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  • Writer's pictureKarl Walker-Finch

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

What can we mere mortals learn from elite performers across the globe?

For millions of years, evolution has been a glacial biological process, a chance mutation in a gene giving a new variant of a species a slight advantage over its competitors. For a few thousand years, an evolutionary blink of an eye, humans have developed a way of intellectual evolution wherein we inherit the knowledge passed on to us from our parents and our community. For a few decades, we have had access to knowledge from anyone and anybody in the world, allowing us to learn and grow not just from the people around us but from anybody generous enough to make their time and expertise available.

Amongst the many and varied podcasts and audiobooks that I listen to at the moment is the High Performance podcast with Jake Humphrey and Damien Hughes. I cannot recommend it highly enough and please don’t be put off by the clickbait-type name of the podcast does the content of the conversations with exceptional humans from many walks of life, in the same way that I was at first repulsed from reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People or 12 Rules for Life.

There are many common themes across the 102 episodes (at time of writing) from sports to business and politicians to gang leaders. These are themes that apply to everyone, lessons to be learned from the footballers and superstars that in the public eye, that can help us understand what it takes to be the best version of ourselves. A far from exhaustive list includes:

1. Everyone makes mistakes, the best people learn from them and are stronger afterwards. Some people regret these mistakes but the best people don’t spend their lives living with shame about their past. You are not the same person as you were when they happened and your mistakes don’t define who you are now.

2. Everyone encounters adversity, the best people are not defined by it but they embrace it and are stronger for it. They use the adversity in whatever form it has taken to give them passion and purpose.

3. It takes a lot of hard work to be the best version of ourselves. Nobody becomes a better person through apathy and lethargy. The people who make it to the very top of their game make more sacrifices and work harder than everyone else.

I try to absorb as much knowledge as I can from anywhere that fascinates me, which is basically everywhere, not through a lack of purpose but through knowing I have one. I want to fill my bag of tools and build stepping stones to a higher place. I want to take the lessons people have learned from their mistakes, embody the resilience that others have had to develop and maintain a work ethic that allows me to be the best dentist and dad I can be.

And I hope I can bring this full circle by giving something back too. I couldn’t be further from being a “giant” but I try to be as liberal with what I have learned as I can be. I have ben inspired by wonderful dentists and non-dentists and I want to take any opportunity I have to pay that forward onto anybody who may benefit, whether it’s from these weekly ramblings, mentoring, lecturing, my daily dentistry, or even parenthood .

One of the most valuable tools I’ve acquired is learning to Steal Like An Artist (thanks Austin Kleon), like Oasis did with their song Go Let It Out, from R.L. Sharpe’s poem. We take inspiration and the lessons from the people that have walked the road before us, we find meaning in their words and their actions and we stand on the shoulders of giants to be the greatest version of ourselves we can be.

Bag of Tools by R.L. Sharpe

Isn’t it strange

That princes and kings

And clowns that caper

In sawdust rings

And common people

Like you and me

Are builders for eternity

Each is given a bag of tools,

A shapeless mass,

A book of rules;

And each must make

Ere life is flown

A stumbling block

Or a stepping stone

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