Lester (not his real name) feels bullishly battered and bludgeoned by life and wonders if he can rise from the remains of his broken spirit. Forty-one, and single, he is a graphic designer that has been laid off for the third time in 13 years. He always dreamed of becoming an artist, but was raised in a home where he was taught, “No one really makes a living at art; no, you'll have to get a real job.” So, he ‘settled’ for less and became a graphic designer.
In his own words, “I can honestly say that most, if not all, of my years in design have been unhappy; the hunger for Art still gnaws in me and every time I see a working Artist it jabs at me relentlessly because I didn't do that. Now I am nearly 42, have wasted so many years, have not done what I truly wanted to and I feel empty, used up, lost...sometimes hopeless.
“In this layoff I know that I don't want to go back to design jobs ever again, I had even thought that maybe now is the time to finally become an Artist. My fears so bind me that my thoughts go something like this: ‘now is the time to finally become an Artist’ and fear has all the answers: ‘You'll have to go back to school and that will take so much time’, ‘you're already in your forties...it's too late now’, ‘what if you spend all that time and effort and still can't make it?’”
Lester continues, “I would love to travel to Europe but since I have grave fears of dying painfully or tragically (like in a fire, drowning, a crash etc.) I am terrified to get on a plane, afraid of dying, afraid of having a panic attack if I get on a plane. I'm afraid to fly from North Carolina to New York!
“It's a terrible jolt when Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers and all tell you that you can be anything you want to be, but THEN you learn the truth! ...and so I sit here, bound in fear's endless ‘what ifs’ feeling trapped and useless as if I will never be happy...so many people get to be happy, but not me! That's how my life feels, ‘it's nice that someone can have that...but not me.
“I want to be free. Free to travel without being sure I'll die. Free to pursue my Artistic love without ‘knowing’ I just can't make it doing that. I don't want the first concern in everything I do to be ‘How will this hurt me?’ Is happiness really this difficult?’ Can a creative person try so much that none of it ever works or should I just try everything I want to? I just truly don't know who I am or who I am supposed to be.”
Lester, we have all heard, “Do what you love and you will be successful and happy.” I agree with that statement, but it is only half of what we need to know. The other half is “We can love whatever we do.” Why do so many forget love is a choice? In my own case, I loved working in the library, in the military, in a warehouse, in the post office, as a camera store salesman, as a color print technician, as an ESL teacher, as a freelance photo magazine contributor, as a translator, as a copywriter, as the Technical Editor of a photo magazine, as a photographer, as an insurance salesman, as a camera sales rep, as a corporate communications manager, as an adjustable bed salesman, as a wood refinishing salesman, and as a speaker, author, and seminar leader. I didn’t choose to do what I love, but chose to love whatever I did. When you adopt this philosophy you will always be happy and never out of work.
Too many people pursue goals before making a fundamental commitment to their personal values. For example, I never said, “I want to be a writer” or “I want to be a speaker,” which are goals. Rather, I first laid a foundation that would support any goals I would choose to make in the future. That foundation is what we call a fundamental commitment or value that we choose to base our life on. In my case, I committed myself to doing my best and being happy in anything I did. Without a fundamental commitment, we can easily be led astray, even after accomplishing our goals.
One of the most common beliefs people have is that they will be happy after they get what they want. But happiness is never contingent on something outside of us. It always flows from within. It simply is a choice we make. We can choose to be thankful for what we have or moan about what we lack. We can look for the good in all we experience or we can search for things to complain about. It’s that simple. Nothing complicated. Not grounded by a fundamental commitment, Lester falsely believes he needs to be an artist to be happy. Such a belief condemns him to unhappiness if he cannot reach that goal.
Another common mistake of unhappy workers is to blame their dissatisfaction on external conditions instead of the condition of their mind. They can be heard to say, “I’m unhappy because my boss is mean, my coworkers are backstabbing, my salary is too low.” Somehow it never occurs to them that they need to learn how to get along with others or that they are not entitled to a high salary, but have to earn it. Some of these workers will quit their job and join another company in search of better conditions, but because the condition of their mind remains unchanged, they soon discover they are just as unhappy with the new job.
A third common mistake, and Lester is guilty of this, is to fantasize about a dream job, blowing the good points out of proportion and failing to accept that the good comes with the ‘bad.’ The daily grind we have to go through is the price we pay to enjoy the benefits of any job. If Lester loves art, why is he so unhappy being a graphic designer? Perhaps it is because he discovered he has to work with the pressure of deadlines, satisfy the whims of clients, and put in long hours. In a word, the job is not as glamorous as he first imagined it would be.
If Lester thinks it’s tough being a graphic designer, he’s in for a shock should he become an artist. To become a successful artist, 95% of the job needs to be devoted to the tedious task of marketing, just 5% to painting. Of course, this ratio changes after achieving success, years later. But this 95/5 barrier is enough to prevent most aspirants from succeeding.
What should Lester do? Should he return to graphic design, go back to school and later launch a new career as an artist, or try something else? Actually, it doesn’t matter what he does, as long as he first chooses to be happy with any job or career. After all, a job isn’t a life; it’s just part of one.
Although Lester is unemployed at the moment, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a job to do. Quite the contrary, he has a very important job; mainly, he has to work on setting his fundamental commitments that will act as his guide through life, change his attitude, and awaken. Awaken to what? To the facts that we have the inner resources to take charge of our lives and that we don't have to be a victim. How should he change his attitude, or see things differently? Well, the best way to point it out may be by answering some of the questions he asked earlier.
Lester: My fears so bind me that my thoughts go something like this: “Now is the time to finally become an Artist” and fear has all the answers: “You'll have to go back to school and that will take so much time”, “you're already in your forties...it's too late now”, “what if you spend all that time and effort and still can't make it?”
Chuck: School will take too long? Four years from now you will be four years older. Which would you rather be, four years older with the training of an artist, or four years older without it?
What if you spend all that time and still don’t make it after graduation? Life doesn’t begin after you graduate art school, but life takes place each and every day. If you open your heart and invite life in, how could you not enjoy meeting new people at school, acquiring new skills, and beginning a new adventure?
But won’t I be too old to start out as an artist? What about Grandma Moses who started out in her 70’s and became an internationally acclaimed artist? That gives you 30 years to catch up to her beginning days.
What if you try but don’t make it as an artist? So? Life continues. The adventure goes on. Everything we study and try enriches us, makes us better. How can we lose? If we’re enjoying life each step of the way, it’s impossible to lose, and there are no failures, just learning opportunities.
L: I would love to travel to Europe but since I have grave fears of dying painfully I am terrified to get on a plane, afraid of dying, afraid of having a panic attack if I get on a plane.
C: That’s an interesting sentence: I would love to ~ BUT… Does that mean everything following BUT is ample reason for not doing what you love? I think not! Look, if you had a half-pound mole dangling from the tip of your nose, would you sit around and complain or go to the hospital and have it removed? It’s no different with debilitating fear. Why do you accept it so matter-of-factly? This is the twenty-first century. Today, fears can be eliminated by NLP Practitioners or hypnotherapists in just one or two sessions. Find a good therapist and remove that roadblock from your life.
L: It's a terrible jolt when Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers and all tell you that you can be anything you want to be, but THEN you learn the truth!
C: You know what they say: the truth will set you free. But the reason you are not yet free, Lester, is because you did not learn the truth. What is the truth? The truth is although not everyone becomes what they want to be, some do. The truth is if some do, we can too. The truth is that those who succeed remain committed, accept responsibility for their own success, and are willing to work hard at it. That’s the truth, plain and simple. It’s like Maria Robinson said, Lester, “Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” Are you willing to do so?
Now I’ll move on to some concluding remarks followed by an important tip.
One of the questions we should always be asking ourselves is, “What do I want from life?” But we also need to ask, “Should I want what I want?” For example, we may want to have a pain-free life. But should we want to? After all, how can we succeed if we’re unwilling to accept the pain or discomfort of facing our fears, overcoming obstacles, and foregoing short term pleasure for long term gain?
When we come to a bump in the road, we are not supposed to stop. A problem is not a signal to quit. Rather, it is a signal to stop, think, investigate, problem solve, and strengthen our resolve to continue. Problems allow us to prove we are committed to achieving our dreams.
Remember, fear is just an automatic reaction originating in the primitive part of your brain. But you are not your brain, so why do you care what it thinks or feels? The next time it interferes with what you want to do, tell it, “Look, this is my life and I make the decisions here, not you; so you (fear) might as well leave now. Besides, some things are too important to be hijacked by fear, so ignore the discomfort (that’s all fear is) and do what needs to be done.
Important Tip: Practice Meditation
Practicing meditation is probably not something you thought of. That’s why I’m bringing it up. It’s just what you need to develop clarity of mind, inner peace, and a vibrant life. Once you understand the innumerable benefits of meditation, you will want to begin. But the problems are how do you decide which form of meditation to practice and how do you learn it?
I recommend practicing Insight (Vipassana) Meditation. Ideally, you would find a master teacher that would personally guide you, and remain with you every step of the way, until you too become an accomplished meditator. What’s more, you would be able to do this for an affordable fee ($25). Before I share with you how to do precisely that, I first want you to take a look at the benefits Insight Meditation delivers. If you don’t get excited by what you learn, Lester, give me your address so I know where to ship the coffin (if you don’t get enthusiastic, you must be dead).
Benefits of Meditation
How to Master Insight Meditation for a Pittance
For only $24.95 you can download SoundMind Meditation (a brand name for Insight Meditation), a complete 8-level course of the highest quality that will guide you every step of the way. I cannot speak too highly of this very worthwhile course.
In conclusion, when trying to rise from the remains of your battered spirit, Lester, there are two mistakes you can make: not going all the way, and not starting. Don’t make either one and you will succeed.