Like many of you, I grew up poor. I also grew up jealous. Every kid on the street had a better basketball than mine, a newer football, or a more expensive horn. While inside I was stirring in a pool of green, on the outside I was mocking them. Here I was with my cheap, dented trombone sitting first chair to three others below me that had shiny new instruments with expensive attachments.
I developed a chip on my shoulder early in life when it came to expensive things. I used to laugh at those that were using ALTA A1 level tennis rackets while their game was clearly C3. They had money but no game. Same thing happened as a cyclist. Here I was on my first $1,200 bike riding much better than the guy with an $8,000 custom bike. I didn’t understand why people spent so much money on tools that had features that didn’t matter at their skill level.
About 20 years ago that started to change. I was in the prime of my leadership study years – a time when I would read anything in print and took my job as a self-actualized leader very seriously. As any student of leadership would tell you, nearly all of the modern concepts have deep roots that go back in time. One of my favorite studies was of German writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Von Goethe wrote a truth so pure that it has become the backbone of my leadership philosophy.
If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain how he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.
The minute I read it, I knew I owned it. I never thought how that might apply to things other than leadership, though.
I regularly ride with various cycling clubs throughout the area. I love the days when one of the guys brings a new ride. His face is all lit up, his bike is as clean as it will ever be, and he sits taller in the saddle. All those around him ooh and aah over his beautiful new 15 lb machine.
From that moment on he will never ride as slow as he did the week before. The bike may be a bit faster or a lighter weight, but not nearly enough to justify his newfound speed. He is riding with pride. It’s likely the bike’s design is not within full reach of the talents of the new owner, but pride in his new machine will get him there quicker.
Then, one weekend I became that rider. My wife bought me a bike that was infinitely better than I am. Every week since then I have wanted to ride at the level that my bike thought I was capable of riding. I almost felt as though I was letting it down when I didn’t let the wheel-set rip up the steepest hills. So I kept working at it. It’s as if von Goethe’s truth applied to man and his tools as well.
The same thing holds to the tools in my “shop.” I am hardly a master craftsman – more like a first year apprentice. But, I have a nice shop in the basement that is constantly inviting me to come down and become better. My router dares me to make exotic joints. My miter saw taunts me with thinking I can make balanced, precision miter cuts. Most importantly, I smile every moment I am down there. I want to be the craftsman that my tool thinks that I can become.
I now realize that it was petty jealousy that drove my younger thoughts of the relationship between less-skilled man and his more capable tool. I started with the false belief that the owner didn’t realize he wasn’t that good. I no longer scoff at the B7 tennis player that has an A1 racket. He knows he’s not an A1 player – but his racket won’t let him stop trying.