We were trying to cross the road with the kids – everyone on our respective bikes. Just as it was all clear for pedestrians/bikes to cross, our older kid experienced trouble getting started. As there were only a few seconds left, I decided we needed to turn back and wait for the next round.
So, I turned back to the sidewalk, parked my bike, got to her, picked her up, and got her back.
Through this process, there was a car waiting to turn right. They saw this charade on the road and decided that the appropriate response was to scream at me.
So, as I turned back and apologized to them, I became aware of some serious screaming and gesticulating.
More screaming ensued as I went back to get our child back.
I think they were trying to explain that they wanted to turn quickly and that I was wasting their time. I have to assume they were in a burning hurry. I hope it wasn’t an emergency where 10 seconds made the difference between life and death.
Then again, it probably wasn’t.
In a world where everything is instant, it is more common than ever to not want to wait.
As I am in the process of adopting stoicism as my philosophy of life, I was reflecting on what I could have done better from a stoic point of view.
I think I did well to not succumb to anger. But, I was flustered and annoyed and missed the opportunity to respond with calm, grace, and humor.
A year after winning the women’s world cup, the US women’s soccer team were knocked out without a medal at the Olympics in Rio.
It was fascinating to hear Coach Jill Ellis reflect about the importance of that defeat. It galvanized her to remake the team. Yes, they had only been world champions a year ago. But, it was time to change. New players had to be brought into the setup and new tactics had to be tried.
It is a lesson that never gets old in professional sports. Great teams can dominate for 2-3 year periods. But, they often hit a wall after that. Everything that used to work just doesn’t seem to work as well anymore.
Great managers/coaches who manage to win while staying at the same place longer than 2-3 years become experts at evolving their teams.
It is an important lesson in our lives too. If we’ve had a good run doing what we’re doing for the past 12-18 months, it is probably time to think about where we want to go and what we need to do to remake ourselves.
Two years ago, a trainer at the gym explained I was lifting weights all wrong. I was taking the lazy approach and bending to lift weights instead of squatting.
This didn’t apply just to weights at the gym of course. I was clearly doing this at home too.
A good friend was spending time with a physiotherapist at the same time as he was recovering from issues with his knee. This physio recommended the same approach for routine tasks at home as well – e.g. loading the dishwasher. He shared this lesson with me at about the same time.
I remember writing about it after these conversations hoping to change how I lifted weights and take better care of my back and knees.
Prior to learning this approach, I used to experience occasional pain in the back after lifting something heavy for a sustained period or after a long bout of ironing.
Luckily, their advice stuck with me and I’ve done my best to avoid the lazy approach to lifting things since. And, in the two following years, such instances/pain/niggles have almost entirely disappeared.
“Now commencement speakers are also expected to give some advice. They give grand advice, and they give some useful tips. The most common grand advice they give is for you to be yourself. It is an odd piece of advice to give people dressed identically, but you should—you should be yourself. But you should understand what that means.
Unless you are perfect, it does not mean – don’t make any changes. In a certain sense, you should not be yourself. You should try to become something better. People say ‘be yourself’ because they want you to resist the impulse to conform to what others want you to be. But you can’t be yourself if you don’t learn who you are, and you can’t learn who you are unless you think about it.
The Greek philosopher Socrates said, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ And while ‘just do it’ might be a good motto for some things, it’s not a good motto when it’s trying to figure out how to live your life that is before you. And one important clue to living a good life is to not to try to live the good life. The best way to lose the values that are central to who you are is frankly not to think about them at all.” | John Roberts, US Supreme Court Justice at Cardigan Mountain School
There are three wise nuggets in this excerpt.
First, “Be yourself” is advice that shouldn’t be taken at face value. Be yourself so you don’t conform and follow someone else’s dogma. But, don’t let that get in the way of becoming the best version of yourself.
Second, don’t let life happen to you. Be intentional about what you value and how you live in accordance to those values. Make those values virtues.
Finally, as Viktor Frankl explained, don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.
And it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.
Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ tennis coach, shared a fascinating insight about a few talented tennis players he coached. He noticed that they threw away matches when they started making mistakes early in a game.
In his first few years as a coach, this behavior used to drive him nuts. Throwing away matches, in his eyes, disrespecting the game and the opponent.
As time progressed, he began exploring why these talented players do this. He realized that it was easier for them to throw away the match than acknowledge that their talent didn’t get them through. Easier to say “Oh, I wasn’t trying” and give up.
He realized getting angry wasn’t solving this problem. Instead, he had to first empathize with their feelings of insecurity and then instill grit, discipline, and a strong work ethic that would help them make the most of their talent.
There are a few powerful lessons in this story about coaching and developing talent. But, it also resonated with me for a different reason.
There were phases in my education where I did the same. When I realized I wasn’t going to get what I wanted easily, I stopped trying. I went down the path of believing myths about fellow students with incredible memories and smarts.
Every time I got to know one of these students, however, I always found hours and hours of intense study that contributed to their success. They may have been smarter. But, they sure as hell worked significantly harder. And, doing so consistently meant their abilities compounded.
NBA All start Damian Lillard’s wise words sum this up – “If you want to look good in front of thousands, you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody.”
I read a story about “the trouble tree” over a decade ago that has stuck with me.
David’s plumber had just had a rough day. He had a flat tyre on his way to work, his drill quit and his truck refused to start. David drove the distraught man home.
Just before they entered home, the plumber paused briefly at a tree, touching its tips. He then opened the door and underwent an amazing transformation. He hugged his kids, kissed his wife and was all smiles!
Afterwards, when David was walking out, he asked his plumber about his behavior. The plumber he said – ‘Everyday, I leave all my work troubles at the tree before walking in. The funny thing is when I come in the morning to pick them up, there aren’t as many as I left.’
I love this idea and it has stayed with me despite my many attempts at finding a similar routine.
Or perhaps because of it.
I don’t have a solution that works as well as yet. But, I hope to get there. It was time for a reminder.
Periodic reminder to self: Perfection is not the goal. Thoughtful engagement is.
Perfection is an illusion because the pursuit of things that matter will require us to experiment. Those experiments will inevitably result in mistakes. Those mistakes, in turn, will inspire the learning that will improve the next set of experiments.
Progress > Perfection. And, progress is a byproduct of thoughtful engagement.
“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
This ending to Amanda Gorman’s poem gave me goosebumps. It offers great perspective for our careers and lives by reminding us that there is always light and hope. And that, if all seems bleak, that we can choose to be that light.
As we go face inevitable struggles disappointments, and runs of bad luck this year, here’s to having the courage to see it… and be it.