“The great paradox of life is that those who lose their lives will gain them. This paradox becomes visible in very ordinary situations. If we cling to our friends, we may lose them, but when we are non-possessive in our relationships, we will make many friends. When fame is what we seek and desire, it often vanishes as soon as we acquire it, but when we have no need to be known, we might be remembered long after our deaths. When we want to be in the center, we easily end up on the margins, but when we are free enough to be wherever we must be, we find ourselves often in the center.”
Henri Nouwen, Henry Nouwen Society, Daily Meditation
Nouwen again lets us know a very real truth that we live and work with paradox, holding tensions. One of the best books I read during my work as a physician was John R. O’Neil’s The Paradox of Success, When Winning at Work Means Losing at Life, A Book of Renewal for Leaders. O’Neil starts out telling us about how our excessive pride as leaders together with the seductive perks of power can become addictive with the wielding of power itself becoming more important than its goal. Power and need to control our own fate can take over, and control becomes the end rather than the means. The paradox of success is the promise of renewal as we can step back, especially in a retreat, and see where we have gotten into trouble. There are obstacles to stepping back such as our drive for perfection as our path becomes a prison and clocks tell us what we should be doing especially as we drive for the dead end of a substantial paycheck. O’Neil believes that any amount of time spent away from our usual productive round of activities is renewing as long as it is time spent in pursuit of some deep learning. For me it has been walking, being or sitting in nature, music, quiet, writing, talking and connecting with friends, visiting the sick, and some daily retreat which usually involves writing. He encourages us to become healed by pursuing some situation where we do not run the show as well as concentrating on relationships rather than goals or end results. Our difficulties stem from the very traits that make us winners. We will find gold in dark places.
He also shows a graph about success. We work hard to reach the top as we master our profession. We only stay there at the top briefly, for there is always someone else or many who will soon surpass us. O’Neil suggests that we stop to observe our situation as we approach the peak of a pursuit and consider starting all over again in a new career, beginning a new curve. That keeps us humble as we are back again on a learning curve where we are not the ones with all the answers. As we reach near the top of that career or undertaking, he again suggests we observe and consider starting all over again. As Benedictines might put it, “always we begin again.”