Stories are powerful tools to use when you need to make a point. There is nothing like a short tale to transmit an idea or pearl of wisdom, considering that they are not only much nicer to digest than an aseptic speech on a certain topic, on top of that they are also easier to understand and remember. This applies to all stories, the veridical ones that you hear first hand from people, and those depicted in books and movies, although my favourite ones are the personal anecdotes, because when you know the subject the message become more powerful, and when it’s short it’s easier to remember too.
Something that I’ve learnt through experience is that the worst decisions make the best stories. Often they teach you what NOT to do in certain situations. I actually heard that sentence in bold from an american guy that I met in a shuriken-jutsu seminar (yes, I attend that kind of events) who told us a story about a friend of him who was on holidays in the Canary Islands and went out one night to have a peaceful drink, but somehow he ended up completely drunk in the middle of a shooting inside a brothel. You see? I bet I got your attention with this short story and you’ll remember it. And I hope that you learn what NOT to do when on holidays. Soon I may share with you more of those, but for now let’s put aside shootings in brothels and better focus in literature.
Do you have this own iconic book(s) that you loved years ago and you would like to re-read but never find the time? I’m sure that there is at least one particular book that became a milestone during your childhood or teen ages, and you always wanted to revisit, although you haven’t done it so far. Well, then I suggest you to make a gift to yourself: find this book in the storage room, in your parents home, or buy it online, but get it and read it. Now that Christmas is coming maybe is a good gift suggestion… The experience is highly advisable.
I have several of those books, which I try to read them once per decade or so. Maybe some day I’ll share my list with you. Recently, I revisited Momo (written by Michael Ende) for the 4th or 5th time, but for the first time in my thirties. And I have to say that the story took a complete different twist. This time I realised how much wisdom you get to see in Momo when you read it combining the child inside you with the adult that you are now. It is so deep that if you listen correctly you can learn from an old street sweeper the importance of the concept of mindfulness to improve performance while managing your stress at work. Even more, the old man sketches the coaching framework of defining a goal, setting the strategy to achieve it, and implement actions toward the goal. You see? I bet I just lost several readers because of the use of heavy coaching jargon.
My initial intention for this post was to talk about how to work efficiently while enjoying what you do, minimising anxiety by having in mind the end goal, but focus only in next actions. But it would be much better to express these same concepts in a tale about a likeable old road-sweeper called Beppo. This fragment from the first chapter of Momo is a much more poetic way to get the point. Never think on the whole street at once. Enjoy!
Every morning, long before daybreak, Beppo rode his squeaky old bicycle to a big depot in town. There, he and his fellow road-sweepers waited in the yard to be issued brooms and pushcarts and told which streets to sweep. Beppo enjoyed these hours before dawn, when the city was still asleep, and he did his work willingly and well. It was a useful job, and he knew it.
He swept his allotted streets slowly but steadily, drawing a deep breath before every step and every stroke of the broom. Step, breathe, sweep, breathe, step, breathe, sweep… Every so often he would pause a while, staring thoughtfully into the distance. And then he would begin again: step, breathe, sweep…
While progressing in this way, with a dirty street ahead of him and a clean one behind, he often had grand ideas. They were ideas that couldn’t easily be put into words, though – ideas as hard to define as a half-remembered scent or a colour seen in a dream. When sitting with Momo after work, he would tell her his grand ideas, and her special way of listening would loosen his tongue and bring the right words to his lips.
“You see, Momo,” he told her one day, “it’s like this. Sometimes, when you have a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept.”
He gazed silently into space before continuing. “And then you start to hurry,” he went on. “You work faster and faster, and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop – and still the street stretches away in front of you. That’s not the way to do it.”
He pondered a while. Then he said, “You must never think of the whole street at once, understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom, and the next, and the next. Nothing else.”
Again he paused for thought before adding, “That way you enjoy your work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that’s how it ought to be.”
There was another long silence. At last he went on, “And all at once, before you know it, you find you’ve swept the whole street clean, bit by bit. What’s more, you aren’t out of breath.” He nodded to himself. “That’s important, too,” he concluded.