the persistence of ego: flash lite

flash-lightEach of us is born with distinct gifts, to be developed and expanded through discipline and desire, or to be left to fade through apathy and anxiety. They encompass the kaleidoscopic range of human experiences, from construction worker to concert violinist, from doorman to doctor, from gardener to golfer, from proctor to president. Yet why must society make delineations, create class categories, foster exclusivity?

A concert violinist must go through decades of disciplined practice on top of requiring the inborn gifts, yet is the construction worker—who labors through years of apprenticeship and stultifying weather conditions while helping to create the concert hall—a less valuable person?

A doctor must go through endless years of highly specific training and staves off disease, yet is the doorman—who helps to guard the doctor’s co-op against crime and murder, and keeps order—a less valuable person?

A professional golfer must devote immeasurable time to drives and putts while offering entertainment and ready aspiration, yet is the gardener—who maintains the course and cultivates beauty and oxygen with perpetual toil—a less valuable person?

A president, whether of company or country, must cultivate expansive education, political skills and charisma to guide and inspire groups of people with much at stake, yet is the proctor—who oversaw the president’s bar exam and ensures integrity and discipline within life-changing circumstances—a less valuable person?

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learning another language: cursed words

It’s a very safe bet that everyone reading this has either directly had the following experience or knows someone who has—spouse, child, friend,oui-non relative or colleague:

You’ve taken three or four years of high-school French or Spanish, then another three or four more years in college (where the offerings are significantly broader, extending from Mandarin to Russian to Hindi and all points between)… and six months later you remember a few dozen words and can’t speak or read the language, as far from fluency as Paris is from Beijing. You’re intelligent and motivated, and did all of the requested homework, yet the results speak for themselves. I simply have no gift for languages, you think, and move on to other areas of study and projects that yield tangible results.

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the corporate ladder: climb and punishment

For so many teenagers, it’s simply not an option. Their grades must be exemplary. Their SAT and ACT scores must be in one of those coveted eat-sleep-and-drink percentiles. corporate ladderTheir college applications must be loaded with everything from athletics to community involvement. Their college grades must stand out, even when surrounded by standout students. Their graduate school years must reflect pinpoint focus. All of this more often than not leads to punishing 80-hour weeks at that longed-for corporate job, where creativity, freedom and empathy are shunted aside in favor of six-figure prestige and tireless climbing.

Companies like Google and Apple, with cash streaming in faster than it can be printed, can and do take advantage of that circumstance to encourage their employees to eat well, to exercise, to be creative, to give back—and set up their corporate campuses accordingly. Many more, though, under the constant pressure of relentlessly judged quarterly reports or simply meeting monthly expenses—magnified by COVID restrictions—demand more than the body can realistically sustain. Over time, sleep becomes a secondary concern and exercise a tertiary matter, with family activities fit in whenever possible.

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career choices: post-office

sitting in traffic: wait loss

The concept of sitting amongst interminable traffic is so widespread and familiar as to make regular clichés seem like fresh air in Beijing. How we respond Wait-Losscan make the difference between being impatient and forlorn for the entire day or at peace and productive in light of what cannot be changed.

Do we curse or listen to an audiobook? Do we throw up a thin body part in a form of gesticular cancer or do we put on a foreign-language-learning CD? Do we feel stress to the point of needing a heart stent or do we call ahead and let our destination people know that we’ll be late?

As with most negative circumstances, how we deal with the inevitable daily pitchforks inherent within automobile transportation reveals much about us. In addition to the above options, perhaps we’ll use that unanticipated extra half hour being forced to lick the pavement by calling a parent, a sibling, a friend in need. Perhaps we’ll take some quiet time—away from distractions as plentiful as they are unproductive—to carefully think about a child’s needs, a pending surgery, a particular career challenge.

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the absence of discipline: canceled checks

Why is it that ‘discipline’ so often seems like little more than 2½ four-letter words? Or the rebuke of stern punishment? Or behavior as tightly controlledimages as a bank teller’s drawer? Why is it that typing this singular word into a Google search yields an overwhelming number of articles about disciplining children? Why is it that self-discipline more often than not evokes giving up statin-inducing cheesecake and excessive beer and lazy workdays?

Because that’s where human instinct would have us go. Yet the absence of discipline yields little more than galling gluttony. The hard-to-digest fact—counterintuitive as it may initially seem—is that the joy of discipline is far more sustaining than pleasures as easy to obtain as pints of ice cream or Scotch. Take any kind of work (another four-letter word, but that’s for another time…) that you love and are highly motivated to achieve, then measure how it feels after four or five solid hours of intense work. Exhausted? Sure. Exhilarated? Equally sure.

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on the surface: stock exchanges

It’s surely understandable that the small daily interactions most of us carry on each day—be they with bank tellers to retail clerks and everyone in between—don’t plumb the stock exchangedepths of how we truly feel. Who has the time or inclination? Who would go into a Starbucks and—in response to “How are you doing?”—confess to feeling poignantly low in the wake of a friend’s or family member’s death? Or, for that matter, on the other side of the compass: “I just came from a six-mile run and feel incredibly grateful to be able to put one foot in front of the other.”

I’ve recently been more deliberate with these kinds of interactions, by responding with a brief but heartfelt comment about life, politics, health, family, education et al. It’s been gratifying to recognize how quickly we can form connections with those whom we don’t really know, with the resulting warmth carrying throughout the day.

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putting disagreements in perspective: miniature gulf

lost in technology: manual transmission

Births, weddings and funerals tend to be when the home phone rings most often, when the mailbox swells with congratulatory or sympathy cards. Yet when was the last time you received a phone call or handwritten card in the wake of a new joletterb or promotion, a positive doctor’s report, the start of summer? These and dozens of other of life’s joys to be celebrated and shared may be acknowledged with a quick text or email, but the personal touch beyond the screen and processor appears to have become as rare as rush-hour patience on I-95.

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putting your best foot forward: track & field

You’ve got résumés out to 100 companies, intent on putting your best foot forward. How to make sense of it all? Categorize them by type, location, priority or preference. Follow up with each contaTrackField2ct as if the only one. The personal touch can never be overestimated. Don’t send an email, but write (in longhand) and mail a card thanking for the opportunity. Use the post office’s breast-cancer stamps—not to impress anyone, but simply to do the right thing. And even though this is through and through a business relationship, don’t forego the personal touches, the fellowship of similar interests, the acknowledgement of mutual goals. Keep track of even small details, an effort that will distinguish you as a prime prospect.

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