It dawned on me a few days ago that 2018 was almost over, so I started reflecting on this year and how fast it passed, and yet, so much had happened. It was a busy year indeed with so much that took place, from work to life, to just about all aspects of my life, with ups and downs, moments of joy and others of sadness, to which I am grateful, as it is those moments in life that you realize you are were not afraid to live it to the max. Life goes by so fast, and it can pass us by if we do not pay attention. For me, this year, 2018, was the year of learning how to make peace with myself and be at peace with everything around me, and I can say I made good progress. Maybe it is part of getting older, which is something I used not to be in favor of, by the way. I have always wished I had a time machine, oh God, for the things I would have done or redone to be correct. Seriously, though, one of my outcomes from 2018 is that I am at peace with my life and, of course, my age, and I am actually embracing it and enjoying this phase in my life.
In the movie, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” the hero, Walter, played by Ben Steller, is seen sitting on a bench at a train station, calling the customer service representative of an online dating service to report a technical issue he faced. The customer service representative on the other side of the line replies by saying that he is checking Walter’s profile, and then he points out that the been-there-done-that section is blank. To which Walter replies, “well, I haven’t really been anywhere noteworthy or mentionable.” So the customer service guy replies, “have you done anything noteworthy or mentionable?” in a soft, sympathetic tone. Then Walter zones out into daydreaming until the customer services representative’s voice pulls him back into reality. So Walter replies, “I just zoned out for a second,” and the customer service person replies, “do you do that a lot?”
Clearly, Walter was a play-it-safe person, always on low profile, with lots of insecurities and fears of taking risks or following his passion. In return, he accomplished nothing and spent most of his time daydreaming of what he was afraid of doing in real life, to the point that his episodes of zoning out became a joke among his peers at work. But when he decided to take chances and risks and give it his best shot and let come what may, he felt terrific satisfaction, even though he did not get all he wanted or what he thought he wanted. He was simply at peace and, therefore, happy and content with his own life.
I can relate to Walter’s story and how he felt at first. One of my closest friends since college was Walter, in a way. For years, he was the insecure, low-profile, play-it-safe kind of guy, but then something happened to him, a moment in his life that forced him to change. Today, he is a success story of a remarkable businessman and an inspiration for many people around him. I never knew that there was actual science into such transformation, or methodology, not until early this month when my team and I decided to go on an offsite for team building activities and set our 2019 goals. During the offsite sessions, the instructor shared with us the learnings of a fascinating book called “The Four Agreements,” written by Don Miguel Ruiz, which teaches you how to develop self-awareness and be aware of your own feelings, surroundings, and inner & outer forces you deal with every day. When we develop self-awareness, we become in control of our own lives and existence, and we become immune to others’ negative energy, especially when they try to dump that energy on us, in any form, like hate or anger or jealousy, or even contempt. We simply become at peace with ourselves, with others around us, and with life in general. The book has lots to teach us, and I really recommend it. Allow me to give you a quick look at the four agreements the book suggests we make with ourselves:
- Be Impeccable With Your Words – The power of the word and our words and how they can go a long way. Words of inspiration that created all the amazing civilizations we know, or words of destruction that lead people to follow illusions into death and wars. Hence, we should always be aware of what we say and mean it, and thus only say what we mean or mean what we say, or forever hold our peace. They say you are most likely to regret something you said vs. not saying anything at all, and in many religious teachings, silence is considered gold. If you think about it, all our issues in our relationships, of all kinds, are communications related. We might say something out of anger, only to regret it later, or someone might express a promise to us at a moment of joy, only to feel, “oh God, what have I promised” later? Our words, once out, we have no control over what impact they make, so always be careful with your words and how you use them.
- Do Not Take Anything Personally – Think about this one for a second. Think of all the times when you felt offended or hurt or took someone’s opinion or comment towards you personally. Try to dig deeper into what made you upset about what they said; you will realize that it was not what they said that bothered you; instead, it was your own thoughts of what they said or did. It was because you agreed with their comment, or had doubts in your abilities based on what they said, or deep down you were unsure of your skills and needed them to tell you that you were good and when they did not, you got upset, simply because you placed your validation in their hands. Imagine this, you are walking down the street, and some stranger you do not know, drives by you, call you names, and then just drives away. You have no idea who this person was or why they did that, but you do not know them; thus, their opinion is meaningless to you. Hence, you will keep walking as if nothing happened, going about your day without a dent. Why? Simply because that person is a nobody to you. Hence, the reaction to what happens to us matters, not the action itself. You chose not to be bothered by that stranger’s comment. Subconsciously, you decided that you know your own value and that this stranger’s opinion, regardless of who he is, will not affect you. Being extra sensitive and taking things personally is always linked to our own insecurities, never about what other people said or did to us, no matter how cruel. What they did or said reflects who they are, not who you are.
- Do Not Make Assumptions – One of the main lessons from our offsite workshop was how to clear any assumptions about something or someone. You will not believe how relieving this is once you try it. Basically, whenever you have a certain assumption about someone, for example, your office colleague whom you think is mistreating you or being condescending, instead of feeding that assumption with thoughts and gossip or expectations, sit with that person and ask their permission to clarify the assumptions you have about them. Of course, you need to be ready and accept whatever comes out. Whether they confirm your belief that it is accurate or tell you it is not valid, they set the record straight for you. You need to know what your reaction and behavior will be once that assumption is cleared. The point is, never assume, and always seek to clarify any assumptions you get.
In many cases, it is easier to assume and just live with it than to confront others and face the outcome. However, that will only worsen matters because the assumptions fall under the same category as the first agreement, communication. When we assume, we choose not to communicate with the other person and just rely on our thoughts, no matter how wrong or off-track they may be.
- Always Do Your Best – This agreement captures all the previous three, and it’s my favorite. I have a friend who is also a renowned coach, and I recall reaching out to him a few years ago when I was switching jobs. I expressed my worries about not making an impact in my new job, and I went on about all my fears and insecurities. He stopped me and said, “just do your best, don’t think or worry about anything or anyone else. If you did your best and succeeded, you will be happy, and if you do your best but still fall short, you will be content simply because you tried, and you will have no regrets. So just do your best, and everything else will fall into place. Don’t worry about what others think or say, what your boss is like, or whether he will like you.” When you do your best, you focus on what you are trying to accomplish, not what the external forces around you think or see. You must do your best in anything you are working on, any assignment, job, request, service, or anything you want to do or are accepted to do. When you give something your best shot, you will be content and satisfied, no matter the outcome, and you will not feel regret, remorse, or guilt for not trying. Even in our Islamic literature, our Prophet, PBUH, said, “if any of you decide to do something, do it with perfection.”
When you make such agreements with yourself and start practicing them gradually in your daily life, you will be amazed at how calm and content you become. You will eventually be in a peaceful state of mind, where your mind, body, and soul are in sync. Caution, this is easier said than done, so you need to practice and be determined to achieve this bliss, and more importantly, you need to be ready to cancel some of the old agreements in your life, especially the ones you grew up with thinking that they were true, while they were not. They were merely blockers that prevented you from trying.
One last point, the above does NOT mean you can’t be competitive or passionate about your goals in life. On the contrary, the above will allow you to focus better on achieving your goals and dreams without the distraction of all the negative energy that can affect your progress. Be at Peace.