Maybe you aren’t cursed by urgency. I am, and so was a student.
I was dismayed to find that the wonderful writing of this promising student was riddled with unattributed quotes. Plagiarism: it’s such an ugly, sad and troublesome word and, worse, a phenomenon to confront. Confront it I did. The student’s response was contrite and regretful. And what this awesome student offered, by way of explanation was, that they had a whole lot of work and were under a lot of pressure to get things done.
I wrote what follows to the student, and as I did I realized I was writing a powerfully critical analysis of MY past, and issuing myself an invitation for the million moments of presence I hope lie before me. Perhaps there is wisdom not only for the student, for me, but also for you – in this time which conspires against us to create hurry, haste and urgency at every turn! Here’s what I wrote:
“The one point I want to make as a much older guy to a superbly promising younger person: Be careful about being in a hurry! Pressure is an explanation, but does not excuse behavior. All of my biggest mistakes in life – from small ones (inadvertently copying the wrong person on an email, or not copying someone important) to dangerous ones (a car accident while in a frenetic hurry to get to a softball game), to the couple serious moral mistakes I regret, have stemmed from HURRY. And I see this “fierce urgency” in you. The upside of your 1st generation urge to prove yourself and give pride to your parents is DRIVE. I had and have it, as you do. I “work my ass off,” as you put it. But there is a wicked side to my urgency to prove myself that has caused me to betray my best self. For example, I have compromised my cherished inclusiveness, as I have made hasty decisions without asking for a partner’s input. I have sacrificed my kindness, when I have felt I must make my point and jumped on someone verbally – too often a sibling or other close family member. And perhaps worst of all, I have sometimes even betrayed my integrity, when I have ignored the “still small voice” that says, “hang on,” and I instead rushed to fix some potentially embarrassing or painful problem.
“So, my coaching [I could see by this point that I was coaching ME as much as the student] is two-fold:
“NOTICE the hurry. You did such a tremendous job at sorting through the offer from that company. It was a big decision and you deliberated and got advice; your reward was wisdom and likely avoiding a whole lot of pain down that road. Follow that best self of yours, X. Watch when there is urgency and see if you can calmly ask: Is this really urgent?!
“Second, see if you can in that moment assert to yourself that YOU HAVE NOTHING TO PROVE. This is life’s hardest lesson! For the driven, there is an urgency. As I have unpacked my fierce urgency and fierce ambition, over decades now, I think it comes from a sense of lack: I must prove something, and I’ve wondered: To whom? My deceased dad? To his bosses who made him feel “less than?” To his parents who were immigrants and were made to feel like outsiders? Must I prove that I am fully the insider who has arrived and proven the American dream? To my parents who spread their love among 7 of us, but perhaps left me (and all the others) a little insecure about our comparative worth? To “God” who took my baby brother from his crib (and therefore must be a dangerous, judging god)? I don’t really know what the source of “the need to prove” is. Probably all of the above.
“A thousand times in life I have had to – or been able to – say: It’s a mystery, but I am good, and I have nothing to prove. I do create. I will create. I love doing good and doing well and being recognized when I do. But I don’t NEED to prove it. I can create out of my blessed wealth and health, rather than out of some panicked fear that I am deficient and have something to prove. I don’t know if this makes sense to you. It is probably the greatest wisdom of my life, and I am as much teaching it back to me, as I am preaching it to you from on high. You ARE a good person, X. And you WILL do great things – as you live [the personal philosophy you have written about in your final paper].”
The student will live as he will live. For my part, (1) I’m watching for urgency, (2) Breathing deeper and slower, and (3) Affirming that whatever the seeming hurry or dangerous consequences, (4) I’m okay, and (5) I’m best when I
Lead myself to and with my best self!