John W. Gardner on Personal Renewal

Last year a friend passed along to me a copy of a speech by John W. Gardner titled "Personal Renewal". Gardner apparently gave versions of the talk at various times in the 1990s; one of the best is at [1]. Among the most striking bits:

You come to understand that most people are neither for you nor against you, they are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how hard you try to please, some people in this world are not going to love you, a lesson that is at first troubling and then really quite relaxing.


It may just mean doing a better job at whatever you're doing. There are men and women who make the world better just by being the kind of people they are—and that too is a kind of commitment. They have the gift of kindness or courage or loyalty or integrity. It matters very little whether they're behind the wheel of a truck or running a country store or bringing up a family.


Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account.

And one other John Gardner quote, from another talk he gave:

It's a great delusion to imagine that one or two big decisions or lessons shaped your life. Thousands of decisions and lessons have shaped your life so far, and there are thousands more to come. Don't succumb to the melancholy thought "If I had only taken the other path!" The story is still being written.

^z - 2011-02-08