This year’s tax season involved digging waaayyy back for old records. There are so many reasons I don’t want to open old boxes of files. Wasting time is at the top of the list. But then - I don’t help myself, because I start opening other files and then reading old stuff and before you know it, I’m walking down memory lane.
Secretly, my hope is that there’s a pearl in the oyster – that I will run across something that makes the yuckiness worth the effort.
It rarely pays off. In most cases, hours go by and before I know it, I have forgotten to find the form I’m seeking.
This year, I found a little pearl. The kind of pearl that might have saved my life. You might ask, how could I find a lifesaver in a buried file box? Well, here’s what happened. I found a long-forgotten piece of writing that never really saw the light of day. I did it for a workshop, and when the program ended, my files went into the archives. So I decided to share it today.
Read on and at the end, I will tell you how it saved my life. Here's the piece:
I was listening to David McCullough, Pulitzer winning author of the book 1776, interviewed on NPR a few weeks ago. He was speaking about the historical context of his latest book and he remarked that most of us don’t know the many ways we enjoy the benefits of decisions and acts of courage taken by those who came before us. That simple remark caused me to pause with gratitude. As I drove down the road in a fully operational vehicle, heading towards the haven I call my home, with the option to listen to the music I want, my thoughts to turned to what could be, what could have been, but for countless decisions and acts of courage by people I don’t even know. Because of others that I can never thank, I earn money without having to pay homage to a king. I am free to dress as nicely-or shabbily- as I want. So many choices are now mine to make-because of people I will never know. And because so many are unknown to me, it’s virtually impossible to get my hands around what could have been. So I decided to bring it closer to home.
In my reflections since listening to that interview, I have started to pay attention to the ways I get help. This has not been the easiest meditation, as I easily fall under the delusion that I am an independent person capable of taking care of myself. And the “help” that I get doesn’t always show up-at least initially-as something I welcome. For instance, just recently I was driving over a winding mountain road when I came around the bend to see another car in my lane. I quickly jerked the car right as my nemesis returned to his lane. About the time the adrenaline wore off, a small pickup turned onto the road in front of me and proceeded to amble down the road at about 20 miles per hour. Within seconds, I felt like honking and going around him. Suddenly I thought back to my encounter a few miles before. Without that, I would have been tempted to do something stupid, like go around this slow poke. I settled back in my seat-still gritting my teeth but firmly in my lane-and aware of the help from unseen forces.
It was another reminder that I am not alone. I get help from many corners. And occasionally, someone needs my help. In my best moments, I’m less likely to need the credit. In my worst, I’m waiting for some acknowledgement. If I take the time to look, perhaps I can remember that David McCullough pointed my attention to this simple reality: we can only ever thank a few of our helpers.
Since I wrote this piece, at least 15 years have passed. I’ve been on that same winding road hundreds, if not thousands of times. At least half the time, someone drives way too slow for my taste. That’s a lot of opportunities for road rage to cause dangerous behavior. Yet, thanks to this series of incidents (with one exception on a trip to the hospital), I’ve never seriously considered passing on these winding roads. You might say this incident “scared me straight.” And I’m pretty sure THAT has saved my life – countless times.
So this year, instead of agonizing over my plight with old boxes, I paused with gratitude that I had lived the years to fill them.
How often do you pause in gratitude for the unseen help you have received or are receiving? In what ways might life be different if you hadn’t gotten that assistance that you have long forgotten? What can you be grateful for today?
It was almost 20 years ago when I went to a leadership program that focused on self-awareness. For the prior 4 years, I had been involved in other self-awareness programs. Once I was introduced to the idea of working on myself, interrupting old patterns, and so forth, my quick learner self got it really fast – or so I thought.
When the facilitator of the program started sharing the self-awareness stuff, I sat in the program thinking “I know all of this.” I kind of felt superior to the other people who seemed to be hearing some of this for the first time. After the first self-awareness segment, I stayed behind and more or less told the facilitator that I had done all of this before – so since I knew it all, what should I do? She gave me a funny look and said, “Well, just try to experience it anyway.”
With my Gold Star Mentality hard at work, I came back in the next day determined to prove and show that I already knew all of this.
It would be years before I was even aware than my proving mindset (which I call my Gold Star Mentality) was keeping me in a comfort box and seriously impeding my ability to learn and grow.
The program was part of a series and I kept coming back for more. My real intention was to prove myself self-aware in order to get the Gold Star, be done with it and move on. It wasn’t until the fourth program that I dropped the pretense and was vulnerable enough to start learning.
That’s where the chronic discomfort comes in. Slowly, I began putting improving in front of proving.
Not everywhere and not all the time, but more often than not, my choice is to drop the pretense and work from a beginner’s mind.
It’s true whether I’m learning to throw pottery, get back on the horse, water ski, work with my clients, or anything else where I want to get better.
It’s uncomfortable as hell – because that’s the way it is in the learning zone.
We are so conditioned to pass the test and get the reward. We are taught to prove our learning to the teachers and the system so they can keep their jobs. We are supposed to show our knowledge so we can keep our job.
There’s a huge problem with proving that we are good enough. The rewards are short lived AND we stay the same, playing to the crowd hoping to get the next reward. We never become who we were born to be.
Where do you seek the Gold Star? What reward does proving yourself get you? In what domains do you need to go into learning mode? What kind of problems are you trying to solve that require skills you don’t yet have? Where do you wish you could tell people what you really think? Where are you willing to move into discomfort for the sake of your growth and learning?
Inspiring new ways to look at learning, growth, and reinvention, whether in leadership, athletics, art or life.
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