“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living. As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Nelson Mandela
Choices: Where did those 10,000 hours go? Recently, my good friend Susan and I were hanging out and chatting at her home. As we sipped cups of hot chocolate and coffee, we talked about the power of choice and how we exercise it in our lives, in our career paths, romantic partnerships, familial relationships, education and more. Why do some people live such large and expansive lives? How do some people find contentment somewhere in the middle? What makes others settle for small things? Do we willingly choose to lead lives defined by small, medium and large outcomes?
“I always knew I was going to be rich. I don’t think I ever doubted it for a minute.” Warren Buffett
Why do some people live expansive, successful lives? If Malcolm Gladwell joined our chat, he would probably point us in the direction of his book, “OUTLIERS: The Story Of Success,” which claims that, aside from a few other factors, the most successful people on the planet have focused their energies on expending 10,000 hours honing their craft.
According to Gladwell, most of these super successful folk were born during a particular period in history, had fortuitous circumstances present in their upbringing, and spent so many hours maximizing their talents into a super-successful career. Of course, if the question ‘what about a child-prodigy?’ crosses your mind, Gladwell has an answer for that; they can transition to a mega successful adulthood if they, you got it, spent 10,000 hours perfecting, fine-tuning their gift.
“Knowledge of the self is the mother of all knowledge. So it is incumbent on me to know my self, to know it completely, to know its minutiae, its characteristics, its subtleties, and its very atoms.” Kahlil Gibran
How do some people find contentment in the middle? I would like to suggest that the ability to maintain a modicum of stability and sameness in life must have something to do with temperament and, perhaps for some, a level of spiritual maturity. Perhaps, even a measure of self-knowledge or simply maintaining their comfort zone in familiar territory.
I have met people who were quite happy to remain at job X and perform duties Y and have no interest in the grandiosity of life or pursuing Z. People like that find contentment in essentially a middle-class mindset that veers neither upward nor downward. It might not necessarily be deliberate or planned but that is the outcome and they are “just fine” reposed at that location.
“Do you wish to be great? Then begin by being (small). Do you desire to construct a vast and lofty fabric? Think first about the foundations of humility. The higher your structure is to be, the deeper must be its foundation.” Saint Augustine
What makes others settle for small things? This is obviously debatable because I don’t think people intentionally settle small by living lives of quiet desperation. While self-effort, attitude, street savvy, unforeseen conditions and even sheer luck play a part in our choices and outcomes, I think other circumstances can create conditions that lead one down a particular path. These circumstances can also be viewed through the rather mystical lenses of karma, destiny and freewill.
Some people believe that we create karma in our daily exchanges with each other (Sanskrit for action) which produces consequences and impacts our life conditions. Our action was a choice and the consequences the fruit of that choice. From that point of view, the life you live is based on past and future actions; good and bad. For instance, a generous, loving person returns to a new human form to reap the rewards of previous actions.
“Destiny has two ways of crushing us – by refusing our wishes and by fulfilling them.” Henri-Frederic Amiel
What about destiny? For some folks, destiny is pre-ordained and depending on whom you speak to or what your personal belief system is, it can/cannot change. From that perspective, our choices are selected for us. Based on these beliefs, if we look through the lens of destiny, fame and fortune are pre-determined constructs that benefit a select group. Basically, no matter what you do, if it’s not in the blueprint, your dreams are limited. Really?
Yet for others, the belief is that we create our destiny by the decisions, choices, and actions we make/take. It is much easier to claim we shaped our destiny and thus our successes; especially if effort and experience support the outcome or largesse we enjoy. This is easy to say when things are great.
However, what if your effort and experience produce the reverse – depleted returns and disappointment? Now this is probably not so palatable because no one would want to claim total responsibility for failure, accidents, ill-health, and such. Destiny is far more complex than we are willing to admit or consider.
“Many of the problems that arise in life are due to our having said ‘yes’ in situations where we should have said ‘no.’ Life is like a game of cards. No matter what cards we are dealt, we should use them to try to win the game.” Amma
How about freewill? Freewill is tricky because it neither negates karma nor abandons destiny. Freewill, at least in the texts I have read on the topic, presupposes that you have a life in front of you that you are currently engaged in living and that the difference is your freewill to embrace it, modify it or reject it for something else. The point then is that some people move to the middle, some reach for the stars and yet others struggle (or not) to make sense of it all.
Do we willingly choose to lead lives defined by small, medium and large outcomes? It depends… The notion of the self-made man is a fallacy. No one creates success alone nor do people who work the hardest always accomplish the most in life. We are all stars but not everyone will become a “celebrity” no matter how talented.
Attitude is important yet bad things happen to good, positive people and the real secret is that even nasty, negative types can experience incredible success. At the end of the day, what matters is what calls your heart and how/where you choose to spend your time – 10,000 hours or more. The Choice is Yours. What do you think?
Positive Motivation Tip: Be at peace with the choices you make in life. Start by asking how your actions can lift others up.
PHOTO CREDITS/ATTRIBUTIONS: Paper and plastic Cups from my personal collection, Doug Hyde Sculpture ~ Whitewall Galleries (British artist Doug Hyde from Bristol creates humorous, heartwarming pieces which have become quite popular with collectors worldwide. This cold cast porcelain sculpture is titled Small Medium Large).