Viewing entries in
Change

Cross your bridges.

Cross your bridges.

We've all learned not to burn our bridges as we make friends, build relationships, pursue our careers, and live our lives.

I've recently learned that this concept goes all the way back to ancient China, and specifically to Miu-King, a soldier and earl, who burnt his boats as he invaded Tsin to ensure the only options for himself (and his relectant troops) were victory or death. We see this concept again in the famous story of Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon. Caesar led his army over the Rubicon River, and saying "The die is cast," sealed his fate (and again, the fate of those around him) to one of only two options. 

As new languages emerged and people spread across the globe, the allegory evolved, and the old world idea of "burning one's boats" became in America "burning one's bridges." And something else happened, too. Apparently as we've traveled through time we've gotten more willing to hedge our bets, and the idea of burning one's boats has transitioned from a statement of determination to a warning against hemming oneself in to only a few choices.

I've burned my share of bridges, some on purpose and some accidentally, and I have to say I think I've regretted it each time. As you look at the pile of smoldering ash you think, "Well, that could have gone better. Now I'll have to find another way around." And sometimes there's no short way back. Sometimes you've got to tighten up the pack and prepare for a long hike.

At the same time, as I consider my own life and as I talk to people around me I've realized that we often take the advice "not to burn our bridges" as an excuse not to cross any bridges at all.  And without knowing who you are or anything about you, I can tell you that is the wrong advice for you.

I know this to be true: We are presented with opportunities and it is our test in life to take them. The bridge in front of you leads to something different, and possibly harder, but it is worth walking across. You don't have to drop a match once you get to the other side; leave the lighter fluid in your pocket. But you should go ahead and make the crossing. There's something new on the other side of the ravine. You've been on this side long enough.

Quick life advice.

Quick life advice.

Here it is:

You may not be the best at anything, but you can do your best at everything.

Nearly everyone learns this at some point, some earlier in life, some much later. And many, like me, learn it the hard way. But once you learn it, an old rigidity falls away and a new world opens.

Give it a try.

Unfurl.

Unfurl.

On Saturday evening we had the good fortune to get ourselves invited out on a friend's sailboat for an evening cruise. (If you remember only one piece of advice from my entire blog, let it be this: Make friends with someone who owns a sailboat.)

Our hosts created a fantastic spread of appetizers. As we ate and enjoyed a cocktail (or two), we motored out of the harbor and down the shoreline. We watched the houses reflecting the oranges and pinks of the sun setting behind us. 

The lake was calm with rolling waves. A nice breeze was picking up. We all talked and laughed as we cruised along the beach.  

But of course, motoring is not what a sailboat is designed for. A sailboat really wants to glide with the breeze.  As the last bits of light disappeared the rising wind was too much to ignore. We headed into the wind, raised the sails, and we were underway with the air.

At first we weren't going much faster than we were with the motor, and everyone kept talking and laughing. But when our skipper cut the engine, everything changed. We'd all become accustomed to the engine noise and had adjusted our voices accordingly. Suddenly, we could appreciate how beautiful -- and silent -- the night had become. One by one we dropped our voices. Then we stopped talking all together. The wind and water had more than enough to say. There's was nothing we could add to it.

 There are a lot of things in our lives that essentially just add up to an overwhelming amount of engine noise. We adapt and adjust; with each decibel of intrusion we get louder and louder, hoping to outshout the distractions. 

Maybe what we need to do is actually point out how loud the engine has become. And then someone just needs to say, "Let's take a chance and unfurl the sails." Maybe then all the interference will slip away. 

For everyone to see.

For everyone to see.

It is Saturday morning and as I write this I'm sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee. Saturdays in the summer provide some welcome time to slow down, rest, and recover from the week. I can stop and sit in the kitchen instead of just passing through.

 I look out onto the back deck and see waves of green leaves rising in the trees around me. They move exactly the same way as waves of water, rolling up and back. Highlighted by the morning sun the leaves are more yellow than green; green in my mind, golden in reality.

Our ability to see what is actually in front of us is the subject of a fascinating article by Maria Popova about artist and educator Josef Albers. Albers wrote The Interaction of Color, a classic expansion on the relative nature of color. The Interaction of Color is more than just "an art book" -- it is a treatise on perception and more fundamentally, an invitation for us to open our eyes and look around. 

What really caught me was Popova's quote from several Albers biographers:

Albers believed that in normal seeing, we use our eyes so much because the world is controlled by our vision, but we become so accustomed to it that we take things for granted. And when he talked about visual perception, he meant something much more profound than just the way we look at the world — he would stop and look at the world, look at the smallest object, smallest event, and see through it in a deep kind of way. … He would see magic, he would see something deeper. And he believed that the majority of people just missed the true reality — it was available for everyone to see, but nobody was looking. And that was where his notion of “to open eyes” really comes from.

In my odd mind this reminded me of a line from the modern-day classic Joe Versus the Volcano (well, it's a classic to me, at least!): "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."

Open your eyes. Good advice for a Saturday morning. 

Yes, I'm sure you're right...

Yes, I'm sure you're right...

This morning I found this gem by Georges Bidault, an active member of the French resistance during World War II and later French prime minister: "The weak have one weapon: the errors of those who think they are strong."

His words reminded me of something we study in martial arts, particularly in takedown moves. Often the best strike is to leverage your opponent's momentum and let him carry himself down to the mat. It literally involves letting your attacker overplay his hand and then guiding him past you towards the ground -- like Wile E. Coyote zooming past Roadrunner over the cliff. 

Have you ever been in a heated debate with someone who is pressing you and pressing you with a point that they are prosecuting with such ferocity that you are getting hammered against the wall with seemingly no option other than to concede? The best response might be to sidestep their argument by saying, "Yes, you actually have some good points." You have now disarmed their case and opened the possibility that you can propose suggestions (and perhaps even refutations) that have a much better chance of being heard. 

Carl Jung famously wrote that "What you resists, persists." The harder you push, the harder the opposing force. In matters of discord pride finds fertile ground. It is hard to slow down, regulate your emotion, and proceed methodically.

But the goal of most disagreements is not victory, it is progress. Often we're better off starting from a place of assumed agreement and letting the other person's hubris create openings for our position. Let them be right and you get what you want.