Sunday, October 30, 2005

Do Over

One of the great cinematic moments I can think of is the scene in City Slickers in which Billy Crystal’s character talks to his friend about how, when they were kids, if they were playing a game and something happened that they didn’t like, someone would yell, “Do over!” He then says, “That’s what this is. My life is a do-over.”

Previously, Crystal’s character had been a sullen, bored, depressed “working stiff.” He was turning forty, and although nothing in his life was particularly wrong, none of it was quite right. His wife and daughter loved him, and his job was adequate, but he felt no sense of purpose or meaning.

On his wife’s prompting, he takes a trip to a working ranch, where he and a few friends drive cattle across the Wyoming plains and, along the way, encounter hardships, challenges, and some very dangerous situations. He faces the challenges, commits to an outcome, and pays the price of success. In the end, he gets his life back. He regains a sense of purpose, enthusiasm, and energy. He falls in love with his life all over again. He gets to do it over.

There is nothing whatsoever stopping you from having your do-over. Nothing, that is, except the conviction that it can’t be done.

Your outer life need not change at all. In the movie, Billy Crystal’s character goes back to the same life he left behind. All that changes is his inner experience but that’s all that needs to change. When you change on the inside, everything around you changes as well.

For me, the journey has been remarkable: remarkably good and remarkably difficult. I’ve encountered an enormous amount of my own negativity and have walked down more blind alleys than I can count. I’ve made progress which I’ve quickly undone through pride or fear, and I’ve gotten stuck for what seemed like lifetimes in the quagmire of confusion. I’ve tried in vain to resolve the paradoxes that any thinking person is bound to face as he or she begins to ask questions.

Although they’re ultimately unsolvable, few of them really need to be solved. Part of the journey of a successful, intelligent person is the recognition that ambiguity is part of the game, and the ability to live with ambiguity is a prerequisite to contentment and happiness. Besides, as mentalist and philosopher Roderick Russell says, “Life isn’t a puzzle to be solved. It’s a mystery to be resolved.”

What I’m suggesting is that the road is not a straight one. Many believe that successful people got there with no effort or discouragement. That isn’t the case. Virtually everyone, no matter how successful, has faced despair and failure. You should expect that you will too.

That’s good news, though, because it’s probably not just the material rewards which you seek. You seek a better life. And part of a better life is the ability to tolerate, even celebrate adversity. When you shift your consciousness so that you’re able to welcome any experience that arises, you’ll reap rewards that you’ll feel on the inside much more deeply than any superficial pleasures available from gaining an external prize. I recommend that you embark on this journey of self-creation with an attitude of openness to whatever comes your way. By doing that, you’ll find it much easier to get back in the race whenever life puts up a hurdle, and you’ll have much more fun.

Take a mental inventory

Take an inventory of your life as it is right now. What works? What doesn’t work? How much of your discontent is generated by your outer circumstances? How much is just a feeling from within? Where would you like to see yourself a few years from now? Do you have a clear idea, or is it vague? Are you starting from scratch, ready to create a life from nothing? Or, are you stuck in a life you don’t like, ready for a do-over? Have you faced disappointment thus far? And, if not, are you willing to do so in the future if that’s what’s necessary to accomplish your ultimate goals? What do you perceive to be the primary factor holding you back? Is it an outer circumstance or an inner attitude? Is it a habit of not taking the necessary steps?

Throughout this process, your success will be proportional to your level of willingness to take responsibility for your life. To the extent that you place the focus of your problems and their solutions outside yourself, you will fail to see progress and will likely relapse into old, stuck ways. To the extent that you own your life, the good and the bad, the glowing and the repulsive, and that you fail to yield to the temptation to blame others for your misfortune, you will succeed and ultimately change the environment in which you live.

The journey is exciting and manifold. If you’re willing to make the effort, you will be rewarded. While I can’t promise you a life without pain or challenges, and while you’ll still have those days when things don’t seem so great, you can create your life exactly as you want it. That’s your birthright. Are you ready for it?

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