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The Secret to Life

There’s a classic scene in the 1991 movie City Slickers where a father, Mitch (played by Billy Crystal), speaks to his son’s elementary school class. After introducing himself and explaining what he does for his job, he delivers this motivational speech:

Value this time in your life, kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices. It goes by so fast. When you’re a teenager, you think you can do anything, and you do. Your twenties are a blur. Your thirties, you raise your family, you make some money, you think to yourself, “What happened to my twenties?” Your forties, you grow a little pot belly, you grow another chin, the music starts to get too loud, one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother. In your fifties, you have a minor surgery—you’ll call it a “procedure,” but it’s a surgery. In your sixties, you’ll have a major surgery, the music is still loud, but it doesn’t matter, because you can’t hear it anyway. The seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale, you start eating dinner at two o’clock in the afternoon, you have lunch around ten, breakfast the night before and you spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate soft yogurt and muttering “How come the kids don’t call? How come the kids don’t call?” In the eighties, you’ll have a major stroke; you end up babbling to some Jamaican nurse who your wife can’t stand, but who you call mama. Any questions?

The youngsters’ eyes grow wider, their jaws dropping, as Mitch drones on about his depressing outlook on life. The message is clear: It’s all downhill from here kids.

Encouragingly, in the movie Mitch—in the throes of a somewhat stereotypical midlife crisis—embarks on a mission to recapture a sense of meaning in his life by visiting a dude ranch with friends. During a cattle drive with friends, he meets an older cowboy named CurIy. Here’s a piece of their famous “one thing” dialogue:

Curly: You know what the secret of life is?

Mitch: No, what?

Curly: (holding up his leather-gloved hand and pointing with his index finger) This.

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing, just one thing.

Mitch: That’s great, but what’s the one thing?

Curly: That’s what you’ve got to figure out.

In the end Mitch discovers that the secret of life isn’t a formula; rather, the “one thing” central to living a meaningful life is relationships.

I think we all would agree that life is bankrupt without our human relationships, particularly with those people we are closest to. However, we must know that the most significant relationship in all of life is the one with our God. That is why we are here, to be in a relationship with Him and to live in the center of His will. But what does it mean to be in the center of God’s will, and to follow God’s will?

What most people don’t realize is that God’s general will for us is primarily laid out in the Bible. For instance, it is God’s will that we be honest, that we be unselfish, generous, and kind. It is God’s will that we be faithful to our spouse and that we be humble and forgiving. Living in the center of God’s will enables us to live in harmony with our design and to function well. It is to live the life we were meant to live. This is the secret to life, this is that “one thing.”

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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