Monday, November 27, 2017

Life and Other Full Contact Sports

As an I-O psychologist specializing in teamwork and leadership in extreme environments (e.g. outer space, healthcare), I've spent an insanely large portion of my time reading about, debating, and defining grit, determination, perseverance, and resilience. My wife would say I've expounded ad nauseam on the minute variations in these near-synonyms with a less-than-entertaining obssesive scientific curiosity. (Note: I can also use words like they're going out of style soon.)

My professional preoccupations and my amateur athletic forays into team sports like Rugby have taught me that it is easiest to maintain confidence and sportsmanship when you're winning. It's even still pretty easy when your losing epic battles but believe you'll win the war. The real grit comes in when there is no doubt you're going to lose, when you have to politely keep trying despite the 11th straw that broke the camel's back being heaped on your head, when you have to sing and dance in the freezing cold to keep your soul alive in a Nazi concentration camp of unfairness (ala Viktor Frankl or Primo Levi or Dietrich Bonhoeffer). And even if you manage that kind of grit, then the brutal need for resilience to survive the survivor-guilt and emotional fall-out post-events might still kill you or your kindness (e.g. see the perils of returning from a year on the International Space Station).

This all isn't to say that my challenges and extenuating circumstances have been especially awful or particularly unusual. They are the stuff that all of our lives are made up of: living out of our home while our house is repaired after flooding during Harvey, the death of a good friend, the death of my sweet mother-in-law, unexpected work contracts, hiring new employees, having a novel published, a car recall, an infection, a sprained ankle, a lost wallet know what I mean. We all have excuses, even good ones; but it's like my grandfather used to say, "Excuses are like assholes. We all have them and they all stink." 

I failed Nanowrimo 2017 because I chose to let my challenges and extenuating circumstances take priority. The point here is why. Why did I do that? Why does it matter?

Grit and resilience, those animals of perseverance are extremely complex and unbelievably messy. Taming them requires a lot of quality self-care be done and be done first. First, I must be kind to myself, so that I can be kind to others or there is no point in perseverance. Rude perseverance is dishonorable in that it does too much harm for too little return. 
As a respectable statesman and third-rate poet, once wrote, “Life is mostly froth and bubble, Two things stand like stone. Kindness in another's trouble, Courage in your own.” (― Adam Lindsay Gordon)
I will lose Nanowrimo 2017, but I make great stone per Gordon's advice. There is nothing wrong with writing in December. I chose to let other things take priority so that I, and my support network, can live to try again. 
As Cherry-Gerrard concluded at the end of The Worst Journey in the World, "And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore.... If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin's egg. " 
Mostly what matters, is that I just don't quit exploring. I keep writing. All I want are those penguin eggs, the knowledge of how to write these stories well. I will do whatever I have to do to make another, the next, one more author-expedition into writing fiction possible.

My Nanowrimo 2017 failure is ultimately just a weather delay.
The Penguins are Out There, just like the Truth.

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