I used to read a lot. Then, my Masters killed my love of reading (so. many. required. texts.), and at the same time online streaming services improved their offerings to suck my time away with Seinfeld and The IT Crowd re-runs.
A one-two knock-out punch.
Therefore, I recently challenged myself to shut off the screens (unless we’re doing some sort of family movie night, or my wife wants to watch something with me… she gets preferential treatment) and to instead, conquer the mountain of books I had compiled but not yet begun.
While I try to read something in nearly every genre, I find myself particularly engaged by historical accounts written in novel-form. There is an art to telling a story, and history books too often ignore that art and compete in a contest where the one who spits out the most facts wins (and the points don’t matter… Whose Line Is It Anyway… anyone?). Whenever I find a book that tells a great story, of an actual story, I struggle to put it down. Shoe Dog (the story of Nike) is an excellent example of this type of book. I have no particular love or hate of Nike, but I was enthralled by the story.
Not only do I enjoy historical accounts written well, I enjoy accounts of historical struggle. People who overcame great difficulty, and perhaps, who did not survive their efforts of overcoming. The Perfect Storm is a fascinating account of both the former and the latter.
I recently finished Robert Leckie’s difficult “Helmet for My Pillow”; I choose the word difficult not because the book isn’t an enjoyable read (it is), but because it is difficult to fathom the hardship the marines faced in the Pacific Theater in WWII and how anyone could survive, much less return and build businesses, hospitals, and families. Greatest Generation, indeed.
The book I am currently reading, is “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage”, a story of ice and hardship. Perhaps I am drawn to it because I live in the state of Montana, where we experience all but the most extreme temperatures recorded in the book (70 mile an hour winds as well). Perhaps it is simply the inspiration of a voyage doomed from the beginning, yet in which man and dog persevere.
While interesting, those two previous curiosities are not what primarily intrigues me in this work. What has captivated me, is the never-ending positive attitudes of the team. These men sailed a ship into a world of ice (spoiler), lost the ship early in the voyage within sight of land (they could not get to it because of the ice), left the ship and traveled hundreds of miles in negative Fahrenheit temperatures (by the way, it is pitch black for about three months in the winter, three months) dragging their possessions as well as three giant lifeboats (they knew they would eventually reach open water again and would need the boats), primarily ate seal meat, blubber, and, well anything that tasted fishy… and yet through all that, they remained in good spirits. The diaries of these men record statements discussing how remarkably pleasant was this, that, or the other day. Pleasant. They were enjoying themselves! They would receive a bowl of warm… something… probably, porridge (blubber at times… *gag*) and would then remark how much that improved their spirits.
Let me be exceptionally clear here, it is hard for me to imagine any time in my entire life when I could say a bowl of porridge improved my spirits.
Yet, here they were making the best of their circumstances. In fact, the author of this book on numerous occasions, credits their success (or at least hints at it playing a key role) to not only Shackleton’s leadership and their grit, but to their positive attitudes. Because they remained overall in good spirits, this allowed them to maintain good relationships with one another, which was crucial in bonding together in the difficult times when they needed to expend every last ounce of strength to simply survive.
This coincides for me with meditating and additional reading I have been engaged in that demonstrates the remarkable power of positive thinking. Now, before you roll your eyes, please note that I have never been one to buy into the “power of positive thinking” when it is sold as the snake oil solution to all life’s problems. Snake oil salespeople, however, exist because there is a truth somewhere in or around what they are selling. Work is more than simply positive thinking, it’s also work. Yet, there is a way negativity sucks the life out of one’s self, and those around us that is received back with positive thinking and communication. Think of an office in which a recent win has occurred, and excitement is coursing through everyone. You want to work harder, you want to invest in and contribute to this great movement. Think of the same office the next day. Everybody is complaining about something (perhaps it is a recent news item), and it is hard to focus enough just to click to the next tab on your computer, much less work.
Here’s what Shackleton and his gang of weary survivors are teaching me… being able to find the good in your circumstances… even if that is simply a bowl of porridge. If that is the best I have in a circumstance, why wouldn’t I celebrate that and choose to fixate on that?
I am going to commit today, to find that which I have to be thankful for in my work.
Is there a difficult client? Always.
Does that mean I can’t be thankful for the chance to have work, when I see others struggling simply to find food enough to eat?
Is there anxiety over needing to pivot my business aggressively in the light of Google’s continual changes (good and… not-so-good)? Always.
Does that mean I cannot find the ways in which their changes are helpful to allow us to shift to new directions in which my competition is not?
Commit with me today, to find the positive in your day, in your week, and in a new year.