Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Power of Real-Life Stories

Among the various real-life anecdotes interspersed among the laws and corollaries of the SAL theory, you will find detailed inclusions of my own SAL story. In coming chapters I expose intricate particulars of my greatest fears, weaknesses, inadequacies, shortcomings, and failings. I will also share the successes that followed—made possible by a combination of SAL and Serendipity. From the highs and lows of my adventures with romance to the devastating symptoms of OCD; from the peaks and valleys of my career path to the specific action steps I took to earn Existential Growth, I lay bear my life’s rocky, yet rewarding, journey.

My decision to incorporate a narrative approach in teaching Self-Action Leadership is rooted in the reality that stories have incredible power to teach and inspire. The broad appeal of stories is the primary reason we read books, go to movies and plays, listen to music, and view art. This appeal is often strengthened when we find out the story is factual, not fictional. Real-life stories help us to better understand the differences we share as human beings. More importantly, they illuminate our many similarities, which ultimately outnumber our differences. Whatever differences may set us apart, I believe you and I are ultimately more alike than we are different. Consider, for example, three of our fundamental similarities:

  • We are both human beings. 
  • We both have faced, or will face, significant difficulties in our lives. 
  • We both have to earn whatever level of Existential Growth we attain. 

Despite these and other commonalities we all share as human beings, no two self-action leaders walk a carbon-copied pathway. Moreover, each human being experiences a measure of naturally allotted and self-inflicted suffering. In consideration of this reality, we would do well to avoid comparing our own struggles with the struggles of others. This is because, as Victor Frankl—a Nazi concentration camp survivor—points out, all suffering is relative.

A man’s suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the 'size' of human suffering is absolutely relative. [1]

In light of this astute observation, I encourage we withhold judging each other’s life journeys and challenges. Instead, I invite you to focus on how the universal principles contained in the SAL theory and model can help us all, no matter how different our pathways or problems may be.

In the end, no matter who you are, or what challenges you face, it is YOU—and only you—that will decide who, or what, will claim the victory over your life. Others can help and encourage, but they cannot live your life for you, nor can Serendipity alone carry the day. In the eloquent words of Ella Wheeler Wilcox:

There is room in the halls of pleasure
For a long and lordly train,
But one by one we must all file on
Through the narrow aisles of pain. [2]


This book differs from other self-help books in the sense that I am not an expert at helping other people solve their problems, nor do I wish to promote myself as such. I am no Dr. Phil!

My expertise lies in helping myself solve my own problems. My goal in writing this book, therefore, is to share my experiences and insights in helping myself in order to provide some ideas that might help YOU to better help yourself solve your own problems.

In the presentation of my story, I avoid comparing and contrasting my challenges with yours or anyone else’s. Everybody’s challenges are individual and unique. Comparing and contrasting challenges for the sake of figuring out who has a harder lot doesn’t really accomplish much beyond embellishing your own pity party. Moreover, Frankl’s insight into the relativity of suffering further suggests that comparisons are ultimately a fruitless endeavor. Instead, I will focus on how all of us can better bear up underneath the individual burdens we each must bear, or perhaps how we can relinquish them entirely to emerge on the other side stronger, more compassionate, and wiser individuals than we were before.

No matter how different my journey may be from yours, I invite you to mine the forthcoming anecdotes for whatever insight you can gain into your own life’s story and journey. In the process, I hope you will more fully discover the enormous freedom and sovereignty you possess over your long-term destiny through your capacity to freely choose your thoughts, speech, and actions.

Know this the every soul is free,
To choose his life, and what he’ll be.
– Anonymous


In the opening chapter of his famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens wrote: “A wonderful fact to reflect upon, [is] that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” In this world, I can never perfectly understand the totality of your existence and experiences, nor can you perfectly understand mine. I am confident, however, that by sharing our respective experiences, we can gain insights into each other’s journeys that can mutually benefit everyone who hears them. This wisdom can empower us to better understand and appreciate the mysterious lives of each other as we attempt to solve—at least in part—the extraordinary mysteries of our own.

Perhaps sharing intimate details from my own life's story might, in some small way, aid you in your own quest for self-understanding and self-improvement. Perhaps by observing the footprints of my own treacherous pathway through life, you might draw strength to press forward in your own unique and challenging journey. In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Lives of great men all remind us
   We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
   Footprints on the sands of time;—
Footprints, that perhaps another,
   Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
   Seeing, shall take heart again. [3]

In sharing these words of Longfellow, I do not wish in any way to immodestly insinuate that I am a great man. I do, however, desire earnestly that my footprints, however flawed, might, in some small way, prove helpful to you along the pathways of your own life’s journey.

When I reflect on the impact that Self-Action Leadership has had on my life, my heart echoes the inspiring and hopeful words of Thoreau:

I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. [4]

For me, the greatest liberty and opportunity in life is the chance I have to consciously sculpt my own life over time through intentional choice. It is the only truly inalienable liberty any of us possesses. It gives us power over our lives and brings enormous satisfaction, excitement, achievement, and most importantly—HOPE.

I hope this book helps you to more fully exercise this liberty, and in the process, to develop a deeper, greater, and more animated hope and freedom for your own future. I further hope that you may one day come to behold what the “Sculptor Boy” beheld in George Washington Doane’s immortal poem, Life Sculpture.

Chisel in hand stood a sculptor boy
With his marble block before him,
And his eyes lit up with a smile of joy,
As an angel-dream passed o’er him.
He carved the dream on that shapeless stone,
With many a sharp incision;
With heaven’s own light the sculpture shone,—
He’d caught that angel-vision.
Children of life are we, as we stand
With our lives uncarved before us,
Waiting the hour when, at God’s command,
Our life-dream shall pass o’er us.
If we carve it then on the yielding stone,
With many a sharp incision,
Its heavenly beauty shall be our own,—
Our lives, that angel-vision. [5]

[1] Victor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning. 2006. Beacon Press. Boston, MA. Page 44.
[2] Wilcox, E.W. in Cook, R.J. (1958/1997) One Hundred and One Famous Poems. Contemporary Books. Lincolnwood (Chicago), Illinois. Page 72.
[3] Longfellow, H. W. (1912). From A Psalsm of Life in The Poetical Works of Longfellow. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Page 3.
[4] Thoreau, H.D. (2001). Walden and Other Writings. MetroBooks. New York, NY. Pages 74-75.
[5] Doane, G.W. (1920). Life Sculpture. In R.J. Cook, Ed., One-Hundred and one Famous Poems: With a Prose Supplement. (Google Books version). Chicago, IL: The Cable Company. Page 136.

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