In this Timeless Life series, WHAT TO WORRY ABOUT IN 2018, we’re exploring what to worry about in the new year and what to do about it.
Did you do your best?
We as people seem inclined to accept average or mediocre performance. Responsibility and doing our best seem to be of less and less interest.
In his famous essay on finding purpose in life Adm. HG. Rickover said that mediocrity is the enemy to beat all things. It can destroy us just as surely as perils far more famous. It is important that we remember to distinguish between what it means to fail at a task though we’ve done our best and what it means to be mediocre. There is all the difference in the world between the life lived with dignity and style which ends up failing, and one which achieves power and glory yet is dull, unoriginal, unreflective, and mediocre.
In a real sense, what matters is not so much whether we make a lot of money, hold a prestigious job, or whether we don’t; what matters is that we become people who seek out others with knowledge and enthusiasm – that we become people who can enjoy our own company. In the end, learning to avoid mediocrity gives us all a chance to discover that success really comes in making ourselves into educated individuals, able to recognize that there is always a difference between living with excellence and living with mediocrity. Sherlock Holmes once told Watson,
“Watson, mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself. It takes talent to recognize genius.”
In the 1950’s Admiral HG Rickover was the head of the U.S. Nuclear Navy. This was new technology and every job had to be done to the highest possible standard. To that end only the best of the best got the jobs. For many years every officer aboard a nuclear submarine was personally interviewed and approved by Rickover.
Among those who applied to work on the program was former US President Jimmy Carter just after graduating top of his class from the most prestigious Naval Academy.
This is his account of his interview with Admiral Rickover:
“I had applied for the nuclear submarine program, and Admiral Rickover was interviewing me for the job. It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover, and we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss. Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time—current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery—and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty.
In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen. He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with cold sweat.
Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself. He said, ‘How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?’
Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a plebe, I had done very well, and I swelled my chest with pride and answered, ‘Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!’
I sat back to wait for the congratulations which never came. Instead, the question: “Did you do your best?’
I started to say, ‘Yes, sir,’ but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, ‘No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.’
He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget—or to answer. He said, ‘Why not?’ I sat there for a while, shaken, and then slowly left the room.”
Jimmy Carter was chosen to be president of the United States and is remembered as one of the world’s greatest modern statesmen. But he didn’t get the job in Rickover’s program.
Do you always do your best?
If not, why not? Really, what else is there to do? Beyond all the diets and promises to work out and new leaves of the new year this is really the core issue. It gets at who you are and who you want to be.
If you want to do your best, if you want to be the best you can be, you must start spending more of your time, money, and energy on things that are going to last forever and less time, money, and energy on things that don’t really matter. This is the essence of the Timeless Life… the good life.
Here are some questions to consider in 2018
1/ What are you willing to die for?
Literally and figuratively. Don’t just say the easy old fashioned things about God and country. Think it over. What are the things you would sacrifice your own comfort and happiness for? What should these things be? In the ancient mystery schools and modern Freemasonry a great deal of time is taken to contemplate death.
Memento mori (Latin: “remember that you have to die”) is the ancient theory and practice of reflection on mortality, especially as a means of considering the vanity of earthly life and the transient nature of all earthly goods and pursuits. It is related to the ars moriendi (“The Art of Dying”) and similar literature. Memento mori has been an important part of ascetic disciplines as a means of perfecting the character by cultivating detachment and other virtues, and by turning the attention towards the things that really matter.
2/ What can you give up to make room for the things that matter?
There actually is a secret to happiness. No matter how many times it’s written and revealed it remains a secret because it’s so counter-intuitive that unhappy people can’t believe it could possibly be true.
But here it is…
Happy people don’t concern themselves with their own happiness.
Happy people concern themselves with the happiness of others. They want to be part of something larger. They want to help and they find the time to do it. Not only are people who concern themselves with the happiness of others happier. Time literally expands around them to give them the space they need to do more and more and be less worn out by the experience. People who concern themselves with others don’t come home tired at the end of the day, they come home refreshed, energized, and keen to get back out and do more. Unhappy people drain energy from themselves and others and use up all their time and energy worrying about their own happiness. They imagine if this or that happens then they’ll be happy. But it never comes to pass because they have it backwards. Good things don’t make you happy; happiness makes good things happen.
Clear space in your life by concerning yourself less with your own happiness and make room for concerning yourself with the problems of the day, the shape of things to come, and the happiness of others.
3/ What’s distracting you?
We all let poison into our lives. There are people who have been our friends but they are dark horses in our thoughts. There are ideas that take up too much of our thinking. There are habits and vices that rob our hours and give nothing in return such that we in turn have nothing to give. I try to be more conscious of the distractions by being present. Spend time in the moment and ask yourself if what you are doing in that moment is a distraction or pursuing part of your greater purpose. If I’m not doing my best in that moment I ask myself out loud. Why am I not doing my best? Try it out.
Use this Google Alert Key Word to get more informed daily about how to consciously do your best:
Got an example of when you know in your heart and mind you’ve done your very best? It may come as a surprise but most of us don’t. If you do, share it with us and let us know how it turned out in the short and long run.
Up Next: Burn It F$%^ing Down