By: Jason L. Van Dyke, Esq.
Among the more unfortunate side-effects of aging is the number of people that have come to me looking for advice on things other than the law. There was a time in my life when I thought that I would enjoy being routinely asked for my take on things. Now that it has started to happen, I have realized that it is often an extraordinarily humbling experience. I look back on my own (numerous) mistakes in life and feel unqualified to give advice to anyone on such matters. It was Socrates who once said, “The only thing I know is that I know nothing,” and the older I get, the more I see the wisdom in this simple and oft-cited quote. With that having been said, I have been asked to come away from my more educational and satirical pieces for the purpose of writing something more inspiring for the next generation of warriors – which is why the focus of this article is on mindset.
The truth is that there is nothing that anyone can learn from me that they are incapable of learning from somebody else who is better and more qualified to teach that particular subject. This is not just true of me; it is true of everyone – which is why it’s important to banish a “zero-defect mentality” from your mind. That simple task is particularly difficult to learn because it involves unlearning a behavior that most of us have been taught since kindergarten: To avoid making mistakes. In using rewards and punishments (grades) to impose a zero-defect mentality, schools stifle creativity and make learning a miserable experience. It has been nearly twenty years since I graduated high school, and I have learned that the honor students are those who ended up the unhappiest. It’s entirely unsurprising: They expected and received perfection from themselves academically, and were shocked to learn that academic success does not necessarily translate into real world success. I know this because I AM that person – which is now a demon that lives inside of me.
The abolition of the zero-defect mindset is a difficult topic to explain in words. It should not be confused for a lackadaisical attitude toward mistakes, but rather, a willingness to risk making a mistake for a greater educational reward. In Brazilian jiu-jitsu, our instructor often tells us before a sparring session that we will either win or we will learn. This is very wise. Floyd Mayweather has an undefeated boxing record, but he certainly wasn’t born a great boxer. I can’t begin to imagine how many times he must have gotten the shit knocked out of him in the gym before he earned the title of the best pound-for-pound fighter in boxing. Ty Murray certainly ate plenty of dirt sandwiches on his way to becoming a champion bull rider. For that matter, nobody reading this article can honestly say that they were the world’s greatest lover on the night they lost their virginity.
The path to learning any skill is filled with mistakes. The trick is first to avoid making really big and stupid mistakes by applying common sense (understanding also that drugs, alcohol, and women all have a tendency to impair a man’s common sense), and then learning from the minor mistakes that you do make so as to avoid repeating them or escalating to the big ones. In many cases, the mistakes themselves are not the problem. It’s the attitude of the person making the mistake. I often see this in clients suffering from some sort of drug addiction. It’s impossible for me to help a drug or alcohol addict who is unwilling to admit to the existence of a problem. A person unwilling to risk mistakes or accept the mistakes they make becomes untrainable. They also tend to be extraordinarily dull people to hang out with.
Although I rarely feel that I am qualified to give advice to anyone, I do appreciate people who ask for advice because it demonstrates to me that they have an attitude that is conducive to learning. If they did not already have that attitude, they probably wouldn’t ask for the advice in the first place (except, perhaps, to validate what they already think they know). With that having been said, I think it’s important for men to understand that nobody has all of the answers. Advice is something that ought to be considered, but then combined with common sense and a person’s own life experiences to devise a solution to a problem – not a license to avoid creativity. I respect the man that tries and fails when trying something new and creative. He’s not a loser; he’s just another person among many who made a mistake (and thus, continuing to learn). People have become so politically correct and timid in 2017 that boldness is in short supply. We need more of it.
Life is like a fight. It doesn’t pay to be a quitter in a fight. Among both fighters and non-fighters, success is rarely measured by how long someone remains at the top, but rather, how someone is able to bounce back once they hit bottom. You’re going to get hit. There is no way to fight a good fight or live a fulfilling life without getting hit. Sometimes, you’re going to go down when you get hit. At the end of the day, the winner is not necessarily the better fighter – it’s the one who has the mindset to pick his ass up off the mat and hit back even harder. It’s the one who is the least lazy and who is the most willing to both learn and continue to learn. Bottomline: it’s the fighter with the most heart. Uhuru!
Author: Jason L. Van Dyke, Esq.