Yoda: Luke! You must complete the training.
Luke Skywalker: I can’t keep the vision out of my head. They’re my friends. I’ve gotta help them.
Yoda: You must not go!
Luke: And sacrifice Han and Leia?
Yoda: If you honor what they fight for, yes!
Obi-Wan: If you choose to face Vader, you will do it alone. I cannot interfere.
Luke: I understand. R2, fire up the converters.
Obi-Wan: Luke. Don’t give in to hate. That leads to the Dark Side.
Yoda: Strong is Vader. Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.
Luke: I will and I’ll return. I promise. [flies off with X-Wing]
Do you remember this scene from the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back? (1980) The young Luke Skywalker finds himself at a crossroads, faced with the hero’s eternal dilemma: stay and complete his training, or rush off (before his education is complete) to try and save his friends. As you can see above, Luke chooses to leave Master Yoda’s tutelage well before fully mastering his Jedi skills, hurrying off to battle with Darth Vader before he’s actually up to the challenge. As a result, let’s just say that Luke has his lunch (and his hand) handed to him on a platter.
Although we have no Death Stars to destroy back here on planet Earth, no black-clad, heavy-breathing villains to vanquish, we nevertheless find ourselves continually in predicaments similar to that of Luke’s. Time and again, we hurdle ourselves into competition prematurely, often well before acquiring full proficiency at our desired skill, technique or art. And what happens? Repeatedly, we fail to achieve our greatest potential, our highest level of excellence.
I recall a similar situation a few years back when I first took up volleyball. On my first day out there, an experienced player took me aside and helped me learn the basics of bumping and setting. Looking back, I wish I had insisted on my friend giving me even more drills and skills practice before ever letting me set foot on the court. But that’s not how it worked out, of course. I insisted on jumping right into a game, anticipating the giddy, competitive high, the adrenaline rush that I’d always felt when playing other ball sports. The result, of course, was that I never completely learned how to play the game of volleyball—at least not properly. Not only did my less-than-optimal form eventually lead to shoulder and back issues, but I experienced a high degree of emotional stress and anxiety along the way. After all, my perfectly-understandable rookie mistakes were costing my team points, and my hyper-competitive teammates weren’t appreciating it! The shame…the humiliation. Not only were my muscles mis-learning the basic skills of the game but my cellular memory was absorbing the negative, self-directed, catabolic feelings and emotions associated with my mistakes. And here’s the scary thing: whenever I’ve made similar mistakes again – often years later — those same unhappy, stressed-out emotions have come right back to me. Seemingly the body remembers everything—feelings and all!
So what to do about this? I suggest 3 easy steps to increase overall excellence and performance in nearly every endeavor, both at home and at work, namely:
Patiently hone your skills before jumping into competition. As enticing as it may seem to leap right into the fray, resist the temptation. Lay down your base skills first. Learn as much as you can at the feet of your Yoda while the opportunity presents itself. Take your time and learn each step completely before moving on to the next.
Develop perseverance. Sometimes you’re just not “feeling the joy”, especially when progress is slow. Nevertheless, keep on “going through the motions.” Each time you go out and practice, you etch and integrate new knowledge and abilities into your cellular memory.
Love your game. Whether its volleyball, Jedi training or the latest version of PowerPoint, develop a passion for what you’re doing. Be intensely curious about your practice. With love, passion and curiosity comes self-motivation. And with increasing mastery comes joy, satisfaction and self-esteem — completely independent of competition.
We all crave immediate gratification. Of course we do. We can’t help it. Our fast-paced, competitive culture urges us to buy that new, tasty candy bar at the grocery check-out counter…purchase that new, flashy iPOD with all the bells and whistles. Jump into the game before you’re ready. Move quick! Don’t wait! Imagine, however, what might be possible in life if we just slowed down and concentrated on becoming a master at something …anything…with no rush to compete, no urgency to strut our stuff for extrinsic rewards. How would this attitude transform your workplace productivity? Your hobbies? Your relationships? Everything!
Luke: You want the impossible.[Yoda uses the Force to levitate Luke’s X-Wing out of the bog.]
Luke: I don’t… I don’t believe it!
Yoda: That is why you fail.
With thanks to Brett Zeller, author of Evolutionary Education: Moving Beyond Our Competitive Compulsion, Wingspan Press, 2009