Reflecting on priorities of family & work
My kids and I are super excited as the new season of American Ninja Warrior (ANW) has started up again. Not only is this a sign of summer fast approaching, but it’s really, really great TV. For those of you unfamiliar with ANW, it is a series of progressively harder and harder obstacle courses that rely on speed, strength, flexibility, endurance, agility, and mental fortitude. Check out what has now become the most famous and inspiring ANW run – the first woman, Kacy Catanzaro, (my daughter’s favorite) to ever complete the regional course.
I was an early adopter of Ninja Warrior, the Japanese version of the show, and have been watching the American counterpart since the beginning, several seasons ago. My kids got on board with me last year and looked forward to every week of the season last year and now this one. I love ANW for its entertainment value and that it presents amazing lessons for kids and adults on family, life, and work.
1. Dare to do the impossible. No American has ever conquered the entire obstacle course (named Mt. Midoriyama). Fewer than 5 have completed it across the world. Even so, athletes from all walks of life step up to the challenge. Our world is made a better place when people dare to attempt the impossible. I think about Marie Curie winning the Nobel Prize for experiments with radiation, Chuck Yeager breaking the speed of sound, or Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. All of these individuals challenged conventional wisdom and pushed us light-years ahead. As Americans we love to dream about doing the impossible and are pushed by stories of inspiration. While ANW competitors are not changing the world, they could be inspiring others to dare to take their own moonshot.
2. It’s about the journey, not just the destination. Even though no American has succeeded yet, all of the athletes are successful in one way or another. The show does a great job of profiling their backgrounds (think Bob Costas with Olympic athletes) and shares the challenges each of them have had to overcome – diseases, homelessness, loss of loved ones, catastrophic injuries, et. al. There was a journey to get to where they are and their journey is more important than actually “winning”. If these people we watch on ANW can overcome what they have had to, we, too, can talk on the challenges we have in life.
3. Learn from failure and bounce back. When it is not about the destination, failure is more of a learning tool than a stopping point. Having watched 6 full seasons, you see numerous participants who got really close in one season, trained for 364 days, and then slipped on the first obstacle the following season. While they were disappointed for sure, they would use that as motivation for the next season. Imagine working for a single event for 364 days and having it all go wrong in 12 seconds. While I’ve never worked that long for that short of an event, I have worked months for a test in college or for a musical performance only to screw it up on the day of. I’m sure my kids will do the same and while they will be disappointed and frustrated, I want them to be able to channel those emotions to learn from it and move forward.
4. Take advantage of your strengths, work to improve your weaknesses. Part of learning from failure is examining your strengths and weaknesses. Some ANW athletes have gymnastics backgrounds with great flexibility. Others are rock climbers with super grip-strength. Part of the background stories talk about how each athlete would work to improve on what they were weakest on – how they dedicated hours a week to gain new capabilities and strengthen latent ones. Part of the intrigue of ANW is that is multi-disciplinary – just like the work world. If people try to specialize on one aspect of work, they will get pigeon-holed and have few opportunities for advancement and mobility. Meanwhile, it’s still important to hone those specializations; while not ignoring other areas one needs to improve. The founders of NextSpace, a co-working space, have chronicled the importance of both hyper-specialists and super-generalists in their book, “The Naked Economy“. Workers today need to be either the best at a super-specific tasks and/or excellent at many different ones. The more someone works on their strengths, while nurturing other areas, the more marketable they are in today’s economy.
5. Create a supportive community. The final thing I love about ANW is the supportive community they have all created for themselves. This comes in two forms. Firstly, the athletes are super supportive of each other. They form cooperative training clubs, strategize with each other before and during the event, and cheer each other on as they compete (in a sincere way). They console each other in defeat and celebrate together in moments of victory. A second supportive community they form is with their families. Families are almost always there, once again consoling and celebrating at the appropriate times. Families also must support the intense training schedule, usually on top of a full-time job. Without a supportive family and I’m sure an extended family as well, competing would not be possible. This is one of the areas we miss at the most in work – I’m fortunate to work in a very supportive environment where my best is expected, and I’m supported to get provide that. I’ve worked in places where this was not the case and not only made the job harder, but much less enjoyable and less satisfying.
I hope someone does conquer Mt. Midoriyama this year. Even if no one does, I’m sure my kids and I will be able to take lots of lessons and gain lots of inspiration from those who try.