Saturday, December 3, 2011

                  I Get It

You haven’t heard me talk about the subway lately. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to some of the better things people do while riding the rails. I’ve been watching one specifically lately, and I think I got it.

Try standing on a moving train and reading a newspaper while holding on to a bar or strap. Time was when I had all I could do to keep my balance. Time was when I had to stay focused so that I wouldn’t miss my stop. Time was when I had to make sure I didn’t get swept off the train by the masses. But once I got those basic things down, I wanted to be able to read the New York Times at the same time. Not easy. But since I saw so many others doing it I thought I should give it a try.

First you have to be able to fold the pages twice – so that the result is a half-page. Now doing this and still getting the crease in the right place is not that easy – takes two hands, have to smooth it out and get it so you can unfold and refold it to be able to see the other half of the page. And then when you’re done with that page, you have to unfold it so that you get to the next half page. And so on. Sounds easy, right? Nope – because the folds come undone, the flipping back and forth gets confusing, and what if a story is continued on a much later page, how do you get to that one and then back? You get the picture.

So I watched for months, and then practiced at home when no train was moving beneath my feet and no one was watching. And in this there are lessons.

First: we watch others all the time, and whether it’s leading people, riding a bike, playing golf or reading a paper, much of what we learn is done by mimicking the actions of others who are more skilled and knowledgeable. That’s the best way to learn the countless moves we need to know in life.

Second: there’s the need to perfect things through practice – which is best done when you’re out of the spotlight. Now I will admit to trying this paper thing on the train before I learned and practiced… didn’t work well and what I did could have been embarrassing if anyone were watching. And even if they weren’t, I still made a fool of myself in my mind’s eye.

And third: we’re all our own harshest critics. That’s as it should be, so we work extra hard to do things that feel and seem right to us. But still, we want to be good at what we do, we want to meet or exceed the expectations or perceptions of others, and we want others to notice how good we can be. That’s human nature.

So now I’ve got it. I can get the fold right the first time (most of the time), hang on and read the first half-page, and let go of the strap quickly and refold things accordingly and keep on reading. I may not be perfect, but I’m more than credible. I look like I almost belong on a subway. I pretty sure I look like I get it.

My message this week is about learning to act professionally and then doing what needs to be done.

“Self-respect is the cornerstone of all virtue.”  John Herschel

Sir John Frederick William Herschel, 1st Baronet (1792 –1871) was an English mathematician, astronomer, chemist, and experimental photographer/inventor, who in some years also did valuable botanical work. He originated the use of the Julian day system in astronomy. He named seven moons of Saturn and four moons of Uranus. He made many contributions to the science of photography, and investigated color blindness and the chemical power of ultraviolet rays.

What’s your best virtue? These musings look at values such as professionalism, passion, loyalty, team spirit, participation, grandeur, ownership, integrity, innovation and pride – and self-respect may be at the heart of them all. All of these values are important, but self-respect is how you feel about yourself, and how you approach things, and how people see you, and how good you try to be. It’s about doing the right things because they’re the right things to do, about caring a lot and trying hard all the time, about being the kind of person you want and hope to be, about trying and learning new things, and about setting an example for others. Actively living all of these virtues will make you a great role model – and in life, being an example for others is all about observing others, listening to others, learning from others and teaching others. Look at your life – can you honestly say you’d be what you are today if others hadn’t shown you the way? So live all of these values and virtues every day, and let self-respect be the cornerstone of them all.

Stay well!

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