This discrepancy is not one that is widely understood or easily explained, but it was brought to mind the other day because I spent most of last week with someone who is definitely an excellent player in the game of life. I had invited a friend of mine (let’s call him WM) to accompany me on a six day backpacking trip to the five high sierra camps in Yosemite. We carried all our own food and slept in our own tents at each of the camps. This classic backpacking loop is strenuous to say the least.
During the many hours of conversation on the trail he shared his life story. The impression I got was of a professional surfer, who had skillfully and successfully ridden the crest of numerous waves, making sure to get off just before each wave crashed into the surf. On reflection, this ability had little to do with how hard he worked, what knowledge he possessed, or who he knew. The ability I am referring to is a form of tacit knowledge that cannot easily be articulated, just as a master pianist cannot play brilliantly while at the same time concentrating on where his fingers should be placed. Similarly, a great chef might write down all his recipes with meticulous accuracy but these recipes are not what makes him or her a great chef. WM had somehow acquired the tacit knowledge to be a successful player in the game of life. Unfortunately, this is also not the kind of knowledge that can easily be taught. A great chef cannot teach anyone how to be a great chef, although if you work with one for long enough, it’s certainly possible that you might become one.
How was WM on the backpacking trip? He put me to shame on the fitness front. I arrived exhausted and breathless at our various destinations, only to find that he had arrived there hours beforehand, in time to take a swim in a mountain lake, do some washing and read his book. He had an uncanny knack of keeping his clothes clean and wrinkle-free in the wilderness. Furthermore, he shaved regularly (very unusual on a backpacking trip) and refused to let anything (well, almost anything) disturb his calm and unflappable demeanor. As with everything else in his life, WM played the game, and he played it well.