On Effectiveness in Personal Life
In a previous Insight, I discussed what effectiveness means in managing a business organization: a system is effective when it functions to produce the results that fulfill the purpose for which the system was created.
Now, what does it mean for a person to be effective in personal life?
To answer this question, you must first ask: “What is the purpose of my life? Why was I created?”
Hmmm… This is not a simple question. Millions of pages have been written on the subject, starting with religious writings and ending with the wave of self-actualization advice that is currently engulfing modern civilization.
Let me see if I can add to the discussion.
How can you determine whether you are effective as a human being – whether you are producing results that fulfill the purpose of your life? That you are not just functioning, i.e., going through the motions, producing results but feeling that you are wasting your life?
To be effective, you have to focus first of all on why you exist. Why are you alive?
In all the languages I know, the word “why” is synonymous with the words “for what” and “what for.” For instance, in Spanish: Por que/ para que; in Hebrew: lama / lema; and in Serbian: zasto, which is one word meaning both “why” – zasto – and “what for” – za sto.
I suggest that you focus on the question “What for?” That will help you determine your purpose in life much better than the question “why” – which leaves me, at least, wondering what to think next. “What for?” converges your thoughts, while the question “why?” diverges your thoughts, causing you to look everywhere and nowhere for an answer. So, instead of asking yourself why you exist, ask yourself, “For what /what for am I here on this earth?” And the question “For what?” can be exchanged with the question “For whom?” In both cases you are looking beyond yourself. When you serve yourself only, you could be compared to a cancer, which uses energy for its own interests alone (assuming that death is not a purpose we aim for).
In other words, you will not discover the purpose of your life sitting in a barrel like Diogenes did, nor in a cave contemplating your navel, like the sa’dhus in India do. You need to go out to the market and serve someone else’s needs, like Socrates did.
Now, how do you answer these questions: “For whom or what for do I exist?”
Missionaries know their purpose perfectly well. Good teachers do, too. And first-class consultants as well. Do you know “for whom” and “for what” you exist?
Let me ask you: What inspires you? The word “inspire” comes from the words “to be in the spirit,” which means to be integrated with the biggest force there is (and I let you define what that total, absolute force is for you) – to the point of losing yourself in the process, forgetting time, place – everything. It is like an orgasm: for a few seconds you have no sense of time or place. When you are inspired in your work, it feels like one prolonged mental orgasm. You forget everything. Furthermore, when you are inspired in what you do, like an orgasm, your work gives you energy instead of taking energy. In contrast, when you do something you are alienated from, something you hate, it exhausts you very fast. Right?
So, what is it that uplifts you, that makes you lose yourself in doing it – that gives you energy? And remember that it has to be serving something. If it is serving only yourself, that can also be orgasmic, but it is like masturbation: you lose energy instead of gaining it. What is it that gives you energy when you are serving others, serving something else? That is what you should do! That is you. That is what you exist for, and if you spend your life doing it, you will not feel that you have “worked and slaved” all your life.
And furthermore, as you get older and feel you have less and less energy, when you have no more children to raise and are no longer working in an organization and serving a purpose, do not go to an old age home and wait to die. Volunteer for something you deeply care for. Serve. You will feel younger and live longer.
Now, a problem. How about a visual artist? Who is he or she serving? Let’s say this artist never exhibits his or her work, thus never enriches the society or community with new aspects of artistic expression that others will study.
What about performing artists? Whom are they serving?
If they decline to “commercialize” – i.e., focus on what the audience wants to see or hear – then they serve their art, their inner light, which is the most demanding master there is. They lose themselves when they work. They lose all sense of time and space.
But if non-commercial fine artists refuse to consciously cater to the prevalent tastes of the audience; if on the contrary they expect the audience to adapt to their art, are they self-serving to the point of being a cancer?
The best things in life are known by their absence. You do not know the worth of your health until you get sick, the value of love till you are lonely, or the benefits of democracy till you experience dictatorship.
I once read a play by Tagore, the Indian poet. In it, the king challenges an artist: “Who needs you?” The artist responds: “Imagine the world without us. Then you will know our value.”
Fine artists serve society by just being what they are – by being agents of change, even without intending to be.
It is not the intent that counts. It is the result of your life’s work.
As long as you add value, you are effective, whether you intend to do so or whether you do not intend to do so. It is the impact you have. It is what remains after you are gone. And that happens when others are affected by what you do. That is called being effective. Thank you.