Wednesday, May 5, 2010

On Being Enough

In the movie Gattaca, Vincent Freeman (played by Ethan Hawke) is a less than suitable candidate for advancement in a society where one's training, opportunities and future are all determined by his DNA. In order to fulfill his dreams of participating in a manned mission to Saturn, Vincent exchanges identities with Jerome Morrow, a perfect genetic specimen who is a paraplegic as a result of a fall. Vincent uses Jerome's urine, stray hairs, and skin dander to fool the genetics monitors, train for, and ultimately fulfill his dreams.

Throughout the movie, there is a recurring theme involving Vincent and his brother Anton. Although Vincent has a heart defect that limits his physical capacity, he's always confounded his brother in his ability to swim great lengths across open water, from one shore to another. In once scene, Vincent and Anton meet on a beach late at night to go for a swim. Much to Anton's dismay, Vincent swims on and on and on until the ocean becomes quite choppy and the view of the lights on the shore is obscured by the peaks of the waves.

They pause, treading water several yards apart.
ANTON: Vincent, where's the shore? We're too far out. We have to go back!

VINCENT: Too late for that. We're closer to the other side.

Anton looks towards the empty horizon.

ANTON: What other side? How far do you want to go?! Do you want to drown us both? How are we going to get back?!

Vincent merely smiles back at his brother, a disturbingly serene smile.

VINCENT: You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton: I never saved anything for the swim back.
Over the last few months, I've slowly come to the conclusion that most of us don't accomplish our goals, don't fulfill our dreams, because we keep reserves, saving ourselves for the swim back. Essentially, we all harbor the belief that we won't be or won't have enough. Enough strength... enough skill... enough insight... enough money... enough.

Enough to Figure It Out
One of the attitudes I've found common to entrepreneurs, one that inspires some people and infuriates others, is being confident that you can do something long before you have any idea as to exactly how it can be done. The belief that I'll figure it out, is the distinguishing characteristic of the entrepreneur, even when the it is considered to be impossible. When my buddy Jonathan notices people gaffing or rolling their eyes, he likes to add, "How hard could it be?"

After a while, you get to the point where it never even occurs to you that something can't be done. You begin to approach every challenge with the enthusiasm and energy of someone who's just completely solved the puzzle, long before you have a clue as to how you're going to do it. When people ask, "how do you know that you can do that?", the answer is simple: you just know.

However, in my experience, most people don't think this way. They want everything mapped out from point A to point Z: no missing steps, no unplanned-for eventualities, no unanswered what-if's. I can't imagine ever accomplishing anything significant if you had to figure it all out before you started. By the time you do figure it out, it won't be that significant.

Knowing that you'll figure it out when the time comes is one of the best versions of I'll be enough that you can have.

Enough Strength
One of the things that stops most of us dead in our tracks is the belief that we're not going to be strong enough to handle what might come our way. This belief is somewhat transient and tends to show up at times when we're feeling tired, run down or overwhelmed. At those times, our immediate sense of fatigue and bewilderment tends to expand temporally, filling the past and the future as well as the present. We begin to imagine all the challenges that we may have to face in the future from the perspective of someone who is exhausted now.

There are two really important rules of thumb required to address this. The first is to let it all go, make no decisions, and get some rest. There's nothing dumber than trying to determine how strong you can be when you're feeling really weak. The second is to simply remind yourself that what you're feeling now has nothing to do with how you'll feel tomorrow, or the next day, or the next day. Each day has challenge enough by itself; no need to fret about tomorrow.

Enough Skill
As kids, we routinely acquire new skills; some come easily and some less so. We'll walk into the house smiling broadly, knees bleeding and covered with dirt, having learned to ride a bike, or to skateboard, or to roller-blade. We're not surprised that when we first try something we can't do it. We don't make not being able to do something mean anything. We just keep trying and trying and trying until we get it.

As adults, we tend to take our experiences of our first attempts at something new and project them into the future. If we fall learning to snowboard, we intimately associate falling with the experience of snowboarding, not with the experience of learning to snowboard. If we feel aches and pains the day after we begin running or lifting weights, we decide that running or lifting weights will always involve aches and pains. If we take an hour to learn to play a C-scale on the piano, we begin projecting that it will take an hour to learn every other scale.

In short, we don't anticipate getting better, not just better at doing what we're learning to do, but also getting better at learning itself.

Enough to Get By
Some of us spend our lives in grounded planes filling them with parachutes. We're always waiting to accumulate just a little bit more before setting out to pursue anything "risky".

"If I just had ten thousand dollars, then I'd feel comfortable" becomes "If I just had a hundred thousand dollars...", and then, "three hundred thousand dollars", and then, "a million dollars..."

What starts with enough to get by becomes enough to be comfortable. Enough to be comfortable becomes enough to live well. Enough to live well becomes enough for me and my kids to live well.

We wait to have enough; we never get there. If we do have enough money, then we're faced with the other not-enough's: not enough skill, not enough strength, not enough know-how, not enough time.

Enough's Enough
In the end, enough doesn't exist. It's just a perception... a myth... an excuse... a choice.

Where are you holding yourself back because you're not enough or don't have enough? What is the enough that you don't have? Why choose to not have enough? How's it helping you? What would happen if you decided that you had enough? What about deciding that you have more than enough, enough to share? When is enough, enough?

Enough already!
Happy Wednesday!
Teflon

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