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Life Principles

“Many principles are universal.” – Sebastian Marshall, Gateless

This got me thinking of a simple question I ask myself periodically: what are the principles by which I live my life? At first, this seems easy. However, what do I really live by? When I’m facing extreme hardship, what principles come to the fore? After all, these are the true principles by which I live my life. Anyone can play nice when everything is going well. But what kind of person am I when things aren’t so rosy?

“Yet others are intangible, unintuitive, and elusive.” – Sebastian Marshall, Gateless

It’s not just that some principles are elusive. The circumstances when we apply those principles are also elusive. One of the lessons I learned from my first year at The Citadel is that the person I’d like to think of myself as and the person I actually am are not the same. Put into the crucible that is the fourth-class system, I learned quickly my idealized self was far from my actual one. 

The good news is that I learned I had goals to aim for as I attempted to better myself. The hardship of a plebe year, actually the next three as well, gave me an idea of how far away I was from most of those goals. The reality is that I’m still a good ways away from some of them. That’s okay: I can continue to move forward every day (an idea from the Hagakure). 

Have you ever stopped and asked yourself the question I asked myself again: what are the principles by which I live my life? And have you paused to think about which principles show themselves when you find yourself stressed, tired, and/or in trouble? How far are you from your ideal you? And how do you get from the person you are to the person you imagine yourself to be?

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It was a play I had seen many times before. It was also a play that I had been involved in many times in the years I played soccer. The ball comes into the goal area high in the air from the side. As a defender you go up to head the ball away as well as attempt to deny any players on the other team an opportunity to get a clear strike on the ball. You take a bump, you fall to the ground. You get back up and play on. 

But what if you don’t? What if this routine play leaves you on that ground paralyzed from the waist down? It wasn’t a particular hard hit so you have no reason to think there is anything wrong. But then you can’t move or even feel your legs. What goes through your mind at that moment? That’s what this young lady experienced:

Caroline Cashion vows to come back

When the news came through the parent forums for The Citadel (my son is a cadet, following in my footsteps), along with a link to the game recording, I took a look. It was a routine play. It wasn’t a particularly hard hit. Defenders make that play and get hit like she did at most levels of soccer. And they pop back up. But she didn’t get back up. She stayed down. 

With regards to this young lady, the medical prognosis is an optimistic one. However, it’s still a reminder that even in a routine moment, the unexpected can occur. Folks who know their days were counting down have reminded us to appreciate each moment, to not take anything for granted. This story is a reinforcement of that message. What grains of time are you letting slip through your fingers without awareness?

I was getting into the elevator and touched the rail at the back. It reminded me of a different rail in a different elevator – a memory now over 25 years old. The elevator was in the science building at Coker College. My physics and electronic classes at the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics (SCGSSM) were on the third floor and my physics professors’ offices were on the third and fourth floor. Therefore, I rode that elevator a lot when I was carrying equipment and the like up and down the floors.

The memory brought back other memories, including how much our professors invested in us. Beyond teaching us the core academics, they were always around the campus and an integral part of our lives. We were high school students at a residential high school away from our parents and they became like a second set of parents for many of us. They shared their interests beyond academics. They invited us to their homes. They showed up for our activities, even if they weren’t directly engaged in them. They checked in on us when we were having a difficult time. And they listened to us.

I am thankful that my professors at SCGSSM were so involved. I know I have achieved a lot of the successes in my life because of them. They were the definition of mentors, regardless of academic subject. For instance,one of my history professors, Dr. Carlanna Hendrick, and one of my physics instructors, Dr. Clyde Smith, taught me more about how to treat people with dignity and respect than they did their academic disciplines. Considering how much they invested in me academically, that’s saying something. Dr. Hendrick’s teaching made my later honors-level history courses in college easy. Dr. Smith’s investment is what led me to pursue a degree in physics and also meant that for the first year at The Citadel I was the physics student who had almost no physics classes because I had credit for them before stepping foot on The Citadel’s campus.

If you have the ability to mentor someone, consider how you might impact them wholly. While both Dr. Hendrick and Dr. Smith are first-rate instructors and experts in their chosen subjects, their influence of us went well beyond the academics. This was the case for the majority of our professors and we, their students, are better for it. Realize that as a mentor you can have a similar effect. Don’t just focus on the area of expertise that you’re being consulted for. Share with those you mentor. Invest in them. Believe in them. And help them grow in more ways than you can imagine.

Do you know about the JABBAWOCKEEZ? They are a dance group that have been around for some time now and are recognized as one of the best in the business. Their ability to tell a story as well as their preciseness with small movements are their trademarks. Here’s an example:

This performance consisted of a lot of new movements. Note that they’ve added splitting the group and performing the same movements to show to multiple facings to accommodate an arena as opposed to a stage. That’s an innovation. Most dance groups focus on one facing. 

In fact, they are constantly innovating. This video even shows coordinated movements for entering and exiting the performance. Think about that for a moment. How many groups actively practice for parts other than the main performance? 

Their previous movements are performed incredibly well in this performance.  That’s to be expected. However, there’s a lot of new stuff to go with the old. Those new movements are comparable in quality to their previous body of work. That takes an incredible amount of practice. These guys invest in that work to polish their innovation. I’ve never seen a performance of theirs where something new is done to less than their previous work. They improve their innovation, which always starts raw, to match their current level of performance. 

There’s a lesson in all of this: we must innovate, but we must do so with a high degree of skill. Innovation poorly performed is arguably no better, possibly even worse, than not innovating at all. 

Folks that know me know that I prefer to wear my hair in a military high and tight style. I got used to this haircut during my Citadel days and continued it while I served in the USAF. It’s “high speed, low drag,” meaning it takes almost nothing to maintain. However, I don’t wear it that way any more. This came up when I was visiting some family whom I hadn’t seen in a while and they asked why my hair was long.

Some years ago, my wife was donating her hair and the stylist remarked I should consider donating. That got me to thinking. Growing my hair out requires a little more hassle on my side, but effectively, it doesn’t cost me much more than keeping it trimmed down. Plus, it helps others as the hair is made into wigs for children and adults, depending on the organization. Most organizations provide these wigs free of charge to folks with particular situations, such as those fighting cancer. So I came to the conclusion that it’s an easy way to give back and I didn’t have a valid reason preventing me from doing so. Ever since, I’ve grown my hair out.

This has raised some questions, especially where I’ve served as a children’s or youth pastor, but that always works out for the positive. In each case I’ve explained why I grow out my hair and inevitably some of the children and youth decide to do follow through and do the same. This is the reason for my post. It takes multiple ponytails to make a wig. Therefore, hair donations are always needed. Even if you normally wear your hair short, consider growing it out to donate. Here are a couple of organizations that take hair donations and what the requirements are:

A lot of salons will handle the hair donation for you. Some will even provide the haircut for free. Definitely call around.

If you’re like me, you always have more to do than you can get done. This means some things lose. How we deal with situation makes a difference; specifically, our language makes a difference. We can either say, “I just don’t have time,” or we can be truthful and say, “It’s not a priority.”

Saying the latter reinforces that we have a choice. We are in control, for the most part, of how we spend our time. However, we often say we’re not by using the former line. We are avoiding responsibility, but by doing so we also ignore the power we have over our own circumstances.

Seth Godin contrasted two views with regards to marketing: behaviorists vs. empathists. While he wrote about it from a marketing perspective, it’s also true with respect to leadership. 

I’ve seen folks who have tried to lead purely by numbers. Numbers may tell you what folks will do the majority of the time. But they won’t tell you what one particular person may do in a situation. That’s where empathy comes in. 

Numbers help, but they aren’t enough. If you’re a leader, you have to relate well to people. You have to get to know them well enough to be able to determine what they are likely to do. This is an investment in time. Some folks don’t want to make this investment. However, I don’t think you can lead without it.