persistence

What Really Matters

What Really Matters

"There’s a tendency for us to think that to be a prophet or to do anything grand, you have to have a special gift, be someone called for. And I think ultimately what really matters is the resolve — to want to do it, to give your life to that which you consider important."

~ Enrique Martínez Celaya

Never Give Up

Remarks by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command at the University of Texas at Austin Commencement on May 17, 2014:

Start each day with a task completed.

Find someone to help you through life.

Respect everyone.

Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often, but if take you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up—if you do these things, then next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today and—what started here will indeed have changed the world—for the better.

Keep Yanking

Excerpt from How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams:

The success of Dilbert is mostly a story of luck. But I did make it easier for luck to find me, and I was thoroughly prepared when it did. Luck won't give you a strategy or a system—you have to do that part yourself.

I find it helpful to see the world as a slot machine that doesn't ask you to put money in. All it asks is your time, focus, and energy to pull the handle over and over. A normal slot machine that requires money will bankrupt any player in the long run. But the machine that has rare yet certain payoffs, and asks for no money up front, is a guaranteed winner if you have what it takes to keep yanking until you get lucky. In that environment, you can fail 99 percent of the time, while knowing success is guaranteed. All you need to do is stay in the game long enough.

This Bungled Joy

"Infinity Mirror Room – Filled with the Brilliance of Life," by Yayoi Kusama

Afterlife
by John Burnside, from Gift Songs 

When we are gone
our lives will continue without us

 or so we believe and,
at times, we have tried to imagine

the gaps we will leave being filled
with the brilliance of others:

someone else gathering plums
from this tree in the garden,

someone else thinking this thought
in a room filled with stars

and coming to no conclusion
other than this —

this bungled joy, this inarticulate
conviction that the future cannot come

without the grace
of setting things aside,

of giving up
the phantom of a soul

that only seemed to be
while it was passing.

Strategic Patience

Art and architecture history professor Jennifer Roberts requires her students to write a twenty-page research paper on a single work of art. Before they begin the research, however, they are expected to spend three hours in front of the actual work. No electronic devices. No distractions. They have to rely on their vision, curiosity, and skills of observation to navigate the slow passing of time.  

How To Be Creative

Whatever we can do to expand our capacity for uncertainty,
that is wonderful preparation for creativity.

"Creativity has always been essential for our cultural growth, but there are still many misconceptions about this elusive process. Not the left-brain/right-brain binary that we've come to believe, being creative is considerably more complex, and requires a nuanced understanding of ourself and others. Being a powerful creative person involves letting go of preconceived notions of what an artist is, and discovering and inventing new processes that yield great ideas. Most importantly, creators must push forward, whether the light bulb illuminates or not."

 

Waiting Strategies for Giving and Receiving Care

Waiting Strategies for Giving and Receiving Care

Whether we are giving or receiving care, we come face-to-face with time’s elasticity – how it seems to speed up and slow down.

Sticking with Your Future

"We tried to predict which cadets would stay in military training and which would drop out. We went to the National Spelling Bee and tried to predict which children would advance farthest in competition. We studied rookie teachers working in really tough neighborhoods, asking which teachers are still going to be here in teaching by the end of the school year, and of those, who will be the most effective at improving learning outcomes for their students? We partnered with private companies, asking, which of these salespeople is going to keep their jobs? And who's going to earn the most money?

In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn't social intelligence. It wasn't good looks, physical health, and it wasn't I.Q. 

It was grit.

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint."

~ Angela Lee Duckworth

See also:

 

 

Unsung Courage

Nicolson’s Café was a first floor restaurant on the corner of Nicolson and Drummond Street famous for being the location where J.K. Rowling worked on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Excerpt from The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self, and Relationship by David Whyte:

There are two possibilities, perhaps we can call them necessities, for keeping the marriage with work alive through the difficult years of childbearing and child rearing. The first is to reimagine the way we have named our work and defined its success. We may find that our priorities have been erased and redrawn by a birth or an adoption; that we don't care for the corporate world's priorities anymore and that mothering or indeed fathering is now our central work.

We may come to the reimagination of our work through the gladly received, genuine revelations of parenting or especially for women, with difficulty, through a rueful acceptance that the months or years with a child have taken us off the career track and that the sacrifices needed to get back on that moving stair are not worth what it would take. Even if we find that circumstances allow us both to be a good parent and to follow a brilliant career, the moral basis of the brilliant career hinges on not neglecting or abandoning our children at crucial times in their growing, and demands that we reexamine the basis of our marriage with work and many of the outer rewards of prestige we demanded up to the moment we became parents. 

The second necessity is to find a rhythm, often with the help of our partner or our family or our friends that enables us to make short visits to that kingdom of silence and creativity. These short visits on a regular, rhythmical basis may not further the work very much in the early days, but they are essential to keeping it alive in the heart and mind of the struggling parent until time begins to open up as the child grows and goes off to school. As this window begins to widen and allow fresh air into the life of the besieged parent, the work also slowly begins to resuscitate itself and come back to life. Our vocation starts to pick its feet out of the mud and move onto higher, drier ground. 

J.K. Rowling famously wrote large portions of the first Harry Potter book in the midst of this caked, slow-moving, mud-walking, desperate parent stage. "There was a point where I really felt I had 'penniless divorcée, lone parent' tattooed on my head," she said in one interview (Seaton, 2001). Living alone with her infant daughter, Jessica, in an unheated Edinburgh flat, she would trudge through the streets wheeling Jessica to a local café and snatch moments at her writing between feeding and comforting her child. It's a help to know that Rowling felt a general hopelessness during much of that time, and a further encouragement to know that she kept on moving through the mud, kept on writing despite her quiet, private despair. 

The café in Edinburgh where J.K. Rowling wrote now has a small plaque on the wall outside to explain who sat there with such private, unsung courage. Most likely the place in which we sit and struggle to bring our work back to life will have nothing to commemorate it except a little window in our own memory that opens onto the small stage on which we appeared during difficult times. 

Perhaps each of us should go back with actual plaques and place them in cafés, on walls or in office cubicles with little notes of private courage for the inspiration of others. "This is where I kept my faith alive during very dark days," "This is where I found the courage to leave my marriage," or "This is where I realized that I couldn't have everything I wanted and so felt the freedom to request what I needed." Such puzzling, intriguing and inspirational signs everywhere might bring us to an understanding of the constant enacted dramas occurring around us. How every chair and every corner holds a possibility for redemption. The plaques that said things such as "This is the table where I gave up on my ideals and took the very large bribe" would be equally instructive for the reader. 

The Origins of Creative Insight

Why does the Eureka moment arrive only after we stop looking for it? At Behance's 99% Conference, Jonah Lehrer explains how creative insight works and what drives incredible achievements.

Jonah Lehrer: The Origins of Creative Insight & Why You Need Grit from 99% on Vimeo.

See also: Lehrer, J. (2012). Imagine: How creativity works. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

We Tell the Happy Ending First

"Every creative journey begins with a problem. It starts with a feeling of frustration, the dull ache of not being able to find the answer. We have worked hard, but we've hit the wall. We have no idea what to do next.

When we tell stories about creativity, we tend to leave out this phase. We neglect to mention those days when wanted to quit. When we wanted to believe that our problem was impossible. Instead, we skip straight to the breakthrough. We tell the happy ending first.

The danger of this scenario is that the act of feeling frustrated is an essential part of the creative process. Before we can know the answer, before we can even know the question, we must be immersed in disappointment, convinced that a solution is beyond our reach. We need to have wrestled with the problem and lost. Because it's only after we stop searching that the answer might arrive."

~ Jonah Lehrer, author of Imagine: How Creativity Works

IMAGINE: How Creativity Works from Flash Rosenberg on Vimeo.

See also:

 

Nobody Else is Going to Do It if I Don't Do It

Jeni Britton Bauer, from an interview by Travis Hoewischer for (614) Magazine, January 1, 2012:

Photo by Chris CasellaI remember being in the first month of working; I was so tired. My shoes didn’t fit the next day because my feet were so swollen from working on the concrete. It was a very hard several years. And even in that first month, I remember thinking, ‘I’m done.’ It was midnight, I wanted to go home because I’d have to be back here at seven in the morning and there would be dishes waiting for me. And I was like, ‘I’ll wash them when I get in tomorrow morning or I’ll have one of the girls do it.’ It was more convenient. And I turned around and my sign was there with my name on it. It was hilarious, it was a flapping piece of paper printed at Kinkos with these clips from the hardware store hanging up and the air conditioning was running and it was flowing in the wind, and I saw ‘Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams’ right on it. I was like, ‘You know, nobody else is going to do it if I don’t do it. This is my company. My name is on every single thing we do and it better be what I expect it to be, to the best that I can.’ So I stayed and did dishes, and that’s exactly what’s happened ever since. Taking that seriously is the best thing you can do. It’s not the most interesting thing in the world, but it’s the best thing you can do because, in the end, I’m the one who sets that tone.

See also:

The Only Life You Could Save

April 4, 2011

The Journey
by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.                                                                           

It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The Impulse to Exist

 

Brandywine Falls, by Patricia Schmitt

Excerpt from A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson:

"Like most things that thrive in harsh environments, lichens are slow-growing. It may take a lichen more than half a century to attain the dimensions of a shirt button. Those the size of dinner plates, write David Attenborough, are therefore ‘likely to be hundreds if not thousands of years old.’ It would be hard to imagine a less fulfilling existence. ‘They simply exist,’ Attenborough adds, ‘testifying to the moving fact that life even at its simplest level occurs, apparently, just for its own sake.’ 

It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours—arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additional existence. Life, in short just wants to be. But—here’s an interesting point—for the most part it doesn’t want to be much."