In her book, Story Driven, Bernadette Jiwa drops this quiet little bombshell:
“Great companies have something in common: they don’t try to matter by winning. They win by mattering.”
In other words, a great company’s goal is not simply to get to the top of the heap. It is to, day by day, do work that matters—trusting that that will lead to sufficient success.
With that simple line, is Jiwa turning the central philosophy of America—the philosophy of winning, of being successful—upside down? (That would make sense; she lives in Australia, after all.)
More importantly, is she right?
And if this is true for companies (as I believe it is), is it also true for individuals? Is it true for me?
Let’s paraphrase her line this way:
“Quality human beings don’t try to matter by winning; they win by mattering.”
It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that someday when I do that great thing or arrive at that great place…then I’ll feel that my life matters…or then I’ll have time for the things that really matter.
But what if that thinking is upside down?
What if we never arrive? And what if we don’t have to?
What if we could start right now, today, to spend a little time each day on the art of mattering?
What would that look like? It might look something like this:
Today, I will make time to do some things that matter…I will be radically present with people I love…I will put my whole heart into whatever I do…I will write that letter, make that phone call I’ve been meaning to make…I will try to do no harm…I will go for joy…and even in my less-then-perfect efforts to do what matters today, I will know that I am already a winner.
It’s just another day. Same old routine. Same old faces. Same old same old.
When we feel that way, it might be a warning signal—warning us to get a little more wonder and surprise back into our lives.
As Abraham Heschel said:
“Being human is a surprise not a foregone conclusion. A person has a capacity to create events.”
Part of the problem may be our default mode. We may have a default mode for how we look in the mirror in the morning…or how we see the day ahead…or how we do our work…or how we respond to problems.
We probably have a default mode for how we see every person in our lives. (And they have a default mode for us.)
But what if we occasionally challenged or changed some of those default modes?
What if we tapped into our ability as a human being to look for wonder and surprise in our day…and to create surprises…and to be surprising?
Friends are suddenly surprised at what a good listener we are.
People at work are surprised at how calm we are in a crisis.
The family is surprised by the stories we share at the dinner table.
(You can make up your own list of surprises.)
There was a man who ordered his own tombstone, even though he was still in his middle years. He had the tombstone engraved with the following words:
“I surprised everyone. Even myself.”
When the engraver asked why he was having this done now, he said, “Because now I’ll have to live up to it!”
They say that before long our cars will drive themselves. We’ll just sit there.
But of course, we don’t want that to happen to our lives.
When driving through mountains, you’ll often seen a sign that reads: Scenic Overlook.
That’s a good sign to pay attention to in life…and especially in long-term relationships. Because…
Nothing improves the “scenery” in a relationship like increasing your ability to overlook things.
Relationships are important to us—they are the source of some of our greatest joys. But they can also bring pain.
And even in good relationships, it’s amazing how quickly small things can sometimes become big things. (You’d think a sane, adult human being would remember to pick up his socks!)
Before long you’ve got a scene on your hands. And it’s not a pretty scene.
Maybe that’s the time to pull out your secret weapon: The Overlooker.
Like a batter in a baseball game, we don’t have to swing at every pitch. In the interests of peace, harmony, love, and our own mental health, we can just let a lot of things go by.
Stepping back to look at the big picture helps us develop our “overlooking muscles”—and that can help improve the scenery in our lives.
As the theme song from the children’s movie Frozen says: “Let it go!”
(But if you just can’t quite let it go, try this: in the middle of an argument, walk out of the room. Moments later, walk back in and throw a glove at your partner. When he or she looks up, challenge him or her to a duel to settle the issue. Water guns at dawn.)
Do some issues actually need to be addressed seriously? Of course. But probably fewer than we think. Usually, the things we overlook today seem a lot less important tomorrow.
The title of Richard Carlson’s book has it about right:
“Don’t sweat the small stuff…and it’s all small stuff.”
“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
That’s from Oscar Wilde.
And it’s true: there’s never been another person just like you and there never will be. If anyone else could fill your place, you wouldn’t need to be here!
After all, you can only be a second-rate someone else; but you are the world’s foremost expert on being you!
However, being yourself is not always easy. As e. e. cummings wrote:
To be one’s self and nobody else is to fight the hardest battle you will ever fight, and never stop fighting.
So what does it really mean to “be yourself”? How do we cultivate and affirm our uniqueness?
Clearly, there’s more to it than just being different for the sake of being different.
The poet Carl Sandburg offers some interesting thoughts on this—which he puts in the form of a father’s advice to his son.
“What shall he tell that son? Tell him to be a fool every so often. Tell him to be alone often and get at himself. Tell him solitude is created if he’s strong and the final decisions are made in quiet rooms. Tell him to be different from other people if it comes natural and easy being different. And let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives. Let him seek deep for where he’s a born natural. He’ll be lonely enough to have time for the work he knows is his own.”
It’s easy to overlook this today, but the quiet task of finding and affirming our true self—our “born natural” self—may be the most important task of all.
It just might be all we have to do.