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A couple of weeks ago, I was cleaning out a closet upstairs in the kid’s section of the house. There were several cardboard boxes of toys and I was going through them and moving the toys to plastic bins that would protect the toys better. At the bottom of one of the boxes was the mahogany writing box you see in the picture.

My mother gave me that box, years and years ago and I loved it. It’s not a thing of great value, but it was something my mom picked up on that I coveted, but would likely never buy for myself, and in that paying attention, gave it to me one Christmas. I used it for years, then, when I moved to Vermont, it disappeared. I ransacked my house looking for it. But I never thought to look in a box of my son’s toys. And now, here it was.

I was happy. Far more happy than most people might think appropriate. I did a happy dance. I had the hint of tears in my eyes. I grinned from ear to ear the whole day. All this for something I had lived perfectly well without for over six years. A few days later, as I got more used to having it around, I still smiled when I saw it across the room.

And I began to wonder – why the over the top reaction? And the answer came pretty easily.

We treasure the lost.

I see this all the time. I see it in small things, like the box I found buried in the upstairs closet. I see it in people’s lives, where they lose part of themselves in the business of life. I see it in companies who grow and lose part of the soul of what made them unique. Here are a few conversations that I have had just this week.

Earlier this week I was speaking to a potential client. His company is on the surface, very successful. He is very successful. “I used to love coming to work.” he told me. “But something is missing. Something that was part of my joy.” As we talked, it came out – somewhere along the growth pattern, he, and his company, had lost their sense of mission. The very thing that set them apart from his competitors.

Also earlier this week, I was talking to someone about churches. “My church has lost it’s way.” he told me, “and I don’t know what to do.”

Talking to someone very dear to me a few days ago, I heard a story of a self almost lost, and then slowly reclaimed. “How could I let myself lose myself that way?” she asked.

It’s actually pretty easy.

The world tears at us in a million ways. Everyone thinks we should be this or that. We are bombarded with ways we aren’t enough, or what we do is not enough, or what popular culture says we should be. Sometimes this bombardment is well meaning, with people who want us to become more or better, whether it is in our personal, spiritual or business lives. At times, the barrage is commercial – someone wants to sell us something and they instill FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.) in us. And at times, the bombardment is self serving – to hold us down or squash us. The reasons are too many to count. As are the barrages.

We all want to be better, so the tendency is to listen, and expand and try to be better. Too often though, we do it indiscriminately, without looking at what these changes or additions do to the soul of who we are and what we are. And we try and try, add and add, and we end up “successful” but so scattered that we can barely find our way back to the heart of who we are. It happens with us as individuals. It happens to businesses. It happens to spiritual and creative groups.

Some people and organizations stay lost. That does not mean they are not successful, only that they lost part of themselves in the process.

Some people get to that point where they feel a need to reclaim their essential selves. They go get help – a therapist, a mentor, a wise friend, a coach, a consultant, to help them walk backwards and find out how and where they went off the main track. It’s not an easy journey (I have made it a time or two in my life.). But I have noticed this – everyone and every company I know who has made the journey is crazy happy in their reclaiming. They not only were successful (which often they were when they started the journey), but they felt successful. They enjoyed the life and work they lived. They reveled in the joy they had rediscovered.

There is a naturalness to this. In the bible we hear about the shepherd that left behind his flock to seek the one who was lost. We hear how angels rejoice when a lost soul returns to the family. We read about the prodigal son. There is a pattern of joy in finding and reclaiming the lost.

It is the same in our lives. In our spiritual or creative journeys. In our businesses and organizations. We don’t just find our way back, we rediscover our joy. Because our essential selves are generally pretty good stuff, and it’s wonderful to find them again.

Sometimes, we have to take a step back to find our way again. I can recall many years ago when I was hiking with a group of boy scouts. We got to a point where we knew we had taken a wrong trail. One group of us went back until we found the right trail. We got to the meeting point late, but we got there. Another group went forward, thinking they could find their way back without backtracking. Hours later, they realized this was not the case, and they ended up having to go backwards, only for a lot longer. They got to the meeting place six hours later than we did.

Of course, had they kept going forward they would have gotten somewhere. Maybe a great somewhere. Just not where they wanted to go.

I am no longer afraid to step back to move forward. Sometimes that’s the best thing to do. Not the obvious path. Not the path others want you to take, but the one that will bring us more joy to go along with our success. Taking that step back is not regression, it’s wisdom.

In my case, knowing my propensity to run with too many ideas at once, I do regular check ins with myself. I have learned the questions to ask to see if the paths that interest me make sense in terms of the whole of who I am and who I want to be. And I try to share that with my clients and (when they ask) my friends. Because the joy of re-finding the best of ourselves is an incredible joy indeed.

So I will enjoy the mahogany writing box. As well as the life I have. It’s not for everyone, but it is completely mine.

Be Well, travel wisely.

Tom

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