Author, Consultant, Executive Coach - Helping people and organizations grow into desired results

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

An antidote to doing too much

A recent bit of client work reminded me clearly: some things can't be rushed. To learn a powerful and multifaceted new tool and skill set, there's no cutting corners.

Take poetry for example - of late I'm reading Stephen Fry's fantastic The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within.

Together Stephen and I are working to help me rediscover the appreciation of poetry first instilled in me in by my 9th grade English teacher: Mr. Tom Sherry. A gravel-voiced, rough-hewn farmer and boxer, he was just about the most unlikely guy to ever reel off Shakespearean soliloquies and stanzas of poetry, but there you have it - Mr. Sherry taught me much of what was worth knowing about life during my formative years. In fact it's from his class that I learned W.E. McNeill's phrase: "the man who knows is wanted" in some respects I can thank (or blame!) him for my present career in consulting.

Speaking of teachers and training, I'm reminded of what Alexander Pope wrote of learning:

A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fir'd at first Sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless Youth we tempt the Heights of Arts,
While from the bounded Level of our Mind,
Short Views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But more advanc'd, behold with strange Surprize
New, distant Scenes of endless Science rise!
So pleas'd at first, the towring Alps we try,
Mount o'er the Vales, and seem to tread the Sky;
Th' Eternal Snows appear already past,
And the first Clouds and Mountains seem the last:
But those attain'd, we tremble to survey
The growing Labours of the lengthen'd Way,
Th' increasing Prospect tires our wandering Eyes,
Hills peep o'er Hills, and Alps on Alps arise!

Poetry's beauty and power lies in its ability to do much with fewer words than prose; the poet's original intent is fleshed out as the listener fills in much of the meaning, making it simultaneously more vividly real and more relevant to that person's world. It is a collaborative art form, and one that merits the time it takes to learn to do well.

Ars longa vita brevis

The life so short, the craft so long to learn.—Hippocrates c.460

Yet in learning this, as with so many complex systems, is easy to grow impatient - to watch with mounting despair as "Alps on Alps arise" to humble our laboured efforts. So many nuances, subtleties, intricacies - and time is so short! Must rush, get more done, take more classes, cram even more into each breathless moment....

It's precisely then that it pays to look not only at the many peaks still to go, but to offer oneself the satisfaction and reassurance of reviewing just how much distance has already been covered.

Another useful perspective was offered today by my Montreal-based friend, colleague and coach Magella Sergerie: the opposite of doing isn't not doing...the opposite of doing is just being. Sometimes our efforts at doing too much (or learning too much) are simply counterproductive as we need to take that breather to recharge the batteries and climb a few more of those mountains.

Photo credits: the Welsh 3000's by Owain Rees

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