“While those with a simple mind cling on to their actions and are concerned about the results, the wise man is free from all attachments. Not blinding himself by success nor suffering anxiety over his failure, he offers his actions in the fire of virtue.” Bhagavad Gita (translation, Fred Kofman)
Our lives seem to be full of high-stake decisions about our careers. Psychologist George Pransky encourages us to take the pressure off our decisions by realizing that we are playing with the house’s money. No, Pransky is not saying that our career decisions don’t matter; he is pointing to something more fundamental that we have going for us, whether we achieve worldly success or not.
Beneath all our choices and regrets—beneath our should haves, would haves, and could haves—is a core unaffected by success or lack of success. I call this core Wholeness. This core is our source of love, wisdom, creativity, and inspired ideas. This core can never be separated from us.
Our worldly purpose is important, but we all share a higher purpose—learning to value and then live from that place of love within.
Sixto Rodriguez is the singer-songwriter of two critically acclaimed folk-rock albums released in 1970 and 1971. Rodriguez was one of the greatest artists that no one ever heard of.
The Academy Award winning best documentary Searching for Sugar Man tells the story of Rodriguez—a man of great talent who found peace despite his lack of worldly success.
Rodriquez’s two albums sold few copies in the United States. His record label dropped him. His career seemingly over, he worked construction. He purchased a ramshackle Detroit house for $50 and lived modestly for decades without television or computer.
Yet, in a seeming parallel universe, Rodriguez became a superstar in South Africa. His songs became part of the anti-apartheid movement. Incredibly, Rodriguez had no knowledge of his worldly success; his royalties were embezzled and his South African fans thought he was dead. This was the time before the Internet, and rumor had it that Rodriguez had committed suicide by setting himself on fire on stage in anguish over his lack of success.
The real story couldn’t have been more different.
Rodriguez was not at all bitter; he enjoyed his construction work. His friend Rick Emmerson said, “He approached work from a different place than most people do. He took it very seriously; almost like a sacrament.”
Emmeron’s use of the word sacrament is instructive. Whether making music or doing manual labor, Rodriguez strove to live from that place of Wholeness where love and wisdom abides. He was living from his highest purpose.
In an extraordinary interview in Searching for Sugar Man, we get a glimpse into the mind of Rodriguez:
Question: “You weren’t aware of something that would have changed your life for the better.”
Rodriguez: “Well, I didn’t know if it would have been for the better.”
Question: “Wouldn’t it have been nice to know you were a superstar?”
Rodriguez: “I don’t know how to respond to that.”
Question: “Wouldn’t you have liked to continue making music?”
Rodriguez: “I would have liked to have continued, but nothing beats Reality.”
Since Searching for Sugar Man was released, Rodriguez, now 72, has become an international star. The Swedish director of the documentary, Malik Bendjelloul labored without pay for three years as he wrote, filmed, and edited Searching for Sugar Man. Tragically, after achieving worldly success, Bendjelloul, suffering from depression, committed suicide in May of 2014.
In the film and in interviews, Bendjelloul, a great artist himself, seemed as modest as Rodriguez. Here is the irony: Rodriquez, who many believed had committed suicide, lived happily despite the lack of success. Bendjelloul, after achieving success, suffered greatly. Their lives together teach a great lesson: happiness has nothing to do with success.
Rick Emmerson sums up the lesson of Rodriguez’s life:
What he’s demonstrated very clearly is that you have a choice. He took all that torment, all that agony, all that confusion and pain, and he transformed it in to something beautiful. He’s like the silkworm, you know. You know, you take this raw material and you transform it; and you come out with something that wasn’t there before, something beautiful, something perhaps transcendent, something perhaps eternal. In so far as he does that, I think he is representative of the human spirit, of what’s possible, that you have a choice. This has been my choice, to give you “Sugar Man.” Now have you done that…ask yourself?
We have a right to our action, the Bhagavad Gita instructs, but not to the fruits of our action. Thus, Emmerson has it right. We always have a choice; and the choice becomes easier when we know that we are playing the game of life with the house’s money. There is no pressure to achieve success; what we have is the moment by moment choice to live by our highest values. Choosing to live from the source of Love is the highest reward of all.
Seats are going fast but there is still an early-bird discount for my upcoming, September 27th workshop: Your Highest Purpose: Living and Leading from the Place that Truly Matters