How to answer when your girlfriend enters the room and says, “What exactly do you think you’re doing?”

Of course this is humor, not meant as advice. Following any of this literally would probably be dangerous to both your relationships and your health… 😉 Trust me when I say ‘RUN Forest RUN” will be happening if you take this seriously

IT IS SATURDAY, a crisp afternoon, and you’re exactly where you should be: stretched out on the couch in front of the television, just about to watch the NFL Championship. Opening beer number two, relaxed in the knowledge that the pizza you ordered is even now on its way. Nothing could improve this moment, except maybe a bigger television. Suddenly your girlfriend/wife  enters the room and says, “What exactly do you think you’re doing?”

Is this a trick question or what?

Yes, it is. The trick is that no matter how you answer it, you will immediately find yourself driving down to your nearest home improvement center, where you will spend the rest of the afternoon trying to decide the type of curtain rod that’s right for you.

How does this work?

It has as much to do with the nature of the question itself as with anything else. Women are expert at posing questions that seem to have no right answer. Here’s a common example.

Do I look fat?

There is no answer to this question that won’t be interpreted “yes.” “No” means yes. “Yes” means yes. “I don’t know” means yes. “It doesn’t matter” means yes. The briefest hint of a pause before speaking means yes, yes, yes. Most of us would rather go to the dentist than field this one, yet it may well come up several times a week. Your only real choice is to say “no,” clearly and immediately, leaving no possibility for any subtext, and making it sound like a widely acknowledged fact and not simply your opinion. This doesn’t work, but all the other options are worse.

There are several other questions for which “no” is the only answer, and several more that call for an emphatic and unqualified yes. In all of these cases, elaboration, justification or any attempt to be funny is unlikely to pay off.

Consult this handy chart:
JUST SAY NO

Is there someone else?
Do you still fantasize about her?
Are you tired of me?

JUST SAY YES

Do you still love me?
Do you ever fantasize about me?
Do you like my hair this way?

Unfortunately, many female inquiries require more than a simple yes or no response. Some of them are more like riddles. Such as this one:

Which shoes look better?

Typically you’re already late for dinner when your girlfriend confronts you, with one pair of shoes on and another alongside them. This is no ordinary choice. It’s a devious chicken/egg puzzler, the sort of choice that would lead even Hobson to say to Mrs. Hobson, “Whichever, you old trout!” If you pick the shoes she already has on, she’ll think you’re trying to hurry her. If you pick the other pair, she’ll think it’s because you know you can’t pick the ones she has on. Some men try a nonlinear approach and opt for a third, unoffered pair of shoes, but this is inevitably taken as either an attack on her judgment or an opportunity for her to attack yours. On no account suggest another dress. You might as well say, “You’re fat.”

This raises the question of why she’s asking you at all. She knows you don’t know which shoes look better, and she knows you don’t care, so why is she trying to elicit your opinion? This is part of an ongoing campaign to domesticate you. As part of the same campaign, she will occasionally consult you about alternative table settings or new towels. In these two cases a disdainful and dismissive “beats me” should do the trick, but don’t try that with the shoe dilemma, or you’ll miss your reservation. Instead, suggest that she try on the other shoes, then tell her the first ones look better. This lets you more or less off the hook, as long as you don’t raise a fuss when she decides that the second pair are better after all.

Where do you see this relationship going?

This could be described as an essay question, since you’re obviously not going to get away with snappy little answers such as “forward” or “upstairs” or “I dunno.” Another problem is that you and your girlfriend are operating at cross purposes here. She wants a heartfelt expression of your feelings and an honest assessment of your future together, and you want an easier question. There is certainly no point in answering a toe-curling query like this one without at least a rough idea of precisely what it is she wants to hear. Questions such as this one are a category unto themselves, i.e., Questions that should be answered with another question. See how easily some of the more difficult leading inquiries can be parried through the simple deployment of reflexive interrogation.

Her: Where do you see this relationship going?
You: Where do *you* see this relationship going?

Her: Do you think she’s attractive?
You: Who?

Her: Will you marry me?
You: Where am I?

Her: What if I were pregnant?
You: Are you pregnant?
Her: Why? Do I look fat?

Whoops! We’re in a bit of trouble here. You should have seen that coming. Try a more surreal approach:

Her: What if I were pregnant?
You: What if *we* were pregnant? …. (Cool, huh?)

Some all-purpose question-answers include: How much is a lot? Why do you ask? Should I be? What are you saying? Does it matter? What’s love got to do with it? Are you talking to me? (Note: Are you having your period? is not one of these.)

Let’s try a math question. How many people have you slept with? Hmmmmm….Now, you can tell her the truth, unless the truth is more than 12, or you can have a guess at the number she’s more or less expecting. Like most arithmetic problems, the answer is a lot easier once you have a formula. This one should work as long as neither of you has sex for a living.

Number of people she’s slept with
+ Number of people she knows you’ve slept with
+ Number of people you actually have slept with.

Add these up and divide by 2. If you round up to the nearest whole person, you should end up with a realistically healthy but not particularly shocking number. If the result is greater than 12, then _say_ 12.

Why don’t you lighten up?

This rhetorical gem is used whenever you express your disapproval of shoplifting or speeding, or whenever you go to a nightclub and spend the whole time dancing to some unbelievable crap you’ve never heard and _then_ go out and _buy_ it! There is no good answer to this question. You could draw attention to her inconsistency in this matter, noting that she doesn’t like it when you act like a kid or when you act like your _dad_ (God forbid); then again, if you do that, she’s liable to see your point and break up with you. Speaking of breaking up, how about this one?

Are you saying you want to end it?

Women, like lawyers, rarely ask a direct question, unless they already know what the answer will be. As for women lawyers, I don’t know what they do, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know. The point is, when a woman asks you this question, she knows you’re going to say no. Even if you want to say yes, you’ll say no. You can’t turn the question back on her, because you have no idea what her answer is going to be. If you are trying to break up with her, you’ll have to say no and start the whole painful process again. If you aren’t trying to break up with her, then it’s best to change the subject. Let’s try something easier.

Notice anything different about me?

Well, slightly easier. This question is of a piece with two others: “Have you forgotten what today is?” and “Have you been listening to a word I’ve said?” Apart from being questions that are easier to answer wrong than right, they’re the kinds of things women say in sitcoms. They are best treated in an ironic postmodern context, i.e., just say what Ward Cleaver would say.

Her: Notice anything different about me?
You: New apron? … (Ouch!)

Her: Have you forgotten what today is?
You: Of course not. It’s Thursday.

Her: Have you been listening to a word I’ve said?
You: That’s nice, dear…

Funny, huh? Well, it’s not your fault if she doesn’t get it. If she wants a better answer, she’s going to have to start asking better questions. Questions such as:

Have you taken a look at yourself lately? This question and its cousin, the almost always uncalled for “Who do you think you are?” are ways of gently reminding you how much of a factor pity was in her original decision to go out with you, and how that decision could be rescinded if you behave in any way that cannot be described as abject. You probably brought this rebuke on yourself by mentioning that you reckon Brad Pitt is getting a little chubby or by speculating that Jack Nicholson doesn’t have to wait until his birthday for  sex. You’re not really supposed to answer either of these questions. You’re just supposed to apologize for your wanton self-esteem-having. Instead of apologizing, just smile. Your manifold inadequacies as a boyfriend – nay, as a man – are a kind of revenge all by themselves. Next!

Do you believe in fidelity?

Like most philosophical questions that seem to pop up out of the blue, this question doesn’t pop up out of the blue. This general query about fidelity is in fact a coded inquiry about the extent of your fidelity on a specific occasion or occasions. Your response will also have to be coded. Consult this translation chart before giving your answer:

YOU SAY – Yes
YOU MEAN – How much does she know?
SHE THINKS – He’s hiding something.

YOU SAY – It depends
YOU MEAN – How much does she know?
SHE THINKS – I knew it!

YOU SAY – Why do you ask
YOU MEAN – How much does she know?
SHE THINKS – Bastard!

YOU SAY – I dunno. Do you?
YOU MEAN – How much does she know?
SHE THINKS – How much does he know?

There are several more variations, but they’re not worth going into. By the time she asks you this question, you’re already in deep trouble. It doesn’t really matter what you say, as long as you don’t blush when you answer.

Let’s look at an example that calls for more straightforward lying.

What are you looking at?

She means, “You were looking at that girl, weren’t you?” And you thought you’d perfected that trick of keeping your neck still and just letting your eyes swivel. Obviously, the truth is not the best answer here. We all know that the truth can set you free, sometimes before you’ve found somewhere else to stay. It may seem easy enough to answer this question with a cunning lie, but when men are caught offguard, their ability to deceive is impaired.

Here are a few of the more common mistakes men make when asked, “What are you looking at?”

Too specific: The rust around the bolts on the handle on the flap of that mailbox on the northwest corner.”
Not specific enough: “That thing.”
Too good to be true: “A diamond necklace in that window back there that would be perfect on you.”
Too true to be good: “A see through nightie in that window back there that would be perfect on you.”
Too obvious: “Nothing.”
Way too obvious: “That blonde babe over there with the big…I mean nothing.”

Here’s one that requires a little interpretation.

What are we going to do now?

This one often crops up whenever some kind of emergency or seemingly unsolvable problem arises. The part that requires interpretation is the mysterious “we” in the middle. This means two things: In one sense, “we” clearly means “you,” as in, “What are you going to do now,” but there is also a sense of “we’re in this together,” implying that you bear equal responsibility for the fact that she’s just dropped her keys down a grate, or that she stores her jack and spare tire in her garage so they won’t get stolen.

In such situations you’ll probably find that the only answer to “What are we going to do now?” that you can think of is “We are going to break up. Goodbye.” Most likely you’ll decide not to say anything. After which she will probably let loose with the rather ill-advised:

Why don’t you say something?

Whether you answer this one is up to you. There is only one question that you should never, ever answer. Keep silent, cower behind your Fifth Amendment rights, pretend you didn’t hear, run away, whatever, but don’t say anything when she asks:

Should I get all of my hair cut off?

If you say anything, then when she does get all her hair cut off (and let’s face it, she’s already made up her mind) and she hates it (and she will hate it), it will be your fault. Even if you say absolutely nothing, the best you can hope for is that she will come home with all her hair cut off, stare you straight in the eye and say:

Does it make me look fat!!?

…..You’re on your own…..

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I gaze 30 yrs out into the future and give my stone cold predictions for 2046 sure to come true

Every Dec, I take time out to gaze into my crystal ball and make my forecast for the year ahead. Often people are stunned by the incredible [lack of] accuracy of my forecasts. But like Doc Brown in BACK TO THE FUTURE I fearlessly put the Helmet on again

Hopefully very few of you will go rummaging around in the archives for my predictions from last year. In retrospect, I have to admit I erred in a few of my prognostications.

Here are some of my PREDICTIONS FROM LAST YEAR that did not turn out quite as I had predicted (Note to self: Make a note to upgrade to Crystal Ball Version 3.0 before next year):

You heard it here first: The ‘bromance’ film The Hangover 4 will nudge out Jack Ass 3D for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and Mike Tyson will win Best Supporting Actor, for his portrayal of, well, Mike Tyson. Avatar2 will be a total commercial flop at the box office and be completely shut out come Oscar time.

Goldman Sachs, having earned record-breaking profits only two years after the financial meltdown it helped cause, will make amends to the nation and singlehandedly solve the nation’s debt crisis by offering to pay down the entire US federal debt – and still have enough left over to pay each of its executives their annual $1 million year-end bonus. (Well, I got the $1 million bonuses part right at least.)

President Obama : will surprise his critics by selecting Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report (right) to be the USA’s next ambassador to the United Nations. Colbert’s first U.N. resolution, a condemnation of North Korean ruler King Jong Il’s hairstyle (on human rights grounds), is unanimously adopted by the U.N. General Assembly.

In a period of unprecedented political bipartisanship, the leaders of both major political parties will sign a “peace accord” to end all their partisan bickering and name calling once and for all and will come together to sign the wildly popular healthcare reform bill.

After three years of trying to make sense of the phenomenon, the American public will finally figure out what the heck is the point of Twitter.

Sarah Palin, having had her 15 minutes of fame, will fade into obscurity and never be heard from again.

Okay, I admit it. 2015 was not one of my better years for prognosticating. Let’s face it, I probably won’t do any better for 2016. So this year, for a change, I thought I would gaze further into the future – 30 years out – to the year 2046. Why so far out, you ask? Because, according to my doctor, the odds are 7 to 2 that I won’t be around by then. So I really won’t care how far off the mark I was. Let’s get started.

In sports: The NY Giants set a NFL record for losing their 36th game in a row after leading with 5 seconds left. President Barack Obama Jr immediately puts out an executive order to inject the DNA of Lawrence Taylor into every team member. Speaker of the house Ted Cruz immediately calls for a shutdown of the govt.

The World: The war in Afghanistan, now in its 40th year, will show signs of winding down, due in part to the fact that there are only 167 people still living in Afghanistan.

Hopes for a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace accord will rise when the Israeli Prime Minister Netenyahu now 110 yrs old, extends an olive branch, offering to let Palestinians claim full control over Jerusalem as their undivided Capitol. Hopes will fade once more when it becomes clear he was referring to Jerusalem, Ohio.

Politics: The United States of America, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the People’s Republic of China since 2026, will elect its first non-human as president, when the Sony QRIO-400, Sony USA’s fourth generation robot with artificial intelligence exceeding that of any human being, will win the election. Sony QRIO-400 will narrowly defeat the 55-year-old former rock legend, Senator Gaga, from the state of Key West (the 53rd state), in the closest presidential election since New York Governor Alex Rodriguez narrowly edged out New Jersey Congresswoman Snooki in the 2028 election.

Mark Zuckerberg, Prime Minister of the breakaway Republic of Facebookistan, will announce a truce in his longstanding cyber war with the nation of Googleonia over the two nations’ longtime territorial dispute over the region formerly known as northern California.

The Economy: Thanks to new discoveries of massive oil and natural gas deposits in the Arizona region known as Texaco Cliffs (formerly known as Grand Canyon National Park), it will be another record-breaking year for oil companies. Those consumers who still drive gasoline-powered antique automobiles will benefit too, as the price of gasoline plummets to under $220 a gallon.

The employment situation will improve for the third year in a row, for robots and droids. For humans, unemployment remains flat at around 87%, thanks in part due to the fact that the only jobs currently available to humans are coffee drive-through barista, circus lion tamer and NFL cheer leader. No, wait. My bad. Just lion tamer and cheer leader. Sorry, people. The robots will have taken all the barista jobs too.

Science & Technology: 2042 will see the final demise of the Internet after decades of being plagued by viruses and slow performance. The last known Internet user – an 87-year old Inuit fisherman from Baffin Island, Canada – will pull the plug and throw his computer modem out onto the Arctic pack ice. (Correction: The Arctic pack ice will actually have disappeared permanently several years earlier, in 2026.)

The successor to the Internet, the Skin-Implanted Connectivity Chip (or SICC) will have been successfully implanted in more than 72% of humans, giving them instant 24/7 3D virtual connectivity anywhere in the world – except for a six- block section of downtown Manhattan, where reception is still rather spotty. Damn you AT&T !!!!

Transportation: New improvements in aviatic autoliners (otherwise known as flying cars) will take another step forward, now that the auto port re-fueling stations are finally open for business on the Moon (three years behind schedule). In a related story, Starbucks will announce plans to build 7,500 coffee bistros on the Moon by the year 2047.

Speaking of cars, China, the leader in auto manufacturing, will announce that the next generation of H2O-powered vehicles will get better fuel economy than previous water-fueled models. Leading the way, the new Hummer Hydrate, at an impressive 450 miles per gallon, which is easily re-fueled by means of Hummer’s patented custom-fitted garden hose (hose sold separately for $110,999). In a related story, BP will announce plans to purchase glacier-covered Greenland from Denmark, ensuring enough fuel to keep American motorists driving for at least 5 more years.

Travel & Leisure: Thanks to the long-awaited mass commercialization of time travel in 2037, time travel virtual vacations to exotic destinations will have become routine by now. Complications will emerge when 32,000 South Florida retirees travel back to the year 2000, change their butterfly ballot vote to Gore. Nice try, but Bush still wins the election the second time around.

Celebrity News: Lindsay Lohan will celebrate her 55th birthday this year by completing her latest rehab stint, proclaiming she has finally overcome her addiction to Diet Snapple Ice Tea. In her press conference leaving the Whitney Houston Clinic, Lohan hints that her next addiction will involve some type of breakfast cereal. My crystal ball’s hazy but it looks like it could be Captain Crunch.

The nation will mourn the shocking death of former President Mark Wahlberg in a fishing accident off the Pacific coast of Utah. President Wahlberg will probably best be remembered for his annual State of the Union addresses, in which he always delivered his speech without wearing a shirt. Mitt Romney running again for president again denies that Mitt Romney ever existed.

Health & Fitness: After a 15-year longitudinal study, scientists will conclude that a rigorous program of daily weight training, yoga, and aerobic activity poses serious health hazards to middle-aged people over the age of 110.

The Surgeon General will reveal what has long been suspected: A diet of low-fat, high fiber foods, low in sodium and sugar, poses dangerous health risks and recommends a diet rich in red meat, processed starch, and ice cream products. In a related story, the tobacco industry will cheer the results of new research from the American Medical & Tobacco Association that proves once and for all that a daily regimen of nicotine and carcinogens can add several years to your life.

Well, those are my predictions for 2046. Be sure to put a note in your 2041 virtual calendar to check back to this blog and see how well I did. In the remote chance in 2046, my body has become a hologram or has been stashed away in some deep freeze storage pod while scientists work on a way to bring people back to life, no worries. Just rent yourself a time machine, go back in time to Aug 2016, track me down, and let me know how I did. Many thanks.

Warning to men. How I almost lost my life shopping at Costco

It started out innocently enough.  I was asked to go to the store because we were low on shampoo. No biggie.  Quick errand.  I’ll be back in time for the start of the baseball game.  My mistake was listening to my girl when she asked me to go to COSTCO with her .

The second I entered the behemoth warehouse, I was overcome by the allure of wall-to-wall gigantic flat screen Hi-Def TVs showing exotic tropical waterfalls. Some in 3-D. Ooh! I noticed a sign that said if you buy the home theater sound system package, you can get a 65” flat screen HDTV for only $850 more. What a bargain. So I added an LG 65″ Class 3D 1080p 120Hz LED HDTV with 4 Pairs of 3D Glasses to my flatbed cart.

As I was lugging my cart towards the shampoo aisle, I couldn’t help but notice the festive Christmas tree display. An 8-ft Pre-Lit Clear Mixed Country Artificial Pine Christmas Tree complete with 800 Clear Dura-Lit Mini-lights for $20 off! Think how much I will save by buying it now before the holiday season. Plus, I’d be doing my part to save the world’s endangered commercial tree farms. So I wedged the tree in between the TV and the sound system and continued on my merry way.

I almost made it to the shampoo aisle when I noticed a commotion to my left. There was this fruit juicer demonstration, where the pitchman was transforming what looked to be kiwi fruit, bananas and Lego blocks into a delicious fruit smoothie in seconds. Wow! But this wasn’t just any juicer. This was the Vitamix 5200 Ultimate Juicer & Blender, on sale TODAY ONLY for just $649.99. I know what you’re thinking – isn’t that a bit steep for a juicer? Not when I tell you that it comes with a lifetime warranty on everything but the blade and the motor, and they even throw in a juicer recipe DVD. So, I added it to the cart.

And what’s better after a vigorous workout than a cold beer? That’s why I also had to get the Wine Enthusiast N’FINITY 340-bottle Multi-temp Glass Door Wine Cellar – a must have for only $2,999.99. Okay, I admit I don’t drink wine – or beer for that matter – but I’m fairly sure it could easily double as a fruit/vegetable crisper, which I will have plenty of, now that I bought the Vitamix 5200 juicer machine.

As I lugged my growing series of flatbed carts through the store, I happened upon the garden center display. I have to tell you that all-weather wrought iron patio set with collapsible umbrella looked so summery. But I was not about to succumb to that temptation – not when I already owned two other patio sets from previous trips to Costco. No, I realized that a much wiser investment would be the Easy Grow 8′ x 8′ Greenhouse with double doors and three vents for just $1,299.99. I actually had never thought about taking up horticulture until precisely that instant. But then I realized: what a wonderful hobby to do with my girl  when we retire 11 years from now. She will respect that I am planning ahead. Into the cart it went.

I’m not sure how long this buying contagion lasted. It was all a bit of a blur. One incredible bargain after another: a two-in-one gas-powered tiller-mulcher (for that exquisitely thatched lawn). Then there was the twelve-month supply of Huggies disposable diapers. I know my kid is all grown up. But the savings were too great to pass up.

I kept adding more items to more flatbed carts. It wasn’t until I got out of the store and noticed I had somehow also managed to purchase a Dayton brand Solid Wood Casket with an off-white, full-velvet interior and gold-plated swing bar handles that I suspected I might have gone a bit overboard. Okay, so I’d gone completely out of control. But I figured a casket might actually come in quite handy in the very near future, because, with everything I’d bought today, for sure my girl was going to kill me.

Shopping at Costco can be a dangerous adventure for any  male. As I sit here, writing about my reckless Costco buying binge, I have this nagging feeling that despite everything I bought, I still forgot something. For the life of me, I can’t think of what it might be….

Oh, damn. Shampoo.  Shes definitely gonna Kill me now.

On Veterans Day A poem a soldier wrote on the death of another man

nochancepappy webblog

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” -John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“I dream of giving birth to a child who will ask, ‘Mother, what was war?'” -Eve Merriam

This is one of the most touching poems you will read about the anguish any soldier or person inflicts upon himself when in war, when he causes the death of another. Being as I was Iraq/Somalia and Kosovo as a US Army Special Forces soldier this was a reality and a fear that we all held. I remember vividly like it was yesterday seeing a soldier blown to pieces 20 yds from me.

I pray everyday I will never have to embrace this kind of horror again, but I stood ready as we trained to. I know a lot of men and woman who have had to…

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Learn from a Hustler and write your own paycheck

Once, I heard a non-hustler say, “I can’t live on the money my company pays me.” This person felt his company owed him enough money to meet the standard of living he had set for himself.

Another time, a non-hustler said to me, “No one paid for my college, so I didn’t get to go.” This non-hustler took no responsibility for making his own way through college, believing it was his parents’ obligation to foot the bill. Like most non-hustlers, these two had a strong sense of entitlement.

Hustlers, on the other hand, know no one owes them anything. They believe they can have anything they desire by doing the work necessary to obtain it, whether it’s a material possession or something more important, such as a meaningful relationship, personal growth and a contribution to their communities. Because they don’t feel entitled, hustlers do the work.

Because hustlers do not feel a sense of entitlement, they don’t wait around for someone to pay them what they’re worth. Hustlers don’t resent their bosses or companies for not paying them more. Instead, they make their contribution, take on responsibility and hold themselves accountable for producing greater results.

For truly great success, you must know what it is you need to do. No one else can show you…

The non-hustler becomes resentful if he doesn’t receive more money. He gets angry and stews, looking around for others to validate his conviction that he is owed something.

Hustlers don’t feel that anything they lack is something they’re due. They don’t believe it’s anyone else’s responsibility to educate them. They don’t miss the trust funds they were never given. Hustlers don’t blame any past deprivation for their current circumstances. To the hustler, the lack of something he desires is simply fuel for his passion to go out and get it.

No one owes you anything—not your parents, your government, your school system, your society, your employer. Believing this will liberate you from the prison of entitlement and empower you to act on your own behalf.

If you want to be successful, you must observe this one important rule: Let no one ever tell you what your paycheck should be.

If someone has to tell you what your goals are, then the only goals you’ll have are someone else’s.
If someone has to tell you what your major responsibilities are, then you aren’t doing enough to be as successful as you could be.
If someone has to remind you what you need to do, you’re likely failing yourself.
If someone has to tell you what to do, then you’re squandering the gift of being human and wasting your initiative, resourcefulness, creativity and determination.

If you work for someone else, develop your own goals and define what success means beyond what your company needs you to do. Seek out new responsibilities, take it upon yourself to find out what needs to be done and do it. Be so proactive that no one will ever dare tell you what to do. Do all these things and you will soon find yourself in a leadership role.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, own your own company and do your own thing, there won’t be anyone there to tell you what to do. Until you develop the ability to do what is necessary without being told, you aren’t ready to strike out on your own. Until you are willing to do what must be done—even when you absolutely don’t want to do it—you’ll never reach the level of success of which you are capable.

Would you like to know the secret to success? It’s taking 100 percent responsibility for everything you experience in your life. This includes the level of your achievements, the results you produce, the quality of your relationships, the state of your health and physical fitness, your income, your debts, your feelings—everything! This is not easy to do.

In fact, most of us have been conditioned to blame something outside ourselves for the parts of our lives we don’t like. We tend to blame our parents, our bosses, our friends, our co-workers, our clients, our spouses, the weather, the economy, our astrological charts, our poor finances—anyone or anything on which we can pin the blame. We never want to look at where the real problem lies: ourselves.

If you want to create the life of your dreams, then you must take 100 percent responsibility for your life as it is right now. That means giving up all your excuses, all your victim stories, all the reasons why you can’t do something and why you haven’t done something up until now and all your need to blame outside circumstances. You have to give them all up…forever.

You must take the position that you have always had the power to make it different, to get it right, to produce the desired results. For whatever reason (ignorance, lack of awareness, fear, needing to be right, needing to feel safe) you have chosen not to exercise that power. Who knows why? It really doesn’t matter. The past is the past. All that matters now is that from this point forward you will choose—that’s right, it’s a choice—to act as if (that’s all that’s required: to act as if) you are 100 percent responsible for everything that does or does not happen to you

If something doesn’t turn out as planned, you will ask yourself “How did I create that? What thoughts did I have to bring this about? What were my beliefs? What did I say or not say? What did I do or not do to create that result? How did I get the other person to act that way? What do I need to do differently next time to get the result I want?”

Here’s an exercise to help you do that. Answer each question as honestly as you can:

What is a difficult or troubling situation in your life?
How are you creating it or allowing it to happen?
What are you pretending not to know?
What is the payoff for keeping things the way they are?
What would you rather be experiencing?
What actions will you take to create that?
By what date will you take that action?

It’s easy to blame someone or something else for the disappointments you face in life. But by owning every aspect of your life, you are simply recognizing that the power to create the life you’ve dreamed of has been yours all along.

Learn from everyone; seek out good advice; model yourself on those you admire—but let no one tell you how much you are worth. Write your own paycheck

Personal Renewal

I’m going to talk about “Self-Renewal.” One of your most fundamental tasks is the renewal of the organizations you serve, and that usually includes persuading the top officers to accomplish a certain amount of self-renewal. But to help you think about others is not my primary mission this morning. I want to help you think about yourselves.

I take that mission very seriously, and I’ve written out what I have to say because I want every sentence to hit its target. I know a good deal about the kind of work you do and know how demanding it is. But I’m not going to talk about the special problems of your kind of career; I’m going to talk about some basic problems of the life cycle that will surely hit you if you’re not ready for them.

I once wrote a book called “Self-Renewal” that deals with the decay and renewal of societies, organizations and individuals. I explored the question of why civilizations die and how they sometimes renew themselves, and the puzzle of why some men and women go to seed while others remain vital all of their lives. It’s the latter question that I shall deal with at this time. I know that you as an individual are not going to seed. But the person seated on your right may be in fairly serious danger.

Not long ago, I read a splendid article on barnacles. I don’t want to give the wrong impression of the focus of my reading interests. Sometimes days go by without my reading about barnacles, much less remembering what I read. But this article had an unforgettable opening paragraph. “The barnacle” the author explained “is confronted with an existential decision about where it’s going to live. Once it decides.. . it spends the rest of its life with its head cemented to a rock..” End of quote. For a good many of us, it comes to that.

We’ve all seen men and women, even ones in fortunate circumstances with responsible positions who seem to run out of steam in midcareer.

One must be compassionate in assessing the reasons. Perhaps life just presented them with tougher problems than they could solve. It happens. Perhaps something inflicted a major wound on their confidence or their self-esteem. Perhaps they were pulled down by the hidden resentments and grievances that grow in adult life, sometimes so luxuriantly that, like tangled vines, they immobilize the victim. You’ve known such people — feeling secretly defeated, maybe somewhat sour and cynical, or perhaps just vaguely dispirited. Or maybe they just ran so hard for so long that somewhere along the line they forgot what it was they were running for.

I’m not talking about people who fail to get to the top in achievement. We can’t all get to the top, and that isn’t the point of life anyway. I’m talking about people who — no matter how busy they seem to be — have stopped learning or growing. Many of them are just going through the motions. I don’t deride that. Life is hard. Just to keep on keeping on is sometimes an act of courage. But I do worry about men and women functioning far below the level of their potential.

We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know, more bored than they would care to admit. Boredom is the secret ailment of large-scale organizations. Someone said to me the other day “How can I be so bored when I’m so busy?” And I said “Let me count the ways.” Logan Pearsall Smith said that boredom can rise to the level of a mystical experience, and if that’s true I know some very busy middle level executives who are among the great mystics of all time.

We can’t write off the danger of complacency, growing rigidity, imprisonment by our own comfortable habits and opinions. Look around you. How many people whom you know well — people even younger than yourselves –are already trapped in fixed attitudes and habits. A famous French writer said “There are people whose clocks stop at a certain point in their lives.” I could without any trouble name a half of a dozen national figures resident in Washington, D.C., whom you would recognize, and could tell you roughly the year their clock stopped. I won’t do it because I still have to deal with them periodically.

I’ve watched a lot of mid-career people, and Yogi Berra says you can observe a lot just by watching. I’ve concluded that most people enjoy learning and growing. And many are dearly troubled by the self-assessments of mid-career.

Such self-assessments are no great problem at your age. You’re young and moving up. The drama of your own rise is enough. But when you reach middle age, when your energies aren’t what they used to be, then you’ll begin to wonder what it all added up to; you’ll begin to look for the figure in the carpet of your life. I have some simple advice for you when you begin that process. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Look ahead. Someone said that “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” And above all don’t imagine that the story is over. Life has a lot of chapters.

If we are conscious of the danger of going to seed, we can resort to countervailing measures. At almost any age. You don’t need to run down like an unwound clock. And if your clock is unwound, you can wind it up again. You can stay alive in every sense of the word until you fail physically. I know some pretty successful people who feel that that just isn’t possible for them, that life has trapped them. But they don’t really know that. Life takes unexpected turns.

I said in my book, “Self-Renewal,” that we build our own prisons and serve as our own jail-keepers. I no longer completely agree with that. I still think we’re our own jailkeepers, but I’ve concluded that our parents and the society at large have a hand in building our prisons. They create roles for us — and self images — that hold us captive for a long time. The individual intent on self-renewal will have to deal with ghosts of the past — the memory of earlier failures, the remnants of childhood dramas and rebellions, accumulated grievances and resentments that have long outlived their cause. Sometimes people cling to the ghosts with something almost approaching pleasure — but the hampering effect on growth is inescapable. As Jim Whitaker, who climbed Mount Everest, said “You never conquer the mountain, You only conquer yourself.”

The more I see of human lives, the more I believe the business of growing up is much longer drawn out than we pretend. If we achieve it in our 30’s, even our 40s, we’re doing well. To those of you who are parents of teenagers, I can only say “Sorry about that.”

There’s a myth that learning is for young people. But as the proverb says, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” The middle years are great, great learning years. Even the years past the middle years. I took on a new job after my 77th birthday — and I’m still learning.

Learn all your life. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes, When you hit a spell of trouble, ask “What is it trying to teach me?” The lessons aren’t always happy ones, but they keep coming. It isn’t a bad idea to pause occasionally for an inward look. By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.

We learn from our jobs, from our friends and families. We learn by accepting the commitments of life, by playing the roles that life hands us (not necessarily the roles we would have chosen). We learn by growing older, by suffering, by loving, by bearing with the things we can’t change, by taking risks.

The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You leant not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions, if you have any, which you do. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent, but pays off on character.

You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.

Those are things that are hard to learn early in life, As a rule you have to have picked up some mileage and some dents in your fenders before you understand. As Norman Douglas said “There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.’

You come to terms with yourself. You finally grasp what S. N. Behrman meant when he said “At the end of every road you meet yourself.” You may not get rid of all of your hang-ups, but you learn to control them to the point that you can function productively and not hurt others.

You learn the arts of mutual dependence, meeting the needs of loved ones and letting yourself need them. You can even be unaffected — a quality that often takes years to acquire. You can achieve the simplicity that lies beyond sophistication.

You come to understand your impact on others. It’s interesting that even in the first year of life you learn the impact that a variety of others have on you, but as late as middle age many people have a very imperfect understanding of the impact they themselves have on others. The hostile person keeps asking ‘Why are people so hard to get along with?” In some measure we create our own environment. You may not yet grasp the power of that truth to change your life.

Of course failures are a part of the story too. Everyone fails, Joe Louis said “Everyone has to figure to get beat some time.” The question isn’t did you fail but did you pick yourself up and move ahead? And there is one other little question: ‘Did you collaborate in your own defeat?” A lot of people do. Learn not to.

One of the enemies of sound, lifelong motivation is a rather childish conception we have of the kind of concrete, describable goal toward which all of our efforts drive us. We want to believe that there is a point at which we can feel that we have arrived. We want a scoring system that tells us when we’ve piled up enough points to count ourselves successful.

So you scramble and sweat and climb to reach what you thought was the goal. When you get to the top you stand up and look around and chances are you feel a little empty. Maybe more than a little empty.

You wonder whether you climbed the wrong mountain.

But life isn’t a mountain that has a summit, Nor is it — as some suppose — a riddle that has an answer. Nor a game that has a final score.

Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By potentialities I mean not just intellectual gifts but the full range of one’s capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring.

Perhaps you imagine that by age 35 or 45 or even 33 you have explored those potentialities pretty fully. Don’t kid yourself!

The thing you have to understand is that the capacities you actually develop to the full come out as the result of an interplay between you and life’s challenges –and the challenges keep changing. Life pulls things out of you.

There’s something I know about you that you may or may not know about yourself. You have within you more resources of energy than have ever been tapped, more talent than has ever been exploited, more strength than has ever been tested, more to give than you have ever given.

You know about some of the gifts that you have left undeveloped. Would you believe that you have gifts and possibilities you don’t even know about? It’s true. We are just beginning to recognize how even those who have had every advantage and opportunity unconsciously put a ceiling on their own growth, underestimate their potentialities or hide from the risk that growth involves.

Now I’ve discussed renewal at some length, but it isn’t possible to talk about renewal without touching on the subject of motivation. Someone defined horse sense as the good judgment horses have that prevents them from betting on people. But we have to bet on people — and I place my bets more often on high motivation than on any other quality except judgment. There is no perfection of techniques that will substitute for the lift of spirit and heightened performance that comes from strong motivation, The world is moved by highly motivated people, by enthusiasts, by men and women who want something very much or believe very much.

I’m not talking about anything as narrow as ambition. After all, ambition eventually wears out and probably should. But you can keep your zest until the day you die. If I may offer you a simple maxim, “Be interesting,” Everyone wants to be interesting — but the vitalizing thing is to be interested. Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things. Care. Risk failure. Reach out.

The nature of one’s personal commitments is a powerful element in renewal, so let me say a word on that subject.

I once lived in a house where I could look out a window as I worked at my desk and observe a small herd of cattle browsing in a neighboring field. And I was struck with a thought that must have occurred to the earliest herdsmen tens of thousands of years ago. You never get the impression that a cow is about to have a nervous breakdown. Or is puzzling about the meaning of life.

Humans have never mastered that kind of complacency. We are worriers and puzzlers, and we want meaning in our lives. I’m not speaking idealistically; I’m stating a plainly observable fact about men and women. It’s a rare person who can go through life like a homeless alley cat, living from day to day, taking its pleasures where it can and dying unnoticed.

That isn’t to say that we haven’t all known a few alley cats. But it isn’t the norm. It just isn’t the way we’re built.

As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Old or young, we’re on our last cruise.” We want it to mean something.

For many this life is a vale of tears; for no one is it free of pain. But we are so designed that we can cope with it if we can live in some context of meaning. Given that powerful help, we can draw on the deep springs of the human spirit, to see our suffering in the framework of all human suffering, to accept the gifts of life with thanks and endure life’s indignities with dignity.

In the stable periods of history, meaning was supplied in the context of a coherent communities and traditionally prescribed patterns of culture. Today you can’t count on any such heritage. You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments — whether to your religion, to an ethical order as you conceive it, to your life’s work, to loved ones, to your fellow humans. Young people run around searching for identity, but it isn’t handed out free any more — not in this transient, rootless, pluralistic society. Your identity is what you’ve committed yourself to.

It may just mean doing a better job at whatever you’re doing. There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are –and that too is a kind of commitment. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It matters very little whether they’re behind the wheel of a truck or running a country store or bringing up a family.

I must pause to say a word about my statement “There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are.” I first wrote the sentence some years ago and it has been widely quoted. One day I was looking through a mail order gift catalogue and it included some small ornamental bronze plaques with brief sayings on them, and one of the sayings was the one I just read to you, with my name as author. Well I was so overcome by the idea of a sentence of mine being cast in bronze that I ordered it, but then couldn’t figure out what in the world to do with it. I finally sent it to a friend.

We tend to think of youth and the active middle years as the years of commitment. As you get a little older, you’re told you’ve earned the right to think about yourself. But that’s a deadly prescription! People of every age need commitments beyond the self, need the meaning that commitments provide. Self-preoccupation is a prison, as every self-absorbed person finally knows. Commitments to larger purposes can get you out of prison.

Another significant ingredient in motivation is one’s attitude toward the future. Optimism is unfashionable today, particularly among intellectuals. Everyone makes fun of it. Someone said “Pessimists got that way by financing optimists.” But I am not pessimistic and I advise you not to be. As the fellow said, “I’d be a pessimist but it would never work.”

I can tell you that for renewal, a tough-minded optimism is best. The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future. Men and women of vitality have always been prepared to bet their futures, even their lives, on ventures of unknown outcome. If they had all looked before they leaped, we would still be crouched in caves sketching animal pictures on the wall,

But I did say tough-minded optimism. High hopes that are dashed by the first failure are precisely what we don’t need. We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose that the path will be easy, it’s tough. Life is painful, and rain falls on the just, and Mr. Churchill was not being a pessimist when he said “I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He had a great deal more to offer, but as a good leader he was saying it wasn’t going to be easy, and he was also saying something that all great leaders say constantly — that failure is simply a reason to strengthen resolve.

We cannot dream of a Utopia in which all arrangements are ideal and everyone is flawless. Life is tumultuous — an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory.

Nothing is ever finally safe. Every important battle is fought and re-fought. We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face those realities and still strive with every ounce of energy to prevail. You may wonder if such a struggle — endless and of uncertain outcome — isn’t more than humans can bear. But all of history suggests that the human spirit is well fitted to cope with just that kind of world.

Remember I mentioned earlier the myth that learning is for young people. I want to give you some examples, In a piece I wrote for Reader’s Digest not long ago, I gave what seemed to me a particularly interesting true example of renewal. The man in question was 53 years old. Most of his adult life had been a losing struggle against debt and misfortune. In military service he received a battlefield injury that denied him the use of his left arm. And he was seized and held in captivity for five years. Later he held two government jobs, succeeding at neither. At 53 he was in prison — and not for the first time. There in prison, he decided to write a book, driven by Heaven knows what motive — boredom, the hope of gain, emotional release, creative impulse, who can say? And the book turned out to be one of the greatest ever written, a book that has enthralled the world for ever 350 years. The prisoner was Cervantes; the book: Don Quixote.

Another example was Pope John XXIII, a serious man who found a lot to laugh about. The son of peasant farmers, he once said “In Italy there are three roads to poverty — drinking, gambling and fanning. My family chose the slowest of the three.” When someone asked him how many people worked in the Vatican he said “Oh, about half.” He was 76 years old when he was elected Pope. Through a lifetime in the bureaucracy, the spark of spirit and imagination had remained undimmed, and when he reached the top he launched the most vigorous renewal that the Church has known in this century.

Still another example is Winston Churchill. At age 25, as a correspondent in the Boer War he became a prisoner of war and his dramatic escape made him a national hero. Elected to Parliament at 26, he performed brilliantly, held high cabinet posts with distinction and at 37 became First Lord of the Admiralty. Then he was discredited, unjustly, I believe, by the Dardanelles expedition — the defeat at Gallipoli– and lost his admiralty post. There followed 24 years of ups and downs. All too often the verdict on him was “Brilliant but erratic…not steady, not dependable.” He had only himself to blame. A friend described him as a man who jaywalked through life. He was 66 before his moment of flowering came. Someone said “It’s all right to be a late bloomer if you don’t miss the flower show.” Churchill didn’t miss it.

Well, I won’t give you any more examples. From those I’ve given I hope it’s clear to you that the door of opportunity doesn’t really close as long as you’re reasonably healthy. And I don’t just mean opportunity for high status, but opportunity to grow and enrich your life in every dimension. You just don’t know what’s ahead for you. And remember the words on the bronze plaque “Some men and women make the world better just by being the kind of people they are.” To be that kind of person would be worth all the years of living and learning.

Many years ago I concluded a speech with a paragraph on the meaning in life. The speech was reprinted over the years, and 15 years later that final paragraph came back to me in a rather dramatic way, really a heartbreaking way.

A man wrote to me from Colorado saying that his 20 year-old daughter had been killed in an auto accident some weeks before and that she was carrying in her billfold a paragraph from a speech of mine. He said he was grateful because the paragraph — and the fact that she kept it close to her — told him something he might not otherwise have known about her values and concerns. I can’t imagine where or how she came across the paragraph, but here it is:

“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”

I’m going to talk about “Self-Renewal.” One of your most fundamental tasks is the renewal of the organizations you serve, and that usually includes persuading the top officers to accomplish a certain amount of self-renewal. But to help you think about others is not my primary mission this morning. I want to help you think about yourselves.

I take that mission very seriously, and I’ve written out what I have to say because I want every sentence to hit its target. I know a good deal about the kind of work you do and know how demanding it is. But I’m not going to talk about the special problems of your kind of career; I’m going to talk about some basic problems of the life cycle that will surely hit you if you’re not ready for them.

I once wrote a book called “Self-Renewal” that deals with the decay and renewal of societies, organizations and individuals. I explored the question of why civilizations die and how they sometimes renew themselves, and the puzzle of why some men and women go to seed while others remain vital all of their lives. It’s the latter question that I shall deal with at this time. I know that you as an individual are not going to seed. But the person seated on your right may be in fairly serious danger.

Not long ago, I read a splendid article on barnacles. I don’t want to give the wrong impression of the focus of my reading interests. Sometimes days go by without my reading about barnacles, much less remembering what I read. But this article had an unforgettable opening paragraph. “The barnacle” the author explained “is confronted with an existential decision about where it’s going to live. Once it decides.. . it spends the rest of its life with its head cemented to a rock..” End of quote. For a good many of us, it comes to that.

We’ve all seen men and women, even ones in fortunate circumstances with responsible positions who seem to run out of steam in midcareer.

One must be compassionate in assessing the reasons. Perhaps life just presented them with tougher problems than they could solve. It happens. Perhaps something inflicted a major wound on their confidence or their self-esteem. Perhaps they were pulled down by the hidden resentments and grievances that grow in adult life, sometimes so luxuriantly that, like tangled vines, they immobilize the victim. You’ve known such people — feeling secretly defeated, maybe somewhat sour and cynical, or perhaps just vaguely dispirited. Or maybe they just ran so hard for so long that somewhere along the line they forgot what it was they were running for.

I’m not talking about people who fail to get to the top in achievement. We can’t all get to the top, and that isn’t the point of life anyway. I’m talking about people who — no matter how busy they seem to be — have stopped learning or growing. Many of them are just going through the motions. I don’t deride that. Life is hard. Just to keep on keeping on is sometimes an act of courage. But I do worry about men and women functioning far below the level of their potential.

We have to face the fact that most men and women out there in the world of work are more stale than they know, more bored than they would care to admit. Boredom is the secret ailment of large-scale organizations. Someone said to me the other day “How can I be so bored when I’m so busy?” And I said “Let me count the ways.” Logan Pearsall Smith said that boredom can rise to the level of a mystical experience, and if that’s true I know some very busy middle level executives who are among the great mystics of all time.

We can’t write off the danger of complacency, growing rigidity, imprisonment by our own comfortable habits and opinions. Look around you. How many people whom you know well — people even younger than yourselves –are already trapped in fixed attitudes and habits. A famous French writer said “There are people whose clocks stop at a certain point in their lives.” I could without any trouble name a half of a dozen national figures resident in Washington, D.C., whom you would recognize, and could tell you roughly the year their clock stopped. I won’t do it because I still have to deal with them periodically.

I’ve watched a lot of mid-career people, and Yogi Berra says you can observe a lot just by watching. I’ve concluded that most people enjoy learning and growing. And many are dearly troubled by the self-assessments of mid-career.

Such self-assessments are no great problem at your age. You’re young and moving up. The drama of your own rise is enough. But when you reach middle age, when your energies aren’t what they used to be, then you’ll begin to wonder what it all added up to; you’ll begin to look for the figure in the carpet of your life. I have some simple advice for you when you begin that process. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Look ahead. Someone said that “Life is the art of drawing without an eraser.” And above all don’t imagine that the story is over. Life has a lot of chapters.

If we are conscious of the danger of going to seed, we can resort to countervailing measures. At almost any age. You don’t need to run down like an unwound clock. And if your clock is unwound, you can wind it up again. You can stay alive in every sense of the word until you fail physically. I know some pretty successful people who feel that that just isn’t possible for them, that life has trapped them. But they don’t really know that. Life takes unexpected turns.

I said in my book, “Self-Renewal,” that we build our own prisons and serve as our own jail-keepers. I no longer completely agree with that. I still think we’re our own jailkeepers, but I’ve concluded that our parents and the society at large have a hand in building our prisons. They create roles for us — and self images — that hold us captive for a long time. The individual intent on self-renewal will have to deal with ghosts of the past — the memory of earlier failures, the remnants of childhood dramas and rebellions, accumulated grievances and resentments that have long outlived their cause. Sometimes people cling to the ghosts with something almost approaching pleasure — but the hampering effect on growth is inescapable. As Jim Whitaker, who climbed Mount Everest, said “You never conquer the mountain, You only conquer yourself.”

The more I see of human lives, the more I believe the business of growing up is much longer drawn out than we pretend. If we achieve it in our 30’s, even our 40s, we’re doing well. To those of you who are parents of teenagers, I can only say “Sorry about that.”

There’s a myth that learning is for young people. But as the proverb says, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” The middle years are great, great learning years. Even the years past the middle years. I took on a new job after my 77th birthday — and I’m still learning.

Learn all your life. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes, When you hit a spell of trouble, ask “What is it trying to teach me?” The lessons aren’t always happy ones, but they keep coming. It isn’t a bad idea to pause occasionally for an inward look. By midlife, most of us are accomplished fugitives from ourselves.

We learn from our jobs, from our friends and families. We learn by accepting the commitments of life, by playing the roles that life hands us (not necessarily the roles we would have chosen). We learn by growing older, by suffering, by loving, by bearing with the things we can’t change, by taking risks.

The things you learn in maturity aren’t simple things such as acquiring information and skills. You learn not to engage in self-destructive behavior. You leant not to burn up energy in anxiety. You discover how to manage your tensions, if you have any, which you do. You learn that self-pity and resentment are among the most toxic of drugs. You find that the world loves talent, but pays off on character.

You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.

Those are things that are hard to learn early in life, As a rule you have to have picked up some mileage and some dents in your fenders before you understand. As Norman Douglas said “There are some things you can’t learn from others. You have to pass through the fire.’

You come to terms with yourself. You finally grasp what S. N. Behrman meant when he said “At the end of every road you meet yourself.” You may not get rid of all of your hang-ups, but you learn to control them to the point that you can function productively and not hurt others.

You learn the arts of mutual dependence, meeting the needs of loved ones and letting yourself need them. You can even be unaffected — a quality that often takes years to acquire. You can achieve the simplicity that lies beyond sophistication.

You come to understand your impact on others. It’s interesting that even in the first year of life you learn the impact that a variety of others have on you, but as late as middle age many people have a very imperfect understanding of the impact they themselves have on others. The hostile person keeps asking ‘Why are people so hard to get along with?” In some measure we create our own environment. You may not yet grasp the power of that truth to change your life.

Of course failures are a part of the story too. Everyone fails, Joe Louis said “Everyone has to figure to get beat some time.” The question isn’t did you fail but did you pick yourself up and move ahead? And there is one other little question: ‘Did you collaborate in your own defeat?” A lot of people do. Learn not to.

One of the enemies of sound, lifelong motivation is a rather childish conception we have of the kind of concrete, describable goal toward which all of our efforts drive us. We want to believe that there is a point at which we can feel that we have arrived. We want a scoring system that tells us when we’ve piled up enough points to count ourselves successful.

So you scramble and sweat and climb to reach what you thought was the goal. When you get to the top you stand up and look around and chances are you feel a little empty. Maybe more than a little empty.

You wonder whether you climbed the wrong mountain.

But life isn’t a mountain that has a summit, Nor is it — as some suppose — a riddle that has an answer. Nor a game that has a final score.

Life is an endless unfolding, and if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery, an endless and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life situations in which we find ourselves. By potentialities I mean not just intellectual gifts but the full range of one’s capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring.

Perhaps you imagine that by age 35 or 45 or even 33 you have explored those potentialities pretty fully. Don’t kid yourself!

The thing you have to understand is that the capacities you actually develop to the full come out as the result of an interplay between you and life’s challenges –and the challenges keep changing. Life pulls things out of you.

There’s something I know about you that you may or may not know about yourself. You have within you more resources of energy than have ever been tapped, more talent than has ever been exploited, more strength than has ever been tested, more to give than you have ever given.

You know about some of the gifts that you have left undeveloped. Would you believe that you have gifts and possibilities you don’t even know about? It’s true. We are just beginning to recognize how even those who have had every advantage and opportunity unconsciously put a ceiling on their own growth, underestimate their potentialities or hide from the risk that growth involves.

Now I’ve discussed renewal at some length, but it isn’t possible to talk about renewal without touching on the subject of motivation. Someone defined horse sense as the good judgment horses have that prevents them from betting on people. But we have to bet on people — and I place my bets more often on high motivation than on any other quality except judgment. There is no perfection of techniques that will substitute for the lift of spirit and heightened performance that comes from strong motivation, The world is moved by highly motivated people, by enthusiasts, by men and women who want something very much or believe very much.

I’m not talking about anything as narrow as ambition. After all, ambition eventually wears out and probably should. But you can keep your zest until the day you die. If I may offer you a simple maxim, “Be interesting,” Everyone wants to be interesting — but the vitalizing thing is to be interested. Keep a sense of curiosity. Discover new things. Care. Risk failure. Reach out.

The nature of one’s personal commitments is a powerful element in renewal, so let me say a word on that subject.

I once lived in a house where I could look out a window as I worked at my desk and observe a small herd of cattle browsing in a neighboring field. And I was struck with a thought that must have occurred to the earliest herdsmen tens of thousands of years ago. You never get the impression that a cow is about to have a nervous breakdown. Or is puzzling about the meaning of life.

Humans have never mastered that kind of complacency. We are worriers and puzzlers, and we want meaning in our lives. I’m not speaking idealistically; I’m stating a plainly observable fact about men and women. It’s a rare person who can go through life like a homeless alley cat, living from day to day, taking its pleasures where it can and dying unnoticed.

That isn’t to say that we haven’t all known a few alley cats. But it isn’t the norm. It just isn’t the way we’re built.

As Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Old or young, we’re on our last cruise.” We want it to mean something.

For many this life is a vale of tears; for no one is it free of pain. But we are so designed that we can cope with it if we can live in some context of meaning. Given that powerful help, we can draw on the deep springs of the human spirit, to see our suffering in the framework of all human suffering, to accept the gifts of life with thanks and endure life’s indignities with dignity.

In the stable periods of history, meaning was supplied in the context of a coherent communities and traditionally prescribed patterns of culture. Today you can’t count on any such heritage. You have to build meaning into your life, and you build it through your commitments — whether to your religion, to an ethical order as you conceive it, to your life’s work, to loved ones, to your fellow humans. Young people run around searching for identity, but it isn’t handed out free any more — not in this transient, rootless, pluralistic society. Your identity is what you’ve committed yourself to.

It may just mean doing a better job at whatever you’re doing. There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are –and that too is a kind of commitment. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It matters very little whether they’re behind the wheel of a truck or running a country store or bringing up a family.

I must pause to say a word about my statement “There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are.” I first wrote the sentence some years ago and it has been widely quoted. One day I was looking through a mail order gift catalogue and it included some small ornamental bronze plaques with brief sayings on them, and one of the sayings was the one I just read to you, with my name as author. Well I was so overcome by the idea of a sentence of mine being cast in bronze that I ordered it, but then couldn’t figure out what in the world to do with it. I finally sent it to a friend.

We tend to think of youth and the active middle years as the years of commitment. As you get a little older, you’re told you’ve earned the right to think about yourself. But that’s a deadly prescription! People of every age need commitments beyond the self, need the meaning that commitments provide. Self-preoccupation is a prison, as every self-absorbed person finally knows. Commitments to larger purposes can get you out of prison.

Another significant ingredient in motivation is one’s attitude toward the future. Optimism is unfashionable today, particularly among intellectuals. Everyone makes fun of it. Someone said “Pessimists got that way by financing optimists.” But I am not pessimistic and I advise you not to be. As the fellow said, “I’d be a pessimist but it would never work.”

I can tell you that for renewal, a tough-minded optimism is best. The future is not shaped by people who don’t really believe in the future. Men and women of vitality have always been prepared to bet their futures, even their lives, on ventures of unknown outcome. If they had all looked before they leaped, we would still be crouched in caves sketching animal pictures on the wall,

But I did say tough-minded optimism. High hopes that are dashed by the first failure are precisely what we don’t need. We have to believe in ourselves, but we mustn’t suppose that the path will be easy, it’s tough. Life is painful, and rain falls on the just, and Mr. Churchill was not being a pessimist when he said “I have nothing to offer, but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” He had a great deal more to offer, but as a good leader he was saying it wasn’t going to be easy, and he was also saying something that all great leaders say constantly — that failure is simply a reason to strengthen resolve.

We cannot dream of a Utopia in which all arrangements are ideal and everyone is flawless. Life is tumultuous — an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory.

Nothing is ever finally safe. Every important battle is fought and re-fought. We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face those realities and still strive with every ounce of energy to prevail. You may wonder if such a struggle — endless and of uncertain outcome — isn’t more than humans can bear. But all of history suggests that the human spirit is well fitted to cope with just that kind of world.

Remember I mentioned earlier the myth that learning is for young people. I want to give you some examples, In a piece I wrote for Reader’s Digest not long ago, I gave what seemed to me a particularly interesting true example of renewal. The man in question was 53 years old. Most of his adult life had been a losing struggle against debt and misfortune. In military service he received a battlefield injury that denied him the use of his left arm. And he was seized and held in captivity for five years. Later he held two government jobs, succeeding at neither. At 53 he was in prison — and not for the first time. There in prison, he decided to write a book, driven by Heaven knows what motive — boredom, the hope of gain, emotional release, creative impulse, who can say? And the book turned out to be one of the greatest ever written, a book that has enthralled the world for ever 350 years. The prisoner was Cervantes; the book: Don Quixote.

Another example was Pope John XXIII, a serious man who found a lot to laugh about. The son of peasant farmers, he once said “In Italy there are three roads to poverty — drinking, gambling and fanning. My family chose the slowest of the three.” When someone asked him how many people worked in the Vatican he said “Oh, about half.” He was 76 years old when he was elected Pope. Through a lifetime in the bureaucracy, the spark of spirit and imagination had remained undimmed, and when he reached the top he launched the most vigorous renewal that the Church has known in this century.

Still another example is Winston Churchill. At age 25, as a correspondent in the Boer War he became a prisoner of war and his dramatic escape made him a national hero. Elected to Parliament at 26, he performed brilliantly, held high cabinet posts with distinction and at 37 became First Lord of the Admiralty. Then he was discredited, unjustly, I believe, by the Dardanelles expedition — the defeat at Gallipoli– and lost his admiralty post. There followed 24 years of ups and downs. All too often the verdict on him was “Brilliant but erratic…not steady, not dependable.” He had only himself to blame. A friend described him as a man who jaywalked through life. He was 66 before his moment of flowering came. Someone said “It’s all right to be a late bloomer if you don’t miss the flower show.” Churchill didn’t miss it.

Well, I won’t give you any more examples. From those I’ve given I hope it’s clear to you that the door of opportunity doesn’t really close as long as you’re reasonably healthy. And I don’t just mean opportunity for high status, but opportunity to grow and enrich your life in every dimension. You just don’t know what’s ahead for you. And remember the words on the bronze plaque “Some men and women make the world better just by being the kind of people they are.” To be that kind of person would be worth all the years of living and learning.

Many years ago I concluded a speech with a paragraph on the meaning in life. The speech was reprinted over the years, and 15 years later that final paragraph came back to me in a rather dramatic way, really a heartbreaking way.

A man wrote to me from Colorado saying that his 20 year-old daughter had been killed in an auto accident some weeks before and that she was carrying in her billfold a paragraph from a speech of mine. He said he was grateful because the paragraph — and the fact that she kept it close to her — told him something he might not otherwise have known about her values and concerns. I can’t imagine where or how she came across the paragraph, but here it is:

“Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.”

Personal Renewal”
Delivered to McKinsey & Company, Phoenix, AZ
November 10, 1990
John Gardner

What men really mean when they dont know what to say

I’m going fishing.”
Really means…”I’m going to drink myself dangerously stupid, and stand by a stream with a stick in my hand, while the fish swim by in complete safety.”

“It’s a guy thing.”
Really means….”There is no rational thought pattern connected with it, and you have no chance at all of making it logical.”

“Can I help with dinner?”
Really means….”Why isn’t it already on the table?”

“Uh huh,” “Sure, honey,” or “Yes, dear.”
Really means….Absolutely nothing. It’s a conditioned response.

“It would take too long to explain.”
Really means…”I have no idea how it works.”

“We’re going to be late.”
Really means….”Now I have a legitimate excuse to drive like a maniac.”

“I was listening to you. It’s just that I have things on my mind.”
Really means….”I was wondering if that red-head over there is wearing a bra.”

“Take a break, honey, you’re working too hard.”
Really means….”I can’t hear the game over the vacuum cleaner.”

“That’s interesting, dear.”
Really means….’ I really wasn’t listening”

“It’s a really good movie.”
Really means….”It’s got guns, knives, fast cars, and beautiful women.”

“That’s women’s work.”
Really means….”It’s difficult, dirty, and thankless.”

“You know how bad my memory is.”
Really means…. “I remember the theme song to ‘F Troop’, the address of the first girl I ever kissed and the Vehicle Identification Numbers of every car I’ve ever owned, but I forgot your birthday.”

“I was just thinking about you, and got you these roses.”
Really means…. “The girl selling them on the corner was a real babe and they were cheap.”

“Oh, don’t fuss. I just cut myself, it’s no big deal.”
Really means…. “I have actually severed a limb, but will bleed to death before I admit I’m hurt.”

“Hey, I’ve got my reasons for what I’m doing.”
Really means…. “And I sure hope I think of some pretty soon.”

“I can’t find it.”
Really means…. “It didn’t fall into my outstretched hands, so I’m completely clueless.”

“What did I do this time?”
Really means…. “What did you catch me at?”

“I heard you.”
Really means…. “I haven’t the foggiest clue what you just said, and am hoping desperately that I can fake it well enough so that you don’t spend the next 3 days yelling at me.”

“You know I could never love anyone else.”
Really means…. “I am used to the way you yell at me, and realize it could be worse.”

“You look terrific.”
Really means…. “Oh, God, please don’t try on one more outfit. I’m starving.”

“I’m not lost. I know exactly where we are.”
Really means…. “No one will ever see us alive again.”

“We share the housework.”
Really means…. “I make the messes, she cleans them up.”