“Sometimes … reaching your Element requires devising creative solutions to strong limitations. Sometimes … it means maintaining a vision in the face of vicious resistance. And sometimes … it means walking away from the life you’ve known to find an environment more suited to your growth.
“Ultimately, the question is always going to be, ‘What price are you willing to pay?’ The rewards of the Element are considerable, but reaping these rewards may mean pushing back against some stiff opposition.”
Sir Ken Robinson, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Viking, p155.
Not just throw-away advice, it seems to me, although, unfortunately it has the ring of platitude. In fact, I think all great advances, in whatever field and whatever context, were revolutionary – tending to turn things around or upside down, demanding sacrifices and causing anxiety.
What’s deceptive about Sir Ken’s words, what seems platitudinous is how easy it is to accept in hindsight. The “of course” factor is huge, as it is in all platitudes. But there is no “of course” when you are turning your world upside down, swimming up stream, making sacrifices, and causing anxiety. There is no “of course” in the moment. Still, that is what people tend to say. “Of course, it was hard. Of course, there were sacrifices. That is part of the deal.” But that belies the severity, the pain, and the difficulty experienced. The great and noble stories unto myths we pass around the family of relatives who gave up everything to follow a dream, uprooted their families to reinvent their lives, faced the fear of failure for the chance to greater success, don’t include the reality of the pain, don’t allow the experience of the anxiety and the difficulty. What we experience in stories like that is the the inspiration and the success. As if the price paid for change is somehow a little less relevant.
And it is so much easier to go with the flow, to make lemonade, to take it easy. But those aren’t the stories we tell. The story of uncle so-and-so who “was never particularly satisfied with his lot in life, but he made it work. Day in and day out he just got along, kept on. Sure, somewhere deep down he had something like passion, a dream that he always said he couldn’t remember, but what he was really good at was going with the flow, taking it easy, playing it safe.” We don’t tell that story – because success depends on adversity.
Weird, eh? Why should that be?
And great advances are always perpetrated out of necessity, not luxury or privilege. It is too hard to swim upstream – unless you have to, unless there is no other option. Think of pacific salmon that die after struggling to invent the next generation. (And listen to the inspiration in that: struggling to invent the next generation. It gives you chills. But I wonder whether if the salmon had a choice, they still do it? Would they still swim up stream?)
Looking back we say it was all worth it, but in the moment, how can we know? We can’t. In the moment, we trust. Change requires either necessity or faith – which is belief without support, believing in something despite the evidence (not purposefully believing in something that is contradicted by evidence – some people do that and that practice is perverse.) But, you don’t always need evidence to know something is true. Or right. Or apt. Or necessary. That’s intuition. And as the poet Rumi says, “There are many ways of knowing.”