The Magic Ring
With the year-long deadline fast approaching, the once-confident knight was now on his way back to the kingdom—empty-handed and unsure of what he would tell the king.
He had never disappointed his leader before, and the thought of doing so now made him sick to his stomach.
“Will I be demoted?” he wondered. “Will he put another knight in my place in his court? Will he ever trust me again?”
Little did he know, it was a hopeless quest from the start. The wise, wealthy, and powerful king knew no such ring existed, yet he sent his knight on a year-long wild goose chase anyway.
You can hardly blame the king, though. The kingdom had enjoyed peace and prosperity for years, and there was nothing more anyone could ask for. But those peaceful times did make life around the castle rather quiet. Perhaps a little too quiet. And that’s just how the king came up with the whole cockamamie idea in the first place.
With the year-long deadline fast approaching, the king sat high on his thrown beside himself with amusement—wondering what the empty-handed knight would tell him.
On the last day of his journey, the knight returned to the kingdom, but still unsure of what he would tell his king, he took the long way back to the castle, passing through one of the poorest quarters of the city.
“Greetings, Sir! Can I interest you in my wares?”
The knight was startled. He was so lost in rumination that he hadn’t noticed the merchant who he had nearly trampled. Looking down, he found a carpet filled with an assortment of trinkets. He was about to look away when suddenly his eyes fell upon an object that had been his year-long obsession: a ring!
“Yes, actually. I’m looking for a special sort of ring,” he said, without taking his eyes of the ring.
“What kind of ring are you looking for, sir?” asked the merchant.
“At this point, I’m not even sure if such a ring actually exists,” he replied, “but I’m told it has magic powers.”
“Magic powers?” the merchant’s eyes lit up with fascination.
“Yes, it’s a magic ring. I’m told that if a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad; and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy. Do you have such a ring?”
The merchant thought for a moment, then looked down at the lone ring among his wares.
“I don’t know if such a ring exists,” he replied, “but I can make you one.”
Without another word, the merchant picked up the ring and engraved something around the band. When finished, he presented the ring to the knight.
“I believe this is what you are looking for.”
Upon seeing the ring, the knight’s face broke out in a smile and his sadness immediately turned into happiness. After a year of searching, he had finally found The Magic Ring!
The knight quickly made his way back to the castle to see the king.
“Have you found what I sent for?” The king sat high on his thrown, barely able to hold back his joyful laughter, wondering what his empty-handed knight would tell him.
But when the knight triumphantly held up The Magic Ring, the king became confused. “Here it is, your majesty!” the knight declared, bending down on one knee and carefully placing it on the king’s finger.
Upon seeing the engraved ring, the smile vanished from the king’s face and his happiness immediately turned into sadness.
What did the merchant engrave to turn an ordinary ring into a Magic Ring? It took but four simple words: “This too shall pass.” Seeing those words, the king realized all of his wealth, wisdom, and power were but temporary and removable things—for one day he would be nothing but dust.
This story is an adaption of a fable I came across a number of years ago. According to The Quote Verifier by Ralph Keyes, its origin can be traced to the works of Persian Sufi poets—such as Rumi, Sanai, and Attar of Nishapur.
Attar records the fable of a powerful king who asks assembled wise men to create a ring that will make him happy when he is sad. After deliberation, the sages hand him a simple ring with the Persian words "This too shall pass" etched on it, which has the desired effect to make him happy when he is sad—however, this same ring can also be a curse, for whenever he is happy, it can make him sad.
Before a word was even spoken—before even the cheers and applause subsided—he hummed a note, beckoning us to follow.
A chorus of hums immediately began resonating in unison from all across the darkened theater, uniting a diverse crowd with oneness and harmony.
Then he started singing, and without any further instruction, everyone (everyone!) followed his lead, joining in to sing a rendition of “My Country tis of Thee.”
As a child, my grandparents would often take us grandkids on weekend road trips through New England, and during those outings we would often hear this man’s voice come across the radio.
Three decades later, on a cold February night in 2017, it was a surreal experience to hear that same voice resonate through the theater, live and in person, captivating our attention and inspiring our hearts with an evening of storytelling with Garrison Keillor.
He shared important moments in his life, moments he wanted to write down because they were worth remembering—moments of fallibility shaping who he is and why he is. These intimate confessions resonated with us because they expressed our own private desires and mirrored our own intimate experiences.
In the Coen Brothers film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a character in the final scene emphasizes the profound inspiring quality of stories, stating how “...people can’t get enough of them...they connect the stories to themselves…and we all love hearing about ourselves—so long as the people in the stories are us, but not us.”
The stories Mr. Keillor shared with us that night inspired our hearts and minds because they reassured us that we are not alone, revealing a shared underlying narrative of the human experience. In his own words: “We are more alike than we think, and certainly more than we try to be.”
The timeliness of his reassuring and inspiring stories becomes poignant when we consider how the cold February air outside the theater mirrored the cold climate of a nation becoming increasingly divided during the dawning of a new era.
Perhaps, if we choose to, we can come in from the cold and, rather than fighting over the diversity of our differences, we can instead join in harmony from every mountainside to recognize our shared human narrative.
Such can be the hope for our sweet land of liberty, to increase who we include as us and decrease who we exclude as them. Perhaps.
Mr. Keillor proved to us that, by heart, we already know the words—but do we choose to join together in harmony and live by them?
As for me, I'm inspired to stand together with my fellow Earth travelers, which is why I continue to reflect on moments from my life—moments that are worth remembering; moments of fallibility that shape who I am and why I am; moments that mirror our collective desires and intimate experiences.
I share stories that reflect positivity principles with the hope you will see yourself mirrored in them and be inspired to see and understand how accessible and actionable they are. After all, we “love hearing about ourselves—so long as the people in the stories are us, but not us.”
What inspires you? And what do you do to engage in these things on a regular basis
She was only 22 years old, yet despite her young age and limited training, Judith Feist became the director of an orphanage in France.
This begs two questions: Why would they entrust someone so young and with no credentials with so much responsibility? And why would she accept this responsibility at all?
The answer to the first question is quite simple: No one else wanted the responsibility.
The orphanage housed 100 boys who were survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II. The boys didn’t trust anyone, conditioned to view authority as a threat. They were constantly caught stealing and hoarding food and would often be found fighting with each other. These boys were in rough shape and most people thought they were lost causes—and this included the previous director of the orphanage who simply had enough and stepped down because he couldn’t take it anymore.
And that’s where Judith came in, a young social worker who saw a need and cared enough to be the person to step up, to take the initiative, and do something about it.
As the comedian Lily Tomlin once said, “I always wondered why somebody doesn't do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”
Despite her young age and little training, Judith had profound compassion for these boys and wanted to make a positive difference in their lives, but she also knew it was going to be a challenge, especially to earn their trust.
The first thing she did was learn everyone’s name and began learning Yiddish so she could speak their language. Before long, she started seeing smiles every time she greeted a boy by name.
Next, she instituted an open-door policy for the kitchen. As a result, stealing and hoarding food stopped overnight.
Then, she made new room assignments, rooming the boys by their hometowns rather than by their age. There were eight-year-olds rooming with sixteen-year-olds—where the older boys looked after the little ones, the little ones looked up to the older boys. Overnight, the fighting stopped.
Eventually, things improved so much that she was able to bring the boys on a field trip to see a performance of the opera The Magic Flute. It was during that trip that Judith saw in their eyes for the first time a glimmer of hope and wonder.
All of these changes were small, but they had a huge impact on the boys. Twenty years after leaving the orphanage, the Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel—who was one of Judith’s boys at the orphanage—wrote her a letter stating:
“The fact is that all the children could have chosen violence or nihilism but you succeeded to direct us toward confidence and reconciliation. You supported and encouraged us to choose a stake in the future and in community. Judith, do you realize how much you meant to our very existence?”
When we recognize a need, we can wait for somebody to care enough to step up and do something about it, or we can recognize that we are somebody and step up ourselves. We don’t need any credentials to make a difference—we only need two qualities: Be able to recognize a need and have compassion to step up, take the initiative, and do something about it. If more people did that, I wonder what would happen to this world?
How are you taking initiative to enact positive change in your world?
Building Trust with Mr. Scoots
He scooted into the kitchen as soon as the door opened. This was quite a surprise; up until now, every other time he had come for a visit, he'd wait to step inside until I backed away from the door. This was the first time Mr. Scoots, a beautifully-orange stray cat, allowed me to come between him and the door.
The seasons were changing, and the cool Autumn air would soon turn into a frigid New England winter. I had hoped by this point Mr. Scoots would trust me enough to stay inside at night to keep warm, but his tendency to scoot away as soon as anyone came too close made this an unlikely hope.
Up until now, that is.
I was still standing right next to the door and Mr. Scoots was already far into the kitchen. I couldn’t have planned a better moment to test our trust. Nonchalantly, I closed the door and turned to the cupboard to get Mr. Scoots some food—but I had to abandon the test mission immediately. Mr. Scoots was freaking out!
He ran to the door, willing it to open, but instead somehow managed to climb up it while bellowing deep, fearful meows. He wanted out! I tried to console him with a soothing voice, but he was triggered and no amount of soothing could calm him down.
I moved back to the door to open it, but that was too close for Scoots, so he scooted away. With the door finally opened, Scoots ran to the door—but because I was still near the door, he scooted away again. Thinking fast, I went into the pantry to hide, and with me out of sight, Mr. Scoots finally scooted out the door.
My heart hurt. I was concerned that all the work we had done for nearly a year to build trust had been erased by this traumatizing incident. “Will he ever be able to trust me?” I wondered.
It’s often suggested to treat others as you wish to be treated, and while this is a sound suggestion, when taken literally without accounting for the spirit of its deeper meaning, we can potentially miss the meaning entirely.
Instead of treating others as you wish to be treated, perhaps it can best be reframed as treating others as they wish to be treated. In this way, we become empowered to develop mutual trust by demonstrating consistent respect for meaningful boundaries. As for me and Mr. Scoots, this means having an open door policy when he comes inside.
Despite my concerns, I’m happy to say that our relationship continues to deepen. Not long after the incident, Mr. Scoots was spending time inside my apartment and I went about my business tending to my work. After some time, I presumed he had already left, but when I went to close the door I instead found him sleeping on the couch!
My heart became light, because I knew that Mr. Scoots had developed a level of trust with me that was truly and sincerely earned—through respectful boundaries and freedom to be without condition.
I know Mr. Scoots is just a cat, but I wonder what it would be like if more of our relationships were empowered in a similar way, with an open door of respect and freedom to be just as we are without condition.
What do you do to foster trust in your relationships?
Humility vs Humiliation
Most of the details are now forgotten, but two names have stayed with me, even after all this time.
Athena is the one who called me out, causing a rush of humiliation to crash over me.
Nick wasn’t even there, but he was the one receiving the brunt of my tacit deceit.
Just to be clear, my behavior that day was not motivated by a desire to hurt Nick. Rather, it was motivated by a desire to preserve my own reputation and good standing in the group.
The problem is, sometimes in an effort to save ourselves, we can hurt others along the way—whether intentionally or unintentionally. And in middle school, I learned that lesson the hard way.
Nick, Athena, and I (and a fourth person who I’ve long since forgotten) were working together for several days on a group project for social studies class.
I don’t remember who the fourth person was—most likely because my interaction with them hadn’t elicited an emotional connection.
And I also don’t remember what the project was about—again, most likely because it hadn’t tapped into the affective domain of experiences that can embed lasting bookmarks in our memories.
But what I do remember is that on this particular day in question, Nick was absent from class and there was a particularly important piece of paper that we needed to help us finish the project—but none of us could find it.
Someone suggested that Nick probably had it, and the other agreed—and together they started saying terrible things about Nick for leaving us high and dry.
As for me, I had no words. As a shy kid who preferred to stay invisible, I was just glad they weren’t talking about me.
But when class was nearly over that day, I discovered the real reason why we couldn't find that most important piece of paper: it was hiding behind some papers in my backpack.
At first, I was relieved to have discovered it! But the relief was short-lived, because my thoughts then turned to how my partners had spoken so poorly of Nick. I became sick to my stomach. I didn’t want to tell them I found the paper because I didn’t want them to turn their anger toward me.
So instead, I contrived a devious plan to avoid humiliation, by secretly placing the paper onto the floor under the desks. I reasoned that eventually, someone would “discover” it there, and they would assume one of us had simply dropped it—but no one would know who.
But just as I put this plan into action, Athena caught me in the act and immediately recognized the paper as the one we had been looking for.
“You’re trying to pretend it’s been there the whole time!" she scolded. "I saw you do it! You’re lying!”
I had no words. Just like I had no words in defense of Nick.
I was completely humiliated.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson—a lesson that was felt and understood immediately in the moment, and over the course of nearly three decades was eventually put into words:
We can choose to be humble, or we can wait to be humiliated.
As agents of Free Will, the choice is ours.
Which do you choose?
Think about a time in your life when a lack of humility led to humiliation. How has this experience affected your behavior? And what might you do to bring more humility into your life to empower positive relationships?
91 North in a Buick LaSabre
The parking garage was just a quick drive up 91 North, and even though it was late, I got into the ‘94 Buick LaSabre and cruised up the highway.
Or was it early? It was in the dark in-between void between late and early when most people would normally be sound asleep that I went for that drive fueled by negative rumination—the rumination that overwhelmed any other sound vying for my attention.
The negative cycle was only broken by the sudden appearance of blue lights flashing in the rearview mirror, emerging from the darkness. It was only then that I became aware of John Denver’s voice singing “Sweet Surrender” over the car stereo. I must have put a CD on when I got in.
🎶 “Lost and alone on some forgotten highway; traveled by many, remembered by few.” 🎶
When the Massachusetts State Trooper sauntered up to the passenger door, I rolled down the window to pass along the license and registration. After briefly perusing the credentials, he asked, “Do you have a registration that isn’t expired?”
“That’s the only one I have,” I responded, “Is it expired?”
“Yes,” he replied, “It expired last week.”
I thought about the stack of mail on my desk back at the apartment. For six weeks the pile grew bigger and bigger, but I had no interest in looking through it. “The renewal notice must be there,” I thought to myself. “The system isn’t designed for people who don’t care.”
“Would you step out of the car please,” the trooper asked—though it was more of a command than a request. But I didn’t make a fuss about it. Although perhaps I should have—that might have been one way to get to my appointment with the other side, with no need to get to the tall building.
The trooper proceeded to frisk me before taking a cursory inventory of the items in the Buick. He took special interest in the saxophone case. I don’t know exactly what he was looking for, but it was all very exciting. And I told him so.
“This is all very exciting,” I said, as he closed the sax case.
“Really? Why is that?” he responded.
“I’ve never had anything like this happen before,” I said.
Just as the trooper finished snooping around, the tow truck arrived to impound the Buick. I stood idly by, watching the trucker load the car onto the back of the truck. I thought it silly that a fully functioning vehicle had to be carried by a bigger vehicle just because a signature and stamp wasn’t delivered to the RMV. To be a part of society certainly requires a lot of red tape.
But for the prior two months, I had no energy to be a part of society. After my fiancée died, I lost the taste for life, and the everyday rituals of society seemed so empty, arid, and meaningless. There wasn’t anything wrong with me physically, but mentally and emotionally I was a wreck. All I wanted to do was make the pain go away, and in that dark void between late and early all those years ago, I decided to rid myself of the pain and the meaningless of life by jumping off a parking garage.
What stopped me from following through with this life-ending plan was the negative rumination itself—which kept me from checking my mail, preventing me from renewing the car registration, causing the State Trooper to tow the car away, which in turn literally stopped me in my tracks.
When the Buick was secured on the back of the tow truck, the trooper gave back my license and registration, recommending that I do what needed to be done to take care of the issue, then got into his cruiser and cruised away. I thought about the John Denver CD in the car:
🎶 “There’s nothing behind me and nothing that ties me to something that might have been true yesterday. Tomorrow is open and right now it seems more than enough to just be here today.” 🎶
The ensuing years were rough, challenging my assumptions, fears, and desires; and as my mental and spiritual health deteriorated, my physical health soon followed. But eventually, over time—and in a roundabout way—I did heed the trooper’s advice. I started taking care of myself—starting with what was necessary, then with what was possible, and finally I found myself doing the seemingly impossible—striking a balance between my physical, mental, and emotional health.
When disappointments and challenges stack on top of each other, it can be easy to get overwhelmed, allowing your health to deteriorate over time. Yet by taking these challenging circumstances in stride, by tending to what can be controlled and letting go of the rest, you empower yourself with the mental, emotional, and physical health needed to carry you safely from one moment to the next, even in moments of potential crisis.
It was in this way that I eventually overcame that dark night of soul, a pit of despair lasting three years. It used to be that I thought about death every day because I was excited to bring about the end. Today, I still think about death often, yet now it’s not because I want to bring about my end, but rather because there is still so much that I want to do. Today, there is a profound sense of urgency to maintain physical, mental, and emotional health to allow myself as much Dynamic Free Will as possible to ensure I have the best chance to do all that I hope to accomplish in this lifetime. Or as John Denver would say:
🎶 “There’s a spirit that guides me and a light that shines for me; my life is worth the living, I don’t need to see the end. Sweet, sweet surrender!” 🎶
What are you doing today to take care of physical, mental, and spiritual health
Where neither moth nor rust can destroy.
Suddenly realizing what had happened, a burst of laughter sprang forth.
“She was happy!” I exclaimed. “Truly and sincerely happy!"
The night before—mere hours before the tragic news—I was alarmed to receive a phone call from my mother. She never called at that hour. It was late. Or was it early? It was a phone call during the in-between hours when most people would normally be sound asleep.
But I was still wide awake, dreaming of happy memories and what dreams may come. Just the day before, I had returned home from a weekend away with Stephanie—a mini celebration in honor of our engagement. How could I sleep? Happy thoughts were dancing merrily through my mind—for life had become a dream.
But this phone call gave me pause. Only bad news comes at this hour. Answering the phone, I braced myself for the worst.
But rather than bad news, I instead heard my worried mother’s voice who was simply calling to check in on me. Mothers tend to have a “sixth sense" and my mother is especially one to be ethereally sensitive loved ones. On that night, those feelings moved her to make a connection.
I should have taken this as a hint—a foreshadow of things to come—but instead I simply put my mother’s worried heart at ease and told her of all the wonderful things that had transpired that week: the engagement, the trip, and the euphoria of sincere life-giving happiness.
The concept of happiness originates from words meaning chance, fortune, and luck, and is often used to communicate feelings of pleasure, gladness, and contentment—qualities that surely pointed to how I was feeling that September night in 2007.
My mother could hear it in my voice. "I'm so happy for you, my son!" she exclaimed. She had never known me to be happier.
The next morning (while standing on the porch where Stephanie and I had our last kiss goodbye) her mother told me of the pure happiness she saw in her eyes, when just the night before Stephanie recounted her own rendition of the week we had together.
"She was happy," she consoled, holding me tight, unable to hold back the tears. "Truly happy. You made her happy, Jonas."
My constant prayer for Stephanie was her happiness—that she would be happy for the rest of her life. I should have been more specific, because while this prayer was answered swiftly, it turns out her life was to be incredibly short—for the night before (during the in-between hours between late and early) quietly, in her sleep, Stephanie died.
It is not despite the contrast between the highs and lows that we are able to experience joy, but rather it is precisely because of this contrast.
When the Whos down in Whoville woke up Christmas morning, despite the absence of packages and bags—and despite not having their Who pudding, roast beast, and even the very last can of Who hash—they looked around and realized they still had what neither rust nor moth could destroy: faith, hope, and Love. Ah! but the greatest of these is Love.
These highs and lows provide opportunities to renew our commitment to what truly matters most—because without happiness, life can become arid, empty, and meaningless. All the more so when we deprive ourselves of happiness with words like "I’ll be happy if…” or “I’ll be happy when…”
These are dangerous words, because ifs and whens won’t always come to pass, and making happiness conditional to variables outside of our control will deprive us of experiencing the fullness of life. Better, then, to source our happiness where neither moth nor rust can destroy.
All of these thoughts sat in my mind like a simmering stew when Stephanie's mother released her grieving embrace. Life had become a dream where all sincere poems, prayers, and promises can be realized—and realizing what had happened, a burst of laughter sprang forth.
“She was happy!” I exclaimed. “Truly and sincerely happy!”
It brought a smile to my face, just knowing Stephanie was happy for the rest of her life.
Even when chance, fortune, and luck don't smile upon us—when all pleasure, gladness, and contentment are gone—it is still possible to laugh and smile in the face of despair. Even through the tears, joy is possible because of how sweet it is to love someone and how right it is to care.
The experience of happiness and the memories they lend can provide the fuel to get through tough times—so long as we store our happiness where neither moth nor rust can destroy: in faith, hope, and Love. Ah! but the greatest of these is Love.
Up until now, how often have you delayed happiness with ifs and whens? What might you do to remove artificial conditional barriers so you may experience sincere life-giving happiness
My Brother's Keeper
“I just spoke to your brother. He doesn’t understand why you won’t speak to him. He says he’s not upset with you.”
“Of course he’s not upset with me!” I replied to my mother, “I’m not the one who did anything wrong. He’s the one who wronged me!”
When you jump into a cold pool, at first the temperature is unbearable; but after just a short period of time, you get used to the temperature and can endure the situation with relative ease. But by the time I was 18 years old, I had little ease dealing with the shenanigans of my relative and decided to cut my brother out of my life.
I felt right to cut him out. Just because he’s family, that doesn't mean he has a free pass to treat me however he wants. And just like jumping into a cold pool, it didn’t take long to get used to not having him in my life.
But after five years of the silent treatment, and not long after our grandmother died, I started to wonder who the grudge was really hurting.
Him or me?
Or perhaps our mother?
“What if he died?” I wondered. “Would I still feel right about the silent treatment?”
Perhaps it was time to give forgiveness a try.
When the 10 million people of the Incan Empire were conquered by only a few hundred Spanish conquistadors in 1572, the general population didn’t hold a grudge. Instead, they accepted their situation as “what was done.” Like jumping into a cold pool, within a relatively short period of time they got used to the “turning over of time and space.” This “turning over” is a situation they referred to as pachakuti—an epoch-changing event they believed was supposed to happen periodically through the ages.
Forgiveness can be hard—especially when you feel justified in your grudge—yet picking up hot coals to throw at others will do far more harm to you than the person they are intended for. Perhaps, like the Incas, it was time for me to accept what was done, give forgiveness a try, and turn over a new leaf of time and space.
I did eventually forgive my brother, setting myself free to experience the joy of the present and empowered with the understanding that to err is human and to forgive is divine. After all, he is my brother, and when he is gone, he will be gone—and I am my brother’s keeper.
What grudge are you holding? What might you do to put down the poison, forgive, and turn over a new leaf of time and space?
Mind Battles in the Grand Canyon
“I have to be honest with you folks—I have 0% left to give.”
Julie and Ricky didn’t say anything; probably because they knew I had no other choice but to go on. As adventure guides, they probably hear exacerbated remarks like this all the time.
I looked to the others in our group. Amanda, Jason, and Kathleen all bore a striking resemblance to how I was feeling. Completely exhausted.
Julie finally spoke up. “Well, the good news is we’re already more than halfway there.”
She highlighted a great point, and it provided some valuable insight. About an hour earlier, after eight hours of walking, we had crossed the Colorado River—the halfway point in our traverse of the Grand Canyon.
“That is a very encouraging point,” I replied. Her comment reminded me of an article I read just before hopping on the flight to Arizona:
“I read a fascinating article recently that said after giving our all, when we think we have nothing more to give, we’ve actually only done 40% of what we’re capable of.”
“I’ve heard about this,” Ricky replied. Ricky’s done his fair share of ultra endurance challenges, so to hear his testimony was further encouragement.
“Yeah! And studies have even been done to demonstrate this,” I continued. “Scientists studying the neuromuscular system found that nerves will send signals to the brain signaling that we are tired—when in reality, what is actually tired is our nerves, not our muscles! We are literally stronger than we think!”
Ricky interjected, “Your body is an avatar and your mind is in control telling it what to do.”
Amanda, Jason, and Kathleen were now sitting and leaning on rocks themselves, nodding in mindless agreement. Julie was itching to keep moving forward.
“Don’t you see?” I continued, “This means we are surely capable of making it the rest of the way. We’re already more than halfway there, and I feel like I’m at 0%—but that means I actually still have 60% more to give! Therefore, I have more than enough strength to make it to the other side of the canyon!”
No one seemed nearly as excited about my science and math rationale as I was, but I didn’t care. I was armed with the confidence and motivation I needed to stay resilient and keep moving forward.
The whole conversation lasted no more than a minute or so before we all got up and pressed on. And after a total of 16 hours and 23.5 miles—climbing down the 4,380 foot wall of the south side of the canyon at sunrise, trekking through the scorching heat inside the canyon, and then climbing up the 5,781 foot north wall of the canyon after sunset—we finally made it to the other side of the Grand Canyon.
To this day, the experience of finally making it to the other side of the Grand Canyon, even after my body told me I couldn’t go another step, is one of the most remarkable and exhilarating moments of my life.
“What else am I capable of?” I wondered.
That night at camp my body let me know I had truly pushed the limits of my capacity, as my legs couldn’t move without cramping up. I couldn’t even take off my hiking boots! I felt helpless.
But there was little time to feel helpless, because before sunrise we were all dropping back into the canyon to hike back to the other side. Everything we had just done, we were going to retrace our steps and do it all again.
“How am I going to do this?” I wondered? “I can’t even move!”
But I already knew how I was going to do it. I had already done half of the double traverse and I felt like I was at 0%—but that meant I actually still have 60% more to give! Therefore, I had more than enough strength to make it to the other side of the canyon again.
After dinner, before quickly falling fast asleep in the tent, I wondered: “If I can be resilient and do what I just did today, what else am I capable of?”
When we choose resilience, by facing challenges rather than running away from discomfort and pain, we discover we are capable of far more than we realize.
Sometimes life throws us challenges and we have no choice but to deal with them: a broken down car, a break up, a lost job, the death of a loved one, and any number of other challenges we’d rather not face.
By occasionally putting ourselves into uncomfortable situations voluntarily when the stakes are low, we can effectively practice for facing uncomfortable situations that are forced upon us when the stakes are high.
Without resilience, even minor challenges can become roadblocks that discourage us from moving forward. And yet, when we are resilient, we become empowered to continue moving forward even in the most difficult of times.
In the words of T.S. Eliot: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
Up until now, how have you demonstrated resilience? And what are you doing today to challenge your beliefs about yourself and what you’re truly capable of?
The Disappointed Choir
The disappointed choir walked off stage to thunderous applause.
They had just performed their rendition of God Bless America for an audience of over 600 people composed of peers, leaders, and invited dignitaries—including Governor Deval Patrick—and sensing a mixture of disappointment in their performance and relief that it was now over, as their director, I took the opportunity to offer some concise words of encouragement.
I had little time to do so, however; the next presenter was already at the podium about to speak, so as they walked off stage I simply looked them in the eyes and, with a gentle whisper, said, “Good work.”
Though these words were meant to lift their spirits, they were instead met with a glare from one of the students who turned to me and said, “Don’t lie.”
My heart became heavy with compassion for the seventeen-year-old who didn’t yet have the contextual awareness to understand what I was saying.
The encouraging words did not refer to their performance; after all, their performance was awful and their knowing eyes betrayed dread for having to face the music. But I was not referring to their performance; I was referring to their decision to boldly step forward and perform.
Growth doesn’t happen by accident; it’s the result of deliberately using what you know to try something you’ve never done.
Choosing to boldly step forward and grow through life rather than to simply go through will reveal both what you’re capable of and what you can improve upon—but without this effort, you become blind to your capacity.
When the students arrive at the intensive week-long youth leadership program, no one knows each other—they can be nobody or they can be anybody—and the choir is just one activity they can choose to participate in. They can choose to step forward into the unknown, get involved, and be somebody, or they can choose to step back into safety, merely observe, and be nobody.
At the start of the week, I encouraged the students to take their time in the program as an opportunity to challenge their understanding of who they are, try new things, and explore who they might be if only they took a chance.
In this spirit, I invited them to join the choir—whether or not they had any prior choir experience. Out of the over 600 students in attendance, only 15 people stepped forward to perform, and most of them had no vocal training. It takes guts to do something you’ve never done before, to risk erring even with the sincerest of effort.
As President Theodore Roosevelt reminds us: “It is not the critic who counts,” but rather the ones who are actually in the arena—the ones who dare valiantly, fail valiantly, and keep valiantly striving again and again, “because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.” Glory belongs to those who keep growing until they triumph; and if they fail, they do so while daring greatly, so their “place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
No, my encouraging words “good work” did not refer to their performance; they referred to their courage to boldly step forward, let go of the known, and reach for the not-yet-known: who they might be. For though change can be painful, nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you don’t belong.
Just as a caterpillar is not meant to die a caterpillar, you are also made for something more, so long as you stay encouraged to continue betting on yourself.
What are you doing today to encourage the good work that reveals your true capacity
Mark was in between sales calls, focused and ready for the next prospect. His alertness that day is likely why he was able to react in time to avoid the accident.
It all happened in an instant. Before he even understood what was happening, the neatly stacked phone books in the backseat all of a sudden flew onto the floor as his foot slammed onto the brakes.
Even just a split-second delay would have resulted in a rear-end collision with the commercial van that had changed lanes too close. Dangerously close! It’s as if the other driver hadn’t even seen him!
Though his car stopped in time, Mark’s heart kept racing faster and faster.
He was mad.
“He could have killed me!” He yelled out loud, though no one could hear him. “I could kill him!”
His rage needed an outlet, and that’s when he noticed the phone number on the back of the van. It was a roofing company and Mark wasted no time getting his cell phone out to let the people at the office know about the idiot driver who nearly killed him.
But Mark didn’t get to speak with anyone in an office, because the guy who answered the phone was on the road, a solopreneur doing the job of four people—roofing, logistics, marketing, and answering phones.
That’s right: Mark had a direct line with the guy who had just cut him off—the perfect outlet for his rage!
The driver was in disbelief. “Wait, is that you behind me right now?”
“YES!” Mark screamed. “You cut me off and nearly killed me!”
“You’re being unreasonable,” the driver replied.
“I’m being unreasonable?! You’re the one who cut me off!”
“Listen, let’s just pull over and settle this.”
“We’ll settle it alright!”
They pulled into the parking lot of a Dunkin' Donuts. When Mark realized what was happening, he regretted how he had reacted. But it was too late. The other driver was already out of the van and heading towards him.
Thinking fast, Mark dug through the pile of phone books in the back of the car until he felt the cool steel against his hand. With clenched fist, he grabbed hold of the lug wrench. He was hoping he wouldn't have to use it, but he’d rather have it and not need it (rather than need it and not have it).
Mark stepped out of the car just as the other driver was in striking distance. He braced himself for the worst.
“What do you need that for?”
“To settle this,” Mark barked.
“You don’t need that. Let’s settle this inside over a coffee. I’m buying.”
Mark’s heart finally stopped racing. He put the lug wrench away among the mess of phone books and walked into the coffee shop.
When they came to the table, they took turns explaining their side of the story:
When we wander through life treating assumptions as facts, we limit our capacity and restrain our possibilities. This negative behavior also creates division rather than unity—decreasing who we include as “us” and increasing who we exclude as “them.” (It might even lead to a fight in the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot with a tire iron!)
And yet, when we instead take time to sincerely understand others, we create opportunities for connecting on the common ground that binds us together—opening the door for unity and compassion.
These are all things Mark already knew. As a phone book sales rep, he spent every work day selling listings to connect people with one another. His job was to literally help people connect! He already knew this, but sometimes humans get distracted and forget who they really are.
By the time the coffee was gone, the would-be enemies left the table as allies—and Mark even sold the guy a listing in the phone book!
It truly doesn’t take much for two people to find a connection, but it does require one key element: someone has to make the first move.
Before continuing his day, Mark took a moment to set his car in order by cleaning up the mess of phone books in the backseat—vowing to try and do better moving forward.
What can you do to remind yourself to go first when trying to connect with others?
A Walk in the Park
Relatively speaking, it should have been like a walk in the park. After all, by then I had been doing that kind of work for years. It had become second nature. So why was I suddenly a nervous wreck?
And let’s be honest, it wasn’t just like a walk in the park—it was literally a walk in the park. The year was 2008 and I had donated my magic act for a local charity hosting an event at Stanley Park in Westfield, MA. What I was supposed to do was stroll through the park performing impromptu magic for families as they partook in the day’s festivities.
That’s what I was supposed to do. But that’s not what I did. Instead, I anxiously walked through the park and every time a group of people passed by I quickly averted my eyes, hoping they wouldn’t realize I was the magician.
By that point I had already been performing some version of my magic act for over a decade and the behavior I was exhibiting that day in the park did not portray the confidence I had spent years building. What was up with it?
Perhaps you have your own story of a time in your life when you suddenly questioned your competence and with wavering confidence shied away from performing to the fullness of your ability. There can be any number of reasons for this, yet a common culprit is one that can befall us all at some point: Even just a couple instances of failure, experienced back-to-back, can be enough to lose faith in your ability to perform.
This is of course natural—we want to perform at our best—but it’s simply unrealistic to expect that we will always hit the mark every time. After all, even the world’s best baseball players strike out more than they actually hit the ball.
And it’s for this same reason that my confidence wavered that day in the park. It was my first performance after receiving two negative reviews from clients who were not happy with my performances.
The first review was from the president of an organization who had contracted me to perform for their afternoon luncheon. He said the show was childish and more appropriate for a younger audience.
The second review was from the mother of a child who had contracted me to perform for their birthday party. She said the show was too mature and more appropriate for an older audience.
Both clients wanted their money back.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the part that struck me was that I had performed the same act for both audiences—yet the reviews were in and didn’t look good. According to reputable sources, I was neither appropriate for adults nor children! Yet there I was, in Stanley Park, expected to perform for both children and adults regardless of the circumstances and criticism.
I’m happy to say that I did eventually get over myself that day in the park and gave the people my all—resulting in smiles, laughter, and joy. The experience was a much-needed confidence boost and a reminder that we can’t please everyone, but what we can do is focus on serving the people who are in front of us ready, eager, and willing to go on an adventure.
What fuels your confidence?
Are You a Chicken? Or a Pig!
On a cold Massachusetts afternoon in November 2009, I hopped onto my bicycle and headed south. Despite the cold weather, the physical exertion quickly kept me warm as I rode through town.
But this was no ordinary bicycle ride. I had given up everything for it.
In the months leading up to the big day, I stopped accepting contracts—telling anyone requesting a performance of my magic act that I was no longer available, instead referring them to colleagues.
I donated most of my possessions to The Goodwill. It took many boxes and many carloads and many weeks to do—and the carefully curated items I did choose to keep were loaned to trusted family and friends to hold onto during my absence.
I gave my landlord 30-days notice that I would be vacating the premises, and the day before the ride I sold my car to a friend. The money would certainly come in handy on the unpredictable journey ahead.
I told people I was headed to California, and seeing as it was November, I charted a course that would first bring me south before journeying west. While I had the moral support of those closest to me, there were many who didn’t understand what I was doing.
“Why don’t you just stay here where you already have support?”
“No matter where you go, you can’t run away from your problems.”
“Why don’t you just take a plane? Or a train? Or a bus?”
“Why are you leaving now? November is a terrible time of year for a cross country bicycle ride!”
All of these concerns had validity to them, but none of them addressed the real reason for the journey, which had nothing to do with California.
During the two years prior to the ride, I struggled with grief, depression, and substance abuse following the death of a very dear friend. The loss shook the core of my Being, forever changing my understanding of life, reality, and my place within the fabric of the Universe.
During that time in the dark night of the soul, I didn’t want to exist. Not death, but a non-existence—by traveling back to the beginning of time and space to stop the cause that would one day lead to my existence. Sincerely, the night was dark and the grief was deep.
Despite the darkness, Hope kept trying to play hide-and-go-seek with me—pricking holes in the darkness like constellations offering clues for a way forward, reminding me that the best way out is always through.
To get through, though, would require a lot of changes. We cannot change what we don’t address and we can’t address what we’re not aware of. I was too close to it. I was too close to old habits. I was too close to unhealthy environments. I was too close to what people believed was true about me.
How can we fully step into who we really are when everyone around us has already made up their mind about who they think we are? We need to show them. And more importantly, we need to show ourselves.
In 2009, I was ready to show myself, and this meant making some drastic changes. For me, this meant removing all the distractions—giving myself time and space to take care of myself without having to also worry about supporting myself. It meant taking immediate action rather than waiting for a more convenient time. After all, if not now, when?
Most importantly, it meant being sincerely committed to the journey forward rather than merely being involved in it. I needed to be a pig, not a chicken.
(When serving bacon and eggs for breakfast, the chicken merely involves its eggs while the pig commits its entire life to the cause.)
In the end, it doesn’t matter what we might do and what we can do. All that matters is what we will do—what we actually commit to following through with. For me, this meant giving up everything to go on a bicycle ride.
What does commitment mean to you? What are you doing to ensure you follow through?
P.S. In case you’re wondering, though I didn’t make it to California on the bicycle, I did eventually reach my distention—and continue to arrive every day.
Make Me Laugh
Make Me Laugh was a television show where contestants would try not to laugh while a comedian told jokes.
This was a challenge for the comedian, because their career credibility is based on their capacity for making people laugh.
Yet this was also a challenge for the contestant, because they were positioned center stage in front of everyone with all eyes on them. Some contestants would laugh simply because they were nervous!
If I had been given the opportunity to be on the show as a young boy, I would have won the grand prize, because as a child I had the ability to make other people feel invisible.
It’s simple, really. All you have to do is ignore the people around you.
This is easy when others also treat you as an invisible person—because when no one pays you any attention, it’s easy to return the favor.
The true test, however, is when they try to get an emotional reaction out of you—like a comedian whose career relies on riling you up. To make others invisible under these conditions is a skill reserved for the masters.
I received my masters when I was just six years old.
The year was 1989 and I was on the playground outside of Warren Elementary School. We were already a couple of months into the school year, so I wore my signature jean jacket to accompany New England’s autumn air.
My morning routine included a rendezvous with the slide before starting the school day, and it was while approaching the slide that my invisibility abilities were put to the test.
There were three boys standing near the slide—all slightly older than me, perhaps seven or eight years old. It was as if they were expecting me, patiently awaiting my arrival.
My instinct was to deviate from the path so as to avoid confrontation, but they had already seen me coming. To deviate from the path now would be a tacit acknowledgement of their presence. That’s an amateur move.
Without making eye contact, I put on the nonchalant disguise of indifference—as if I didn’t know I was being observed. This was a true challenge, because like the comedian trying to make the contestant laugh on television, one of the boys began trying his best lines on me:
“You’re so fat you’re probably going to break the slide!”
This boy clearly didn’t know who he was really speaking to. I was no amateur. I was a professional.
Without breaking my stride, I placed my right foot onto the first rung of the ladder to begin the ascent to the top of the slide. I was so in flow with the moment that even to this day, decades later, I can still see the dirty metal steps worn from years of use, yet still grooved for a sure grip, and etched with the manufacturer’s logo.
That’s when the amateur comedian tried another one of his lines on me:
“You’re so big you’re not even going to fit up there!”
I didn’t flinch.
Not even once.
Because to do so would have betrayed my awareness of his presence. So I just kept putting one foot in front of the other until I made it to the top.
The boy tried more hack lines, but by this time I couldn’t hear them—instead, they were drowned out by laughter coming from the other two boys as I made my way down the slide.
If this were a game show, they would not have won any money. They were still just amateurs.
And I was a master.
As a shy, voiceless child, I knew how it felt to be invisible. And that’s just how I wanted it. But I can only speculate how it must have felt for that boy to get no reaction from me—like a comedian seeing his career fly away like a helium balloon let go by a careless child, never to be seen again. To gain your self-worth from the reaction of others is like building a sandcastle on the shore. It’s just not sustainable.
Perhaps his words, not landing as intended, had the unintended consequence of echoing back to himself. Like a ghost’s futile efforts to make a connection, when you’re invisible, the only person you’re really talking to is yourself.
But it turned out that the boy’s words did have an audience—just not the audience he intended.
The day after this interaction, as I made my way back to the slide for the daily rendezvous, there stood a lone red-headed boy by the slide who, just 24-hours earlier, had stood by nervously laughing at his companion’s remarks.
This time, he spoke up.
“I’m really sorry about yesterday.”
I immediately felt the boy’s pain of regret for having not spoken up sooner. In such cases, later is better than never to leave the crowd and stand alone as an ally giving voice to the voiceless.
But of course, I could not let this brave boy know I felt his pain, or express appreciation for his delayed kindness, for to do so would mean acknowledging his existence.
Like the slide’s dirty metal steps worn from years of use yet still grooved for a sure grip, invisibility abilities were etched in me with the logo of a master.
Nothing was going to make me laugh or cry.
Or rather, no one would see it—because it’s invisible.
Who are you an ally to? What sacrifices have you had to make to honor that alliance? As a result, what did you lose and what did you gain?
“Why did she ask me to come here?” I wondered desperately.
A sense of dreadful incompetence began to infiltrate my heart as I stared blankly at the symbols on the page, unable to decipher them.
Clearly the teacher had made a mistake; I wasn’t as good as she thought I was—so while the other students played through the score with ease, all I did was go through the motions, moving my fingers across the keys without actually blowing into the saxophone.
“I don’t belong here!” I screamed inwardly, while outwardly trying to maintain an image of cool confidence.
I had only been playing the saxophone for a few months but Mrs. Megan was impressed with how quickly I had progressed compared to my peers, so she advanced me from the 4th grade band to the 6th grade band.
At first I was elated! But the elation was short-lived, when I began to learn for the first time what it means to engage in challenges outside your comfort zone. Overwhelmed and hopeless, I simply continued to fake my way through class until it was finally over.
I had no interest in ever again experiencing the torture of growing pains, so that first day of advanced band also became my last—conveniently “forgetting” the saxophone at home every day since. We never spoke of it, but Mrs. Megan must have taken the hint because she eventually moved me back to be with my peers.
Have you ever run away from challenges because the growing pains were too uncomfortable? Or found yourself going through the motions outwardly, while inwardly wondering why you were even bothering?
Whatever your specific circumstances, we’ve all experienced a lack of engagement at some point, and while there can be any number of causes for this, perhaps one of the primary reasons is a futile belief that we must achieve controlled outcomes.
Though we may plant seeds in rich soil and provide them with plenty of sunlight and water, we can never force flowers to bloom.
Therefore, perhaps the master key for unlocking engagement is a focus on process goals rather than on outcomes goals. As Seth Godin suggests in his book The Practice, our only true output is the practice—because while we can’t control the outcomes, what we can control is how we engage in the ongoing process of creation.
Perhaps if I had understood this while learning the saxophone as a child, I might have relished in the discomfort of being a novice musician among advanced players and found joy in the growing pains while engaging in the daily practice of creating a new version of myself—letting go of the limiting beliefs that disguised my true capacity.
How might a focus on process goals help you to enhance your engagement?
The Wrong Way
“We’re going the wrong way! He led us down the wrong way!”
My heart wanted to burst from my chest when I realized what was happening. We were going the wrong way down a divided highway!
It was the middle of the night in Boston and my band had just finished a set at the Midway Cafe. After loading the equipment into one van, the band loaded into the other van—and since I was one of the only sober ones, I was asked to drive the band home. The other driver simply said, “Follow me.”
There’s nothing wrong with being a follower; after all, if everyone is leading the way then we risk walking alone in every direction. But there is a danger in being a follower when the person you’re following doesn’t actually know where they’re going.
As we made our way out of the city, I carefully followed the van in front, but paid too close attention to the van and not enough attention to where we were going, which is why when we drove onto a ramp I didn’t realize it was an exit ramp and not an entrance ramp.
The first clue that something was wrong was when I wondered out loud, “Why is the other side of the highway on the right side?”
Then I added, “Isn’t the yellow line supposed to be on the left side?”
That’s when it hit me, and panic suddenly welled below the surface of the skin, like rocking a little too far back in a rocking chair.
I began flashing the lights to get the other driver’s attention but he just kept going. The road started to curve, making it impossible to see if any vehicles were coming around the bend.
In my mind I saw a car coming at us full speed and imagined the shock and fear that would rush over them seeing headlights heading straight towards them.
“Which way will they turn?” I wondered. “If I turn left to avoid hitting them, what if they turn right at the same time and we crash into each other anyway?”
It was like asking the proverbial chicken or the egg question, but with the twist of a game of chicken.
While there was no one yet coming towards us, with every second the possibility of this scared speculation becoming a reality increased.
All at once I made a decision and acted on it, as fast as the synapses could fire. The van in front carried the equipment; the van I was driving carried the band members themselves—and I wasn’t going to risk losing those five souls because of a silly mistake.
I performed the fastest 3-point turn in the history of driving (at least, that’s what it felt like). In the haste of the moment I neglected to account for the added length of the van, and during the extreme maneuver the back of the van slammed into the concrete median. But it was only a touch and go hit, because before we even finished backing up I put the van back into drive and slammed the gas pedal.
A sigh of relief fell over all of us.
Even though I didn’t know the way home, at least we were finally headed in the right direction.
I think of that night often, thankful that all of us, including the other driver—who simply got off at the next exit—all made it home safely that night.
Though it can be easy to be angry at the other driver for leading us astray, I am careful to instead point a patient finger at myself. The decision to follow comes with the responsibility to also remain aware of where you’re going, and to break away from the pack when something doesn’t feel right.
No one can take you out of character and lead you astray without your consent, whether by design or by default. Today, whenever I feel the urge to pass blame or judgement onto another, I remember that night in Boston, and instead point a patient finger at myself.
Such patience can empower you with self-control, humility, and kindness, so that even if you don’t quite know the way, you are at least headed in the right direction.
What are you doing to bring more patience into your everyday life?
How to Be a Visionary
The day had finally arrived and Hiroshi stepped into the factory with open eyes and mind.
He had traveled 10,000 miles to get to Cincinnati just for this one meeting and there was a lot riding on it, because back home in Kyoto, Japan, there were plenty of people doubting him.
When he succeeded his grandfather as president of the company in 1949, he had no management or engineering experience, and that didn’t sit well with those who had been with the company for decades. In the seven years since taking over the role, however, he succeeded in what many thought would be impossible, leading their small company to domination in the playing card market in Japan.
But Hiroshi’s vision was bigger than that. He wanted to lead their company to worldwide success, which is why he arranged a meeting with the leaders from the largest manufacturer of playing cards in the world, The United States Playing Card Company, with the hopes of gleaning inspiration to bring back home.
As Hiroshi stepped into the headquarters of the world’s largest and most respected manufacturer of playing cards, however, something didn’t feel right. He was shocked to discover that they operated out of a small-scale office and factory! This was not the vision he had in mind, and as he left the meeting he realized that playing card manufacturing is a rather limited venture with little room for growth.
Rather than being deflated by this, Hiroshi used this information to empower his vision with a new plan, which included diversifying the company’s ventures in family home entertainment products. Instead of simply producing playing cards, they went on to also produce board games and toys, and as electronics began to enter the market he directed his engineers to begin experimenting with the new medium.
As a result of Hiroshi Yamauchi’s vision, during his 53 years as president, he successfully transformed the Nintendo Playing Card Company into an international multibillion-dollar leader in the video game industry.
Despite his lack of experience when he first got started, Hiroshi Yamauchi was able to achieve his vision through honesty, anticipation, and imagination—and you can use these to likewise empower your own vision:
What’s your vision?
What's In A Name?
“You’ve met me countless times already, how do you not remember my name?”
Kate called me out in front of everyone at the party.
I was mortified.
Yet what made it feel even worse was wondering how it must have made Kate feel, because not remembering someone’s name sends a signal that you don’t care about them and that they don’t matter.
And Kate was right.
We share mutual friends so we would often find ourselves at the same gatherings, yet up until that night I could not for the life of me remember Kate’s name.
There was no excuse for the social blunder and instead of trying to rationalize it, I used the experience as motivation to do something about it by obtaining a copy of Harry Lorayne’s aptly titled book: The Memory Book.
The book shares accurate, accessible, and actionable strategies for training your memory, but the most striking takeaway for me was the understanding that when we don’t remember someone’s name, it’s not that we forgot it—it’s that we never knew it to begin with.
Think of a time in your life when you first met someone, and then only moments later couldn’t recall their name. The reason for this is simple: you weren’t really listening!
The word listen is derived from archaic words meaning “attention, to be called, to hear, and obey.” This understanding highlights how the act of sincere listening requires a response to accept and acknowledge what was received.
And therein lies that key to listening: It requires a response.
In the case of listening to someone’s name who you just met, the response might be to use their name in a sentence.
In the case of listening to feedback while being called out at a party, the response might be to read a book to improve your knowledge and skills.
To this day, Kate’s name is burned in my memory because it’s associated with a meaningful and emotional experience. It no longer matters, though, because since that night all those years ago I have never seen her again.
(Perhaps the deeper lesson here is if we don’t care to sincerely listen to others, then they will treat us with similar indifference and avoid our company. Perhaps.)
Despite the social blunder, Kate has been a valuable teacher, influencing me to be a more sincere listener—and in so doing signaling to others that I care about them and that they matter.
And isn’t that something the world could use more of?
What might you do to listen more sincerely to the people around you?
When Mrs. Kwasniewski handed back the graded geometry homework, she stopped when she got to mine to discuss the train wreck I had handed in.
I spent hours working on that assignment, filling several pages with various mathematical equations in a desperate yet futile attempt to find the answer.
Despite these efforts, my final solution was not the correct answer, however what Kwas wanted to point out to the class was the paper trail left behind—evidence I had stayed with the problem even after a few failed attempts, when other students may have simply given up out of frustration.
Sure, even though I didn’t provide the answer she was looking for, I had pages upon pages of support for why I thought my solution was valid—and it was this fascination for discovering a solution that my high school geometry teacher most appreciated.
This experience is a valuable reminder that when we give up too soon while climbing the hill of a challenge, we may avoid the pain of discomfort, but we also avoid the glory of discovering new possibilities for our lives—possibilities that can only be discovered when we stay with it with fascination.
As the song goes: “I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”
As for you and me, I hope we continue to dance.
What area of your life could use more fascination?
“Looking back on the memory of the dance we shared beneath the stars above, for a moment all the world was right—how could I have known that you'd ever say goodbye?”
It’s been 14 years since our dance beneath the stars—the night when Stephanie finally said yes. After eight years of being wildly in love, with the brightest smile, she finally said yes!
“I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go.”
Just ten days later, Stephanie died unexpectedly from an aneurism. The ensuing battle with grief removed all flavor for life. Even the things that once brought great joy just seemed so bland, so useless, and I could see no life beyond the hill of grief.
Amidst the darkness, there were even days when I wished I had never even met Stephanie—for a greater pain had sincerely never before been known.
And yet, what is perhaps most fascinating, is that after climbing that hill, life has continued to be filled with surprises to amaze and delight.
“Our lives are better left to chance—I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”
I can say with authority that one of the kindest gifts you can give yourself is fascination for life, because fascination empowers you with curiosity and wonder to look for, discover, and embrace new possibilities for what your life might be.
While I still think of Stephanie every day, the pain of losing her has been transformed and integrated into who I am, in what I do, and in how I live my life. As a result, I am consistently amazed to discover new joys, passions, and relationships to make my heart flutter and soul sing in ways I never before could have imagined—whether it’s discovering a new perspective from a mountain top, learning to play the ukulele, or simply helping to make someone smile.
As for today, I’m amazed by all that life has offered since September 5, 2007, a valuable reminder that I could have missed the pain, but I would have had to also miss the dance.
What beliefs might you challenge today—with fascination, curiosity, and wonder—to discover what your life might be?
I'm So Happy You're Here
It should have been so simple—no more than a few seconds and it would be done.
And yet it wasn’t that simple.
And she was getting frustrated.
All she wanted to do was get copies made, but she couldn’t get the copy machine working.
And she tried everything: She tried hitting the machine. She tried unplugging it and plugging it back in. She even tried begging and pleading.
But nothing worked!
Thankfully, a man walking by in the hallway saw her in distress and stepped in to help. And Voilà! It worked! A happy ending after all.
I share this seemingly mundane story because of how the woman responded to the man who stepped in to help.
Think about how you’ve seen others respond to frustrating circumstances.
Maybe they spewed complaints.
Maybe they were insulted by the gesture because they felt they should have been able to do it on their own.
Or maybe they simply ignored the helper out of frustrated exasperation.
We’ve seen all of these kinds of responses at some point, but this woman did none of these. Instead, she simply looked at the man and said: “I’m so happy you’re here.”
Words that cost nothing to give, but when received have the power to encourage others.
Everyone who walks into your life has a story you know nothing about, and that was certainly the case for the man who shared this story with me.
Years earlier he had gone through a period of depression and decided the world would be better if he wasn’t around—so he made his plan and set it into action: He would take care of some unfinished business at the office and then after work he would take his own life.
But when the big day arrived, as he was leaving the office, he passed by a woman in the hallway struggling with the copy machine. She was banging it, turning it off and on, and begging and pleading for it to work.
Sure, he was in a hurry to get to his appointment with death, but he took a moment to step in to help, and when he did, instead of adding to the negativity that was already eating the man alive, the woman simply smiled and said: “I’m so happy you’re here.”
Words that cost nothing to give, but when received have the power to encourage others.
Everyone who walks into your life has a story you know nothing about, which is why—as the author J.M. Barrie reminds us—we must “be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”
At the very least, kindness can inspire a smile; at the very most, it can save a life.
And that was certainly the case for the man who shared this story with me.
How might you share more kindness with the people around you?
It's the Climb
Every step was more exhausting than the next, but we had to keep moving forward if we were ever going to make it.
The journey was taking longer than expected and the higher the sun rose, the more the snow melted, making the trek up Mt. Adams more dangerous.
With every step the ground collapsed beneath us and we'd be up to our waist in snow! Before taking another step, we'd have to dig our way out and crawl to our feet, just to do it all over again.
We fell forward up the mountain like this for two hours, and with every step I wondered where I was going to find the energy to continue.
At one point, after crawling out of a hole, I paused to turn around and observe the progress we had made. What I saw transformed my heart to become like the snow around us—melted, as it basked in the glory of the surroundings.
We were literally standing above the clouds! A view reserved only for those willing and able to endure the ordeal of an adventure! In that moment I recognized the privilege to be there, to soak in the glory of the surroundings, and to enjoy every moment of the journey—difficulties and all.
When you can enjoy the process of your journey rather than merely delaying joy until the final outcome, you empower yourself with enhanced interest and sustained effort—a self-fulfilling prophecy to help you achieve your desired results.
How might you apply this in your life? Here are a few examples:
These are just a few quick examples to stoke your thinking. Whoever you are and whatever your adventure, I encourage you to discover your own ways to enjoy the journey ahead.
How can you find more joy in the process of your own glorious adventure?
“Be careful, the wind is passing you!”
I looked to see who it was that threw these words at me as I jogged through the Salem Common. It was a young physically fit man sitting on a park bench.
It felt like a reply was necessary, but none was forthcoming so I just kept jogging. But my mind was reeling.
What would compel someone to throw discouragement towards another person?
Was he trying to be funny?
Did he feel threatened by seeing someone trying to improve their life?
Was he scorned by a jogger in his past so he has dedicated his life to tearing all joggers down?
Or was he just being careless with his words?
L'esprit d'escalier is a French term that literally means “staircase wit.” It refers to those missed opportunities where you think of the perfect reply to someone’s comment too late.
Even though this happened too many years ago to count, I still think of that man’s comment more often than I would like—usually while jogging. And, oh my goodness, I’ve certainly come up with many responses with my l'esprit d'escalier.
I have come to a conclusion, though, that truly no response was necessary, because the goal of communication is not merely to express ideas or win people over to your way of thinking, but rather it’s about creating a common understanding that includes rather than excludes and unites rather than divides (as derived from archaic words meaning to create a common understanding).
And carelessly throwing discouragement to another person will never be a constructive path to genuine communication.
Ultimately, I still don’t know what this man was trying to communicate—a valuable reminder that in communication it’s seldom about intention and more about how it lands with the other person.
Even though his intention didn’t quite come in for a safe landing, I still learned a valuable lesson from him:
It is prudent to always be careful of what our words and behaviors are communicating, lest we unwittingly exclude and divide rather than include and unite.
What are your words and behaviors communicating to the people around you? Are they intentional or are they careless?
Fire in the Deli
“Fire! Everyone out of the building!”
Confusion spread through the supermarket like a wildfire, even before the smoke alarms went off.
I was only in my early twenties and had never before been in a building that was on fire, so this experience certainly made for quite an interesting day as a deli clerk!
With heart pounding, I headed towards the nearest exit and on the way out I watched with fascination one of my coworkers who wasn’t acting like everyone else. Instead of hurriedly making his way to the exit, he instead calmly went to all of the restrooms ensuring that everyone was able to get out safely.
Witnessing this, I thought to myself: "That's the kind of person I want to be. In times of adversity, I want to be the one helping others.”
It’s said that reputation is who people think you are, while character is who you really are. Regardless of how well you may curate your reputation, if it’s not backed up by a positive authentic character, then when the going gets tough and you find yourself in over your head in hot water, whatever shallow veneer you’ve created for yourself will quickly dissolve revealing your true colors.
It takes a certain degree of vulnerability to stay in character wherever you go and not let the whims of the world break your stride, but staying in character in the good times, the not-so-good times, and even the in-between times, is how you express who you really are, your values, and what you most aspire for the world.
That day at the grocery store I recognized my co-worker’s behavior as an admirable expression of a value I hold dear and made the decision to incorporate that same trait into my own character, that way the next time I find myself in a similar situation I would know what to do and be empowered to follow through.
What values do you hold dear? Who do you know who demonstrates those values? And how can you mirror these same behaviors with your own character?
How to Know Your Care
It was the perfect plan.
First, I would sneak out of the house when my parents fell asleep.
Then I would walk the two miles to the elementary school.
Finally, I would break into my third grade classroom and steal the teacher’s lesson plans.
It was the perfect plan.
I was willing to try anything to get out of speaking in front of the classroom to present my project. I had already seen Craig literally collapse in front of the whole class while delivering his project, and I wasn’t about to let the same thing happen to me!
Alas, I never went through with that plan—however perfect it may have been.
Funny thing is, while I can still remember the profound grief leading up to it, I have no recollection of actually delivering the presentation. I was a good kid and always did what I was told—so I’m sure I did do it—I just don’t remember it.
This story can serve as a valuable reminder that the profound anxiety, grief, or anger that can sometimes creep into our lives is mostly related to the fears we’re giving our attention to, rather than the actual full reality of our circumstances.
And these emotions can also be used to highlight what we really care about. In my case, I cared about being accepted and maintaining good relations. If I made a fool of myself in front of everyone it could threaten that!
When we sincerely care about something, we become empowered with a heightened level of emotional interest, and the trick is to let that emotion fuel our passion rather than deplete it.
As for me, just remembering this story can put my mind at ease, because it reminds me that all things will pass, no matter how big or troublesome they may appear.
In addition, it reminds me that whenever intense emotions arise it simply indicates that I care—and I’d rather go through life with care than with apathy.
What do you care about?
I'm a mirror (and so are you).