There are various versions of this story, but this is the one I like.
A wise man heard that another citizen of the town had also been called wise. He ran up to the man’s garden where the second man sat in the afternoon and talked with with the townspeople.
The first man said, “I have a bird in my pocket. If you are so wise, tell me if it’s alive or dead.”
The second man said without hesitating, “It’s dead.”
“Ha!” said the first man, holding up the bird and letting it fly away. “You are no wise man.” And he walked back to his house, and many of the townspeople followed him, disappointed that they had been listening to the wrong man.
One young man stayed. “Master, why did you say dead? I could hear the bird chirping.”
The second wise man smiled. “Because it was a trick. If I said alive, he would strangle the bird as he brought it out of his pocket. But if I said dead, he would do as he did.”
“But if you had said alive, we would have backed you up. And we could have proved that you were right.”
The second wise man smiled again. “But the bird would have died. And there is no wisdom without kindness.”
I have thought about this story recently. What if we all stopped worrying so much about being right and beating the other side? (And often, in the process, creating eternal animosities.) What if we worked harder to be kind to those around us, to those who disagree with us, to everything that shares our planet?
When Faceback CEO Mark Zuckerberg went back to work after taking paternity leave, he
posted this photowith the caption, “What should I wear?”
Zuckerberg is known for wearing the same thing everyday to the office. Why? Because the less mental energy he spends on minor decisions, the more he has for major ones.
Now for some people, the thought of wearing the same types and colors of clothes everyday would make them wildly depressed. Sure, I wear a lot of cardigans, but they are many, many different colors.
Still, when I think of the minor decisions I make most days, it makes me weary just thinking of them:
- What time to get up
- What to wear
- Wash my hair or just put a headband on
- Where to go for lunch
- Candy, yogurt, or ice cream for my after-dinner snack (Or all three!)
- DVD or a rerun of “The Gilmore Girls”
Decision fatigue can creep in without our even being aware of it. So take a moment to think about where you can automate some decisions so that you can spend mental energy elsewhere.
In his book, Awesome in Hours, Michael Unks tells the story of a friend who loved soccer but wasn’t great. But if you asked him who was the most valuable player on the team, he would say that he was. And it wasn’t because he was being falsely praised or given certificates for showing up.
This kid was quite aware of his soccer limitations. In fact, the only time he ever went on the field was when the good players needed a break. So while one of the stars sat catching his breath on the bench, Unks’s friend played his heart out for the few minutes he had.
He might not have been the best, but he still had a role to play. He had to hold his own for the amount of time that the star needed to feel refreshed and be ready to come back in. It would never win him an award, but he realized its importance: Exhausted stars can’t play at their best, and then teams lose.
I’m not saying that people shouldn’t try to excel in their chosen fields. But it is a reminder that even if we don’t become the stars, we still have a vital role to play. As a person in a “support function’ at my college, I see how students go up to faculty at graduation and realize that they will never remember me with the same fondness and gratitude. But I also know that the library team helped them find sources, reviewed how to cite them, and even provided a spoon on the day that they were so behind they didn’t have time to eat anything other than soup out of the vending machine. We had a role in their success.
And that’s more than enough.
We have started spring break here, which means that, at the moment, there are more staff members than students in the library. The place is quiet. Faculty are gone. Students are gone. It’s time to catch up on projects that require more than caught time.
We’re also two weeks away from spring. And a new season is a good time to review the goals we’ve set for ourselves and judge our progress or even decide that they no longer fit us and let them go.
Here are some of my goals for 2016 and my progress on them:
- Keep my house clean. I am a horrible housekeeper. In fact, I pretty much the apply “dead body” idea to cleaning house. If I died and people broke in to find my body, and they talked more about the condition of my house than the fact that I was dead, then it’s time to clean. I just keep putting it off day after day, week after week. So at this point, I need to accept this about myself and learn to live with a dirty house. Or give up the guilt about hiring someone to clean my house when I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself.
- Write more. I have been much more successful here, working daily on various projects. However, I have way too many rough drafts and not enough edited material. It’s time to shift gears.
- Play piano. This I do everyday. But it’s time to face the facts. I’m not getting much better. I am never going to play at anyone’s wedding. I am never going to be able to jump on stage and join in. I am never going to be able to play “Happy Birthday” at a family party. I may need to move this from a goal to “fun activity” for spare time.
- Be Healthier. After a week of being sick followed by my birthday, in which I ate cake everyday for a week, this is a goal that needs to be renewed. So I’m back on the track to get my 10,000 steps a day. I’m checking the amount of sodium I eat. And I’m cutting back on birthday cake.
Taking time to review our progress helps keep us on track or get us back there. This week, take a few moments to see how your 2016 is shaping up.