When I was in my early twenties I quit smoking. It was a filthy habit that I’d picked up when I was twelve years old and in my teens I had been responsible for introducing cigarettes to a number of people.
After I quit, I felt badly about that. I knew that I couldn’t go back in time and fix what I had done, so I decided to do something for the future.
My approach to quitting had been successful, so I started sharing the technique with others. That led to ten years of smoking cessation seminars and books in both Icelandic and English. I also teamed up with a public health organization and started giving smoking prevention lectures in schools.
That Feeling When You Are Not Welcome
Have you ever walked into a room and felt that you were not welcome? That’s how I felt just about every time I walked into a room full of students and was introduced as the smoking prevention guy.
Instead of being discouraged, I took it as a challenge and spiced up my approach.
I got better and better at captivating attention and engaging young adults in dialogue about the importance of living life fully (one of the things I emphasized). I swung between being adversarial (“I don’t care if you die because we’ll all die”) and inspirational (“you only get one life and it’s the quality that counts.”).
I gained attention and got along well with the adults who liked my approach, which meant that I got booked in dozens of schools every year. However, even as I got better at presenting the material, I never captured everyone’s attention.
"How Can I Get to Them?"
I really wanted to get to everyone, so I racked my brain and tried to come up with novel approaches, most of which worked (although I’ll admit that I did crash and burn a few times in my attempt to reach all of the students). Nevertheless, I never got to a 100%. There were always a few people who either didn’t care or displayed an adversarial attitude.
In addition, I quickly realized that I had no way to measure the long-term impact of what I was doing. Sure, they might seem engaged, but did my lectures deter them from smoking? Did anyone quit because of my talks? I had no idea.
Not Responsible for the Soil
Knowing that I couldn’t get to everyone and had no idea about the long-term impact of my talks caused me grief for several months.
Finally, I understood that no matter how much I wanted to be able to control other people’s reactions, I couldn’t. I was responsible for preparing the seeds and sowing them in the best way I knew how, but I wasn’t responsible for the soil.
From that point forward, I no longer became discouraged. I focused on my job of sowing and wasn’t as preoccupied with the soil.
In the years that followed, I branched out and became a yoga teacher, professional speaker, author of several books, and now I work on promoting harmony between people who have strong opposing beliefs. I’ve always maintained this attitude of sowing in the best way I knew how without expecting the soil to react in a certain way.
Whatever else it has done, the new attitude has brought me increased energy and peace of mind.
The Essence of Many Spiritual Texts
You could say that most people who live long enough will stumble upon this truth. It is the essence of the Serenity Prayer, which urges people to control the things they can (themselves), let go of the things they can’t control (other people and events), and develop the wisdom to know the difference (the most difficult aspect of the prayer).
The image of sowing seeds is used in a variety of religious and spiritual texts. If you think of yourself as the sower of seeds (your words and actions), then all you can do is sow the best seeds that you can, but you must surrender to the fact that you can’t control the soil (other people and surroundings).
Comfortable with Not Knowing
Every now and then, I meet people or get letters/emails from people who tell me how my seminars, talks, books, columns, audio programs, etc., influenced them in a positive way. That always warms my heart.
However, I have become very comfortable with not knowing what happens to the seeds I sow. Maybe they will sprout in some unexpected way, maybe they won’t. Either way, I did my job. I did the sowing.
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Bridge Building and Social Harmony
We are an educational and social good interfaith organization. We envision a world where people have access to strategies, methods and ideas that promote social harmony and enable bridge building across divides. To us, interfaith means the continual improvement of interrelations between people who strongly believe in different worldviews.
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