My Grandma likes to tell the following story about me:
When I was younger, I liked to solve puzzles or play with toys. When my Grandma always inevitably attempted to help me with the problem of the day, I would tell her, “No, I want to do it on my own.”
It is a tale of my individualism. My pride in figuring out the world on my own.
But this is no way to live.
A grandmother’s assistance is one of life’s great gifts. Anyone’s assistance, really.
Let’s put this in practical terms.
Imagine you played Secret Santa. What if when you received your gift, you said…
“Nope, I don’t want this.”
People would look at you like you were crazy.
First, you were rude to the person who picked out your gifts. And second, you robbed yourself of the pleasure of the gift itself. Maybe you don’t think you want it now, but what if in six months, it turns out to be exactly what you need?
When you refuse a gift, you hurt two people: the giver and yourself.
What Are Life’s Gifts?
As it turns out, life is giving us gifts constantly. If you start looking for them, you’ll notice them everywhere.
Here are some examples of gifts you might have (this list is far from exhaustive):
- A personality trait
- A talent/skill
- A specific interest
- A special circumstance that only you have access to
- A friend
- A relative
- A work ethic
These are all gifts.
Maybe in some cases, you cultivated these gifts. But isn’t your desire to cultivate these a gift as well?
You Don’t Have To Use Your Gifts
Of course, you don’t have to take advantage of life’s gifts.
The Internet is a gift. You don’t have to take advantage of the Internet. That’s the beauty of life (and living in a free society, at least). You get to choose. But it is a travesty to rob yourself of the potential joy of this activity.
We have the tendency of spitting in life’s face and ignoring its gifts. It’s quite rude, really.
Steven Pressfield ends The War of Art with the following idea:
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention. It’s a gift to the world. Don’t cheat the world of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
Pressfield wants us to accept life’s gifts to create the world we want to live in.
Sometimes we fear putting our gift on display. What will others think of us? Will they judge us? Will they think we’re narcissistic?
But the truth is, the world is starving for your contribution. Starving for your gift.
If LeBron James never played basketball, the world would not be the same.
If William Shakespeare never started writing, the world would not be the same.
If Frank Sinatra never sung a melody, the world would not be the same.
“Okay, but I’m not LeBron, Shakespeare, or Sinatra.”
Maybe not yet. But all these individuals did is follow their gifts. You have gifts too.
It’s not about capturing great wealth or fame.
That’s not the point.
The point is that you may find tremendous joy from doing these activities, and you’ll never know, unless you accept life’s gifts.
If you choose to ignore life’s gifts, you will instead pursue imaginary ones.
Henry David Thoreau noticed as much when he commented: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Why do they lead such a life?
They prioritized the external. They hear the sound of a million bucks and they jump right out of their chair. They hear the gift and say to themselves, “Maybe another day. Is this gift going to get me paid?”
But in doing so they miss the essence of life.
To accept one’s gifts.
How Do You Accept Life’s Gifts?
You accept life’s gifts by using them – via the principle of work.
If you’re reading this, you were given the gift to be able to read, write, and use the Internet. That puts you in a rare position. A position that the majority of the 100 billion humans that ever lived didn’t get the opportunity to experience.
If you were given the gift to be born into enormous wealth and fame, you are in a rare position to build the world you want to see.
Let’s look at Kylie Jenner.
She was given incredible gifts. Fame. Fortune. The opportunity to do nothing for the rest of her life.
What did she do instead? She worked.
Think of the greats.
Instead of ignoring their gifts, they honored their gifts with work. They appreciated their gifts. They were willing to fail with their gifts. Accepting the harshest of criticism in an attempt to capture the essence of their craft. And still, they kept coming back for more. Day after day.
There is no better way to say thank you to life than to work at improving your gifts.
Why is our first reaction so often to spit in the face of our gifts?
Our ego wants us to know we did it on our own. “On our own.” What that really means, I’ll never know.
But it can never really be true.
Because the work is not done by us but through us. Because even when life deals us a bad hand, we can still choose to take lessons with us that will help us for our next journey. Because when we achieve success of any kind, it’s often thanks to the gifts we received.
Think about many of the phrases that have become almost cliche at this point:
- “Standing on the shoulders of giants.”
- “Behind every great man is a great woman.”
- “Glory to God.”
We are aware when we do our best work, there are often too many other people (and outside forces) we must thank before we really accept any of the credit ourselves.
These people and forces are gifts, too.
That’s not to say trying to achieve “on your own” is bad.
But if you are offered a special opportunity, there’s nothing wrong with taking it.
In fact, you should take it.
If you don’t, Grandma will be awfully upset.