Turning Old Clichs into New Maxims:
You Made Your Bed, Now Lie in It
By Richard Eyre
Note: This column appears every two weeks .with an old clich replaced by a new maxim each time. Click here to read the full introductory column.
This one was said to me, with considerable conviction, by a well-meaning business associate. I was preparing to leave the consulting firm I had helped build because I wanted to change my focus and spend more time writing.
“Let me give you a little advice that you haven’t asked for but that you sure do need,” said my older colleague. “You don’t just walk away from a profession you’ve spent years learning. You don’t try to change course in mid-stream. You’ll be starting from ground zero. You’re too old a dog to learn new tricks. You’re doing fine. You’ve invested a lot to be where you are. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”
“It’s a rut I’m in, not a bed,” I tried to explain, “and I’m not even sure I made it. It was pretty much made by circumstance and things that just happened.”
This old clich is great as long as its intent is to remind us that we need to keep commitments and to accept the consequences of our actions and choices. But when it starts to mean “Stay what you are . don’t change . don’t risk . be satisfied . you can only be what you are now,” it becomes limiting and counterproductive.
As he was advising against a career move, my colleague was advocating the low-risk status quo over the high risk of change. “You’ve made your, bed now lie in it,” was his way of saying, “Don’t leave your comfort zone.”
What he didn’t realize was that I needed to leave that comfort zone. A more useful clich for me at that point in my life was “What doesn’t move begins to rust.”
Comfort imprisons more people than prison bars do, and I knew that it was time to move on. I understood that a well-conceived change has the power to expand both the quality and quantity of our lives. Quality because life becomes more interesting (the more we’re challenged, the more awake we become). Quantity because changes seem to slow time down (compare how fast the weeks turn into years when you’re in a routine with how wonderfully long and full a week seems when you’re in a new place and experiencing new things).
Tennis has been important to me over the years because it’s the one thing I do consistently to stay in shape. Tennis also seems to serve as a metaphor for life. Like life, it is such a mental game, and attitudes have so much to do with how well we do.
For years I had been dissatisfied with my backhand. I knew it was my weakness (as did everyone that I played). It had little of the topspin or the control or the confidence of my forehand. I had tried several “adjustments” and had practiced endlessly hitting against a wall or ball machine.
One spring I decided that what I needed was not another adjustment or more practice but a whole new stroke.
I read articles, consulted a coach, and designed the heavier topspin stroke I wanted. It required a completely different grip, a different back swing, even different footwork than what I had been using for twenty years. It felt foreign, difficult, awkward, and downright insecure. But the alternative was to stay the same, to stay in my comfort zone, to fail to improve.
I finally got it to where I could hit the way I wanted to in practice or with the ball machine, but in a match it was so much easier to revert to the old stroke.
Maybe you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I would think. Maybe change really is too unpleasant, too risky, too hard. Maybe you do just have to lie in your bed once you’ve mad it.
Still, as hard as it was, I noticed that I was enjoying tennis more. It was different! I was losing some points that I used to win, but I was winning some that I used to lose – and I was progressing, I was getting better.
Teddy Roosevelt spoke with pit about the “cold and timid souls who have never known either victory or defeat” and with admiration of those “who were actually in the arena” . who try, who strive, who change.
“Multiple careers” is a notion that excites and intrigues people, but not all of them can make it happen. “Try something new” is a motto few dare to live by.
Comfort is the enemy.
Restlessness can be our ally.
The new maxim is:
GET OUT OF YOUR BED BEFORE IT GETS TOO COMFORTABLE
Life is too long and too potentially wondrous to spend in one place, in one profession, in one interest. Commitments should be kept, most particularly those to family and to God. But we should have no commitment to rut or to routine.
Next column we will take a look at a downright dangerous clich about keeping your nose to the grindstone.
2005 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.