In Part I of this series, I started out by talking about what makes us move from the ordinary into the extraordinary, questioning the clichés we often hear when it comes to the use of “excellence.” In Part II, I started discussing some things that my 10-year-old daughter and I have been looking at it when it comes to facing different situations in life (specifically for her at the moment competitive swimming is playing a large part). I brought up the need to shift our mindset and remove some “stinking thinking.” In relation to that, I brought up two issues:
A. Focus more on legacy than on long term or short term.
B. Cut out the noise and seek wisdom.
Now here in Part III, I want to end by looking at two more issues that might not be normal things people talk about in relation to “excellence,” but I think have merit because they allow us to look at life in a more mature way.
C. Recognize that life is not fair…to all of us in some way or another…it’s what makes it so, well, fair…And this is nothing new. It’s always been that way, and it will always be that way. Extraordinary people are aware of their place in the human struggle, and they fight against the tendency to let unfairness cloud their judgment.
My daughter has about the world’s worst birthday for swimming competitively at least in the under 15 world. Swimming, in an effort to be fair, has created a very unfair system for young swimmers when it comes to their birthdays. As a result, some get to dominate an age group during championships while others are forced to age up simply based on whether your birthday falls the day before or the day after the meet. For my daughter, whose birthday falls the day before, it actually keeps her from going to championships. Even though she more than qualifies and has spent the entire season one age, because of her birthday, she can’t go unless she happens to swim a qualifier time for the next age group before her actual birthday. Yet if her birthday were a couple of days later, like it is for some other kids, she could go and most likely win medals and ribbons and all the prizes they do. (I won’t even mention how this affects coaching.)
So it’s an unfairness, for sure. Yet it’s not likely to change during her “career” as a young swimmer. It’s a struggle she must deal with if she wants to be a part of the sport, but more importantly, it is one she can’t dwell on. If she gives it too much weight, then it will affect her decision making, her confidence, etc.
What unfairness do you have to face in your career? Age, gender, disability, lack of education? How often do you let it affect your choices and outlook?
Facing life’s unfairness is something we can all nod our heads to, but I’ve met very few people who really come to terms with it. Most people either give up, shrug it off and try to ignore it, or rage against it. Very few find a “healthy” way of approaching it (myself included). Extraordinary people find a way to acknowledge, recognize, advocate but still progress. They may be talented and hard working, but they understand disappointment too.
D. Recognize that time and chance happen to us all. OK, this one might be splitting hairs a bit as it is related to the general unfairness (or, uh, fairness, if you will) of life, but I think there is an important distinction here. For those of you familiar with Scripture, you might recognize this as a snippet from Ecclesiastes 9:11:
“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”
More often than not, people like to use this verse to talk about the negative things that happen to us, but I think the verse is more inclusive than that. It is talking about all the things that happen to us: good and bad. Sometimes we get what we don’t deserve (good and bad!), and sometimes we don’t get what we do deserve (good and bad!).
It is a reminder that we are not, contrary to popular clichés, in control of everything that happens to us. Hard work and dedication mixed with talent is noble, for sure, and often does lead to good outcomes, but it’s not a guarantee.
In my mind, both C and D here point back to the necessity of A. If life is unfair and our destiny is not completely in our control, then our legacy becomes even more important. And legacy is not earning a specific award necessarily. Sure, that’s a great goal, but it’s bit like making money a goal. Instead a legacy is a gift you leave behind and that gift paves the way for someone else. It makes their life easier or enriched in some way, not yours necessarily.
Can you imagine what it would be like if we spent more time focusing on that gift instead of on chasing the low-hanging fruit that rarely satisfies? Now that would be something truly extraordinary.