“Make Your Own Damn Luck”
This week The Grit Factory welcomes guest blogger Cyril Sack.
Cy describes himself as a enthusiastic, if rather unskilled adventure racer. After 9 years active duty in the Army, most recently with 1st Special Forces Group, Cy now continues to serve in the National Guard and work at a little online book store called Amazon. He focuses his free time on running and biking the hills of western Washington with his 2 dogs and playing in the backyard with his 2 kids.
There’s an old adage I’m quite fond of that goes something like this – “It’s what you do before the storm that determines if you make it through it“. I like to imagine 2 old English warships, out of an episode of Horatio Hornblower or Master & Commander, both caught in a terrible storm far out at sea. Both ships have daring captains, veteran crews, and the best equipment money can buy (for the 1700s, that is). Yet despite the two ships appearing to be evenly matched, the storm quickly anoints a victor. One ship not only makes it through the storm, but takes full advantage of the raging winds to actually quicken its trip across the seas. The other ship? Driftwood.
What’s the differentiating factor that lets one team actually THRIVE on the chaos while another team falls apart (pun intended)? Preparation. Team Driftwood let themselves be lulled into a false sense of security because they thought themselves too experienced and too capable to need to prepare in advance for unexpected factors. What’s the purpose in training and drilling for unlikely circumstances? We got this, we’re total pros. Except that real professionals know that resting on your laurels is the quickest way to the bottom (of the sea! Ohhhhh, we’re going to need an ice machine for all the sick burns I’m inflicting). All skills are perishable. All teams need constant refreshment of their knowledge base. No matter how smooth the sea looks, there’s always a storm somewhere farther out. The teams that win are those who know full well that the storm is coming and that it doesn’t give a damn about how experienced you are.
I recently read an article by Eric Barker about the keys to raising children who have grit. The fundamental attribute between a child who rolls up their sleeves and says “let me at ’em” and one who says “it just wasn’t meant to be” is having what’s called a growth mindset. A growth mindset is when you fundamentally believe that your abilities can be improved through your own efforts. The opposite is called a fixed mindset, where you stick you hands in your pockets, kick some rocks, and mutter “aww shucks” when things don’t turn out your way.
Individuals with a growth mindset reject the idea that whatever cards they’ve been dealt are the cards they have to play with. Via Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:
“When people are in a growth mindset they’re more willing to take on challenging tasks. They’re more engaged by mistakes or setbacks rather than discouraged. They delve into a mistake, they process it, they correct it.”
To put it more succinctly – They head INTO the storm. Growth mindset folks know that they can improve their position in life, and they realize that the path to that achievement is through trials and discomfort. By pushing themselves into areas they are unfamiliar with, they force themselves to adapt and grow. No different than muscle stimulation from lifting weights, this introduction of outside stress causes an improvement to the system.
A growth mindset is the critical first step in able to turn a bad situation into a good one. There’s another old sailing adage I love (I know, I know, I’m in the Army, I don’t know why I like sailing adages either…)
Smooth seas make for safe trips and poor sailors.
You want to be world class? Turn the bow of your ship into the dark clouds whenever you can. The crucible holds the most valuable lessons.
Is bad luck an uncontrollable aspect, always hovering over our shoulder, ready to strike? Nonsense. Think of those two ships. Both knew they would face unpredictable events like the storm. But one ship took the necessary preparations long before the storm ever reared its ugly head in order to ensure their successful encounter with it. The differences in preparation between our 2 warships wasn’t the type of preparation that comes from reviewing checklists and mock rehearsals while in the safety of a harbor (though those types of preparation are crucial building blocks). The true difference maker between Team Into The Storm and Team Driftwood was in the quality and intensity of their preparations. No half-measures will ever allow you to rise to the top of your field. To be truely growth minded, you must also accept that the effort level of your preparation must be tough in order to make you ready for the chaos ahead.
We all face luck every day in our lives. Out on a race, sometimes we get a strong trail wind and get a PR and stand on the podium. Other times we get blisters, bonk, and break our gear. But any of those unexpected circumstances can be either good luck or bad luck, because what makes the luck good or bad is entirely an internal decision making process. It’s all a matter of if you’ve got a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. So you hit a wall and can now barely walk forward? Sounds like a good time to take a break and make sure you adjust your socks and shoes because you were starting to feel some hot spots on your feet.
Luck isn’t inherently good or bad, despite how it is often portrayed.
It’s just outside factors affecting us in unpredictable ways. Whether or not that luck is good or bad is up to us. And the surest way I’ve found to make sure the majority of luck is good luck is through preparation. Fortune favors the bold, but it also favors the prepared. Those that show up to the race line with the right mindset and the right preparation are the ones who will win the day. Stop worrying about the cards you were dealt. Toss the cards aside. Flip the table over and tell everyone that now we’re playing Monopoly instead of poker.
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