William James, the 19th Century American philosopher and psychologist is quoted as once saying:
“The best use of a life is to create something that outlasts it.”
Never Too Late To Be Great by Tom Butler-Bowdon is a thought provoking book that puts a lot into perspective (especially to anyone, like me, who has just had a landmark birthday!)
I can strongly recommend it and a link to review and buy the book can be followed at the end of this article.
In his book Butler-Bowdon makes two important observations:
- Things often take longer than we expect to achieve.
- We are living longer, healthier lives.
The first fact overturns the notion of overnight success, that something can happen and we will be transported out of our mundane world to fame, riches, glory or permanent happiness. While it is true that a change in state of mind can happen in an instant, changing our actual lives is another matter. For 99.5% of us, there is no sudden lifting up to a higher world and the success we achieve is dreamed, designed, worked for and maintained over many years.
The second fact overturns the conventional wisdom that life is short. Real achievement may be a longer, tougher road than we ever like to admit and yet we have more time to travel that road than any time in history.
Most people’s mental images of time are drawn from fear but in seeing time as a help, not a hindrance, in a speed-obsessed world we give ourselves an unusual advantage. The motivational field does not like to talk about how long real achievement takes because it thinks people will be turned off. Yet we have a greater chance of success when our decisions and actions are grounded in truth, not wishes.
Throughout his book Butler-Bowdon remarks:
- Factor in enough lead time and virtually any big project, skill or enterprise is achievable. By taking the long view of our lives and work, we will move to a place beyond your peers.
- When we become frustrated by the achievements so far, we are probably just warming up for the real event or contribution of our lives.
- Don’t be overawed by fame or great achievements. Everyone has to start somewhere and the valuable thing is to study what a particular person or organisation was doing before they made their mark.
- Be open to opportunity, remain curious, have a willingness to take intelligent risks and follow whatever we are passionate about. Most people lose these qualities in adulthood but those who keep them often experience great successes when others of their generation are winding down.
- Do what seems obvious to us. If we see a need for something, chances are others do too. If the times are not right for our offering right now, wait; stay true to the idea and things will swing back our way.
- Human beings by nature are never predictable and every person represents a new beginning through which the world can be changed in some way. Never discount our ability to have an effect. The first 30, 40 or 50 years of our lives may simply have created a platform that provides the skills, experience and wisdom on which to build something important.
- Motivational speakers talk about persistence but it is hard work combined with experimentation that leads to the breaks characterising the lives of remarkable people.
- Start modestly, give an idea or enterprise enough time to put down roots and it will have enough time to build into something that lasts.
- Thinking big can get us somewhere but combine it with thinking long and we have a recipe for greatness.
Butler-Bowdon also observes that we are never simply products of our past. If this were so, people would never do anything unexpected and yet they do. We are also drawn by the future and what we strongly imagine tends to be made real. Individually, the way we see the world is never quite the same as anyone else and this is why our actions are potentially so valuable.
The remarkable truth is that we can build uniquely powerful lives but only if we take a long-term view which can accommodate the inevitable reversals, obstacles or changes of direction that come along.
If that is the case, why not aim to do something that will benefit a lot of people over a long period, instead of just ourselves? Life is wasted if all we are concerned about is building big edifices for us. Greatness, in contrast, is constantly working for the benefit of others. This naturally brings us closer to people and the smaller ego it brings about will make us a lot happier.
If I may, I would like to leave you with this pearl of wisdom from scientist Buckminster Fuller:
“You can rest assured that if you devote your time and attention to the highest advantage of others, the Universe will support you, always and in the nick of time.”
Thank you for reading. Here’s the link. Enjoy the book!