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I Could Do Anything, If I Only Knew What It Was

April 11th, 2008 · 29 Comments

I just got this book in the mail today. An SBIer recommended Barbara Sher, and of course I’m a sucker of recommendations. Plus, the title hits a chord with me.

And now, I gotta share these. There are too many stunning paragraphs in it. This book is unbelievable!

Page 17.

“How can our families harm us when they love us? Very easily, unfortunately. Most of us overlook one important fact when we think love is enough: Love and respect aren’t the same thing.

Love is a fusion. As a baby, you belong to your parents, you’re an extension of them and fusion is good for the survival of infants. Respect is differentiation: you belong to yourself, and you’re an extension of no one. Differentiation is essential for the happiness of adults.

Take just one more careful look at that list of what your family wanted from you. You’ve got all those messages in your head, right? Now, where on your list is the message that says that you must go out and fulfill your unique identity? Who insisted that you find your own original self - whatever the cost? Very few of us ever find that message on our list. No matter how much they love us, our families rarely say “We respect you, we know you’re unique, we know you want to find what you’re supposed to do in this life. Go out and get what you need. We’ll be here”

Parents have their own dreams - and its those dreams they’re pushing, not yours. In their heads, they have images of successful sons and beautiful wealthy daughters, children who are impressive - and secure. Very few parents have the luxury, the calmness of spirit, to realize that most practical thing any child can do is to find its own vision - and follow it. “

Pg 31

Meaningful Work

Real meaning, your kind of meaning, is as pure and unique as you were as a child. We do not know where it comes from. Like your identity, it just seems to be there. It doesn’t have to be created, just discovered. Personal meaning connects your deepest gifts with the rest of the world. Whether you turn out to be a gardener or a builder, a filmmaker or a doctor – when you’re doing the right work you will feel connected, both to your soul and to the world outside you. A gardener feels he’s creating beauty and has reverence for nature. A builder or filmmaker feels she’s using her best abilities to create something to delight the world. A doctor feels he’s using his best skills and brains to heal people.

The very first step to finding work that fits you is to understand the connection between doing what you love and doing something worth doing, something that has meaning.

Because they are one and the same thing.

You’ll never be happy just amusing yourself. I advise against choosing a long vacation as your life’s goal. Even in retirement, even when you’re only looking to get off the fast track, and “smell the roses,” you should be pushing past what you merely enjoy into what has real meaning to you. When something really matters to you, you must bring it into your life.

Without an activity that really matters to you, you’re going to feel empty, even if you’ve set yourself up in Paradise and are living the life of the rich and famous. If you’re not involved in something you truly care about, anyplace can seem like a prison.

And that’s not all.

If you think its selfish to put yourself first like this, think again, because when you’re doing work you love it’s a gift to the world as well! Picasso wasn’t trying to help anybody. For that matter, Einstein wasn’t either, not when he was working on the theory of relativity. They just wanted to do their work. That work seemed very important to them and they couldn’t get their minds off it. Their efforts were personal, self-absorbed, even selfish – or at least, no one’s welfare was in mind when they worked. Even the saviors of this world have some kind of personal vision they’re fulfilling when they go out to help the sick or to heal the planet, they are listening to their won urgencies, not just trying to be good people. It’s time to dismantle the myth that says you must choose between pleading yourself and doing something meaningful.

To do one, you must do the other.

To do “great” work, you have to be in love. And with work-love, as with people-love, there’s no accounting for chemistry. To live a life that is exciting and fulfilling, you can’t do what’s “right”, you have to do what’s right for you. In the long run, it’s the most generous thing you can do. It can be heartwarming to think you owe it to the world to do what you’re best at and what you love most. It gives you the right – by giving you the obligation – to do it.

Page 48

Nothing Is More Wasteful Than Ignoring What You Long For

“You own a great treasure that you’re not using, not sharing.

Inside you is a bona fide genius who’s original, curious and loaded with potential. That genius is dying for you to open the gates so it can jump into life with both feet. Until you act on that energy, the rest of your life goes on hold. When you an unfulfilled wish waiting in the shadows, you don’t fully invest in your work, or your family, or your vacations for that matter, you just fool around, halfheartedly.

You must go after your wish. As soon as you start to pursue a dream, your life wakes up and everything has meaning. It doesn’t really matter what the outcome is. You’ve got to regain some meaningful direction if you want your life to be exciting. “

Pg. 114

“If you find yourself saying “I start to feel guilty when I get into something I love and I feel I should start doing something for someone else,” you think diving is selfish.

Sometimes, when we’ve had unhappy families, we won’t allow ourselves the pleasure of becoming immersed in our favorite activities. It’s not only that we feel ashamed of enjoying ourselves when our mother or father always felt bad, we actually feel we’re helping lessen their burden of unhappiness by depriving ourselves.

One day it finally dawns on us that depriving ourselves didn’t help anyone, that it wouldn’t have made the slightest big of difference if we had allowed ourselves to be happy. While this knowledge sets us free, it also leaves us with no defense against the agony of witnessing the unhappiness of someone we loved.

But a parent’s sorrow is not in our power to fix, and as hard as that realization may be, it allows us to finally give our parents the sympathy they really deserve, instead of offering them our unhappiness as a consolation price.”

Pg 122

“You got very specific marching orders: become a most-valuable player. Make a lot of money, or get a lot of prestige. Whatever the markers are, every insider knows them very well. And, whether or not the people in your family made it into the winner’s circle, the advice they gave you was clear: You know what you have to do, kid. Be a winner or you’ll be a loser.

Now, if you follow my definition, a winner is anyone who is doing what he or she loves. Whatever that may be! And a loser is someone who is losing time doing something they don’t like. My losers list includes anybody in a Rolls-Royce who isn’t happy. Because they haven’t yet invented the shiny thing that makes up for the loss of a fulfilled life.

If you don’t get to live your life, you’ve lost an incalculable treasure. Fate gives every single one of us the most astonishing uniqueness. Each person is a complex mesh of finely woven styles, viewpoints, abilities, tastes and gifts. There’s no one in the world who can do what you can do, who can think and see the way you do, who can create what you can create.

Listen to me carefully: If you’re unhappy, something important is going on
. When your body hurts, it needs attention. When your heart hurts, it needs just as much attention. Your mind knows that you’ve been taught, but your heart knows who you really are.

And it’s trying to tell you something!

Pay attention or your spirit will get worn out. It’s possible that you’re going to need a complete overhaul of your definition of success. I’m extremely cautious about burning bridges, but this is one case where you might have to change everything around. You’ve got to make sure that this success is really yours, not somebody else’s, and that it really suits who you are.

If you’re a winner for the world and a loser for yourself, you’ve struck the worst bargain of your life.

Pg 123

Feelings Management

“Do me a favor: Don’t put on a happy face. When you feel rotten, admit it, don’t try to brainwash yourself out of it. You might want to cover up in front of your boss or your clients, but never hide your real feelings from yourself. A whole generation has been raised on the virtues of seeing life through “rose-colored glasses,” trying to talk themselves out of what they feel, thinking they can change their situation by trying to see it differently. “I can create my own realty”, they often say.

Every time I hear that I want to cry, “Please don’t create your own reality. There already is one!” Don’t change the word “problem: into “challenge”. A problem is a perfectly decent thing to confront, and we’re problem-solving animals. We like problems. They make us creative! Don’t call a disaster an “opportunity” Who needs such opportunities? You don’t have to plunge into despair when things go wrong, but for God’s sake, call them by their real names. When there’s trouble, you need a clear head!

Why force yourself to reshape all your natural responses when you don’t have to? Nature has provided you with superb equipment to handle anything that happens to you with strength and precision, and it’s called Your Real Feelings. You pay a high price when you talk yourself out of your real feelings. All your energy goes into pretending you don’t feel bad, but buzzing in the background is the truth: you feel very bad indeed. After a while you get very nervous, and to calm yourself down you might take something that’s probably not good for you: live Valium, or candy bars or alcohol.

If there’s any one thing I’d love to teach you, it’s this: Your feelings won’t kill you; repressing them might just do that.”

Pg 299

Fact one: You cannot tell your heart what it wants. Your heart will tell you.

When you try to force your feelings to submit to your mind, it’s like throwing away the map to a happy life.

It’s a terrific way to get totally lost.

Your heart is the center of a million-year-old survival system. If it’s longing for love, there’s a good reason.

So, if you’re having a hard time getting to work on what you’re supposed to be doing because something else keeps distracting you, you’d better put down your tools, quit trying to work, and start listening to the messages from your hear.

To Lee – and to many of us women – the forbidden wish is for love. “Love” feels like part of the old “women were born to love, men were born to get out into the world” training that our mothers got. And that old propaganda did a lot of harm to women who longed for meaningful work, who wanted a chance to get into the game they knew they’d be so good at. We’re smart to avoid falling under the spell of old propaganda. But we shouldn’t let ourselves get confused; the right to meaningful work does not cancel our need to love someone.

No man would consider it wrong to want to love and to fulfill himself – not for a moment.

Of course, some people are perfectly content to live alone. I’m happy that the time has passed when our society felt that a woman – or a ma- without a mate was an incomplete or pitiful thing. We’ve seen through that myth now, and none too soon. Yumie Hiraiwa’s story “Lady of the Evening Faces” ends when woman leaves her husband in what one reviewer called “the classic act of liberation”: “She was indeed lonely, but she was free. From then on, she would be able to live just for herself. She notices that the mend and women walking about town thinking the same way were surprisingly numerous. They all strutted triumphantly along the chasms of the city wearing the elegant expression of the single nobility.”

If you feel like this woman, you don’t need to read this chapter. But if you think solitary people are wasting a wonderful opportunity for connection, if you’re somebody who has genuine gift for good relationships, you will not be happy alone. If you want love, then love is what you must go after; you must at least give it your best try.”

Pg 311

“If Lee had started working on getting back together with Steve and made that her only project, she would have lacked patience and timing. So she pursued her new career as a comedy writer at the same time she pursued Steve. Pursuing her career reminded her that, although her need for love was the most important thing in her life at that time, it wasn’t the only thing. Working on both goals at the same time was essential to help her remember who she was.”

Pg 312

But what if you don’t have a happy ending?

If your campaign works and you wind up with the person you want, you don’t need any further advice from me. But what if your campaign doesn’t work? What if the person you want really doesn’t want you? You’ve done everything that could be done, and the final conclusion is that there’s no more doubt. The party is over.

What happens then?

When you fail to get the love of the person you cared for, you put your beautiful, loving feelings back in your pocket and get on with your life.

With a heart life yours, you will love again.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “Give All to Love” begins: “Give all to love, obey thy heart.”

And if your love should leave you? Emerson knows exactly what will happen then:

Though thou loved her as thyself,

As a self of purer clay,

Though her parting dims the day

Stealing grace from all alive,

Heartily know,

When half-gods go,

The gods arrive.

When half-gods go, the gods arrive.

When you go after what you want with your whole heart, it’s always worth it. It really is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Even if you don’t get what you want, if you gave it your best try you’ll find yourself mysteriously fulfilled and able to move on with the rest of your life. You may feel some hurt – although you may be surprised to find that you feel less hurt that you imagined possible.

The heart hates unfinished business.

You simply can’t walk away from the game of love when you know deep down that all the cards haven’t been played yet. When you’ve played out your hand, your heart will set you free.

So don’t concern yourself with the outcome. If you get the love you want like Lee and Celia did, you’ll be riding high. And if you don’t, well, then the gods will arrive.”


Excerpt from I Could Do Anything, If I Only Knew What It Was, by Barbara Sher.

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