Some Big Questions with Small Answers

From time to time I take stock by asking myself some big questions. In case you’re interested, Vera, here are my answers as of today (in other words, either the questions or answers, or both, could change):

What’s the purpose of life?

Perhaps there is none. My focus is on experiencing life fully.

What stands in the way of contentment and happiness?

Three things come to mind: 1) desire, 2) the need to make a difference and 3) the idea that I and the world should be something we’re not.

Is there a creator-being (God)?

No one knows. Moreover, it’s a question that need not be answered.

What is the prime age?

Physically, our 20s and even into our 30s. Cognitively, our mid-20s to mid-40s. Emotionally and psychologically, we can improve with age; there is no reason to believe we ever have to peak (subject to disease).

What’s the most important factor to consider in deciding where to work?

The attributes of the people who work there: their purpose, expertise, standards (both performance and ethical), and values.

What deserves more attention than it gets?

The inner life. The external receives nearly all our attention.

What are the most precious things in life?

Authentic, caring relationships. And experiences that excite us.

Is money the root of all evil?

No, although it’s the root of much evil. But ego plays a major role, too.

If there is no god, is there even such a thing as evil or sin?

Depends on what you mean by it. Clearly, there are things that harm oneself, others, or the earth. Call it what you want.

What would I do different if I had the opportunity to start over?

Not spend so much time looking for answers that don’t exist. Seek deeper understanding and become more aware of the knowable. Recognize the dangers of the ego and desire. Waste less time in meetings and watching TV and sporting events. Accept reality, expect nothing from others or fate, and be less judgmental. Eat less sugar and sugar-containing products. Be a better listener. Start my own business or firm. Be less attached to, dependent upon, and concerned with others and the ego. Value relationships more. Work less and play more. Live more in the moment.

What’s the best movie I’ve watched, the best book I’ve read, the best president we’ve had, the best college, etc.?

I’m tapped out with our obsession with rankings and hierarchies. They’re a distraction and waste of time.

What constitutes a good book?

One that’s worth reading more than once. If you want to know what authors and books I value, come and look at my bookcase (and the floor surrounding it).

What would I do different in rearing my children?

Be less concerned with imparting values and what I thought was knowledge, and regulating conduct, and more focused on helping them discover things and gain a deeper understanding of people and themselves. Ask the question “why?” more often.

What do you think of organized religion?

It demands I embrace too many ideas I no longer believe are true or necessary or even beneficial. And I’ve grown weary of the way the institution manipulates people through guilt, embraces obvious charlatans, and condones — indeed, helps perpetuate — ideologies and power structures that subjugate and pacify people. So organized religion no longer has a place in my life. Even more personally, it filled my psyche with the seeds of self-doubt and self-loathing, which nearly killed me. All and all, the dangers of organized religion are under-appreciated. That said, its rituals and ethical foundations can play an important and beneficial role in the world. And some of the most admirable, authentic people I’ve known I’ve met through the church (although, admittedly, some of the most deceitful, fraudulent, and despicable people I’ve met have been regular church-goers).

What’s unexplainable in life?

Most things. Of the many, two stand out in my life: 1) a vision in my 40s (very different from a dream) and 2) a born-again experience in my early 50s (bearing absolutely no resemblance to what evangelical Christians think of as being “born again”).

What do I hope to understand better?

My own mind.

What do I hope to control better?

My own thoughts.

What is the most destructive force on earth?

Fear.

What do I fear?

Too numerous to list. Someday I hope to fear nothing. My fears today are fewer and less powerful than they used to be. But I still am fearful of too many things. Courage is harder to muster than one would think.

What are the two most important words ever spoken?

“Fear not.” – Jesus

What are the three most important words ever spoken?

“Love one another.” – Jesus

Am I optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

Neither. Moreover, my views of the future are of no import, either to me or to anyone else. I have no idea what the future holds, nor do I need to. My focus is on today. I looked forward to getting up this morning. And I expect to have the same excitement tomorrow morning.

Whom do I admire?

People who risk or sacrifice something to help others. And people who are authentic and don’t pretend to be somebody they aren’t. People who do their best. People who are honest (with others and themselves).

What traits serve people well?

Curiosity, open-mindedness, and courage.

What’s most important in life?

Inner peace.

What do I want to be remembered for?

I’ll be dead. Such questions don’t interest me. They seem silly and narcissistic.

 

 

Is “Follow Your Passion” One of the Great Lies?

“Follow your passion,” many people say. But is such a blanket recommendation sound?

I’ve never thought so. And neither do some other people.

I know that many people are interested in what billionaires think, for obvious (although perhaps faulty) reasons. So here is a link to an article about what Mark Cuban has to say about following your passion.

Cuban puts it succinctly, “One of the great lies of life is ‘follow your passions.'” Follow the link it you want to know why he feels that way.

So, You’re Going To Be a Doctor

Vera, a couple of weeks ago your grandmother and I looked after you when you parents had some business to attend to. You were interested in the protective guard I was wearing on my left arm, the one a surgeon had recently cut open to install a plate and screws. I removed the guard so you could see the incision, which by now had had the sutures removed. You were quite curious and not the least bit scared or queasy about it. You touched the site of the incision, now closed and in the process of healing further.

Because of your surprising interest, I then showed you my shoulder, where a different surgeon had repaired fractures with even more hardware, requiring an even longer incision. The incision isn’t pretty (actually, it’s considerably worse looking than the arm), but, again, you had a curiosity that was compelling. You asked if you could touch it. I said, yes, wondering what was going through your mind.

I then remarked that, given your interest, perhaps you should become a doctor. I asked you if you wanted to be a doctor when you grew up. Without hesitation, you said, Yes! I said you’d have to share your new career plans with your parents when they returned home.

Quite a while later, we heard the garage door. When the door to the kitchen opened, you took off to enthusiastically greet your parents as you always do. It was then I heard you tell them: “I’m going to be a doctor!”

I feel I should receive a fee for this career counseling. You and your parents have avoided hours if not years of struggling to find your chosen career. At 27 months, you already have yours in hand, thanks to me!

I realize, of course, that it’s possible you will change your mind. I also realize there is no way a 27-month-old could understand what the job entailed. Or what she was actually saying for that matter.

That said, I wouldn’t be disappointed if you did become a doctor. I always thought it would be interesting and rewarding to be a doctor — a profession in which you get to help people and make the world a better place on a daily basis. I never had the memory to handle all the terms, nor the interest in memorizing all that stuff that would be required, but in a way I wish I had.

As a lawyer, I helped people and companies. But it wasn’t the same. I didn’t save lives. I didn’t find cures or heal. My contribution paled in comparison to a doctor.

That’s not to suggest there aren’t many other career paths that afford opportunity to satisfy one’s cognitive appetite and make a real contribution. There are. Even in the law, there are such options. But I never went that direction.

My addition to affirmation and economic security that comes from professional success led me to a law firm that accepted only those at the top of their class. In return, they paid well and gave us the opportunity to handle interesting, complex matters. I liked that. But nearly all our clients were businesses. Everyday people couldn’t afford our rates.

I wish I had recognized my addiction at an earlier age and worked to overcome it. But, as with so many things, it seems things are easier to spot with age.

In any case, Vera, it doesn’t matter to me what you choose to do when you grow up. I just hope it’s something you enjoy and that you’re good at it, and that it enables you to make a contribution to the world.

Most of all, I hope you do it for the right reasons.