We all have to dig…from time to time

I remember Mark Twain using a shovel as symbolism to describe the need for checking one’s conscience—seeing if it’s still there under all the inevitable compromises and accumulating weight of life. I don’t remember the exact phrase, but roughly speaking it could be stated as follows:

I handed him a shovel.

“What’s this for?”

“Your conscience. Go dig for it.”

When I first read it I chuckled at the simplicity and blunt straightforwardness of it. I liked the metaphor. Twain was being humorous, of course. But humor can be one of the best ways—via the backdoor of laughter—to communicate a simple, but sometimes resisted, truth about ourselves or others. The idea of digging deep down to find the moral and spiritual ore is an archetype of the ages. Like most everyone I know, I have to find the symbolic shovel and go excavate from time to time…I hit rock periodically, break the damn thing, and have to get another shovel. They can break easy you see, and so the digging can be tiresome and frustrating and sometimes I throw the damn shovel in the bushes and storm off.

But, like all of us, I know the digging needs to be done, has to be done, from time to time, if I’m to keep my soul and not lose my way. And so I always keep a shovel near by and try never to let life’s weight get too burdensome before I go digging and clearing out the excess around the core.

Focus on Attitude First

If you don’t follow Robert Twigger’s blog you probably should. Anyone curious about stretching their mind and body and learning more about how to excel should read his blog.

In an interesting post recently he wrote:

We worry a bit about our mental capacity, our IQs, memory, grades, skills, talents and so on but less, it seems, about our attitude. Whereas attitude is by far the biggest element in determining the success of any outing, project, work, journey.

This is a fine point we need reminding of regularly.

On the professional end, I’ve been managing in a large organization for over 20 years. I can say definitively that attitude is far more important, and far more predictive of success, than skill (most of the time) when selecting or hiring someone for a position. Sure, there are positions where being highly skilled from the get-go is more important, but in a lot of cases that’s not the case. We need a base level of skill and talent and then we can work from there.

Someone can be highly skilled and talented, but their bad attitude is toxic, combative, and creates a lot of problems for the mangers and the team. It’s not worth the trouble, believe me. Someone with a good attitude that is teachable and open to learning can be trained, improved, and coached to the level of competency you need. And because of they have a good attitude they work well with others and add value to the team. Another major side benefit is good attitudes are contagious.

On the personal end, I know, as many of you do, that I can only do the best I can with the skills, talents, and other mental capacities I currently have. I can try to improve them, as many of us work at all of our lives, and certainly we should. In fact, I find this process of learning and self development the greatest joy of life. But most of us realize, if we’re self aware, that attitude is everything ultimately. Try as we may, if our attitude sours we’re done. We can only go so far with what our mental capacities are. And the truth is some of our mental capacities may never improve.

But with a good attitude we have the emotional capacity that allows us to work and succeed within the mental capacities we have. More importantly, with a good attitude we’re resilient. We approach life and its challenges with an acceptance for who we are and a willingness to believe all will be well if we keep trying.

So I think whether it’s at work or in your personal life focus on attitude first. Once you have the right attitude you’re more likely to be able to harness the skills and talents more effectively.