Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. – Albert Einstein
I watched the Matrix trilogy again recently, in the stolen minutes of the day that lie between the tasks we have to do these days, and was surprised at the end to hear something I have heard for as long as I can remember. As the third film finished I was certain I heard a chant that starts “asatho ma sad gamaya” – and when I checked that was the case, it’s a disguised message that most people will not notice, and the lines of the mantra, when translated, are as follows.
“From ignorance, lead me to truth; From darkness, lead me to light; From death, lead me to immortality”
This isn’t what I want to talk about.
There is a trend at the moment on my social media timeline for people to put down the value of an academic degree, to question the value of something like an MBA, a Masters in Business Administration. And I wondered why – what was the point of this kind of attack? Did these people think that there was a better approach? Well, clearly they must do, so what are the options you have as you embark on the unforgiving journey of living the life you’ve been given?
One way is the path of work, of doing a job, a trade – something useful. That’s what most of us experience in one form or the other throughout our lives. You work, and work for something, probably working for money. Something that helps you to make a living. But, of course, we don’t spring fully formed, ready for work. Most of us need some schooling, some training, whether in formal education or through an apprenticeship of some kind.
So we have these two major modes of operation – the way of school and the way of work. Some of us found school difficult and couldn’t wait to get on and do something else. Others found it easy and carried on, doing further studies and perhaps going on to become academics. And, as we went along these paths, we were, perhaps successful, and so decided that the way we had chosen was the better way and we started to wonder why others didn’t take this path as well and felt the need to point out to them that they were on the wrong track. Entrepreneurs look down on academics and academics see the pursuit of wealth instead of knowledge as a pointless waste of time. Or perhaps they don’t – we don’t know what they’re thinking. But it’s interesting how many people are ready to criticise something they have no experience of themselves.
What should be obvious to anyone is that this distinction I’ve drawn – this idea that there are these two different paths – is clearly wrong. You can’t just have one or the other – you need both. You have to have a hunger for learning and a hunger for action – you have to do both in order to do something useful. Our ability to learn and change is what makes it possible for us to act and create.
Now the reason I went down this track of thought is because I was thinking of research and application – the idea of finding knowledge and then trying to apply it to real life problems. That’s a lot of what I try and do with this blog – I explore models and approaches with a view to trying them out and seeing if they can help improve things. In my experience, learning the theory of something first is less useful than first having to grapple with something and then start to learn the theory around it. For example, I remember studying how relays worked at University and narrowly passed exams on the subject despite never having actually seen one. I still don’t really know much about them or what they do. But, after having worked for ten years, going back and doing a business degree showed me the kind of theories that had been created to describe the experiences I was having – and I found that very useful. What’s the point of just working for four decades and never really understanding why some things worked and some things didn’t? Especially when there is a theory, a model, an approach that gives you the knowledge and understanding you need?
So I think this is a false argument. Why learn something? Because it’s useful when you know how to use and apply it. When will you know? By taking action and failing and realizing you need to know more to get it right. It doesn’t matter where you start – maybe just enough theory to get you going, then a lot of work, and then back to the theory, and back again – and eventually you’ll find that having experience and knowledge is better than just having one or the other.
But if you’ve only got these two I think you’ve still only gone from making a one-legged stool to a two-legged one. There’s something missing, something I think I’m going to call practice. If work is what you do for money and theory is what you learn, then practice is what you do for you. This is the thing that helps you to integrate the theory you learn and the work you do to create your own approach to the world, the thing that brings out something that only you can offer. And this is not something I can approach with words or descriptions – it’s a state of mind, a state of being that comes by thinking and acting without wanting.
As I thought of this concept and wondered how to get it across – one approach seemed to rise up – perhaps fuelled by the Matrix. The idea of the trinity, an important, a sacred concept. And this gives us our three-legged stool. Think of it like food, like nourishment. We do work to feed our bodies. We learn theory to feed our minds. And we carry out a practice to feed our spirit. We need all three to survive – it’s not just about Maslow and his pyramid. You won’t go anywhere with a broken or failing body, mind or spirit. All three are essential and you need to take care of them.
And that brings us to the question of how to do that and why. Again, the answer is obvious. It’s to get balance – balancing these three is the secret to balancing your life. Watch anyone, ask anyone. If they are all about only one of these you can be assured that they’re failing at the others. But if they are happy, content – then the chances are that they’ve got a mix of these working for them. Something that brings in the money, something that feeds their mind and something that makes them grateful for the life they’re living.
I’m not really going to go any deeper into this right now, because it’s the kind of thing that takes time. If you don’t know this then I can’t really persuade you until the time is right. Trust me on this – balance is good. And getting the balance right between these three is going to be good for you. Maybe it’s something I’ll come back to later.
But what I want to move on to in the next post is something that I learned about in a paper the other day – something so obvious once it’s pointed out to you but never questioned or thought about if it’s not.
Let’s look at that next.