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Center for Enlightened Leadership

Our Unique Life Lessons

  Dr. Stephen L. Sokolow
  Dr. Stephen L. Sokolow
Executive Director and Founding Partner

A worldview to which both Paul and I subscribe is that this place where we live is “Earth School.” As in all schools, there are lessons to be learned and skills to be mastered. As human beings, we are given the opportunity to learn our life lessons and to grow—or not to grow. Each of us has an individualized curriculum. As we master each life lesson, new ones present themselves in an ongoing array of challenges and opportunities. Knowing this, the wise leader is ever alert for the lessons that may be embedded in the challenges or obstacles he or she confronts. The wise leader is a reflective practitioner who continually tries to learn, grow, and master each life lesson, both personally and professionally.

Since this is Earth School, everything we experience is an opportunity to promote our spiritual growth. Every obstacle, every stumbling block is, in essence, a steppingstone toward greater growth. It’s easy not to see things in this way because life’s events often hurt or are difficult. Life is far different from school, however. In life, the test comes first in order that we may learn the lesson; in school, on the other hand, the sequence is reversed. Life is a much tougher and more demanding environment than school; we’re always being tested so we can learn, grow, and move past whatever level we’re on. The only way to do that is through facing and overcoming challenges. Easy circumstances rarely spur us to grow. Life is like spiritual isometrics: We have to keep pushing and pulling to build the spiritual muscle needed to move forward.

When things are difficult or they don’t feel right or are not going well, ask yourself this question: “What is the spiritual lesson here that I need to pay attention to?”  It’s helpful to ask that question aloud, as though you’re addressing it to the Universe, because frequently the lesson is not readily apparent. Often it takes reflection and prayer to gain insight as to exactly what the lesson is—whether we’re being called on to open up or loosen up or find a better balance, or to be more compassionate, or whatever the test may be. The supply of lessons available to assist every one of us in growing spiritually is limitless. The first challenge is to identify and understand the nature of the lesson at hand. When you’ve done that, you’ve taken an important step toward mastering that particular lesson. Think of the whole process as a series of skills you need to acquire, and ask yourself: “What skill do I need to cultivate in order to meet the particular challenges I am confronting at this moment?”

How you respond to life lessons is entirely your choice. You can choose to resist the lesson, which makes it much more difficult; resistance creates friction, friction creates heat, and heat burns. When you resist a lesson, you end up burning yourself. Or you can embrace the lesson, which makes the whole process easier. Embracing the lesson at hand doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be easily learned, but it may not take as long to gain insight and grow. Resistance tends to slow everything down. Our attitude often determines how hard or how easy the lessons are in our lives. Some people have extremely hard lives but are able to march right through their lessons, while others don’t face that much difficulty, but whatever difficulty they do have seems to end up being magnified. It’s not the lessons themselves as much as our reaction to them that makes things difficult; some people really do make mountains out of molehills. People with a strong sense of faith often find that their lessons are easier, less overwhelming, and less lengthy.

Many people deny things that are happening to them. They fail to see the lesson at hand or try to rationalize it away. However, the cosmos is mysteriously constructed in such a way that your lesson will not go away just because you attempt to go away from it. The lesson you need in order to grow will pursue you relentlessly in various guises, and it will escalate until you can no longer ignore it. Lessons are like a physical illness that can be treated fairly easily if you go to the doctor immediately and take the prescribed remedy. If you ignore the symptoms and warning signs, however, over time the illness becomes more serious. So we all need to ask: “How can I address my challenges at the lowest possible level before they grow, and grow in undesirable ways?”

Each lesson mastered opens a gateway to the next lesson. As Yogi Berra observed, “It’s not over until it’s over.” With respect to life lessons, however, it’s never over, because each lesson inevitably leads to the next one. We can never exhaust the syllabus for our lives. As Roseanne Roseannadanna said, “You know it’s always something; if it’s not one thing it’s something else.”

Here’s an irony for you to consider: The mastery of a life lesson leads to the next lesson, but so does failure when confronted with a life lesson. Either way, there’s always another lesson awaiting you. But success at a life lesson means you advance; failure means you must repeat the same lesson. Repeating it usually means that whatever lesson you’re facing is presented to you in a more severe form. It’s like being retained in third grade. If you fail the lesson, instead of being promoted you have to repeat third grade to master it, but this time you have an even tougher teacher. Mastery means you’re promoted to the next grade and a new set of lessons.

Life is structured so that every time we reach some level of mastery, another level begins. It’s as if the ceiling of one level becomes the floor of the next—much like going from the top class in middle school to the bottom class in high school. This progression repeats itself again and again throughout our lives. Now you see the appropriateness of the term “Earth School”!

Embedded in this whole process is the notion of being challenged to continually advance. If you master a lesson and reach the next stage, yet do not continue to grow, then you stagnate and wither. There really is no rest for the weary. You are never going to reach a stage where there are no new lessons to master. The wise leader knows that it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are or how healthy you are or how successful you are—the cycle is unending.

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