My Two Favorite Words

Like a great novel, every life has a theme.  There is a driving purpose in the story arc of our existence.  Determining that focus may be the key to that one admonition of every great thinker and writ most succinctly by Aristotle — “Know thyself.”

In my life, two words keep showing up in a myriad of ways.  Not just the words, but the very concepts.  I believe that if something shows itself to you again and again, it might just be trying to get your attention.

The first word is “integrity.”  Personal integrity is the most precious possession of any human, in my humble opinion.  As I have explained it to every class I have ever had the privilege to teach, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”  It brings the sleep of babes.  It generates respect and trust.  It creates legacies.

I have always been guided by the beacon of integrity.  And sometimes it has cost me.  Living a life of integrity does not necessarily equate to success as the world so often defines it.  But it does equate to a personal success that exceeds the financial holdings of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett combined.  If your only motivation is money, then you will likely be asked to compromise your integrity at some point.  If your motivation is integrity, then every dollar you earn will be as solid as a brick of gold.

Yes, I’ve tried to live with integrity.  And sometimes I have failed.  I have sometimes worked against the grain of my own story’s theme.  I have delved into subplots that derail the focus.  But with failure comes lessons.  Integrity is only ruined if you miss the opportunity to recognize your own lack of integrity.

Whether I was living with integrity or momentarily distracted, there have been events in my life which were challenging, . . . difficult, . . . okay, they just felt bad.  But every single devastating moment in my life brought a message, often a vital message, that improved and strengthened me.  That brings me to my other favorite word:


You can think of serendipity as a “happy accident.”  It is that event in your life which initially seems downright horrible but which ends up bringing the most precious gift.  When you are laid up from an injury and then discover in your weeks of healing boredom that you need to reprioritize your life — that’s serendipity.  When you are fired from your job and discover that you suddenly have time to go back to school like you always wanted and are brought back to a place where dreams are no longer blocked by a steady paycheck — that’s serendipity.  When you endure a devastating miscarriage that seems to have no possible rhyme or reason but then your spouse undergoes brain surgery and will require your constant care for the next several months — that’s serendipity.

There is one vital difference in these two words.  Integrity is created, protected, and nurtured solely by you.  Serendipity can only be recognized.  But here is something I’ve discovered: Integrity will help you see serendipity.

The truer you are to yourself, the more you know yourself, . . . the more you will see the rhyme, the reason, the theme, the purpose of this life.

Even when it hurts.

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