Author Richard Webster uses the interesting literary device of cogent, timely correspondence received by a fictional character. These brief letters from his former high school history teacher contain advice appropriate to each particular crisis, and arrive just at the moment of decision. Every missive is preceded by a question or statement encapsulating the high school teacher’s guidance. While these snatches of wisdom may seem self-evident, their appearance within the context of individual situations and crises causes them to stand out in bolder relief.
Eight such pieces of amiable instruction seemed particularly appropriate to my own life. They are: "What’s your passion?", "Be kind to yourself", "Follow your dream", "Enjoy the journey", "Focus on the positive", "Find something to believe in", "What is your purpose?", and "Choose your thoughts."
Webster defines "passion" as one’s own inner truth --- that which moves or inspires you. Existence without joy is the end of living and the beginning of survival. In our success-oriented society, we are too much caught up in the scramble for survival (i.e., security), although we will never have enough material wealth to feel impenetrably secure. I sometimes feel I’m wasting my life on the merry-go-round working and bill-paying. By remembering that my passion is the real meaning of my life, I can free myself from the less significant mundane aspect of mere survival, and get on with the high purpose of fulfilling my abilities, as mediocre as they may be.
"Be kind to yourself" is probably the most difficult of Webster’s commands to follow. He does not, of course, tempt us with self-indulgence. The kindness of which he speaks is compassion for our flaws and sins, which we know all too well. It is easy to judge and condemn myself, keenly aware as I am of a lifetime of error and inappropriate behavior. Objectively regarding ourselves is difficult, but it can and should be done. Think of yourself as the child you once were. Do you despise that boy or girl? Of course not. That may be the first step toward being kind to oneself; to achieve a balanced appreciation for who and what we are. Too harsh a self-judgment erodes our will to make something of ourselves in this life.
"Follow your dream" is an admonition to exercise one’s passion. It is easier said than done. If your dream is to someday own a fancy car with which to impress your friends and enemies, then such a goal may be achieved through a little hard work and an untouchable savings account. On the other hand, if your ideal is world peace and your passion is to strive against war, then your dream will probably be fulfilled, not, unfortunately, by achieving such an impossibility in this harsh world, but through the fight for its realization.
It is in following one’s dream that at least something of its fulfillment comes about. Such an assurance is comforting to someone like myself, who, after long years of trying to make a better society (at least from my point of view), eventually concluded that changing one’s life was more effective (and more possible) than changing the world. This is apparently what Webster means when he instructs us to "Enjoy the journey". Like most of my fellow human beings, I am too focused on hoped-for end results, desire outcomes, and bottom lines. Things do not always turn out the way we anticipate, and rarely in the manner we precisely envisioned, resulting in disappointment. With our eyes on the prize we are too often led to agree with Arthur Schopenhauer, the so-called "Philosopher of Pessimism", that our individual existence is nothing more than a life-long process of disillusionment. Webster’s antidote to such dead-end thinking is a kind of yogic indifference to ultimate success or the lack thereof by making the most of our passage into the future.
I find that thus relinquishing worry for a future that can be, at most, anticipated but never clearly foreseen, a calm settles over my heart, as stress and blood pressure are lowered. Moreover, I am better able to achieve my task in a calm state of mind, than distracted by fears, most of which turn out to be baseless. An up-beat assessment of one’s situation is the significance of Webster’s "Focus on the positive." Its opposite, negativity, is the pitfall threatening everyone in modern America’s fiercely competitive society. I find that if I dwell too long and deeply on the negative qualities in myself or around me, I want to just give up. There is no hope in capitulation, but a positive attitude at least keeps us going. Where we can still fight there is at least hope.
Webster tells us to "Find something to believe in." Faith is everywhere being undermined today, both in established leaders and institutions, from priests and politicians, to churches and corporations. I believe in none of these discredited and yet-to-be-discredited persons or systems. I believe in the eternal truths of nature and the human soul. That, I find the older I become, is the faith which sustains me.
Just asking, "What is your purpose?," must give us pause to consider the core meaning of our existence. After some reflection, I believe I know the answer; namely, to find out what talents or abilities one has, however humble they may be, and apply them. In so doing, I have found an inner sense of fulfillment unattainable by any other means.
Best of all perhaps, "Choose your thoughts" means that we are masters of our own mind. Under psychic attack as we all our during waking hours by skillful advertising and propaganda, it is important to know that we are sovereign at least over those things we may choose to embrace or disregard. Change the channel! Better yet, turn off the box! In a culture where individual human beings are feeling increasingly powerless, they still have final rights over their own thought processes. Like them, I cannot escape a growing feeling of being imposed upon by officials of various hierarchies who presume to tell me how I should think. The simple realization that at least in the realm of thought we are still masters is a dimension of liberty in a world of shrinking freedoms.
Webster’s Success Secrets are the simple but eternally powerful truths which must remain secrets no longer.