My friend and coach, Bill Rentz has been talking with me for years about the wisdom of being in a state of constant celebration. Bill’s rationale for this seemingly rose-colored outlook is grounded in a mix of frontiersman’s stoicism and existentialist perspective on the sheer unlikelihood of being alive at all. Together with our friend Paul Janke, a retired computer scientist genius who now devotes his free time to studying paleontology, geology, astrophysics, and human migration, Bill has evolved the view that every moment we live on the planet is a gift, which could easily be taken away by any number of cosmic events or terrestrial disasters. These include being struck by an asteroid as has happened many times in earth’s history; or being scorched by a mega-eruption from the Yellowstone volcano, which is about due to repeat it’s 1 to 3 million year cycle, or starved in the long winter that would follow. Or we could be wiped out by a pandemic, as happens every few centuries, most recently in 1918. And of course there is the possibility that we will do ourselves in with a nuclear war or some other environmental disaster.
As I have participated in these conversations, sometimes with a scotch in my hand sitting by a river in South Dakota, I have come to appreciate the choice involved in being optimistic and grateful for the life I have. This includes the knowledge that in living in this era, in the United States, being born a white male into an upper middle class family, with no birth defects or serious disorders, I hit the lottery. The effect of this perspective up to recently has been to give me a generally optimistic outlook on my life and a fast recovery time from setbacks. This alone would be great!
In the last few weeks, I have started to recognize another important benefit from maintaining a perspective of constant celebration: faster learning. It came to me as I was reviewing a consulting engagement that had gone pretty well. In the course of talking it through with Bill, I realized that I have a habit of minimizing my contributions to a successful outcome, robbing myself of the sense of accomplishment I could claim. It also occurred to me that this habit of thinking (remember, I am the Thought Partner!) makes it almost certain that I will miss important feedback that would help me integrate value-adding skills as well as opportunities to improve. Somehow, I developed a habit of thought that has me focus on what’s not working rather than what is working. At first blush this even seems like a conservative strategy. On a second look, however, it now seems like a blind spot that slows down the integration of new information and makes it less likely that I will achieve the level of mastery that I aspire to in my life and career. It’s also less fun.
So, here’s what I am taking into the next stage of my work: being in a state of constant celebration makes me smarter and accelerates my ability to learn from my experiences. Every day that I am not hit by an asteroid, blown up by a volcano or struck down by a killer virus is a chance to celebrate the ridiculously rich life I have. Try it on! It works!