Distance lends enchantment to the view. _Mark Twain
It’s my roll and it’s a six. As I move my top hat from Community Chest, I can anticipate my landing spot. I float over the green affluence of Pennsylvania Avenue, the financial stability of the Short Line Railroad, and the annoyance of Luxury Tax to gleefully land on Monopoly “Valhalla:” Boardwalk!
And my grandson Jackson goes berserk. He loves to win, and there is very little sense of time or perspective in the life of a seven year old, highly competitive, boy. Winning this game is all he can think of at the moment. Papa acquiring his favorite property seems like Armageddon for him.
As I write today in late March, the American sporting world is focusing on March Madness. For college basketball coaches, players, and fans it is “sudden death” time. Pressure and anxiety increase as a player’s single mistake can lead to a loss and the end of the season. Middle-aged coaches animate psychotically as though their antics can will a leather ball through an iron ring.
It is a seemingly “life or death” situation.
As fans, we enjoy these events because they are truly exciting, but nobody really dies. These young men (and women) athletes will go on to the next season or, when eligibility is up, to the next stage of their lives. Families, careers, and unknown adventures lie ahead of them. While every tournament team’s basketball season will end with a loss (except one), the players and coaches are not at the end of anything. They are simply in the middle of what we call “life. “ How cool is that!
So even as coaches walk sadly to their locker rooms after a loss to thank and congratulate their players for their efforts, the wise coach is thinking of next season, new recruits, and different challenges. Intelligent players bury their tears in towels and gradually lift their heads up. After congratulating their opponents, they look to their futures. Prudent players move on to Main Street, Wall Street, or the NBA (or WNBA) for a few.
In real life, we are all in the middle, rather than at the end, of something. Our marriages, partnerships, and careers are midstream; not “life or death.” Sadly, we all too often believe and, therefore, act and feel as though we are on the free throw line, one point down, with ten seconds to go. We are not.
I encourage you to “take the longer view.” By that, I simply mean that all of us need to cultivate patience: to understand that most situations in life are temporary.
When my grandson Jackson was three or four, he was indifferent to the alphabet and reading while other kids his age were cultivating that skill. His wise parents’ great virtue was in their understanding of “taking the longer view.” They understood that they were in the early stages of their nurturing role: not up against some invisible shot clock. Thanks to their wisdom, it seemed that Jackson went from illiteracy to proficiency in a matter of weeks. When reading became important to him, the skill was acquired rather quickly and easily.
Most of life is subject to change. Little is permanent. Basketball coaches who understand their craft do not overestimate the effect of losing (or winning) a game in midseason. They see any given outcome as simply a step in the journey of a season, or their overall career.
My grandson Jackson learns more about life from his karate classes than from Monopoly. He polishes his math skills calculating rent when Grandpa lands on Park Place, but he gains perspective and wisdom at his dojo. As he strives to move from being a white belt to a brown, then red, and ultimately a black belt, he cultivates patience and a capacity for hard work along with delayed gratification. He will come to understand that karate excellence is a journey rather than a destination. True wisdom is in understanding that there truly is no end in sight. And how cool is that!
Homework: Catch yourself, at times of great stress, in the act of reacting as though you are in the midst of a “single elimination” tournament rather than in midseason. Whatever the crisis at home or the dilemma at work, it is both fixable and temporary. There is always another way to resolve a conflict with your spouse or boss. And there is, if necessary, another job somewhere.
Come to see today as “mid season” because it is. My job is to help my grandson learn this lesson. It is your job to apply it to your life. Within a week, March Madness will be over; but, for all of us, it is truly an endless season of challenge and discovery.
We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. Marcel Proust