The Coach is In…
“Serenity may not be what one achieves in old age; it may be one of the fruits of what one has learned by preparing while one is young.” Robert Greenleaf
I took the first week of February off (hence, no writing). Vacations, for me, are a time of renewal. The renewal is often physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual (caring for my PIES) – wherever I feel the greatest depletion. Part of that renewal is reflection. My current reflection was spurred by reading Robert Greenleaf’s essay, “Old Age: The Ultimate Test of Spirit.” Greenleaf’s major observation from his life was that he got from one place to another by being prepared. In this context, if you have prepared for old age, based on what you did prior to old age, then you are more likely to have a more satisfying time in your old age.
As I broaden the context of Greenleaf’s premise, I find numerous ‘connections.’ I marvel at the development of my grandchildren (two years old and seven months old). Each stage of their physical and mental development relies on what took place previously. At this age, it is involuntary; it just happens. Waving arms and legs becomes knowledge that those appendages belong to them, which leads to the ability to hold their head up …. rolling over in one direction, then two … sitting up, crawling, standing … and there we go. Their sounds and facial responses grow with their ability to see and to recognize. The sounds lead to formation of words, even if they aren’t the right words. Soon there are phrases, and then sentences, and then…
Most of the preparation when we are infants, toddlers, and small children comes from how we are wired as humans, coupled with our own sense of curiosity to learn and go further. During this time, and for many years thereafter, our preparation is guided by others, coupled with our desire to learn and to master.
I’m not sure when preparation becomes more inwardly guided and intentional, but I will say it occurs in the fourth grade (only because that’s when my kids’ teacher told me to let them do their own homework and be responsible for their own learning). While I didn’t take that as gospel, I did understand that this was a dividing line in helping my children develop their independence, to become more self-accountable and self-responsible.
For me, preparation in sports was driven by mastery. The ability to catch, throw, shoot, and hit something well had its own internal reward – “I can do this!” When I became part of organized sports and was part of a team, individual and collective success provided new rewards and new motivation. Academic success was also part of the ‘mastery’ equation. The more I could do and demonstrate, the more those around me rewarded me. When I was young, the external feedback was more important than my own internal feelings of success.
Preparation in middle school prepared me for high school. The greater the proficiency, the greater the reward – the opportunity to play varsity sports and achieve a higher class rank. I must admit that there wasn’t always an equal motivation between mastery of athletics and mastery of academics; one seemed more fun than the other.
Preparation in high school provided me with the opportunity to enter college. At that point, the motivation to play sports was more about how far I could take my skill. There was a time when I thought professional baseball was a possibility. The realization that wasn’t going to be the case was difficult, but the mental and physical preparation that expanded my capabilities was useful in other areas of my life as I matured.
Preparation, at some level, was fueled by the desire to do well. If I didn’t prepare, I would be ‘found out’ to be a fraud, or something/someone less than what I was trying to portray. In some ways, fear of being ‘less than’ was the motivator for preparation. Preparation led to greater mastery. Mastery led to greater opportunity and more responsibility, and to greater success.
Somewhere along the way, preparation was an integral part of my attitude about change management. As I continued to mature, I recognized that change was inevitable and, many times, unpredictable and sometimes painful. How I chose to respond to that change would determine how I coped. The preparation was about developing the mental attitude that would allow me to cope best with those things that were the hardest. Sometimes, it was the events themselves that led to the preparation (i.e., the death of my terminally ill mother, being fired, divorce, cancer). The preparation was a choice that I made to choose the most positive response. In its earliest form, the rationale for the choice was simply, “I’d rather feel better than feel worse.”
Over time, this choice has been refined, but at the core it is still the same as it was in my 20’s. I learned in the toughest moments, the moments that sucked the air out of me, that finding the most positive response, even if it took me a little while, served me well because it created within me an attitude and energy that was about hope and possibility.
Old age may indeed be the ultimate test of spirit. What we do prior to that has a lot to do with how we experience life when we are there.
How are you preparing for your next ‘adventure?’
To a better you…