Life is like a piece of music. The goal is not to reach the end. It’s to move in the rhythm and melody of the here and now. And we play our part in the music of this moment, contributing, collaborating, and creating.
Likewise, you don’t dance to arrive at a destination. Dancing is the goal. Music and dance are dynamic movements that take us deeper than their primary function. This idea features strongly in The Courage To Be Disliked, which we’ve been exploring in The Haven Book Club.
For human beings, life is about more than survival. We are creatures of meaning and connection, with the capacity for joy, love, and transcendence.
The sources of these experiences are often much more straightforward than we imagine. But we can lose ourselves in the noise of thoughts, fear, and the pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect (and liked by everyone).
“I Contribute To Others”
According to Adler, this is a guiding star. The reminder that we contribute to others is a simple foundational principle from which to live.
What does it mean to contribute to or be of use to others?
Is it a community feeling? The sense of using our life in ways that take us beyond our little world?
As social beings, meaning is created in community. Even when we build things alone, it is only when we bring the result or experience into a communal space that we experience its potential.
There was a priest who loved playing golf. So one Sunday, he skipped church and drove to another town to play. On the first hole, a gust of wind took his ball and dropped in for a hole-in-one. Much to his delight, similar things kept happening, and he finished with the best score of his life.
“Why are you rewarding him for lying and shirking his responsibilities?” An angel asked God. “Au contraire!” God replied.
Sharing In The Here and Now
This joke captures something beautiful, which I see tied in the words of Chris McCandless in the tragic tale of Into The Wild. Towards the end of his life, he reached the poignant conclusion that “happiness is only real when shared.”
The priest cannot tell anyone about his round of golf, which is hell for him. His happiness is blocked because he can’t share it with others (without revealing his reason for missing church).
Connection is a basic human need. As fundamental as food and water. Yes, even introverts who get overstimulated by social stimulation. We need to share our experiences in life.
Contributing to others is the embodiment of this idea. We are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are creative beings in a vibrantly dynamic and beautiful world.
Happiness, in this sense, emerges in the feeling of contribution.
The Other Side of Acceptance
“Being of use” and “contributing to others” emerge on the other side of unconditional acceptance. We are free to contribute when we accept ourselves in all our messy, chaotic, and contradictory imperfection.
Community rituals embody this unconditional ground of acceptance. They help us come home to an anchor in time—a connection to life itself in the here and now. This might be a tradition that occurs every year, a ceremony that happens to mark reaching a certain age, or a way of mourning loss.
Unconditional acceptance at the level of being means we are free to let go of acts as the site of compelled worthiness and to let our actions emerge from our creative spirit instead. We don’t contribute to others to belong; we contribute because we belong. And we can’t do anything to make us belong any more than we already do.
The Difference Between Affirmation and Acceptance
Collective rituals and traditions like that are collective expressions of the difference between self-affirmation and self-acceptance.
Affirmation is linked to doing, whereas acceptance is about being. Happiness is found through accepting “one’s incapable self as is” and building life from that place. Not to reach a destination of ultimate capability but to grow in partnership with our tasks and the things that matter to us.
Affirmations, on the other hand, can be delusional and are linked to what we do. Self-affirmation encourages us to make suggestions such as “You got this, ” “I can do it, ” or ” I am strong, ” even when something is beyond our ability, and we are overwhelmed. They don’t give us courage because they’re more like a demand “I should have this, I ought to be able to do this, I must be strong…” to be accepted.
Self-acceptance says, “It doesn’t matter that I don’t have this or can’t do it; I’m still fundamentally OK.”
Healthy inferiority feelings point us towards areas of life we want to improve or grow. They leave space for our incapable selves to see what’s in front of us and make plans accordingly.
Confidence in Others
Community feeling extends acceptance and good faith to others.
Confidence is described as “unconditional belief in others.” Of course, accepting that we should believe in them unconditionally without sufficient evidence for trusting someone isn’t easy. But in a horizontal relationship, we know we can’t control the other person’s thoughts, beliefs, and actions. What they do with our confidence is their task.
It’s not to say “be a doormat” for the other person to walk over. On the contrary, establishing and holding boundaries is our task, allowing us to develop this confidence.
Our Image of The World
The universalising judgements we make about the world are often built around personal experiences. Our emotions usually cloud rational analysis. This is part of being human. It is our task, however, to realise what is going on and reflect on whether or not our conclusions are helpful to us and the world at large.
If one person criticises us, two unconditionally accept us, and seven are indifferent to our actions, who do we focus on? Where do we invest our energy? In the one person who dislikes us, the two who love us, or those who don’t care (the crowd)?
Our judgement of the world is influenced by the story we focus on. We will only see the person who criticises us if we lack harmony. A worldview based on this experience will lead to a skewed perspective and a miserable existence. It will also likely perpetuate more of the same as we anticipate bad faith in our interactions with others.
The End is Part of The Here and Now
A train runs to the top of Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) in North Wales, yet hundreds of people climb it every day. We might think the goal of climbing a mountain is to reach the top. But it’s not. The purpose of climbing a mountain is to climb it.
There are often quicker ways to get to the end. But the destination is part of the process rather than the goal. Without the top, we have no direction.
When we become attached to the outcome, and all that comes with it (recognition, likes, prestige etc), we become miserable. But when we live life like it’s the mountain, the music, and the dance, we come to see our place in the here and now.
Even though it signals the end, the goal of life isn’t death. But the reality of death is what gives us access to energy. To meaning. To love.
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