This weekend I happened to watch a recorded episode of Dan Rather’s ‘The Big Interview’. Dan was interviewing Lindsey Buckingham. For my younger readers, Lindsey Buckingham is an American musician, singer, songwriter, and producer, who is best known as the lead guitarist and one of the vocalists of the musical group Fleetwood Mac from 1975 to 1987. His tumultuous, passionate relationship with fellow singer Stevie Nicks is legendary. And their album, Rumors, went multi-platinum and sold over 40 million copies.
Yet, what struck me in this interview, was Lindsey’s response when Dan asked him about this phase in his life and his thoughts relative to his career. Lindsey, calmly and quite cerebral, answered: “Time reveals substance.”
Over the years, I have heard many references to time and life, such as: ‘Life is a marathon not a sprint’, ‘Time heals’, and even the Chinese proverb: “Distance tests a horse’s strength. Time reveals a person’s character.” However, I had never heard the adage ’Time reveals substance’. Yet – I love it – as this truly does offer an all-inclusive truism.
We know that a person’s character – or substance – can often be viewed as an intangible. It’s hard to ‘nail it down’ quantifiably; as it most certainly is built over our entire lifetime. It is a culmination of our thoughts, words, and deeds….our choices. It is the sum of consistency; it is not based on an episodic moment in time. Most of us desire to have a reputation of strong character, which can translated to living a life of substance. Yet, it if we are to live a life of substance, it requires focus, discipline, and our ability to ‘look in the mirror’, identify our flaws, and make a concerted effort to improve in those areas. We are all living in the ‘human condition’ and thus, we all have areas which need work. Those individuals who seek out their weaknesses in their personal character (and seek to improve them) are the ones that create a life of substance. They know it is the ‘little things’ that create the bedrock for the ‘bigger things’ in life. They realize that a person’s nature is most often revealed in what can be perceived in the ‘mundane’….the small daily moments and actions which make up life.
A person’s way of ‘meeting the world’….and how we communicate – whether this is on social media, in email messages, or in our person to person interactions – shows who we are. As the Buddha offered many years ago: Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become deeds. Watch your deeds. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Character is everything. In my life – both in professional and personal interactions, I have been exposed to individuals who reveal who they really are in how they interact with others. I have been the victim (and a witness of others being the victims) of malicious gossip, slander, and blatant lies. I have also been witness to those individuals who exaggerate their stories or present their stories with ‘half-truths’, clearly a product of insecurity or a desire to be perceived in a different light. Many times, these choices are disregarded by others, and they are swept under the proverbial rug as not being that important. Yet, the question is: do these actions equate to substance? If our lives are a compilation of our thoughts, words, and deeds – how can we create a life of substance? A few thoughts:
- A person of substance is someone who strives to live a life that means something and who chooses to participate rather than be a spectator in life. My summation of an ‘aligned life’ is to love what you do, be good at it, most importantly have it tied to something greater than yourself. That is the most important aspect: to find a cause greater than ourselves. This cause, at its most simplistic, is to make the world a better place….in some way. This could be to increase the quality of someone’s life, rear children into life-respecting, love-filled adults, righting a terrible wrong, standing up for the ‘underdog’ or for the person who has been the victim of malicious gossip or betrayal. Or it could be having a passion for the ‘greater good’ and contributing to this conviction in every aspect of our lives.
- A person of substance gets in the game. This requires courage and the ability (and choice) to take a risk in the quest of being fully engaged in life. One of my favorite quotations exemplifying this truism is from President Teddy Roosevelt, in his address entitled “the man in the arena”:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
- A person of substance takes responsibility for their lives. They deliberately and wholeheartedly put themselves in the center of the action and fully accept whatever the consequences that decision may bring. Each of us make millions of decisions in our short lives on the planet. We choose what to think, what to say, and what not to say; what/who to stand up for; we choose how/where to spend our time; we choose between taking the chance or avoiding the risk; we choose between following societal expectations or staying true to ourselves. Whatever our choices are, we know that we – and we alone – own them. Years ago, I read the wonderful book by Dr. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, which of course got its title from the wonderful poem by Robert Frost which had this phrase embedded in it: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Though walking a life’s road which has been less traveled can be riddled with curves, uncharted paths, and perhaps rocky pitfalls, it most certainly will lead to unique experiences, personal growth, and fulfillment. And I also suggest it will lead to a life of substance.
What do you think? What are your thoughts on living a life of substance? What is ‘substance’ to you?