Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Resilience in the Storm


"The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began."
Douglas Malloch


To become a strong and healthy adult, a butterfly must force its way out of its cocoon. The exertion required to free itself gives it the strength to spread its wings and fly. If a well-meaning observer decides to intervene and "help" the butterfly break free of the cocoon, this will unwittingly cripple it and destroy its ability to survive.

Similar principles apply to young humans.

The late Leo Buscaglia, internationally acclaimed author and lecturer, used to tell the story of how, when he came of age, he went to study philosophy at a Paris university.  


His mother gave him his entire stipend for the year in one lump sum. When he arrived in Paris with a rather large chunk of money, he used it to party and buy wine for many newfound "friends" who had shown up quickly. In short order, however, his money - and his friends - were all gone.
When Buscaglia finally "came to himself," he had just enough funds to send an urgent three-word telegram to his mother back in the United States:

"Mama: Starving! Leo."

The next day he received her three-word reply:

"Leo: Starve! Mama."

Leo later said it was the most important lesson of his life. He learned that actions have consequences. He learned that even in a mess of his own making, he could discover within himself resolve and resilience and resourcefulness he didn't know he had. He learned that he could do hard things.

His mother later said it was the most difficult lesson she ever taught, but she knew if she didn't, her son might never grow up.

Wise parents and grandparents, like Leo's mother, understand that growth comes from facing and fighting through adversity. Helen Keller said it this way: "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through the experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

Sometimes we see our young butterfly of a teenager or young adult child or grandchild struggling to break out of their cocoon, and we think it would be kind for us to "just give them some help." Sadly, too much "help" and too much "kindness" may cripple them for life.  

Sometimes, as hard as it may be, we simply must take a deep breath, step back, and let them work out things for themselves.

And guess what? They usually do.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Trees and Hurricanes


"I'm planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots." Andrea Koehle Jones

The Orlando area suffered serious damage in Hurricane Irma, but was largely spared the total devastation of South Florida and the terrible flooding of North Florida. Most of our losses in Central Florida were caused by falling trees. For example, a client couple in southeast Orlando lost their home when a large tree in their yard collapsed during the storm and smashed through their roof, as shown in this picture from a special Orlando Sentinel supplemental section.


But the losses of trees in the area were spotty. We didn't lose whole forests in the storm; only an occasional tree here and there. So why did some trees fall while others stood tall?  

To the casual observer, it would seem almost arbitrary which trees held up and which trees were toppled over by the hurricane. But it was not random at all. A closer investigation would show that some trees had shallow roots, or rotten trunks, or asymmetrical, unbalanced limb patterns, or were in poor soil. There was in nearly every case some deeper underlying trait that made certain trees susceptible to the pressures of the storm.
In a similar way, I have observed that certain individuals stand strong and resilient when buffeted by the inevitable headwinds of life. They emerge from these storms tempered and strengthened by adversity. By contrast, another group of people who face similar challenges are unable to withstand the difficulties they encounter, and eventually they buckle under the weight.  

A closer examination revealed that the decisive difference between these two groups was their willingness in their younger years to confront adversity. The first group took on the problems and obstacles that came their way, whereas the second sought to avoid or sidestep difficulties. By fighting through their challenges, the first group gained competence and confidence in facing the hardships of life, while the second group, seeking to merely slide by, missed those growth opportunities.  

The first group learned they can do hard things, which is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons in life.

This quality of character - the capacity to face trouble head-on - changes everything about the person and the trajectory of their life.   It assures that when the winds blow and the tempests rage, they will still be standing. This idea is aptly described in one of my all-time favorite poems, Good Timber, by Douglas Malloch:

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

As parents and grandparents, our natural tendency is to shelter our teenagers and young adults from the hard times that come their way. A Native American saying warns us against giving in to this impulse: "What you protect, you make weak."

It's a lesson that's hard to learn and even harder to apply, especially when it relates to those we love. But if we don't do so, they unfortunately may never grow up, or may grow up crippled and unable to cope with life and its challenges.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Hurricane Irma: I Hate the Wait


"The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part."
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

[Note: Hurricanes are deadly serious, and the destruction they cause is painfully real. We've been in a tense and stressful situation here in Florida because of Hurricane Irma. One way to diffuse tension and stress is through humor. Here's a tongue-in-cheek critique of some of our Floridian hurricane preparation patterns, with the hope that this might lighten the mood for those who've been under the gun lately.]

I am in awe of the amazing weather and satellite technology that predicts days and weeks in advance where a tropical storm like Hurricane Irma may be headed. That early warning system is a good thing. It can reduce the damage from a bad storm. However, believe it or not, it is possible to have TOO MUCH TIME TO PREPARE.  

In the case of Irma, the news media started projecting a full 10 days before her arrival that "the biggest hurricane on record" was going to smash the entire state of Florida to smithereens. "We don't know exactly where it's headed but if you're in Florida, it's coming after you, so you better start getting ready NOW!"  

At that moment, coming on the heels of Hurricane Harvey and Houston, a large chunk of the populace panicked. The race for hurricane supplies was on! Whole grocery stores were swept clean in a matter of hours, even though the storm was still on the other side of the British Virgin Islands. It wasn't just the nervous newbies. Even experienced hurricane veterans, who should have known better, got sucked into the melee. The whole scene was so unseemly.

So, what's wrong with having too much time to prepare? Here's what:

1.  With too much time to prepare, real life shuts down way too soon.

A full week before the first rain cloud was on the horizon, you stop focusing on work, cancel all your meetings and appointments, and become fixated on the hurricane. Normal life screeches to a halt. Seven days! Come on, folks, other than fighting two or three hours for bottled water at Wal-Mart or standing in line half a day trying to get the last few sheets of plywood at Home Depot, how could you possibly take more than a day to get ready?

2. With too much time to prepare, you end up spending a fortune at the grocery store.  

First, you buy up stacks of staples like bread and tuna fish and other storm-proof stuff you'll never eat. And of course, hurricane snacks. You tell yourself you must keep up your family's morale during the storm. Then the next day, you go back because you "forgot a few things." You buy all the things on your list, plus - of course - more hurricane snacks, because "this looks like it's going to be a bad one."  

You tell yourself this is your last grocery run, but then the next day you find yourself back at the store again. And the next day after that. Finally, mercifully, Publix locks their doors so their employees can get ready for the storm, and you are forced to stop worrying about how to pick up "just one more thing." Unless the local 7-11 or Wa-Wa is still open . . . .

3.  With too much time to prepare, you blow your emergency meal plan completely out of the water.

Once you've cancelled all your meetings and your house is bolted in place for THE BIG ONE, there's nothing else to do but hunker down behind all that plywood and start binge-watching the Weather Channel and Channel 9's Senior Meteorologist Tom Terry. You can't afford to miss a single twist or turn of the approaching hurricane. The stress of watching the constantly-shifting spaghetti lines of possible tracks causes you to start raiding your cache of hurricane snacks early. Not good! You gain 10 pounds in the three days before the storm.
Then when Irma finally does arrive, you discover your stash of snacks is all but gone and all the stores are closed. You have nothing left to snack on except months-old Saltine crackers and raisins. You bought $300 worth of junk food and it's all gone before Irma even gets here? How is that even possible? You're forced to try to stomach that canned tuna fish.

4. With too much time to prepare, a two-day event takes a whole week out of your life.

And that's all before the first outer rain bands even approach your fair city. The waiting and worrying can seem far worse than the storm itself. Heaven help you if you have storm damage and are forced to deal with clean-up and reconstruction. There goes another week or two or three.

So next time, all you brave folks at the Weather Channel who get paid to stand out in 100 mile-per-hour winds to show us how bad the storm is, please wait to sound the alarm until the hurricane is somewhere off the coast of Cuba. We'll still be ready in plenty of time. We just won't have to suffer the agony of waiting. Because, to quote fellow Floridian Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Celebrating Hard Work, Part 2


"If you really desire greatness, you should make up your mind to be a hard worker."
Sunday Adelaja

Who says life doesn't have a sense of humor? Right in the middle of my trying to write two articles about the virtue of hard work, I've been forced to do absolutely nothing for a week. Here's what happened:

Ten days ago, I ruptured some blood vessels in my left eye while lifting and spreading bags of Black Cow in my backyard garden. That required retinal surgery to repair the damage. After that, a week of forced rest.

A colleague suggested my injured eye would be a great excuse for taking it easy for several months. I told him that would be pure torture for me. I'm not built to lie around and do nothing. I see work as a blessing, not a curse. Work opens doors and creates breaks many people never notice. "The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work." Thomas A. Edison

There are two sides of successful work: working harder and working smarter. If you were to ask, "which is more important, to work harder or to work smarter?" I would say the correct answer is "Yes."

No, I'm not being cute. Hard work and smart work go together, hand in glove, for increased productivity. One without the other is like trying to wash one hand by itself, or like hopping around on one leg instead of running on two.  

You can work as hard as an ox, but if you're not smart about it, all your work may be wasted effort. Harder but not smarter is like butting your head against a wall or pounding sand - lots of exertion but no results. Harder but not smarter may just send you off in the wrong direction - lots of movement but no progress.

The inverse can be just as bad. Being smart about your work but not putting in the time and effort to push it forward is self-deceptive silliness-it's not very smart after all and it ultimately gets you nowhere. Working smarter but not harder projects an attitude of smugness and entitlement, and will put off others who might be inclined to join with you.  

So I'm happy to report my eye is recuperating nicely and I'm back in the saddle, trying to work both harder and smarter. I like to go to work every morning, and I love how I feel at night after working hard all day. I agree with George Bernard Shaw when he said: "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live."