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Exiling Our Gifts?

Exiling Our Gifts?

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” No surprise that statement is attributed to the person many identify as the greatest philosopher the world has ever known: Aristotle. What you may be surprised to learn is that Aristotle, despite all he brought to his followers, community and history, was exiled from his home in Athens to Chalcis, where he eventually died.

What does this have to do with being a Catalyst? Writer Peter Block asks a question few of us have the courage to explore, let alone answer comprehensively: “What is the gift you currently hold in exile?” Exile is the state of being barred from our home – the place where we were born, grew up and began seeing our lives produce fruit. Block’s question cuts to the core, reminding us we are the ones holding the gift in exile (and that it was a gift in the first place). The problem with the question is it doesn’t exactly offer T/F or multiple-choice answers. Our answers are unique – and fully understood – only to us. I’ve asked a handful of people the question since stumbling across it a few weeks ago (you’re making a mental note of the difficulty of spending time with me, aren’t you? 😊). The typical response is “huh?” Followed by “what do you mean ‘gift’?” and finally “well, I guess something that comes to mind would be ________.” Boom! Now the fun begins, as we ponder potential initial steps going forward. And please don’t assume it was an easy question for me – I’ve been wrestling with it too!

As we’ve previously discussed here in the Catalyst Compass, most of our days are spent on autopilot. Henri Bergson in his 1889 book, Time and Free Will noted we “have” free will, but we rarely “use” our free will. Unfortunately, our autopilot setting creates a customized version of the classic Bill Murray film Groundhog Day and our gifts – gifts intended to benefit the world – remain in exile, where they, like Aristotle, eventually die. Intriguingly – but not surprisingly – a 2020 study from the Preventive Medicine journal found older adults living with purpose (using their gifts) not only had greater positive impact, but were also more active, slept better, had lower BMI and even saw a reduction in smoking relapse. While the gifts were being opened for the benefit of others, the opener was simultaneously reaping benefits across multiple aspects of life!

What is the gift we each currently hold in exile? What might be initial steps in bringing that gift back home? Or at least becoming pen-pals with it initially? Reasons for exiling our gifts are endless, ranging from a hurtful comment from a parent or teacher to a fear that once opened, others won’t share in our excitement.  But gifts are meant to be opened – and shared. Aristotle reminded us of the wisdom in the right habits, but he also emboldened us with the reminder that we “will achieve nothing in this world without courage.” Maybe today’s the day we tap into the courage to bring our exiled gift back home.

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