Mastering Life

From with soup - Mastering LifeThis is a re-post of a blog that was posted on Google Blog in 2011.

In the film Julie and Julia, we are provide with an interesting contrast between the story of Julia Child and her start in the cooking profession and New York blogger Julie Powell and her one year self-challenge to cook every recipe in Child’s first cookbook.

Child, married to a career diplomat and living in Paris, began her adventure by seeking to engage her mind and time doing something she loved – eating good food. Julie seeks to prove her worth to herself and her friends, also by doing something she loves — writing and cooking. It took Child over seven years to write her famous book and many more to get it published. I found this reassuring given the ten plus years I have spent producing my Secrets of Life and Death film series. Blogger Julie becomes a stunning success in less than a year. I find myself feeling dismissive about her achievement.

Clearly, I have some judgments about Julie Powell that bare examination. Julie was motivated by EGO, the desire to prove herself to her friends. She piggybacked on the work of another and she was an overnight success (ok, over-year success)! Child, in contrast, was motivated by her sheer love for food, was amazingly courageous in bucking gender stereotypes and praise-worthy for her many years of perseverance in writing and publishing her book. She was also played by actor, Meryl Streep, and thus irresistible. Reexamining my judgments I realized that neither woman is better than the other and both have something to teach us about life mastery.

Ego: How many of us can say we are unmotivated by a desire to prove ourselves to others. Fear of making a film that people did not like was a constant companion of mine while producing my film series. The biggest lesson from both women is to select something that we love to do. It helps to keep you going when the going gets tough — which it always does, because the universe wants to make sure you mean it.

Julie teaches us the machinations of ego — insecurity,  disappointments, self-absorption and the near destruction of relationship. We can identify and learn from her missteps and forgive ourselves as we can inevitably forgive her. Child shows us how to stand up for our work, establish boundaries and resist compromising for the sake of acceptance (i.e. having a diminished version of her book published). But is her decision to resist — ego or not-ego? Was she so full of herself and her book, for example, that she refused to make the requested changes? Or was it love of her work and those who helped her that would not allow it? She won in the ends. Her book was published in its entirety by another publisher. So we are grateful she resisted and learn something about the importance of defending the integrity of our creations.

Piggybacking: What artist does not learn from the work of other? It is where inspiration and ideas are birthed. Can any one look at their own creations and truly say they owe nothing to anyone else? It is impossible. Of course there are limits. When is it piggybacking?  When is it plagiarism or copyright infringement? It can be a confusing line that, rest assured, our copyright industry protects and even moves with vigor. Julie was piggybacking on Child’s work. Child was piggybacking on her teachers. They piggybacked on those they learned from and so on and so forth back to that first caveman who discovered the advantages of cooking food over fire. Each one put something of themselves in the new creation that made it truly unique. Of course some don’t, flamboyantly and reverently so, but we have the courts decide when someone steps over the line.

Instant Success: Why degrade instant success? Struggling for years has nothing to recommend for itself. It is simply a belief one clings to in the long years of uncertainty and disappointment. “Got to put in the time!” It is a belief that can undermine us and hold us back right along with thoughts about being unworthy, not good enough and undeserving. Instead of dissing Julie for her relatively quick success, we should be celebrating her and even copying her. Of course there is also a lot of serendipity and luck, not to mention good connections involved in achieving what we traditionally think of as success, i.e., fame and fortune.

Might we also take a careful look at the meaning we attach to “success.” Certainly there’s nothing like the in-flow of regard and money to reassure us that the universe is pleased with our efforts. However, when it comes to the end of our lives, will we discover that something else was really more important? What will make us most proud in the end, most complete, most fulfilled? In a blog post at Inspiration and Chai we are told of five regrets that recur among the dying. They are: failing to live a life true to one’s self rather than fulfilling the expectations of others, working too hard, not expressing one’s feelings, losing track of friend, and not being happy. Might a truly successful life be best gauged by how few of these regrets exist in our final hours?

This Tuesday, May 21, my workshop series “On Dying Well,” will invite people to take a look at their life milestones and then create a life map. It is a bold exercise that helps us explore just how well we are doing on our life journey. It’s an exercise we should do frequently throughout our lives and preferably long before the end.

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