There is a simple verse that can help us live a more satisfying and more successful life at work. It is a song that all of us who were schoolchildren in the U.S. have repeated innumerable times. I am referring, of course, to the wonderful philosophical treatise that begins, “Row, row, row your boat.” Let us examine this powerful teaching line by line.
Row, row, row your boat. These words tell us that success in life is not just handed to us—we must be active participants in creating our own success. Each of us has our own particular work to do in the world. And by doing that work—whatever it may be—we can find satisfaction, meaning, pleasure and joy.
Wherever you are in this moment, happiness is available to you if you just do what your particular situation in life calls for. When you find yourself in a boat, for example, you should row it. And you don’t just row your boat—be persistent. You row, row, row your boat, over and over again.
You don’t just play a minor role in the movie of your life. You have the lead role, you are the star, and what happens in your life is monumentally influenced by your own actions. We’re not just bystanders in our own success story—we need to be active participants.
It doesn’t matter that your particular job may ask you to repeat the same motion or activity over and over and over again; this is not a case of “been there, done that,” because you haven’t ever really been in this very moment before. You’ve been somewhere very similar, sure, just a moment ago—but you haven’t been here before. Pay attention to this unique moment. How is it different from the moment just before? How is it unique? How can you make it fresh for yourself?
If you can pay sufficient attention to the present moment, then nothing is ever boring, nothing is repetitive and nothing grows old. Everything is fresh, everything is new, and every repeated moment can give us joy: the third stroke of the oar can be just as special as the first one. It is these simple, everyday pleasures that define our lives and our work and give us our everyday moments of joy.
Gently down the stream. This line reminds us that we can live our lives gently, without resistance or upset, enjoying the pleasures and learning that await us around every bend in the stream. All we really need to do is to remember to ride the boat in the direction that it is already going. Of course, sometimes when we are rowing the boat we will have to mobilize our energy, exert our will and overcome the rocks in our path. But even in these difficult times, our work lives do not have to be filled with constant struggle; rather, they can be filled with a sense of ease and purpose, and a clear vision of where we are headed.
When we begin to feel that there is somewhere else we ought to be other than where we already are, that things are not moving fast enough in our careers, that there is something else that we need to be doing—then we create upset in our lives. We begin to row madly upstream, creating worry and turmoil and dissatisfaction in our wake, splashing everyone around us and creating difficulties left and right.
Once we begin to accept, instead, that where we are right now is exactly where we need to be, that there is no need to panic, that change will happen in its own time and that there is a surfeit of love, joy, challenge and satisfaction awaiting us in every moment, right here, right now—then we can truly ride gently down the stream of life.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily. Well, that about says it all. Take time to stop and celebrate the everyday joy of being alive! And don’t just celebrate it once—do it over and over and over again. The intentional use of celebration and shared laughter can be an important step in building a winning team.
Organizations that intentionally promote fun at work find that stress decreases on the job and there is a significant increase in morale, creativity and retention of employees. And best of all, customer satisfaction goes through the roof! People like to do business with people who like to do business.
Life is but a dream. Notice the line does not say, “Life is but a nightmare.” A nightmare is what your life feels like when you continually row upstream, when you focus on problems instead of opportunities and when you insist on being somewhere other than where you actually are.
Most people think that some people are lucky and have happy lives, while other people are unlucky and things don’t work out so well for them. But that’s not the way it is—happiness is not dependent on what happens to you in your life. Happiness is a result of how you interpret what happens to you. Nothing in particular has to happen in your life for you to be happy.
As Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher, pointed out nearly 2,000 years ago, “It is not things or events that disturb us, but our interpretation of what they mean. . . .We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.”
Once you follow the first three principles—when you row, row, row your boat and become an active participant in your own success; when you know that you are going gently down the stream and embracing everything that happens in your life as an opportunity to grow and learn and become your own true self; when you travel merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily and become an unending source of joy and celebration and reward and recognition for your co-workers—then your life at work really can become a dream come true.
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