Learning To Appreciate The Shoulders We're Standing On
"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." - Isaac Newton
Why is it that appreciation sometimes only comes after we lose something (or about to)? Or after a break?
What many of us fail to recognize and appreciate is how much of our goodness and prosperity is a result of those who came before us, leaders around us, and the systems driving our life and work. We benefit greatly from so many external factors, many of which are out of our control.
Americans are standing on the shoulders of so many generations of people. Most of our prosperity, direct and indirect, has little to do with us. The founders and many others who sacrificed along the way to build and protect our country's foundation are significant contributors.
If we work hard and smart here and now we have the opportunity to maximize flourishing, but this still comes from the advantages we've inherited.
What's The Value We Create For Others?
This appreciation has been something I’ve watched my clients understand. On one occasion a client decided to manage their marketing on their own. We went through a process of documenting and training to set them up to manage it without me, on somewhat shaky relational waters.
A few months after going off on their own, they realized the actual challenge of doing so. While it had come easily to me, because of how practiced I was, it was no easy task. It was at this point they chose to hand back responsibility for these marketing efforts so they could focus on what they were best at. When we re-engaged working together there was a new level of appreciation and respect and the engagement evolved for the better.
And this has happened multiple times with clients, as breaks provide an opportunity to ascribe value to what we no longer have.
Contrast Is The Greatest Catalyst For Growth
We have something, and then we don't. It's this contrast that not only gives us the knowledge of difference, but also a personal experience that changes us from within (when we embrace the lesson). Breaks in our activity with work help us appreciate what we bring to the table, and it provides visibility into the lost value when it goes away.
Imagine for a moment you took a break from all technology. No electricity, natural gas, or any resource that helps you live each and every day in comfort and success.
Dr. Ellie Sattler from the first Jurassic Park film makes this point well in her monologue to John Hammond when he talks about regaining control of the now out-of-control dinosaur park.
"You never had control, that's the illusion! I was overwhelmed by the power of this place. But I made a mistake, too, I didn't have enough respect for that power and it's out now. The only thing that matters now are the people we love. Alan and Lex and Tim. John, they're out there where people are dying." - Dr. Ellie Sattler
In a moment when the power goes out, we all realize the shoulders we're standing on. And what we see and create from these benefits is far beyond any one of us. It's astounding.
How Do We Cultivate An Appreciation Of These Shoulders?
Taking breaks (willingly or forced) is a way to see how we benefit from others and how little we control of our own destiny. Another way to understand and appreciate these shoulders is simply to write it down. Here are several that come to mind for me.
Joomla: This website is built on the open-source (and free) CMS software Joomla. Built with hundreds of thousands of volunteer hours, I get to run my website and blog for free, outside my hosting and domain costs.
- Virtual Mentors: In a previous post, I shared how seven men impacted my life from a distance. I benefited from their writing, podcasts, videos, and other shared resources. Without their insight and influence, mostly given for free, I would not be where I am today.
- Upbringing Community: Without my parents, extended family and the wonderful community I experienced first-hand growing up, my life could have easily ended up in a tragic and terrible way.
- Freelancing Clients: We recently paid off our Kia Sedona minivan and this month shifted our efforts towards accelerating our student loan debt payoff. Without my numerous clients, this would not have been possible.
I could go on and on about the shoulders I'm standing on. The benefits I've received is profound. And from it, I see a bright future and many opportunities. It's exciting.
But I also appreciate and recognize there are no guarantees, and me reaching and experiencing these wonderful benefits has little to do with my efforts and very much to do with the generosity of so many others.
Writing it down gives me pause to recognize and humble myself. It also motivates me to steward this privilege with reverence.
What about you? Whose shoulders are you standing on?
Explore Additional Resources On The Topic: Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants
- In this episode of Freakonomics, they explore how much the free market in America and the world benefits from the governments of their respective nations. Maybe more credit is due to the external agents of entrepreneurship.
- Explore the history of the phrase and its many contemporary references on Wikipedia.