Career Calling

February 19, 2012

Sabbath, February 19, 2012

Filed under: Sabbath — claycerny @ 8:12 pm
Tags: , , , ,

[On Sundays, this blog ponders work and life in “Sabbath.”]

The Blindness of Looking Forward and Backward

Over the last week, two stories have dominated the media: the emergence of Jeremy Lin and the death of Whitney Houston.  What struck me about both stories is our culture’s inability to consider something as it is now, not as it was or will be. Houston’s death was wrapped in language of nostalgia and sentimentality.  Lin’s success was matter of statistical forecasting about how good this player would become (based on a sample of less than 10 games).  One commentator shamed himself by saying Lin would be better than Michael Jordan.

What if people looked at both of these events in a more balanced way? Houston’s death was sad, but is it tragic?  Her production has been limited over the last 15 years. Can someone who isn’t active and productive still be considered a star performer?  Sales of her songs exploded after her death.  Why didn’t the same people appreciate and purchase her music whenHoustonwas alive?  In a similar way, Lin’s early success has been eye-popping.  But, like any young player, he needs to demonstrate consistency before being considered an all-star, much less one of the greatest players of all time.  Basketball fans (and writers) need to be patient and judge his career as it happens instead of setting unrealistic expectations that will only leave them disappointed.

What if we focused on what is happening now?  We’d be able to enjoy performances without worrying about was or will be. We would be able to deal with problems (and opportunities) as they are, not as we imagine them to be.  In my work as a career coach, I have seen too many people limit their careers and make their personal lives miserable by looking backward or forward.  They ask, “What if?”  They imagine a life that would have been so much better “if only.”  Other people look forward to changes in their lives, but they don’t know how to act now to make those changes happen.  Rather than face today, they get lost in yesterday or tomorrow. 

Walt Whitman captured the power of “now” in these words:

“There was never any more inception than there is now,

Nor any more youth or age than there is now;

And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”

Whitman challenges his readers to pay attention to the small things – leaves of grass.  Rather than live in the clichéd world of false emotion, he wanted them to see the world through their own eyes and think for themselves.  Great American thinkers from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to artists like Whitman and Mark Twain to philosophers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Dewey have all pondered the fate of the individual under pressure from society. Twain’s greatest novel Huckleberry Finn is a catalog of how people hide from reality, how they cannot face “now.”

We turn our faces and minds to the past or future because these unreal worlds let us avoid the hard questions that face us now.  Nostalgia and fantasy let us invent alternative realities to the present.  The problem with such thinking is that we never get anything done.  Whitman put it best, whatever heaven or hell we face, it is now.


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