[H]e not busy being born is busy dying.
–Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma, (I’m Only Bleeding)”
OK, it may sound harsh, but Dylan is exactly right…. and we all know it.
When you look hard at your life and work, are you becoming an incumbent? Are you seeking–or assuming–the comfort of a status quo that serves you?
Or are you an insurgent, taking risks, making your way as a pioneer clearing a path toward the future?
There can be a lot of comfort and company, being an incumbent.
You can be an expert of sorts. But, if you’re not careful, you’ll morph into a museum piece, a curiosity, a remnant.
You may have been a vigorous insurgent at one time. You may continue to see yourself that way. But, in reality, you’ve slid into the comforts of incumbency.
Incumbency is Unstable
A great irony: incumbency, built on yesterday’s insurgency and productivity, can appear permanent, or at least stable.
In fact, it’s dangerous. Security is a self-serving proposition. It’s unlikely to end well.
In the best case, you’re ‘secure’ but stagnant.
In the worst case, your security is also a delusion. And your self-serving orientation leaves you bereft.
In Dylan’s duality, are you being born, or dying?
Here are few questions to think about:
—Have you changed your opinion on any significant issue in the past year? 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? This means an issue truly significant in your life. Unless you’re a former secretary of state or defense, it doesn’t count that you’ve changed your view of Russia’s international intentions.
—Are you living the New Year as a…. New Year? Or is it the Old Year with a new label? Most people are living the same year, over and over and over again, perhaps with minor adjustments. Then, when some life-altering event is forced upon them, they do a reset. How often we see people in mid-life coming out of a divorce, or a job crisis, or a health crisis…. only then, they may take the risks of making changes consistent with their values. Better late than never…. but better now than later.
—Are your friends and family and colleagues and customers helping you grow? Or are they holding you in place, for their own reasons?
—Are you taking on challenges that truly shake your world? This requires some thought and brutal honesty. It’s intensely personal. Only you can answer this. For example, many people find it hard to take risks in their business life, so changes there may be profound. Moving from being an employee to having a business Or, you might make the change from working in large institutions–having the cover and benefit of their power–to having your own enterprise, writing your own words and music, placing yourself directly on the line. What if, in your case, you’ve taken many risks that few take, but have avoided circumstances that most people navigate without much thought? If you’re a veteran skydiver, it’s not taking a real risk for you to go skydiving. The fact that many others are fearful and praise your daring means nothing. If your real challenge is public speaking, or learning a new discipline, or better attending to various relationships in your life and work, that’s where you need to focus.
—If you were to die in your sleep this evening, would you be satisfied with your life? This is not asking if you would choose to die tonight. Presumably you would not. Like most of us, your imagination doubtlessly conjures your having many, many miles to go before you sleep. That said, if you were to die unexpectedly, are your life and work accounts in order? Have you lived in a way that enables you to depart with the peace of knowing that you’ve done the absolute best you can, faithful to your deepest values?
—Are you leading your life? Or have you allowed circumstances to take control? Or are you leading the life that others chose for themselves, with you in their orbit? Are you leading the life that you envisioned as a twenty year-old–not making changes to reflect your growth at age 30? or 40? or 50? or 60? or 70? or 80? or 90? or 100? [don’t laugh: many people run an outdated soundtrack of living in their mind long after the world has moved on, just as Norma Desmond would watch her long outdated silent films in her pitiable, isolated, delusional dotage.]
Serving Others Means Constant Rebirth, Regeneration
Over the course of the coming week, take a hard look at your life as you actually live it.
Examine the effects of your actions on those with whom you have relationships. Think, from the point of view of others, how you affect people with whom you have even the most brief interaction. The child holding the door, just to prove to one and all that she can do it on her own. The old person who’s slow in navigating the street. The checker in the store who’s doing everything he can to serve unpredictable customers, demanding managers and those for whom they come to work every day. The young person, burdened with fears of the future and lacking the confidence born of experience, trying to make her way into the uncertain world now beckoning.
It just may be that serving others is the best way to be born, again and again.
Are You Being Born–or Busy Dying?