These can be confusing times. Deciding what to prioritize can be a challenge. Sorting options and choosing a direction aren’t always easy tasks. Conflicting pressures and divergent forces too often drive confusion and uncertainty.
We want clarity. We need guideposts and guidelines to help us discern a path forward. We need the stability of a set of principles that can give us flexibility while not losing our way. Fortunately, there are places we can turn. Consider these five Buddhist life and leadership principles that have been around for more than 2500 years.
First, do the right thing and trust that the best outcome will follow. We like to feel in control, but life doesn’t always give us access to all the “levers” that’ll align circumstances and determine outcomes. We can become so preoccupied with how things will turn out that we neglect to ask ourselves, What’s the right thing to do in this situation/circumstance? Yet, when we focus on doing what’s right, the outcome will likely take care of itself. Meanwhile, we’ll have the reassurance that we did what was right, not what was most convenient or comfortable.
Second, remain open and curious. Life experiences can be helpful when we confront situations and circumstances that are routine and familiar. They can provide thinking and action shortcuts. However, experience leads us to think we know more than we do and assume more than we should. Experience can close our minds to possibilities, options, and new approaches. Often called the “beginner’s mind,” this principle invites us to open our mind, to ask questions, and be curious, even when we think we know what the answers should be. A beginner’s mind helps us to free ourselves from assumptions, beliefs, and bias that can confine our thinking and limit our success.
Third, know your value and live your values: This principle invites us to be comfortable with who we are and appreciate the skills, talents, and intelligence we possess. When we know who we are, we act with confidence. We don’t need to continuously worry about how we’re perceived and what others might think. This principle also challenges us to live our values. We may not always measure up to our ideals, but we always have tomorrow to try again. Remarkably, when we know who we are and live what we value, others naturally respond positively and are more likely to follow our leadership.
Fourth, avoid becoming preoccupied with winning and losing. Of course, we don’t want to experience the pain of losing, the embarrassment of a misstep, or the loss of perceived status. On the other hand, becoming focused on hearing praise, finding pleasure, and seeking applause can skew our judgement and leave us making choices that are driven by perception rather than by substance and good judgement. We can become anxious, manipulative, and caught up in short-term thinking. Meanwhile, when we let go of preoccupation with winning and losing, we free ourselves to think more clearly and lead more freely with our values.
Fifth, practice empathy and compassion. Empathy and compassion lead us to focus our energy beyond ourselves. They expand our view and give us a larger context within which to understand our experiences and the world. Empathy and compassion promote insight and build connections. When we extend our caring to others, we feel better about ourselves, despite the circumstances and challenges we face.
Life will always present complications and challenge our thinking and choices. However, by remaining focused on doing what’s right, remaining curious, living our values, remaining empathetic and compassionate, and taking life as it comes, we can find the path that’s right for us.