Many of you are aware, I’m sure, of the teachings of Chinese philosopher Lau-tzu who lived from 604 BC to 531 BC. He is credited with the saying that goes, “The longest journey begins with the first step.” This makes a lot of sense when you think about the implications. It tells you that you have to get it going, get it moving, get off your duff and make things happen but time has proven that the translation quoted above is an American interpretation. In fact, Lau-tzu had a different message in mind. His exact quote is more clearly translated as, “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” See, instead of emphasizing the first step, Lau concentrated on where a person stands before taking the first step. In Lau’s interpretation, the first step is launched by the decision-making tree inside the person. It is that inner discussion with oneself that determines the journey. Not the first step OF the journey but the decision to make the journey at all.
Like those that liberally quote the Bible, misinterpretations can give things an entirely different meaning. In my writings I strive for simplicity. A simple message given in simple terms seems to cement the meaning and limit the misinterpretation.
So I was recently given an honor by my high school to be designated as a “distinguished graduate” in an upcoming event. I am extremely flattered at this and was told there would be a dinner given for the award at which time I would be asked to provide perhaps 3 – 5 minutes of commentary but the next day, there would be a luncheon at the high school where I would speak to the entire student body; perhaps enabling words of inspiration and motivation to the graduates of the future.
I’ve been formulating ideas for that speech for days now and have been boiling down all the messages I have written throughout the years and what I have arrived at is simply eight words. My message for success, motivation and navigating life comes down to these four statements.
Have I oversimplified things? I really don’t think so. In Journalism 300, in my undergrad years, the class was built on one simple premise and format. On Monday you were required to write a story based on a news event. It was to be two pages long. On Tuesday you were to reduce the story to one page. By Wednesday, that same story had to be reduced to half a page. And on Thursday (the class did not meet on Fridays) the whole story needed to be summed up in one sentence. It was a great class. Never did I have a teacher (Dr. Pettibone at BGSU 1983) that put me through such calisthenics so as to enable me to sharpen my editing tools so completely. But what a lot of work! And back then it wasn’t on computer it was a mechanical typewriter with an ink ribbon that I just hammered away at looking like Lou Grant with sleeves rolled up and crumpled bits of edited paper strewn all about me. And all I was seeking was simplification; to tell the story in the cleanest way, simplest of terms and lightest of text.
So with this new “give-an-inspiring-speech” challenge I found myself at the same intersection; keeping it simple, paring it down, finding the highest impact with the least words. So, just how do I derive my message? What am I trying to say or get at?
NO EXCUSES – Well this is simple. You know darn well you can do anything you want or refuse to do anything you want if the excuse you tell yourself is strong enough. I give you the person trying to lose weight that while at the gym decides to simply eat less and leaves. Later he is gorging on a large pizza and he tells himself, “I’ll just work out more.” This kind of cycle illustrates the situation perfectly. Excuses are your enemy. Have nothing to do with them. Practice this by making yourself do things you truly do not want to do. Learn tolerance and patience and find a way to see things through – these are the derivative skills that are gleaned by making no excuses.
NO FEAR – Same monkey, different zoo. You can excuse anything if you decide you are afraid to engage it. I’ve seen them all in my years; afraid of the dark, math, crowds, elevators, medications, loud people, whispering people, pressure, failure, animals, babies, adults, authority – this list could never end. Problem is if it even is allowed to start it will enable the idea I explained above and give you the excuse; the excuse to do what? FAIL!
WORK HARD – C’mon. You know this. Anything worth gaining is worth the hard work it takes to get it. Sure there are some people that just fall into their careers or good fortune but most of us, in fact all of us need to fear failure and conquer it by accomplishing things we didn’t think we could. That’s where the NO fear comes in! See how this all intertwines? Pretty neat, huh? Hard work is simply (there’s that word again) a matter of doing the diligence required to get it done right. Deep inside we all know that when things fail the lack of hard work is usually to blame.
HAVE PURPOSE – And this is where it all comes together or, perhaps, all falls apart. What did all the hard work, willingness to make no excuses and strength to face your fears leave you? Was it, in the end, a life worth living? Only you can answer that for sure, my friends, but the key is to be sure you at least asked yourself the question.
This is the note I hope to strike the strongest to the high school gang I will be addressing. Simply stated if you think hours of video games, living in your parent’s house until you’re 40, neglecting commitment in the name of having fun is a way of life you’re just WRONG. It’s a wasted life and haven’t we seen enough of those to want more? I sure hope so for the sake of this country and the sake of society as a whole. Get up and try something. A life without purpose will never bring satisfaction. But c’mon, you already knew that, didn’t you? Happy New Year! Make it just that. It’s up to YOU!