Skip navigation

Yeah, it's cheesy. Big whoop, wanna fight about it?Today did not go as I had planned.

My morning started with a missed appointment. It was my fault. I had recorded the time incorrectly in my calendar, resulting in a missed day of work for basically no reason. Lesson learned: confirm what’s in my calender at least 24 hours in advance — even if I scheduled it!

Determined to make good use of the day, I decided to do my taxes. And now I owe the government almost $3,500. Not a surprise (I don’t pay taxes during the year so I always owe them when I file) but still not exactly fun.

All this got me thinking (read: worrying) about the other stuff that’s going on right now. Such as:

<> Our glitchy heater that is costing us money and needs to be either fixed or replaced.
<>Ash’s ongoing audit from last year that might cost us more than $4,000 if it can’t be resolved.
<> The likelihood that we will have to go back to court this year to work out some custody issues for Nickolas.
<> A bunch of other, smaller things that normally wouldn’t bother me.

And then, out of the blue, I got a message from an old friend that I haven’t seen or talked to in almost two years asking how I’ve been.

In a situation like that, we can either vent about the petty stuff that’s bothering us right now, or we can take a step back and actually give an accurate picture of our lives. I chose the latter, and here’s what I found myself saying:

<> I have an internship that I enjoy.
<> I just joined the Army Reserve and am excited to be preparing to go to basic this summer.
<> Ash loves her new(ish) job.
<> Nick is doing great in kindergarten and has some good friends.

That changed my perspective on the day entirely. It didn’t take away my problems, but it certainly put them into perspective.

Share

(Military merit means injury.)

If my parents hadn’t wanted me to join the Army, they shouldn’t have named me after two recipients of the Purple Heart.

Walter and Johnny Kasabuski were both killed in World War II while on a deployment for the 10th Mountain Division. If they had lived — if I had gotten to know them — they would have been my great uncles. Instead, they were two more names added to the list of male relatives that died before I saw the light of day.

Let me introduce you to the 10th. Back in the day, it was a special unit trained for combat in snowy, mountainous regions of Germany and Italy. Think: bad-ass ski instructors with guns. In fact, former members of the 10th founded more than 60 ski resorts after the war. These days, Americans don’t do a lot of fighting on snow-covered mountain tops, and so the 10th has seen more than it’s share of duty in dust in places like Afghanistan and Somalia. (Ever seen Black Hawk Down?)

But what does all that have to do with me? Up until now, absolutely nothing. And that’s the problem.

When my parents got married, they chose my last name to give Walter the chance to have a legacy. And when they had me, they gave a similar nod to Johnny. And here I am: the result. In some ways, this passing down is a sort of favor to them; almost a forgotten and old-fashioned courtesy. But in a more personal sense, bearing the names of two men who died defending our country is my honor.

And I want to be worthy of it.

In American culture, little thought is given to the meaning of names. Many of us are named after biblical “characters.” Others are named after family members out of some sense of tradition. Some of us have trendy names like “Nevaeh” that may seem inexplicable years from now. And while all generalizations are false (including that one), it is safe to say that most of us are named what we are named simply because it sounded good to our parent(s) at the time.

That’s a mistake. Anyone who has ever been through public schools know the trauma of an ill-chosen name. And economists will tell you that certain names (read: names that make you sound like a minority) can doom you to a difficult life in the labor market thanks to bias and discrimination. This is a sad truth for all those people with exotic, African names that are meant to honor the great birthplace of their forefathers.

So what should parents be thinking about when they choose the name of their child? A lot more than mere aesthetics and half-understood traditions.

Ancient cultures understood that names have power. The Jews refused to utter the name of God out of reverence. Adam and Eve were told to name all the creatures of the earth at the same time they are informed they had dominion over it. Native American names were so specific and descriptive of the individual that they changed over time.

There was a time not so long ago when your last name indicated where you were from and what you did for a living, which would have had much more profound cultural and social implications than they do today. Your name meant your family and your status, and that could open doors — or close them in your face. Names carried with them certain expectations, good or bad.

Because no one told us what was expected of us, perhaps we have never before considered what it means to be worthy of our own name. But there is nobility in nearly all names. You just have to look for it.

Perhaps you can follow in the footsteps of a great man or woman from history who bore your name. There have been a lot of leaders throughout history. Find one that you can admire.

Or maybe your name comes from a culture that is worthy or respect and a certain observance of tradition. Dig deeper and learn about it. Carry on those traditions.

And if you’re one of those people with a “new” name (if anything is truly new in this world), strive to set an example of what people with your name can accomplish. Be the first.

Our names were chosen for a variety of reasons — not all of them particularly good. But one thing is almost certainly true across the board: no one is named randomly. There is always some reason. Find out what that is, or create it for yourself. We should all be striving to create or add to a worthwhile legacy. That doesn’t always mean completely changing the world, but don’t limit yourself.

Become worthy of being who you are.

Share

Everything I read these days tells me that I need to give up on certain pursuits so that I may succeed at that which truly matters.

Sometimes, it is in the form of a blog post by a writer who (rightly and regularly) points out that the only way to make a real impact on the world is through deep study and by getting so good at something that they can’t ignore you. Other times, it’s in the elegant and timeless prose of a writer that simply amazes me with his skillful combination of engaging storytelling and pure writing. You don’t get to be remembered for over a hundred years by being mediocre. And sometimes it’s an op-ed that flat-out reminds us that ideas alone aren’t worth much and that one of the only true paths to success is to be wrong as fast as you can.

Either way, the message is clear: specialize. In other words: give up on the stuff that doesn’t really matter.

Telling people to specialize sounds like good advice. We all know that most of the folks that we admire spent a lot of time practicing until they were flat-out great at what they do. How many people are remembered for being pretty good at a bunch of stuff? It might make you popular with your friends to be a jack of all trades, but it won’t really change the world. Even the world’s most famous “Renaissance men” are generally remembered because they made great strides in one particular field.

So yeah, by all means. Specialize!

But telling people to “give stuff up” seems, on its face, a little less logical. It goes against the grain of what (most of) our parents wanted for us: to be well-rounded. As children we are exposed to a lot of different stuff all the time. We take all manner of classes in school. We do extracurricular activities. We are instructed to limit the time we spend on any specific activity so that we don’t end up as one of those kids that can only do one thing (and gets picked on for it).

Ironically, people who excel at one thing are the very people that we end up most admiring; most richly rewarding. No one seems particularly bothered that football players are generally of average intelligence. That doesn’t stop them from being awesome physical specimens that earn (on average) 38 times the salary of a middle-class American family. And why should it?

The same holds true for artists, actors, musicians, scientists, and businessmen. For most jobs, there is a limited number of things that you need to be good at before you get rich and famous. And you don’t get more rich and famous for being good at stuff that isn’t on that list — only by getting better at the stuff that is on it.

What that boils down to is that we need to give up on the stuff that doesn’t really matter to us. We need to recognize that what worked for us as children will not work for as we move into adulthood. All that did was expose us to a bunch of stuff that we may want to specialize in later on down the road. And once we’ve figured out what that is, we need to pursue it relentlessly, eschewing distractions whenever possible.

It breaks my heart to give up on projects. It makes me feel like a failure. Like one of those dreamers who comes up with great ideas but never follows through. But would I rather be someone who is average (at best) at a lot of stuff — or someone who makes a big splash in one or two areas that are actually important to me?

Right now, there are a number of my own desires that all compete for my spare time.

<> Working out.
<> Keeping up my French.
<> Learning Spanish.
<> Writing a novel.
<> Revising a novel that I’ve already written and writing in my blog.
<> Reading.
<> Spending time with my friends, family, and newly-acquired house cat.

I could devote one night per week to each of these, but how far would I really get on any of them? If it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become truly great at anything, and I spent three hours per week on each, then I’m looking at sixty four years before I get there — and that’s only taking off for major holidays. And it doesn’t leave any room for new interests at all — and it would likely mean the deterioration of all my cherished relationships!

Clearly, the smart thing to do would be to decide on a couple things that I want to be great at and resign myself to the fact that I’ll never really stand out in any of the others. I can get in shape, but I’ll never be a male-model. I can read regularly, but I’ll never be one of those people who has read “everything.” And I might be able to acquire a certain conversational ability in Spanish (while maintaining my French), but I’ll never be a linguist.

That pretty much leaves writing and relationships. And that’s good, because those are two things that I can’t live without. Those are the things that I want to delve into as deeply as possible. And those are the things that I want to be remembered for. I want to be a man who had a way with words and was beloved by those around him. Little else truly matters, in the end.

The rest? I need to give them up. That doesn’t mean never devoting any time to any of them. It just means putting those pursuits in their place and recognizing that they are hobbies, not vocations. And I don’t have to be a paradigm of excellence in any of them. That takes away some of the pressure. In fact, it probably makes sense to pare these expectations and drains on my time down even further!

Remember: the name of the game is giving up.

It feels wrong. But it’s not. It’s what I need to do if I want to look back on my life, years from now, and know that I lived well. Otherwise, I’ll look back and realize that I was just a dreamer. That I went in too many directions for far too long and that I didn’t get very far in any one of them. And that I would rather fantasize about doing lots of things than actually do any of them.

Share

If I have learned anything over the past six months, it’s that it’s hard not to feel like a failure when you lose your job. It’s hard not to feel like a failure when you go into debt for everyday necessities. It’s hard not to feel like a failure when you send out dozens of resumes and passionate cover letters and get zero response. It’s hard not to feel like a failure when date night turns into a discussion of how you’re going to make ends meet.

All that is from my own experience.

At the same time, I’ve also learned a thousand tiny lessons on success. Most of them come from the long list of inspiring blogs that I subscribe to (you are what you eat!), but some have come to me personally in spite of all the troubles that our little family unit has faced recently. They tell me that I am not a failure — that I am just as normal as everyone else out there. In some respects, I am far ahead of the game. In others, I’m lagging behind.

None of that makes me a failure, just like none of that makes me a success. Those terms are too black-and-white. We’re all just people, doing the best we can.

What it really comes down to is choice. Response. How do you respond when faced with a challenge?

Some choices, we make on our own. Others get made for us. I didn’t “choose” to fall in love with someone that had a two-and-a-half year old child, but I did decide what to do once those feelings were there. I welcomed both into my heart, knowing (and imagining) what that would mean for my life in the long-run. I accepted the responsibilities that came with it. And I continue to do the same every single day. How could I not?

How Quickly Things Change

Two nights ago, Ash and I had a conversation about money. (One of many.)

At the time, we were faced with a choice. Do we choose to pay off our debt more slowly so that I can continue to work part-time and spend my mornings and afternoons with her son, or do I look for a full-time job and put Nick in day-care so that we can pay off debt faster and accrue some savings?

Today, that choice has been made obsolete. I am losing my part-time job at the end of this month due to budget cut-backs. So, once again, we are left wondering how we’ll cover our bills, pay down debt, and stock away some savings.

When Ash got a full-time job, we believed that our money troubles were over. If only we had known that we’d be back to square one not two weeks later.

Identifying the Problem

At times like this, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. We can get caught up trying to solve the wrong problems, and miss the root cause entirely.

For example: some might suggest that our money troubles are due to unwise spending. That would mean that we could solve them by creating (and sticking to) a budget. Trouble is: we already have a budget. We’re careful with our spending. And we already went through our bills this summer, cutting back on all of them.

No, spending is not our problem. Which leaves only one possibility: income.

Clearly, the central issue is that we don’t have enough money coming in to satisfy our basic needs and wants. And since I am “at liberty,” the solution is simple. Get a job.

This begs the question: what kind of job? Do I look for a part-time job that will simply replace what income I am losing, working my schedule to allow me to still be home for Nick when he needs me — or do I start looking for a full-time job after all?

Then, of course, there are other questions. What kind of work do I want to do? There’s a question that modern man has struggled with for quite some time. And it’s one that I plagues me quite frequently.

Problem Solving

The purpose of this is to illustrate that, for every challenging situation, there are any number of possible problems to be solved, and any number of possible solutions to each one of these problems. It’s easy to get sucked into solving the first problem that you can identify with the first solution that comes to mind, but that’s rarely the best strategy.

What distinguishes great leaders from the rest of us is that they are very good at laying out all the possible problems and solutions quickly and then taking action in a deliberate and productive way. In other words: they don’t freak out and just start “trying things” like most of us would. They don’t need to feel productive. They recognize that it’s far more important to actually be productive.

This makes a great leader’s response to a crisis better than most people’s. And that’s what we need to strive for if we don’t want to find ourselves repeating the same mistakes year after year after year. We may not be battle-hardened generals, but we can at least lead the charge in our lives.

Finding Inspiration

The good news is: the answers are out there. Perhaps we’ve been mulling them over for some time and yet we haven’t given them any credence until now. Or perhaps they’re just a phone call and a conversation away. Or perhaps they’ll take some digging and quite a bit of soul-searching.

For me, problem solving begins with clearing my head. (I generally do that by writing.)

The next step is fill my psyche with positive vibes. That means listening to music that moves me, working out, and reading or watching something truly inspiring.

Watch the 2012 zeitgeist and tell me if that doesn’t make you want to do great things.

Now, go and do them. Choose to do them now, before life has to make the choice for you.

Share

Money Troubles

Ever since this summer, when I lost out on a big project that was supposed to pay all our bills for months, Ash and I have been trying to figure out what to do about money. It’s been stressful, trying to find new work. Trying to balance a strict budget with life’s desire for endless entertainment (and stuff). Trying to be present for each other with so much else on our minds.

For months, I would lie awake at night and wonder how we were going to fix things. Both of us worked part time doing jobs we truly enjoyed, and it was almost heartbreaking to think about either of us giving that up. But the solution, we knew, was simple: One of us had to get a full-time job, leaving the other to pursue part-time employment and stay home with Nick (who just started kindergarten this year!).

I thought it was going to be me. I sent out dozens of resumes and well-written (if I do say so myself) cover letters to all sorts of jobs that I thought I might find interesting. The results were utterly disappointing. A handful of phone interviews, a couple in-person interviews, but zero offers.

Meanwhile, Ash quietly applied to two available full-time positions within her company. And she got one.

Still Looking

Suddenly, I was the one who would be staying home, cooking, cleaning, and doing daddy day-care duty. Not that I mind doing any of those things. I’m good at them — and I’m also the type of person who always has a multitude of side-projects (like this one) to occupy any free time. An unstructured life can be an ominous void for some. Not for me.

Still, I found myself wondering if I should still be looking for full-time work. A couple months racking up debt and worrying about money can make a man wonder when enough will actually be enough. More than that, however, I was still stuck thinking that a life-calling must, by definition, be profitable.

Gradually, I started to remember what used to keep me awake at night. It wasn’t worrying about money. It was creativity. It was excitement. Inspiration. For me, that means writing.

Steve Pavlina rightfully points out that, if you want to make a tangible contribution to any field, you better be willing to devote a minimum of five years to that discipline. (Emphasis on minimum.) That can be a little scary. Who knows where their life will take them in five years? Precious few.

But the things that were important to you five years ago — and are still important to you now — are likely to still be important to you five years down the road. Those are your core issues, and once you’ve identified them you need to focus on them. That means giving up on other things.

Death to Distractions

When I go to the gym, I don’t bring my phone. Working out is one of the few times when it’s absolutely okay to be out of the loop, and I love that. It’s one of life’s few pure pursuits. Others include: showering, sex, riding a motorcycle, and spending quality time with loved ones. There are probably others, but those are my favorites.

What makes these “pure pursuits” to me is that all of them are undoubtedly made worse by breaking our concentration for the urgent yet unimportant. If you want a good workout, a proper shower, satisfying sex, a safe ride, or a memorable night with family or friends, you need to unplug. We all recognize that.

Incidentally, working is not often treated like a pure pursuit. We pick up the phone, answer emails, and interrupt our concentration for co-workers all the time. It’s what’s expected of us.

But what if you want to excel in your work? The answer is clear: you need to focus on it. And that means unplugging. It necessitates unplugging. It seems so obvious, yet so few of us naturally do it.

The Obvious

It should have been obvious to me that, given the opportunity to be a house husband, I should devote myself to writing. Even if I’m not destined to be one of the great writers of the 21st century, it’s what makes me tick. It’s what keeps me up at night. It’s the thing that I would regret not doing as I lay dying.

It should have, but it wasn’t. I was stuck thinking about careers and money and debt. I thought about all those things until, by accident, I caught myself getting excited about the excellent writing of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And suddenly I remembered who I was.

And so, for the first week of Ash’s new job, I set aside two hours a day just for writing. It may not seem like much, but it’s a start (and remember: I have other duties to perform in service to my household!). I’m open to that growing into three or four — it would just mean a little less time for goofing off and sleeping in.

Today, when I was at the gym, I realized a major difference between how I work out and how I write. When I work out, I unplug. When I write, I don’t. And I realized that I need to give my life’s passion the same chance of success as my hobby.

Again: it should have been obvious. But it wasn’t.

Amazing how sometimes one of the answers to that eternal question, “Who am I?” can be right there in front of you, yet you don’t see it.

Share

(This song is called, “Song for My Burial” and I recommend listening to it when you read this post. You can find lyrics here, which Google can help you translate.)

I get nervous laughs and disapproving looks when I tell people that it is my life aspiration to be assassinated by either a government angry that I exposed some dark secret or a criminal organization trying to shut me up. People should know that I’m joking.

You can’t lay out your whole life like that, making plans for your distant future while you’re still young. Too many variables. Too many things we don’t know yet.

Four years ago, I knew that I would never want children. At this point, I have been a step-father for over three years. And while it’s hard at times, there’s no other life I’d rather live.

But what if someone came to you and told you that they could put on a path that would challenge you each and every day? A path that would make you excited to get up in the morning just for the work you had to do that day. We’re talking about the kind of life that we watch movies and read books about – and it could be yours.

One catch: this path would be dangerous. It would be uncertain. And there would be a real chance that you would one day – possibly when you least expected it or possibly after an extended period of justifiable paranoia – wind up dead because of it. Before your time. Maybe way before it.

I would take that path in a heartbeat. And I think a lot of other people would as well. Who doesn’t want to die a hero?

We’re a lot more afraid of dying for nothing than we are of dying young. Or at least, we should be.

The trouble is, that certain path towards greatness doesn’t exist. Sure, you can join the armed forces and train to be a specialist. But what guarantee do you have that you’ll die a glorious death fighting for a cause that you truly believe in? More marines died in motorcycle accidents than were killed by insurgents in Iraq during 2008. Where’s the honor in that?

In other words: even if we want some sort of “glorious and honorable death,” what are the odds that we’ll actually get it? The 15 most common causes of death in the US aren’t exactly the stuff of action/adventure movies like Braveheart. Except perhaps homicide (number 15, with 0.7%), and most of those are probably over petty things like drug turf or money.

Chasing down a noble death is simply a waste of time, and although highly-effective people begin with the end in mind and then work backwards to achieve their goals, some ends are too uncertain to waste time worrying about.

But I think we do our future selves a great disservice if we don’t consider how we want to be remembered after we die. We can’t perfectly control the way we affect other people, but we can tailor our actions towards a certain self-image.

For example: if you want to leave behind a woman (or a man) who will love you always, it’s probably not a good idea to cheat on them. Ever. And if you don’t want your death to be a crushing blow to the lives of your children, you need to make sure that you show them that you love and respect them always. Baggage and unconfessed feelings screw people up and make them see therapists while they act out self-destructive patterns for the rest of their lives.

(As an aside: I highly recommend talking about death with your loved ones before it’s “your time.”)

Of course, there’s more to it than that. You need to consider what kind of effect you want to have on your friends. Will they merely miss you, or will they be inspired by you? None of that starts with your departure. It starts here and now, and you need to live your life with that in mind.

How far can you take this line of thinking? Honestly, I don’t know. But I will share some of my own early thoughts on the matter.

Call me vain, but I want my death to mean something. I want people who never even knew me to pause and honor my passing. That means I need to do something heroic. And because I can’t count on just lucking into a heroic death, that means I need to start acting like a hero now.

Part of me wonders if that’s even possible. Can we wake up one morning, a completely different man than we were when we went to bed? Because right now, I’m certainly not what one would call a hero. More of the “Average Joe” category – if that!

Are heroes simply born, or they created through a lifetime of conscious effort? The growth mindset would suggest that anyone can become a hero, even if they weren’t born as one. And I like the growth mindset. It’s very empowering – especially for those of us who didn’t peak in high-school and are still working on becoming the man that we know we can be.

Usually, people don’t really start thinking about death until they’re getting on in years (if then). I think that’s foolish. You’re going to die. To avoid thinking about it isn’t going to change that fact, and it might even stop you from making the kind of choices that can prolong your life or help you leave behind a lasting legacy. Deadlines are what a lot of people need to get off their ass and make something happen. Don’t ignore yours!

There are innumerable guides on how to lead a successful life. The 80-20 rule, which I live and die by, posits that about 80% of them are complete crap. That still leaves a vast quantity of wisdom floating around out there. Open your eyes and look for the lessons being taught each and every day by writers, film-makers, artists, entrepreneurs, and (yes!) even Average Joes.

But understand this: leading a successful life begins first with acknowledging that you’re going to die – and then figuring out what you have to do today so that you’ll have something to leave behind tomorrow. That simple mindset shift changes our life from an endless string of distractions into a relentless pursuit of meaning and contribution.

Share

There are a lot of people in the blogosphere and the self-help-bookosphere that want to tell you what you should do to find happiness, but  I can’t say that I put much stock in it. The more I experience of this world, the more I believe that you’re pretty much always going to be as happy as you are in this moment, give or take a little for current events.

One of my close friends is a happy guy no matter what. I have seen him in debt, in jail, and in a terrible relationship. But he’s always pretty much a happy guy. Another one of my friends is the opposite. It’s not that he’s always sad. It’s just that he never seems quite sold on where he is and what he’s doing. He’s well educated, well traveled, and in a seemingly wonderful relationship. But he’s just never convinced that he should be happy.

What’s the take-away from this admittedly anecdotal bit of evidence? Is it that certain people are hard-wired to be happy through a complex balance of chemicals in their brain? Maybe. After all, that’s how depression works, right?

But that view kind of sucks, if you ask me. I don’t like to think about things being “just the way they’ve always been.” Just because I don’t have a six-pack right now doesn’t mean I’m incapable of working out, eating right, and getting one. Surely the deck might be stacked in favor of a particular reality. But we are in control of our own growth! We choose the progress we want to make.

The difference is not what we’re born with. The difference is our perception.

Happiness is always a choice. We can have everything and still choose not to be happy. Or we can have nothing and choose not to let it bother us. Indeed, we can always luxuriate in the endless possibilities of having nothing. Poor people in third world countries have been doing it for centuries. It works, in spite of their suffering.

The problem is, many of us don’t realize that we’re choosing to be happy or to be unhappy. We’re completely unaware of most choices that we make, day-to-day. So it’s only natural that we forget just how much power we actually have.

You can’t change the fact that you have a default setting that predisposes you to happiness or unhappiness. There’s no sense fighting yourself like that. What you can change is how often you remind yourself that you can choose either one.

Share

Last night, Ash and I were sitting down to watch Road to Perdition when she wondered aloud if the movie was based on a true story.

I don’t think it is, but the idea got me thinking about what “based on a true story” means. I’m no expert on writing fiction. I’ve only forayed down that mysterious path once before (and I’m slowly working on a new project now). But I can tell you that all stories have elements of truth in them.

My first attempt at writing fiction was a story called The Ninth Room. Although the story is completely fake, there are true stories everywhere. The characters are composites of people I know. The locations are based on places I’ve been. And the chapters are based on experiences I’ve had.

My new writing project is similar. The story is not “real,” nor are the characters. But there’s a lot of myself in there. Probably even more than I know. I have witnessed the same phenomenon in the writing of others.

A movie (or book) doesn’t have to have actually happened for it to be based on a true story. And I would wager most — if not all — are.

Share

You’re a more advanced species than a cockroach, right? You ever tried explaining yourself to one? — The Mothman Prophecies

Does this make you feel small and insignificant?

The Meaning of Life

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, mankind builds a computer so powerful that it is capable of answering life’s ultimate question. And it yields the answer: “42.”

Kind of disappointing.

The idea is that we don’t understand the answer because we haven’t yet come up with the right question. How could a numerical answer possibly provide enough information to answer the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything?

Apparently, Stephen Fry knows what Douglas Adams had in mind when he wrote the now-infamous bit about 42. But he says that he’ll take the secret to his grave, which isn’t exactly helpful. And so we are left to muse…

Reincarnation

At this point in my life, I have completely accepted the idea that we go around more than once. I see far too much beauty in the world around me to deny belief in a higher power or divine energy that holds all this chaos together. It’s just inconceivable to me that there isn’t some sort of purpose to it all.

The purpose that I see is growth; experience. We are on the earth for the same reason we send our children to school. Whether every lifetime is the cosmic equivalent of a school year, a semester, or a single day — I have no idea.

We may not remember our previous lives, but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t learning from them. When you meet someone that seems incredibly patient, unnaturally kind, or just blissfully serene, you may be encountering a very old and experienced soul. Have some reverence — even if you’re their elder in this life.

Likewise, when you stumble across someone who is rude, impulsive, and selfish, understand that this may very well be one of their first times on this planet. Recognize that you have been there — even if not recently.

The Soul

Perhaps this kind of thinking lines up with one of the Eastern religions. I’m not sure. I’ve not studied Buddhism or Hinduism at all, and I’m not sure if either of those religions thinks of your soul as an entity that exists in a universe wholly apart from our own. I do.

We all have souls in us that, when freed from the meager trappings of our human bodies, are capable of great and wondrous things. Things beyond our comprehension because they exist outside of space and time — something we cannot imagine.

When our souls aren’t off in this other-worldly place (which a friend of mine affectionately refers to as “the soup”), they are here on earth, learning. It’s possible that after we learn all we can as humans we move onto another planet in another solar system to exist as another, more highly-evolved creature. In fact, that’s quite probable.

In other words: mankind is the kindergarten of the soul. We live through it as many times as we must before moving on to bigger and better things.

Because our spiritual being exists outside of space and time as we know it, there is no chronology to its comings and goings. During one life, we experience the turn of the 20th century. In the next, we may be breaking bread with Jesus. And so it is entirely possible that we will end up running into ourselves.

In fact, I think it is quite common for us to meet up with an older (or younger) version of ourselves. I believe it happens all the time.

If that’s not a reason to find some compassion for your fellow man, I don’t know what is. The next time you see someone acting like a complete idiot, pause and think for a second that it might be you in another life. And you need to learn that lesson. That’s why we’re here: to make mistakes and to grow from them.

“You can’t spare anyone their own experience.”

Growth of the Soul

What is the yardstick of our progress? What measures our spiritual growth?

The simplest answer is “goodness.” Whether or not we know the true definition of “good” is up for debate. But the concept is clear. Everyone knows what “good” is supposed to mean.

We are on this earth so that our souls can learn to be good.

Clearly, this is one hell of thing to learn. We are constantly presented with opportunities to be anything but “good.” And we constantly give in.

Some people seem better at being good than others. Are these the old souls? Possibly. I like to think that being good is something so difficult that it takes a lot of practice. (It makes me feel better about myself when I’m being ungood.)

Two Explanations for Bad Behavior

But then, what about those people who seem drawn into darkness? Undeniably, there are some bad people in this world. Sometimes we can explain why people do the things they do, but other times it seems like they were just “born that way.” Is it possible that some people are born bad because they have spent many lifetimes internalizing the wrong habits?

This is a question that I struggle with all the time. Are bad people simply young souls that deserve our forgiveness and our help? Or are they old souls that have rejected the central reason for our existence (the pursuit of “good”) and instead chosen to focus on selfish and short-sighted gain during this lifetime?

Enter the answer the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything.

Setup

Let’s suppose that there is only one soul. In this case, that soul is probably closer to most people’s concept of God. He (or she) is all-powerful and exists in another plane than our own. This soul created our universe for the sole purpose of living in it — over and over again. And becoming good.

Now let’s suppose that there are many, many souls. Possibly millions or billions of them. Possibly just a few. These souls are sent into this universe so that they can return to their own world wiser and better.

In the first situation, God (the only soul) creates existence to perfect himself. There is no end game beyond experience. All that is not good in the universe is a mistake that God learns from; existence is a slow but unmistakable march towards goodness. So relax! We’re getting somewhere, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

In the second situation, each one of the multitude of souls has its own mind to make up. There is the potential for both good and evil. We understand this when we send our kids to school, but we do it anyway because we know that most people turn out good.

On one hand, we have a supremely powerful entity — far beyond our own comprehension. His motives are inexplicable to us, because we cannot fathom an existence without other people and without the constant pressure to survive.

On the other, we have a civilization much like our own — but much older. A civilization far from perfection, but striving towards goodness every day — yet still with the possibility of evil.

The Question

How many souls are there?

The way I see it, there are two possible answers.

If the answer is one, then we know two things: 1) We are all one; we are all God. 2) The only possible explanation for existence is to seek goodness. (Because “goodness” is so subjective, I highly recommend replacing it with “love.” That makes it easier to understand.)

If the answer is a number (like 42), then we know that we are part of a civilization that exists far outside this world. We were put on this earth to grow,  much like in the above scenario. Only now there is a greater sense of urgency, because not all of us are walking a good and loving path. And these will be our neighbor-souls one day.

Either way, the answer doesn’t seem to change the end-game –or what we should be doing here and now.

I wonder: should we be disappointed that knowing the answer to life’s greatest questions doesn’t change what we intuitively understand? Or is that greater proof that we’re asking the right questions and on the right track?

Moral

Live for love. Strive for goodness. Forgive those who wrong you, remembering that you have done the same before and you will again.

And help those around you see the world this way. You might just be helping yourself. But even if you’re not, you’re still helping your neighbor.

After all, there are only 42 of us!

Share

When I started this blog, I was obsessed with the concept of identity. There’s a lot that goes into that little word, and I’m still not sure I understand it enough to simply answer the question, “Who am I?”

There are, however, certain useful questions that help us get a little closer, the more we think about them.

“What have I done that has brought me to this point in my life?”

“Am I happy where I am now? Why or why not?”

“Where am I going, and what am I doing that will help me get there?”

As far as I know, these questions approximately mirror those posed by Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, as part of his process of self-examination. So if you’re asking those kinds of questions then you are in good company.

“I founded the Society of Jesus, an organization that helps educate tens of thousands worldwide every year. What are you doing with your life?”

Another great way to pursue your elusive identity is to put yourself in situations that are outside of your norm and require you to think about who you really are, deep down.

For me, that meant running out of money and needing to find a “real” job.

I don’t mean that to sound like I’ve never had to work for anything in my life, or that I’ve had everything handed to me on a silver platter. But my life has been a fortunate one, I must admit. But the time has simply come for me to work a little harder and provide for a family that needs stability and security.

Here are a few things I learned about myself during the job search:

I value freedom, but freedom doesn’t always mean “free time.”

You might think that as a freelancer I have the ultimate in freedom when it comes to my schedule. And I do. But that comes with the trade-off of sometimes simply not having anything to do (for work) or any money to spend. That might work for a single guy. It doesn’t work for a family.

I value contributing to something I believe in more than I value money.

If I really wanted to make money, I would be looking for jobs either with the government or in the private sector that involved finance and accounting experience. Lots of potential for growth there, and I have the background for it. But that doesn’t interest me in the slightest. Looking for those kinds of jobs on Monster and CareerBuilder actually made me feel sick.  And so I found myself looking at non-profits and think-tanks because that’s where my heart lies.

I want to enjoy my work.

This seems like it should be an obvious one, but I don’t believe it is. I’m not sure everyone looks for a job they actually enjoy. And if you don’t have special skills to offer, that might be down-right impossible. The best many hope for is to like your job, which is a different thing. Liking is passive. Enjoying is active. I want to enjoy the time I spend at work, not just “like my job.” And if that means taking a little longer to find something worthwhile, so be it. (And believe me, I am!)

I need to make time for my hobbies.

I used to think everyone felt this way too, but as it turns out I know a lot of folks who don’t really have any hobbies. Sure, they have some interests that they’re happy to use their free time pursuing (like watching football or reading) but they don’t have the kind of hobbies that require you to carve out time regularly for them. I do. Some of them may be unproductive, but they are important enough to me that I fear losing them. So I am careful to fit them in whenever I can during the search, and know that I must design my schedule around including them after I find my new job.

Most of all, I value my family.

None of this would be necessary if I didn’t have a family-unit to support. I make enough as a freelancer to rent a room with friends and goof off. But that just doesn’t even seem like an option. And that’s something I never pictured myself saying.

Share