Remember the Wide World of Sports?
It was on Saturday afternoons on ABC, in the days when you actually had to sit down in front of a box in your living room at a particular time to witness something outside your hood.
The tag line in the introduction of each episode,centered on sporting events around the world, was “The thrill of victory the agony of defeat”
One of the first statistics I recall learning was that the average life span in Canada was 74 years.
It has crept upward since I was in elementary school and as of 2016 it is almost now 83 years.
Is that like overtime?
Do I now get 9 more years to make a better past and score the winning goal?
For more than half my time on the planet I operated with blatant disregard to the idea that there would be a final bell and only when it rings the sum and substance of my existence here will be defined.
In some ways I see a real value in that approach, in that when we focus too heavily on the final score we typically miss the thrill of the game.
Back in school, I remember weeks inching by toward Friday. I would mentally break down the week every morning in anticipation of Friday’s arrival, waking with the thought: ” Only three more days til the weekend”
Later when we join the labour pool we all know that person who counts the days to retirement.
To what end? (Literally and figuratively)
To make things worse, we seem to readily accept the idea that the acceleration of time as we age is truly unavoidable.
Or is it ?
Hugh Montgomery is one of those people who seem experience a full life by jamming in way more than most of us would call mentally healthy .
At 56, as a practicing clinician he acts as head of an intensive care unit in the UK, he runs 3 ultra marathons a year, skydives (naked for charity), is an author and lives life like he just might die today.
Recently a friend shared an article with me, from The Guardian about Montgomery.
Naturally, I just skimmed it.
No time to read the whole thing,..I’m too busy!
Plus, in any case I’m not a great reader -it takes me a long long time to get through a three panel comic strip.
The one thing I did glean from the article was that Montgomery claims the way he calms his obsession about the possibility of imminent death is through an insistence to immerse himself continuously in learning something new.
He may just be on to something here.
Remember how painfully slow time progressed in grade 10?
Mr. Tetreault droned on about the colonization of New Mexico and it took everything I had to not lose myself staring at the sweeping second hand of the clock over his bald head.
Perhaps that had more to do with the subject matter than it did the answer to putting more life in our years.
Nonetheless the point holds.
Upon further reflection, it seems to me that every new sport or activity I tried actually did slow time to a point of inconsequence.
Perhaps I became so consumed by trying to keep my balance wearing steel blades on on ice, that the minutes stalled and life slowed.
Montgomery suggests that life begins to surprise us less as we age because we allow ourselves to mistakenly perceive we have seen it all.
“Been there done that” becomes the mantra of the “old”.
I wondered out loud “why does this happen?”
Could it be because society rewards us based on the experience we have accumulated?
“Ted has 27 years of counting beans he knows everything there is to know about the industry ”
I have previously mentioned that I backed into consulting career, working with a wide variety of businesses, from commercial coffee makers to cooling systems for hydro electric dams as well as a few more really obscure gigs in between.
Interviewing for one mandate the owner was asked the following question by a trusted member in his entourage:
“Why on earth would you hire someone who knows nothing about the industry?”
Often we make the mistake of trying to correlate the template of a past to define the value of someone in the present.
Photo by Don Quarles.
We forget that the darkness does not eclipse the light – it defines it .
Just like not wanting to lose my balance on skates, the presence of vulnerability in our lives can bring our most brilliant light to shine.
And when exactly are we most vulnerable?
I would agree with Montgomery – when we are learning something new.
For it is both in the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat that we truly learn and thus truly live.
Conversely it stands to reason that it is when we stop placing ourselves in a position to learn, that we more rapidly move toward death
I got the gig in the industry I had “no experience in” and my mandate was a judged a success by all.
Despite it being later in my career, I attribute this entirely to 2 things:
1) I was enthralled by the learning
2) I wanted to show that advisor how quickly I could learn!
Neither of which could have been achieved if I had not been willing to embrace the vulnerability.