Choosing an Angle
How shifts in perspective can radically transform our experiences.
October 8, 2017 | Gratitude
I remember, once, lying supine in the back seat of my parents’ car, staring up at the moon through the window by my head. We were, I’m sure, driving back from some party of relatives (uncles and aunts) or family friends (uncles and aunties).
For a long while, we cruised through the night with the moon following along, as if it actually cared about our existence, as if it didn’t want to be left behind. Then, without warning, it disappeared.
What happened? Where’d it go? I sat up and looked for it and, finally, glimpsed it through the rear window.
I asked my father for an explanation. My dad was not a perfect father, but he was always perfectly happy to talk to his daughter about science.
“The moon is far away,” he said. “And as we drive along, even if we cover miles and miles, where we are relative to the moon doesn’t change much.”
“But when we made the turn back there, our point of view changed. Before, the moon was on our left, and now it’s behind.”
For a long while, I sat quietly, thinking, not quite understanding.
Then my father suggested that I think of the moon as a white marble and the earth as a slightly larger blue marble a football field away, and my family as a tiny speck crawling across the face of the blue marble ever so slowly. That helped.
And then I realized what it meant to turn our car, not changing our coordinates on the earth’s surface all that radically, really, but entirely shifting our perspective. Suddenly, the moon on our left was the moon behind. What changed wasn’t distance so much as our angle on the situation, our particular point of view.
All my life, I’ve returned to that story as a reminder that our subjective perspective on objective reality is of unfathomable consequence.
I work at least 70 hours in a typical week and often much more. One angle on a life like this is that a profound adjustment is in order. This angle says that all work and no play cannot be a good life, and certainly cannot be considered a sustainable pace.
But here’s another angle. I’m the luckiest person on the planet. I get to work on something—Character Lab—that will one day help millions of young people lead happier lives. I get to spend hours each week learning new things about my favorite subject, human nature. I get to communicate with hundreds of strangers and, in my small way, share insight and show kindness. And I get to tackle challenges, big and small, with a team of people I absolutely, 100% adore, trust, and admire.
So, you see, from my angle, work and play are just the same.
Now it’s your turn: consider one burden in your life, anything at all, and see if a new way of thinking about it—a new angle, a new strategy, a new mindset—can turn it into a blessing. You may discover what a shift in perspective can do to radically transform your experience.
In my experience, running longer and harder, after I’ve already run long and hard, hardly ever puts my problems behind me. Instead, what’s needed is a change in angle.
Here’s a quote that perfectly captures my perspective:
“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both." —Lawrence Pearsall Jacks, 1931
With grit and gratitude,