I often play catch the ball with my young daughter on the staircase. One of us is usually at the top of the stairs and the other at the bottom. We use several balls throwing them back and forth between us sometimes simultaneously, and at other times we take turns throwing them to each other. While playing with her today I made a few observations that I thought were interesting and which in my mind hold valuable life lessons. I’ve shared them below.
I noticed that she was using both hands to throw the ball. When she held the ball in her right hand she produced an overhead throw but when she held it in her left hand, she tossed it into the air and used the same hand to bat it towards me. I observed this over a period and the actions were always the same.
What I learnt from that was: there are different paths to get to a destination and the fact that each person embarks on a different route does not invalidate the path taken. We’re all unique individuals so we have different points of view, way of thinking, way of life, creed and raison d'etre.
Too often we try to emulate the actions of others, copying their story which can never be ours. We should never be afraid to be ourselves - only I can be me. It is because of the willingness to be different why today we can enjoy so many inventions and innovations. It’s because someone dared to be different. It can be uncomfortable when we are perceived as different but we must bear in mind that growth doesn’t take place in comfort. There are moments when we have to be willing to swim against the tide if we are to achieve an exceptional outcome. It is not everyone who is willing to do this, but those of us who wish to fit in should never condemn those who are willing to take the risks involved in standing out.
2) Direct Action is more Impactful than a Deviated Path.
When my little girl produced a direct throw, the ball was harder to catch. On the other hand, a ball that was tossed into the air and then batted was easier to catch. When she tossed the ball into the air the ball lost momentum and as a result created less of an impact. If this were a competitive game, her opponent would score every time she produced one of these returns.
What that says to me was that we should not waste time with unnecessary deviations - we should aim instead for the target. It means that we should focus on our goals and be resolute in our endeavour to achieve our objectives.
Too many of us meander through life. We procrastinate and we give ourselves excuses as to why we can’t do it now. We talk ourselves out of taking action and so we lose momentum and consequently miss opportunities. Hesitation often ends in failure. However, failure doesn’t have to be the end in itself; for we can recover if we adopt a changed attitude and make up for lost ground. When we take decisive action we are more likely to go further faster and our chances of success are enhanced.
3) Heavyweight Beats Lightweight
We were playing with two different balls - one was a lightweight plastic ball and the other was a heavier sponge ball. She used her left hand to throw the lighter ball into the air and then batted it to me while she used her right hand to throw the heavier sponge ball to me directly. I could only imagine that she felt that she could manipulate the lighter ball more easily and so she could afford to toss it around.
What that says to me is that people treat you how they perceive you. If they feel that you are lightweight and easily manipulated they will toss you around, play with your emotions, tell you untruths and in effect disregard you. However, if they feel that you have some weight they will treat you with respect.
What constitutes weight? In my view it includes skills, common sense, connections, finance, experience and other virtues and attributes to which people are attracted. If you are lightweight and there is nothing special about you; say, for example, you are easily replaceable, full of air and has nothing to offer, you will be less appealing. It is important that we build value in ourselves, develop skills, gain knowledge and learn from other people’s experiences and know-how. It means we need to listen, read, study, update our education and be present. Each of us is endowed with talents, abilities and gifts that we are commissioned to deliver to the world. In order to do that, we need to amass some weight.
4) A Soft Answer Turns Away Wrath
When she had the softer sponge ball she held on to it for a while before throwing it. It appeared as if she was massaging the ball. On the other hand the firmer plastic ball enjoyed no such love - it was quickly tossed upwards and batted away.
What that means to me is that if people feel good around you they will accommodate you, they will enjoy being in your presence and they will open doors for you. It means that they will go out of their way to help you if necessary because they like your attitude and your general aura. If you are able to appeal to people, if you are charming and respectful, you will get more accomplished. On the other hand, if you present with a rough attitude it will mar your chances and may even close important doors.
In life we get different treatments from people based on their perception of us. It is not always fair but often perception is reality. We have to build our communication and interpersonal skills. We must learn that we can't always say how we feel; we have to respect cultural differences and tame our tongue, however difficult that may prove to be. “A soft answer turns away wrath”, and sometimes that’s what we need to do.
5) When Two Balls Collide they Head South
Another observation I made was that when two balls met in mid-air they both headed downwards. In other words, the ball that is on its way upwards is intercepted and inevitably is knocked down by the ball which is going in the opposite direction. Whether that's because of gravity or because of the collision doesn't make a difference, it is interesting that the balls never ascend, they always descend. There is one exception however, and this is it: If the ball being thrown from the bottom of the stairs is heavier and thrown at a faster pace so that it is nearer the top of the stairs when the balls collide, it is able to withstand the impact and continue its upward trajectory. However, it never takes the downward ball up with it.
What that says to me is that if you're on your way up and you meet someone who insists on pushing you down you really do need to have a lot more going for you than the person who is trying to push you down.
If you are climbing you must ensure that you have some weight (not baggage!) because you will meet those who, whether consciously or not, will create barriers to your growth and if you are lightweight you will miss out. It means that you must be prepared in terms of the skills you need, your emotional intelligence must be intact and you need a strong network and connections behind you. These are people who can provide a safety net because when two heads... rather, two balls collide, you don’t want to head south.
6) Opportunity has a Cost
When we threw the balls to each other, the aim was to catch the ball and return it. However, from time to time the balls went astray and we had to ’field’ in order to retrieve them. This required extra energy; it became tiring and made the game boring. As I did not have control of the ball being thrown to me I could not control whether it went astray or not.
What this means to me is that any time we go off track it costs us. We spend time and energy which could be used for other worthwhile activity. It also means that we cannot control other people’s actions, only our own. Stray balls can frustrate your partner. If you are working in a team a frustrated partner is not a desirable goal.
It calls for diligence, strategy and focus in order to reduce or possibly eliminate waste. As I could not control my opponent’s quality of play I was at her mercy. However I reduced the effect on me by ensuring that I was fit and able to reach for, and stop those stray balls before they sent me scrambling. It meant that I needed to ensure that I was prepared for the challenge. In life we have to prepare ourselves for challenges that we encounter. While we cannot stop every ball that is thrown at us, we can prepare to the best of our ability to counteract and manage the effects of a stray ball because missed opportunities do have a cost.
7) Keep your Eye on the Ball
During our game I was distracted by someone who was calling my name and so I was not as attentive as I should have been. I was quickly brought back in line when a ball whacked me in the head, totally disregarding my distraction.
What I learnt from this is that if I lose focus the world will not stop to cater for me. The show goes on with or without me, ready or not. It is my responsibility to be attentive at all times.
When we lose sight of the ball we are aiming for in life, we get punished for our lack of attention. We miss opportunities and end up with regrets of what could have been. There are moments when we need to call time out and those are legitimate but they must be planned if possible, and communicated to others. For example, if I am not in the mood to speak to anyone today I should not expect people to change their agenda in order to accommodate my mood swings. A Jekyll and Hyde personality is unattractive to caring people who just want to be friends.
8) It’s Not Over until Everybody Wins
When we both paid attention to our game and worked in sync we reduced the number of collisions and stray balls. The game ran smoothly, it was more enjoyable and we managed a greater number of rallies.
What this means to me is that we must be willing to collaborate. It is not always about competition, sometimes we need to work together in order to achieve more. Working in a team enables us to harness the strength of each participant and increases the chances of success.
At this time in our history when countries are forming economic blocs, companies are coming together to form large corporations and when partnering is on the increase it is easy to see why collaboration is desired. Bigger is not always better but when the competition is a heavyweight it makes sense to build mutually beneficial coalitions that will position us to paddle our boats in the increasingly treacherous waters. When we work together we can weather the storms that life throws our way, we can focus on our strengths, and we can have quality time to spend with the people or on the activities we most enjoy. As we play our part in this game called life let us remember that it’s not about winning at all costs, for it is not over until everybody wins.
The simple game that my daughter and I played during the time of lockdown really brought to life some key life lessons:
- People treat you the way they perceive you to be and often that treatment depends on your attitude your general attitude;
- It is important to make timely decisions and take decisive actions, to be intentional and not to hesitate unduly. when you're hesitate you give people a chance to pre-empt your movement and if they are so inclined they can stop you in your tracks;
- Focus on improving your repertoire - build yourself holistically so that you will have enough weight to manoeuvre the storms of life that inevitably will come your way;
- Collaboration has its place in this increasingly competitive arena and if you are able to harness and leverage the skills of others you will develop mutually beneficial partnerships that will propel you to your next level.
I hope some of the lessons I learnt while playing with my little girl on our staircase resonate with you so that you too can think about how the little things, those unremarkable moments that you experience, can provide food for thought. Let’s use the simple things to learn the big lessons of life, for the big achievements are made up of the little, often unseen efforts.