Category Archives: How do you define success?
Last week I wrote about a meeting with a group of people who have to make a difficult decision. The facilitator asked everyone to consider the costs and benefits of saying “YES” and the costs and benefits of saying “NO.”
The group considered financial repercussions, the effect on personal relationships and the overall societal implications—the usual stuff. When listing the benefits of saying “NO” one group spoke up with: “If we say no, we won’t have to face our fears.”
People nodded. True. So true. The status quo—the comfort zone—is very appealing. The people in the room agreed that saying “NO” would, in many ways, make life a little easier.
But it only took a second or two before there was a reflective pause and a murmur. “Wait a minute,” the murmur said. “Not facing fears would also be a cost.”
We realized that not facing fears is an ingredient in recipes for stagnation, disappointment, dissatisfaction, guilt, depression, anger and lots of other unpleasant aspects of life.
It’s not the easy choice. It’s not the comfortable choice. But sometimes it’s a whole lot of fun, and it’s better than getting stuck between the cracks of life.
Yesterday I took part in a meeting with a group of people who have to make a difficult decision. It is the kind of decision that touches people in a deep place, so we know that no matter what the result will create some uneasiness.
The facilitator for the group asked us to consider this: If we say “YES,” what are the benefits of that decision? If we say “YES,” what are the costs of that decision?
I have an opinion on the matter, so I knew that listing the benefits would be a breeze. Easy-peasy. No problem. But I thought I would struggle with pointing out the costs. I was wrong. I was surprised by how readily I was able to come up with both costs and benefits.
We were also asked to look at the situation from the “NO” side. If we say “NO,” what are the benefits of that decision? If we say “NO,” what are the costs of that decision?
Again, both costs and benefits came easily to mind. I didn’t have to dig around in the recesses of my mind to find them. I didn’t have to struggle with them or make something up. Both sides of the issue were ready for plucking off the surface of my brain once I chose to look for them.
I was surprised by how up close and personal my relationship with the other side of the issue was.
I realized that I had already, subconsciously or unconsciously, weighed the costs and benefits. I had arrived at an opinion having considered the costs but seeing the benefits as more important, on balance.
It made me wonder, how many people hold strong opinions on a matter without any awareness of how up close and personal they are, or have been, with the other side of the issue?
A few little things went wrong in my life this weekend. Nothing major. Just petty little annoyances.
It was gorgeous and sunny in Ottawa, but I felt yucky and didn’t want to move from the couch. Our friend’s dog that we were looking after for the weekend caught a nail on our heating grate, hurt his paw and bled all over our kitchen floor. (You can imagine how awful we felt about that.) And the curling team that I was pulling for at the Tim Horton’s Brier didn’t win. (Brad Gushue, you were so close.)
Little things added up until I collapsed on the couch and said, “You know what? I’ve had better days.”
Sometimes it’s difficult to be at peace with minor inconveniences. It’s an even greater challenge to accept major upsets that come along. Sometimes it’s even a challenge to allow ourselves to savour fun events or people that crop up on our life paths.
We spend so much time evaluating whether something is “good” or “bad” we never arrive at accepting what is. And appearances can be deceiving. Events that appear catastrophic at first glance often lead to unforeseen good fortune. Other events that strike us as lucky turn out to be anything but.
All of us would love to have 100 per cent control over what happens in our lives, but we don’t. Even as we lay track toward our goals, unexpected events blindside us and derail our plans.
When that happens I try to remember to rise above all the things going on around me and survey them as if I were an impartial observer. I try view whatever comes—no matter what it is—as a big, welcome surprise. “So THAT’s what happens!”
This attitude makes it easier to be at peace with life. Stuck in the slow line at the grocery store? So THAT’S what happens! A winning goal for your hockey team in overtime? So THAT’S what happens! You’re fired? So THAT’S what happens!”
It’s easier to be at peace with life if all the petty disagreements, unforeseen twists of fate, illnesses, riches, journeys, friends, deaths or births become big, welcome surprises.
So THAT’s what happens! Surprise! I wonder what happens next?
Are you awake? Are you sure?
In the movie Joe Versus the Volcano, a man (played by Tom Hanks) who believes he is dying of an incurable disease agrees to travel to a South Pacific island and throw himself into a volcano to satisfy the beliefs of superstitious natives. As he travels there, he . . . wakes up.
“Almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to . . . only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.” —from Joe Versus the Volcano by John Patrick Shanley
In my experience, total amazement is easy.
Last week I skied with my family at Mont-Sainte-Anne, QC. Several times we stopped at the top of the mountain. We gazed at the sunlit treed Canadian landscape and the spectacular St. Lawrence River and said, “Wow!” Total amazement.
Constant total amazement is more challenging.
Usually, we need jarring events to awaken us to appreciation for the little things. Power outages jolt us into amazement at the wonders of electric lights—the ones we usually flick on without a thought. A broken limb—or even something as simple as a cut on a finger—painfully reminds us how we really should live every moment in constant total amazement at the freedoms healthy bodies allow us. How about the device you’re reading this on? Isn’t the technology of it totally amazing?
Alas, it seems we need to fall asleep to the amazement, so we can function. After all, somebody has to do the dishes. If we lived in constant total amazement, we might get no farther than our bedroom doors every morning, or the park bench on a sunny afternoon. Constant total amazement seems to stop us in our tracks.
Perhaps John Patrick Shanley was right when he wrote those words for Joe Versus the Volcano. Maybe almost the whole world is asleep, just so we can get the dishes done and the lawn mowed. But maybe, if we think about that, it will prompt us to wake up at least some of the time, maybe a little more often than we usually do. Maybe we can practise total amazement periodically, if not constantly.
It’s a start.