On a couple of different occasions over the last few weeks I’ve been speaking to friends and family about people we know whose ambition is palpable. They want what our view of success looks like and they are outwardly motivated and loud enough to ask for it, whether this means creating the kinds of relationships that propel them to greater heights or loudly stating their own success.
Part of me admires these people. To be what I would see as brazen in going after what you want is not an inherently wrong thing to do. In fact, it’s entirely commendable. But as is entirely part of my nature, I can’t help but look at the missing pieces.
Just today, I was listening to Susan Cain’s now famous TED talk on the power of introverts as part of an internal work training program I’m doing. In it, she mentions the switch in the early 20th century for a North American tendency to admire the man of contemplation to the shift to admiring the man of action (obviously, it was men because women were too busy fainting from restrictive clothing). This shift in the pattern on who got the limelight heralded in by the self-help books that lauded charismatic salespeople. Hence, the man of contemplation was driven to the fringes of society, relegated largely to ivory towers and quiet laboratories.
Our almost pathological need to measure action and momentum is leaving us in some ways, much worse off. It drives action for action sake. I’d venture that it also contributes to the many mental health issues that continue to surface in our personal lives. After all, if you feel compelled never to sit down and think and to always act, how do you recalibrate? How do you synthesize what you know to create new solutions and perspectives?
Are we giving people enough time to think? For me, the answer is a resounding no. We don’t. We encourage people to fill their days with movement. Then, everyone falls into bed exhausted and does it again the next day.
When we give people the benefit of thinking, of the time to think, the solutions we get back are, well, thoughtful. They aren’t hurried along because they need to happen yesterday. They consider more aspects than what’s currently on the table. We aren’t driving the process externally, we’re growing it internally. As individuals and within groups, having the chance to turn over ideas, to sleep on them for a day, gives us the benefit of so much more perspective than we’d ever know was possible
In my work, like the work of many others, I use two major skills: management and creativity. One skill gathers, collates, synthesizes, researches and coordinates. The other messages, connects, sparks. The bridge between these two skills is time. Time to think. I need time to take what I have, tease it apart, turn it on its head and find new ways of presenting it.
Thought and thinking lies at the very heart of human activity. It’s through contemplation that we have our greatest science, literature, art, politics, philosophy. Thought is what has created great leaders.
Action is a very necessary part of the world. It’s how things get done around here. It’s what literally keeps us ticking along. But we have a vastly sophisticated mechanism that helps us take the best actions. And so it behooves us to pay attention to the thinkers. They’re not the loudest people there, or even the ones driven by action. They are the ones that will take the space to amplify what works and perhaps to start the first spark that leads us to ignite.
Some things to think about:
How do you maximize your tiny, short life by Neil Paricha
Hannah Arendt on the Life of the Mind on Brainpickings
This lovely little poem by Ame Dyckman