Years ago a teacher assigned a one-page paper on a tool of our choice, asking us to explore the dichotomy of its use. I chose to write about a knife, but after I handed it in my teacher didn’t want to accept it. He gave me the “I know you can do better” speech, extending the deadline until after the summer.
At first, I was frustrated because I thought it was “good enough” and now I’d have something hanging over my head for a couple of months. Yet I thought I had plenty of time. The procrastinator in me had already kicked in, and by the end of the summer I still didn’t have a paper. So I sat with the topic and dove in, much more deeply than I had expected to. I was surprised how much I enjoyed my research, how fascinating I found the root of human invention that had ultimately shaped civilization. By studying the history of knives through many different cultures, I discovered how complex and nuanced a simple object can be. A knife can be a useful tool to make food, clothing, shoes, and other necessities, but also functions as a deadly weapon.
So now, from the perspective of time, I see how important my teacher’s challenge was to ignite me to reach a higher level in my creative writing. I feel so lucky that he pushed me to improve my work. In the end, I fired myself up and really enjoyed the outcome. Seeing his exhilaration after he read the paper showed me that he was truly surprised.
Today we fill the role of that teacher; we send our clients home with a challenge of “rewriting” their lifestyles. Many of them think what they have is “good enough,” but we are there to take them out of this comfort zone. There’s always a way to improve. Without progress there’s no spiritual survival, you always have to be on a mission to do better. Even more so as you age, you have to engage and reach out into new territories just to maintain what you’ve achieved.
We are very lucky if we have those people in our environment who will challenge us to discover what we are made out of. They awaken our curiosity and once again we’re interested and have renewed energy to pursue excellence.
The old year is now ending, and many people are making new year’s resolutions. Jerzy and I recently saw a sign outside a yoga studio that said: “Take the 30-day Challenge!” Some people will say there’s nothing wrong with this, that at least people will be engaging in something physical for a few weeks, but we both felt that this was an insult to yoga. The yogic tradition is not a “30-day fix” but a lifelong pursuit. Anything worthwhile requires you to challenge yourself throughout your life so that you don’t just drift or sleep through your existence. Take a moment to send some appreciation to the people who are your guardians of quality—your doctor, your partner, your coach, your teacher—whoever inspires you to excel. You can also thank your inner master for helping you aspire to always be improving.
Happy New Year and warm wishes for a dynamite 2018!