At the tender age of 20, a young but enlightened Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“The most fortunate of us, in our journey through life, frequently meet with calamities and misfortunes which may greatly afflict us; and, to fortify our minds against the attacks of these calamities and misfortunes, should be one of the principal studies and endeavours of our lives.”
In the letter to his friend John Page, Jefferson was remarking that we were never intended to have “perfect happiness,” but that we have in “our power the nearness of our approaches to it.”
Jefferson was a staunch believer in the lifelong pursuit of learning. He knew that one could not learn everything, but one could and should learn enough to be competent in all personal, professional, and especially, civil endeavors.
My Fellowship began in June with the zeal of this sentiment. However, that zeal was very focused at the outset. As I pursued my areas of focus, a wider world opened up. Like Jefferson’s enlightened statement above, the Fellowship does not start at perfection, but we have at our disposal the opportunity follow those paths to make it more perfect.
Such is lesson number one: Have a roadmap. Be certain of a few goals you wish to attain through the Fellowship. But also know that there must be room in your planning for the unexpected.
Stated another way, the Fellowship for most of us, is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore our own pursuit of happiness. This pursuit cannot be left to mere fate. “Fate is fluid. Destiny is in the hands of men.” (yes, this comes from “Man in the High Castle”). Once you begin the journey of the Fellowship, unique opportunities will be born from the expansion of your network or seemingly present themselves out of thin air. You have the privilege to decide whether pursuing these new opportunities is a good use of your Fellowship.
Recently, the Fellowship made it possible for me to attend TEDMED. TEDMED is the health and science version of the iconic TED Talks. One of the speakers, Judson Brewer, spoke about the power of mindfulness. Brewer’s quest is to get more people to be more mindful during every day actions. Specifically, he urges us to be “curiously aware in the moment.”
As I was sitting there listening to Dr. Brewer, I found myself exercising his ask – being mindful in the moment. There I was surrounded by some of the brightest minds in medicine and science. How was I going to make the best of the experience? Or was the experience the experience? Did I just want to be a sponge? Did it matter if I met anyone and actively sought to widen my network?
All of this happened in the span of about 30 seconds. But the timing could not have been more perfect. I was curiously aware of what I was experiencing at that very moment. The mindfulness exercise will be a great benefit to my approach for the next 18 months of the Fellowship.
That’s lesson number two: Be aggressively mindful in both the mundane and active moments of our life. The insights could simply apply to life generally, or they may apply to your the Fellowship. Either way, you win.
At the outset of the Fellowship there was some discussion about balance – how to balance our personal lives, our work lives, and our Fellowship lives. Wellness was a major topic during the Fellows retreat. Admittedly, I was worried about how I would manage my time. I am notoriously bad for not saying “no” to projects or constantly being on the go. How was I going to fit in time for “wellness” and all that I wanted to accomplish at work and with the Fellowship?
Fortunately, the Fellowship started off in the best way possible. I planned to attend a conference at Stanford University during the first official week of the Fellowship. It was June and my wife being a college professor, had some time to get away. My wife joined me on that trip and we got to spend some much needed time together. This set a wonderful tone and context for the Fellowship.
Upon returning from that trip, I intentionally set aside time, not just for wellness (for me, cycling and regular saunas) and Fellowship activities, but also for doing nothing. Remarkably, I found myself more productive at the day job, more present at home (mostly), and more determined with the Fellowship.
There’s lesson number three: Give yourself permission to do nothing. Use 30 minutes or three hours to simply sit and be bored. Use the time to think and reflect in any way you choose.
The last six months have taken me back nearly a decade to when I first began down the road of recovery from addiction… which reminds me of something T.S. Elliot wrote:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”