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The road to success

September 29th, 2011

Sunday afternoon my roommates and I received an unexpected phone call. A few hours later, one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met was sitting in our room sharing his remarkable experiences.

Fifty-four days ago, Casey Miller began his bike ride across the country in Portland, Ore. with his destination set for Boston. Until two weeks before he began, he hadn’t ridden a bike since middle school, he didn’t even know he was going on the journey until that time.

Casey has traveled the world. He has a few masters’ degrees from Harvard. He built a company that retrieved energy from garbage. You know, no big deal. He did what he thought he was supposed to do: go to college, make money in business, etc. Having accomplished those things, he wasn’t fulfilled. He sold his company and, searching for his true calling, he soon set out for Boston.

Most of us are in college because that’s just what you do once you finish high school. The path of convention is an easy one to take. It seems that once we get on that path, though, it’s easy to get lost in every possible way. We become so focused on the pressures of school that we lose a sense of ourselves and others. True human desires and character become clouded by “practical” pursuits. As the Vampire Weekend lyrics go, “We mostly work to live/Until we live to work.”

When he left Portland, Casey had no plans other than heading east. Along his journey he’s been very generously housed and fed by people from all different backgrounds all over the country. We were fortunate to be among those people.

As much as we were inspired  by him, he assured us that it was mutual. His journey has taught him a lot about human nature. He believes that when people know or find what they are called to do, they get immense joy out of giving what they are to others. He believes this is at the root of altruistic actions. Once we discover what gives our lives meaning and joy, there is little else that can make us feel better than  being able to spread that meaning and joy to others.

Does anyone do soul searching these days? I’m sure it creeps into  the minds of mostly everyone, but is it ever taken seriously? It would only seem natural to pursue what defines our core desires. But my bet is that we push things aside for a later time when we don’t have homework or a job to go to; when we have free time.

One of the most impactful, however common, insights that Casey gave us was to write our obituaries  as if we were to die tomorrow, then to write them as if we died in 50 years. If there are any discrepancies between the two, change something now because maybe you don’t have all the time left that you imagine.

Casey named his bike Socrates.  and his website is SocratesSpoke.com. The second meaning of this double entendre is the guidance and inspiration Casey found in Socrates’ quote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He hopes to examine his life and find out what his calling is, all the while discovering what makes people find meaning in their lives.

So what are you supposed to take from this vague critique of the constraining, culturally-imposed life compass? Examine your life so it will be worth living. Take a step back and think about what you’re doing and if it’s how you want to live and be remembered. If that isn’t the case, then do what’s necessary to become what you want, no matter how “unrealistic” or “impractical.”

Of course, not every source of meaning can be achieved from a long-term plan. Remember, you could die tomorrow. That person you want to ask to homecoming, that marathon you want to run, those places you want to see, etc. are all sources of meaning and should be pursued. You might have to go through a nerve-racking situation, save money or train for months, but all things are achievable.

In any situation you encounter in life, your allegiance is primarily to yourself. As Casey has discovered, once you help yourself and find true meaning, you’ll be more enthusiastic and better able to help others live their life to the fullest. This is what I would call success and there isn’t necessarily monetary gain.

So, get after it!