Monday, August 01, 2011

The View from my Bicycle [COLUMN]

Balls or Bullshit? - by Nick van der Leek

Over the past week, from two different sources I've seen demonstrations that show how what we see is sometimes bullshit. There's an excuse for all of us when that happens, call it bad wiring. The amusing thing is even when shown that what we perceive is wrong, we cannot see it differently. Watch this video to see what I'm jabbering on about.

Far more pernicious, of course, are our own personal delusions. Sometimes people are literally bullshitters. Sometimes it's not others, it's us. For example, we might be selling a story that we're working harder than anyone else, we're going for the gold medal, but then we end up with the bronze. Take Cameron van der Burgh, I interviewed him a few weeks earlier. At the time he was a world champion breastroker. Now, alas, no longer. What's happened since then? He has been on TV and in magazines, and perhaps he will have to carefully examine whether he wants to continue on the Ryk Route (win a medal, swing it in everyone's face and schmooze with schlebs)or try to go back to being an authentic champion. In other words, grow back some balls.

I like Phelp's humility. He hates coming second, and is not scared to show it. He also doesn't find excuses. You either work hard enough, or you don't. The same applies across the board. Luck is a factor, but if you haven't got yourself ready for a certain level of performance, no matter how lucky or unlucky you get, it's not going to matter.

Now most of us are not Olympic swimmers, but it is useful to apply this psychology to our own lives. Sometimes, especially when you want something badly enough, you have to be cruel to be kind. Sometimes that means recognising an addiction, or a bad habit, or some other weakness. Recognise it, then do something about it. In nature, if you fail to respond to or adapt to a particular change, you die. In the world, you may not die, but you will fail. To stop procrastinating (bullshitting) requires high levels of no nonsense assertiveness. Get honest. On the other end of the spectrum, is perfectionism. Perfectionism attempts to do EVERYTHING right. Perfectionism is a necessary evil for success, but left unchecked it is also a sure path to making ourselves and others miserable.

In short, we need the balls to recognise and call ourselves on our own bullshit, but we also have to discern what level of perfection works...for ourselves, and others. That recipe is not an easy one to discover, in ourselves, and even harder, to maintain. The problem with perfectionism is that it needs to be balanced. Too little, and you're going nowhere. Too much and you're holding the controls far too tightly, and you're either going to stall or burn out the engines (crashing in either case). What then is the ingredient that keeps us sensible? Humility. I'm afraid it doesn't mix well with either success or vanity. Hard work, in service to a meaningful goal (beyond merely our own edification) keeps us humble. And humility keeps us happy.

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