Strength and Cereal

I was staying at a Marriott where a client had placed me, in the middle of the country somewhere. The club floor was quite nice, and I was having some hors d’oeuvres and a drink when a fellow walked in obviously straight from the health club.

He was about 40, had on shorts and a tee-shirt, had a towel draped around his neck, and he was obviously very much into body building. Aside from the inappropriateness of this half-dressed, sweaty guy amidst the tempura shrimp and Caesar salad, he was hard not too look at. Huge, well-defined muscles rippled. He grabbed a couple of bottles of water and left, clearly very pleased with himself by his perspiring entrance and exit. He swaggered more than walked.

The next morning, at breakfast in the club, he was already there when I arrived. He had on a business suit, but you could still see the evidence of intense body work. His arms didn’t touch his sides, but hung next to him in slight arcs like a gunfighter in a shootout, and he walked with a peculiar gait. He didn’t so much move his head to look right and left as move his entire upper torso.

Then, at this Marriott, somewhere not far from the Mississippi, occurred one of my epiphanies. The guy was loading cereal into his bowl when he dropped the spoon. And, guess what? He couldn’t pick it up. He made a half-hearted attempt, as though knowing what the inevitable outcome would be, and then nudged the spoon with his foot under a table. He could not sufficiently bend or stoop. He had no flexibility.

He was muscle-bound. He was so “strong” that he couldn’t lift a spoon.

The strength we all need is the ability to forge success in our lives, work, and relationships. An excess in any one part of our lives is almost always going to be dysfunctional, in that it will limit other, important parts of our lives. It’s a shame so many colleges have abandoned liberal arts educations, because what we need is a liberal arts approach to our lives.

We need to be very good at a lot of things, not superb at one thing and mediocre at everything else. Of course, if you want to play first violin at the symphony, you had better be superb at it, but not at the cost of relationships and a holistic life. (Read the biographies of people who were superb in one, narrow field, such as Vince Lombardi in football, and you find lousy parents, insensitive mates, boring peers, and people who are never personally satisfied.)

Being “strong” means being able to do what’s necessary for success, not having the most muscles or the most profound profile. You have to be able to eat your own cereal.

© Alan Weiss 2007. All rights reserved.


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