Yes You Can

Sleeping MonkeyI’m realizing now, after all these years, that almost all self-discovery is worthless. Don’t get me wrong: I think it is incredibly important to know yourself, perhaps the most important thing that you will ever do. But the process of knowing yourself through self-discovery – or “introspection” – is completely flawed.

We need to see ourselves from the outside-in.

Left entirely to our own analysis and self-discovery, it is impossible to see ourselves as we truly are. It is through the “Introspection Illusion” that we believe we are all better car drivers than the average (statistically impossible) but more ominously, that we are incapable of achieving our greatest dreams because of our lack of talent, our flaws, our weaknesses.

The single greatest obstacle to achieving our goals and dreams is embodied in the sincere belief that we will fail. And we all do it – fail before we even begin.

You see, when we look inside ourselves, we find fear and doubt more often than we may find courage and belief. And such is the power of fear and doubt that it crushes our ambitions. The dreamer that you were when you were seventeen becomes the disillusioned, boxed-in adult, fearful of failure

But success finds itself through a determined belief that you can achieve something.

So, rather than believing that you are an above average driver but could never play the piano, start talking to those who are closest to you, those you trust, those whose opinions you value. Ask them what strengths – and only strengths – they see in you. You may be amazed. And list the things you have done that you never thought you could, however small. Keep the list going and add to it every day. Then take just one thing you never thought you could do and start the journey towards achieving it.

Stop looking inside yourself and finding failure – an excuse to never start. Don’t fall for the Introspection Illusion.

Build a view of your amazing self from the outside-in. You are so much more than you know.

Please Dance with Me

PoorI asked a girl to dance and she said that she would only dance with me in the extremely unlikely event that “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd should be played. It was simple for me to ask the DJ for a favor so that an infatuated kid could dance with the girl of his dreams.

And so we danced.

I held her as close as I dared and as we danced she told me that this was it and there would be no more dances or dates after the final notes of the song. She did not have any interest in a boy who came from the wrong side of town, not now, not ever. And all I wanted in that desperate moment was to kiss her and to know her for all eternity.

I told her of my ambition. I told her of the poetry that was streaming inside my head. I told her of a future where every dance would be like the first and every kiss would make her float high above the ground. I told her that if lovers from a simple smile were made, I would smile at her forever.

And still she said no. I did not belong in her world.

I sat in my room, alone, for days after that dance. I could not eat and I could not think of a single positive thing about the future. You might say it was an adolescent crush and I might agree. But it was a moment in understanding that I was worthless. And it took a lifetime to find that I was wrong.

I don’t remember her name but I wish that I knew her today. Not out of some motive for revenge but just to sit down with her and to talk. Because I want her to know that being from the wrong side of town can be a very good thing indeed.

Being cold and hungry makes you want to be warm and fed. Being the underdog makes you want to succeed and have recognition. Being poor makes you want to know wealth. Being from the wrong side of town can give you a burning ambition to escape.

I wonder if she found love. I wonder if, in all the chance meetings that life creates, she was able to find a boy who was loyal and smart and crazy and had poetry in his head. I wonder if she remembers that dance.

I’m not from the wrong side of town any longer. But that does not matter because I don’t judge people by the place they live, the accent they have or by their possessions.

I still like that Pink Floyd song. But it will always tell me that there is nothing after the final notes, even though life and the music play on and now I am in a place where I belong.

I belong in a place where poetry streams through my mind from the joy of living and finds its way into the lives of others who love me for who I am.

It’s a Dog’s Life

Dog at the KerbWe mourn each passing stage of our children’s lives because we know that those years are gone forever and with them disappears the beauty of perfect innocence. We console ourselves that the next stage of growing up will bring with it many new discoveries and joys.

That’s why we get our children a dog. If you have ever lived through the life of a dog you know that its lifespan of ten to fifteen years is equivalent to the period of innocence of a child growing up.

Our little puppy was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and she shook with fear just being looked at. But soon enough she began to play and bounce around and attempt a funny little growl.

In no time, she was house-trained and allowed to sleep in the bed with our little girl. They would dream together of running in summer fields, jumping to catch the dandelion clocks in that momentary wind. Breathless in their love for each other.

Then coming home from school to a dog who’s so excited, she’s left a puddle on the floor but no one minds a bit. And someone slipping a piece of chicken under the dining table, claiming that it fell off her plate.

The excitement of Santa Claus, still real for now­—but time is running out. And the dog sleeping guard under the Christmas tree, protecting the presents according to our little girl. But we knew it was the smell of peanut brittle and candy canes, too much for any dog to resist.

As our girl runs faster, the dog runs faster too, even though our dog’s legs are aching and old and now she dreams of puppy days, long ago when her best friend was a toddler who danced for the first time not long after she learned to walk and Mummy cried.

Our little dog doesn’t look much older, even though her fur is greying and her best friend has grown so tall. But she’s still as excited as she always was when our girl comes home, like it’s the first time she has ever seen her.

And then the emptiness begins, like shredding old photographs and we know that soon the time will come when both our girls will be gone. One gone to the world of grown-ups and the age of lost innocence. The other gone back to those fields, running in the sun with our baby daughter, with all the energy in the world. Gone to the endless fields where one day we hope to meet again and run together for all eternity.

Because it’s a dog’s life.

Happiness is in the Detail

Water DropletFor most of my life, people have been telling me that it’s all about the big picture. It was only very recently that I realized that they were all wrong. You see, big pictures are made up of a thousand details and if you ignore them, you ignore life.

Often, we focus on the destination or the outcome and fail to take care of the detail. It’s like spending your time dreaming of that lifetime vacation without ever having a plan of how you are going to get there.

But it’s more profound than that.

It was the other day that I realized I leave our apartment in the morning much happier if I have seen the bright, crazy and beautiful smile of my darling six-year-old girl. But the profound realization was not that sometimes I left too early and missed her smile. No, it was the realization that the space that would have been filled with happiness and joy was now filled with sadness.

This started me on a simple task: to make a list of the things that make me happy and the things that make me sad or anxious. It was on this list that I found my daughter’s smile­—but also bacon sandwiches!

And saying, “I love you forever,” on the phone to my old mum and hear her choke up a little because time is not on her side. Hearing her say back to me that I will always be her little boy and how she remembers putting little toy farm animals in my Christmas stocking when I was four years old.

What else did I find on that list? Recognition, feeling worthy, making progress, loving and being loved. Never having to say sorry. Those are more complex details but nonetheless, they are details in the big picture of happiness.

So far, my list has over thirty things on it that make me happy but the list is still growing. The list of things that make me sad or anxious is shorter because most of them would be the absence of what makes me happy so there’s no point in listing them out.

And my list took me to the next place: to ensure that every single day, I was focused on the detail of happiness, adding those moments in increasing quantity to my life. Then, subtracting the details that make me sad or anxious. And that means never missing the infectious smile on my little girl’s face in the morning­­­­­­—even if I am late for that meeting!

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t step back once in a while to survey the horizon. But when we think about all the things we should be thankful for, we cannot miss the reality that they are all details.

Just as the devil is in the detail, so too is joy and happiness. If you take care of the details, the big picture will take care of itself.

Me, I’m getting on the phone to my old mum to tell her I love her and let her hear the giggling voice of her youngest granddaughter. And I’m eating a bacon sandwich.

Rejecting Paradise

200456192-001Sometimes we just want to feel alone, to feel sad, to feel failure. It’s not that we enjoy self-pity. It’s just that loneliness, sadness and failure are what we think we deserve.

Growing up with poverty and abuse creates a powerful sense of where you belong and what you are worth. In its most destructive form, it gives you an overwhelming belief in your own worthlessness.

As I distanced myself from poverty, I eventually realized that not once did I feel that I deserved what I had achieved. And as I formed loving and caring relationships, I looked for ways in which those relationships would be used to inflict emotional harm on me. The more my life became ideal, the more I seemed to want to reject it.

I was not worthy of love or success in any of its forms.

Sometimes it is a parent who infuses in you a belief that you must, “Never forget your roots,” or, “Don’t get ideas above your station.”

Other times, it is the bullying of a sibling who constantly tells you the world would be a better place if you had never been born.

And so, when life gives you good things, you work hard at pushing them away, at not being happy.

A friend of mine sold his company and overnight he became extremely wealthy. I asked him how it felt and he said, “I’m worried and I’m fearful. I’m afraid that I will lose it all.” As the conversation continued, it became apparent that he had grown up poor and didn’t think he deserved to ever have more than his parents had.

In the end, for me, it took one loving, beautiful person to come into my life and explain to me my destructive behaviors. To show me how powerfully I was rejecting paradise because of a deep-rooted belief that I was not worthy of it.

Some people may think this is utterly ridiculous. But to someone who has experienced the self-destructive behaviors that reject love, happiness and material rewards, it is all too real. For some, rejection is a way of life – so much so, that paradise is always just out of reach and therefore not even available to be rejected.

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