“force′ of habit. n. behavior occurring without thought and by virtue of constant repetition; habit.”
When physically going to church was still a thing, during a sermon, one of the pastors at our church told the following anecdote:
A couple was newlywed and being lovers of food, they splurged on a fully outfitted kitchen with any and every sort and size of pot, pan and appliance. The husband absolutely loved fried fish. Not only did he love fish, but he also loved to have his fried fish served whole. To his surprise, his lovely, new wife would always cut the fish in half when she fried it. Eventually, he asked why and the response was simple: “this is how my mother used to do it so this is how I do it.” Visiting his mother-in-law and her mother, he witnessed the same thing and asked the same question. The answer was exactly the same, “this is how my mother used to do it so this is how I do it.” Finally, he had the good fortune to sit with his wife’s great grandmother and he asked her the same question, “Oh that!” she replied. “I always cut my fish in half back in the day because I had such a tiny pan!”
His little anecdote reminded me of the story of the Cat and the Monk:
“Once Upon A Time, There Was A Monastery In Tibet. The Monks In The Monastery Meditated From Dawn To Dusk.
One Day It So Happened That A Cat Trespassed Into The Monastery And Disturbed The Monks. The Head Monk Instructed That The Cat Be Caught And Tied To The Banyan Tree Until Dusk. He Also Advised That Every Day, To Avoid Hindrance During Meditation, The Cat Be Tied To The Banyan Tree. So It Became A Daily Practice, A Tradition In The Monastery; To Catch The Cat & Tie It To The Banyan Tree Before The Monks Starts Meditating. The Cat Remained Tied To The Banyan Tree As The Monks Meditated
The Tradition Continued. One Day The Head Monk Died. As Per Tradition, The most senior Monk Was Chosen As Head Monk And All Other Traditions Including Tying The Cat To The Banyan Tree Was Continued.
One Day The Cat Died. The Whole Monastery Plunged Into Chaos.
A Committee Was Formed To Find A Solution And It Was Unanimously Decided That A Cat Be Bought From The Nearby Market And Tied To The Banyan Tree Before Starting The Meditation Each Day.
This Tradition Is Still Followed In The Monastery Even Today. UNCHALLENGED. UNQUESTIONED.”
The gist of both these stories is the same, there are many instances in which we follow the accepted and expected practice, path or patterns without asking why or considering whether a different route would be better for our lives or mental health or career. This is not to say that different automatically equals better. The key is vision, bravery and consciousness to see, ask and test then deciding. Are your habits still adding the value to your life that they did initially? Are the reasons why the habit was formed still relevant to the life that you are trying to build now?
We are living through the fourth industrial revolution AND a global health pandemic. We are surrounded by choices and problems that did not exist for generations gone by. There are areas of profit that are opening up that are not even being taught about yet because they are opening up right now and we are figuring them out as we go. We have no choice. They will be for us to teach either by what we did or by what we didn’t do. There are traditional routes and options that are vanishing or being rendered redundant before our very eyes daily. Opportunities abound as the needs of employers, economies and life evolve.
Think Emma Sadleir. Less than 5 or so years ago, Emma was walking down the pre-set path for the South African lawyer. Law school then degree then best law firm you can get into then articles then associate then try to get partnership/directorship. Somewhere along the way she realised that social media was uncharted territory in law and it meant that there was a gaping opportunity. She took it. She set about establishing herself as a digital law media expert. The area is murkily regulated at best but so what? She decided she would know it as best as it can be known and stay on top of it as it grew. Only 4 years after that, she was the first result you got when you Googled “social media law expert South Africa”. A few years ago, she started her own company that provides advisory services on social media laws and the reputational, disciplinary and financial consequences of certain behaviour on social media to corporates, schools, universities, parents etc. She is a success. A success in a field school did not anticipate or teach. She evolved.
Recently, another Nigerian-American lawyer I follow on Instagram, Kunbi, established a boutique lawfirm for social media influencers. Genius is it not? Just 2 years ago a friend from high school posted “is being an influencer a real job?”
Even the definition of “side hustle” has broadened and changed considerably. We are in the much bigger pan now. Don’t keep cutting your fish in half purely because all the generations that went before you did. If you choose to continue to cut it in half, at the very least, do so consciously.
What habits, beliefs or paths am I (or are you) holding on to because you always have or those before you have? Is it time to evolve?