There’s a lot of emphasis in personal development and business books on “making it”. Most every “growth” book you read is full of thoughts, attitudes and insights into achieving success. And that’s great. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to reach your own personal definition of greatness. However, in Above All Else (the follow up book to Twelve Pillars), bestselling author Chris Widener uses the fable of King Solomon, the wealthiest man in history, to remind us that achieving it, maintaining it, and being content with success are three very different animals.
For those not familiar with the story of King Solomon, the short version is this:
God told Solomon he would grant him either wisdom or wealth, it was his choice. When Solomon chose wisdom, God rewarded him for his decision by granting him both.
Regardless of your faith (or lack thereof), the advice that Solomon imparts to his people is profound and universally applicable. With all his wisdom and wealth, this is what he said:
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”.
Above All Else tells the story of Michael – a hugely successful grandfather, imparting his best advice to his teenage grandson. What makes this book so unique is that Michael speaks very little of “persistence”, “goal setting”, “overcoming your fears”, and the like. Instead, he speaks to the importance of reconnecting with the type of person you want to become, so that you can be happy with yourself as a human being, regardless of your level of financial wealth. As you will see, it is your heart (soul, spirit, self, etc.) that you need to work on in order to achieve (and maintain) true success.
Dig Out Your Well
"Michael began again. ‘What I realized was that my heart was stale. It had grown cold and hard. There was no life in it. It had been robbed of the joy and wonder that had been in it as a child. To further the metaphor, it was an empty well. There was no water to draw from, so to speak, to provide life for me. There was a well there, but it was dry. I realized that everyone has a well, but we determine whether it is dry or full."
We get caught up in the race sometimes. We become so focused on “gaining” and on “accomplishing” that we forget why we wanted to achieve it so badly in the first place. What’s your reason for wanting personal success? If you dig deep enough, most people will tell you it’s about living the kind of life they’ve always dreamed of. Just underneath that is a desire to spend their days carefree, with friends, family. That’s it. We just want to be happy, and to be surrounded by those we love and who love us. Money’s great – it gives us an opportunity to have and experience wonderful things, but not if our lives become consumed with simply collecting more. I think it’s natural, though, to lose sight of the end game. We are bombarded every day with thousands of messages telling us to “keep going, keep working harder to earn more.” We really need to consciously take the time to “dig out the well”, and remind ourselves of why we’re putting in all the effort in the first place. Just like cars need regular oil changes, we need to take the occasional time out.
"Technology is utilitarian. It is a tool to be used. But most of it, by its nature, dehumanizes. Televisions keep people from talking or thinking, as do personal music players."
I love technology. It’s a marvel to me how we can stay connected with people all over the world. It’s incredible to think of the things we can do, virtually through automation, that used to require incredible time and energy. But as Widener says, technology is a tool. Nothing more.
A hammer is a tool. Use it for the right application and with the right force and it can help you accomplish things you’d never be able to do on your own. Use it for the wrong job, though, or with too much strength and that same hammer can become a destructive force. This week, I encourage you to look at every tool you use in the same way. What’s its actual purpose? What’s the cost associated with using it? (I.e. is using your headphones on the bus to listen to that song for the 36th time costing you the opportunity of meeting someone new?)
I think sometimes we hide behind technology because it’s easy. It takes less courage to email someone than it does to call them. But it’s a lot more fun to have a real conversation. All the good things in life take effort. Disconnect this week – get outside (without your iPod) or play a board game rather than watch a movie or YouTube. Unplug from technology and reconnect with what really matters in life.
"Albert Einstein said that the monotony of solitude actually stimulates the creative mind. Thomas Merton said that it was in solitude that he found the gentleness with which to love others."
For most of us, every waking minute of the day is filled with noise. We get up, rush through our morning routine and fly to the office. We spend all day listening to the radio, the chatter of coworkers or the constant “bing” of email alerts. We come home to our families, talk, watch TV and go to bed. Again, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, except it doesn’t leave any time for thought. In order to reconnect with what’s important to you, you need silence and solitude.
One of the reasons so many people have great ideas in the shower is because it’s the closest thing to solo time that they allow themselves in their lives. For 3-5 minutes they are alone with their thoughts… and shampoo. Imagine if you were to stretch that out to 30 minutes (minus the shampoo). What about two hours? A full day?
Allowing yourself alone time to think, breathe, reflect and plan is often one of the most invigorating and productive uses of your time. It can also be scary, particularly the first time. Allowing yourself to be alone with your thoughts forces you to reflect on the person you are and are likely to become, based on the path you’re on. Scary, yes. The way I look at it though, I’d rather be scared enough to change now than to be unable to on my death bed.
Take an hour of silence for yourself this week.
Above All Else is possibly the shortest book we’ve covered to date. At seventy-one pages (including six pages of suggested discussion questions) it’s a book you can literally read in an hour or two. The message, though, and the way in which it’s imparted is without a doubt one of the most rich and complex we’ve seen. In this, his seventh book, Chris Widener shows a depth of understanding as to the true meaning of life that we can all learn and grow from. Here’s to a deep, wide well for all of us.