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Vail Daily column: Feel the small act

Benjamin A. Gochberg
Valley Voices

These little towns have a tendency to bring out the best emotions in me. I would like to think that it does the same thing for most of us, but maybe that’s not as common as I once thought. It’s in moments when I look up at the falling snow in the aspens that I begin to have those familiar nostalgic emotions that fuel so much of what I do.

My father only really gave me one direct piece of advice. Sure, he was always supportive … likely more so than the average dad. He came to all the events, was around when I did something right, etc. As far as life advice goes though, there is only one thing that has ever stuck with me.

I was about to leave the country for the first time. We were saying our goodbyes, after which I would take a plane into Toronto and focus on helping people find a sense of peace and purpose for roughly two years. My dad looked at me, and with a careful tone, expressed his one worry. “I hope that you listen more to what is in your heart than what is in your head.” At the time, my 18-year-old mind brushed my dad’s advice aside as simply his attempt to be poignant. Even at 18, I had developed the cliche fault of an academic in assuming that I could out-think just about any person. This was, unfortunately, a point of pride for me until later in my 20s when I realized that thinking, when taken to the extreme, can be just as dangerous as feeling out every situation.

Here’s a positive example of feeling something out: My move to Eagle County. I sent my resume to an old banker buddy working in the Denver area, who forwarded it on to his boss, who sent it on to his boss, who sent it to a peer in Grand Junction. They flew me out for an interview over a weekend. We met for lunch and a brief walk-through of the operation. I was driving back to the airport in Eagle after my interview when my future boss called me to offer the job. We negotiated salary over the phone as I lost him in the canyons before Glenwood over and over again. Back home, I packed up, found a renter and in 10 days found myself officially moved to Avon. I had never heard of Vail and certainly not Beaver Creek. My previous experiences with skiing were limited to flashes of memories as a child, repeatedly falling. I was following my instincts. My heart led me here. Here’s to those of you who ended up here in similar fashion.

Now, perhaps newly awakened to the importance of feeling, I look at the effect that passion has had in my own life. Nobody likes to talk about it, but it seems that the people who are most passionate on any subject tend to move the most mountains. While my professional training and my own life experiences have caused me to learn to carefully control my emotions, I realize that the most pivotal turning points in my life, both professionally and personally, have all been the result of feeling deeply and strongly about something.

It could be that this is exactly why we were all encouraged as children to find something professionally that we love to do. Rather than attempting to cultivate passion in something, if we simply seek out that thing for which we already feel passionately, the we will naturally excel.

What I would offer for argument, considering that most adults do not have professions and careers that they deeply enjoy, is that we sometimes fall victim to the trap of comfort rather than pursue our passions. We’re like the live crabs in the pot before the heat gets raised. We fall headlong into a job, and we discover that we can excel. Pretty soon, 10 years goes by, and we look back and wonder how we ever ended up doing the thing we are doing now. Perhaps we start to fill our lives with stuff … tokens of the success that we used to believe we would achieve in some other fashion. Or worse, we scramble to satisfy the void of passion during working hours by devoting our free time to rediscovering it. Although I feel strongly about my role as a banker, I’ve been guilty of that one myself from time to time.

All this being said, I believe that passion is something that can be infused into every fiber of our lives. Our personal relationships, our work, our hobbies and even our struggles can be filled with passion. If we boiled it down to its core elements, then passion is little more than catching vision of the eternal nature of the very smallest of actions. You realize, as Jeff Olson posits in his book “The Slight Edge,” that the act of fastening your seatbelt, for instance, is an act that creates a habit that may eventually save your life. Though choosing to forgo a cheeseburger today for a salad will not immediately change my health, the compounding effect of intentionally making this seemingly small decision will add years to my life as the decision is made with purpose, over and over and over again. If I looked at a burger as if it was going to kill me every time, then, well, you get the point.

It is after identifying the compounding nature of small choices that we can easily identify where some people achieve incredible success and some achieve little more than a semblance of personal satisfaction. The reason why the vast majority of individuals never achieve mastery or success in a particular area is because the feedback cycle for a series of small decisions is much longer than the average person can tolerate. Two people decide today to learn the piano. One practices for one hour every day, while the other practices for 30 minutes a day. When compared after week 1, there might be almost no notable difference in their skills. What if this trend continues for a year?

We like to look at the incredibly successful and say they are lucky or somehow coddled by society, and there are certainly cases out there that we can point at for evidence. Think about how the highly successful (financially) are portrayed in every cartoon you’ve ever seen. Good guy or bad guy? Usually as the bad guy. The truth is, however, that the vast majority of the incredibly successful, whether successful in personal relationships, business, a skill, or an art, have likely arrived to be successful by a series of minor successes in choice over an extended period of time. They caught the vision early enough, formulated a big enough goal and worked toward it consistently.

Though there appears to be no magic bullet, figuring out how a series of small choices can add up in a big way makes me feel entirely differently about these articles every week, the conversations I’m having with my customers, and even this cheeseburger … which I can’t believe I just ordered again.

Ben Gochberg is a commercial lender and business finance consultant. He plays, lives, works and is trying to do a little good in Eagle County. He can be reached for business inquiries or free consultation at 970-471-3546.

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