It was one of those days.
When my wife came home, and said, "Hi Honey. How was your day?" I replied, "All shocks. No cheese."
I recognize some days, the higher powers have put me in their rat-maze for reasons beyond my understanding. Yeah, yeah, "my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are my ways your way,” I'm okay with that. I navigate my way through and around the shocks and eventually there's a reward.
We manage this reality in our work by identifying what success will look like to us. In short, we get to define what is our cheese. Then we predict the path to get there, and the cost. Sooner or later, the shocks come, and we refer to the arrival of shocks as "predictable randomness," they're factored in as part of the heroic quest.
And sometimes, there's a long spell where the shocks are persistent and the cheese is depressingly hard to find.
Sound depressingly familiar?
Here's how it shows up today. Like you, I have all kinds of incoming today, and I'm trying to write this piece. Writing this piece takes me into the maze carrying a heavy load. It takes a high degree of cognitive energy because I've defined success as offering you fresh insight that will meaningfully change your behavior. That's a goal approaching hubris. It's going to take an unknown amount of time, and there's lots of competition for that time. It's going to take an unknown amount of attention, which is being challenged by internal and external preoccupations, and an unknown amount of energy. And if I fly too close to the sun I'll fail with a humiliating splash.
There are lots of things I can do instead that are less weighty and less uncertain. They may include small cheeses and small shocks -- both predictably and manageably delivered. My whole psycho-neuro-physiology is organized around taking the path of these small wins and losses. And, yes, I've kept drifting to those paths.
For the tough challenges, a useful analogy is a street fight or a bar fight. Those of you who have experienced one know the biggest or the strongest, or even the best trained fighter, doesn't necessarily win. Again we're back to uncertainty, anyone can get lucky, but probability goes to the one who can take the most pain. I had a neighbor, a wiry old Newfie, and I use that term with utmost respect, of whom it was said, you wouldn't know you'd won a fight with Tim until he was buried face down with a big stone on his back.
Another useful analogy is child rearing. It's long, difficult, and full of uncertainty. Psycho-social data suggest statistically there are more shocks than cheese. Having had various levels of caregiving responsibilities over a lifetime, including older brother, sitter, teacher, parent, uncle, and grandfather, I attribute success more to luck than skill; and, at the same time, for all those roles and, true also for the many other caregiver roles, success is the ability to metabolize the shocks. And those shocks can be devastating.
Over time, the path with the best statistical probability of success comes by way of setting manageable goals and aiming for small rewards and small shocks.
But what about aiming for a few things so meaningful, the shocks are worth it? What about aiming for something so meaningful, you won't quit, will proceed through possibly devastating shocks, until they bury you face down with a big stone on your back?