Since my 25th birthday, I was elected to the Board of Directors of an international training organization, I wrote a novel, I bought a home and grew a beard. A lot can happen in a year, even if it seems like life has slowed to a decrepit pace.
The following are a series of lessons I’ve been meditating upon, and have been beaten, prodded, or knocked into me over the past 365 days. Each has their value, some may be applicable to you or not. Regardless, they have each meant something to me this last year.
Learning to be still
Be still, and know that I am God. — Psalm 46:10
I’ve never liked this verse very much. Being still sounds nice on the surface, it implies peace and restfulness, but ignores the dull boredom you can experience without the whirlwind of activity. The meaning of being still was emphasized this last year across the world with the pandemic crushing the activity of the common day, changing life to something slower. Some found this relieving, others agonizingly boring.
Despite my own life being only marginally effected by the pandemic, it entered a time of quietness for other reasons. My opportunities to beat on pots and make a racket shrank, the chances to move the earth in the pursuit of my desires halted. I became a prisoner to the moments I was in.
This is a lesson I’m still digesting, still agonizing over, and still waiting to end. I suspect it won’t until I fully learn what it means to be still and rest in powers beyond myself for peace and satisfaction.
Becoming comfortable in the uncomfortable
Because of my new Podcast, Suit Up Philosophy, I started researching the idea of the Gentleman Spy archetype. James Bond and his ilk have long fascinated us by have a suave attitude in the midst of peril, their ability able to have clear heads even when everything is falling apart around them. They are a people who are able to be comfortable in the uncomfortable situations.
Whether it is a forced stillness, or a challenging project at work, it is on the edges of where we are comfortable we grow, it’s there where our mettle is proven. The ability to become comfortable in uncomfortable moments or extremes is a practices advocated by the ancient Stoic philosophers, and applies to each of us whether we want to muddle about this world or seize it by the horns and force it’s surrender.
Defusing atomic bombs, or making it through an unpleasant conversation: Your ability to appear and act sensible and composed when the heat is on is what can set you apart as a leader, friend, or even just as a person.
Set an annual challenge
Interesting people do interesting things, but our mistake is to assume they are daily doing these things. If you read about the Twelve Labors of Hercules, you find he performed each labor annually. According to Moonraker by Ian Fleming, James Bond only goes on a field assignment about every 18 months. We assume to be interesting means having to constantly doing something fascinating and different, when in reality you only need to do one big thing on an annually recurring basis.
Find the thing you find a genuine interest in doing, not for others, but for yourself. Plan it out, like you would a holiday or vacation. Give yourself the goal of pursuing something you enjoy as an annual challenge once a year. This last year, I did this by writing a novel which I hope to publish by this December. It was the perfect challenge for me because not only did I want to do it, but it forced me to prove I had the discipline and ability to do it.
You may act invulnerable only as often as you test the hypothesis
This was an insight from my trip to Costa Rica earlier this year. It was a cathartic trip where I spent most of my time writing and self-auditing, breaking my identity down into tiny pieces and deciding which were best left where they fell. My habit is to act like I can take on the world, but rarely do I take the time to prove if I can or cannot.
The people who I despise most are the ones who are all talk and no action, who act like they are the biggest bull in the yard but never prove whether they are or not. A hard look at myself made me realize I can just as easily fall into the same category. It’s not a question of if I can prove it, but have I proved it recently?
This is where an annual challenge can be useful, a performance of your competence to meet with a circumstances of difficulty and demonstrate you are all you appear to be.
Of course you aren’t invulnerable in the classic sense, you can be hurt, you can feel pain and you may suffer. The point it to prove yourself able to take it and keep going. To prove yourself capable of Kipling’s admonition in If:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
Enjoying the sound of music
Typically, I listen to audiobooks and Podcasts while driving or weightlifting. This last year, I have listened to substantially more music than I did before, of various genres, and found I am learning to enjoy it.
I love to learn, but there is a point where you dump so much information on the mind you can become oversaturated. Rather than continue to have mental indigestion, I’ve found occasionally playing music instead a great way to amp up for a heavy lift, or relax after a long day of activity.
I have, remarkably, made it the past 26 years without having to commit to much. I’ve simply moved from one step, to another, to another, to another without needing to devote myself to any one thing, person or profession. Now, I’m beginning to reach a stage where this strategy is beginning to show diminishing returns. The old phrase is, “What got you here won’t get you there.” And this might be the case now. To get to my next level of development, professionally and personally, I suspect it will require putting more skin in the game than I ever have before.
On the surface, the idea is a little scary. Why change what has been successful so far? Life is a matter of guessing what risks will give you the best rewards. We can’t always make these bets with certainty, but we can with blind or informed hope. If I want to see larger returns on the investments of how I spend my time and plan my life, it means either investing more heavily, or taker risks on the greater odds.
We fear the worst case scenario, the tragic loss, but for the majority of us that worst case is not really so bad. It is a minor setback, or inconvenient moment, nothing compared to literal death and destruction. Instead of fearing the results of failure, it is a worse fate if I choose to fear trying at all. As Theodore Roosevelt said, in his epic speech of the Man in the Arena, “[A]t the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Whatever this next year may bring, whatever challenges or successes, whatever triumphs or disasters, they can meet me in the arena.