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September 2005
Success Harmony Newsletter


We are a society enamored with magic pills. We get sick, we expect a doctor to hand us the red pill that will make us better. We are having financial troubles, we look for a get-rich-quick scheme. We want to improve our golf game, we look for the most sophisticated set of clubs and equipment to use, believing that the tools will make us into Tiger Woods overnight.

In the wilderness of the South African bush on our honeymoon a year ago, I learned that it is the person with the tool that matters, not the tool itself. In our time there, we were constantly amazed with the abilities of our guides to spot and identify wildlife. We may have been driving at 40 mph in the dark just after sunset, seeing nothing with our untrained Western eyes, chatting with the guide. All of a sudden, the guide would stop the car, reach out on a branch next to the car, and pick up a tiny chameleon. I thought that chameleons were designed to escape detection - but they had nothing on these guides. Day by day, we were growing more in awe with the ability and knowledge of these people.

Then I heard something in a conversation with a guide that really made me think. Khimbini, a local, worked with the Singita lodge we stayed at as our last safari stop. I had asked him questions about the training process and challenges he may have experienced over time. He spoke a little about the process and said that much of the training involved sending a new recruit out in the bush on his or her own, to walk for miles and miles to learn the wildlife park. I jokingly said, "of course, they get a big gun to take, don't they?". Khimbini's response surprised me. "No, actually. If people are given a gun too soon, they are likely to misuse it. They are actually safer without it at first because they need to learn about the sights and sounds of the bush without relying on the gun." His response reminded me of something I heard once from a direct marketing expert, Dan Kennedy. He said, "At the start of a business, it's better for people to be strapped for cash. That way, they learn to be creative. When people have money when they start a business, they are bound to waste it while they don't know what they are doing." Robert Kiyosaki, in his best-selling "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" series makes essentially the same point when he makes a case for learning entrepreneurship and financial investing savvy.

What is the difference between having a tool, having tried it a few times, or having a lifetime of experience in using it? The difference is in what becomes instinctual can be relied on in times of need. Khimbini told us of a time his group was tracking a couple of mating lions. The driver parked the truck at a spot close to where the lions had been seen. Khimbini and the other tracker were going to track the lion on foot first, then take the Land Rover closer for the benefit of the tourists. Khimbini got out of the car and, before he had the chance to take the rifle out of the car, a male lion materialized three feet in front of him. The lion had been in the middle of mating season and his testosterone levels and aggressiveness were at their extreme. Khimbini froze and assessed his options. He knew what he always learned to do in the face of a large predator. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Moving away would be prey behavior. Moving forward would be challenging the predator. Doing nothing confuses the predator. Sure, Khimbini has gone through this concept a number of times before, but never this close-up, and never while faced with a testosterone-filled raging King of the Jungle. Khimbini said that the face-off may have lasted about three minutes and felt like an eternity. Eventually, the lion did turn away and leave. Khimbini said that he got back in the car and his legs completely gave out from underneath him.

I don't know about you, but I would not have had the same ability to withstand a face-off like this. I may have heard the suggestion not to move, but I don't know that I would have followed through. I may have thought I can grab for the gun. I may have thought I can get back in the car quickly enough. And I would have been my greatest enemy. Once, I heard it said about firefighters that the seasoned veterans make better judgments about which burning stairs they do or don't take. Rookie firefighters haven't yet developed their instincts through experience. How about the statistics that show that crime victims with guns are more likely to get injured with their own weapon than the attacker, or that lifetime poor people with multi-million lottery winnings tend to be back to being dirt-poor within a year of winning all that money? Again, there is nothing wrong with the tools. There simply needs to be more experience with the tool before it can be trusted.

So what? Why do we care? Most of us won't meet a raging lion on testosterone on our way to work. Most of us won't need to make decisions about which burning staircase to take. But all of us have weak, blind spots that trip us up on the way to our personal or professional success. Being aware of these helps us put in the foundation to overcome the blind spot. For example, if I didn't learn about positive relationships from my own family and I notice that I tend to push people away by being needy, or I overpower by being jealous or dramatic, it's a good guess that this will continue until I train myself differently. How can I do that? Don't get upset, get curious. What are the triggers? Specific situations? When I am stressed? When the other person is stressed? When I am aware of what triggers me, I can begin to learn. I can ask other people what they would do in that kind of a situation.

The point is to expand and practice with alternative choices that may be available to me. I can sit down by myself and brainstorm on what I may want to do differently. Then try it, especially in situations that are not terribly important. For example, if I tend to be aggressive, I may notice a beginning of road rage when another driver cuts me off. Ultimately, that driver is really not that important to the success of my life so why not practice on this situation? Would I normally give him the one-fingered wave? Would I normally yell out vulgarities? What could I do differently? Think of a joke for a myself? Put it in perspective by realizing two seconds lost won't make much difference? The more I do this in unimportant situations, the better equipped I get by keeping my cool in situations that really do matter - my spouse who had booby-trapped something for me trip over on my middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom, or the boss who had again stolen my brilliant idea and claims it to be his own.

All the best with standing still in the face of your raging lions!


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"With more success, comes greater problems along with greater ability to solve them."
Mark Victor Hansen

"Mastery is not something that strikes in an instant, like a thunderbolt,
but a gathering power that moves steadily through time, like the weather."

John Champlin Gardner, Jr.

"Be ready when opportunity comes. Luck is the time when preparation
and opportunity meet."

Roy D. Chapin, Jr.





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© 2002 Pavla Michaela Polcarova, CPR Coaching Services, Vancouver, BC, Canada