Under the Skin0
By Frank J. Rich
An old story by Bill Cosby has me sitting up nights thinking. As the story goes, Bill is in a bar listening to the tiresome bragging of a martial arts newbie. Deciding he’d heard enough, Bill challenged the windbag by suggesting that his feats weren’t so extraordinary, to which the karate student responded, “Oh yeah? Let’s see you do it.” Backed into a corner, Bill swaggered into a nearby alley to demonstrate his skill and will. He prepped his mind, making repeated approaches to the targeted brick perched between two stone columns. He was ready, now puffing and belting out convincing incantations.
The moment of truth arrived as Bill lifted his hand, now contorted as though at once struck with arthritis, and came down in a thunder as it hit the brick. Screaming in pain and hopping around for relief, Bill had broken nearly every bone in his hand. When asked what he was thinking in attempting something he had never done before, Bill was contrite though insightful in his answer. “Ya see, I was thinking Yes I can, but the brick was thinking No you can’t.”
The motivation to accomplish may be fundamental to the human condition, but to grow self- esteem, it must be accompanied by equal performance. Bill wanted to, but didn’t achieve his goal. It wasn’t for lack of desire, and not because he couldn’t. It was because he did not prepare adequately for his goal.
We have all been in shoes that don’t fit, a brother of sorts under the skin. The difference, too often, has been our willingness to prepare for the goal ahead. Achievement is most effectively mind and matter—in Bill’s case, muscle. It is also something else—an ability to recognize that our resources—mental toughness, passion for the task, planning, and patient pathways to success—are at hand or in need of development. If we are all achievers under the skin, are we equally equipped with the mastery of resources necessary to inform achievement?
Growth may be fundamental to humans; indeed we change 5 trillion cells daily in support of it. It is also frightening to those who perceive loss and not gain in its wake. What makes it so? The simple answer is the fear that we might lose something in the process of change. Sadly, it is usually something that has been lost already, though hidden by coping mechanisms that attempt to ease the effect of change. The resistance that follows is the unfortunate reality for most, as it was for Bill’s hand above.
Psychology tells us that we seek rationality and explanations to grow comfort with change and to avoid stress. Ontologizing, adding a physical nature to things; figuration, image creation; and personification, giving personality to abstraction, are the mechanisms of objectification, the process of making things more understandable. The system is well defined in the Hierarchy of Needs. We move cautiously up the ladder of achievement after accomplishing key steps along the way—physical needs, safety, belonging, self-esteem, and fulfillment.
Every day we are asked to perform in support of something we’ve agreed to do. And in each we form a consensus with ourselves to achieve or wait on another day to realize our desires for achievement. But too often the luxury of time is not available to us. Life and work can be insatiable masters. Performance has a common ring, much like the man walking up a narrow stairway in a dark church tower who, when reaching out to get his balance, lays hold of a rope and is startled at the clanging bells. No matter how closely we hold our methodology it is revealed in our performance.
We are all naturally endowed with desire. It’s the self-actualizing energy in each that drives us to achievement. Equally, we have natural talents and gifts. Why then, do so many spend their lives looking for something that is hidden in plain sight? Even teachers, or any that assume the mantle—friend, neighbor, mentor, sage—fail to invest more than the direction common to most, which is to point someone in the path they took to find these jewels. The subject above looked inward to find his own unique qualities, but could only identify desire. As any who have found success in a planned goal will tell you, it’s seldom enough.