Without an opposing team, the game would be pretty boring. (Even if your favorite team was on the field.)
Without forces that oppose the hero, stories, novels, and movies would be pretty boring.
And without at least some opposition in our daily lives, most of us would probably be in danger of turning into dull, boring people!
By “opposition” I’m talking about the problems, frustrations, bad breaks, barriers, or setbacks and even ornery folks that make it difficult to achieve our goals—whether personal or professional.
As American essayist Hamilton Wright Mabie reminds us:
“Don’t be afraid of opposition. Remember, a kite rises against, not with the wind.”
This is not to say we should go looking for problems! But we might want to look for a better way to think about them.
It’s easy to just resent and complain about a contrary circumstance, contrary problem, contrary boss, or contrary relative.
It’s easy to simply conclude that the people who disagree with us or oppose us are crazy.
It’s easy to sometimes think we could have done something great if only more things had gone our way and fewer things had gone against us.
But that’s not the path for those who are determined to make a difference.
They are the ones who see every opposition as a chance to learn something, to get sharper and stronger.
After an exciting, hard-fought game, the two teams often line up to shake hands.
Maybe at the end of a hard-fought day, we should mentally shake hands with our “opponents.”
They help us rise.
One of the messages that our culture constantly beams at us is:
“BE AFRAID. There’s danger ahead. You’ve got to protect yourself, circle the wagons, go for maximum security, play it safe.”
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with exercising a reasonable amount of precaution. But is life really best lived running scared?
Is the maximum security approach really what we need? In the face of fear, is the best approach just to numb ourselves up with alcohol or TV or routine?
Maybe what we need is a fear vaccine. In a way, this is what Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia suggests in her words to Harvard graduates:
“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you they are not big enough.”
Maybe our dreams and our challenges function like a fear vaccine: they scare us just enough to equip us to live more fully in a scary world.
Dreams and challenges give us an injection of fear that awakens rather than paralyzes. They stretch our comfort zone and they stretch us. They train us to embrace risk—rather than going for maximum numb.
The author Saul Bellow, when he received his Nobel Prize said:
“The hardest thing I’ve found is to get myself enough dream space.”
“Dream space” is what you need to create a work of art…or make your life a work of art. “Dream space” is where you look for who you are and what you want to be and what you want to do with your life—even if it scares you.
Today…you have permission to give yourself some dream space.
Edwin Markham’s little poem gives us a reminder that the most important thing we’re building in life may be ourselves:
We are all blind until we see that in the human plan
Nothing is worth the making if it doesn’t make the man.
Why build these cities glorious if man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build a world unless the builder also grows.”
This building metaphor gives us a little different way to think about our lives:
It’s a good thing to build a career, build a family, build a business, build a house, or even build a sand castle with your kids.
But it’s also good to take a quiet moment once in a while and ask: Am I getting built? What sort of person is taking shape in me?
To build a good house, you need a good design, the right materials, and the necessary skills. But Markham pushes us to ask: What are the design, materials and skills for building a quality human being? For building me?
Then, in the last line, Markham switches the metaphor to “growth.”
In Carl Sandburg’s books on the life of Lincoln, he talks about the silent years when Lincoln was working away in obscurity as a country lawyer in small towns.
But even though Lincoln was unknown, something important was happening. Sandburg sums up those years by saying that Lincoln was “growing quietly, like the corn.”
It’s this quiet, invisible work of growing—of being built—that made Lincoln who he was and empowered him to rise to the occasion when his time of testing came.
One of my favorite quotations is this one from Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Zorba is a kind of free spirit, and one day he says to his boss:
“I’ve stopped thinking about yesterday, boss, and I don’t think about tomorrow. I say to myself, ‘Zorba, what are you doing right now?’ ‘I’m working.’ ‘Then work well, Zorba.’ ‘Zorba, what are you doing now?’ ‘I’m eating.’ ‘Then eat well, Zorba.’ ‘Zorba, what are you doing now?’ ‘I’m kissing a woman.’ ‘Then kiss her well, Zorba. Don’t think about anything else. Just get on with it.’”
Reflecting on those words leads to some “What if?” questions.
What if carrying around yesterday’s baggage or tomorrow’s worries and fears is not necessary and not required.
What if we really don’t have to wait until we resolve past or future problems before we start living in the now? (The truth is, we’ll never get them all resolved, anyway.)
In fact, what if living joyfully in the present actual helps us deal better with past baggage and future fears?
(By the way, this is not about being irresponsible. We can learn from the past and plan for the future, and we should. This is about putting our weight down in the present so we don’t miss today.)
What if learning how to live in the now is our primary task? Our primary responsibility? (After all, life is only given to us one day at a time.)
In other words, what if two key questions of life are: what are you doing right now? And how much of yourself are you putting into that?