“Your imagination must, to some extent, be found in a realm beyond reason because it begins with imagining a future reality: the self that you might become.”
– Richard Schoch, The Secrets of Happiness
I once took part in a ‘life coaching’ exercise that at first sounded rather macabre. It was this: write your own eulogy. Shocked? Don’t be. The point is to articulate how you would like to be remembered. And once you’ve done it, ask yourself if you are that person today. If not, then no better time to start than immediately. After all, it’s too easy to look across the tracks and see successful people (whatever form that ‘success’ might take to be relevant to you) and muse that they’ve only done it because they were born in the right month, to the right family or with an excess of luck on their side. It’s much harder to perceive your destiny as your own responsibility.
And yet, what is it that permits some to rise to fame, fortune or respect? I’ve been hugely privileged to interview many people I find inspiring over the years, from Mary Portas for this issue to film director Peter Greenaway, hotelier Ian Schrager and photographer Elliott Erwitt to name a handful. And it strikes me that there are common threads that have very little to do with background, providence or prosperity. And so I proffer my observations and my own life learnings thus far… To do anything well, you must first care. Passionately. And be enthusiastic. Be hungry. Stay hungry. Be proactive. Do more than your job description. In fact, create your own job. Understand that receiving criticism is the quickest way to improve. And that sometimes being fired, or not getting what you want, is absolutely the best thing that could happen. Be a team player. Give credit where credit is due; ‘we’ is always stronger than ‘I’. But if something goes wrong, take responsibility, stand up and be counted. Love your life outside work – it’s the only way to stay sane, and that’s more important the higher up you go. Know your physical limits, but never stop dreaming. Never mock another person’s dreams. Don’t be a quitter. If you believe you can do something, you’ve already done the hard part. Be curious. Stay curious. Rules are overrated but respect is everything. Play for win/win scenarios. Don’t ask permission to succeed, just get on with it. If something hasn’t been done before, it doesn’t mean it’s not possible. In short, dream, believe, do! But be prepared to work bloody hard, over and above expectations. Never cheat. Don’t gossip. Have a moral code. Enjoy the ride. The aim is to screech to a halt when you finally get to those pearly gates and say wow, what a blast! Not oops, I forgot something.
-Michelle Ogundehin, Editor of Elle Decoration UK
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“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
“We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.”
– Elie Weisel, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremburg Code
“Many adults are put off when youngsters pose scientific questions. Children ask why the sun is yellow, or what a dream is, or how deep you can dig a hole, or when is the world’s birthday, or why we have toes. Too many teachers and parents answer with irritation or ridicule, or quickly move on to something else. Why adults should pretend to omniscience before a five-year-old, I can’t for the life of me understand. What’s wrong with admitting that you don’t know? Children soon recognize that somehow this kind of question annoys many adults. A few more experiences like this, and another child has been lost to science. There are many better responses. If we have an idea of the answer, we could try to explain. If we don’t, we could go to the encyclopedia or the library. Or we might say to the child: ‘I don’t know the answer. Maybe no one knows. Maybe when you grow up, you’ll be the first to find out.'”
–Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as the Candle in the Dark