Imagine being asked casually by Albert Einstein to describe how physics applies to daily life. That's kind of how I felt when Arianna Huffington invited me to write about how I'm redefining success. "Wow," I thought, "What a challenge. Okay, let's do this." After some serious reflection, I realized that much of my current path is rooted in the medieval Persian poetry with which I grew up -- my spiritual North Star.
My day job takes me to some of the largest corporate campuses in America, and it is fascinating to see how different people approach life, and to guess what their North Stars might be. Some are hard-charging, seemingly allergic to the word balance. Others take breaks to meditate. Or nap. It seems to me that one thing everyone has in common, though, is the desire for satisfaction. Whether they realize it or not, each person has an internal model that they use to navigate toward this satisfaction. I'd like to share with you pieces of one such model, courtesy of some ancient Persian poets, as it relates to living life in harmony with the Third Metric. The wisdom comes from the poets; the translations from the original Persian are my own.
Before diving in, let me just point out how grateful I am to Arianna for championing the Third Metric at a time when our world truly needs it. It is easy to overlook the stuff that matters in our go-go society, and visionaries like Arianna do a great service to us all by reminding us of certain basic, yet powerful, things. While everyone would probably say they want to get the most satisfaction of out of life that is possible, the actions we take are often out of alignment with our stated goals. Putting a spotlight on this simple fact is a crucially important first step in approaching a more balanced life -- so, thanks again to Arianna for bringing this topic to the global stage. That said, let's meet our Persian poets and see what they have to say about thriving!
1. With my own eyes I saw in the desert that the slow wins the race against the fast. The quick-footed stallion fell down with exhaustion, while the camel driver continued -- slow and steady.
-- Saadi, 1210-1291
This one is self-explanatory -- yet how many of us aspire to be that iron-willed workhorse? Saadi was reminding us that a slow and steady approach is, in the long run, perhaps more sustainable.
2. Just before my father passed away, he gave me this one piece of advice. 'Lust is fire -- keep away from it, and don't jump into the fire of hell, for you won't be able to tolerate burning in that fire. Therefore, put out the fire today with the water of restraint.'
Apparently, even 800 years ago people were getting into trouble due to their, shall we say, earthly desires. Saadi reminds us to keep lust in check, because it can and does derail otherwise successful people. And really, who needs the headache?
3. A bird doesn't approach a piece of grain where it sees another bird stuck in a trap. Learn a lesson from others, so that others don't learn a lesson from you.
In essence, this is a warning against the "monkey see, monkey do" mentality. We do ourselves a disservice if we neglect to learn from the mistakes (or the smart moves) of others. And if you forget, then others may learn a lesson at your expense. Try to avoid that. How? Pay attention -- be present and mindful. If others took a particular path and got trapped, maybe consider an alternate route.
4. Don't complain about the turning of the world, oh poor man, for you would be unlucky to die in this state. And as for you, oh rich man, since you have the means in your heart and in your hands, eat and give, and you will have won both this world and the next.
Saadi has a message here for rich and poor, and everyone in between. He reminds the less fortunate that despite what they may think, they still have much for which to be thankful. And for the fortunate, he reminds them that they stand to benefit from giving back -- indeed, he says go ahead and enjoy your good fortune, but you will be an even bigger winner if you are generous with your wealth. Notice that he specifically highlights having means in your heart. Wealth is not just material, in other words.
5. My friend, run from anything that doesn't make your wings stronger.
-- Hafez, 1325-1389
In this beautiful line, Hafez reminds us to seek things, people, ideas, mindsets, activities, etc. that uplift the spirit. This can serve as a sort of test for any given situation. Ask yourself, "does this make my wings stronger?" If the answer is yes, then great. If not, perhaps something needs to change.
6. For peace in this world and the next, here is my advice. With friends, be magnanimous. With foes, try to relate.
The part about friends is easy to grasp: be generous and give them your best. The second part, about foes, is a little less obvious. It hit home for me when someone cut me off on the highway recently. I remembered this Hafez poem, and tried to relate to the other driver -- might they be rushing to take care of an ill family member? Perhaps she didn't see me due to the design of her car and its blind spots? This simple exercise immediately diffused my tension, and let me return to equilibrium more quickly.
7. Truth has made me from the wine of Love.
-- Rumi, 1207-1273
"Truth" here can be thought of as god or the universe. The imagery of this line is astounding. What does it look like to be made from the wine of Love? We are all made from that same wine, so why not live accordingly?
8. If a beard and testicles are all it takes to be called a man -- well guess what, every he-goat has a beard and balls galore!
Here Rumi reminds us that substance matters, not appearance. He also reminds us that manhood involves more than outward characteristics. Don't be fooled just because something has a certain appearance.
9. The mystery of fate is not known to you or me; the solution to this riddle is not known by you or by me. Our words are just chatter behind the curtain of fate. When the curtain falls, neither you nor I will remain.
-- Khayyam, 1048-1131
Here, Khayyam hits us with some hardcore wisdom. Anyone who claims to know the solution to the riddle of eternity (or fate) is probably misguided, and all of our musings are just that -- musings. In the end, we will all be gone. So what? As Rodney Dangerfield's character says in Caddyshack, "So let's dance!"
10. Imagine that you did not exist... since you do, be happy!
This one may be tough to imagine, but picture this: What if you didn't exist in the first place? As it turns out, if you are reading this, you probably do exist. So why not be happy? Enjoy the life you have, as if it were an unexpected bonus. You just happened to receive this gift. To quote the Bee Gees, "You should be dancing..."
And there you have it: a sampling of Persian poetry that shares a strong connection with the Third Metric. By remembering the wisdom of poems such as these, I strive to Thrive and incorporate Third Metric awareness into my daily life. How about you? What inspires you to seek well-being, wisdom and wonder?