Category Archives: How do you define success?
“We have been taught to believe that negative equals realistic and positive equals unrealistic.” —Susan Jeffers
Wouldn’t it be enlightening to gather statistics on how many people have given up on dreams because someone told them their aspirations were unrealistic? How many hockey players have hung up their skates because a coach told them the National Hockey League was a long-shot? How many entrepreneurs have stopped seeking investors after being told their ideas would never sell? How many writers have filed stories in drawers after reading dire statistics about the state of the publishing business? How many people have given up because they’ve been told that “NO” equals sensible, but “YES” equals dreamland.
More importantly, how many people equate failure with negativity?
Henry Ford didn’t see failure as negative. On a recent trip to Michigan, I took this picture during our visit to the Henry Ford Museum. (Side note: Please visit the museum, if you have the chance. It’s about much more than cars; it’s about life.)
“I would rather build a big plane and learn something, even if it didn’t fly, than to build a smaller one that worked perfectly and not learn anything.” —Henry Ford
Henry Ford would rather try something unrealistic and fail positively than try something realistic and succeed negatively.
Mind-twisting, isn’t it?
Sharpen those skates, dust off that business plan, pull the stories out of the drawer: Dreamland is a fun place to live, and failure is useful too.
There I was, walking in the woods, not bothering anyone, when—ZZzzzt—out of nowhere a large insect dive-bombed into my neck and stung. It was a large insect, so the impact alone stunned me. Then the sharp sting. It happened so fast and hurt so much, I didn’t see what kind of insect it was. It struck and then buzzed off, literally.
I gasped at the sharp, pain. Ow!
I stopped. I’ve never been allergic to insect stings, but you never know when that might start, and the sting was on my neck where swelling would be dangerous. I was alone and far enough away from home that a serious allergic reaction would have meant big trouble.
I waited to see if there would be swelling, and there wasn’t, so I carried on. No biggie, right?
But the unexpected attack set me to pondering the fragility of our daily lives, and how sudden, unforeseen events sometimes turn best-laid plans upside down. There we are, walking along, not bothering anyone, when—ZZzzzt—catastrophe dive-bombs in. Impact. Sting.
When those things happen, I re-evaluate what is important. Have I showed my kids that I love them today? What was the last thing I said to my husband when he left in the morning? What will I do today to make the world a better place?
I didn’t know what happened to that large insect to make it so angry before it performed its airstrike on me. Perhaps a dog-walker disturbed it? Maybe nothing happened to it, and I simply had the misfortune to encounter the Oscar the Grouch of the insect world.
I did know that asking “Why me?” would be a waste time. Why not me?
The only thing to do when ZZzzzt happens is to stop, wait, re-evaluate and carry on with new mindfulness of what is really important.
At my meditation group, the leader asked us to consider our lives as a garden or crop. She asked, “How does your garden grow? What stage is your crop at?”
The first phrase that popped into my head was “second cut.”
I grew up on a farm, so harvesting hay fields was part of the fabric of our lives. In early summer, we mowed and baled the first cut of tall Timothy hay. Later in the summer, after the hay had grown again, we harvested the “second cut.”
My life is at that stage. My youngest child is about to leave for university. After years of nurturing the growth and development of our two children—a fine and healthy “crop”—I am growing again in new ways, for different purposes.
When I researched hay crops, I discovered that farmers allow first cuts of hay to grow for longer than second cuts. The new plants need the time to set down roots and establish a strong base, and all that work means they contain more starch and less protein. Second cuts of hay, growing from well-established root systems, have more leaf than stem.
Sounds about right.
It took more than 50 years for me to sink roots into the ground and develop a strong base. That work required lots of energy like the kind found in starchy carbohydrates. Now I have a well-established root system, and the proteins of experience allow me to focus on creating beauty and magnificent leaves.
If I keep at it, there might be a third cut in my future. What a rich experience that would be.
What stage is your life at?
As Canada Day approached, I wondered what I would write this year. I’ve written a few posts about it, and I started to think I’d covered everything. Then the principal of my son’s high school gave me the inspiration I needed during his speech to the 2015 graduating class.
“As a Principal, I am often asked about what it is like in schools these days. It is a wonderful privilege to be able to share your truth. You are stronger, smarter and more socially conscious than generations before you, including mine. You are notably more inclusive and the magical way you make room for each other is a beautiful thing to witness.”
When he spoke those words to the auditorium, heads nodded in agreement. One gentleman in the back called out, “Hear! Hear!”
The graduating class that sat together with ease and acceptance—representatives of all those different races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, genders and sexual orientations—is a microcosm of Canada at its best.
People magically making room for each other. It’s a beautiful thing to witness.
The second phrase that caught my ear:
“In the school context you have made great efforts to grow each other. But, you have also reached far beyond the school. You have gathered and delivered aid to refugees half a world away. In countless ways you have toiled to benefit others in need, raising money and awareness. In many cases the benefits have gone to people you will never meet. I have long been interested in the very notion of a public good, the idea that our base instincts could be moderated by a compelling commitment to each other and to a time we will not see.”
The graduating class that worked together to grow each other and the world—organizers of all those fundraisers, educational events and benefits—is a microcosm of Canada at its best.
People moderating base instincts to make a compelling commitment to people we will never meet and a time we will not see.
Oh, Canada is not perfect, but we are magically, compellingly working toward a worldwide public good.
Read the speech: Bell High School, Ottawa Canada
Some other Canada Day posts:
My son graduated from high school yesterday. We couldn’t watch him celebrate the completion of his schooling without recalling the day it all started all those years ago.
He was ready and excited. He had been to “School Bus 101″ to get comfortable with the big yellow bus, so he waited for it impatiently on that first day of kindergarten. When it came, he bounded confidently up the steps and waved at us through the window. That was reassuring to us parents, but we weren’t ready to let him go just yet. We followed behind the bus, and when it arrived at the school, we lurked in the bushes to watch. Our son ran off the bus excitedly, and then he saw and heard all the kids that had already arrived in the playground. They were loud, and running all around, and there were a lot of them. Our son stopped dead.
“Uh, oh,” I said.
The lump in our throats and in the pit of our stomach grew as we watched him deal fearfully with his new situation. In “Parent Time,” a millennium or two passed before a teacher came to take his hand. In “Real Time” it was probably about a minute. Our son held the teacher’s hand until the bell rang and they went into the school.
When he got home at the end of the day, we asked him, “What did you think of school?”
“Too much kids,” he said.
The phrase became a recurring theme as he grew older. When he withdrew from circumstances where there was a lot of noise or too many people, my husband and I would look at each other knowingly and say, “Too much kids.”
By the time he got to high school, that began to change. He engaged more often with more people. A few weeks ago he was completely at ease at the microphone in front of much kids as the master of ceremonies at the athletic awards banquet. He received many awards for his participation, including athlete of the year. Last night at the ceremony he and a friend received awards for organizing extra-curricular activities for much kids.
After the ceremony, the crowd emerged into a central hall. Hundreds of people crowded together into a too-small space. My son and his friends moved with ease in the pack of people. My husband and I were the ones who said, “Too much kids.”
It was gratifying to see how our son had left fears behind.
He wasn’t the only one I noticed though. When my son was a pre-schooler I spent a couple of years as a pre-school playgroup leader. Some of the kids I supported in their potty-training years graduated last night too. One girl, who clung to the pre-school leaders and never uttered a word, is now going into pre-med. Another boy, who cried for at least a half-hour every time his mother left, waved to the crowd as he bounded across the stage. One boy, who hid under a table when he got overwhelmed, plans to be an engineer. It was gratifying to see them leave behind the fears they used to have and unfold into confident people ready to take on the world.
Graduations mark the end of stages of life, but they also initiate new challenges. Every new challenge brings with it new and different things to be afraid of. All the people who walked across the stage last night will have to keep overcoming new and different fears.
It’s a life-long process, isn’t it? Graduations are a good reminder that all of us have to keep overcoming and unfolding.
I wonder, what fears keep me holding a teacher’s hand? What fears make you hide under a table?