What An Easy Life

I once heard someone teach, “the moment you start giving excuses, is the moment you turn over your power and ability to actually turn things around in your life.”  Here’s a wonderful story that teaches this important life lesson.

Two cousins grew up together in a small village in Southeast Asia. Both boys were the same age and came from similar backgrounds. But as they matured, small differences in their attitude toward work became more and more evident.  One cousin eventually became an advisor to the king, while the other found employment as an oarsman for the royal canoe service. One evening, as the king and his court were making their annual tour of the kingdom, the canoe was landed for the night and the oarsmen were gathered around their cooking fire. Tired, sore, and sunburned, the oarsmen grumbled as oarsmen sometimes do, with the one cousin doing most of the talking.

“What an easy life those advisors have,” complained the cousin. “We strain our bare backs in the hot sun all day long, while they sit under the canopy and talk. We can talk as easily as they! Do not we have intelligence, and wisdom and experience? We would make fine advisors to the king! And yet it is we that toil to the point of exhaustion, and they who relax in the shade!”

The cousin went on like this for several minutes, not knowing that the king, who had paused during his walk in the trees, and could hear everything the oarsman was saying. Later that night, when the whole camp was asleep, the king awakened the oarsman.

“A mysterious sound interrupted my sleep,” said the king. “Go up the hill and find out what is was.”

The oarsman obediently set off up the hill, then came back a few minutes later to report. “It is nothing of concern,” he said, “just a mother cat who gave birth to a litter of kittens.”

“What kind of cat?” asked the king. The oarsman hadn’t taken notice, so he went back up the hill, and returned a short time later.

“Siamese,” he reported.

“How many kittens?” asked the king. Once again, the cousin trekked up the hill, for he hadn’t bothered to note the size of the litter. Soon he came back to the king.

“Six,” he replied.

“How many male, and how many female?” was the king’s next question.

Another hike up the hill, and the obedient oarsman returned with the answer: “Three male, three female.”

“Very good,” said the king. “Now come with me.” The oarsman followed the king over to the sleeping advisors, where the other cousin was shaken awake. “A mysterious sound interrupted my sleep,” said the king for the second time that night. “Go up the hill and find out what it was.”

Quickly the advisor went up the hill to investigate. After several minutes, he returned and addressed the king. “It is of no concern,” he began. “There is an overturned barrel at the top of the hill. Inside a Siamese cat has given birth to a litter of six kittens: three male and three female. The cat belongs to the mayor of the local village, who apologizes for the interruption of your sleep. He would be honored if you took the pick of the litter as a royal pet.”

Based on human nature, it probably took several of these incidents before the oarsman got the picture. But did you get it? The attitude you take toward any venture directly affects your approach to it. How you approach any endeavor greatly determines your likelihood of success. And your success – or lack of it- has an equally direct effect on your attitude. It’s all tied together, and it can be a spiral staircase up, or a spiral funnel down.



263 Moves

Last week I flew to Nebraska for a speaking engagement. I had a stopover in Denver on my way back to Salt Lake City that required me to take a small aircraft—a Beach 1900 D model. Four other passengers and I climbed the stairs and took our seats on the twin-prop plane. I noticed the pilots, both probably in their twenties, both wearing very cool sunglasses, and both completely engaged for the entire hour and fifteen-minute flight.

Before now, getting from point A to point B in a plane seemed simple to me. I usually do it on a larger aircraft where the cockpit is closed. I sit down, fasten my seatbelt, have a snack, read something, maybe chat with someone, and soon I’m landing at my destination. But peeking into the cockpit this time opened my eyes to what it really takes for the people who are actually doing the getting there.

The pilots worked in tandem, constantly pushing levers, punching buttons, and adjusting dials. Like concert pianists playing an intricate duet, each would often cross over the other man’s arm. They would occasionally take out a chart or a map, some of them hand-drawn, to check their course.

Fascinated, I watched them the entire flight. I counted 263 touches (not counting all the times the captain reached for his Tupperware container of cherries). Each change was so small that I could not feel a difference in the plane’s performance. But each change was necessary to keep us safely on course.

How similar this is to life! Every day is dynamic and can be a little unpredictable, so we need our maps. We need to check where we are in relation to where we want to go and make minor yet frequent adjustments all along the way. If we have someone to help us watch for needed course corrections, even better.

After we landed, I was curious to know how many miles it is between the airport in McCook, Nebraska, and the mile high airport in Denver, Colorado, so I looked it up. And guess what. It’s 263 miles! I’m not even kidding.

How many times should each of us check our course? How many adjustments do we need?

For these pilots, those 263 tweaks happened at a rate of one every 15 to 20 seconds. But since life for most people doesn’t move quite as fast as an airliner, every mile or so should keep us on track just fine.




Marco Polo’s Clue for Christopher Columbus


Marco Polo was born in the year 1254. As a teenager, he traveled from Europe to Asia with his father and uncle. This was no small task 750 years ago. They crossed foreign lands and mountain ranges to distant and mysterious societies. Marco Polo returned to Italy after 24 years to find Venice at war with Genoa. He served on a galleon and was captured as a prisoner of war and incarcerated for one year.

While in prison, he dictated his memoirs to another prisoner, a writer named Rustichello da Pisa. The memoirs became the book known as (loosely translated) The Travels of Ser Marco Polo.

A couple hundred years after Marco Polo wrote his book, Christopher Columbus read it. Like Polo, Columbus was a sailor and adventurer. He ardently studied maps and the work of other writers and explorers. He studied the sea, sailing, cartography, and ships. By the time he was 30, he had chosen to be an ocean explorer. Ocean discovery up to that time had been south, toward Africa. Few had dared to go west, where sea monsters and an endless waterfall awaited.

He was about 40 when he was studying in the Columbian Library in Seville, Spain, and picked up the book by Marco Polo. There he found a clue so profound that he made a handwritten note in its margin. His note highlights Marco’s observation that distant lands were washed on the East by a great sea.

Columbus may have imagined himself standing on the eastern shore of that distant land, facing Spain. He probably couldn’t have known that what would become known as the Americas lay between, but as he pondered on that comment by Marco Polo, he must have realized that if Japan had a sea to the east, and Europe had a sea on the west, there was no endless waterfall. There was land. The earth must be round.

For some 3,000 years of recorded sailing history, no one had journeyed past Portugal except for the Vikings, some 500 years earlier, who had ventured as far as what is now Nova Scotia. But this clue set Columbus’s mind to believe that he could venture west, which he did in October of 1492. That pierced the curtain, and fleets of explorers followed. The next 50 years saw more than a dozen countries launching hundreds of ventures into the new world, exploring both North and South America, where today we play Marco Polo in our pools.