Let's Get Off Our Buts

Part Three:

The Biggest Lie in Choosing

If someone says "can't," that shows you what to do.


The biggest lie in choosing is, "I can't."

It is simply not true. We can do anything we want. If we don't do something, it is because we have committed our time, energy, and resources elsewhere.

The next time you hear yourself saying, to another--and especially to yourself--"I can't," take a deep breath and say instead, "My resources are otherwise engaged."

Because that's the truth.

Life's Four Basic Areas of Activity

Lots of folks confuse bad management with destiny.


When choosing a dream to pursue, it's good first to consider the four basic areas in which people live. They are

Naturally, in the course of a lifetime, people spend some time in each. Looking back, however, most people can say, "Yes, I gave the majority of my time and attention to __________" and mention one of the categories. Sometimes, it's the area they wanted to spend most of their time in. Other times, they spent their life in an area other than the one closest to their heart.

In choosing now which area you feel most drawn to, you can either (a) spend more time in that area, or (b) realize that the draw you feel ("I really want to do this, but I think I should do that") is from programming other than your own. Now is a good time to start reprogramming yourself so that the goals you follow are your own.

Here's where the "I want it all" syndrome comes in. We somehow think we're entitled to fulfill a significant goal from each of the four categories. All at once. Sorry. I haven't seen it. You can have any category you want, but you can't have every category you want.

The heights by great men reached and kept Were not attained by sudden flight, But they, while their companions slept, Were toiling upward in the night.


Life is easier if one faces this hard reality sooner, rather than later. (Some people are reading this book because the hard reality came knocking on their door . . .or repossessed the house, or filed divorce proceedings, or got them fired, or, or, or.)

You can spend equal amounts of time in each category, but, if you do, don't expect to go very far in any of them. You will live "a balanced life." People will remark, "My, what a balanced life you live."

If, while you're imagining this, a part of you says, "I don't want a balanced life! I want to be a rock star!" (Career/Professional) or "All I care about is my family!" (Marriage/Family) or "What difference does a balanced life make if we can't breathe the air?" (Social/Political) or "This world is but the shadowlands; the greater world is beyond!" (Religious/ Spiritual), then perhaps you're not looking for the balanced life after all.

The narrower your goal--and the more fully you supply that goal with your time, energy, and resources--the farther you'll go and the faster you'll get there. Think of a rocket. All its energy is pinpointed in one direction, and it can zoom off to distant planets.

The downside of rocket travel? You can't bring your house and your family and report for work on time and save the whales and take all your religious and spiritual books and . . . . Very little fits in the capsule of a rocket. If, however, seeing the moon close-up and in-person is your heart's desire, letting go of all but that "very little" is the price you must pay.

"All right. I'll settle for pictures of the moon."

Much less investment is required for that. You can even have a video of the moon. In color. Let go, however, of the dream of seeing the moon in-person and up close. Letting that dream go will free up energy you can put toward the dream you do choose to achieve.

In the next four chapters we'll take a look at each of the four basic areas of activity. Along the way, I'll do what I can to dispel a few of the myths that have grown around each.

Before discussing the four areas, let me mention a concept called the mirror.

The only service a friend can really render is to keep up your courage by holding up to you a mirror in which you can see a noble image of yourself.


This concept says that all life is a mirror, and by looking into the mirror, we can learn a great deal about ourselves. The mirror concept asks, "What if everything you like in people and things around you is really reflecting back to you something you like about yourself?" If you admire people who are kind, for example, they are reflecting back to you the kindness within yourself.

On the other hand, the mirror also reflects back what we don't like about ourselves. When we dislike someone for being selfish, perhaps there's a selfishness within ourselves that we don't like.

The mirror works just as well with things as with people. In fact, it's sometimes easier to see that we're projecting our feelings about ourselves onto something else when the object is inanimate. If we're moved by the grandeur of the sky, it's obvious that the grandeur is our projection. The sky is the sky. No grandeur there other than the grandeur we put there.

Using the mirror concept, we can use everything in life to teach us more about ourselves. Each area of life acts as a magnifying mirror to one aspect or another of ourselves. The area of ourselves we find most intriguing--the one we would most like to explore--often leads us to become involved in the corresponding area of life.

Marriage and Family

If you want to sacrifice the admiration of many men for the criticism of one, go ahead, get married.


The myths about marriage and family are omnipresent in our culture. The myths are perpetrated in almost every movie, TV show, song, magazine, book, billboard, and advertisement.

The mythical scenario goes something like this: You are trudging along in life--lonely, but coping. Some Enchanted Evening (across a crowded room) you meet The Perfect Stranger (as opposed to a total stranger). Fade in music. Fade out loneliness. You are lifted to the pinnacle of bliss, where you and Prince Charming or Cinderella live happily ever after. The end.

This is the most popular version of the larger, underlying myth that says things and people outside ourselves make us happy. ("You made me love you, I didn't want to do it . . .")

In fact, we make us happy. ("If you are lonely when you are alone," cautioned Jean-Paul Sartre, "you are in bad company.") The joy we see in others is a reflection of the joy in ourselves. We feel uncomfortable, however, giving ourselves credit for our own joy. It's easier to say, "You're wonderful, and I'm so happy you're with me," than to say, "I'm wonderful, and I'm so happy to be me." The first version may be easier to say, but it's not (a) honest, and (b) easy to live with.

It's not easy to live with because, if we feel happiness only when the other person is around, then we have to keep that other person around in order to be happy. If that person happens to be lost in the same illusion, that's called "being in love," and everything is hunky dory--for a while. (As Cher observed, "The trouble with some women is that they get all excited about nothing--and then marry him.")

Seldom or never does a marriage develop into an individual relationship smoothly and without crisis. There is no birth of consciousness without pain.


Eventually, no matter how hard we try to keep up the facade, one partner or the other will peek behind it and see the Dark Side, which is not at all lovable. "He loved me absolutely," wrote Frieda (Mrs. D. H.) Lawrence, "that's why he hates me absolutely."

The Dark Side is, of course, only something we see in another that we don't like about ourselves, and, again, are not honest enough to admit. If A sees B's Dark Side, but B fails to see A's Dark Side, it's Dump City. B sings a medley of torch songs and A cries, "Free Again!" If both see it at once, the perfect lovers become perfect enemies.

Am I being harsh on love and marriage? Look at the statistics. In the United States, more than half the marriages end in divorce within five years. Half! ("In Hollywood all the marriages are happy," Shelley Winters observed. "It's trying to live together afterwards that causes all the problems.")

Remember, these are the couples who stood before God, friends, and in-laws, swearing to love one another 'til death did them part. Imagine how many others--who at one time or another thought they were in love forever--never made it to the altar. ("My boyfriend and I broke up," Rita Rudner explained. "He wanted to get married and I didn't want him to.")

Which brings me to children. Children are a twenty-four-hour-a-day commitment, for a minimum of eighteen years--probably longer. With children, you can learn something very important: how to give for the sheer joy of giving. If you give to children with any hope of return, you're inviting misery all around. ("Before I was married I had three theories about raising children," John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, wrote. "Now I have three children and no theories.")

In fact, that's one of the primary lessons one learns--not just from children but from intimate relationships of all kinds--how to give. The myth is that marriage is for receiving. It's not. It's for giving. ("Marriage is not merely sharing the fettucini," Calvin Trillin explained, "but sharing the burden of finding the fettucini restaurant in the first place.")

I have known more men destroyed by the desire to have wife and child and to keep them in comfort than I have seen destroyed by drink and harlots.


But don't take my word for it. Ask anyone who's been in a successful relationship for, oh, at least two years. They'll almost certainly describe themselves as giving, with no thought of return. If they go on and on about how much fun it was to receive, you're probably talking to Zsa Zsa Gabor.

(When Zsa Zsa was on a call-in radio show, a caller asked, "I want to break up with a man, but he's been so nice to me. He gave me a car, a diamond necklace, a mink stole, beautiful gowns, a stove, expensive perfumes--what should I do?" Without having to think, Zsa Zsa said, "Give him back the stove.")

Another cultural myth is that we are somehow incomplete if we do not reproduce. This notion may have had some validity when being fruitful and multiplying was necessary for a species or tribe to continue. Today, however, one of the great problems in the world is overpopulation. Let those who really want to reproduce reproduce (and that includes providing the eighteen-year environment in which the reproductions can grow into functioning, creative, healthy humans). Those who want to leave their legacy in another way can feel free to do so.

Another value of relationships is learning about ourselves-- the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. Marriage is like a dinner with dessert first. The falling in love portion shows us the beauty within us. Everything else shows us everything else. It's a package deal. When the Dark Side presents itself and says, "I'm in you, too," many people panic.

"Wait a minute. This isn't part of the contract."

"Yes, it is. For better or for worse. This is worse."

"This is the worst. Where's the lovey-dovey stuff?"

"Maybe that bird will return when you learn to love this one."

"I have to learn to love it?"

"You only have to learn to accept it. Loving it, however, feels better."

As to marriage or celibacy, let a man take which course he will he will be sure to repent it.


People seldom want to face the Dark Side of themselves. Instead, they (choose one or more)

  1. Deny it's a mirror and pretend it's the other person. (One must be careful not to strike out too severely at a mirror, for, as we all know, if you break a mirror, it's seven years bad luck--perhaps in jail.)

  2. Pretend really hard that everything is all right, and "play house." ("Welcome to At Home with the Ostrich Family. Here's mother, Heroic Pretender; and father, General Denial. Here are their children, Make Believe, Gloss Over, and Feign Affection. Don't they all look happy? The Ostrich Family!")

  3. Realize that the reflected Dark Side they see in the mirror is true about themselves and hate themselves even more.

  4. Run!

For those looking for an intensive workshop in self-discovery, self-acceptance, and the perfect place to learn the joy of giving--like it or not--Marriage/Family is an area of life to consider.

(If you thought I was perhaps too hard on marital bliss, let me close with a romantic thought from Britt Ekland: "I know a lot of people didn't expect our relationship to last--but we just celebrated our two months anniversary.")

Career and Professional

I don't have anything against work. I just figure, why deprive somebody who really enjoys it?


NAPOLEON SOLO: Are you free?

ILLYA KURAKIN: No man is free who has to work for a living. But I am available.


Did you ever hear parents placing a curse on their child? "Someday, something's going to straighten you out!" That's what a career is--The Great Straightener.

Next to gravity, there's very little as constant as the business world--it will drag you down if you slip too often, or hurl you to the moon if you understand how to use it. (Most of the energy used in traveling to the moon and back was the gravitational pull of the moon and Earth.) Wernher von Braun found the business side of putting a man on the moon more difficult than the functional side. "We can lick gravity," he said, "but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming."

A job is what you have when you want to take the money to some other area of life in order to buy the necessities. Someone whose primary focus is marriage, for example, leaves the marriage only long enough to make the money to support the marriage--baby needs a new pair of shoes, and all that. That's a job.

Drive thy business, or it will drive thee.


You have a career or profession when what you love doing most is what you also get paid for doing. As Noel Coward said, "Work is much more fun than fun." Or, as Richard Bach remarked, "The more I want to get something done, the less I call it work."

"But I am an artist," some may say. "I only want to create." If you plan to get paid for creating, then you're in business. "But someone will discover me and take care of all that." Right, and if you have nothing to wear to the ball, your fairy godmother will supervise the mice and the birds in making you a gown.

The days of being "discovered" in the arts went out with Diaghelev. Artists--and that includes actors, singers, writers, dancers, musicians, painters, and so on--must become their own supporters, must champion their own cause. To succeed, they must become patron and protg all in one. In other words, if you're a creative person, you must create your own creative outlet. And that means being in business.You Can't Afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought, so I published it myself. I then published LIFE 101 myself, and this one, too, because I realized there's a lot more to getting a book into a reader's hands than merely writing it.

The secret of success in a career? Same as success in any other area. As John Moores explained, "Work seven days a week and nothing can stop you." Not only is success hard work, it's hard, challenging work. "If you have a job without aggravations," Malcolm Forbes pointed out, "you don't have a job."

One must, however, not just work hard. One must work smart. As the saying goes, the efficient person gets the job done right; the effective person gets the right job done . "The really idle man gets nowhere," Sir Heneage Ogilvie observed. "The perpetually busy man does not get much further."

Of course, a career is not for everyone. Lily Tomlin said, "The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."

And, yes, in addition to long hours and hard work, each career has its Dark Side. "The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling," James Baldwin explained, "is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side."

It is your work in life that is the ultimate seduction.


When one peeks through the glamour, one sees reality, and one may not like it. As Fred Allen said, "When you get through all the phony tinsel of Hollywood, you find the genuine tinsel underneath." David Sarnoff remarked, "Competition brings out the best in products, and the worst in people."

One especially may not like a career's Dark Side when one remembers the mirror--the things we don't like about our career are also what we don't like about ourselves. Is your career insincere? Dishonest? Heartless? Gulp. Behold, the mirror.

If one is willing to see a career as a great, big mirror (career and mirror--they even rhyme, if you pronounce them with a vague Southern accent), there's a lot to learn--facts most people don't want to learn about themselves.

Rather than looking in either the relationship or career mirror, some spend time looking in one until it becomes uncomfortable, then run off to look in the other. Back and forth, endlessly. The career vs. marriage struggle has been going on since the caveperson who invented the first wheel decided to open Wheels R Us.

One side of the struggle is expressed by George Jean Nathan: "Marriage is based on the theory that when a man discovers a brand of beer exactly to his taste he should at once throw up his job and go to work in a brewery."

Representing the other side of the debate, Bertrand Russell: "One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."

"Can't I have both a career and a marriage?" Well, some can. And some can juggle seven balls while eating a tuna fish sandwich.

What happens at the end of a long, successful career? You'll be glad you chose career over everything else, brimming with pride over all you've accomplished, right? Well . . .

T. S. Eliot, poet, Nobel Laureate--but better known as the lyricist for Cats, heaven help his memory--wrote,

As things are, and as fundamentally they must always be, poetry is not a career, but a mug's game. No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written: he may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing.

And Sir Thomas More, after fifteen years of practicing law, wrote of an ideal future, Utopia, "They have no lawyers among them, for they consider them as a sort of people whose profession it is to disguise matters." Or, as Robert Frost put it, "By working faithfully eight hours a day, you may eventually get to be a boss and work twelve hours a day."

The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one.


To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.


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