Things You Must Learn for Yourself


At the beach the oth­er day, I noticed a pat­tern of small stones laid out on a larg­er one. It was some­one’s life, I thought, all the things they had learned on their own. And so I thought of all the things any of us must learn, each one anoth­er small stone in the pattern:

That you are okay.

That you are not okay.

That you can let go.

That you can hold on.

That you can sur­vive the inevitable losses.

That it is time to grieve.

That it is time to celebrate.

That you can get up again.

That you can make your own decisions.

That you can be alone.

That you can trust.

That you can succeed.

That you can fail forward.

That you don’t have to sweat the small stuff.

That noth­ing is permanent.

Behind our masks, we may still not be quite sure of the answers to the ques­tions our hearts may ask us any day. In that secret place you may grap­ple moment to moment in small or large ways with who you are and what your life means.

The truth is that we all have things we must learn for our­selves, life lessons we don’t know or can’t know in advance, where time is the teacher and we get our tests via the School of Hard Knocks. So we need a lit­tle com­pas­sion for our­selves, whether the les­son is one where we look back and say, “I should have trust­ed my gut more” or one where we must rec­og­nize it was trust­ing our gut too much that got us into trou­ble. Such lessons go deep into the work­ings of our lives as lead­ers because there is a strong social expec­ta­tion that lead­ers make good judg­ments — know­ing them­selves and know­ing life, includ­ing that most pri­vate of process­es: to rec­og­nize, accept and learn from our own mistakes. 

Per­haps it can­not be said strong­ly enough that we most often learn for our­selves in dif­fi­cult times, pre­cise­ly because they are dif­fi­cult and there are no easy, ready-made answers; no instant truths or well-trod paths. Because we can­not avoid hard times, because we have to respond authen­ti­cal­ly, gen­uine­ly from our inner­most being, because those dif­fi­cult times draw us into con­tact with our char­ac­ter as peo­ple. Oth­ers’ advice some­how does­n’t work and we may even resent it when it comes. It is through fac­ing these dif­fi­cul­ties and con­flicts that we find greater self-reliance, soul­ful­ness and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion as a per­son. It is a time to think, above all, for one­self, not sim­ply to fol­low the ways of the past or the loud­est, most aggres­sive or most famil­iar and com­fort­ing voic­es. Solace comes from know­ing it is our own life learn­ing, our own truth that we are com­ing to stand for.

The I Ching would say that in dark­ness, we must keep the light alive, even if it must remain con­cealed. In a world of false nar­ra­tives and bad choic­es, to think for your­self, to learn for your­self is a rad­i­cal act of main­tain­ing san­i­ty, the pre­cur­sor to cre­at­ing islands of san­i­ty around us. Isn’t that the world we have right now? And day by day, does­n’t the inner light grow stronger? 


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