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Your Ordinary Self is Enough
by Carol Orsborn

The following is an excerpt from Carol Orsborn's book Inner Excellence at Work: The Path to Meaning. Spirit and Success. This updated and expanded version of Carol Orsborn's classic 1991 work, is published by AMACOM, the publishing arm of the American Management Association

Eastern mystics tell the story of the disciples of two masters who live across the river from one another. One day, the disciples happen upon each other. The first shouts across the river bank.

"My teacher can manifest jewels in the palms of his bare hands. He can stand on this bank of the river and paint a canvas on the other side with the image of his choice. He can levitate and he can change himself into a tiger. What miraculous things can your teacher do?"

"Only this," said the second. "When he's hungry, he eats. When he's tired, he sleeps."

When you are living life fully, you are not doing things you think of as great. You merely do what's next. You are not pushed at a self-destructive pace by fear. Turning a deaf ear to the sirens of false promise, you no longer work so intensely that you sacrifice your long-term well-being. You set your pace by monitoring your vitality.You know you are pushing too hard if you start to burn out; if you get bored, you aren't stretching enough.

There are many times when you are confused about what is next for you to do. Should you leave your safe, stale job to take the risk of changing positions? Should you live off your life savings for a year to get an advanced degree? Should you pass up the promotion because you want to protect the time you have to spend with your family? Should you do this or do that?

Perhaps you have not considered the possibility that what is next for you is to sit in confusion for awhile. When you are clear about what is next, answer the call. When you aren't, pause. Sometimes you will be inspired, sometimes you will feel lost. You will make mistakes along the way and you will learn from your mistakes. Even this you won't do perfectly.

Over the years, I have monitored the progress of one of my friends, one of the Bay Area's premiere bakers. When I first met Elliot, he was working in a jewelry factory -- a dead-end job that was burning him out and wasting his talents. What Elliot loved to do was bake. I first sampled Elliot's passion -- a rich cheesecake based on his family's recipe -- at a potluck party. I'm sure I was one of the many people who said to him, "You really should do something with this."

Eventually, Elliot was able to raise seed money to open a little bakery. Sometimes as a friend and patron -- sometimes as his bakery's public relations agent -- I watched Elliot progress as I munched more samples of various new flavors of cheesecake than I care to confess. Of course Elliot wanted to make money. But it was critical to him how and why he went about achieving his goals. For Elliot, the most important thing was that this cheesecake -- and any other bakery goods he added to his line of offerings -- stay true to his family's high standards.

Response was phenomenal, and soon Elliot's one little bakery grew into a regional chain of bakeries, not only selling retail to happy customers but to restaurants and gourmet shops throughout California. As the chain grew, management problems crept in. He sought out consultants who guided him to experiment with various management styles and formats. New cakes made bold debuts then quietly slipped away into oblivion. Some bakery locations worked. Some didn't. The corporation's numbers slipped, slid and soared depending on the season, the personnel and a thousand other factors. But through it all, Elliot stayed true to his original vision. Above all, he wanted to share his family's cheesecake with others. His chain of bakeries and wholesale operation are now a multimillion dollar empire, as well known for its generous contributions to the community and for its proud employees as it is for its delicious cheesecake.

Elliot trusted that his greatest success would come not despite the nurturing of his highest aspirations -- but because of it. Here's another example of someone for whom spirit and character come first -- one you may never read about in "Fortune" or "Forbes." On one of my media tours, I was met at the airport by Delores, one of the producers of a national cable television program, operating outside of Washington D.C. I was struck by the serenity of my hostess. My awe increased as she told me that she had just recently discovered that the funding for the program had fallen short and that she was on the final day of her job with no new opportunity yet in sight.

"When I came here several years ago, I wanted to break into broadcast more than anything in the world. I loaded all my belongings into my VW and pulled into town. I put in my application and called every day. I was down to my last dollar, but I trusted that something would happen for me."

Indeed, Delores got the job offer within days. Now, several years later, Delores was dropping me off at the studio -- her last task before going home to pack her bags. "How can you be so composed at a time like this'?" I asked. "Simple. When I first heard about problems here, I started praying. I let God know that my preference -- given my limited perspective -- was to stay in this job. But I also asked that if this were not what I am meant to do any more, that this door be closed."

Delores explained to me that in her life, every time a door closed, sooner or later, another door opened. Sometimes, even by her own admission, the timing of doors slamming shut and others cracking open was less than ideal. She felt that it was in those difficult transitional periods that she did the most growing.

Even as I listened, I tempered my awe of Delores with the quiet suspicion that her faith may have been derived from an insufficient database. As the older, more experienced woman I imagined myself to be at the time, I came away wondering if the key to her serenity was that she was young and privileged enough to not have had to experience real pain yet. While I aspired to the sweet simplicity of her faith, I have personally not been able to solve the riddle of how to be more fully conscious without also acknowledging the presence of fear.

In fact, following the principles of inner excellence, I have more readily come face to face with feelings and emotions that I was once able to avoid through external diversion. Haven't you noticed how many highly ambitious people become uncomfortable when things get too quiet around them? How many fast-track people do you know who routinely avoid laid-back vacations, such as sitting with a good book on a peaceful beach, in favor of attending a competitive tennis camp or hitting ten European cities in twelve days?

Many people say they don't have an inner voice of wisdom, or that they don't know which voice is the "real" one. The truth is that many of us know exactly what would be right or best for us to do. We simply don't want to admit it because we are so afraid of what our inner voice will tell us to do. What if your inner voice is telling you to do something to shake up the comfort of the status quo -- take a risk to serve a higher purpose in your life? Rectify a wrong?

Or what if your inner voice is telling you that you can't have what you think you want; or that you don't really want what you have worked so hard to achieve?

We think we are clever at avoiding our internal moment of reckoning, but the truth is, if we don't allow our inner voices to rise to consciousness they will make themselves known to us in the form of problems. Even if it's painful to tune into what your heart is telling you, wouldn't you rather know what you are dealing with in your life earlier on, when you will be more likely to do something about it, than to be overtaken again and again by "bad luck" and unwelcome surprises?

This does not, however, mean that when you practice inner excellence, you find the way to eradicate fear. Who among us, awakened from the once comforting illusions that no longer suffice, would not feel trepidation? I have learned that we cannot always count on the serenity of faith to save us from our fears. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to be able to name our terror and be willing to rise to the occasion. The real challenge, in fact, may be not to avoid fear, but rather to extend acceptance to ourselves when we are afraid.

Accessible to me, exposed in the bright light of day, my fears are more apparent to me now than ever before. But they drive me less.

Copyright (c) Carol M. Orsborn. All rights reserved. Used with permission of AMACOM, a division of the American Management Association International, New York, NY. www.amacombooks.org.  To order a copy, please contact AMACOM at 800-714-6395.

Carol Orsborn is a leading writer and spokesperson on the subject of success and spirit. For over a decade Carol's enlightened approach to career and life management has pioneered the radical notion that there need be no discrepancy between deeply-held principles and success. 

Her eight books have been featured on "Oprah", "The Today Show" and "NBC Nightly News," among others, and have been translated into 10 languages. 

Orsborn, who has her Master of Theological Studies from Vanderbilt University, was recently named a finalist in the 1998 National Jewish Book Awards. You can email Carol at corsborn@aol.com and visit her website at www.innerexcellence.com.

Some of Carol's Books:


Learn more about Carol and her work at:



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