In my course, Creativity and Personal Mastery, I have an exercise called Becoming Nobody.
“When I was growing up, I used to be somebody. We were all in somebody training in those days. You become somebody, and then you tell everybody who you are. You hand out business cards, and you say “How do you do? I am Somebody, and I do such and such.” Everybody is very important and special, and each person assesses how much more important they are than everybody else. We were all in that training.”
That is a quote from Polishing the Mirror written by Ram Dass and Rameshwar Das.
Think of how much of your life you spend becoming somebody. You define yourself by the work you do, the people you know, the locality you live in, the company you do your work in, the clubs you join, the political views you hold, the robustness of your bank account and so much more.
All is dust and to dust it will return.
Everything changes. Nothing is permanent.
I remember clearly when my daughter saw her first snowfall. I rolled up a snowball and gave it to her. She had to take off her mitten to hold it. Her hand grew cold, and she didn’t know to drop it and she started crying. It is one of my fondest memories.
And now my daughter is grown up and has twin daughters of her own and I wonder if I will be able to give them snowballs. And I am no longer as surefooted as I once was and don’t particularly like going out in snow anymore.
So, stop trying to be somebody. When I was teaching at Columbia Business School, the library digitized its holdings. I took a bunch of discarded issues of Fortune magazine and brought them to class. Each had a cover picture of some titan of industry. He – they were almost entirely male – held sway over thousands of workers. Some could move the economy with their actions and pronouncements. Most are not even remembered today. That will also be the fate of the somebody you are building.
Shakespeare put it beautifully:
“Imperious Caesar, dead and turned to clay,
Might stop a hole to keep the wind away.
Oh, that that earth, which kept the world in awe,
Should patch a wall t’ expel the winter’s flaw!”
So, in my exercise, I ask the participants to notice how they are trying to impress others, to hold on to a self-image that exists in their head and to drop that image.
In an earlier post I reported that, because of the influence of Neem Karoli Baba, Rameshwar Das moved from being the center of the universe to being a grain of sand on a beach.
It is remarkable how freeing it is to be nobody. Just be a grain of sand on a beach.