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#28 - New Zealander Proverb: Can I Pull Down the Sun with A Forked Stick, Or Prevent It from Running Its Course?
Reflections on accepting limitations without dropping the ball on our responsibilities.
Proverbs on Blast is a newsletter of reflection on PROVERBS and the gems they offer for personal and professional growth. Posts are written by a learner on a quest for more wisdom (me). Please keep reading. Comment at the end. Share this post. Subscribe for more.
Over the last several days, I’ve had to switch to Plans B, C, and D on a number of things. I am a firm believer in the “plan your work and work your plan” mantra, so I plan almost everything. As long as it seems likely that I can make realistic plans that I or someone else can accomplish, in the present or the future, I map out clear steps and timelines to translate ideas to action. But getting so immersed in plans also means that I’ve had numerous experiences of planning and working without achieving the desired outcomes.
As happened with the three projects that were my recent focus, none of them worked as Plan A. However, I found proverbial wisdom as an aid to recover, reset, and resume progress towards my goals via Plans B, C, and D. It was hidden in the poignant question of this New Zealand proverb: “Can I pull down the sun with a forked stick, or prevent it from running its course?"
The proverb acknowledges the immense power and importance of the sun in the natural world. It uses the forked stick as a metaphor for human agency, while the sun represents the forces of nature that are beyond human control. It forced me to pause and ponder the question: can I pull down the sun with a forked stick for myself? No. Can I do so for another? Not at all.
Did You Know That …
The average distance from the sun to the earth is about 93 million miles (149.6 million kilometers). This distance can vary slightly over the course of the year due to the elliptical shape of the Earth's orbit around the sun, but on average it remains approximately the same. No natural bird or airplane can fly close to the sun. They typically fly at cruising altitudes of around 30,000 to 40,000 feet (9,000 to 12,000 meters), which is well beneath the sun's surface. Created to rule the day, the sun reigns high up in the skies without apology however extreme its heat or glare. If airplanes can only get that close to the sun, there is no fork long enough that I can get to touch the sun and pull it down. There is also no authority that I possess that I can use to prevent the sun from running its course.
This proverb serves important reminders that are two sides of the same coin:
Accept your limitations.
Don’t shirk your responsibilities.
You are capable of achieving great things, but not all things. If you haven’t yet had a taste of life’s lemons, it’s a matter of time till you experience setbacks and failures in life. Experiencing failure can be incredibly challenging, especially when you’ve put a lot of time, effort, and resources into the projects and plans that did not succeed. I take this moment to acknowledge the pain and frustration you probably feel over that. But you will need to move on. And in the face of disappointment, you will need to remember that you are not alone in your experience. That things will not always go your way, because you’re just one person and there’s only so much of you. Be intentional and avoid frustration and disappointment over this fact. Whatever happens, shift gears to control your response to the situation. That way, you’ll be able to maintain a sense of agency and purpose.
Focus on what you can control. You cannot stop the sun from rising or setting. In like manner, you cannot always control the outcome of all your projects and plans. Acknowledge the reality that setbacks and failures are a natural part of the journey towards success. In fact, a natural part of life. And that it's okay to feel disappointed and upset when your plans don’t turn out as expected, but it's also important to pick yourself up and keep moving forward. With resilience and determination, you will be able to bounce back from any setback.
You may need to take some time to reflect on what went wrong, and what you can do differently next time. But don't be too hard on yourself, knowing that even the most successful people have faced failure at some point in their lives. When down, think about the apt rhetorical question of the New Zealand proverb: “can you pull down the sun with a forked stick, or prevent it from running its course?”
Don’t Shirk Your Responsibilities
The elders of New Zealand did not intend to be fatalistic or defeatist with this proverb. Hence, the question it raises does not absolve you of responsibility for your choices and their consequences. Do not seek to use it to avoid planning or working as you ought. Granted that there are forces in the world that are beyond your control, but do not use this proverb to justify not playing your part in accordance with the right values and choices that align with your goals and aspirations.
Rather, the proverb is a reminder that there are limits to human agency. To reiterate, be mindful of your limitations and work towards what you can control. Do so to avoid disappointment, frustration, and burnout. Do it to be free to focus your energy on the areas where you can be most productive and make a positive difference. But do not stop pushing forward in the pursuit of your goals and never give up on your dreams. Limitations aside, you can still accomplish a lot with focused diligent efforts.
In closing, I have had some difficult conversations in the last two days that remind me that it can be difficult to move forward from failure. I understand that it's normal to feel discouraged, and it's important to give yourself time to process your emotions. If this is you, please be kind to yourself. Remember that your worth as a person is not defined by the outcome of your projects or plans. You are valuable and worthy of love and respect, regardless of what happens.
Remember that success and failure are not solely the result of our individual efforts. There are often external factors at play that you may not be able to control. Rather than focusing on what you could have done differently, reflect on what you learned from this experience, and how you can apply that knowledge moving forward.
Also, it is important to surround yourself with a supportive network of people who can help you through this difficult time. Friends, family members, mentors, or colleagues who you trust and admire all make the cut. These people can offer you words of encouragement, perspective, and advice as they support you.
“Can you pull down the sun with a forked stick or prevent it from running its course?”No, you cannot. No one can. I hope you can make peace with your limitations and stop trying to.
None of us can control every aspect of our lives, but we can control how we respond to the challenges we face. Perhaps your project and plans failed despite your best efforts. How have you moved on? How are you wiser from the experience?
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Know someone who needs to stop straining to pull the sun with a forked stick?
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