May 21, 2013 at 5:52 am, by
My regular readers know that I really appreciate the spin that Seth Godin puts on life, work, excellence and effort. Here are three recent posts that, to me, flow together very well. Read on:
We’re not even living in a lousy reality show.
Entertainment has seduced us into believing that we have a chance to live the life they live in the movies. Even the people in the movies don’t live that life.
It doesn’t take 135 minutes to make a life, it takes almost a century.
Everything doesn’t depend on what happens in the next ninety seconds. Ever.
The people around us don’t live secret lives. Spaceships and evil cowboys and pathogens aren’t going to upend the world tomorrow, either.
Life is actually far better than it is in the movies. And it takes longer.
“I want to be an actress, but I don’t want to go on auditions.”
“I want to play varsity sports, but I need to be sure I’m going to make the team.”
“It’s important to sell this great new service, but I’m not willing to deal with rejection.”
You don’t get to just do the good parts. Of course. In fact, you probably wouldn’t have chosen this path if it was guaranteed to work every time.
The implication of this might surprise you, though: when the tough parts come along, the rejection and the slog and the unfair bad breaks, it makes sense to welcome them. Instead of cursing or fearing the down moments, understand that they mean you’ve chosen reality, not some unsustainable fantasy. It means that you’re doing worthwhile, difficult work, not merely amusing yourself.
The very thing you’re seeking only exists because of the whole. We can’t deny the difficult parts, we have no choice but to embrace them.
Most of the time, we build our jobs and our organizations and our lives around today, assuming that tomorrow will be a lot like now. Resilience, the ability to shift and respond to change, comes way down the list of the things we often consider.
And yet… A crazy world is certain to get crazier. The industrial economy is fading, and steady jobs with it. The financial markets will inevitably get more volatile. The Earth is warming, ever faster, and the rate and commercial impact of natural disasters around the world is on an exponential growth curve.
Hence the need for resilience, for the ability to survive and thrive in the face of change.
A non-resilient hospital in New York City closed for months because the designers failed to design for a flood. A career as a travel agent ends when, fairly suddenly, people don’t need travel agents any longer. A retirement is wiped out because the sole asset in the nest egg is no longer worth what it was.
The choice is to build something that’s perfect for today, or to build something that lasts. Because perfect for today no longer means perfect forever.
Here are four approaches to resilience, in ascending order, from brave to stupid:
- Don’t need it
- Invest in a network
- Create backups
- Build a moat
Don’t need it is the shortcut to living in crazy times. If you don’t have an office, it won’t flood. If you have sixteen clients, losing one won’t wipe you out.* If your cost of living is low, it’s far less exposed to a loss in income. If there are no stairs in your house, a broken hip doesn’t mean you have to move. Intentionally stripping away dependencies on things you can no longer depend on is the single best preparation to change.
Invest in a network. When your neighbor can lend you what you need, it’s far easier to survive losing what you’ve got. Cities and villages and tribes with thriving, interconnected neighborhoods find that the way they mesh resources and people, combined with mutual generosity, makes them more able to withstand unexpected change. And yes, the word is ‘invest’, because the connection economy thrives on generosity, not need.
Create backups. Not just your data (you do have a copy of your data in two or three places, don’t you?) but anything that’s essential to your career, your family or your existence. A friend with a nut allergy kept a spare epipen at our house—the cost of a second one was small compared to the cost of being without.
Build a moat is the silly one, the expensive Maginot-line of last resort. Build a moat is the mindset of some preppers, with isolated castles that are stocked to overflowing with enough goods to survive any disaster**. Except, of course, they’re not. Because they can’t think of everything. No one can.
We’re tempted to isolate ourselves from change, by building a conceptual or physical moat around our version of the future. Better, I think, to realize that volatility is the new normal.
Putting all your eggs in one basket and watching the basket really carefully isn’t nearly as effective as the other alternatives. Not when the world gets crazy.
**Robin Chase describes a friend who said, “My dad had one job his whole life, I’ll have seven, and my kids will have seven jobs at the same time.”
**and not just preppers, but corporations that act like them
May 16, 2013 at 6:25 am, by
A few months back, Fast Company shared a blog post about seeing the future
In it, the writer described three styles of seeing the future: dragons, swans or mules.
For Dragons, some of you will remember the many references in Johnny Depp’s The Pirates of the Caribbean to the possibility of dragons. Well, here’s how the FC writer put it:
That said, it’s been my experience that most of the times a futurist uses “here be dragons,” it’s to indicate a topic area in a forecast that is uncertain and dangerous to even think about, at least for the client. There’s something about a particular issue that makes people within an organization steer clear, even if it’s a potentially important problem. So the dragon–as in “here be dragons”–is a sign of something we don’t know much about, but really should.
For Black Swans, a much prettier and nicer animal reference, the writer explained it this way:
Generally speaking, a Black Swan event is one that is outside of what we’d consider plausible, outside “our reasonable expectations,” yet is critically important when it happens.The term itself comes from the 16th century European belief that swans were only white, so a “black swan” indicated an impossibility….In many ways, the actual Black Swan problem isn’t the difficulty in predicting the future, it’s the difficulty in deciding who to listen to. Every “black swan” is an “annoying bird digging up my garden” to somebody. The “black swan” is a sign of something that we don’t know much about, but probably could.
Finally, the mule is the blog post isnt’ really an animal at all, but a human character in Issac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy. In there, the story plot gets its dynamic twist by the arrival of a mutant (not of X-men fame, though probably with the same power) who can control human minds. This character called himself the Mule.
In many ways, the actual Black Swan problem isn’t the difficulty in predicting the future, it’s the difficulty in deciding who to listen to. Every “black swan” is an “annoying bird digging up my garden” to somebody. The “black swan” is a sign of something that we don’t know much about, but probably could….For futurists, the Mule is a sign of something that we don’t know much about, and really can’t–and will require us to redouble our efforts to get things going the right direction.
However, the writer left out a common animal approach to predicting the future….the turtle. We all know how turtles handle scary or threatening situations. They simply pull into their shell hoping to ride out the storm. Now certainly, at some point, knowing when to approach danger cautiously is wise, but the future is coming to us one way or the other. It does little good to suggest that the only way to see the future is to “turtle” down and just hope for the best.
Rather than deciding to run from the dragons, swans or mules, hunkering down in the hopes that our shells will hold out over time, we do better to put ourselves into action. So, get prepared with knowledge. Look for the evidence about the various issues relative to the future. Don’t just be afraid, but move forward with confidence. Yes, I have written that we are closer and closer to a major storm, but even that storm which will be big, will not simply destroy us all. In fact, the vast majority of us will certainly be alive on the other side of the storm.
Don’t fear the future. The fear won’t help you, and if you aren’t careful, you will misjudge what you are facing. Worse, you’ll decide to simply sit stationary, and that is rarely the right decision.
May 14, 2013 at 6:09 am, by
I was chatting/ministering with someone at my College who had written about a very tough situation they were going through. In our conversation, which we shared with a large email prayer group, I reflected to this person that “God won’t give us more than we can handle.” Well, is that true or not? Does God use the moments of our greatest challenge for our good?
Later, one of my friends wrote to me personally to comment, saying that my comment is “actually not true. He gives us more than we can a lot of the time. It causes us to be drawn to our knees in prayer. The passage you were referring to gets misinterpreted quite often. It comes from I Corinthians 10:13 and speaks to when we are tempted, that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.””
Well, of course what my friend wrote is correct, that God does use our situations to get us down on our knees. However, as I wrote back, the semantics becomes part of the issue here. So that if someone means by “not more than I can handle” that they will never have weakness or never face pain or never be burdened heavily…well then they are wrong.
If, though, they mean that they will come to the end of their human strength and He will meet them there, allowing them to move through the situation without giving up, giving in, losing faith….then I think that is right. He will not allow me to face more than I can to the point that I fail. Sort of ties in Psalm 23 (even though I walk in the shadow of the dark valley, or am in the presence of my enemies—both the sort of place where one would feel as if they were shouldering the heaviest of burdens) and Romans 8:28 (there is no external power that that snatch me from God’s hand).
I added also that God does allow or send things that are rough, hard, frustrating and so forth. My friend wrote back again listing several of the giants of the Christian faith as examples of how God does precisely that, though my friend was still insisting that many misuse the concept of not getting more than we can bear. “Very difficult times often physical pain with no end in sight. I do believe the verse in Corinthian’s though often gets misinterpreted. I see it a lot and I cringe every time someone offers that verse to someone, in that context, who is deeply hurting because it does nothing for the individual except make them feel they might be doing something wrong to deserve their suffering.”
However, as I told my friend, the point is that Paul, for example, DID bear the burden of a loss of sight on the road to Damascus or putting up with that he called his “thorn in the flesh.” He didn’t give in. It wasn’t more than he could bear…God said “my grace is sufficient for you” in order to help us bear the burden.
You may be thinking “so what.” Well, for many, at some point in their lives (and for myself, it has happened many times) this good news that God will allow suffering in order to strengthen us, is critical in order to navigate heavy, hard issues.
J.R.R. Tolkien brings this up many times in his writing, but perhaps easiest to see in The Hobbit. As Bilbo and his Dwarf friends make their way into the scary dark woods of Mirkwood (this will be shown in the upcoming second movie about The Hobbit), we find out that Bilbo gets separated from his friends. In this moment, Bilbo gets attacked by gigantic spiders.
In a moment of desperation, Bilbo goes on the offensive with his little sword that he will soon christen as “Sting.” Before long he has killed his attacker, not only saving his life but allowing the journey to the Lonely Mountains to continue.
To understand the power of this moment in his life, one must remember that Bilbo was earlier described in the book as being, well, soft and lazy. A creature of comfort. You may remember even after he decides to go on the quest, he almost turns back because he had forgotten a prim and proper handkerchief (kids…go ask your grandparents).
Now, some months later, through suffering, long walks, challenging situations, a few “near brush” with death moments including almost being eaten by the creature Gollum…he was now in a position in which to fight for his life, alone. Unlike with Gollum where good luck, his wits and a magic ring got him out of trouble, this time he had to act with daring and decisive action using a sword….a real battle fight.
In other words, Eru (the God of the Tolkien’s world) had not given him more than he could handle so that he quit or gave up, but rather had given him just enough, consistently, so that in the moment of an even deeper crisis, Bilbo could handle the situation.
In the Bible, the story of Jacob tells us a similar story. I was studying Jacob’s life for a teaching series I was doing at my church earlier this year. Jacob is not a good person initially. Maybe hard to believe, but the Bible is pretty clear that he is a schemer, someone who might more readily lie to you to steal something from you secretly than do actual battle with you. This fact, by the way, is one reason why I love the Bible and believe it to be from God—He never tries to hide the humanity and sinfulness of some of the key humans that He, God, will work through.
Jacob, as the history tells us, ultimately flees his home for having crossed his older brother, Esau, one time too many. In fleeing, a weak and somewhat conniving little man, he runs to the family of his mother to hide. Once there, he spent about 20 years dealing with one challenging situation after another.
Along the way, he was taken to the ends of his strength and wits, and yet was also being refined by God for the road ahead. He saw how harmful lies and betrayal were when his mother’s brother, Laban, did to Jacob the same as Jacob had done to Esau.
After 20 years, he decided to return home, partially to run away in fear from Laban and partially because he heard God call him back home. However, Esau was waiting for Jacob, and with him Esau had brought 400 warriors. Jacob first began to concoct a scheme of how to meet Esau and do so intact, but that night, his life would change forever.
During the night, he began wrestling with a powerful being. At first Jacob thought he was wrestling with perhaps one of Laban’s soldiers or perhaps Esau’s, coming to test him. However, during the struggle, he realized that this was an angel from God. At that point, Jacob went from fighting against the being to holding on, perhaps even hugging tight.
Jacob had been someone who had schemed his way through situation, but now, on the cusp of his biggest challenge, confronting his brother who he had defrauded, he realized that he could not, nor should not, try to scheme out of this fight. Rather, he should hold on tight.
The fight would leave him with a permanent limp, but with a new name….that of Israel which meant “God fights.” Jacob’s new name was going to be a reminder that God was going to continue to fulfill the promise to Abraham, that his family would be God’s chosen people.
As Jacob, now Israel, limped to meet his brother, rather than scheming, he merely humbled himself before Esau, kneeling and bowing before him in submission, asking for repentance. We are told that “Esau ran to meet him and embraced him.” Esau, who had last wanted to kill his brother, now could see how God had changed Jacob.
Just like Bilbo and Jacob, you might now be going through some of the toughest things you have ever faced before. Don’t fear and don’t turn back. Stay on your knees, holding on tight. Ask God to strengthen you, to prepare a table for you in the presence of your enemies. He will work through your weakness, and as you come out of this, you will be stronger.
That doesn’t mean the situation isn’t hard or painful. It also doesn’t mean you might not suffer some losses. God’s transforming crucible will hurt, but you will, like Bilbo, be a new person for it, ready for the next thing.
May 9, 2013 at 6:35 am, by
I’ve started reading a wonderful, yet sad, book about the state of Education in Aemrica. Entitled, Academically Adrift, the authors provide clear evidence about the sad state of affairs in our education. I think the authors are spot on; their research confirms much of what I have thought and said publically about what has gone wrong in our country. While I will be blogging more about their findings later this year, last week as I shared this with my good friend Matthew, we stumbled into a simple snapshot of the state of affairs.
Generally, the authors of Academically Adrift posit that all of society is to blame for the ills presented in the book. They take students to task for being far too invested in non-essential issues of life. To the student, higher education is a part-time endeavor that, well, should be easy to accomplish. Faculty are accomplices in this because generally, for a variety of reasons, the professors ask or expect little from students. The vast majority of professors do not even consider the teaching of students to be their first mandate. Some of that comes via the third guilty culprit from the authors—the Colleges and Universities. In most schools, it rewards professors for virtually everything BUT teaching, turning over the process of educating to part-time professors (good people to be sure, but obviously not fully hired by any school) or graduate students (again, good people who attempt good work, but clearly not the “experienced mind” of a veteran professor).
Of course, more than these three actors are guilty, but the authors do not extend their research to the obvious failure or decline of the family, of the city and of culture itself. It is to the last there that I turn to a way to really understand what has happened. Note, the authors use clear research to demonstrate how much our culture, as seen in the evidence of students and higher education, has changed. Through their metrics, what our culture expects from itself has massively changed for the worse from the High of World War Two.
Back in the middle 1980s, two movies came out that well capture the image of education and what society really wants. In 1985, the movie The Breakfast Club came out, and one year later, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off followed to acclaim. Both of John Hughes’ movies, the sociologically deep investigation of the high school culture seen in The Breakfast Club and the somewhat silly yet still telling escapade of Ferris Bueller, demonstrate a shifting culture.
In The Breakfast Club, the movie depicts school as something to endure. The parents are almost all shown to be absent at best or overbearing horrible monsters at worst. More depressing is the character of Assistant Principle Richard “Dick” Vernon. Vernon, we find out, has been teaching for 22 years; instead of being someone deeply invested in being a champion for learning, he comes across as a jerk, mean, capricious and someone just skating by, probably hoping just to get retirement.
Along the way, he has an exchange with “Carl the Janitor,” perhaps the one adult who seems to be normal, who seems to be attempting to be someone fair in the midst of culture, yet still hoping to aim the students towards something better than just wasting their lives.
Assistant Principle Vernon
: What did you want to be when you were young?
Carl the Janitor
: When I was a kid, I wanted to be John Lennon.
: Carl, don’t be a goof. I’m trying to make a serious point.
I’ve been teaching for 22 years.
Each year, these kids get more and more arrogant.
Carl: Bullshit, man.
Come on, Vern. The kids haven’t changed, you have.
You took up teaching because you thought it would be fun,
you could have summer vacations off.
Then you found out it was actually work and that really bummed you out.
These kids turned on me.
They think I’m a big joke.
Carl: Come on!
If you were 16, what would you think of you?
: Carl, you think I give one rat’s ass what these kids think of me?
Carl: Yes, I do.
You think about this. When you get old, these kids…
When I get old, they’re going to be running the country.
: This is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night.
That when I get older, these kids are going to take care of me.
I wouldn’t count on it.
The movie is clearly indicating that society and culture have changed and any time spent in education is no longer a worthwhile investment. The students see school as something to endure. The faculty blame the students yet are depicted as lazy as the students. The parents are absent. Overall, education is something to obviously be avoided. Enter Ferris Bueller.
In Hughes’ next movie, he demonstrates that rather than being forced to endure the penalty of a Saturday “locked up” in some detention hell, the students should actually just skip school in total. Again, the parents are completely clueless and largely support their son’s efforts, at least support by not really paying attention to the obvious clues.
The movie posits the faculty as either boring or incompetent. The economics professor, played so memorably by Ben Stein, the oft-imitated roll calling scene of “Bueller, Bueller” drones through a lecture that the students mostly sleep through. The Principle, Ed Rooney, attempts to have discipline and spends the entire movie in a futile chase to apprehend Ferris, but time and time again, the youth is far too smart for him. In the end, though Rooney thinks he can still win—“I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind.”— he will be undone by the sister of Ferris who hates her little brother, but apparently detests school and its principal more.
The takeaway again is simple to perceive. Education is nothing worth working for. Realize, I like both of these movies, having seen them first in the theaters when they came out, a college student enjoying the look back at high school. Yet now, looking back, its easy to see how both movies are a snapshot at our changing culture starting in the late ‘70s and building to a head of steam in the ‘90s.
The authors of Academically Adrift might have been thinking of Ferris or Claire, Bender and the other students spending their Saturday together in the school library. For those students, and for the majority of society today, education isn’t something to work hard for, nor is there really any apparent reason why the classes even exist. If we, as a culture, do not decide now to reclaim the value of learning, to see the academic system as important in creating a learned citizenry, a value in and of itself, then we truly are in trouble.
I think, however, we can reclaim this ground. I see that fact each semester. My students are typical students, coming to my class with much of the cultural baggage. Yet, through my own steady efforts, added to their own hunger for real meaning to their lives and what they have to spend their time with, most of the students dig into the effort necessary to achieve their success. They don’t want to accept the idea that our time spent together is pointless. They don’t want to be adrift.
May 7, 2013 at 6:04 am, by
In the second post of this three part series, we looked at how the late 20th century contributed to this myth that College is about getting a job. Perhaps it isn’t clear to some why this even matters. For starters, a deep confusion emerges about the product and how exactly to tell. By the late 90s, states like Florida were beginning to create tests to give students in order to provide proof about the learning that supposedly had taken place. Those tests soon began to dictate what was taught in the classroom and soon classes had morphed to start “teaching to the test.” Instead of discerning what the students had learned, the test became the “end all and be all” of knowledge and as long as the student could pass the test, apparently all was well.
However, being “learned” has never merely been about knowledge acquisition. Rather, as stated in the two previous posts, the idea of higher education was to, at the very least, move the student into the deeper realm of though, of complex problem solving, of dealing with ethical dilemmas, and the overall challenges of leading in a multifaceted community. Those aims simply cannot be captured by a test. As I have often said when asked about proof of my success as a professor, I will provide evidence 20 years after a student has left me. If my teaching has had the proper impact, it will show up in their lives much later.
Today, much of the scrutiny now cast on higher education is coming because so many of the students and their families who took out massive debt now realize such efforts may have been for naught. Not only do many find it nigh impossible to find a job, the jobs they find are not necessarily more lucrative than others. The myth has told them that “college graduates make more money on average” but for there to be an average in any industry, there must be a low end. Poor performing students who muddle through in some degree will most likely be among those in some job industry on the low end. So, years later, not only are they still paying off their school debt, they are doing so in a job that might not actually make them happy.
Rather than going to College for an education and pursing what was of interest to them, or better being immersed in the wider concepts of a broad-based education in many fields or arenas, they followed the Pied Piper of Which Degrees have the Highest Income. They got into a field merely because “you can get a job there.” Now, years later, they are miserable and not necessarily economically happy. This discontent came to the fore in 2011.
In 2011, thousands of young people, many college students (recent graduates among them) joined together to Occupy Wall Street in New York City. This “Occupy Movement” had many factors and foci, but one theme was clearly seen. These young people finally were waking up to the fact that even with their college degree, they did not have a job. Or, perhaps for many, they realized that they didn’t have job they wanted, that mythical job making 6 figures. They finally understood that for those of them massively in debt, it might take their entire lives to pay it off.
They were, and are, angry.
This decade of 2001-2011 shows us the 3 strands of increased focus. First, there is the economic pressure of a declining economy tied to the belief that College produces jobs. In other words, if Colleges were doing their work well, then of course our economy would be great because there would be more new jobs created by all these brilliant college graduates. Second, there is the pressure from former students and their families as student debt mounted and, as stated, the jobs didn’t miraculous come…or if they did get jobs, shock of shocks, those were not these mystical 6 figure jobs all college graduates are supposed to get.
Third, then, rising in conjunction with the first two, is the scrutiny from government where most of the funding emerges. Obviously (strand 1), the colleges aren’t doing their jobs well. And the constituents (strand 2) are angry, disappointed and left deep in debt with little hope. Therefore, the pressure rises on the politicians to somehow fix this and that is best done by increasing scrutiny and oversight.
In this period of our economic malaise, one recurring theme has been that we as a country must return to more stringent regulation and oversight. Higher education as an industry has been swept up into that. Surprisingly many who work in academia do not like this oversight. I say “surprisingly” because surveys show that most who work in academia (K-12 + Higher Ed) are overwhelmingly vote on the left, the Liberal side of our politics and most cries for regulation have come from there. So, now that government says “you are right…let’s regulate things including education” those same liberal professors cry foul.
Regardless, though, the scrutiny, focus and regulation isn’t going away, or at least I can’t see how it will. Thus, where does that leave us? We have a citizenry combined with the political structure that believes College is designed to create graduates to get super awesome jobs, but College remains a structure designed to create intelligent people.
Can you see the problem here?
Thus we end up with students who are shocked, literally shocked, to sit in my class to hear me say that passing my class isn’t a given and that it will take hard work. We have students who will withdraw because their grade dips below a “B” even though, were they students in the 1960s, they would probably be failing outright. We have a government who suggests we should be able to move these students through in an ever-increasingly rapid way which often sounds in many ears like “pass them regardless of how they do in class.” Thus, we have some professors who succumb to the general will and do just that, pass students we don’t really know the material, who will contribute to grade inflation. These same professors will join the many profs who, to the student, seem very bored about their own material, who give somewhat childish easy tests and who don’t seem to really care about the student in the least.
This is our problem. What is the solution?
We must start with teaching the nation what the real purpose of college is. Secondly, we must provide students true and honest advising, which would include telling many students that they are pursuing the wrong path, or even that they should not be in college. I know many of our advisors at Valencia try to precisely that, but sometimes find their hands tied when coming up against culture which has told the student about the myth. Thirdly, we must work to bring down the general costs of college, and partially that solution comes in helping students see that time at a Community College or (gasp) a technical school is a very wise path.
The alternative is to end up in a situation much like Alice’s Wonderland where nothing made sense. Down there we can keep telling ourselves some myth about college, and then get angrier and angrier when the truth keeps inconveniently sticking its head into the story. We can bring on even more oversight by politicians who aren’t really in any position to know how best to foster learning.
Along the way, we can lose the country. Creating “learned citizens” has been among the prime calls to education from our founding, with leaders like John Adams, John Jay, Patrick Henry, George Washington among the many who saw without education, the Republic could never survive. Adams wrote, “The preservation of liberty depends upon the intellectual and moral character of the people. As long as knowledge and virtue are diffused generally among the body of a nation, it is impossible they should be enslaved.” Maybe we are already enslaved and we simply don’t know it—enslaved to wealth, to a consumer-driven god, to politicians who are run by big money from a variety of sectors with their lobbyists. Maybe there is nothing we can do. I think we can…by defending the point of College.
May 2, 2013 at 5:58 am, by
The path may seem dark, but God has a plan. We’ve covered this before looking at how the god of Tolkien’s world, Eru, had plans. We saw how Bilbo and his Dwarf friends seemingly fell into foul trouble, being captured by the Elves of the woods. Yet, that allowed for them to make the one single way through the dark woods of Mirkwood.
This is a common theme for Tolkien and here’s another excellent example that I used in church recently. At the end of Fellowship, we see that the small company is attacked by enemies from Saruman trying to capture the one ring. IN the process of attack, Frodo and Sam escape to continue the journey into the dark lands of Mordor, the home of the main enemy. Meanwhile, two other Hobbits, Merry and Pippen were captured. Now Aragorn faces a tough decision. Does he follow after Frodo and Sam or try to save the two captured friends? He made a vow to go with Frodo and protect him at all costs. Yet, if left alone, the two captured Hobbits would be tortured.
Aragorn is equally tortured with the choice he faces. Tolkien writes it this way:
“and now may I make a right choice, and change the evil fate of this unhappy day.” He stood silent for a moment. “I will follow the orcs…if I seek [Frodo] in the wilderness, I must abandon the captives [Merry & Pippin] to torment and death…we that remain cannot forsake our companions while we have strength left.”
So, he and his two surviving companions, Legolas the elf and Gimli the dwarf take off racing to try and catch up. They take off hours after the enemies had already departed, also at a run. Now, two days later of almost constant running, the three pursuers are debating which direction to go as the trail splits as the orcs have now split into two groups, going off in different directions. Now our heroes are exhausted and its dark; they need to rest. .
Gimli said, “If we decide to rest, then the blind night is the time to do so.”
“I said it was a hard choice,” said Aragorn. “How shall we end this debate”?
“My heart bids me go on,” said Legolas. “But we must hold together. I will follow your counsel.”
“You give the choice to an ill chooser,” said Aragorn. “Since we passed through the Argonath my choices have gone amiss.” He fell silent, gazing north and west into the gathering night for a long while. “We will no walk in the dark,” he said at length….[“We are in] a vain pursuit from its beginning, maybe, which no choice of mine can mar or mend.”
One’s heart goes out to Aragorn. Maybe you have never been there, but I have. You are the one everyone is looking to for a decision. Some times you are confident, wiling to step out boldly. However in other moments, it seems like every decision is a disaster, with people sniping and complaining and well, even in your own heart you aren’t fully sure you’ve made good choices. Or, even though you feel it was a good decision, at that very moment the decision seems to have not been good. Sigh. Tough times to be a leader.
Eventually, in our story, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli catch up to the enemies only to find that they are too late. This band of evil orcs has all been killed and, for all the 3 heroes can tell, the Hobbits are now dead. In some despair, they stumble into a chance meeting with a reborn Gandalf. If you know the story, Gandalf is a wizard who has been helping our heroes. He had been in the original fellowship, but had fallen to his death….or so it seemed. Now, to the surprise of all, here he is again, alive.
As they talked about what had happened, Gandalf perceived how down Aragorn was over everything. So, he proceeds to step into Aragorn’s depression and point out how all of his choices had indeed had a point, a purpose:
“Come, Aragorn son of Arathorn! Do not regret your choice in the valley of the Emyn Muil, nor call it a vain pursuit. You chose amid doubts the path that seemed right; the choice was just, and it has been rewarded. For so we met in time, who otherwise might have met too late.”
I don’t know what you are facing right now. Perhaps you feel like Aragorn that all of your choices have been ill-advised. Take heart. If you will place your trust in God, I believe that He will work things out to the good of His larger purposes. In the end, through no real choice of your own EXCEPT the fact that you made the best choices, best decisions that you could, you may end up meeting a powerful new friend who will change everything.
April 30, 2013 at 6:01 am, by
In the first post of this series about the nature or meaning of College, we talked about the history of the concept of college. College, emerging out of the Middle Ages, was to provide a path to learning, to knowledge….not about jobs. Yet today, one of the leading critiques or concerns is precisely about jobs. I hear students all the time more concerned with finding a certain major that will lead to high paying jobs. Reports abound about the top majors to land the best job. New types of Colleges have emerged in the past 20 years claiming to help students get through the experience faster—college then becomes merely something to endure, to complete and finish so as to more quickly get to the job.
Previously, the “workforce” would be peopled by the many who completed high school. The major concern about an “unskilled” labor force were those students who did not even complete high school. Some look at that fact, particularly in the latter 19th century, and then conclude that there was some socio-economic discrimination that prohibited poorer students from attending. In general, this was not true—most did not attend College or University because they had already entered the workforce. And, perhaps not surprisingly, many of them were generally happy with their lives.
Now, certainly, in those days from the 1400s to the 1900s, worthy students of the lower classes were most assuredly denied access at points. And, some of the students who were admitted were only in because of pedigree. There was some bias and discrimination, but happily in the 20th century, we have made strides beyond that, especially through the Land Grant schools and Community Colleges. By the 1970s for sure, if not earlier, most higher education schools in the US were largely open to most, at least open to apply.
Still, the point up till the 1940s wasn’t about getting anyone a job. However, after World War 2, that all changed as the Military-Industrial complex heated up, fueling our overall economy, which then provided money and goods for our newly exciting consumer world, more “good jobs” were coming into being. Still, in between the war and the 1980s, due to many factors, a high school graduate could still get a “good job” working in the many factories of our nation.
Then the 1970s brought all of that crashing down, and thus began the start of the myth that to really get a good job, one needed College. But, with that myth came a new definition of college. No longer was it about learning deep thoughts, expanding the mind in order to create those who could think on their feet, communicate well, think critically, or solve complex problems….now it was merely about getting a piece of paper to prove to HR departments to “hire me.”
By the late 1990s, Clinton’s “Roaring Nineties” (a decade where the President exemplifies the low morality, high “me-factor” decade of yuppies who were also corrupting our definition about the “American Dream,”) began the attack on what college was about. But, as we all remember, in the first decade of the 21st century, international and domestic events conspired to reveal the deep cracks in our society.
As the economic vise constricted from 2002 forward, as more and more Middle Class families realized that their buying power had declined over the previous 40 years, the myth that College was the place of magic powers to get one a job took hold in earnest. Thus, families and students were willing to take on massive amounts of debt because of the myth. Unfortunately, the myth was going to hit reality and find out that reality would punch back viciously. Come back next week to see what that vicious punch would look like.
April 25, 2013 at 6:15 am, by
In 1578, a Jesuit priest, Matteo Ricci, arrived in China. He hoped to bring Christianity to the Chinese at a time when this ancient land was really just becoming brought into the European sphere of influence. Ricci brought some new technological devices that he hoped would open doors for him. Perhaps his most exciting present was a mechanical clock.
Unfortunately for Ricci and his friends, the Chinese weren’t interested in learning about Jesus Christ and threw the missionary in jail. After months of imprisonment by fearful Chinese leaders, he was brought before the Emperor Wan-li who was interested in the presents Ricci had brought. He had been told that one present was a mechanical device that had bells that ring at specific moments. Over the next nine years, Ricci used his “magic” mechanical clock to finally gain access to China with hopes of introducing them to Christianity. Instead, he reminded them of their own history.
While the Emperor was amazed by the clock, as were all of his people who saw it, he should not have been. The Chinese had invented the mechanical clock over 500 years before. Su Sung built what was known as the Heavenly Clockwork. His device was not something to merely tell time, but rather to create a calendar machine.
His “New Design for a Mechanized Armillary Sphere and Celestial Globe” are extremely detailed. Modern engineers have been able to follow these ancient directions and rebuild the machine. The clock was thirty feet high and was a five-story pagoda structure. At the top, the machine had a bronze power-driven armillary sphere where a huge globe hung. Along the outside, a series of bells and gongs were carefully placed and programmed to ring at specific hours. The actual working clockwork was driven by water flowing at into a turning wheel that maintained the time.
Su Sung wrote, “At sunset a jack wearing red appears to report, and then after two and a half ‘quarters’ there comes another in green to report darkness. The night-watches contain five subdivisions. A jack wearing red appears at the beginning of the night-watch, marking the first subdivision, while for the remaining four subdivisions the jacks are all in green. In this way there are twenty-five jacks for the five night-watches.”
Su Sung completed his construction in 1090 and for 4 years, kept the most perfect time known in the world. Unfortunately for Su Sung, and the Chinese in general, their culture was that with the arrival of a new Emperor or new dynasty, the old had most of its effects, especially any kind of “calendar” destroyed. For the Chinese at that time, a new Emperor meant the start of a new calendar. The Europeans were not much different as most local areas understood the current time as a certain year within the reign of the current monarch. However, for the Europeans, the Roman Catholic Church was able to provide a stability of time above that of the local leaders. So while some peasant may know the time as the “15th year of the reign of Duke Charles,” he also generally knew what the year was in relationship to the direction of the church (so, the year 1460).
With the arrival of Jesuit missionary Ricci, the Europeans were able to gain influence over the Chinese government through the use of a device that the Chinese had, sadly, forgotten that they basically invented. By the 1700s, China was completely under the thrall of European merchants and was on its way to being insignificant until the late 20th century.
For our purposes here of trying to Live Well, the point is that remembering is important. Perhaps the most important place is remembering what it is you are trying to accomplish in any given moment. Hate your current college class, bored so that you think about not attending or stopping the work? Remember the larger goal you are shooting for that demands this college degree. Think your boss is terrible or that you are under-appreciated at work to the point that you are thinking of simply not going back? Remember the larger goal for which you need money….even if your goal is to keep living in your house and enjoying whatever hobbies you may have….that takes money for which you need this job.
Forget and you may find yourself living under the thumb of some outsider who is ruling over you through knowledge that you once knew.
April 23, 2013 at 5:58 am, by
Ever wonder what College is really supposed to be about? The idea of College has been under heavy scrutiny for some time in the past 5-7 years. The level of focus probably isn’t going down any time soon. In the process though of our nation’s recent challenges, it appears to me that many no longer have any real concept of the point. Is it to keep our 18-22 year olds busy? Is it to get them a job? Or, is there something deeper?
So, what is college? Well, the term didn’t emerge till the 1300s (or that is our earliest known usage preserved in historical documentation). Then, it’s most common understanding was a word to describe any corporate group associated for a common function. So, a group of sports referees would be known as a college; a group of blacksmiths would be also known as a college. Thus, as learning and education became something done by a collected group of scholars (rather than the typical Medieval form of a tutor working for the local noble family), those scholars were also seen as a college.
By the late Middle Ages, say the 1400-1500s, as students came to live in the town, on the “campus” where the college (those collected scholars) were, then those resident halls also came to be known as a college. In our parlance, we could start to see the term gaining a capital “C” as part of a more proper noun. In those Colleges, the school would often establish a library, technical instruments such as ones for science, and even on-site tutors to help the students.
In this way, the term “college” shifted from any collected group to a more formal understanding of an “academic institution.” Cambridge and Oxford really led the way here with their various Colleges scattered throughout the larger community, which was being known as a University. By the 1800s, and certainly into the 1900s, the term College then meant this place of higher learning, academic training.
But what did they do? From the start, they almost exclusively taught what was known as the Liberal Arts. Again in the Middle Ages, when our understanding of “higher education” with a location of gathered students (like the University of Paris or Oxford) really begins, the Liberal Arts meant a study of (usually) seven topics. Usually arranged into two groups of 3 and 4, they were grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic—so the study of communication and logic—and arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music—so the study of more physical skills such as math.
In terms of disciplines, if we can call it that (probably not wise to push that terminology), students were being trained as lawyers, scientists, mathematicians or church leaders. Harvard, Yale and to a lesser degree, William and Mary, were seen first and foremost as a training ground for pastors. More broadly, though, one should easily see that higher education was about training the mind, broadening the spirit, creating the intelligent citizen.
The idea of College as a launching pad for a job was simply not understood. Yes, those students who came out of college would go get a job, but just like every other one of their peers. Most finished College or University around age 18, maybe age 20, and all of their peers were already hard at work. The only difference was the type of job.
No one went to College to “get a job,” with some wrong-minded belief that if they didn’t go to College they would not get a job. Instead, they went to college to become learned. But what would happen if society started to expect something else from College, something that College was never created to produce? We’ll start to answer that question next week in part two.
April 18, 2013 at 5:01 am, by
Today is the day. My little girl turns 18.
She can vote. She can pretty much make her own choices and decisions and, according to the state, I have no say about it.
My prayer and that of her Mother is that we’ve laid the best foundation possible that shows her the majesty of God and the need to rely on Him for her path in life.
What is the world we have brought her into but a mysterious and wonderful place. Yes, there are tough things right now. Clearly, from where I sit, the country has moved not only away from our Christian foundation, but away from the common values that allowed for us to be so successful. Yet, in the midst of that reality, young men and women like Logan emerge into the start of their adulthood. The future is bright and, while not necessarily boundless, full of opportunity.
What choices she makes will allow her to move forward. I hope she continues to trust my advice and, like many others that I have mentored in their 20s and 30s, she will come to me for counsel. If she does, if she stays close to the Father, and if she continues to have faith in His great hand, His path, then no matter what else happens, she will have a successful life.
I have written this blog for the past 5-6 years and I have invested in others for now almost 25 years, for that point—to help others have successful lives. For the past 18 years, I have poured as much of myself into Logan as possible. I certainly have made mistakes, and there are plenty of things I wish I could do over. Life never allows that however. It’s probably for the best since we really do learn from our mistakes, from when we err.
Now, she is off to walk the adult path. There will be tears to come, bills to pay, disappointments for sure—what good life doesn’t have those hard moments. But, through it all, I will be there for her as long as God gives me breath. I remember watching her take her first breath, and now while I watch her go forward with my own breath held, I know she will do well. She makes me proud all the time—she loves others, wants the best for the least and the lonely, always willing to lend a hand, and a budding young leader who is fiercely passionate.
I love you Logan. Happy Birthday.
April 16, 2013 at 5:56 am, by
I was recently in Tallahassee for a trip to the capitol, watching government in action. It was, to say the least, informative, though slightly disturbing. I will post about that later, but one general reflection was just how supposed leadership is never content to do nothing. Leadership, in other words, constantly works to “do more stuff.”
Why can’t we just leave well-enough alone? Of course one could argue that things are never just “well enough.” OK, fair enough, but very often things aren’t as bad as it would seem.
This came up at various times during my trip. The group I was with would be introduced to some new bill by some random Florida government official. Then, as it would be discussed among us, someone would inevitably raise the question of “why do they try to fix things that aren’t broken?”
It seems as if leaders feel the ever-present need to prove their worth to their position. College sports is like this. The team ownership is never happy enough with a good person leading the team, a person who wins more than loses, who has good values and works hard. Nope….they have to have someone who wins it all, apparently all the time. So, they replace the coach only to start the churn all over again. And what does that new person do from day 1? A whole bunch of new things.
The rare organization is like the Tampa Bay Rays, as reported by Sports Illustrated. In the April 1, 2013 issue, the Rays leadership is described this way: “they resemble a tight rock band; they’ve been playing together for so long that there are no surprises.”
Perhaps part of our problem is that we are often uncomfortable with hands off leadership. Or, we want to feel the hands off approach, until we think things could be better, and then we want the leader to “fix things.” Are we just unwilling to accept our own double-mindedness on this point?
It is very hard to simply allow a business, an organization, a state to run without some guidance. Just, how much guidance is the question. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, commented on this in a recent post. He was talking about how Valve, the gaming company claims to work with no management . Adams admitted that such was possible, but only if the company hires amazing people and has high margins. Otherwise a business is “limited to hiring people who lived nearby, and the only information at their disposal was lie-filled resumes, every growing company would necessarily absorb a lot of losers.”
My own experience is that it would be amazing to work in a place where the leadership just lets you do the work. You hire amazing people. You provide clear values and foundational concepts about the work. You set them loose and their own desire to do great work just leads to great places.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way, whether due to leaders who believe they must prove they deserve to be there or due to people who really are lazy and don’t want to do the job at hand—thus who need oversight.
Putting the business or organization on autopilot seems like a great plan…until you do only to see things crash because “no one was in control.” So, what to do? If you are an employee, start by working at a high level of excellence. The more you do well, the more opportunity you create to provide more flexibility. Then, as you have earned the right, you can raise the issue with leadership to request less oversight and more teamwork. Also, if you are an employee or team member, push your peers to raise the bar in their own actions.
If you are a leader, look to reward teams and groups that have earned your trust. Give them the same option that Adams spoke about: let them discuss the issue or question, have everyone give opinion or information, spotlight the smartest choice, then implement. Then, as the leader, you step back and respect the work they came up with. Don’t give in to the desire to micromanage. Yes, if they are missing key information, then give it to that team. Once you have, let them go. Protect them from other middle managers who will want to stick their nose in.
As the leader, build this culture by good hiring. Good hiring STARTS with clarity to the HR department or hiring team. If you are trying to change the culture of your work by avoiding the “losers” that Adams spoke of, then it does little good to put those people who oppose your culture or values into the hiring committee. Empower that hiring team to get the very best people who embrace the values that you have. Use all of the new tools of technology at your disposal to make great hires. Be clear about the expectations, the values, the work habits of your people. Hire those kinds of people and then give them the same chance as the other successful team.
In the end, if the leaders can avoid the trap of trying to do too much, and if workers can decide to pursue excellence in every task, at every moment, then perhaps we can start moving forward.
April 11, 2013 at 6:31 am, by
My regular readers know of how strongly I feel about Seth Godin. I consider him a friend who I actually know (I don’t), but he is very gracious to write emails to me when I reach out. We’ve had various short conversations, so I think of him fondly. Almost everything he has written I have loved. I have several copies of his books and have given many away as presents.
Linchpin, however, was the one thing he’s written that I actually didn’t like. It was quite awkward because he had sent me an advance copy asking for a recommendation on my blog site (of course, he did the same with dozens of other people as well). I couldn’t do it.
My biggest complaint is that he seemed to send the signal in Linchpin that everyone can do some secret amazing work that will pay them big money, enough to live on at least, and won’t mean working in that “mindless job” you have.
I do keep reading his work because I think there is still more to learn about what he is trying to say. I know for him, or it appears to me that he is thinking that the Internet allows for such global connectivity that anyone truly can go and do anything, and be successful at it. I disagree. This belief of mine connects to how I perceive education and higher education. I will write more about this at another time, but the short version is that I believe our country has fallen under a spell about success and life that misunderstands what the purpose is of higher education.
I suppose Seth’s point (if I have read him correctly) bugs me most because I think it sends the same false signal to people, creates the same myth, that many of our students arrive on a College doorstep with—-“I am due vast financial success and you will give it to me by giving me a degree…with little real effort on my part…once I have a college degree then I can become wealthy because anyone can get any degree to do any job.” I disagree with this and think it is actually cruel to tell people this.
My sister had deep dreams of being a doctor. She certainly cared far more about school than I—my parents will tell you that I was the far more intelligent (as far as those tests seem to imply) but I was lazy and my sister would work far into the night to finish her schoolwork. I agree (at least on who worked the hardest); I was content to skate by on my (perhaps) intelligence and just do enough to get a certain grade. Tina was determined to get the highest score she could. When she reached college, however, Chemistry destroyed her. It simply wasn’t a strength and no amount of “hard work” or tutoring or positive thinking was going to make her a “linchpin” in medicine.
She simply couldn’t do it.
She was disappointed, but accepted the inevitable with grace and has made a fabulous life in other arenas. Do, if Seth’s idea here (his and others) implies that anyone can do anything and be amazing at it, then I guess we have to say my sister (and millions of others) is a failure.
However, there could be another possibility.
One of my friends also read Linchpin and her impression was that Seth meant more that where a person happens to work, there they should be positive and do good work and in that place become a linchpin for the organization.
That is good, not only for my sister who is absolutely a Linchpin where she works, but for younger people who are seeking for a future. Instead of thinking that they need to quit their jobs in order to find this mysterious amazing future where they can be a Linchpin doing exactly what they want making as much money as they want, we can be instructed better about how to make the most of where we are. Sure, for some of you my readers, you do need to be brave and step out into the unknown. You know that you are not living up to your full potential where you are at currently.
However, for most of us, that sense of boredom or soul-sucking feeling is really just our own unwillingness to step up boldly in our workplace, in our own lives. Decide today to rise up and be the very best at you work. Go be amazing at your tasks, making each moment special, focused deeply on each other human that you interact with!