(Ed’s Note: This condensation is from Matthew Kelly’s book: Perfectly Yourself – Discovering God’s Dream for You. I did this condensation because I want to promote his book, which has helped me better understand myself and perhaps you could also benefit from what he has to say about seeking perfection in your life.)
Lesson One: Celebrate Your Progress
the “hunger” we all have.
you making progress in your desire for connection and union with God?
need to understand the dynamics of change that so often eludes us. We need to be honest with ourselves. The truth is: Diets do not fail. We fail at diets. Relationships do not fail. We fail at relationships. Why can’t we transform our resolutions into habits? The answer is because we focus too much on
the desired outcome and not enough the progress we are making. Just be yourself—life is not about doing and having, it is about becoming. Our resolutions involving programs and
products divorce themselves from God and in doing so lose their connection with
grace, and no great change happens without grace.
first step toward becoming perfectly yourself is acknowledging your
imperfections. Personal tendencies and
talents should be accepted, but character defects should always be
challenged. Think of a tree: Recognize that its branches are not all straight, yet
it is perfect in its imperfections, you could say it’s perfectly imperfect, yet
it does change and grow over time, and so can we. The goal is to find the balance between
accepting ourselves for who we are and challenging ourselves to be all we are
capable of being. Kindness toward
ourselves precedes all genuine and lasting growth, and lightheartedness is a
sign that we trust that we are exactly where we are right now for a reason.
The best-version-of-ourselves is not something we strive for and never achieve. It is something we achieve in some moments and not in others. Practice does not make perfect in this exercise, but it does make progress. We can become paralyzed by the fear of failure in this process and will not succeed in the effort until we believe that substantial change is possible. We need to appreciate that celebrating progress is fundamental in achieving the psychology of change. We must never allow our spirit to be stifled by failure. Failure is part of progress,
it is not a final outcome.
fills us with gratitude for the now and hope for the future. Progress requires desire and action. Progress creates enduring happiness. Baby steps are the secret. Small victories lead to large victories.
Lesson Two: Just Do the Next Right Thing
us at one time or another have asked this uncomfortable question: Who am I, and what am I here for? And:
What is life about? This moment
is part of the process of maturing into a healthy adult human being. When you get the sense that something is
wrong, realize that God has created you to be here right now for a specific
think that a new job, a new house, a new car, a different lover or an extended
vacation is the answer to our restlessness.
God asks us to stand still and create some time in the rush of everyday
living to seek silence and solitude.
The self-discovery that so many people go
off to other places in search of is right inside us when we discover that our
imperfections are part of our perfection. We are perfectly imperfect. Our self-deception and misplaced expectations
leave us searching for who we really are in ways that are both real and
key is to humble and honest enough to acknowledge which of our imperfections
are part of who we are and which are obstacles that stand in the way of being
perfectly imperfect. When we are humble
every life experience is richer. Truth
lived becomes wisdom and living in the things we know to be good and true
begets further wisdom.
you ever been told that if you set your mind to it you could achieve
anything? It is a lie. We have all set our mind to things and
failed, causing us to feel inadequate.
The truth is we may fail at things because we are simply not well suited
to them. We are capable of extraordinary
things, but each of us is different.
Your skill or talent could be my weakness, and my skill or talent could
be your weakness. The great challenge is not to succeed in the world’s eyes, but rather
to discover what your unique abilities are and offer them to the world in the
best way you can. To feel at home
with who you are and where you are and what you are doing is worth more than
all the treasures and pleasures money can buy.
one thing can be reasonably asked of you: that you be yourself. Too often we reject our identity as children
of God, unique and wonderfully made, and take on false identities that focus on
what we do or what we have, causing us to have an identity crisis. We can find ourselves by serving others for
the sake of service rather than personal gain.
Most of us experience unhappiness when we wander away from ourselves by doing and saying things that contradict who we are and what we are here for. Unhappiness is not something that happens to us as if we are poor little victims.
Unhappiness is something we do to ourselves. You can choose to be happy, and God wants you to be happy even more than you do yourself. What is happiness? It is not easily defined, but we all know it when we experience it.
It is important to know that pleasure and
happiness are not synonymous. Pleasure
cannot be sustained beyond the experience producing it. When you eat, you experience pleasure. You stop eating, and the pleasure stops. That is why we do not stop eating. We are not hungry; we simply enjoy the
pleasure that comes from eating.
Happiness is different. Happiness
can be sustained beyond the experience producing it.
for example, exercising or working out.
Will you plant yourself in front of your TV with a huge bag of potato
chips, or work out? The choice is
yours. Watching TV and eating potato
chips might give you some immediate pleasure, but will it last when you are
done? Exercising gives you a sense of
satisfaction and well-being long after you are finished, happiness can be
sustained beyond the activity producing the happiness. Every moment of our life we choose between
happiness and misery.
yearn for happiness that can be sustained independently of substances—food,
drink, drugs—and a happiness that can be sustained independently of
circumstances—success, money, possessions, opportunities, weather and so
is an inside job and has little to do with substances, money, possessions,
pleasure or circumstances.
philosophy of happiness in our culture is flawed; it promotes the idea that if
you go out and get what you want, then you will be happy. The reason it does not work is because you
simply never can get enough of what you do not really need. You have to want the right things.
Happiness cannot be found by pursuing happiness, it will elude you at every turn.
Happiness is not an end or even an experience. Happiness is a by-product of right living. My friend Tony says repeatedly to “Just do the next right thing!” If the choice is between exercising and vegetating in front of the TV, just do the next right thing. If the choice is between cheating on your wife or being faithful to her, just do the next right thing. By doing the next right thing, we live on into the answers to the questions that we could not answer before, because it was not time to answer them. Who knows what will happen a month from now? Don’t make decisions today that are not called for until next week, next month or next year. Nothing brings happiness like right living.
Note: Abraham Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they
make up their minds to be.” Lincoln
was right. Happiness, just like misery,
is a choice we make.)
is a lot like wealth and wisdom: Those who have it generally don’t need to talk
about it, and those who are constantly talking about it usually don’t have it.
wonderful is about to happen. People
have an enormous capacity for good because we are created in the image of God,
especially when their own survival is not threatened and our basic needs are
being met. I believe in our capacity for
change and growth. Every moment is
another chance to turn it all around.
Note: Ralph Waldo Emerson said,
“This time, like all times, is a very good one, when we know what to do
with it.” Two thoughts: 1) People who are miserable complain a lot. When you blame others for your condition,
you give up your ability to change.
2) People who are good at whining and complaining are seldom good at
success has its root in being able to capitalize on the moment, endure the
moment, and draw from the moment what is to be learned, gained or achieved. Why
worry about the future and overlook the fact that how we deal with the present
will determine what the future looks like.
If you do not know what the next right thing to do is, quiet yourself
for a moment and go to that place deep within you.
each moment, do the next right thing. You cannot think your way out or talk your
way out of problems. You acted your way
into them, and you must act your way out of them. By simply doing the right thing, you will
move from confusion to clarity, from misunderstanding to insight, from despair
to hope, from darkness to light, and discover your truest self, the unique
person God designed you to be.
Lesson Three: Put Character First
will affect the change we desire. Character will affect your future more than
any other single ingredient. Character
is not what someone says but what he or she actually does. Our
future is an external expression of our internal reality.
Note: Mahatma Gandhi said “Keep
your thoughts positive because thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because words become
your behavior. Keep your behavior
positive because behavior becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive because habits become your values. Keep your values positive because values
become your destiny.” Gandhi
absolutely knows what he is talking about.)
Note: Just as we can learn from our mistakes, we can gain character from our
disappointments. Challenges do not build
character, challenges reveal character.
How we react to disappointments determines our character. Life is 10% of what happens to us and 90%
about how we react to it. Attitude is
critical to building character and success, guts and determination seal the
deal. You must make the right choices—do
the next right thing—and take action.)
person’s talent can blind us to what kind of person they really are. Talent is genetic or God-given. You are born with talents. You either have them or you do not. Talent may be obvious but it is still
limited. (Ed’s note: Nobody will ever
run a 3-minute mile.) It is important to
note that while talent is limited, your ability to increase your character is
unlimited. Character is a gift you give to yourself, and it is one of the few
things that can never be taken from you.
note: Character is the mental and moral
qualities distinctive to an individual.
Integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral
principles. Clearly, character and
integrity are joined at the hip.)
The thing I truly and deeply respect is virtue. There is simply nothing more attractive than virtue. The cornerstone of character is virtue (behavior showing high moral standards). Our culture has reduced all virtue to the universal virtue of niceness, which is no virtue at all. The most obvious example of this is in modern parenting. Many parents seem more interested in being a friend to their children than in being a parent. High school teachers can shirk the responsibility entrusted to them in the area of discipline, merely to be popular with their students. Trustworthiness is universally accepted as a litmus test of good character.
honesty and love of truth in turn give birth to integrity. Honesty means that we can be taken at our word
and that what we say can be trusted.
Integrity means that we can be relied on to do what we say we will
do. Together, honesty and integrity make
us worthy of trust—we become trustworthy.
If we are being dishonest with
others, we are also being dishonest with ourselves. The external reality is an expression of the
internal reality: We must lie to
ourselves before we lie to anyone else.
And that is betrayal of self. Being honest with ourselves is at the very
core of integrity. The other side of
honesty and integrity is when we do not speak up when we should. There is no personal integrity without
honesty, and there is no enduring happiness without personal integrity. To attain real virtue requires constant
dedication to the truth.
The enemy of character is ego. The true self speaks for character, and the false self speaks for ego. The authentic self finds its identity in all things that are good, true, beautiful and noble, while our personal ego is constantly making demands on insecurity and self-aggrandizement. It is this conflict between character and ego which surrounds the whole human drama.
All great music, movies and stories are centered on this struggle. When we are living from an ego-centered perspective, everything happens in relation to us. Ego wants you to always be the center of attention.
authentic self is genuinely interested in other people, while the ego is
interested only in what other people can do for it. We are not the center of the universe, and
when we try to place ourselves there, we set ourselves up for disappointment
Our lives genuinely improve only when we
grow in virtue. Any other change is
simply cosmetic. If we
truly wish to grow in virtue, we must wean ourselves off instant gratification.
Growing in virtue requires real and
virtue and ask God to show you ways to develop that virtue in yourself. When
you encounter someone in need, be generous with your time, talents or treasure.
In each moment, just do the next
right thing and your life will begin to flood with joy. There are no personal acts. Everything we do affects the people around
Just because you do something in the
privacy of your home, behind closed doors, with no one else involved and no one
else to witness the act, does not mean that that act does not affect other
human act affects the future of humanity.
Everything God created in the universe and beyond is connected.
character first means that we will allow our thoughts, decisions, actions and
relationships to become subordinate to this quest to become and remain
authentic. This is only possible of
course with the help of God’s grace.
Alone we can do nothing. But with
God and in God, so much is possible that we have not even begun to imagine.
Lesson Four: Find What You Love to Do and Do It
only have so much time during your work life.
Thoreau said most men and women lead lives of quiet desperation. Most people hate their job. They keep doing it to support their family,
or they think chasing money, power, position or fame will give them
satisfaction and happiness. Nothing
could be further from the truth. People
do not want just a job, they want meaningful work. Theodore Roosevelt said, “The best prize
life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
We know that working hard and happiness
are linked. Work is
not a punishment. You do not have to do
anything. Nobody can make you do
anything. We choose to go to work. The
primary meaning, purpose and value of work is that when we work hard and well,
when we pay attention to the details of our work, we develop character and
virtue. When we work, we gain the
opportunity to partner with God. When
work is approached in the right way and with the right frame of mind, it helps
us to become more perfectly ourselves.
than 2,350 years ago, Aristotle pointed out that happiness resides in activity,
both mental and physical, and not idleness.
We tend to confuse happiness with mere relaxation and being
entertained. All honest work has an
intrinsic value. Saint Augustine said
“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on
you.” Pray for God’s help, and then
find your passion and get busy working.
tell people you do not know what you want to do when you grow up. You are already grown. Ask “Who is God inviting me to
from what do I want to what does God want.
We are not asking, what does God
want us to do; we are asking, who does God want us to become. Make a list of all the things you are
passionate about and ask God to guide you to your passion. Try sitting in an empty room alone and
listening quietly, you may be surprised what thoughts come to you.
Lesson Five: Live What Your Believe
believe in something. An atheist
believes that there is no God. An
agnostic believes that he does not know if there is a God. Christians believe there is a God.
note: Christians believe in the Holy
Trinity: God, the creator of
creation. Jesus, the Christ, God’s only
Son and our Redeemer and Savior by His death on the cross and resurrection, and
the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life.
As Saint Patrick says, “We believe in the invocation of the
Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the oneness, of
the Creator of Creation.”)
People are not born with beliefs and
opinions; these are the result of education and experience. Belief is something that
evolves in our lives. We all have the
capacity to believe, and what we believe affects the way we live our
lives. There is no faster way to create
enduring unhappiness than to act against our beliefs. The great challenge is to work out what we
it comes to everyday dilemmas, we all have a guide that is never wrong and
often ignored. The voice of the
authentic self calls to us ceaselessly form within. Traditionally it has been called the voice of
conscience. Most of the time we seek
counsel because we lack the courage to do what we know we ought to do. It was Socrates’ counsel that “the
unexamined life is not worth living.”
Let us resolve to take some time each day
to withdraw from the crazy, noisy, busy world into the sanctuary of the
classroom of silence to work out who we are, what we believe, and what we are
we long for is the unity of life, one living, breathing, ordered life. It
is important to remember that happiness is not achieved by the pursuit of
happiness but rather the result of right living. Unity of life is established one decision at
a time. Consciousness and choice are
what we must grapple with if we are to find wholeness. They are the source of the division and the
unity, the source of our brokenness and our healing. Pray:
“Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth . . . ” The more complex our lives become, the more
we need to accede to the gentle voice within.
Lesson Six: Be Disciplined
Our insatiable appetite for instant
gratification tends to lead us farther and farther away from character, virtue,
integrity, wholeness, and our authentic self. Coupled with our untamed affinity with instant
gratification is our mistaken notion that freedom is the right or ability to do
whatever we want. Do we really believe that a life without structure or discipline will
yield the happiness we desire? I
think not. Every area of our
life—physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, professional and financial—benefits
would have us believe that all our wants for food and diet, exercise, money and
relationships will give us happiness.
The common lie in all these programs is that you can be happy without
Paul writes that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Self-control
is a gift we give to ourselves and is the very essence of discipline. We are not born with discipline; discipline is
acquired. We acquire discipline by practicing
discipline. Self-control is always
accompanied by self-awareness. As
difficult as it may be, we must bring our temper, appetites and impulses under
control by exercising discipline, knowing that the more discipline we develop
the closer we will come to God’s plan for our life.
way to help control your temper, appetites and impulses is by fasting. Our role model is, of course, Jesus. Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness at
the outset of His ministry. He was
tempted by the devil and exemplified self-control.
does not have to involve food. You can
fast from shopping, criticizing yourself and others, complaining and
procrastination. You can fast from anything that causes you to
become a slave of your temper, appetites or impulses. Getting better is a process, not a single
action. To ultimately give yourself to
others in service, you must first possess yourself. When you are in control of
yourself, you can teach others to do the same.
Lesson Seven: Simplify
congestion and confusion have become an accepted part of most people’s everyday
experience in life, but it does not need to be that way. We have chosen and created the clutter and
congestion. It needs to stop. We need to simplify, simplify, simplify. Simplicity
is the way to clarity. We complicate
our lives for 4 main reasons: 1) We don’t know what we really want, 2) We don’t have a clear sense of the purpose of
our lives, 3) We are scared of missing out on something,
We want to be distracted from the real challenges of the inner life.
clear about who you are and who you are not, about what you do and what you
don’t do. Again, heal yourself by
getting in control of yourself. Get discipline and set and keep standards
of behavior. Clarity cannot be obtained
in the noisy, busy world. Life is a
series of choices. To make great
choices, you must first become clear about why you are making them. Allow simplicity to direct our life and
permit a measure of silence and solitude to have their proper place in the
course of your daily activities.
The greatest lesson in simplifying your
life is to learn to say “no”.
Being perfectly yourself means doing only the things that are intended
for you to do.
has a way of clouding our judgment. The
most devastating poverty after lack of adequate food, water and shelter is the
lack of opportunity. The great appeal of
money is that it can buy opportunities.
Money complicates our lives because once we have it, we feel we must
possess it. After the money come the
things—the stuff we buy because we just have to have it, the stuff we buy
because everyone else has one, the stuff we buy because we were having a bad
day, and the stuff we buy because we feel like rewarding ourselves. The
thing about possessions is that they rent space in our minds. They lull us into a false sense of happiness
that is not there. We could all
enjoy things without having to own them, like enjoying a sunrise or sunset,
smelling flowers, swimming, bicycling, hiking in the woods, or watching nature
unfold before us.
Simplicity is one of the enduring
principles of happiness.
Lesson Eight: Focus on What You Are Here to Give
It is the responsibility of each of us
individually to do whatever is necessary to feel good about one’s self. Take time for quiet moments alone in silence.
It is in this audience of one that we must
convince ourselves that we are using our life in a worthy way. You have to look yourself in the eye when you
gaze into the mirror and really like yourself. Self-esteem is essential to
discovering God’s dream for our lives and essential if we are to establish
one in life is survival. Stage two is
independence. Most people slide by stage
three right into Stage four—effectiveness and thriving. Because they miss stage three, they end up
living a life of quiet desperation.
Stage three is mission. What is
our mission in life? Why are you here?
are difficult questions for most people of recognize and answer. That said, people who have a sense of mission in their lives are filled with a joy
that is independent of substance and circumstances. Only a handful of people are called to great
missions in their life. Most of us are
called to missions more manageable in the context of our daily lives. That is the thing about a mission. You do
not choose a mission; you are sent on a mission.
is precisely the reason why so many explanations of the difficult stages of
human development skip straight over the mission stage. It
poses a problem in a society that idolizes self-determination. God calls us to a mission. This is important because having a mission
and spirituality are inseparably linked.
I do not know of anybody who is experiencing enduring happiness who does
not have some sense of mission in his or her life.
person with the greatest sense of mission in all of history was Jesus
Christ. He was perfectly clear about who
he was, what he was here for, what mattered most, what mattered least, what he
was about, and the mission that every event and conversation was building
toward. This astounding clarity and
sense of mission was the result of his relationship with God the Father and the
Holy Spirit. The closer we get to God, the clearer our own sense of mission becomes.
What is your mission in life? This is a question you must answer for
yourself. Ultimately, your
mission will be driven by the needs of others and the needs of the world. See Matthew 20:28—The Son of Man came not to
be served but to serve. Our greatest strength as human beings is
our ability to make a difference in the lives of other people, and yet it is
the most unemployed of all human abilities. Francis of Assisi encouraged his listeners in
this way: “First do what is
necessary, then do what is possible, and before long you will find yourself
doing the impossible.”
By shifting our focus from what we can get
to what we can give, we open ourselves up to a life of service. Jesus placed an enormous value on service. He rejected all the ways the world measures
greatness—fame, fortune, power, position, achievement, intellect, possessions
and status. Jesus measures greatness by
service to others.
note: Fear and fatigue block the mind.
Confront both and courage and confidence will flow into you.)
Lesson Nine: Patiently Seek the Good in Everyone and
is the final obstacle to enduring happiness.
We worry because we want to be in
control of the situation or circumstance, but worry is a self-deception. Worry is often born from our unwillingness to
admit that we are powerless over a certain situation or circumstance. We must each find a way to maintain our inner
peace even in these times. Most things
that I get worked up about are of absolutely no consequence. We tend to be afraid because we do not know
how things are going to work out, but things are going to work out, one way or
note: Shaolin Kung Fu Philosophy helps
me here. One of its tenants is: It has all happened before. Everyone and no one has been here before, and
no matter how obscure it may seem to you, “the universe is . . . unfolding as it should”, or more
precisely, as it cannot help but do. It
is absolutely guaranteed that whatever the result becomes, it will be driven by
a choice by someone.
We are exactly where we are in life
because of the choices we have made. Another
tenant is: Stop for charity, no matter
what the cost, and there will be benefit instead of cost. It does not matter for whom.)
are opportunities to build character. We
can endure just about anything as long as we see ourselves moving toward a
worthy purpose. Problems can teach us
lessons when we are willing to learn.
note: When all else fails, remember this
serenity prayer by American Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to
know the difference.”)
God speaks to us all in the silence. Only in the classroom of silence can we gain
the calm and clarity that allow us to know when to wait patiently and when to
push forward impatiently, when to plan diligently and when to live
spontaneously. Visit the quiet of your
own heart in silence alone without interruption and listen.
live in an amazing and wonderful world.
Those who believe that good things are going to happen to them are
generally happier than those who do not.
If we do not go seeking the good,
then we will be constantly looking for what is wrong in everyone and
note: Be a good finder, not a bad
finder. God is good, not bad. He wants you to see the good in others. Nothing worth accomplishing comes easy, yet
the reward is great when we serve others.)
final note by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “That which we persist in doing becomes
easier—not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has