When you have been around as long as I have, you can look back over your life and note the events that changed your perspective and influenced how things turned out for you. They are called turning points. They are few and far between, and with good reason. Too many and your life would be one big chaotic mess.
Of maybe five or six major turning points that truly influenced the outcome for me, one stands apart. And I am going to share it with you because it might make a real difference for you, as it did for me.
I am not exactly a bible scholar, but I do have a thing for the simple poetic wisdom of the Book of Ecclesiastes. I actually have my own versions of some of its key messages that I recite from time to time, including this one: The longer you live and the wiser you become, the more you’ll realize how little you know… and how little it matters.
Yes, I do realize I am no poet. It cannot be helped.
Anyway, I was introduced to Ecclesiastes at a time when I needed to learn an important lesson – that all the knowledge and achievements in the world do not add up to beans if you cannot enjoy or at least experience the precious moments that you are here. Soon enough, it will all be over, and you do not get to take anything with you.
My problem was that I had spent a good part of my life distracted by questions like, Why am I here? and What’s my purpose in life? The day I decided to stop searching for answers and simply experience life was a big turning point. Ironically, that was when the answers came. When I quit overthinking and focused simply doing and being.
Like me, I see many of you spending God knows how much time searching for answers to distracting questions like, How to be successful? How to be happy? How to be rich? How to be famous? How to be more productive? How to be less anxious? How to be [fill in the blank]?
Here is the thing. Someday, you may very well look back at your life and realize you have found the answers you sought, but like me, you will also realize that you did not find them by asking a lot of questions. I know that sounds like a paradox, so let me explain.
The truth is, life is very basic. You are born with survival instincts. You learn trial and error at an early age (walking and such). In school they teach you how to reason (hopefully). From there you go out and experience and make choices. You gain confidence from good ones, and learn lessons from bad ones. Rinse and repeat.
That little snapshot of life reveals the four key elements that matter most in determining how things turn out for you: Instincts, smarts, experience, and choices. Of course there are other factors: characteristics, talents, skills, behavior, and luck, to name a few.
But here is what everyone seems to have trouble understanding, these days. “Happy,” “successful,” “rich,” and “famous” are all outcomes that are determined by all the other factors I talked about. If you want to achieve positive outcomes, you would be wise to trust your instincts, think logically, gain experience, and make good choices.
And trust me when I tell you, there are no shortcuts to the outcome. The sooner you realize that and quit searching for them – the sooner you quit overthinking and focus simply on doing and being – the sooner you will achieve the outcome you are looking for.
I bet I know what some of you are thinking. You hear what I am saying, but you think it is different now. What with social media, the blogosphere, self-help books, seminars, and all that, I bet you think the answers are out there. Well, I am here to tell you that they are not.
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On second thought, do not just take my word for it. Here’s a little wisdom, courtesy of Ecclesiastes 1:9, “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”
It means that things are not different now. They are the same as they have always been. It would be tragic if some of you spent your entire lives without realizing how true that is. All I can say is, I am glad I learned that lesson sooner, rather than later.
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