

The first one said, “I’m laying bricks.”

The second one said, “I’m building a wall.”

The third one said, “I’m building a cathedral.”

Which one do you think is going to do a better job? Which one is going to work through the exhaustion and tedium? Which one invests each stroke of the trowel with love and precision? Which one sets each brick as if it were the single most important thing they’ve ever done? Which bricklayer are you?

There is no secret. This is not mysterious. The tools for building a great life are lying all around us. We have only to pick them up.

Are you wasting time and energy on regret? Are you drunk on the poison of envy and resentment, caught in the grips of fear, defeated by the delusion of powerlessness? Or are you awakening to your own boundlessness? Are you sick and tired of feeling sick and tired? Are you reaching for the tools with which you will build the life of your dreams? Don’t deny your own infinite potential. What a tragedy, the Afghani saying goes, to die like a pomegranate with all one’s seeds still locked up inside.

The world desperately needs you, the real you, to show up. But it’s going to take some work. Like Friedrich Kriesler, are you willing to sacrifice your life for something amazing, something bigger than any one of us? Are you willing to pay the price?