by Michael Miles: When we were kids, anything was possible. The wide world lay open and we saw the future as a great adventure. We could do anything. I believe that all life should be an adventure, and that happiness is our natural, default state of being. But clearly we have allowed things to get in the way of our happiness and freedom. As we have traveled through the landscape of our lives, we have encountered many challenges and, sadly, we have allowed some of them to get in our way.
Dale Carnegie is one of my favorite authors. He, more than most of us, knew how treacherous the journey could be, and he provided us with some wonderful guidelines for traversing the territory. Here are some of the traps about which he warns us in his own words. These traps can rob our happiness and our freedom if we let them.
“It isn’t what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about.”
As he was suffering unimaginable privation in a Nazi death camp, the psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl made the discovery that it isn’t the outside world that makes you happy or not; it’s what is in your own head. Frankl’s insight, which he writes about in Man’s Search for Meaning, is that we are responsible for our experience of life. From Buddha, who said, ‘we are what we think’, to Earl Nightingale who, in ‘The Strangest Secret’ tells us that ‘you become what you think about’, countless great writers and thinkers have echoed the same theme. You are pulling your own strings; so don’t give away your power to anyone or anything else.
“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain – and most fools do.”
People will often criticize you for getting things wrong or for making mistakes. I used to take these criticisms very seriously and I would berate myself a great deal. But when I truly accepted the fact that I am imperfect and that, like everyone else on the planet, I make mistakes (all the time!), my own life was transformed. I became more confident, took more risks and, above all, worried a great deal less.
Now, when someone accuses me of getting something wrong, I will usually say (at least to myself), ‘Yes, sure, I screwed up. I am human and I am imperfect. I forget things, I am inconsistent, I get the timing wrong. But you know what? That’s OK. You’re allowed to do all that.’ And I also remember that whoever is pointing the finger is pointing three fingers back at themselves.
Of course, we must reflect upon and learn from our mistakes – to keep making the same mistake over and over again is not a good thing – but to accept our fallibility and forgive ourselves is a vital part of being happy and successful. To pay too much attention to our detractors (and the more we achieve, the more detractors we will have, you can be sure of that) is, once again, to give away our own power.
“Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it… that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear”
Like many people, I used to be terrified of public speaking. My heart would pound, my mouth would be dry, my hands would be trembling and my skin moist. I don’t think anyone could experience greater terror than I felt when I had to talk to groups of people. I would rather have confronted a hungry lion than given a five-minute speech. But I found myself in a job where I had to speak to groups of people on a regular basis. It was a job I liked and wanted to keep, and the public speaking part simply could not be avoided. So I did it. And it was awful. Truly, truly awful. But I kept on doing it and, although there have been ups and downs, I am now a pretty confident public speaker. In fact, many people have, over the last couple of years, made a point of complimenting me on my public speaking, especially mentioning my poise and the content of my speeches.
I am not telling you this to brag about my achievement (though I am proud of it), but to illustrate the point that fear is ephemeral – it can be dissipated. But the only way to do this is to face it down. You can go through life in fear, or you can overcome it.
We all know that, in the end, none of what we do actually matters. In a hundred years we’ll all be dead and buried. In a thousand years nobody will remember us. In a million years the human race probably won’t exist. So we must seize the day, while there is still day! Don’t let fear take your power. Face it down; do what you fear and you will transform your life. I have seen this for myself.
“One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today.”
Without dreams, life is nothing. It is a great tragedy that so many of us allow life to crush our dreams. There was a time when we dreamed of great and fantastic things – it was that time when everything was possible, when the world was our oyster. Yet dreams must guide us somewhere. A dream can be a compass and can, if followed persistently, bring great success and happiness.
Yet to become caught up in dreams is to get lost in a mirage. Today we prepare for tomorrow, and our actions and thoughts of today shape the future, but to live in that future is not an option if we want to be happy. If we get used to living in the magical rose garden of which Carnegie speaks, then when we finally get there, we shall not recognize it and we will not enjoy our reward.
As we travel through the rich and complex terrain of our own experience, we only have ourselves to thank, or to blame, for our level of happiness and freedom. We are, in a sense, alone. But let’s take heart – we can lean on the wisdom of others that have been before us and let them be our guides. I recommend you consider carefully the words of Dale Carnegie.