Nothing new under the sun?
When people say, "There's nothing new under the sun," it is often considered as a sign of shortsightedness or a melancholic idiom. However, it doesn't have to be seen as such, because while we have experienced a number of immense changes in the past years, the core perspectives on how to establish a good quality of life have not changed since ancient times. To illustrate this, I am presenting ten quotes that date back anywhere from 40 to 2,500 years. If there's one thing we cannot say about these quotes, it is that they have become obsolete.
1. If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid -" Epictetus (AD 55 -"AD 135)
It happens every day, and many of us can attest to it: there are always people who will try to convince us that our plans to improve are irresponsible or silly. Their reasons for doing this vary widely, from jealousy to insecurity, and from lack of confidence in our abilities to fear of losing us. Oftentimes the motives for trying to discourage our engagement in a new venture are unclear, and that may even be the case for the person expressing them. I remember many years ago, when I was planning to move to California, how my mother tried to explain to me that it would be a bad idea, and that I should be content with my current circumstances. I knew then, as I know now, that her reasoning was not derived from reluctance toward my potential growth, but rather from her fear of what might go wrong, and of me leaving my comfort zone. I am not sorry for pursuing my plans, but realize all the more that Epictetus' 1900 year old statement is still very accurate!
2. Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life -" Confucius ( 551 BC -" 479 BC)
Everyday reality teaches us that our 21st century mentality toward work has not changed since the days of Confucius either. It is unfortunate that so many of us settle for work that is less gratifying, and therefore becomes drudgery. It has been proven that people who don't like their jobs are more dissatisfied, thus experience more stress, burnout, and are more prone to lapse into recurring absenteeism. The fact that about 50% of the US workforce feels dissatisfied at work today has a lot to do with the mismatch between what people like and what they do. The understandable question that might surface here is, "So why do people engage in work that they don't like?" There are many answers to that, starting with the issue of time, peer, and family pressure. Some jobs are considered more prestigious than others, and there may be a family tradition in a particular profession, or a cluster of friends going for this specific source of living. The problem, as many business researchers have found, is that workforce members often discover after a number of years that they don't like what they do. However, they have created families by then and have a number of financial obligations to mee, so it would take far more courage to change directions. Aside from the above, we also face multiple and rapid changes, which most likely cause a volatile work climate, and greater fluctuations in availabilities and needs. There are many ways to address this issue, but that may be material for another article.
3. We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less -" Diogenes (412 BC -" 323 BC).
Diogenes' statement illustrates that the problem of excessive talkers who think that they can overpower others with a flood of words is not a new one either. He, too, felt the need to make a point of stressing the priority that listening should have over talking. In today's world of work, there are many people who love to hear themselves talk, and then fail to realize that they don't learn anything new by expressing their own opinions all the time. This new decade, which we are entering, is one where the skill of empathetic listening is rapidly moving to the forefront of managerial attention. With a large part of the earlier mentioned dissatisfaction among workforce members also to be ascribed to lack of being heard, there is now a heightening degree of encouragement to contemporary leaders to talk less and listen more. Today's workers, especially in the US economy, are predominantly knowledge workers. They have college degrees, or are returning to school to get one. These people hold important insights that could make a constructive difference in the workplace.
4. When the best leader's work is done the people say: We did it ourselves -" Lao Tzu (6th or 4th Century BC)
In the afterglow of the blatant corporate greed that we witnessed in the past decade, this statement forms a conscious call for tapping into the internal wealth of our greater self. Lao Tzu invites those of us in managerial or leadership positions to allow others to shine, and lead from behind. Many leaders of today are afraid that they will be considered redundant and lose their job if they don't keep emphasizing their achievements and articulate their importance as a leader. It doesn't need tremendous psycho-analytical skills to understand that this tendency originates from fear of losing power, prestige and/or position. Yet, as mentioned above: today's workforce members are intelligent people. They know very well how things work, and are very well aware of quiet leaders who enable them to grow. It is no use, anyway, to remain excessively fearful of being let go. If you're good at what you do, opportunities will find you. Awakened leaders always serve a purpose.
5. All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think we become -" the Buddha (approx. 563 BCE to 483 BCE)
This powerful statement reminds us that the world, as we see it, is a reflection of our thoughts. When you consider others enemies, you establish an impression in your mind that only you can alter. You can therefore make your life miserable or cheerful, simply by the perspective you choose to maintain. This is crucial in work settings. A friend of mine approached me a few weeks ago with this very problem: one of her supervisors seemed to utterly dislike her, no matter how hard she tried to do well. I explained to her that the problem was not hers, and that she should not make it hers either. She could try compassion based on the understanding that there might be issues with this person, which she is not aware of. It is important to understand that you will not be able to please everybody, and that there will be people who will dislike you for the very fact that you breathe. Yet, that does not have to become your problem. You can choose to still treat those who seem to dislike you with courtesy. This way, you keep your mind free from unnecessary burdens.
6. I don't like that man. I must get to know him better -" Abraham Lincoln (1809 -" 1865)
President Lincoln's above statement is included here to support the Buddha's earlier quote. We often dislike people based on basis of the impressions we have created of them. Oftentimes these impressions are built from one or a few instances, but they can taint our relationship with these people forever. Lincoln's awareness about getting to know the person he didn't like better is a wise one. Not only does it reflect his awareness that his opinion may have been wrongly clouded, but it also points to the need to expand our internal locus of control: instead of feeling sorry for yourself when others seem to dislike you, you can make an effort to get to know them better, or at least understand that you only know a small side of them, which makes it unwarranted to judge them.
7. There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle -" Albert Einstein (1879 -" 1955)
Einstein's wisdom exuded the concept of relativity in many dimensions. The statement above depicts the relativity of your life's quality, which depends on a simple issue: your perspective. You can choose to maintain a negative paradigm and ridicule everything, or take everything for granted; or you can work on yourself to start appreciating the numerous beauties and advantages in your life. Doing the latter requires heightened awareness. It therefore links very closely to the Buddha's quote and Lincoln's remark as well. Your mind determines your reality, and once you know that, you can do something about the pieces of that reality that are not very fulfilling. There are many ways to become more mindful and therefore attain greater awareness of our actions and our surroundings. Meditation and yoga are two often discussed ways to work on increased awareness. However, they are not the only ones. Regardless of the strategy you choose, it is essential to know that awareness enriches your life tremendously, due to the fact that it redefines your priorities and helps you detect the real purpose of your life.
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