How to get busy living

We’re living in historic times. So much pain, disagreement, and the continual display of separate interests.

Yet it is also a time of incredible opportunity. The chance to grow, join, and transform the seeds of sorrow into a framework for happiness and success.

When I first began my career as a young, insecure engineer I walked into the office on my first day and was struck by the homogeneity of the place. All these old men wearing starched white shirts and ties. And by old, I mean 30 years old. I vividly recall thinking, “I could never imagine being that old.”

While 30 quickly came and went, the homogeneous nature of engineering (and corporate business) is taking far longer to evolve into a truly equitable environment where diverse ideas and passionate people are recognized and rewarded based on nothing but their impact.

A better way

I was incredibly fortunate to be one of the people behind the Open Source movement — a revolutionary philosophy much broader than just software, responsible for the likes of Linux, Wikipedia, Firefox, Wordpress, and Kahn Academy.

What drew me to building and championing Open Source was the idea that contributions to any project could be made by anyone. Anyone. Neither race, gender, age, citizenship, socioeconomic stratum, personality type, nor health status made any difference. The only thing that mattered was the quality of your contribution.

As measured by whom? The community as a whole. No one person responsible for admission or grading or promotion. A true meritocracy.

A truly equitable framework. For business. And life.

Putting it into practice

How can we apply the lessons of open source in business and life?

1. For those of us in executive positions, honestly ask ourselves these questions: Am I promoting, hiring, and providing compensation based solely on a person’s impact? Am I contributing toward an open, safe, respectful culture that appropriately values diversity? Am I creating opportunity for those less privileged? Do I reflect often enough on how I could be doing a better job making a difference? When people think of me, are any of these words used: integrity, visionary, inspirational, fair? If not, what work can I be doing on myself to affect that outcome?

2. For those of us in entry or mid-level jobs, do we fairly treat and respect our colleagues and bosses — not just based on what we say and do, but even by what we think about them? One of the hardest things to do is see beyond a person’s ego. The unfortunate truth is that inside of everyone is a frightened little child crying out for compassion. As the philosopher Philo said, “Be kind … everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

3. As a citizen of the world, could I be less judgmental of people who have ideas and beliefs diametrically opposed to mine? Could I be doing a better job listening without emotion and responding without anger or malice? If so, what would that look like?

4. As an individual, do I sometimes look down on myself or see myself as my own worst enemy? Do I beat myself up for not being the parent, spouse, sibling, partner, friend, boss, or employee I wish to be? Am I frustrated or depressed because my bank account, job title, social position, relationship status, or bodily health is not where I’d like it to be? Am I willing to step back and realize that thinking that way simply reinforces and perpetuates a self-defeating nature? As the old saying goes, “As a man thinketh, so is he.” Once we realize that our thoughts drive our experiences, all we need to do is practice a different way of thinking. What and who am I grateful for? What’s one thing I could do right now that could help someone else or bring a smile to their face?

As we go about our daily lives and deal with the current challenges all around us, we can contemplate these questions and not only envision a better world but be a channel for making it happen.

Getting started

The unfortunate truth is that it is too easy to give in to inaction. Inertia is very hard to overcome. But if we want to get past the frustration, the disappointment, and perhaps even the sense of helplessness, then we need to start.

Where? Right where we are. In our home, workplace, supermarket, school. With everyone we interact with. Try looking at each person and seeing beyond their body, beyond their personality. To their core — the part we all have in common: the desire to be needed, respected, appreciated, and cared for. The wish to feel good and laugh and play.

There’s a powerful line in the movie Shawshank Redemption that gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

It comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living, or get busy dying.

Get busy living, or get busy dying. Yet how often do we choose the latter?

When we focus our thoughts on gratitude, sharing, inclusiveness, and growth — then we’re opening ourselves to amazing experiences. When we challenge ourselves in each encounter to maintain total integrity — then we can powerfully move others. And when we commit to seeing all our interactions with others as opportunities for true joining — not as bodies but as equal brothers and sisters — then we’ve gotten busy living.

True happiness and success await only our decision to be the change we wish to see.