April 20th, a fine day for a party. A fine day to celebrate the break from tradition that was the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Most folks thought April 20th, 2014 was Easter. Well, yes; but someone had to spend time “paying homage to this nation’s radical dissident forebears”. Friends held a party. I had to go. One of my ancestors signed the Declaration of Independence, that radical. Breaking from traditions has been a recurring theme, recently. That’s okay. As Thomas Jefferson said, “I hold it, that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” Occasionally stepping into and then breaking out from traditions, ruts, and routines is healthy.
Thursday night I gave a talk at a local library. The Friends of Langley Library hosted my talk about my most recent book Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland. They’re a brave bunch because I rarely know what I am going to say. To me, what the audience wants to hear is more important than what I want to say, though I make sure I slip that in too. Evidently I do it well enough because they’ve asked me back for next month too. (I’ll talk about the year-round wilderness that is the Washington Cascade Mountains.)
Usually I start before the introductions by chatting with the early folks about their stories. No need to repeat things they know. Good to know the hooks that allow me to spin off from their comfort zones. This time we broke with tradition by including traditional music. Bagpiper Don started the evening by playing the small pipes (and who is also entrepreneurially embarking on non-traditional ways of making income, like making and selling biscotti.) His playing took me out of my comfort zone, but entertained the audience which was more important. The change in routine fit in nicely with the opening passage that I read from the book, and was a reminder that I should be willing to change.
“We build ruts. We build them out of habits and for a purpose, even if we don’t realize it. Our ruts keep us in the vicinity of what we think we need and aim us towards a goal we expect to reach. A rut is a person’s self-built one-dimensional maze that includes walls and a picture of cheese. If it is a deep enough rut the horizon becomes the top of the trench that we can’t see over. The world shrinks to something that seems controllable where everything except the end is within reach. We humans are very good at putting ourselves into silly situations.” – Tom Trimbath
Lately I’ve been in a rut that I’ve consciously built to make enough money to keep my house and pay my bills. Stay tuned. The next few weeks will tell whether I’ve satisfied the mortgage servicer. In the process of working within that very productive rut I’ve witnessed the distancing that happens with everything outside of it. Personal traditions of how I rested and recreated are obviously removed. I’m willing to stay within this rut because I am aware that it is temporary and also because I have no other obvious rut to switch to. The goal nears and then change will happen.
In the last row at the talk was a woman who left early. I didn’t take it personally. Free talks carry no commitment and with so much to do on Whidbey I expect about 20% of the audience will arrive late and 20% will leave early. It turns out that she is challenging her lifestyle as well. What I call ruts she calls routines. While I’ve broken out of mine by bicycling across America or walking across Scotland, she’s breaking out by traveling the world one place and month at a time. Every month will be a mix of old traditions that tag along, new ones from the place she’s moved to, and an inevitable blend that will help redefine her life. Her story is just beginning, and she’s chronicling it. Tune in.
There are a lot of people who feel that they are in ruts that they didn’t choose, ruts imposed on them. Or maybe they chose that rut, but it was a choice from a selection of one, all others being illegal, immoral, or improbable. While many people are cheering a recovering economy, I know too many people who wonder how their job or business will ever lead to anything better than what they know now. Quite a few conversations end with jokes about the lottery, MVIS (which may be the same thing), or apocalypses that are personally positive. If the currency markets crash a struggling farmer or excellent is suddenly the richest person in the neighborhood – and if you know how to brew beer, congratulations.
It can get dark in those ruts and a friend asked me how I manage to pump sunshine into mine. Looks can be deceiving, and yet, maybe my attitude means my rut is better lit than most. Pardon me as I reach for the light switch.
In America we underplay the role of luck. If you are successful, you get all the credit; and the few that are wise humbly acknowledge the contributions of others. The sad part is that policy and perceptions are driven by the corollary. If you aren’t successful, then it must also be your fault.
Effort and luck both contribute to a person’s life path. Where and when you were born matters. Hard work improves your chances generally, unless you’re working on the “wrong” thing. Jobs openings aren’t filled by every hardworking applicant; but are filled by one applicant who is probably hardworking and who possibly stood out from some lucky connection they made with the employer. The rest of the hardworking applicants have to work hard at applying again, and possibly eventually turning to entrepreneurship (check out Ideaworth’s blog).
The extremes are easy to talk about because their lives make good stories, and we enjoy good stories even if they are dramas instead of comedies. Some people seem to sail through life trusting merely to luck, or to mentally manifesting their future. Others work every day and struggle to the end. But there are also those who mentally manifest a fantastic future – right up to an unfulfilled end. While others may work hard, and find they picked just the right job at the right time despite bad luck.
My optimism reaches in by reminding me that, even while my life feels like an extreme, almost every life includes a mix of effort and luck. Persistence is the great enabler. As long as I persist, and as long as I remain aware of other possible routines, I know that in general that combination of effort and luck will prevail.
Look at the American Revolution. A baker’s dozen of colonies that were much too young, small, and poor stepped out of ruts established over centuries. Despite a string of defeats that should have led to unconditional surrender and retributions, they persisted through effort and luck – (and the French, but it isn’t fashionable to point that out.)
Look around at your ruts and routines. They may serve you well, but it may also be time for a little revolution.