The greatest masterpiece of all is a life well lived.
Jackie Robinson wrote, “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life. Stop staring at mountains. Climb them instead. Yes, it’s a harder process but it will lead you to a better view.”
Robinson was as American professional baseball player who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball in the modern era when he started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947.
There was a very cautious man,
Who never laughed or played.
He never risked, he never tried,
He never sang or prayed.
And when one day he passed away,
His insurance was denied.
For since he never really lived,
They claimed he never died.
There’s a lot involved in being a responsible adult card-carrying member of the human race. Are you really living and not just existing? Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes chips in, “Due to a huge misunderstanding about the concept of adulthood, I will be hiding under the covers until further notice. Send snacks.”
Who knows who you are? A person is a novel: you don’t know how it will end until the very last page. Otherwise it wouldn’t be worth reading to the very end.
Katharine Hepburn once wrote, “As one goes through life one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.” Every life is a work of art, shaped by the person who lives it. The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you; your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. Michelle Obama in her book ‘Becoming’ writes, “There’s a lot I still don’t know about life, about what the future might bring. Even when it’s not pretty or perfect. Even when it’s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” At any given moment you have the power to say, ‘This is not how the story is going to end.’ David Bowie sums it up so nicely, “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring.”
Time flies. It’s up to you to be both the pilot and the navigator. If you knew your hours left to live were limited, what things you have left undone would cause you to be regretful? Jerry Seinfeld quips, “No matter how much time you save, at the end of your life, there’s no extra time saved up. You’ll be going, ‘What do you mean there’s no time? I had a microwave oven, Velcro sneakers and a clip-on tie.’ Because when you waste time in life, they subtract it.”
You are the only one in charge of your destiny. Unfair things will happen to you, unfortunate times will come to you, but you always get to choose how you respond. You can live in frustration and bitterness, or you can play the cards you are dealt; not one person gets to choose the cards they receive, but every single person chooses how they play them.
Every life is a work of art, shaped by the person who lives it.
Hal Urban writes: “There’s now a ‘quick and easy’ way to do just about everything and to get everything we wanted-no sweat, no tears, no effort, just instant success. Wise people know better. The important things in life don’t come quickly or easily. They come as the result of hard work, mistakes and sacrifice.” One of my favorite statements is ‘You can’t cheat the grind.’ It knows how much you have invested; it won’t give you anything you haven’t worked for. You don’t get what you wish for, you get what you work for.
John Rockwell, in his book appreciation, ‘Sinatra: An American Classic’ tells of an episode when Frank Sinatra scolded his son after hearing him give a rather lackluster singing performance. “Don’t ever let me catch you singing like that, without enthusiasm,” he said. “You’re nothing if you aren’t excited about what you’re doing.” To old blue-eyes, dedication and enthusiasm are not allowed off-seasons.
Three men die in a car accident and they then go to an orientation in heaven. They are all asked, “When you are in your casket and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about you?”
The first man says, “I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor, and a devoted family man.”
The second man says, “I would like to hear that I was a caring husband and father, and a school teacher who made a huge difference in the lives of our children of tomorrow.”
The third man replies, “I would like to hear them say, “Look, he’s moving!”
You are the only one in charge of your destiny.
I know that talking about death is a taboo topic for many people; something to be avoided at all costs. But part of being a responsible person is having your house in order for that inevitable time you leave us. I like Betty White’s perspective on life and death, “Oh, death is no problem for me. If I go while I’m talking, I’m ready. My mother had a wonderful philosophy on that. Every time she lost somebody, it was, 'Well, there’s one thing we don’t know the answer to-and now he knows it.'”
All kidding aside, the following exercise from Steven Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People,’ has proven to be very meaningful to so many people over the years.
Imagine you are attending a funeral. You see all the familiar faces and upon seeing yourself in the casket, you realize it is your funeral. You then look at the program and see that there are 4 groups of speakers.
The first group is your family, immediate and extended.
The second group is your friends.
The third group is your colleagues and co-workers.
The fourth group is people from your church or community organizations.
Visualize how each speaker would view your death and what they would say at the funeral service. Ask yourself the following questions:
What would each of these speakers say about your life?
How would you like them to describe your character?
What difference have you made in their lives?
Based on what you hear, make comments on your thoughts. What did you find out about yourself? When you answer this question, you will quickly find out what matters most to you. You may realize you need some tuning up to align the core of your focus with the mission of your life.
I have given this exercise to thousands of people in my workshops and encouraged people to develop a personal mission statement by answering this simple question:
How do you want to be remembered? What will your legacy be?
You don’t get what you wish for, you get what you work for.
John Maxwell writes, “ I believe every person leaves some kind of legacy. For some it’s positive. For others it’s negative. But here’s what I know: we have choice about the legacy we will leave, and we must work and be intentional to leave the legacy we want. Know the legacy you want to leave. Most people simply accept their lives, they don’t lead them.” Maya Angelou wrote, “What is your mission in life? My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive, and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”
Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes asks, “Is our quick experience here pointless? Does anything we say or do in here really matter? Have we done anything important? Have we made the most of these precious few footsteps?”
In the classic film, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ an angel (Clarence) is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) who is on the verge of suicide. The angel’s mission is showing him what life would have been like for others if he never existed. Jane Goodall writes, “There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
In spite of being a double amputee, Douglas Bader was a decorated fighter pilot for Britain during World War 11 and a survivor of a German prison camp. After the war, he devoted his life to helping the disabled and was knighted in 1976. Yet for all of Bader’s accomplishments, he remarked in a speech just before his death: “How did I want to be remembered when I die? As a fighter pilot? Look, I want to be remembered so that other people, when they talk about me, smile. That’s how I want to be remembered, I want to leave warmth behind.”
Penny Noble adds, “Our friends, co-workers, spouses and kids won’t remember us for what we accomplished, but instead for what we helped them to accomplish and how we cheered them on along the way.” I doubt that anyone is going to stand up at your funeral and say, “She has a really expensive couch and great shoes.” Don’t make life about stuff.
One day, you’ll just be a memory for some people. Do your best to be a good one.
Mark Twain once wrote, “Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”
Beverly Hyman, an internationally known management consultant, adds, “I have a pet phrase that I use which is ‘you become the author of yourself.'” If you can look at your whole life, what you were given and what you added to it, then you take it into your own hands and say, “this is the genetic endowment I have been given to assume responsibility for ourselves.”
Mister Rogers summed life up so nicely. He wrote, “No one is perfect. Some days, doing ‘the best we can’ may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect on any front, and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else.” Sometimes you feel like drowning. You’re not weak. This is called life. You fall down 7 times and get up 8.
Harry S. Truman wrote, “I always remember an epitaph which is in the cemetery at Tombstone, Arizona. It says, ‘Here lies Jack Williams. He done his damnedest.’ I think that is the greatest epitaph a man can have - when he gives everything that is in him to do the job he has before him. That is all I can ask of him and that is what I tried to do.”
Gilda Radner wrote so beautifully in ‘Delicious Ambiguity’:
I wanted a perfect ending…
Now, I’ve learned the hard way,
That some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories
Don’t have a clear beginning, middle and end.
Life is about not knowing, having to change,
Taking the moment and making the best of it.
Without knowing what’s going to happen next.
In my researching this blog, I came across this article on wisdom. Always pay attention to ‘The Five W’s of Life’:
Who you are is what makes you special.
What lies ahead will always be a mystery; do not be afraid to explore.
When life pushes you over, push back.
Where there are choices to make, make the one you won’t regret.
Why things happen will never be certain. Take them in stride and move forward.
In an article by Mother Teresa on Life, she wrote:
Life is an opportunity, benefit from it.
Life is a challenge, meet it.
Life is a duty, complete it.
Life is a promise, fulfill it.
Life is an adventure, dare it.
This blog completes this series “Life Is A Classroom.” The two basic themes throughout these blogs are for you to ‘Make Each Day a Masterpiece’ and to become ‘The Best Version of Yourself.’ I hope you have found this journey to be knowledgeable, helpful and fun. There are 365 days this year. Each and every day is a chance to improve yourself. And remember, never stop learning because life never stops teaching.
In closing, I’d like to introduce a ‘dare’ for you, a continuing challenge: to continue to learn and grow in your quest to be the best version of yourself. To do your damnedest. Endeavour to make everyday a masterpiece. I dare you to be your best self. Coach John Wooden adds, “You have to apply yourself each day to becoming a little better. By applying yourself to the task of becoming a little better each and every day over a period of time, you will become a lot better.”
Previous month: Age Only Matters If You Are a Cheese
What's the most important thing you have learned during your life?
If you had 5 minutes and the whole world was forced to listen, what would you say?
What are 3 ways that you can get out of your comfort zone this year?
If you could write to yourself one paragraph as a goal for this year, what would it say? Mine would read, “Dear Self: “Don’t get worked up over the things you cannot change, people you can’t change. Control what you can. Everything else, let go.”