Friday, August 6, 2010

Leaning Your Ladder Against the Right Building

Image by edward musiak

Rabbi Harold Kushner tells a wonderful story about a bright young man who was a sophomore Stanford pre-med student. To reward him for having done so well in school, his parents gave him a trip to the Asia for the summer.

While there he met a guru who said to him, "Don't you see how you are poisoning your soul with this success-oriented way of life? Your idea of happiness is to stay up all night studying for an exam so you can get a better grade than your best friend. Your idea of a good marriage is not to find the woman who will make you whole, but to win the girl that everyone else wants.

"That's not how people are supposed to live," the sage admonished. "Give it up; come join us in an atmosphere where we all share and love each other."

The young man had completed four years at a competitive high school to get into Stanford, plus two years of pre-med courses at the university. He was ripe for this sort of approach. He called his parents from Tokyo and told them he would not be coming home. He was dropping out of school to live in an ashram (a spiritual retreat).

Six months later, his parents got this letter from him:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I know you weren't happy with the decision I made last summer, but I want to tell you how happy it has made me. For the first time in my life, I am at peace. Here there is no competing, no hustling, no trying to get ahead of anyone else. Here we are all equal and we all share. This way of life is so much in harmony with the inner essence of my soul that in only six months I've become the number two disciple in the entire ashram, and I think I can be number one by June!

You can take the boy out of the rat race, but can you take the rat race out of the boy?

I am concerned about some people’s narrow and dangerous ideas about success. Achieving more, getting more, becoming number one. Not that there is anything wrong with healthy achievement. It’s just that there is a difference between earning well and living well.

A successful life is not always a high-achieving life. Sometimes it is about accomplishing a worthwhile goal, even a private, personal victory. Sometimes it is about improving one’s character. Sometimes success is best defined by living into one’s own personal mission, or finding a meaningful purpose to organize one’s life around. And sometimes it is about learning how to live in peace, happiness, generosity and love.

Someone put it like this: "I spent my life frantically climbing the ladder of success. When I got to the top I realized it was leaning against the wrong building." Even if she got to the top first, it made no difference. There is no merit in being first to arrive at the wrong place in life.

You CAN BE successful in ways that matter. And your life can be truly meaningful. If you’re leaning your ladder against the right building, it doesn’t even matter if you make it to the top. Any life spent going after things that count, will count as a life well spent.

-- Steve Goodier

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