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Hustle or Haste?


Nature is unconcerned with silly notions of hustle or haste

Sunday is a self-imposed deadline to meet my goal of writing a blogpost a week, and this week, I missed it. Being a professor involves a lot of writing, it certainly isn’t the first time that I’ve missed a deadline. Sometimes it’s totally legit, there may be more pressing tasks to attend to. Other times I may imagine that I have too many things to do and allow myself to procrastinate and avoid. Generally speaking, with this blog, I’ve had to work to whittle down the ideas I want to share, inspiration has been readily available. But the past week was different, and the inspiration wasn’t there and even though I was conscious of my goal and had the privilege to give it time, I didn’t. I knew better than to force myself into writing something out urgency or panic.

This morning, I finally dived into Angeles Arrien’s Four-Fold Way: Walking the Paths of the Warrior, Teacher, Healer, and Visionary. The past year has presented two significant synchronicities with this work, the first being a weekend retreat with Jamy Faust based very closely on Arrien’s work, with Jamy’s creative genius for bringing ideas to life. The second being the work of Bill Plotkin, whom I’ve mentioned often and who inspired me to pay close attention to the mythical archetypes.

Books I like often impact me in one of two ways, either I find them fun and can’t put them down, or I find them intense and I can only read a few pages at time because the ideas are bursting out and I don’t want to gloss over a single juicy bit of wisdom. The Four-Fold Way is the second type, I only got through about 10 pages in an hour of reading because I was pausing and integrating so much. Perfect time to go for a brisk walk in the woods to let things percolate.

After a brief and intriguing introduction, the book begins by discussing the path of the Warrior, which is steeped in modern notions of leadership. Arrien referenced Thomas Cleary’s “Zen Lessons: The Art of Leadership” to tap into an important skill of leadership, knowing when to take action and when not to. Cleary is a prolific translator and interpreter of Zen literature, whom I’ve been unfamiliar with, but he’s made it to my high-priority reading list just from the snippet Arrien shared. Cleary offers the Zen wisdom of the three “don’ts” of leadership, namely: when there is too much to do, don’t be afraid; when there is nothing to do, don’t be hasty; and don’t talk of opinions of right and wrong.

It was that second one that jumped out at me this morning, when there is nothing to do, don’t be hasty. Of course, these days everything leads back to the covid-19 pandemic. Recently I’ve been communicating with colleagues about a non-profit we steward, and a big topic of our discussion has revolved around “what to do”. There was a clear tension between the members about when and how we could resume efforts to fulfill our mission. I’d been stewing on the question about what to do, and this concern collided with the second don’t of leadership. As I thought about what I wanted to communicate to my colleagues, I realized how important this aspect is, not just for people in charge of organizations, but for everyone, because we’re all in charge of ourselves.

I used the word hustle in the title of this post to contrast with haste. I’m thinking of hustle as a quality exhibited by people who get things done [I just heard my high school wrestling coach in my head, yelling HUSTLE as we slowly prepared the gym for practice]. People who hustle don’t hesitate when opportunities pop up and they aren’t deterred by obstacles. Hustle is an admirable quality for a leader, and it speaks to that first don’t, when there is too much to do, don’t panic. Successful hustle requires one to refrain from being afraid or panicking and creating chaos.

The other side of the spectrum from hustle-panic is patience-haste. The notion, when there is nothing to do, is so apt these days. I interpret it immediately in several ways, one is just literally, for example, “there’s nothing to do because our business is shutdown”. More subtly, there may be nothing to do, because doing isn’t being called for, but rather being is the missing element. Our discomfort with patience, and all of the rewards we’ve gotten for hustling, can make it hard not to rely on hustle as our go-to strategy. The results though, when used in the wrong context, may be hasty action, just when we need to move slowly and deliberately, or perhaps not to move at all.

If your reaction to this is an intuitive alarm that I’m suggesting we do nothing, and this makes you anxious, then I’m writing straight to you ;)

It’s hard to be good at both, hustling and patience. The Zen wisdom draws our attention to being mindful of these qualities and to use them judiciously. Often times, this sets up a battle within ourselves, as we all have both hustle and patience within us. It also creates tension in social groups as different individuals are wanting to draw from hustle or patience simultaneously and that’s probably impossible to achieve harmoniously. Being aware of this dynamic can be a big step towards navigating challenges in life, and particularly this very unfamiliar challenge of the pandemic where so many of us are being tasked with having nothing to do.

As with my previous post, I want to acknowledge and thank all of the individuals who are working their asses off keeping us fed, lit, informed, and giving us so many other life-sustaining gifts. Thank you for your hustle!

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