Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

By Jim Whitt

Psychologist William James offered this simple but extremely accurate observation about the human species, “Compared to what we ought to be, we are half awake.”

Most of us are sleep walking through life. It is only when we are provoked from our slumber that we take a look around at the new world we wake up in and ask, “Where am I and what am I doing?” That provocation most often comes in the form of adversity. Adversity is like a slap in the face. Mild adversity may only interrupt our slumber long enough to make us roll over and go back to sleep. Severe adversity or a succession of adversities may cause us to sit up, get up and do something. Therefore adversity performs a valuable function in our lives. It is a road block that forces us to detour from our regular path.

In the absence of adversity we most often choose the path of least resistance. The danger in this is that we become so comfortable that we fail to realize there is another path. This is the path of change. When presented with this option it’s easy to offer excuses of why we can’t or won’t choose the path of change. That is our choice. What’s interesting is the number of people who not only choose not to change but then criticize those who do.

As an example I offer a bit of basketball trivia. March 11, 1995 was a significant date in the history of girls high school basketball. On that date the last game of 6 on 6 girls basketball was played in the state of Oklahoma. From that date forward girls played the same 5 on 5 game that boys play. There were a number of coaches in the state that had adamantly opposed the change for years. So much so that Oklahoma was the last state to make the transition. College basketball made the switch to 5 on 5 in 1971 as well as most states at the high school level.

I remember one die-hard high school coach in Oklahoma telling me that girls were not capable of playing 5 on 5. He said they didn’t have the stamina to play the same game as the boys — even though they had been proving they could for 24 years!

The issue really wasn’t whether it was possible or impossible. The issue was the coach didn’t want to change. Change meant he had to learn a new way to coach. He would have to change everything he was doing. He would have to wake up and smell the coffee. Wouldn’t it be much easier to pass off the brave new world of girls basketball as a bad dream, roll over and go back to sleep?

In my work as a consultant, I encounter people who remind me of the coach who saw no need to change. They don’t want to change, they don’t want the organization to change, they want to do things the way they always have and they find all the reasons why they — and everyone else — should continue on the path of least resistance. They find reasons why they can’t do something even while others are doing it.

“Two roads diverged in the wood,” wrote Robert Frost. “And I, I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.” The path of least resistance is the road most traveled. If you want to go through life half awake that’s your choice. But don’t criticize those who are brewing the coffee while you sleep. They are the ones who are making a difference.

You’ll find more at www.purposeunlimited.com. You may reprint this article in your own print or electronic newsletter, but please include the following: “Reprinted from the Purpose Unlimited E-Letter: For a free subscription, go to www.PurposeUnlimited.com. Copyright © 2011 Jim Whitt Purpose Unlimited.”

Leave a Comment