“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.”– Leonardo da Vinci, artist
“… only had resources for one consultation…”
Ambrose was a short man whose limited height was accentuated by his obesity. When he sat down in my office, he had to stop for a second…to catch his breath. His physical health was not great. But, that was not his concern. He was interested only in his mental health.
Ambrose was over sixty years of age and had been born to a large, poor family in Spain. He had immigrated to Canada twenty years earlier, leaving behind two ex-wives and, at least two children he knew about. He said, he had ‘run away’ to Canada, to start again.
Ambrose had just left his most recent employer after working hard for them for many years. Now, he had a small pension which gave him enough to get by on, if he was very careful with his finances.
He said, because of this, he only had resources for one consultation, so he wanted to get to it, right away. When I asked him what would he like to accomplish in the next hour that would serve him, he replied,
“As you can see my health is not great. I don’t know how much time I have left on this earth. But, what I do know…I want my life to be a success in some way. I have watched the people around me strive for success. Their efforts have been fascinating to observe. I don’t know if any of them are achieving success…I’m not even sure they know how to define success. But they keep pushing on, hoping to achieve it somehow. But, I want to know what success is. Then, I can focus the rest of my time on achieving, at least, some measure of it…does that sound sensible or even achievable from your perspective?”
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain, author
“…I have been in a confused state for some time…”
I replied, “Ambrose, your observations suggest to me you have already have lots of wisdom. How have you been defining success up to now?”
“For many years, I thought it was having a well paying, satisfying job…but I soon realized that was too narrow a perspective. Then, I suspected it was having healthy relationships with family and friends…but, that too, was just not enough. When my health was much better than it is now, I decided being well was the secret to success…but again, it was not enough in itself. So, I have been in a confused state for some time…and with my health deteriorating, I’m feeling increased pressure to find out.”
“Ambrose, success is a very personal thing…defined by each individual in relation to their purpose and values!”
“That sounds like success is determined more internally and externally…is that what you mean, Ken?”
“Society defines success in terms of public values, while individuals must determine their own version of success, based on their own personal values.”
“So, my past determines if I will be successful…is that what you’re saying, Ken?”
“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” – Marcus Aurelius, soldier
“…three questions which will help you uncover whether you are successful…”
“Not really, no! I’m suggesting your success will be unique to you because of your unique past, and your unique value system which came from it. They are connected together…but most people are not aware of the connection, and so often feel unsuccessful, when in fact, they have been.”
“Does that mean I could already be successful, and not even realize it?”
“Ambrose, yes it does!”
“I can ask you three questions which will help you uncover whether you are successful, as you define it, within your values! Would that interest you?”
“It sure would, Ken!”
“First question is, do you have any regrets about your past, or can you now see how each event, both cost and benefitted you, to get you to this moment?” I asked.
“That’s a loaded question, Ken? I’ve spent the last number of years on just that very topic. I have managed to develop fairly healthy relationships with my first two partners and my two children. It has taken me a long time, but I think overall things are OK between us now. They had been my biggest regrets…but not anymore!”
“So, you have no regrets about your personal family history…that sounds like a successful person. Are there any other areas, with regrets in them, Ambrose?”
“Nothing sticks out in my mind, Ken!”
“…there aren’t any traits I want, I don’t already have…”
“OK, then, the second question is this! Are there any traits or behaviours you have, which you want to get rid of, or ones you don’t think you have, which you want? For example, can you see, both where you’re rich and where you’re poor, Ambrose?” I asked.
“Are you asking me, Ken, if I am satisfied with me, as I am? If so, yes I am satisfied! I was reminded of that just recently when I realized, while talking to my doctor of all people, that I was OK with my current state of health because it keeps me attentive to what I most value in life…my family. I often remark to myself…without my so called ‘poor’ health I wouldn’t have been motivated to resolve some of those ‘regrets’ I had carried for so long.”
“Ambrose, what about a trait, or behaviour, you still want because you don’t see how you already have it?” I asked.
“That’s another interesting insight I’ve had. I used to think I was too short…you know, not tall enough..I’m only five feet, three inches. But, I remember the day I stood up for a guy at work, during a union meeting. The next day, our union rep thanked me and said it took a ‘big man’ to say what I did. It was then I realized, I was tall…just in another way. And, regardless of how I look to others, I have some very healthy, tall attitudes. So, no, there aren’t any traits I want, I don’t already have, Ken.”
“…this is how they perceive themselves, their past, their present and their future…”
“OK…the third and final question! Looking over your entire life so far, can you see it has been the perfect one for you to be who you are, do what you do, and have what you have, today?”
“I have never expressed it that way before, but…when I think about it carefully…it has been perfect for me! If I hadn’t had each event, and each relationship, exactly when they occurred, then I wouldn’t be who I am! And I’m OK with who I am today, Ken!”
“Then, Ambrose, you will understand the last, five words of any successful person, regardless of what form of success they’ve achieved. I think these five words are ones you can say to yourself right now, because you are already, a successful person.”
“Are you saying all successful people say these five words when they die?”
“I’m saying this is how they perceive themselves, their past, their present and their future! And, because they do, this is probably the simplest and most profound way to express the success of their life!”
“What are those five words, Ken?” he asked.
Ambrose, they are, “Thank you! I love you!”
“There’s something about death that is comforting. The thought that you could die tomorrow frees you to appreciate your life now.” – Angelina Jolie, actress
“Thank yourself and everyone who contributed…”
Ambrose stared at me momentarily, then he blinked a few times, and then, he stared past me for a few seconds. Finally, he seemed to return to where we were, and then he said in a soft, thoughtful voice, “That makes so much sense…so simple and yet so profound…it says it all, doesn’t it?”
“Ambrose, I suspect, from what you have told me, you are already a successful person…and also, you already have a deep level of appreciation for your life?”
“Ken, last week, my son, Roberto, who I have never met yet, face to face, sent me a picture of my granddaughter, Micha, who was born a month ago. When I saw it, the only words which came to my mind were, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
“That’s the attitude of a successful person, Ambrose!”
“Thank you for this, Ken!”
“Ambrose, I only helped you uncover what was already there! Thank yourself and everyone who contributed, eh?”
“Yes, of course! I have so many people to thank for my life…there is real truth in that!”
“Healthy children will not fear life, if their elders have integrity enough, not to fear death.”– Erik Erikson, psychologist
Until Next time…
As you go to sleep tonight, ask yourself if you can truthfully say the five words of a perfect life, and perfect death, ‘Thank You! I Love You!’ as you think about every person and every event in you past. If so, you are already successful in life, and now you can focus your future on each new day you receive…appreciating the privilege of life itself.
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Namaste, (I salute the grandly organized design of the universe, manifested in you!)
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