Leo Tolstoy wrote many powerful words, but perhaps none so hauntingly compelling as those in The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
In the novella, we meet Ivan as he is lying on his deathbed. He is filled with anger, frustration, and disappointment – mostly because he felt his wife pressured him to serve as a Moscow judge purely for the prestige and entitlement.
But right before his death – in a moment of clarity – Ivan realizes that he has lived his life solely for his own selfish purposes. Gripping his wife’s hand, his last words are “What if my whole life has been wrong?”
I recall Wayne Dyer sharing the story of when he first read The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Wayne had just enlisted in the Navy and was on a ship to be stationed overseas. After reading Ivan’s fateful words, Wayne penned a brief letter to himself which read, “Dear Wayne, don’t die with your music still in you.”
We all have that “music” within us. An inner blue flame that aligns our passion and belief.
Unfortunately, life has a way of seemingly dousing that fire and muffling the music.
When I first started in the professional world, a few of my new colleagues introduced me to a card game that quickly became an addiction for me.
That game is called Pinochle.
It’s a 4-person card game where two teams (of two-players each) compete to win each round and every match.
I was so hooked that we would play not only every night after work, but oftentimes throughout the weekend. I recall one session where we played 24 hours straight! No sleep, brief breaks for food and bathroom, and all pinochle.
Our contests continued for at least a year, and we all got pretty good at bidding strategy, partner mind reading, and winning techniques.
And while I haven’t played in years, the one thing I remember most from my playing days was the enormous value of trump.
One of the very difficult things for many of us is to hold ourselves in a consistent state of positive self-regard.
We are so quick to beat ourselves up – I’m not good enough, smart enough, rich enough, attractive enough, young enough, old enough, healthy enough, witty enough, patient enough, aggressive enough, calm enough, …
But we rarely get to that state of enough.
When things don’t go the way we’d like them to – particularly when we believe we are at least partially responsible for the outcome – we punish ourselves for our “insufficiency”.
Each such instance reinforces that limiting belief.
And we often aren’t aware of just how harsh our self-judgments truly are.
Until we see them in contrast to our compassion.
When I was a kid, my parents took me to the circus twice. And each time, I was terrified.
I was so worried that the trapeze artists would screw up and fall to their death. But even more frightening was the lion “tamer” – the man who stood in a lion cage with nothing but a whip – attempting to avoid being mauled by a ferocious lion.
A whip and a small wooden chair.
What use could such a silly chair serve in self-defense against such a beast?
Actually, a lot.
I’m addicted to thinking.
And, my thoughts have the power to alter my entire worldview.
When I was in high-school, I was teased quite a bit for being small, prejudiced against for being Jewish, and ridiculed for being smart.
And so I resented all three of those “traits” about myself.
But not only did I dislike those qualities, I accepted the harassment. All I could think about for much of those four years was my insignificance. I was so shy and withdrawn that I rarely went to school functions for fear of being identified and called out.
And then I went to college and experienced the exact opposite.