Saturday, September 11, 2010

Small Victories

In these days of bombastic football events (American and otherwise), dramatized victories and vicarious participation, we tend not to celebrate the little wins, the ones where we just squeak by or where we finally figure out something we should have got hours before. Not only do we fail to celebrate them, but instead we often chide ourselves for not having done better or moved quicker. We dismiss the little wins as not being wins at all.

As I read Iris' I Did It, I Can Do It Again, I started thinking about breakthrough moments in my life and I realized that the breakthroughs did not manifest themselves in landslide victories or major miracles, but instead in small, unremarkable transitions from not being able to do something to being able to do something.

They came in tiny, incremental steps: a pebble that tipped the scale, a minor shift of balance that kept the bicycle upright, a missing piece of the puzzle that let all the others make sense. They often weren't pretty or elegant: one last try following hundreds of last tries, pushing on through the gale force wind of my own tears and complaining.

They were simple transitions where in one moment nothing was working and in the next something was working. Not everything was working. There was still a lot to learn. But, something was working.

It's these transitions that formed the foundation of my sense of confidence, my belief that there's nothing that I can't figure out. And yet, so often we look for the big win. We look for the stellar performance. We look for the major breakthrough, and we miss it. Because the major breakthroughs are almost always tiny.

The Zen of Victory
In the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig depicts his experience teaching creative writing to college freshmen. The problem was that, "They just couldn't think of anything to say."

Pirsig assigns his students the simple task of composing a 500-word essay about the United States. A week later, one student returns with a blank sheet of paper insisting that she just doesn't know what to write. So, Pirsig suggests that she try narrowing her topic from the United States to Bozeman Montana, the location of the college.

A few days later she returns, again with nothing in hand insisting that she'd tried and tried and tried but simply couldn't think of anything to say.

So Pirsig, now getting a little frustrated, recommends that she further narrow her topic to just Main Street. A few days pass, and still nothing. His student is now desperate, tears streaming down her face having concluded that she simply cannot write because she has absolutely nothing to say about anything.

Setting aside his own frustration and concern, Pirsig suggests, "Narrow it down to the front of one building on the main street of Bozeman. The Opera House. Start with the upper left-hand brick."

A week later, she presents him a five-thousand-word essay on the front of the Opera House on the main street of Bozeman, Montana.
"I sat in the hamburger stand across the street," she said, "and started writing about the first brick, and the second brick, and then by the third brick it all started to come and I couldn't stop. They thought I was crazy, and they kept kidding me, but here it all is. I don't understand it."
The big breakthroughs come in the guise of little wins.

So, I was thinking that if you were going to do just one thing for your child today, perhaps it would be set aside the major goals and create opportunities for little wins.

Happy Saturday,
Teflon

1 comment:

  1. Very cool, Tef. I was watching the 2nd men's semifinal at the US Open earlier this evening, and that would qualify as a Big Deal by most any yardstick. But I was also thinking - we never get to see the daily practice routines of all these top players. I bet they are hard, monotonous and unglamorous, but those are what pave the way for these flashy public victories.
    sree

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