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Think how cool the Navy Seals had to be to chopper into Pakistan to take out Osama bin Laden. The good among the great I’ve encountered are also cool, calm and collected. They have highly objective, even detached personalities. When you first meet them, they can come across as a little bit cool or aloof. But they are also deeply connected to the rest of humanity, especially those they love. It’s simply a paradox.

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Destiny Control

The best people I’ve ever interviewed, such as Andy Grove, Bill Bradley and Steve Case, all believe in three fundamental truths about everyone’s life:

1. Everything is changing, always

2. Reality always intrudes

3. Every person can have a profound effect on their own destinies

It’s a belief in what poets call the symmetry of our actions, that the chickens do come home to roost, that what goes around does come around, that Karma is real, that there is always a day of reckoning. Or as the great retired preacher R. Maurice Boyd of The City Church of New York puts it, “Life is moral!” It’s exciting that tomorrow will be different from today. It’s comforting that the mean and vicious often get their comeuppance and the loving get their reward.

It’s also sobering to know that each of us is not only the protagonist but to a large extent, the author of our own stories. You have much more control than you may believe, though only if you start by being alert and responsive to reality and if you recognize how brutal life can be. Wild animals are aware of this.

Wisdom of the Wild

Abraham Maslow also writes that the healthiest people “live more in the real world of nature.” As someone who profoundly respects all living creatures, particularly free ones, I have found that the ablest among us are as alert and aware as wild animals. Self-sustaining creatures are acutely aware because for them, awareness is survival. To be alive is to be alert.

I live next to a wildlife preserve in the mountains of Sonoma, California. Even my little tabby cat is always alert. My frequent absences as well as the presence of rattle snakes, a food-stealing fox, raccoons, coyotes and even the odd cougar, means that her life depends on instantaneously registering and calibrating every noise and scent.

Most of us in industrialized societies are only lulled into semi-consciousness by our climate controlled interiors, daily routines and lazy, categorized thinking. I submit to you that to thrive in our hyper-competitive yet sensory-deprived world, you need to be as freshly and as acutely aware as a wild animal.

A last thought regarding reality recognition–one way to judge how well you see reality is how well you are living. Proof is not in the pudding, it’s usually in the outcome of your choices. It is a trait that virtually all high-achievers develop. Once developed, it can help you be strong and true. But recognize this reality–it can also make you strong and cruel. It’s your choice. In the wilds of the city as well as the forest there are both prey and predators.

Tips for greater reality recognition:

—Shut up and develop listening/awareness skills
—Don’t make snap judgments (use analysis as well as intuition)
—Resist too much categorization
—Assess like a pollster, (“Argue using data, don’t argue with the data” Andy Grove)
—Beware of “experts.” Do and trust your own analysis
—Seek ‘reality checks’ from those you admire
—Proof of your reality perception is in the proceeds of your life

Cheers from Sonoma,