I know this guy. I’ve known him for several years. He’s probably the smartest guy I’ve ever met. And I know a lot of smart people. I’ve often wanted to spend time with him, one-on-one, but only once did that happen and it wasn’t very satisfying. He was distracted by something and not completely there. I wasn’t upset by that, just a little disappointed. That was five or six years ago. We saw each other in public gatherings occasionally and those were always nice, and I would message him occasionally about something, but that was it. A few months ago I directly asked him if we could get together for lunch. He said no. And it wasn’t a rude “no,” but it was very direct. To paraphrase, he said, his time was very specifically allocated for his work, his volunteerism, and his close friends and family.
I won’t say this didn’t hurt, but after the initial shock I asked myself the following:
Why this guy?
What did I want from him?
Was I looking for a father, big brother, mentor, conscience, or guide?
Was I using him (or hoping to use him) to get my own emotional needs met?
As I said, this guy is probably the smartest guy I’ve ever met. And he’s kind. He’s one of those people I feel I could spend all day with. But I’m also aware that I’ve spent a great deal of my life looking for a father, big brother, mentor, conscience, or guide. I’m always looking for the perfect male role model.
And this guy isn’t it.
No guy is.
More worrisome, though this has decreased as I’ve gotten older, I have often looked for someone to tell me what to do, what choices to make, how to live. I did that for a long time and, as a result, made some of the worst choices of my life. And I never found freedom, true freedom, until I stopped looking for a master and started listening to my Muse, my heart. Because that’s what I was really looking for: a master. Someone to tell me what to do. And no one could. And the ones that thought they could were tyrants.
Some religions and philosophies will say all we don’t need to look to others for wisdom. All we have to do is look within and the answers will come. There’s truth to that. But we do need others. Not to tell us what to do, but to give us ideas and guidance. We need others to confirm what’s right in our own hearts and what might lead us astray. As a rule of thumb, I’ve learned the more important a decision is, the more important wise counsel is. At the same time I’ve also learned that we must each walk our own path. No one can or should walk it for us. That is a violation of the human spirit. My path is study. The more I read, the more I grow. Study has saved my life. Study has caused me to see my failings. Study has caused me to move forward when I was afraid. Study has helped me to see I am not alone. Study has led me to my Muse.
I just finished reading John Adams by David McCullough and I learned that Adams’ greatest love besides, God, his wife Abigail, and his children, were his books. He read and read and read. And he re-read some books almost to the point of memorization. Sometimes when his eyes got tired he would ask Abigail to read to him. After Abigail died, he slept in his library surrounded by his beloved books. Adams also knew a guy, several guys (and a few women) and they all became his father, his big brother, him mentors, his conscience, and his guide.
This guy I know wrote a book. So if I want more from him, I can read it. I’d probably get more from him in the hours it would take me to read his book than a ninety-minute lunch. He can still be my mentor, but not any of those other things. (And, by giving me a kind but firm no, he has already mentored me.)
Because that’s the other thing: everything I admire in this man is already within me if I choose to acknowledge that. I also have to choose who I am, what I want to do, and what I want to be. It can’t be this guy’s choice or anyone else’s to Get Started and Keep Going. I know this because I know this guy. He is me.