A self-made man

I’ve discovered that surfing the web when bored can be a great way to generate ideas. Since I take in information intuitively and tend to hit on patterns, I find surfing ultimately serves as a fire-starter that triggers new and different ideas and concepts. Before I know it, the emerging pattern sparks an “aha” moment, and I reap the benefit of a welcome shift in my perspective.

That’s my explanation for what happened when I ran across Bonnie Carlyle’s sculpture, “Self Made Man.” This bronze figure powerfully wields a hammer with one (well-muscled) arm while gazing toward the chisel steadied by his other hand and aimed toward his thigh. His torso twists with the palpable effort he’s preparing to muster so he might free his legs from an unfinished block of stone. It’s a powerful metaphor.

It reminds me of Michaelangelo, who reportedly said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” What a wonderful illustration of purpose and vision, which I imagine must be pretty necessary for a sculptor staring at a block of uncut stone.

About a week later, I tuned in to Joe Tye’s (America’s Values Coach) “Never Fear, Never Quit” webinar. Bazinga! One of the introductory slides held the image of Carlyle’s “Self-Made Man.” Joe Tye holds that we are given tools all throughout our lives that we use (if we choose) to carve away what doesn’t contribute to our lives. I like that. It’s great wisdom.

Think about this for a moment: You are both sculptor and sculpture. That’s quite the light bulb moment, isn’t it? There’s no doubt in my mind that I am the sum of my parts, the culmination of my experiences and decisions, my successes and mistakes. Every day I am the sculptor who continues to create and re-create the sculpture of myself, to work on chipping off anything that is less than what I envision. And what’s the goal? To free myself from the stone, or to eternally chip away and emerge, bit by bit, never quite finished, never quite “there?” It’s a great question.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve caught “perfection” thoughts carousing in my brain. “If only I can achieve this, I’ll be …” “When I reach this goal, I’ll …” “Once I’ve got enough, it …” Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not against goals at all; I’m all for the process of moving through life toward them. But it’s the process that matters, in the end. Author and mythologist Joseph Campbell said it well: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” In our headlong pursuit of a goal that drives our entire existence, we tend to miss the unfolding of our lives.

I have a friend who lived the first half of her life focused on a vision of herself at 40: married with the requisite 2.5 kids, a cat and a dog, living in a lovely 4-bedroom house with a spacious yard in a nice housing development, driving a fine, new car, loving a wonderful husband and enjoying the luxury of working part-time. Her reality at age 40 was quite different: she found herself divorced for the third time with no kids, one cat, living in a decent but modest four-square house on an older residential street with a small yard, driving an older model Dodge, and facing the necessity of working full-time.  She was successful, talented, laden with friends and living a life of many opportunities. But that goal … oh, how it taunted, teased, and mocked. For her, the journey was nothing, the achievement was everything. And, as a result, she wound up locked in a hospital for four weeks with a breakdown.

So you see, I rather think it’s appropriate that the Self-Made Man remains eternally locked in stone, forever straining to carve away pieces that don’t serve him well. That’s because I don’t think it really matters if we actually get there – to perfection, that is – because it’s the journey that’s important, after all.

Consider: how many people do you know who “arrive” but who don’t really seem much happier? How many of them actually relax and enjoy that accomplishment? Most simply set the bar even higher. The ones who are satisfied are a rare breed.

I believe this:  yes, those who enjoy the journey might possibly get lost, but they also understand that a goal must be fluid and open to change. They know in their hearts that the journey matters and that the goal – although it lends direction, structure, and meaning – is not really the objective. They’ve learned that those who strive only for that goal may never truly “live” their lives. Best of all, they know how to be mindful of the moments that make up life.

And that’s why I think the Self Made Man offers such a perspective switch for me. We are always becoming; we never become. Enjoying the journey leads to happiness and satisfaction. You know what Ray Kroc (of McDonald’s fame) said, don’t you? “When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.” Not nearly so eloquent as the Self-Made Man, but it’s the same concept. There’s a metaphor in there for the living of life.

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