Inspired living

Why living your life values is the best way to achieve your dreams

Rainbow over the desert

Credit: istock

A few years ago while in the beautiful Hawaiian Islands, I couldn’t believe my luck at sitting in the Honolulu Country Club having lunch with Dr Kent Keith, author of the fascinating 10 Paradoxical Commandments and learning about the story behind them …

Chasing rainbows is what well-meaning adults encourage and teach children to do from the moment we are born.  ‘Go for your dreams!’ they shout. ‘If you fall down, just get back up!’ they encourage.  ‘Don’t let anything get in your way!’ they proclaim … all the while hiding their own niggling self-doubt after decades of living in the real world.

After all, what really happens when we achieve our goals? And what defines success? While we hope for a fairytale of unending happiness, a jubilant circle of supportive friends slapping us high-fives and the goodwill karma wheel rolling its way back to us, the reality of achieving our dreams is a challenge for even the born optimist. While some people enjoy a smooth ride to their destinations, most achievers know the greatest struggle in maintaining commitment to a goal is to keep a positive outlook despite unexpected consequences. A lot of people living out dreams endure a journey of unrelenting failures; false friends and enemies; a sharp cut-down by the Tall Poppy Syndrome society… and a lingering question of, ‘Why bother?’

Should we learn when to give up so we don’t have to deal with failure and ridicule?

‘No way!’ says Dr Kent Keith, author of Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments. Dr Keith believes we need to bother with our ambitions even when we don’t get the expected support because it is the only way to find personal meaning and deeper happiness.

Kent Keith’s bestselling book is based on 10 paradoxical commandments he wrote for student leaders at Harvard University in 1968 when he was a student. These principles acknowledge the tough road to finding personal meaning and happiness, and reinforce our need to get on with our dreams despite inevitable setbacks.  Here is a man who admits the world is crazy and doesn’t make sense, but all those ideas, dreams and yearnings … well, we should just go ahead and do it anyway!

Nearly 30 years after Dr Keith wrote the 10 paradoxical commandments, he heard eight of them read out by chance at a Rotary Club meeting. He soon learned his paradoxical commandments had travelled around the world and could be found on more than 6000 websites. In fact, eight of the commandments were found on the wall of Mother Teresa’s children’s home in Calcutta.

“Learning Mother Theresa had them on her wall was a really big message. It changed my life,” Dr Keith says, as he had left full-time work to pursue his own dreams and earn a doctorate. He now works full time as a motivational speaker and author, with a focus on helping people find meaning in their lives and at work.

“The issue is – what if you aren’t?  What if you do your best, are not successful or don’t get rewarded?  The answer is, you still have to live your values because that is what is going to be most meaningful for you.”

“It’s best to begin by just admitting the world is crazy. The world really doesn’t make sense,” Dr Keith says. “The emphasis on success in our commercial culture is defined as wealth, power, fame and winning, and this makes it hard for someone to do something meaningful rather than something that makes you rich or famous.”

Dr Keith believes the false expectations of the social norm must never stop us working toward a goal. Just because people – any people – cannot understand our ambition or think it worthwhile does not mean we need to change direction or quit.

What does matter is whether we find meaning and even happiness in pursuing our goal.

Keeping our mind fit to pursue goals is therefore a daily exercise to counteract energy-sapping setbacks while realising our ambitions.

“The paradoxical commandments are structured like an ‘even if’ test.  Even if the good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow, you’ve got to do good anyway. Even if you give the world your best and you get kicked in the teeth, you’ve go to give the world your best anyway. I’m not a pessimist. I think if you go out there and do what’s right and good and true you will usually be successful. But that’s not the issue. The issue is – what if you aren’t? What if you do your best, are not successful or don’t get rewarded? The answer is, you still have to live your values because that is what is going to be most meaningful for you.

“Part of this is about inner life being what you control and the external life is what you cannot. As an individual there are a whole range of things I cannot control. I cannot control what the government is going to do; what the economy is going to do; what terrorists are going to do or what jobs companies are going to create. I can prepare, I can work hard, I can respond to life to the best of my ability and when I step out into the world every morning I go out to succeed. But we don’t know what will happen. Fortunately we do get to decide on our inner life and that’s where the meaning comes from. I don’t get up and think I’m going to lose today – I go out to win fair and square.”

Most people who have succeeded in life according to their own dreams, or are well on their way, can regale you with their list of losses, shocking reactions by friends and failures. What they can also tell you is they did not let these disappointments stop them from achieving all they set out to do.  In fact, setbacks and negative experiences are seen as part of many a journey to fulfilling ambitions.

“If you continue to fail at what you’re doing you’ve got to rethink what you’re doing. You may be doing the wrong thing, doing it the wrong way or be the wrong person to do it. It’s not so much about overcoming difficult things in life but about finding meaning in how you respond to those difficult things. And I don’t believe everybody’s going to get kicked in the teeth.”

The paradoxical commandments are meant to remind people to live their values even when things are difficult and they might have an excuse for not doing it.

Sooner or later, somebody will treat us badly. We may be at a disadvantage with real negative impacts. What we have to decide is whether that experience is going to change who we are. It is a key decision and maintaining mental strength in the face of adversity is all about responding to adversity positively. Says Dr Keith, “You can let people know if something was not appropriate or professional. It’s okay to say you didn’t like it, it wasn’t right, it hurt. But the real issue is whether you are going to let someone else change who you are. Why would you let someone you don’t respect, change you into somebody you don’t respect?  It doesn’t make sense.

“Sometimes it’s your attitude toward failure. Maybe failure is just another way of doing something, another way of learning something.  Again, the meaning comes from doing your best.

“If your dream is big enough, and the meaning is important enough, you may want to continue to work on it even knowing it cannot be achieved in your lifetime.  Maybe moving toward that goal is the most important thing you can do.  Even when you get knocked down if the goal remains important to you, then just get back up and keep going.”

So, what are you going to be when you grow up?

Replace the self-deprecating excuses from the past with do it anyway as your mantra and you will soon find you achieve more than you don’t.

You may find yourself still answering that question well into adulthood. Constantly trying to explain yourself to others and concerned about their reactions. Sometimes we even go looking for people’s opinions of ourselves … when, the truth is, nobody’s opinions matter.

Replace the self-deprecating excuses from the past with do it anyway as your mantra and you will soon find you achieve more than you don’t.

Got a wacky idea? Pursue it. Worked out a better way of doing something. Tell the world. Want to create something you’ve always dreamed of? Be the most flamboyant artist the world has seen. Worried about the opinions of others? Do it anyway.

We can’t please everyone all of the time.  In today’s era of competition, jealousy and bitterness, we need to focus on our own gateways to personal meaning and happiness. So next time someone tells you to stop chasing rainbows …go outside and start a rain dance.  So what if people think you’re crazy …  do it anyway!

The Paradoxical Commandments

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centred. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

Paradoxical Commandments reprinted by permission of the author. © Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, 2001.

Books by Kent M. Keith: Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments and Do It Anyway: The Handbook for Finding Personal Meaning and Deep Happiness in a Crazy World.

Warmest, Renee

Disclaimer: this blog post is intended as a beautiful and thought-provoking article for entertainment purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and cannot substitute for medical care.  No representations are made as to the completeness of any information and the author is not liable for any losses, injuries or damages from the use of this information.




Renee Bes is an international journalist and author who loves delving into the spiral of energy which keeps our Earth spinning: and believes storytelling with a focus on beloved language and powerful words can be a healing journey. Read more articles on her personal website and blog.