Spin A Web

from the Yoga series by David Robinson

from the Yoga series by David Robinson

Quinn’s study smelled of cigarettes and books. There was always a red felt tip pen and a yellow pad for note taking or for his latest composition. Quinn didn’t type and I doubt that he ever touched a computer. He had to feel the pen move across the paper. He was a sports writer though, in truth, he was more a poet philosopher. For Quinn, sports were a path to illumination. He filled his articles with haiku, analogies to chaos theory, Michael Murphy, and George Leonard.

One day while sitting in his study, talking about athletic achievement and success, he said, “You have to cultivate your serendipity.” What a terrific phrase! Serendipity is one of those paradoxical words that imply both coincidence and destiny. So, according to Quinn’s coupling of “cultivate” with “serendipity,” we must either promote coincidences or encourage destiny. Or both.

I responded, “So, in other words, the harder you work, the luckier you get.”

“It’s more than that,” he said. “It’s much more than that. Of course you have to do your work. But you also have to share your work. You have to show up, be visible, ask lots of questions, and seek the masters in your field. You have to show what you don’t know. In fact, you have to operate from what you don’t know. There’s always a better way to make a shot or shoot a basket. To cultivate your serendipity is to never stop learning, never stop improving, never assume that you’ve got it.” He paused and then said, “What you don’t know can be an obstacle or it can be connective tissue.”

Quinn watched me take it in. I knew we were talking about more than athletic achievement. He was trying to help me. At the time, I was an accomplished introvert and was wrestling mightily with sharing my work. I had no problem painting the paintings but telling galleries about my work seemed an utter impossibility. Sharing meant I would have to talk to people. It meant I’d have to say, “This is my work and it is good work.” It meant claiming my gift beyond the thoughts and opinions of others. Quinn was teeming with blarney and always seemed at ease in a crowd though I knew even then that we shared a similar demon. He doubted his gift. He recognized my struggle because it was his struggle.

After a moment he lit a cigarette, blew the smoke and continued, “It’s like spinning a web – and the silk, the connectivity, is spun from seeking what you have yet to learn. The more you share your gift, the more you ask others what they see, the more people know about your gift, the higher the odds that a path to success will open. You have to spin the web.” I nodded my head, taking it in. I remember being daunted by what he was telling me. He leaned back in his chair, his eyes filled with mirth, and said, “Success is really about letting yourself learn; always learn.”

I nodded and stared at the floor. He took a drag on his cigarette and as he blew the smoke he added, “No one does this alone.”

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3 Responses

  1. Ah, this reminds me of a presentation given by Scott Miller at the Evolution of Psychotherapy conference. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pI8Hww1xjK4) His group studies what makes some therapists get much better client outcomes than the average. They looked at everything you might think of, including education, experience, type of therapy, quality of relationship, depth of rapport, and a number of other factors, none of which made any difference whatsoever.

    They finally found an answer in The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance by K Anders Ericsson and other. Ericsson discovered that the difference between superlative and ordinary performers in chess, music, sports, science, and other fields had to do with what they did with their time when they weren’t doing their typical activity. The ones who excelled spent significant amounts of time reviewing what they had done in recent performances, focusing particularly on what went wrong. They also spent significant time reflecting and planning changes in how they would do it differently the next time.

    When Miller started collecting information about how therapists spent their time outside of therapy, he found a very high correlation between the amount of time spent in this kind of reflection and planning, and the excellence of their results with clients.

    In other words, they retained the beginner’s attitude, no matter how long they had been practicing or how many credentials they had. They paid attention to the actual results they got, and got curious about what happened when things went wrong. Then they got creative in coming up with new approaches. As Quinn said, “To cultivate your serendipity is to never stop learning, never stop improving, never assume that you’ve got it.”


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