The saddest part of life lies not in the act of dying, but in failing to truly live while we are alive. Too many of us play small with our lives, never letting the fullness of our humanity see the light of day. I’ve learned that what really counts in life, in the end, is not how many toys we have collected or how much money we’ve accumulated, but how many of our talents we have liberated and used for a purpose that adds value to this world. What truly matters most are the lives we have touched and the legacy that we have left. Tolstoy put it so well when he wrote: “We live for ourselves only when we live for others. ” It took me forty years to discover this simple point of wisdom.
Forty long years to discover that success cannot really be pursued. Success ensues and flows into your life as the unintended yet inevitable byproduct of a life spent enriching the lives of other people. When you shift your daily focus from a compulsion to survive towards a lifelong commitment to serve, your existence cannot help but explode into success. I still can’t believe that I had to wait until the “half-time”of my life to figure out that true fulfillment as a human being comes not from achieving those grand gestures that put us on the front pages of the newspapers and business magazines, but instead from those basic and incremental acts of decency that each one of us has the privilege to practice each and every day if we simply make the choice to do so.
Mother Teresa, a great leader of human hearts if ever there was one, said it best: “There are no great acts, only small acts done with great love. “I learned this the hard way in my life. Until recently, I had been so busy striving, I had missed out on living. I was so busy chasing life’s big pleasures that I had missed out on the little ones, those microjoys that weave themselves in and out of our lives on a daily basis but often go unnoticed. My days were overscheduled, my mind was overworked and my spirit was underfed.
To be honest with you, my life reflected outward success but was completely bankrupt in terms of inner significance. I was of the old school that believed that happiness would arrive when I bought the right car, built the right house and was promoted to the right job. I judged the value of a human being not by the size of their heart and the strength of their character, but by the size of their wallet and the contents of their bank account. You might say that I was not a good person.
I would argue that I simply had no idea about the true meaning of life or how to conduct myself as I lived it. . . . We all wanted to be famous, admired and honored. We all wanted to be filthy rich. And, most of all, we all wanted to be wanted. I’m not saying I’m proud of the person I was back then. I’m just telling you that that’s who I was. I was tough, ruthless, ambitious and driven – to a fault, closing down my emotional side in an effort to survive in the world I had made for myself.
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