Plato's Lemonade Stand: Stirring Change into Something Great
Alchemy: The Power to Change
From Tom Morris
I often give talks on change under one or the other of these two titles. If you've heard one of them, I have something for you to think about.
Hemingway on life
I was looking for something new to read a while ago, so I wandered over to a bookshelf and picked up a book I've long owned but never actually read: Hemingway's famous novel, The Sun Also Rises. Just eleven pages into it, I came across this brief conversation that starts with Robert Cohn, Princeton graduate and amateur boxer, speaking to his old friend Jake, the narrator of the novel, in a bar – where, it seems, interestingly, that philosophizing about life often takes place:
“Listen, Jake,” he leaned forward on the bar. “Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you're not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you've lived nearly half the time you have to live already?”
“Yes, every once in a while.”
“Do you know that in about thirty-five years more we'll be dead?”
“What the hell, Robert,” I said, "What the hell?”
“It’s one thing I don’t worry about,” I said.
“You ought to.”
I was surprised how much this sounded like a scene in one of the old original Woody Allen movies. You know, when his character would be staring into space, suddenly deep in thought, saying things like “Death. Nothingness. Bleak, black desolation.” The Diane Keaton character would then say, “What are you talking about?” and he would reply, “Nothing, I'm just planning my future.” With this kind of humor, no wonder his box office numbers eventually dropped off.
As we all know, but, like Jake, tend not to think about very much, the life adventure we’re on right now is a limited-time offer. This is an interesting point of reflection for all of us who are already in mid-life. But it’s an important fact for any of us, however young or old. Are we making the most of our time on earth? Are we using our talents in the best ways, and taking advantage of the opportunities that come to us each day? Are we enjoying the adventure? Or are we letting ourselves be held back by habit and worn down by our own inner reactions to things that are outside our control?
The answers to these questions often turn on another one: How well are we handling change in our lives, day to day – the little, unexpected events, and the bigger disruptions; the challenges and the opportunities? Do we resist change and regret it, or are we creative artists with it?
As the bluntly philosophical Robert points out for Jake and all the rest of us, there will come a time when further change in this world is impossible for each of us – maybe thirty-five years from now; maybe longer; and maybe much sooner. We never know. So why not make the most of this incredible journey while we can? Great things are possible for us, with the right approach to work and life.
I'm convinced that our ability to engage in the ancient art of change determines to a great extent the degree to which we live full and fulfilling lives. And that in turn will be decided in part by how well we live in accordance with a few simple arts.
The Art of Change is Composed of 3 Component Arts:
1. The Art of Self-Control – not rushing to judgment, valuing the right things, and using your imagination well;
2. The Art of Positive Action – governing your inner attitudes, looking for new opportunities to make your proper difference for other people, and taking the initiative to make good things happen;
3. The Art of Achievement – using The 7 Cs of Success every day, and implementing these tools of ethical accomplishment in every situation.
As you can see elsewhere on this site, The 7 Cs are: A Clear Conception, Confidence, Concentration, Consistency, Commitment, Character, and finally a Capacity to Enjoy the Process along the way.
A Quick Story
When I checked into the Palm Beach Four Seasons Hotel once for a talk a few years ago, the bellman learned I had taught at Notre Dame and quickly told me about another guy from Indiana, a former farmer who, fresh into his first job as a salesman, had just visited the hotel for a sales convention the previous week. It was his very first time in a hotel. Not bad to start with the Four Seasons. He took his own bags up to his room to leave them quickly and get back down to an important first meeting. Five minutes passed, then ten. After a bit more time, his direct manager, who had traveled with him, called up to his room to see what was causing the delay. He said, “I don’t know what to do. I’m in the room, and there are only three doors. One is the bathroom, one is a closet, and the other has a sign on it that says Do Not Disturb.”
I was glad to be told this little story, however true or apocryphal. It sure captures the way a lot of people get themselves into a situation where they feel trapped and don’t know what to do. We all have to learn how to read and understand the signs that are around us, use our imaginations well, and find the proper doorway that any set of circumstances will present us.
I hope our time together recently has helped you remember the degree to which you can exercise important forms of inner control and outer influence in any situation. And I look forward to seeing the great artistic results of that in your life as you continue to open all the right doors and move forward in wonderful and productive ways. Please keep me posted now and then!
Books on Our Inner Powers for Change
Many of these topics are reinforced in various ways in my book True Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence, and in The Stoic Art of Living: Inner Resilience and Outer Results, both of which are available any time at Amazon.com. The Stoics really understood the inner conditions for life alchemy and for making world-class lemonade!