This post has been ruminating for some time now and has been inspired by conversations with my kids, some great feedback I received a few weeks ago from a fellow blogger and, believe it or not, the latest Chris Rock special on Netflix. Chris has this riff about how bullies provide an essential part of kids’ educational experience. It’s funny, of course, and like all great humor it’s 1 part exaggeration to 1 part truth. It’s an old idea that periodic bursts of stress promote the most growth. It’s the major principle underlying strength training as well the inspiration for that famous Orson Welles quote in “The Third Man”: “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace – and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
Habitual readers of this blog know that I have been dealing with 2 injuries for the last few months. As an athlete, the correct response to being injured are rehab, analyze how you injured yourself and, finally, continue to train those movements that you can safely do. In my case, I haven’t been able to do a low-bar squat for 3 months now, and have only been able to start dead-lifting again in the past few weeks. So I have spent the last few weeks refining my competition bench technique and training to a level that would not have been possible if I had to also concentrate on heavy squats and deadlifts. At the same time I’ve come to rely on, from sheer necessity, a number of accessory exercises (safety-bar squats, belt squats, glute ham raises, etc) that I should have used in my training previously but never did. Now that I am, very carefully, dead-lifting again my training is focusing on technique, technique and more technique. As I will only doing benchpress in the next competition, I can now afford focus more on improving my technique and strengthening the main-movers of the dead-lift. I’m not so focused on pulling the most weight for the next competition. Improved technique, more experience in important accessory exercises, an appreciation for prehab and mobility training and a stronger bench press – I’m not saying I want to get injured again, but it can (if you have the correct mindset) teach you some important lessons.
I’ve always said that boredom is an essential parenting tool. Yes, allow your kids to get bored or create situations (camping weekends without cell phones) that force them to rely on their creativity and curiosity. Boredom is a subliminal teacher that teaches you lessons on the sly. The smarter a person is, the lower their threshold for boredom, and that’s a good thing. If you are bored, you will be forced to provide stimulation to your brain. There is absolutely nothing wrong with kids these days besides the fact that we, their parents, allow them non-stop access to smartphones, streaming video and video games. Without a doubt, boredom is what saved my high school career and what allowed for my subsequent success in university. I grew up, not rich, in a 3rd world country in somewhat special circumstances. The phone didn’t work half the time, we didn’t have TV (even if we had, there were only 2 channels which only played a few hours) so my only forms of entertainment were sports, hanging out with friends and books. And did we ever have books – of all kinds. My mother got her doctorate at Harvard so we often her schoolmates/colleagues visiting us. So many people left behind books – all of which I devoured. History, social sciences, politics, physic, philosophy, etc. So I was not only reading these books, but was able to discuss them with my mother and her friends. It’s obvious when I describe it this way that I was learning, but it didn’t occur to me at the time. I simply had nothing else to do. Later in my high school career I shot myself in the foot scholastically with bad attitude/partying, etc – and the only thing that saved me was this base of knowledge I had accrued. My classmates were often amazed that the “less than model student” often had the answers to difficult questions. Once, I famously entered a school essay contest because the prizes were all expenses paid week-long trip to a student congress type deal in Washington, DC. We had to write about government. My essay won first prize and my buddy’s essay (which I wrote for him) won 2nd prize. Predictably we had a good time in DC as well as a few minor disciplinary problems.
The country where I grew up was, and sadly remains, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. It also has one of the strongest, most vibrant cultures I’ve ever encountered and, like Renaissance Italy, absolutely radiates creativity and “thinking outside of the box”. People are poor but find a millions forms of expression and, hopefully, a way out of their situation. I am not singing the praises of abject poverty, not by a long shot. Too much stress with no periods of respite break a person. Also, countries where poverty and boredom abound but intellectual curiosity and expression are discouraged are volatile and unstable.
Motivational speakers love to cite, to the extent that it’s become clichéd, that the Chinese word for “crisis” signifies both “danger” and “opportunity”. Some things are too good to be true as this appears to be a poorly interpreted translation. A closer translation is apparently “a point where things happen or change” which decidedly more neutral. Which I think is more logical as, in my experience, how you react to stress or obstacles is like billiards, a game of angles. If you get the angles right you in billiards, you will sink your balls while positioning yourself to sink the remainder. If your shots are just a little bit off, good luck to you. So stress or obstacles can serve stimulus for growth if managed correctly. This increased strength will set you up for further success when opportunities arise, provided you play the angles correctly.