It is well recorded that the one thing people on their death beds regret most, is that they were not more true to themselves. “I wish I pursued my dreams and aspirations, and not the life others expected of me.” Or “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” These two statements or much the same; one alludes to dreams and aspirations not met, while the other remarks on not having the courage to live true to oneself – to not have the guts to let the child within run free. Both point to a big mistake we all tend to make: living a life based on the expectations of others. Or rather: based on what we believe to be the expectations of others.
From a very young age we learn to conform – we are taught to “fit in”:
“Don’t make so much noise – people are looking at you!”
“Don’t wear that – they’ll laugh at you!”
“Don’t say that – you’ll sound stupid!”
“Don’t do that – its not done around here!”
And then the inner voice kicks in: “Don’t try that, they will scorn you if you fail.” And so the fear of failure kicks in: “What if I don’t have what it takes?” It takes control of you – sometimes for life. Based on the fear of not conforming with others’ norms and expectations, we allow others to dominate and control the way we set out in life – to control (and destroy) our dreams and aspirations. For the sake of conforming. For the sake of being bland and boring. Killing our uniqueness.
An old man lay dying in his bed. As he looked back at his life, at the little time he was granted on this Earth-school, he noticed how much time he spent trying to be, trying to live like others expected of him.
The truth is, no one expected anything of him – they couldn’t have cared less. They were far too busy living their lives the way they thought others expected them to!
My wife described our first three months in Austria the best: She compared the craziness of it all to the first three months after the birth of our triplets. That precious human messiness that changes your heart and soul forever – beautiful and brutal at the same time!
At times we wanted to cry (and did!) and at times we laughed and laughed ‘till our bellies ached (we did that too)! But probably the most beautiful thing I have learned from our new Austrian friends so far, is the concept of “egal”. It is usually used in a sentence like: “Es ist egal” meaning: “It is all the same” or “it really makes no difference.” But for me, there is a deeper meaning to “egal” and the way it is used. It also means “let it go” – almost in the same way that Elsa meant it in “Frozen”. It is like dropping a small twig into a stream. A gentle but intentional act. You are letting go of the twig by opening your hand and letting it slip out. You see it dropping into the water and watch as it is slowly carried away, going further and further, being carried away with the flow of the stream until you see it no more. It is gone.
A child drops her melting ice cream into the grass beneath her feet and begins to cry. “Es ist egal”, her mother says softly. Let it go – it is not that important.
A businessman just heard he’s been retrenched. “Es ist egal”. Just let it slowly drift away. For when it is gone, it can do no more harm. Things can only get better.
I am standing in a room full of people, alone with my glass of wine. I take a sip every now and then whilst glancing at the people around me. My eyes meet those of a beautiful stranger, also standing alone, seemingly entertained by the buzzing noise of the people around her. I quickly look away, knowing that someone so gorgeous wouldn’t be here alone. I wouldn’t want to intrude. Later, I see her leaving. Alone. My assumption was wrong, but now she’s gone.
Sometimes we make a lifelong, life changing choice in a moment. Very often, that choice is based on assumptions, which are based on our frame of reference – our experience. We don’t realise that it is life changing right there at that moment, but we still make that choice – for better or for worse.
Do I make the call to him or not? If I do, he may reject me. Maybe not even answer the phone. The story ends right there.
However, if he shares my infatuation with him, it may be the beginning of a lifetime of shared experiences – a lifetime of magic!
We make these choices all the time, not knowing that the consequences of each of our choices open up, or close countless doors of opportunity. Every opportunity not taken, ever person not met, every experience not experienced ends the magical wave of possibilities which could have grown from that first encounter, right there.
It is better to do, despite the fear of failure. Do it anyway!
Better to try than to shy away. Better to hope than to live in hopelessness. Better to move now than to wait for the right moment.
That moment may never come. Do it right now!
It was a very dry season, and farmer John was getting desperately worried. He’d planted new seeds some weeks ago and had no idea how he was going to get his seedlings to grow. There was no rain. Not even a sign of it. Desperate times, he thought. It was hard for him to see the barren earth holding the seeds he so desperately tried to save. How long before they all die and shrivel up?
But he’s been here before. This was not the first trying time in his life and he knew it wouldn’t be the last.
So, he did what he’s mama taught him to do when he was just a little boy: He went down on his knees, right there in his corn field, and prayed to God from the bottom of his heart. His words were humble, sincere and pleading: ”Please Lord…please…”
John’s neighbour, farmer George, was a corn farmer too. He was hit just as hard by the recent drought. The previous season was just as dry. He drove by and saw his neighbour, farmer John, on his knees in the corn field. For a moment he paused, unsure what to make of it. He was a sceptic when it came to prayer. He also prayed sometimes, but really only when his wife asked him to, like before dinner. He knew that the local farming community were in trouble, but he wasn’t sure that praying would make any difference. The weather was the weather. Nature does its own thing. Not much you can do about it.
But when farmer John was praying, God was there. He was right by his side. And God was not bound by, or limited to, time and space. God was there with him at that moment, but He was also soaring with the clouds a thousand miles away. Over the ocean, two weeks earlier, but at that same moment. God is everywhere – all the time. And as He was listening to farmer John’s heartfelt prayer for showers to quench this dry land, He spoke to the clouds and commanded them to gather closer and draw as much vapour from the ocean as they could hold. He showed them where to go and used the wind to guide them. To a farm a thousand miles away.
That night, as John was settling in, he heard a rumble. Then another. The sweet smell of rain was in the air. John opened the bedroom windows as wide as he could and sucked in the fresh, sweet smell of rain – brought on by rolling, dark and thunderous clouds. Not long and the first big drops started to hit down on the earth, creating little clouds of dust as they hit the sandy dirt road. Nature was celebrating! Creatures great and small opened their beaks and mouths to taste the cool drops of heavenly rain. Leaves and branches waved joyously as the wind blew gushes of water onto them. And farmer John looked up to heaven and smiled. Nature does its own thing, right?
A week or so ago we went to a holiday resort with our kids. The resort has a big water-slide – about three storeys high. Two of our kids were instantly excited about this cool ride! But the other two… not so much.
Facing your fears and overcoming them is something often talked about, but the programming begins at a very early age. Very early in our lives, the connections are formed. We start telling ourselves that we are able to do scary or difficult things. Or we tell ourselves that it’s just too difficult. That we won’t be able to pull it off and therefore shouldn’t even try, as the risk of failure and humiliation is too high.
My eldest wouldn’t go on a water-slide since he was old enough to understand his own fearfulness. For years we would try and convince him to at least try. We would beg, offer to accompany him and try to explain what he was missing out on, but to no avail. He just wasn’t ready. And to force him was no option. It would break the trust between us.
But this time was different. He watched his sisters come down the slide a couple of times and then went up with them to investigate. It took him years, but he was ready to look his fear in the eye. When he came to the top, he hesitated: this was tougher than he expected. But he decided to do it anyway! And when he came to the bottom of the slide – he’s laughter said it all! He probably went down the slide another thirty times after that first “breaking the ice” experience that day.
Then it was our youngest boy’s turn. He’s two years his brother’s junior and had absolutely no interest in trying. It seemed way too scary and he was happy watching from down below. But I knew he would love it if only he tried! So I tried a little psychology: No. More psychology: No. A portion psychology with a hint of positive guilt: Nope. Okay, so I needed another approach: Psychology (to face the fear) plus reward (to make it worth facing the fear) and… voilà! He conjured enough courage to try the slide once, and then spent the rest of the day enjoying the thrill of the adrenaline rush, as prophesied. By the time the reward became due, it was already irrelevant. The real reward was the gift of leading him through his fear, enabling him to “show his fear who’s the boss”. We discussed this concept with our kids when debriefing on the day’s events (as we usually do).
It is so important to instil a mindset of “I have what it takes” in the early development stage of a child. It is commonly known that the first seven years is a crucial time from a “programming” perspective. This is the time when the most important connections are made in the brain. It is therefore a decisive phase to start showing Fear who’s the boss. If this life skill is mastered at an early age, the benefits will manifest exponentially throughout the life of the child.
I am given a glass of water in the morning. I drink my glass at once – not planning for later. Later in the day I get thirsty because I finished all my water in the morning. I decide to walk over to my neighbour and ask if I can have some of his glass of water that was also given to him in the morning. He says yes, but only if I promise to give it back tomorrow. I take a quarter of his glass of water and drink it to quench my thirst.
The next morning I am handed my daily glass of water again. I remember that I owe my neighbour a quarter of my glass and quickly give it back to him. I now have only three quarters of my glass of water for the day. I drink half of it and the other half later the day but remain thirsty because I didn’t have a full glass to start with. I decide to ask my neighbour again. He agrees to give me a quarter of his glass but wants half a glass in return – to make up for his discomfort for sharing with me. I agree and quickly drink the quarter glass of water he gave me. Now I’ve had my full glass for the day but owe half a glass already on tomorrow’s issue.
The next day I get my glass of water, give back half to my neighbour and am very thirsty by noon. You can see where this is going, right? The point is that we need to teach our children, very early in their lives, not to spend what we don’t have because it lands us in trouble. If we need more than what we have available, we need to be innovative and resourceful to channel more of what we need into our direction. We could become the neighbour who has more water available to those who ran out because he invested in a reservoir tank and collected rain water for later use. He planned ahead.
This simple analogy is the most basic form of financial management: Don’t spend what you don’t have because in time it spirals out of control. It comes in many forms in our day and age, but the worst enemy is consumer debt in the likes of credit cards, clothing accounts, revolving loans, car financing schemes (to make it affordable right now) and micro loans (when you’re really in dire straits). These things combined will gulp up three quarters of your daily glass of water, leaving you to slowly commit financial suicide. This evil of instant gratification – to want something right now even if you can’t afford it – is what ruins individuals, families, corporations and even countries in our day and age.
This morning I woke up late – the perfect way to start a morning on a bad foot! As with most mornings, I try to cram too many activities into one morning, despite being late: Prayer and meditation (the day will be even crappier without it), some prioritisation of the tasks ahead (otherwise I’ll get nothing done), replying to overdue emails (before office hours for extra effect), doing a few stretches before my shower (my back kills me if I neglect this) and having a few words with my wife whilst preparing our breakfast protein shake (a quick chat is even more important than the protein shake!). I grab my briefcase before I run out to jump into the car. By now I am really late. Wifey gets a quick kiss and the kids will have to do with a “Enjoy your day guys – love you!” for today as I head for the garage in a frenzy. Once inside, I start the car and head for the driveway. Just then, my one daughter (5 years old) comes running out from the front door. I didn’t give her the hug that she is used to this morning and she’s on her way to demand it! I contemplate a clear and distinct wave as a consolation to her before I drive off – I’m really late and my first meeting starts in 20 minutes! Just as I lift my hand for that cowardly wave, she trips and falls on the hard paving underneath her. Looking up at me, she starts crying – tears running down her cheeks. There and then I stop the car, park it and get out. I run to my daughter, grabbing her into my arms and holding her tight whilst wiping away tears and telling her everything is alright. I slowly drop down to sit on the driveway – legs crossed with daughter on lap – just being with her for a while. The tears start to fade and after a while a smile replaces the frown. We sit there a little while longer, breathing in the fresh morning air, connecting with each other and enjoying our moment as if the world around us does not exist. When I eventually get back into my car, I notice that five minutes have passed. Only five! That’s the time it took to reconnect with my little girl. Was I late for the meeting? Yup – five minutes late. But that five minutes meant all the world to her. I prioritised her over anything else when she really needed me, and the five minutes late at the meeting was forgotten five minutes after the first agenda item was announced. Many a time, five minutes is all it takes to mend a heart or to break it.
Many a time, five minutes is all it takes to mend a heart or to break it.