Life Lessons Learned Over Coffee

I don’t always know where my life lessons or inspirations are going to come from. Sometimes they come from an article or a good book. Other times they occur while I’m at work or on vacation, when my thoughts seem to focus on the complexities of life. This time my inspiration came from a friend as we were heading to our children’s school for a special event. We were chatting about this and that (as we often do), when she said something that really struck a chord in me. In my friend’s authentic, heartfelt way, she said, “I really want everyone to get what they want.”

I believe I responded with a surprising, “Really?!”

To which she replied, “Really! I really do!”

Now, if this comment had come from anyone else, I might have questioned its genuineness. But in this case, I knew my friend, and I knew I could trust the honesty of her words. She is truly a unique individual — unique in the best possible way. I knew we had to meet again, so I could learn more about how she could be so emotionally generous and be so non-competitive — traits I find particularly appealing. I quickly emailed her to let her know how she inspired me, and told her I’d like to meet up with her and learn more about her impressive philosophy. Funny enough, she had no idea what she could possibly have said to inspire my enthusiastic response.

Ellie (not her actual name) is a true bohemian in the best possible sense of the word. She’s smart, artistically gifted and definitely walks through life in her own distinct and charismatic way. She has friends who are very famous and very wealthy and friends who are not. To her, what other people have materially or do not have makes no difference to the quality of her life. She takes pride in her friends’ successes regardless of what’s happening to her personally. She will openly admit if something is beyond the comfort zone of her wallet as easily and effortlessly as most people talk about the weather. There’s no shame, no guardedness and perhaps most impressively, no status anxiety. In a consumer and status driven world, especially so in New York City, this trait is both special and rare.

We decided to meet for an early morning coffee. I explained to my friend that I needed to find out the secrets behind her ability to live such a generous and envy-free life. When I posed the question to her, she admitted she may not have thought this way or have been such a well-wisher 25 years ago, but over the years, there was something about knowing herself and coming into her own which helped her hone this particular approach to life. I was ready to soak in whatever insights she was ready to share. Although I consider myself a pretty good person, I can’t honestly say I don’t have my moments of feeling competitive or envious. Ellie talked about how she didn’t want what other people had. She doesn’t want “their stuff” as she put it. She wants what she wants, so other people’s lives and what they have or don’t have, have little effect on her life. In fact, sometimes knowing the intimate details, like who earns or owns what, just feels like additional mental clutter to her which she doesn’t want or need. Ellie is able to make this boundary between other people and herself. I just had to ask her,

“What happens when someone does have what she wants?” What then? This must happen sometimes?” I inquired. She agreed that every so often she is aware of those people who seem to be extraordinarily beautiful and blessed or those individuals who seem to have things come so easily and effortlessly, but instead of focusing on this aspect of reality, she instead notices something else equally as true: Life goes by in a flash. This uber awareness of the speed of time helps her to appreciate how special and important the present moment can be. She knows what’s special about her life and realizes these moments may not last forever. She has trained herself to appreciate what’s good about her life in the moment.

“Focusing on what other people have or don’t have,” she said, “has nothing to do with me creating what I want in my life.”

I certainly could appreciate what she was saying. The truth is, other people who have whatever it is they have, aren’t taking anything away from what we have or what we could have. Each person has the opportunity to create more of the life they want to live. It reminds me of a quote said, by the late, great Audrey Hepburn:

“Pick the day. Enjoy it — to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come… The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present, and I don’t want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future.”
— Audrey Hepburn

The bottom line is, like Audrey Hepburn, Ellie doesn’t want to waste her life being a bitter person. And why would she? Why would anyone want to waste their time living in perpetual pain or victim-hood? So as our coffee break ended, I decided to ask just a couple of final questions.

“How do you handle other people’s judgments about you? And how do you handle the snobs who cross your path?”

Ellie answered with a self-assured ease, “Well, that’s not my problem. That’s really their problem, isn’t it?” Point well-taken!

Although I can’t say I am as evolved as my friend is, not yet anyway, one of the many pleasures of living in New York City is being surrounded by so many smart and multi-dimensional women who inspire me. The truth is, life has challenges no matter who you are or what others seem to have. To let out of control envy or competitiveness rob us of our ability to enjoy our lives would be an unfortunate waste of precious time. If we can stop our ego from getting in the way, I bet more of us could adopt what I consider to be my friend’s advanced way of being in the world.

The bottom line is we need to train ourselves to be grateful for the blessings in our lives, appreciate the gifts of being in the moment even if they are difficult and then learn how to work hard to create more of the life we want to create. If we can learn how to do this, I think life can be a lot more, meaningful, fun and truly more enjoyable.