How do you focus your mind, control your stress and excel under pressure? How do you work through fear, overcome defeat or adapt to adversity? With practical wisdom. Human beings can turn hardship into wisdom because we are born with the capacity for resilience. Through practice we become more resilient. With resilience we take on challenges, develop skills and talents. We then live a life of purpose and joy. To realize the potential of the present, we need to heed the wisdom of the past. The aim in life is not to avoid struggles, worries or fears, but to confront them with force and passion.
Philoctetes, the great archer, was abandoned on an island for ten years while his comrades fought the Trojan War. A god told Odysseus to win the war they had to retrieve Philoctetes to help them fight. On retrieving him, Philoctetes, despite his wound and mistreatment, returned to help them win the war. The message here is – being hurt by life does not diminish our duty or obligations to others. Einstein said “There is only one road to true human greatness: the road through suffering”. Some people are made stronger by suffering. Others are defeated. The difference is resilience. Resilience is endurance with direction. You are not responsible for what happens to you. You are responsible for how you deal with what happens to you. This way we do not become victims, but pioneers. The victim blames others. The pioneer forges a rewarding new path. Aristotle said we are born with the ability to practice virtue. Practice builds habits. Our habits are our character. Virtue is something to be practiced.
The greats recognized that great people could fail and still be great. Wise people could sometimes be dumb. Honest people could lie, compassionate people could be cruel and courageous people could be cowardly. People are not great all the time, we should be forgiving of human weakness. The fruits of resilience grow slowly, through practice. Resilience is cultivated.
Beginning brings fear. Start with humility to recognize how little you know. Humility leads to an open mind and forgiveness. With that we see every person as our teacher. We then grow in wisdom. As we grow in wisdom, humility becomes evermore our guide. Wonder at what you don’t know is the source of the wisdom you might one day achieve. Joseph Campbell said “You can’t say there shouldn’t be poisonous serpents – that is the way life is. But in the field of action, if you see a poisonous serpent about to bite somebody, you kill it. That is not saying no to the serpent. That is saying no to the situation”. So let us accept what must be accepted, without letting our acceptance justify inaction. Anyone who does anything worthy, meaningful, will have critics. You can’t please everyone because many people are not pleased with themselves. People who hate something in themselves are often harshly critical of others.
Those who are excellent at their work have learned to coexist with failure. The excellent fail more often than the mediocre, they learn from every failure. Defeat can offer wisdom and motivation. A focus on happiness will not lead to excellence. A focus on excellence will, over time, lead to happiness. Epicurus said “Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance”.
I am not just a teacher with my student. I teach my student not just a set of skills, but a way of living. Find a model and do as they do. Human beings learn by imitating other human beings. Bismark said “any fool can learn from his mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others”. Not everyone can be or should be a model for you, even if they are great. There is no excellence in a vacuum. The most original people stand out by copying. Yamamoto, fashion designer, said, “Start copying what you love. Copy, copy, copy, copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself”. Salvador Dali said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing”. Beethoven copied Mozart. Picasso copied the masters of realism. Learn the habits, disciplines and habits of others. It takes humility to realize that you are not alone. It takes empathy to realize other peoples stories matter as much as yours.
Decide who you want to be. Act that way. In time, you will become the person you resolve to be. Try smiling for 15 seconds. If you are like most people, you’ll feel better. It does not transform, but it does change you.
Many adults are fearful of failure. If you are growing, you are likely failing. If you are not failing, you are not growing. As time passes the fear of failure makes people want to protect what they have accumulated. They try fewer new things. Adults tend to stake their identity on the success they have attained, while losing the very spirit that made success possible in the first place. Virtues that are not practiced die. Resilience that is not practiced weakens. Every master must still have a master. Every good teacher must still be a student. A good teacher will not only want his students to succeed; he will fear that he might fail them.
If you take responsibility for anything in your life, know that you will feel fear. Fear of embarrassment, fear of failure, fear of hurt. If you come across as a person with no fear, or anxiety, there is a good chance that person is ignorant or apathetic. Mihaly said, “It is when we act freely, for the sake of action itself rather than for ulterior motives, that we learn to become more than what we were”.
Life isn’t neat. Emerson said, “Speak what you think today in words as hard as cannon balls, and tomorrow speak in hard words again, though it contradicts everything you said today”. We’ll measure the worth of our words by how they move us to live well.
The ability to explain complicated things with clarity is a mark of mastery. Unfortunately it is sometimes those who have mastered the least who talk the most. Simplicity is easy. Clarity is earned. One of the greatest gulfs in life is between sounding good and doing good. What ultimately matters is not what we intend, but who we become and what we leave behind us. Philosophy is meant to be done, not just studied. Only be using a philosophy do you come to know it. It is practice. Heidegger said, “you can’t come to know a hammer by looking at it, or by reading about it. You have to use the hammer”.
Working hard yourself makes you more appreciative and respectful of the hard work of others. If you learn how to practice, you have learned how to learn anything. Practice gratitude daily by writing things we are grateful for. In time we will become grateful. The more you see that life can be practical, the more resilient you will become. The difference between good and exceptional is between those who sometimes practice and those who always practice. The will to train is rare and noble. Practice and purposeful repetition becomes part of our character. Knowledge matters, but our efforts too often stop at knowledge because it is easier to measure what we have told people than it is to measure how we’ve changed people.
Once you’re aware of the habit of destructive self-talk, you can, as with any habit, replace it with a new one. Positive self-talk is the same: if you make it a practice, it works. A phrase is often better than a sentence. With practice your power will be enhanced. Preparing mentally means imagining what might go wrong. Then imagine how you make it through the hardship. The naïve mind imagines effortless success. The resilient mind imagines hardship and prepares. Controlling how you breathe will almost always shape how you feel, how you think and how you react. Suffering isn’t only what we experience. It’s in how we process what we experience.
To reflect well requires some virtue. It takes courage to be attentive to and honest about your own faults. A lot of people talk too much. Especially when they are trying to learn, they ask too many questions. People need more work and less talk, less complaining. By making a habit of reflection we will build resilience. A closed mind is a product of arrogance and or fear. A closed mind protects the ego. Self-righteousness is the most self-binding. With the right reflection we learn to turn our experience into wisdom that shapes how we live. Resilient people see the world as it is. Montaigne said, “We can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge, but we cannot be wise with other men’s wisdom.”
People often stop seeking out mentors when they become adults. There are two kinds of knowledge – technical and practical. Technical knowledge can be learned by reading, not by doing. Practical knowledge is passed on only by experience. We only learn this from others. The best mentors show us how. The best mentors understand both the challenge and the person in front of them. The best mentors learn and stay humble. When the child is skillful he boasts. When the warrior has a skill, he teaches.
The first thing to learn is that your cup is empty. When we share a purpose with others, our work creates a shared connection.
Don’t do this for me – do this with me. A leader earns devotion by showing devotion. You achieve creativity, and that kind of freedom, only through devotion. The freedom to create is often the result of resilient practice. Excellence is renewed through deliberate practice.
When do you see things most vividly and love things most intensely? Often it’s when you first discover them – or when they are about to be taken away.
Categories: Book Summary
Ron Winnegrad has been a Perfumer and teacher for 46 years. As a perfumer, Ron has been able to express the world he sees through a rainbow of olfactive and emotive visions. As a teacher, Ron has helped others to see fragrance through his own multi sensorial lens.