By Kate Procter
As part of the Great Purge of 2019, I decided that I was going to listen to every CD I had and discard any that I didn’t love. I’ve been a volunteer at the Celtic Roots Festival in Goderich for about 15 years. I have a lot of CDs. One song that I really got into listening to is called Good Luck John, and recorded on Darkling and the BlueBird Jubilee by Joe Crookston. You can listen to it here https://www.riseupandsing .org/songs/good-luck-john. I like the guitar playing and I like the message. It is a story about a guy named John who has a series of events happen to him. After each, the neighbours comment on his good or bad luck, depending on the outcome of the event. After each, John just replies, “Maybe, it’s hard to say.”
I recently started reading a new book, You Are Awesome: How To Navigate Change, Wrestle With Failure, and Lead an Intentional Life by Neil Pasricha. It opens with an old Taoist fable, which, as it turns out, is the same story as Good Luck John. “A farmer had only one horse. One day, his horse ran away. His neighbours said, “I’m so sorry. This is such bad news. You must be so upset.” The man just said, “We’ll see.” A few days later, his horse came back with 20 wild horses following. The man and his son corralled all 21 horses. His neighbours said, “Congratulations! This is such good news! You must be so happy!” The man just said, “We’ll see.””
The story goes on in this way alternating between good and bad occurrences. But the farmer always responds to every event and the neighbours’ comments with “we’ll see.” Check out the song – it is more fun than reading the parable – but the message is the same. I like John’s stoicism and the way he never gets in a flap about anything that happens, good or bad.
Pasricha takes that stoicism a little bit further – “the farmer knows every end is a beginning.” He defines this as “resilience”, “a skill we now have in very short supply. Not many of us have been through famines or wars, or let’s be honest, any form of true scarcity. We have it all! And the side effect is that we no longer have the tools to handle failure or even perceived failure.”
As farmers living in Huron County, we may have a leg up in this regard, having gone through some tough times with weather, markets, general political uncertainty. However, with mental health and stress becoming a bigger issue, even amongst the most stoic of us, his book about building resilience in our rapidly changing and uncertain times offers a thought-provoking perspective.
The book is funny and interesting and offers insights into why things are the way they are from historical and cultural perspectives. But it also has some science behind it. “Life is a journey from infinite possibilities when you’re born – you can be anything, do anything, go anywhere – to zero possibilities when you die. So I’m proposing that the real game is trying to keep those options open as long as you can. Like the farmer, we need to add a “we’ll see” when life blasts us into the stratosphere or sends us screeching wildly into the ravine beside an icy road.”
One of the tools Pasricha explores with detail in the book is the concept of failure. He argues that you aren’t learning if you don’t fail. I have definitely noticed this in my own life. If you never go out beyond your comfort zone, you may have fewer failures, but you sure don’t learn much. In the same vein, if you’re too afraid of failing, you will never be brave enough to try anything new. In terms of learning, you definitely learn a lot more about how things work when they don’t work.
Another interesting observation, backed up by a study of 19,000 people published in Science magazine in 2013, is that “we all think the way things are now is the way things will continue to be.” The participants in the study, regardless of their ages or where they were in life, all believed they had undergone a lot of change in the past, but that everything would remain unchanged in the future.
Pasricha explains that the “invisible staircase” is an illustration of our life – we can see backwards – where we’ve been and what we’ve survived and accomplished. Yet we can’t see forward. We can’t predict the future and we can’t know what unknown, futuristic impact events will actually have on us. He sees failures and setbacks merely as steps taking us toward a different future. We are unable to see the next step, let alone 10 steps ahead, so a challenge or failure that occurs in this space and time can be overwhelming and seem like the end of the world. When really, it is just a step heading to the next thing.
While I am not one of those people who believe that everything happens for a reason – I think a lot of things happen for no reason at all – I do believe that most occurrences, whether good or bad, give us an opportunity to learn and to grow. How we react to the things that happen in our lives gives us a chance to contemplate, and learn, and maybe even change our story going forward. But this can’t happen if we live on autopilot, or blame everyone else for what is happening in our lives.
As 2019 draws to a close and we look forward to a new year – I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Neil Pasricha’s entertaining and inspiring book about navigating life. Or downloading it if you are following your new mantra of “less is more.” ◊