I’m forty nine years old today. And if I may be so audacious, I think I’ve figured out the meaning of life. Not coincidentally and in some epiphanous manner on this exact day. Maybe it’s been over the past few months or past few years even. I’m just writing about it today.

I had to somehow synthesize and articulate it to a 17 year old high school senior who increasingly verbalizes her worry that she hasn’t fully decided upon an education and career path that is the one. The irreversible and correct pathway to walk along rarely exists. “I don’t know what I want to do with my life.”  Welcome to the club honey.

We have our best conversations, she and I, in the hot tub. There’s no electronics to distract her, or sports highlights to distract me. It’s dark, which allows for maybe another level of candor and honesty.

I told her about what I had mused aloud to a client who is 5 years younger than me, but 15 years earlier in his parenting experience. He was telling me of a 2 year old toddler and the emotional trauma for both child and parents, moreso mom, on mom going back to work and the separation anxiety of the morning day care drop off. Did you experience this he asked me? Does it resolve itself? What’s the magic and one right way to cope and fix?

Hah, I said to this client, leaning back in my chair. I remember those days well. We had a toddler who would not stop crying for long periods of time, and the guilty mom back at work with her mind only half there. How the daycare would try to manage, but that if the crying wouldn’t stop, you’d have to come deal with this as parent. Please phone dad, let’s keep this quiet from mom, who’s already pulled hard enough in both directions.

I laughed and said “yup, been there. We figured it out, and so will you.” And when you figure that out, a new set of seemingly intractable challenges will come up when they’re 5, and then again at 9, 12, 15, 17. You figure it out, you do your best. But make sure to enjoy it along the way. “Life is a beautiful and constant struggle,” I pontificated to him. It’s a journey not a destination. Make sure you enjoy the ride because you’ll never fully arrive, be done, become “a success”

A psychologist named Angela Duckworth has proven through her research is that the most important trait kids can have is not intelligence, IQ, innate creativity, but rather, what she calls grit. Resilience, toughness, “maze-bright” and gritty.

Carol Dweck, a Stanford University professor is famous for her description of fixed mindsets, versus growth mindsets. Individuals with fixed mindsets avoid challenges, give up easily, ignore constructive feedback. Those with growth mindsets embrace challenges, equate failure as learning, and see effort as a pathway to mastery of a skill. Teachers, parents, coaches or workplace leaders who want to enhance growth mindsets should be careful with how they praise – avoiding the praising of talent, or innate ability; and instead praising process and effort.

And then there is perhaps my favourite oracle on the meaning of life. Patricia (Pat) Summit is the winningest women’s basketball coach in NCAA history (by the way, have you noticed the gender of all the quoted thinkers and leaders – maybe the fairer sex know a thing or two about dealing with adversity, decks stacked against and setback?). Summit was a hard edged, but compassionate, master motivator. Her philosophy is summed up in a letter she wrote to a collegiate player in her charge:

Shelia, This is your first game. I hope you win for your sake, not mine. Because winning’s nice. It’s a good feeling. Like the whole world is yours.

But it passes, this feeling. And what lasts is what you’ve learned. And what you’ve learned about is — life. That’s what sport is all about — life!

The whole thing is played out in an afternoon. The happiness of life, the miseries, the joys, the heartbreaks. There’s no telling what will turn up. There’s no telling how you’ll do. You might be a hero. Or you might be absolutely nothing. There’s just no telling. Too much depends on chance, on how the ball bounces.

I’m not talking about the game. I’m talking about life. But it’s life that the game is all about. Just as I said, every game is life, and life is a game. A serious one. Dead serious. But here’s what you do with serious things. You do your best. You take what comes.

You take what comes and you run with it.

Winning is fun . . . Sure.
But winning is not the point.
Wanting to win is the point.
Not giving up is the point.
Never letting up is the point.
Never being satisfied with what you’ve done is the point.

The game is never over. No matter what the scoreboard reads, or what the referee says, it doesn’t end when you come off the court.

The secret of the game is in doing your best. To persist and endure, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

I’m proud to be your Coach (Dad),

Isn’t that awesome though? Doesn’t it take all the pressure off? You don’t have to be perfect, just be perfectly resilient, be gritty. Keep grinding.

Life if a grind. A beautiful grind. Enjoy the trip and celebrate the peaks and recognize that the valleys make the peaks all the better. 

Jordan Cleland is the President of Jordan Cleland Consulting. He does performance and leadership coaching, keynote and retreat speaking, fund development and public relations consulting. And he’s still coaching kids in sports, only more wisely, both as head coach and an assistant.  

Monday, September 23, 2019

The Beautiful Struggle
by Jordan Cleland