June 13, 2014

Sometimes You Win Sometimes You Learn (IV)

Good evening, and thank you for stopping by. Today is Friday the 13th, the worst day of the year. How have you been surviving so far? Well, if it's been crummy so far, hopefully your day will get a little better with today's post. Even if you're not superstitious and your day has been great, I sincerely wish that this will be the little layer of glitter on the birthday card.

This week's post is special to me because it focuses on two parts of life that this blog is dedicated to inspire: daily appreciation and learning, and growth in the face of adversity. As you'll see, I really loved Maxwell's discussion on adversity and end up quoting him a lot today, so I hope you'll feel as inspired as I am after reading it. Please leave your thoughts and reactions in the comments; I look forward to seeing what you think!
Quote of the week: "Lord, deliver me from the man who never makes a mistake, and also from the man who makes the same mistakes twice" (William Mayo).
I personally believe that Maxwell chose the most underrated word for the title of Chapter 7 in Sometimes You Win Sometimes You Learn. "Teachability." What, Maxwell? To be honest, I actually wasn't expecting this chapter to be as cool as it turned out to be. "Teachability" sort of had this connotation of a pupil getting a lecture, or a dog capable of learning new tricks--but we know that life isn't like that! But actually, Maxwell is discussing a greater, constantly moving spirit of inquisitiveness, curiosity, open-mindedness, and consideration.

Teachable people have an attitude conducive to learning, possess a beginner's mindset, take long, hard looks in the mirror, encourage others to speak into their lives, and learn something new every day (109-118). So you see, teachable people are the ones who not merely able to learn, but actively seek to discover. From Maxwell's description, I picture a society living by Aristotle's philosophy built around eudaimonia (which is translated to mean a "flourishing life"), each person finding her/his whole life's worth, growing both from his/her own experiences and others' stories. Not a single day is wasted; every occurrence is valuable. People aren't just surviving, but thriving!

To become teachable, Maxwell gives us a road map from 119-123:

  1. Prepare. John Wooden said, "When opportunity comes, it's too late to prepare." Maxwell tells us to take a breath "each morning or evening before thinking through what your day will be like and where the greatest potential opportunities lie for you to learn" (120).
  2. Contemplate. Think about what you observed, read, and experienced through the day, and analyze what you can learn from any mistakes you made, from somebody you met, or from what you talked about.
  3. Apply. It takes a lot of discipline to apply what you've learned. It's kind of like trying to find a way to use a word you've just learned in context. But those chances you get show what you've learned. 
In the previous weeks, I've just kind of picked one of the quotes from the reading to highlight as the quote of the week and let you guys digest it on your own. But I wanted to put in my two cents' worth this time because I think that this one is especially cool. Since it's so cool, here it is again!
Lord, deliver me from the man who never makes a mistake, and also from the man who makes mistakes twice."
Let's face it: Nothing teaches a lesson the way a mistake does. (What is life if not for the dichotomies of successes and failures, of love and evil, of jubilation and sorrow? You can't have one without the other, right?) William Mayo makes the point that it is okay to make mistakes--it is actually good to make mistakes here and there because that's how we grow. But it's making mistakes twice that indicates that we're doing something wrong. By following the road map above, we become fierce, unafraid of failure, and then in the wake of adversity, we will be ready to learn and discover.

Adversity. When was the last time you faced it? Perhaps you're going through it now? Well, here are some words to inspire you the next time it comes around: "Extraordinary people survive under the most terrible circumstances and then become more extraordinary because of it" (Robertson Davies).

I would like to draw out an excerpt from the book to demonstrate the effects of adversity, in Maxwell's words:

There's a story about a young woman who complained to her father about her life and how hard things were for her. The adversity of life was overwhelming her, and she wanted to give up.
     As he listened, her father filled three pots with water and brought them to a boil on the stove. Into the first he put carrot slices, into the second he put eggs, and into the third he put ground coffee beans. He let them simmer for a few minutes and then placed the carrots, eggs, and coffee before her in three containers.
     "What do you see?" he asked.
     "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.
     He asked her to feel the carrots. She picked up a piece and it squished between her fingers. He then asked her to examine an egg. She picked one up, broke the shell, and saw the hard-boiled egg inside it. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. She smiled, as she tasted its rich flavor.
     "So what does it mean?" she asked.
     "Each ingredient was subjected to the same thing--boiling water--but each reacted differently. The carrots went in hard. But after they were in the boiling water, they became soft. The egg was fragile with a thin outer shell and a liquid interior. But it became hardened. The ground coffee beans changed little. But they changed the water for the better.
     "Which are you," he asked. "When you face adversity, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?"
     Life is filled with adversity. We can be squashed by it. We can allow it to make us hard. Or we can make the best of it, improving the situation (131-132).


How can we be like the coffee? We look for the advantages of adversity by keeping these things in mind (132-142):
  1. Adversity introduces us to ourselves if we're open to it.
  2. Adversity is a better teacher than success if we want to learn from it. 
  3. Adversity opens doors for new opportunities if we want to learn from it.
  4. Adversity can signal a coming positive transition if we respond correctly to it.
  5. Adversity brings profit as well as pain if we expect it and plan for it. 
  6. Adversity writes our story and if our response is right, the story will be good.
In the wake of adversity, it is so easy to want to retreat, to want to go hide and mend the wounds. But we have the choice to keep going. But not to just keep going--to run right up to the adversity--and then to push straight through it and emerge back to the light stronger than ever before.

If we consider the six points above, we see that adversity is a blessing, but it is totally up to us to count it as one.
Bonus quote of the week: "Some people treat adversity as a stepping-stone, others as a tombstone" (Maxwell).
Smile on,
-Riley XO


  1. Thank you, Catalina! Reading this book has been a lot of fun so far and I'm so happy that you've been following the series. Your comments have meant a lot to me!

  2. Wow, Riley! This is my first time reading your blog, and I think it's really deep. I especially love the part of the coffee, carrots and the eggs, it really strengthens the message.

    By the way, I think your blog is really cute :D



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