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The essence of greatness is the ability to choose personal
fulfillment in circumstances where others choose madness.
Look over your shoulder. You will notice a constant companion. For want of a better name, call him Your-Own-Death. You can fear this visitor or use him for your personal gain. The choice is up to you.
With death so endless a proposition and life so breathtakingly brief, ask yourself, "Should I avoid doing the things I really want to do?" "Should I live my life as others want me to?" "Are things important to accumulate?" "Is putting it off the way to live?" Chances are your answers can be summed up in a few words: Live ... Be You ... Enjoy ... Love.
You can fear your death, ineffectually, or you can use it to help you learn to live effectively. Listen to Tolstoy's Ivan Ilych as he awaits the great leveler, contemplating a past which was thoroughly dominated by others, a life in which he had given up control of himself in order to fit into a system.
"What if my whole life has been wrong?" It occurred to him that what had appeared perfectly impossible befor, namely that he had not spent his life as he should have done, might after all be true. It occurred to him that his scarcely noticeable impulses, which he had immediately suppressed, might have been the real thing, and the rest false. And his professional duties and the whole arrangement of his life and of his family, and all his social and official interests, might all have been false. He tried to defend all those things to himself and suddenly felt the weakness of what he was defending. There was nothing to defend....The next time you are contemplating a decision in which you are debating whether or not to take charge of yourself, to make your own choice, ask yourself an important question, "How long am I going to be dead?" With that eternal perspective, you can now make your own choice and leave the worrying, the fears, the question of whether you can afford it and the guilt to those who are going to be alive forever.
If you don't begin taking these steps, you can anticipate living your entire life the way others say you must. Surely if your sojourn on earth is so brief, it ought at least to be pleasing to you. In a word, it's your life; do with it what you want.
Taking charge of yourself involves putting to rest some very prevalent myths. At the top of the list is the notion that intelligence is measured by your ability to solve complex problems; to read, write and compute at certain levels; and to resolve abstract equations quickly- This vision of intelligence predicates formal education and bookish excellence as the true measures of self-fulfillment. It encourages a kind of intellectual snobbery that has brought with it some demoralizing results. We have come to believe that someone who has more educational merit badges, who is a whiz at some form of scholastic discipline (math, science, a huge vocabulary, a memory for superfluous facts, a fast reader) is "intelligent." Yet mental hospitals are clogged with patients who have all of the property lettered credentials-as well as many who don't. A truer barometer of intelligence is an effective, happy life lived each day and each present moment of every day.
If you are happy, if you live each moment for everything it's worth, then you are an intelligent person. Problem solving is a useful adjunct to your happiness, but if you know that given your inability to resolve a particular concern you can still choose happiness for yourself, or at a minimum refuse to choose unhappiness, then you are intelligent. You are intelligent because you have the ultimate weapon against the big N.B.D. Yep-Nervous Break Down.
Perhaps you will be surprised to learn that there is no such thing as a nervous breakdown. Nerves don't break down. Cut someone open and look for the broken nerves. They never show up. "Intelligent" people do not have N.B.D.'s because they are in charge of themselves. They know how to choose happiness over depression, because they know how to deal with the problems of their lives. Notice I didn't say solve the problems. Rather than measuring their intelligence on their ability to solve the problem, they measure it on their capacity for maintaining themselves as happy and worthy, whether the problem gets solved Or not.
You can begin to think of yourself as truly intelligent on the basis of how you choose to feel in the face of trying circumstances. The life struggles are pretty much the same for each of us. Everyone who is involved with other human beings in any social context has similar difficulties. Disagreements, conflicts and compromises are a part of what it means to be human. Similarly, money, growing old, sickness, deaths, natural disasters and accidents are all events which present problems to virtually all human beings. But some people are able to make it, to avoid immobilizing dejection and unhappiness despite such occurrences, while others collapse, become inert or have an N.B.D. Those who recognize problems as a human condition and don't measure happiness by an absence of problems are the most intelligent kind of humans we know; also, the most rare.
Learning to take total charge of yourself will involve a whole new thinking process, one which may prove difficult because too many forces in our society conspire against individual responsibility. You must trust in your own ability to feel emotionally whatever you choose to feel at any time in your life. This is a radical notion. You've probably grown up believing that you can't control your own emotions; that anger, fear and hate, as well as love, ecstasy and joy are things that happen to you. An individual doesn't control...Your Erroneous Zones
Excerpted from Your Erroneous Zones Pb: Step-by-Step Advice for Escaping the Trap of Negative Thinking and Taking Control of Your Life by Wayne W. Dyer
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