👋 Hi, I'm James.

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I occasionally write about lessons learned on the journey to live a healthier, happier and more intentional life. 

 

📍 Austin, TX 

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  • James von der Lieth

What Governs You?

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

Throughout modern history, most have been governed by their family's hand-me-downed religious beliefs. Today, with the internet and freedom of speech, many people have become disillusioned and have stopped looking towards religion to govern their behavior. Many turn to the popular American religions of politics, materialism, sex, money, fame, and now "woke-ism". Until there is a near death experience or a death of a family member, it's rare for people to question these new American religions.


Since my childhood Catholic church was shut down to pay for the legal fees of the Boston-area Priest Pedophile Scandal, I was also disillusioned from religion or belief in God for most of my life.


So what is governing humans in 2020? What moral code is governing you? I'll start with my story and how I would answer this question today.


My Story (So Far)


I will start with my story, because for a long time I wouldn't have been able to answer that question. Now I feel like I finally can clearly articulate an answer.


I grew up going to Catholic church in the Boston area in the 90's. Yes, that was the heyday of the Catholic Priest Pedophile scandal, but thankfully I'm *pretty* sure my friends and I weren't touched by Priests. That being said, our church was shut down in my early teens to help pay for the legal fees of all the priests in Boston who were diddling kids, which the Catholic Church had covered up for years.


Needless to say, that was a real eye opener during my formative years and turned me off from religion for a long time. The whole scandal was so traumatizing that our family stopped going to church all together after our church was shut down. For a long time I didn't have clear values I could articulate. I didn't have faith. I associated religion with bad people, evangelists and slimy politicians. It wasn't like I was going around murdering, raping, and robbing, but I certainly didn't have clear cut values for a long time.


Even when our family was going to church every Sunday and CCD, I didn't have much faith. After Santa Claus lie was dispelled, a couple of my friends and I that went to CCD were skeptical of a lot of what we were being taught by the same adults who had lied to us our entire lives. We started to ask tough questions about God, the Bible stories and the meaning of life. We asked so many Socratic questions that we even unintentionally made a Sunday School teacher cry and have a breakdown in front of a bunch of 5th graders. I remember thinking that all these adults didn't know any better than us and were just making it up and repeating stuff they didn't care to question or deeply understand.


I went home and asked my Dad what the purpose of life is if we all die in the end. He didn't know what to say and just responded by laughing at me. After going through that, I just went back to basing my moral code after the behavior of my parents. They are good people, so that wasn't the worst thing. However, I still had no idea what the purpose of life was or what I stood for.


So in America when you don't have crystal clear values, what happens?


Enter: Corporate Marketing, Materialism and Money


When you are unhappy, faithless or generally listless in America, corporate marketing grabs hold of you like a rabid dog with a bone. You are convinced by athletes and actors that you need X,Y, Z to be happy, so you can be like them. The only reason they sell you X, Y Z is because they can make more money by addicting you to buying X,Y,Z over and over.


The best athletes of all time like Lebron are on TV relentless telling you over and over that you need buy Sprite that he doesn't drink and a new Kia that he doesn't drive. Instagram influencers with millions of followers are telling you to buy this new expensive piece of clothing so the opposite sex will magically find you attractive. Then you are sold on escapism vices - drinking, gambling, processed food, and a continuous stream of new ways to consume poisonous corn syrup. Most things America's cultural heroes from LA and their enablers in NYC are selling just take you further away from God.


Then, on top of that, you are programmed by marketers, celebrities, politicians and athletes that if you endorse their favorite political candidate things will get better for you. But really, the materialism and vices that they've sold you is the real problem in your life, and spending your energy on politics is only going to make things worse for you and create division in your life with your friends and family.


In order to get all the stuff they tell you to buy, you need to earn money. So you spend all your time being governed by making money so you can purchase all that stuff so that you can be happy. Occasionally you make ethically questionable decisions in order to get as much money as you can for yourself. Then you finally get all the materials they told you would make you happy, and when you still aren't happy they tell you that the reason you aren't happy is because now you need the new versions that just came out.


Well, actually, this beautiful piece of art explains it a lot better than I can.



Breaking Free From the Cycle


For me, it ended after burning myself out after 3 years of working non-stop and then being forced to confront the realities of life when my Mom was diagnosed late stage cancer. I sold my ridiculously unnecessary Chevy Tahoe and gave away a lot of my possessions to simplify my life. I moved to a small studio apartment in nature and biked most places. I started investing more time and resources into my health and joined a Cross Fit Gym. I started incorporating better habits into my life. I was much more fulfilled than before. I started to do more positive things that weren't just for money like mentoring and supporting causes.


The problem was that even after rejecting the American Materialist Religion and making positive life changes, I was still left with a spiritual void. Ocassionally the void would reveal itself in binge drinking, partying, bad decisions, and relapses into American Materialism. When my Mom died it really made me ask myself, "What's the point to all this?"


With this void, some turn to political movements, nihilism, or worst of all: radical movements (like cults). For me, I sold my business and I joined a startup to work on a bigger mission and be surrounded by likeminded people I could learn from. As it turns out, startups happen to have a lot in common with cults. They consume your life and become your little world.


"Every good startup is a cult. And it's really hard to create a cult if you are sharing space with people. Because a cult means you think you are better than every other startup, you have a special way of doing things that's better than anyone else in the world" - KEITH RABOIS

Let me be clear. I don't regret joining the startup and dedicating myself to it. Actually, I learned a lot and made a lot of lifelong friends. But after 3.5 years of working there and as it grew and became more "corporate" I had this nagging feeling that there was more to life. What I was once passionate about, I couldn't bear the thought of working on anymore. Although I was proud of what I had been a part of building, what I was doing felt insignificant in terms of my potential and in light of the fact that we all die one day.


So I quit my job to travel to Asia, surf, and meet interesting people. Then I came back home and saw my hometown and my longtime home of Charleston with fresh eyes. Then, I travelled to Colombia, and instead of only staying for 6 weeks I ended up spending 8 months living on an organic farm where I had all the time in the world to contemplate and visualize my life. And here I am today.


There's a lot of stories in that journey that I won't get into in this post. However, today I can finally clearly articulate what governs me in a more defined answer than something trite like "Be a Good person".


What Governs Me Today


My mission is to serve God. Which God? Not the "man in the sky" that atheists immediately make fun of if you bring up the word "God". I'm talking about the same God that all religious beliefs and enlightened individuals like Jesus, Buddah and new-age spiritual figures like Ram Dass try to describe in their own ways. The God that we are all tiny pieces of. The God that connects us all to one another despite how different we might be.


I believe the purpose of life is to discover your unique gift that best serves God and then spend your time and energy contributing it to the universe. After that, we can find purpose in creating happy and enlightened children who will be better off than we were in terms of discovering and giving their unique gift to the universe. While on this mission, I also believe I shouldn't take any actions that will prevent others from discovering and giving their God-given gifts to the universe. It's that simple.


I suppose that philosophy is in the same ballpark as "Be a Good Person". But to me, that phrase isn't clear enough. If God has given you a gift that you aren't using, it's not good enough to just be a "Good Person." Too vague.


The other part of my life philosophy is that in order to give your unique gift you have to be physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy. In other words, you have to take care of yourself first. Once you do that and heal yourself from past traumas, you can give your gift more effectively.


I'm not 100% sure what my gift is but I do know I'm great at bringing people together, inspiring and leading others to a common goal, producing results, independent thinking without societal programmings, having a big picture understanding of the world and finding common ground with people from all walks of life and skillsets. My next step is figuring out how to apply these gifts to something I'm passionate about making better in this world for God. I have a few ideas, but honestly I'm still working through it.


The Core Values That Govern Me


Along with a mission, I think it's a good exercise to list core values. Here are mine for each of the 4 categories:


Health

  • Balance

  • Natural

  • Discipline

  • Strength

Relationships

  • Understanding

  • Trust

  • Long Term

  • Truth


Vocation

  • Serving God

  • Creation

  • Flexibility

  • Passion


Legacy

  • Love

  • Family

  • Positivity

  • Change


What governs you?


I wish people thought as much about what governs them, the purpose of life and the fact they will die one day as much as they do about tribalist politics, their fantasy football roster and how to get their next dollar.


I hope that more people can use this unique time to think more clearly about their core values and do this exercise. It's really helped me.

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