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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!
I lead a frontline leader development coaching program. I had literally just hung up from a call with a coach, concerned that her “coachee” is so overwhelmed with putting out fires, he can not/will not focus on his own professional development. I encouraged her to have that very real, open, raw conversation when they meet later this week. We hung up, and within moments, this came across my screen. The timing couldn’t have been better!
Thanks for sharing this. I wonder if the young supervisor will be able to see his options.
Dan, this is a typically thoughtful engagement by you with this student. I think the part about proving yourself is something we all face. I think this is sort of on the same track, but I recently ecnountered something similar. Something I was the public face of didn’t go well. I had little to do with the planning, I didn’t own the event, I was just to show-up and be the face of it. I received critical feedback on the event, and my initial reaction was to be defensive about it. And I had to stop myself because there really was no reason to be defensive because in giving the critical feedback the person actually said “I feel bad for you being put in that position” yet even with that I felt the need to defend it. I’m not really sure why that was, but it’s probably related to “proving” myself.
If I tracked my less-than-best-self behaviors, I suspect the (hidden) motive of “proving myself” was frequently a central causal factor. Awareness creates better choices.
Great piece, Dan. Like you, my “I was in a hurry” explanation is something I have used like a “Get out of jail free” card throughout my life, and I’m trying not to put myself and therefore the people I love and work with in that position anymore.
Some jail time has proven transformative for great historical figures, Mike. Time to quit using that card? ☺
Dan, I fully agree with your view that we commit most of the mistakes when we are in so-called hurry. Again most of the time, we are in hurry, are self assumed. We assume that if we are late even for a minute, it may have serious impact or repercussions without actually even giving it a thought. Most of the situations can we solved if we take the first step – Is this really urgent?!
Your comment struck me as equally insightful and funny! What is it about us that if we are a bit late – or God forbid! – miss something, we think the world will come to a screeching halt, or more honestly, that people will think we are a certain disaster?!! There’s a kind of humility involved in slowing down, isn’t there? Whether it means letting someone know you’re going to be late, or even not come, and taking that “huge” risk that people will judge us for it.
One could quickly retort: Yes, but you SHOULD WORRY if you’re late, but we’re talking about most of us who are quite conscientious.