Rush of Achievement

There’s weird. There’s wonderful. And then there’s David Rush. The man is in a class by himself.

Several classes by himself, actually.

You see, Rush is an Idaho man who’s trying to become the Record Holder of Record Holders – the man who holds more Guinness world records at once than any other person. It’s a quest that has led to some extremely bizarre accomplishments.

Such as being the fastest person to sort M&M’s by color.

Or popping 200 balloons in less than 12 seconds.

Or, just last Thursday, hitting a target with a pump-powered rocket 37 times in a row.

Right now, according to UPI, this gold-level master of strangeness holds 163 simultaneous records, 20 short of his goal. He’s actually achieved 250 different records but – inevitably with a goal this long-term – some of them then got broken by others while he continued his journey. They had to move fast, though: at one point, Rush broke 52 records in 52 weeks.

Why do it? As he’s mentioned to Guinness and many others, he’s a promoter of STEM education (science, technology, engineering, math) who simply wanted to show what focus on a goal could achieve.

“Too many students try, fail, and give up with a fixed mindset,” he says on his website, where he encourages a “growth mindset” instead – the idea that abilities aren’t simply innate, but can be developed through time, effort and help from others. “I can only do a very small part, but I’d like to do that part as well as I can.”

I suspect that hits home for a lot of us. It’s a message of hope, which I’ve described here before as “optimism plus sweat”: the willingness to commit to something better and then see it through.

And it remains powerful even when we’re aware that it’s not always that simple.

We’re all aware of boundaries in our lives. Some are more pliable than others. Some may be physical limitations, whether they’re as everyday as nearsightedness or as profound as severe childhood brain damage. Some have been set by society – we’ve all seen (or even experienced) stories of the additional challenges and barriers set due to poverty, race, gender, or an array of other qualities that can become a dividing line.

Can sufficient work, time and help overcome those? In many cases, sure – but the definition of “sufficient” is going to vary widely between individuals. For one person, a particular achievement may be as easy as a walk in the park. For another, it may be the equivalent of designing an entire space program from scratch.

Does that mean we should all give up? Heck, no. But it does mean  we all have a few additional lessons to remember.

First, be kind. Don’t assume that someone else is lazy just because they haven’t achieved what you think they should. You don’t know their burdens, their battles, or what they may have going on where no one else can see.

Second, try to see. Be aware of those around you. Understand as you would like to be understood, care about them as you would about yourself.

Finally, be the “help from others.” Encourage, teach, stand alongside. Find the boundaries that shouldn’t be there and help bring them down. Even when the limits are severe, work to grow what you can, like a garden behind a stone wall. Create opportunities – not all of them will be fulfilled, but you may be surprised at the ones that flourish.

Together, we can help each other grow. And help ourselves in the process. That’s an exciting feeling.

You might even say it’s quite a Rush.

Working in the Dark

I love weird stuff. And every so often, it’s so weird that I have to spend a morning on it here.

That’s how we’ve ended up with columns on the infamous “Boaty McBoatface.” Or on the man who solved nearly 7,000 Rubik’s Cubes in 24 hours. Or on the friend who loves to wrap a “hippity hop” ball in lights and lower it from a rope to celebrate the New Year. You know, the stuff that keeps the world interesting.

Well, we’re back in Rubik’s territory today. Not quantity this time, but quality. I’d say it’s a real eye-opener, but that would be singularly inappropriate in this case.

You see, today’s weird and wonderful accomplishment comes from an Australian teen who set a new Rubik’s Cube speed record … for solving it while blindfolded.

In 12.1 seconds to be exact.

Now I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t do a 12-second solve with my eyes open. Even if you let me “solve” it by peeling off all the colored stickers and putting them back on again so they matched.

To be fair, Charlie Eggins’ first reaction, according to Guinness, was also “I still can’t believe it!” And that’s after he’d done about 25,000 practice solves.

But maybe I shouldn’t be so startled. Maybe none of us should be.

After all, we try to do the same thing every day. Only we’re taking on something harder than Rubik’s Cubes.

We’re trying to solve people.

We like to think we know our family, our friends, the folks around us. Even with complete strangers, we’re usually pretty comfortable in our rules of thumb … after all, they can’t be that different from us, can they? Even one of our most fundamental rules – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – takes as its first assumption that others want what you want.

That’s not a bad starting point. It’s certainly better than seeing the “other” as a danger to be feared. But every so often – more than every so often – we run into the limits of it and have to reassess.

It could be minor, like discovering their indifference to a movie “everyone” knows. (“What do you mean, you’ve never seen Star Wars?”) It could be something more fundamental in their beliefs, their upbringing, the way they see the world.

Big or small, earthshaking or trivial, we suddenly find something that brings us up short and makes us think instead of react. In that moment, we get new eyes: toward the other person, the world, even ourselves.

Like a number of literature geeks, I’ve been reading Emily Wilson’s new translation of “The Iliad” lately. (I’d offer you my copy but, well, beware of geeks bearing gifts.) There’s a moment early on where the fierce warrior Diomedes is briefly given the ability to recognize the gods on the battlefield , even when they’re invisible or shape-shifted. Able to see who’s receiving special help, he fights more effectively than ever, even wounding Aphrodite when she tries to protect one of her favored warriors.

Clear vision can produce amazing results.

But like Eggins, we won’t solve anything if we’re not willing to come to grips with it.

We may be working in the dark. But if we’re at least trying to understand, we’ve taken the first step. (A step too few take, judging by the headlines.) We may get it wrong. We may fumble and stumble and misunderstand. But if we make the effort, and recognize the attempts of others to do the same with us, we’ll get there eventually … even if it isn’t in 12.1 seconds.

And that’s pretty weird and wonderful in itself.