The Desiderata by Max Ehrman

This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers share the best advice they’ve ever received. Read all the posts here.

The best advice I’ve ever received, or should I say read, was a simple poem. Its profound principles subliminally shaped and defined my core and have guided me throughout my life.

No different to most teens growing up, I got bored. So I’d spend hours in my father’s office, watching, learning as he shared what he was working on. As a distraction, I would often find myself reading and rereading a poem on his wall, The Desiderata. Latin for “Desired Things“, it was copyrighted in 1927 by a poet and lawyer from Indiana Max Ehrman. I spent hours memorising it word for word, challenging myself to recite it without looking each time I passed by.

While the origins of the poem remain unknown – some accounts noting Max Ehrman discovered the faded prose, dating back to 1692, on the side of an old church in Maryland – what I do know is that its many facets have guided me, personally and professionally, throughout my life.

At the time, I repeated the words without reflection, unconcerned by their meaning. But with perspective, I know these simple truths helped form the fabric of my leadership, inspiring me and reminding me of my place and my purpose.

Whatever its history, I am so honoured to share it with you and hope these words may impact your life, as it has mine.

The Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrman

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