“The nature of successful strategy is like the flow of water. Water runs away from the high ground and gravitates to the lower; avoiding the challenges and finding the opportunities…” Sun Tzu 772-476 BC
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but those who are most responsive to change.” Charles Darwin 1809-1882
In this special ‘Success Secrets’ series we are looking at the hidden gems of wisdom that are often overlooked or misunderstood when the Challenging Waves of Life disrupt our Life Strategy to Live The Endless Summer. In this article I want to have a look at the very powerful and practical words of Sun Tzu – encouraging us to ‘be like water’ in order to be successful.
Sun Tzu was a respected Chinese general who 2500 years ago wrote a famous series of manuscripts called “The Art of War” which in essence was not so much about warfare but about the deeper issues of human conflict and how to overcome it and maintain peace and prosperity. Needless to say, wisdom on how to manage human conflicts and pursue the goals of peace and prosperity is highly relevant to anyone pursuing a Life Strategy to both make a positive difference in the world and live their dreams!
The Hidden Power of Water
There are three major strands of advice that Sun Tzu offers us in his book The Art of War. 1.) Make the goal of living peacefully a priority and avoid all unnecessary conflicts; 2.) Be both self-aware and constantly open to learning more about the needs and perspectives of others; and 3.) Be flexible and adapt to change when facing adversity or in sudden unexpected opportunity. It is this last point that I would like to consider in more depth when looking at an excerpt from Chapter 6:
“As such, a successful strategy has no fixed array or disposition, just like water, which is constantly changing its shape…”
“The nature of successful strategy is like the flow of water. Water runs away from the high ground and gravitates to the lower; avoiding the challenges and finding the opportunities…”
Clearly Sun Tzu has a lot of good things to say about the role of Water when it comes to successful strategy. For us, Water is an excellent medium to understand successful Life Strategy for a number of reasons:
Firstly, water is both strong and flexible. So strong, it can cut metal and stone. Through constant application in a concentrated force, water can cut through stone and saltwater can destroy metal. In applying this to our lives we can see how being consistent and persistently applying ourselves to pursuing goals over the long-term can lead to success and achievement when others have long since given up or their short burst of excessive effort has left them burned out and unable to continue. As Tolstoy said: “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”
Secondly, water is flexible and can adapt to changes in the environment effortlessly and through being able to adapt to change yet stay true to its underlying form. When the rain drops fall, water naturally regroups into pools and puddles eventually becoming streams and rivers. In the same way we can flexibly adapt and change to adversity and eventually find ways to regroup and continue pursuing our underlying hopes and dreams.
People who are flexible and patient can sometimes be mistaken for being weak and duplicitous (deceptive). However, water is neither weak nor deceptive and is transparent – clear in its purest form. The ‘murky’ water is created not by water but rather the impurities within it and so it is true of people – there is only power and potential for success in applying the virtues of Patience, Persistence and Flexibility with the morality or ethics of the goals being pursued determining how clear or murky the water is!
Be Like Water: Work, Life & Everyday Hassles
If Water represents the ability to be Patient, Flexible and Persistent when it comes to pursuing our Life Strategy to Live our Dreams then ‘Becoming Like Water’ amidst the Daily Hassles of Work and Life will be an extremely successful strategy over the long-term. When faced with challenges and problems at work – be it workload issues, difficult co-workers or uncertainty and change – becoming more flexible and adapting to the circumstances will decrease the risk of both conflict and distress, and as time progresses and further change occurs, your persistent efforts at managing your workload or persevering with difficult relationships will yield amazing results!
How about Parenting and Family Hassles? ‘Becoming like water’ may be about adapting your parenting style to be more influencing and less confrontational with older children or teens. When planning family time and activities together becoming like water may be about ‘losing the battle’ but ultimately ‘winning the war’ where you place less emphasis on the specific activities you want to do and more emphasis on the time and quality of family interactions.
What about those of us lucky enough to be in the midst of travelling to amazing destinations? Becoming like water is a prerequisite to deal with all the minor hassles, delays and unforeseen problems of international travel or spending time in remote locations without getting stressed out and anxious and ruining the otherwise amazing experiences we are having.
Be Like Water: Your Next Steps
Take some time out now and find a quiet space to reflect on the following three questions:
- How can you become more like Water when facing Challenging Waves of Life?
- How can you apply both the strength and flexibility of Water to the current challenges you are facing in Work, Life and the Daily Hassles you face?
- How can being like Water enable you to transcend these difficulties and move forward with your Life Strategy to live your Endless Summer?
Grab a notepad or journal and write down a list of 1.) the areas of your life where you need to become more like water; and 2.) the specific actions points you need to implement to become more patient, flexible and persistent in overcoming the challenges you face so you can live your dreams!
Ride the Waves of Life!
The Stress Surfer
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