Ask anyone and they will find some single word that best defines a life well lived.
While the average adult has typically more than 25,000 words in her mother tongue, (French or English) invariably, we tend to choose one word that sums the path to “success” and “fulfillment”
Tenacity, Transparency, Honesty, Ambition, Charity, Drive, Enlightenment, Sacrifice, Commitment, Selflessness, Discipline, Flatulence, Forgiveness, Focus, Resilience, Nurturing, Humility, Self-Awareness, the list is endless.
Well not actually endless, as it turns out.
More like about 1,710 words to be more accurate.
This according to “A Hierarchical Analysis of 1,710 English Personality-Descriptive Adjectives” by Ashton, Lee, and Goldberg, as published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2004.
Wait -What the…!! Why would anyone spend the time analyzing the adjectives used in the description of another person?
For the same reason, a fifteen-year-old boy would approach his father, on a warm summer night as he vacuumed the pool to ask:
“Dad, what the most important thing to you, in life”
We all seek to identify the personality traits required that will orient us toward “success”, and since in my younger view, my Dad was amongst the most successful that I direct access to, I sought his.
Well at least from the perspective of the definition of the term of success, that my 15 years of life experience afforded me.
Is it human nature, hardwired within our genetic composition, to emulate the traits we identify as ‘winner’ in others?
I’m thinking yes.
Yet, that can be argued in the many ways my sister, brother and I are remarkably different.
Which begs the question “Were we three watching the same pool cleaner?” Or at the very least our lives raise further ambiguity surrounding the eternal “Nature vs Nurture ”debate.
While the answers to these questions are more complex than I can begin to answer, I’m thinking we three were in fact eyeing the very same guide. Albeit through different colored lenses, influenced both by our own baggage and the different points in the personal journey of the man who set the pace for us.
For example, the age difference between my siblings and I resulted in my sister undoubtedly identifying with his more youthful qualities of willful commitment and limitless bravado. While my brother seemingly was more influenced by my father’s aptitude for acceptance and forgiveness.
If each of our lives is nuanced by the moment and personal experiences (at that time), as well our own interpretation of the behaviors of the Sherpa we choose to follow up the mountain, does that explain how, despite being equipped with the greatest potential, all too often many of us end up at the top of a mountain overlooking an unfulfilling panorama? Or worse yet, measuring our lives in missed opportunities as we sit on the sidelines, hat in hand in front of others passing us by?
The words of David Byrne in: “Once in a lifetime” brilliantly capture the moment of emptiness when we realize the destination didn’t result in the feeling anticipated at the onset of the trek:
And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”
And now time for our musical break. Here’s the link to get you jostling with this sublime, funny, and existentially questioning tune. Which just so happens to be one of echoing refrains in the soundtrack of the middle part of my own little life movie:
So often, we allow others to identify the target of our limitless capacity. And so often that happens at our most impressionable moments. Like adolescence-the fun years when pimples and values simultaneously surface.
Some of us make the ascension to follow the parents we see as successful, forever setting our watch to the accomplishments of our predecessors to ensure we are “making good time” in comparison.
Others, who may find the influences of an upbringing that left them hangry or alone, choose a divergent path, resolved to never be “that poor”, “that late”, “that mean” or ” that rigid“. And please note, by “poor” I refer to spiritually, emotionally, or financially. They are guided by a not too distant horizon, quite literally allowing the darkness to define the light within them.
Today, in my own journey, I have come to recognize that when the obsession of how to get there superseded the objective of where to get to, it was precisely at those moments, that I felt the least aligned with the flow of life and ultimately my most authentic self.
Which brings us to Integrity.
Ah …Integrity…we all claim it.
We write it into our mission statements. We hope to live a life that we can be identified by it, but in the end how many of us actually are?
Where the rubber meets the road, when we kiss ass because we fear losing our jobs, when we remain silent in the face of racism, sexism or any ism, when we put our thirst to fill the hole we feel within ahead of the work required to fill it, can we really claim we have integrity?
Not me…at least not with consistency, in the earlier base camps along my journey.
I spent too much time worrying that you were smarter, faster, or more of anything I was not. I bit my tongue, wore what you asked, and behaved like the salesman you rewarded me for, as I secretly felt the emptiness of not being aligned with my truest self.
But I did get super good at all! Or so I thought.
I spent a lot of time confusing myself between the value of practicing “Social Graces” and the fine Art of selling out.
I felt I had no choice.
Rationalizing my misunderstanding of – this was the path of a “responsible” adult. Aftercall there were loved ones to whom I had to step up for and for whom I felt I had to provide.
Talk about the walking wrong trail up the right mountain!
More on the ascension, and my Dad’s response to my teenage question in the next episode of “As the World Turns” (Aka my next post).
Oh and btw, no, that wasn’t a typo – I just wanted to make you smile as you were reading the entire list of adjectives above.😉
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