Years ago, I was complaining to my mentor George Pransky about some goal or other I was pursuing to no avail when he said to me, “Have you considered that it might just not be in the cards?”
I was sufficiently unsettled by the implication that I might not be in charge of the universe that it led me to some serious soul-searching into the nature of how things happen in the world and how involved (or not involved) we are in their unfolding.
Today’s blog comes in two parts. In part one, I’m going to share a story of a project I’ve been involved with for the past seventeen years or so that came to fruition last Friday. Then in part two, I’m going to explore some of the philosophical inferences, interpretations, and implications one could project onto the story and the impact they’re liable to have in your own pursuit of happiness and success.
(You can totally skip part one if you just want to get to the philosophical stuff – this all just happened so my recounting of it is liable to be a wee-bit self-indulgent…)
Part One: The Dream House
My wife and I moved with our two young children to Los Angeles from London in January of 2000. Within 6 weeks, we’d bought our first American home – a simple but lovely house in a hilly neighborhood near to good schools and with a surprisingly European feel for LA.
One of my favorite memories from that time was when my then 5 year old son went off for the day with his friends to play in the gully near our house. When he came home, we asked him what they’d played.
“World War II”, he proudly told us.
Knowing that one of the two boys he’d been playing with was from a German family and the other from an Italian one, we asked our English/American son how that worked.
“It was great!” he replied. “We all deserted from our armies and fought bad guys together!”
A couple of years after we moved in to that neighborhood (mid-2002), my wife and I drove past an open house on our way home from the shops. We went in to have a look around and fell in love. It was unlike anything we’d ever seen. Completely invisible from the street but for a couple of windows and a small garage, opening the front door was like walking into a TARDIS. There was a high-ceilinged office with a separate entrance at the top and with a balcony overlooking a small courtyard with a fountain. Walking under a large stained-glass window took us past three bedrooms, two sitting rooms, and a room that wasn’t quite Nina’s dream kitchen but was considerably nicer than anything we’d ever experienced to that point.
The kitchen opened out to what the Hawaiians call a “lanai” – a sort of epic balcony with views out over a lush garden and beyond down to the San Fernando Valley. And at the bottom of the garden was the swimming pool of our dreams with a bridge over the middle leading to an outdoor kitchen with even more impressive views.
While we briefly considered mortgaging our newly born third child in order to make a run at buying it, we realized that although we might have been able to swing the purchase, we could never have afforded to live in it or repair the foundations that we’d been warned were unsafe – a huge red-flag for a hillside house in earthquake country.
But when we finally gave up on our home-buying calculations, we both vowed to each other that if that house ever came back on the market, it would be ours.
About once a year, Nina or I would drive by it “just to see” if it had come up for sale, but our invisible oasis stayed firmly off the market. (This was actually a relief to me, because as real estate prices went up and my business went all over the place, I would have had to admit that there was no way I could pull off the deal if even if we had the chance.)
Fast forward to March, 2019 – almost 17 years after our initial visit. We had actually lived in a couple of different houses by then, finally moving back to our original home when the two big kids went off to university. While driving back from the shops, we saw a new sign in a familiar location – at long last the TARDIS was for sale!
Unfortunately, it was for sale a year too early (we were planning to wait to move after our youngest graduated from high school) and a hundred thousand dollars too high. It was also in need of a lot of renovation and maintenance, and while it had clearly been loved and cared for, it hadn’t been updated much from our previous visit 17 years earlier.
After another round of furious calculations, we decided to give up on the dream again, comforting ourselves with the thought that maybe by the time it came back on the market for a third time, we’d be ready.
I got back to my hotel room in Prague in late March before the conclusion of Supercoach Academy Europe and had the following text exchange with Nina:
We both agreed that it was just “a punt” – something worth trying without getting overly invested in whether or not it worked out. That resolve was sorely tested over the next five months, as:
- Our offer was accepted but the house continued to be listed despite us theoretically being in escrow.
- The perfect buyer for our home made an offer on a Friday and pulled out on the Saturday.
- We didn’t get any more offers on our house for a couple of months.
- The day we were ready to confirm the purchase, the sellers pulled out of the deal and asked for a massive price bump over what had been agreed.
- Home inspection nightmares on both sides of the equation
- Last minute disasters with not one but three mortgage lenders
It looked like the deal was going to fall through multiple times throughout the process, and Nina and I took turns stressing out and reassuring one another that “if it’s meant to be, it will happen” – a phrase we’ll get back to in a few minutes…
After five months of weekly (and at times daily) ups and downs, we finally found out the deal was going through last Monday, then were told that it was likely to fall through last Tuesday, then got final confirmation that we were good to go on Thursday.
To bring the story part of today’s blog to a conclusion, here’s a picture of the view from the lanai, taken on Friday when we moved into our dream house seventeen years after first falling in love with it:
Part Two: Manifestation, Empowerment, Fate, or Something Else?
In attempting to take a premature look back at this whole adventure, it occurred to me that there are a few conclusions it would be tempting to draw from what happened followed by the way it actually looks to me like things work when you’re attempting to create cool stuff on planet earth…
Theory One: “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve”
According to the influential architect Frank Lloyd Wright:
“The thing always happens that you really believe in; and the belief in a thing makes it happen.”
While that’s the kind of quote I used to eat for a breakfast alongside a hearty helping of self-empowerment and a healthy dose of shame for not being able to believe in stuff enough to make it happen, it doesn’t seem apt here. Neither of us particularly believed it would happen, and in fact for many of the sixteen years or so between seeing it and having it, it wasn’t in our consciousness at all.
Even last Monday, when a friend asked me if I thought it would happen, I gave it a 10% chance based on the way things were unfolding. So if believing in a positive result wasn’t particularly relevant, what was?
Theory Two: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me”
The personal empowerment theory would argue that we were able to buy this house as a result of hard work and consistent effort over time. While I have certainly worked hard and consistently on many things over time, buying this house wasn’t one of them.
While the amount of hopeful and paranoid thinking we’ve experienced over the past five months has certainly made this feel like hard work at times, the only ones really working hard were our tireless realtors, mortgage broker, and the moving company that finally left us close to midnight on Friday night.
All we’ve done to “make this happen” was whatever was on our plate for the day. We read, occasionally questioned, and signed small mountains of paperwork; we tidied our house to make it look beautiful for our prospective buyers. When there was a problem, as there often was, we did what occurred to us to do to solve it and left the rest in the hands of the gods. Which takes us to theory three…
Theory Three: “God/The Universe/Fate wanted us to have this house”
There’s something deeply attractive to me about the notion that everything is predetermined and nothing we do can particularly make or stop anything from happening.
As the mystical poet Omar Khayyam wrote:
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”
It lets me off the hook for anything and everything, and in those moments that it looks true to me I do have a sort of a devil may care attitude towards life reminiscent of Robert Duvall taking his men surfing in the midst of the war in Vietnam and enjoying “the smell of napalm in the morning”.
But I’ve also seen that going too deeply down the rabbit hole of this kind of thinking leads us into a host of side conversations about whether or not we’re worthy or deserving of good things and what we could or should be doing to become more worthy by releasing our blocks to wealth, health, love, success, or whatever it is we think we need in order to be happy.
So how do I actually think creating in the world works?
Here’s what it looks like to me…
1. Desire marks the path
There’s a reason you want what you want and don’t want what you don’t want. While some of it is to do with our conditioning – what’s desirable in one culture may be repugnant in another – there is another kind of wanting that seems to come from a richer place inside us. In my work I call this our “soul path”, because it feels like it’s being laid out one step at a time from somewhere deep inside us.
When we follow our unfolding desires and inclinations without worrying too much about where they’ll take us, good things seem to happen much of the time and it’s usually pretty easy to enjoy the game.
2. Neediness is a dream-killer
As soon as a desire starts feeling like a need, over-seriousness sets in and people begin to “play tight”. When I was at a real low point during this process, my own coach asked me to ask my soul a simple question:
“Do you really need this house?”
That night I took my dogs for a walk past the outside of the TARDIS and stopped to reflect. After five minutes it became clear to me that I could be perfectly happy for the rest of my life without it, and that I would love to live in it if I could. From that moment forward, the whole process seemed a lot lighter – super cool if it happened, no big deal if not.
3. Keep your feet moving
In my first book, I wrote a story called “The Room of 1000 Demons”:
Every hundred years, members of an ancient order of monks gather in a secret location high in the Himalayas for a sacred ritual. For one day only, every monk is given the opportunity for instantaneous enlightenment. All they have to do is to walk through a room known only as “The Room of 1000 Demons” – and come out alive!
Rumor has it that The Room of 1000 Demons is pitch-black and filled, as you might expect, with 1000 of the nastiest demons from the netherworlds of hell. These demons appear to you in the guise of your biggest and worst fears – giant spiders, poisonous snakes, sheer precipices, or whatever they sense would fill your heart with terror.
There are only two rules to the challenge: first, once you enter, no one can come in and rescue you; second, it is impossible to leave by the door you entered. For those few brave souls who dare to face their fears in pursuit of happiness, success, and enlightenment, there are also two bits of advice:
“1. Remember that whatever you think is going around you, it is just a projection of your own mind. 2. No matter what you think you see, hear, think, or feel, keep your feet moving. If you keep your feet moving, you will eventually come out the other side.”
So are some things meant to be?
But I suspect this is a deeper truth:
The only way we can truly know if something is meant to be is that it is.
Have fun, learn heaps, and thanks for reading!
With all my love,