A Prosaic Interpretation of Kipling’s “If”

Originally published in 2003.

Here are some reliable indicators of having reached real maturity. If you manifest them, rest assured that you’ll be unhindered in your ability to create and appreciate as many “peak experiences” as you may ever want to in your life:

Being able, in the midst of chaos and people’s catastrophizing, to keep your cool and not take it personally when your leadership makes you a lightning-rod for blame.

Being able to hold on to your own sense of competence even when nobody else is able to share that sense.

Being able to appreciate that not everybody knows what you know about your competence, and that they have the right not to fully appreciate your confidence in yourself.

Being able to recognize that though you may in fact usually know what you’re talking about, you’re still not always right.

Being able to “suffer long,” which is the heart of “patience,” and not to begrudge the Universe the fact that you are called upon to suffer long a lot more often than you might wish.

Being able to maintain your integrity in the face of dishonesty by not responding in kind to liars.

Being able to rise above hateful treatment by responding with a suitable measure of goodwill without bragging about the fact that you’ve taken the high road or making a big deal of the fact that they haven’t.

Being able to imagine a better world without losing your grip on the real one.

Being able to use your head without living in it.

Keeping in mind that neither triumph nor disaster are static states: they unfailingly follow one another, though rarely in any sort of predictable or equitable way, and it’s unrealistic either to hope that things will always go your way or to despair that they never will.

Not crumbling when people manipulate what you’ve said in good faith and with good will in order to suit destructive purposes that are completely opposed to what you actually stand for.

Not just not crumbling when you’ve been shaken to your foundations by other people’s destructive words or actions, but actually taking whatever resources are left to you, however badly compromised, and rebuilding your life, however slowly, holding fast to your convictions.

Being willing to take calculated risks with everything you have for worthy goals, and being willing, even if you lose, to continue to take calculated risks with everything you have for other worthy goals without ever whining about what it’s cost you.

Demonstrating stamina, and being resourceful enough, when you fear that you’ve run out of inner resources, to find untapped resources, and, through sheer force of will, to tap into them.

Being prepared either to shine forth or to fade into the background as circumstances dictate, and being able to discern the needs and capacities of your audience, gauging the sophistication of your delivery according to the importance of your message, not your ego. Nobody is any better or any worse than you, no matter where you’ve come from, where you’ve been, or where you’re going.

Not being so tied to the approval of your friends that you are devastated if they ever withdraw it, and not being so tied to the approval of your enemies that you are devastated if you never win it no matter how hard you may try.

Acting consistently, in ways that establish you as reliable, but not overcompensating in order to try to be indispensable.

Being present to every moment, savoring all of life’s joys, learning from all of life’s disappointments, and being open to all of life’s opportunities-giving it all your all because you can never count on second chances.

©2003 Khrysso Heart LeFey

Please favor yourself with a reading of Rudyard Kipling’s original poem “If” at the online Poetry Foundation.

"Artists are here to disturb the peace." —James Baldwin. Please lesave a comment!

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