In my world, history is a source of Tailwinds. When you think about it, humans have done some amazing things, under difficult and sometimes awful conditions.
Things that run through my mind:
Developing a new science or technology with only a vision and rudimentary tools.
Standing up to an establishment in the face of personal harm for the betterment of others.
Men marching hundreds of miles, in not so comfortable shoes or clothes designed to breathe existing on nutrition that makes Spam look like a delicacy, to stand in a line in an open field to fight a battle they feel is just.
Those who somehow managed to hold onto hope when it seemed there was 0% chance of a better life while interned in a concentration camp or life of slavery.
These examples of courage, intelligence and conviction were
accomplished by people with DNA very similar to ours. Because of their efforts, we now we now have a better world and broader minds. With history and a little empathy as a reference point, sometimes headwinds are put into perspective and become a little more manageable.
I said these tailwinds were not in any particular order and technically they won’t be. But for the sake of foundation, I’m going to start at the beginning. Today, I am going to acknowledge Genetics as my Tailwind.
Despite a lack of hand-eye coordination and a limited attention span, I’d say I come from pretty good stock. Both of my parents and my grandparents on my mom’s side were fully functional and cognitive well into their eighties. My dad was physically active taking daily walks, riding his bike, hiking and camping up until he had the stroke. I’m the youngest of five siblings and we’ve all been fortunate to be healthy thus far. Almost half a century into my time here, I can still run around a soccer field with some measure of aptitude, able to muscle through Julia’s 8th-grade math, keep up with Aidan’s quick wit, and my Dr. is still surprised to see me when I am in his office. These are good things.
It stems from a podcast I listened to earlier this week on Freakonomics Radio. This episode titled “Why Is My Life So Hard?” was centered on a paper the guests published called “The Headwinds/Tailwinds Asymmetry: An Availability Bias In Assessments Of Barriers And Blessings.” In the paper, they study why everyone tends to believe their road is more difficult than others. This is something I’ve noticed and pondered before. Obviously, these dudes have wondered the same thing and figured out a way to get paid for an answer. Color me jealous.
We all do it in one way or another. It’s natural. Some common examples were “Why you think your parents were tougher on you than your siblings,” “Why both sides of the political aisle are convinced the deck is stacked against them,” “Why our profession is more demanding than others” etc. The tendency is to notice the obstacles (headwinds) without paying attention to strengths or positives (tailwinds). Even if we do notice the tailwind, appreciation is fleeting. One analogy they mentioned that resonated was a running with a strong wind in your face. When heading into the wind, it’s the bane of your existence. After finally turning around, and the wind is at your back, the appreciation lasts for only a moment until thought turns to the next hill that’s in your way.
Eventually, they got to the point which I will now as well. The people they find are the most balanced and successful are those that continually show gratitude to the tailwinds. Showing gratitude, more specifically, documenting the good fortune that has helped you along the way, creates a symmetrical counterbalance and highlights strengths that may be underappreciated. The context can be anything, but it needs to be specific. It can’t be just “I appreciate my health.” This claim might be true but what specifically do you appreciate about it? Same thing goes for people. You can’t just appreciate a person, what is it about them or what did they do that you appreciate? If you want to double down, they suggest letting the person know. Besides emotional vulnerability, what’s the harm in letting someone know they made a positive impact? For some reason, we rarely do this enough.
Let’s be honest; I have it harder than any of you. I’m kidding of course. At my core, I am well aware that I am extremely fortunate in more ways than I can count. That being said, I am not above contradicting myself and admitting that, I sometimes lose sight of my tailwinds and it seems like I’m swimming uphill. If you are with me, let me hear you say, “Go ahead with your hypocritical self Jack!!!”
Taking all this into consideration, I thought I’d conduct a little experiment. I am taking on a challenge with a friend of mine to acknowledge one tailwind every day for 30 days. To make it stick, we decided it needs to be in a public forum. I will probably use this blog. I’ve been told I can be a bit long winded with the words. This will be great practice in constructing short, concise, deeply profound, impactful, one thought posts. We’ll see how that works….
To be clear; what this is not:
With the exception of my girls dominating the CYO U-14 Soccer season, 2016 was a very difficult year for several reasons. This 30-day effort is not a cry for help or an effort to recover from a tumultuous downslide. I’m fine. I just had an idea and thought I’d see where it goes.
This exercise is not comfortable. It probably should be, but for some reason, it’s not. Which seems all the more reason to take on the challenge.
This gratitude is not to be confused with satisfaction. Appreciating something doesn’t mean I’m going to settle for mediocrity when I know it can be better.
This is not a comprehensive list, nor is it in order. I don’t have it written as of yet; I intend to go with what presents itself along the way.
This is by no means a solitary effort. If you would like to join me and potentially start my first viral movement, please feel free.
Who knows; maybe if we use social media for some positive energy, instead of venting about political headwinds, or telling me “You’re not going to believe what happens next in this video,” …… the world might just be a better place.
I’d be interested to know; what are your tailwinds and do you appreciate them?
“Dear Mom, It’s me, Mrs. John William McCarty. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? It does to me.”
Betty Leiper McCarty. June 27, 1955.
So began a letter from my mother to her mother two days after she became “Mrs. John McCarty”. That was day #2 of a marriage that would last until my father passed away 21,455 days later. She was a love-struck bride thanking her parents profusely for the “perfect wedding reception” (I’d like to state for reference that the reception was in the backyard
of my grandparent’s Connecticut farm. Lively to the point my Dad had to sneak a small keg of beer behind the barn, out of sight from my temperance preaching great-grandmother). When
she wrote that letter, she had a lifetime of experiences in front of her. She was obviously very excited about recent events and the journey ahead. By the time it concludes with detailed directions to their new home in a trailer park, it tells the story of a wide-eyed woman as uncertain as the rest of us when we reach a point in our lives when we feel like we should be grown up.
My mother passed away three weeks ago. The logical Jack keeps reminding me that she was 88 years old, and lived a life she loved. She saw her kids and grandkids grow to become happy and successful. She even played with great grandkids. That ain’t bad. As soon as I begin believing this propaganda, “Emotional Jack” stomps on the logic and argues back; “it sucks, and you know it.”
Just before she passed my siblings and I found a note she had written that listed a few things that were important to her and wanted to be kept in the family. Suddenly there were five kids in a house where we were all raised allowed to explore places we were never allowed when growing up. The things we found were amazing.
We found the letter I quoted above that my mother wrote to her parents after her wedding. It was in a yellow wooden box at the bottom of her closet. The box and a backstory were explained in her note. The box was made in 1901 by mom’s great grandfather for his daughter (my great grandmother) after her mother passed when she was very young.
A few random wedding invitations and personal letters addressed to my grandparents Frank and Hellen Leiper.
Pictures of my great grandfather, Hazzard Kenyon. (Is that the coolest great grandfather name ever or what?)
The letter approving my father’s GI Bill allowing him to go to the University of Connecticut.
A loan agreement for a Singer sewing machine. $14 per months for 24 months. A $300 sewing machine was a pretty big deal back in the 1950s.
Then there was The Dress. On the list of things my mother wanted to remain in the family was her wedding dress. Thanks to the wonders of a cedar chest, it was in perfect condition. This marked the first time any of us had seen it in person. I was showed this bit of McCarty history to my daughter Julia a few days later. Strangely, to me anyway, it was close to her size. Soon I was sitting in the living room talking to my sister when the dress
I had seen thousands of times in static pictures came to life. As the dress moved down the stairs, it began to tell it’s story. In the smile on Julia’s face, I could see Betty Leiper.
She was a giddy, young, vibrant bride elated to have married the man of her dreams and excited to take on whatever life had in store. She was young once. They all were. The items on her list were more than keepsakes. They are part of our story.
It was not a “yellow wooden box made by my great, great grandfather”. It was a gift from a broken hearted, recently widowed father who loved his daughter and wanted do something to help her cope with the loss of her mother.
They were not “random wedding invitations to my grandparents”. They were invites from people who wanted to hang with “Frank and Hellen”. The couple with five kids and lived down the street.
It wasn’t a picture of my great great grandfather Hazzard Kenyon. He was a young dude with a really cool name that was sitting for a picture. Great grandkids were the furthest thing from his mind. With a name like that, he probably went out that night
and did whatever people with badass names did in the 19th century. I don’t know what it was, but I promise it was awesome. (Note: I rarely, if ever, use the term badass, but I thought it fit here)
It wasn’t a GI Bill approval letter, it was a gateway. That approved document allowed my dad to provide a life for his wife and kids. Colleges, weddings, a house, vacations and lifetime of memories way beyond anything he or my mother had when they were growing up.
It was a sewing machine that would go on to make clothes for kids that didn’t exist, and decorations for a house they didn’t own at the time.
While the emotional side of Jack is absolutely correct in that this whole experience sucks. There is nothing I can do about it except realize this is part of my story. They went through it, and now it’s my turn. As my portion of the story continues, I will draw strength from those that help shape me and embrace the cast of characters and events that make my chapter so interesting. I have been lucky beyond words to have incredible parents in my life for almost fifty years. I will miss them, but I know a part of them resides in my kids and me every day as our story continues….
For those of you who appreciate creativity or maybe performance art, this post is exactly 1,000 words…. BOOM!
This past weekend I was skiing with my daughter Julia, a couple of her friends and their families. We don’t ski very often, maybe once a year. The girls are pretty athletic, and their progress in just this short two-day trip was pretty amazing. By mid-day on day #2 they were feeling comfortable on their skis, maybe even a little cocky, and were ready for a bit more challenge. It was time for the “Black Diamond.”
Anticipation had been building for weeks. The “Black Diamond” slopes were the toughest our Western Mayland mountain had to offer. Once the gauntlet had been thrown, and the girls called each other’s bluff, it was “go time.” We headed to the fiercely named “Odin’s Chute.” I skied to the crest of the “cliff” and watched as the girls cautiously approached. Even through their tinted goggles, I could see their eyes increase in size as they began to realize they could see the bottom but could not see the hill itself.
Being teenage girls and great friends they are usually full of chatter. At this time, however, there was silence. By now they had descended a preliminary hill and knew there was no going back. As a Coach and a Dad, this is the type of teachable moment you dream of….. The expressions on their faces said,
“I will listen to anything you have to say if it keeps me alive.”
There were no arguments, no rebuttals, just a united focus that non-verbally said… “yes, I’m listening.”
The other parents and I refilled the girls rapidly depleting reserves of confidence and assured them that they were completely capable of accomplishing what they set out to do. They just needed to take this on like they would any seemingly insurmountable task. In bite sized pieces. It was one turn at a time and to cut it into small “chunks.” By this I mean, ski across the side of the mountain, turn and ski back. With each turn, they would descend a little more. Don’t worry about the next turn, only what’s in front of you. One turn at a time. That’s exactly what they did. They took on the mountain, cut it into bite size “chunks”, accomplished their goal and claimed a well-deserved victory.
The girls know me well enough to realize I will always find a deeper meaning, and this was no exception. Throughout life, we are continually faced with projects, tasks, long-range goals, which make us shake in our boots. When we break them down and take them one turn at a time, eventually we get where we want to go. Sure we are scared. Sure we question if what we are about to do is a wise decision. We probably won’t even accomplish the goal our first attempt. But when we earn the right to pose for the picture, it’s worth a thousand words.