Beans, A fly, Zverev, Djokovic, and Russell

Bertrand Russell Novak Djokovic

What Happened_ Alexander Zverev

Beans the Cat

Heather and I have ended up with a rescue kitten. I won’t go into the circumstances, but his name is Beans. This is what he looks like.  

Beans the cat - Gary and Heathers rescue cat

Beans, our rescue cat

As you can see, his eyes are very intense. After observing his mannerisms and those incredible eyes, I think he looks a little like C3PO from Star Wars.

I never grew up with pets, so it never crossed my mind that I would be at this stage in my life co-parenting my son’s dog, Harry, let alone a kitten, as I have never been a cat person. It just goes to show you that it’s better to go with the flow in life than to be rigid and firmly set in one’s ways. You may miss out on things that may surprisingly bring you a lot of joy and satisfaction.

Now that we’ve had Beans for a couple of months, I am definitely smitten with him. He brings so much entertainment and joy to us, and it’s also amazing to see how well he and Harry get along. He’s only about 5 months old, and he has grown a lot and it’s fascinating to see what captures his attention and curiosity. He particularly likes to chase flies. 

A Fly

One morning last week, I came down to make my smoothie, and next to the blender was a fly that was clearly not healthy. If any sentient being has a clear purpose, it’s a fly. Of course, humans name plants, animals, insects, fish, etc., so we infuse our sense of purpose onto them by the names we give them. A fly is pretty basic. It’s meant to fly around, and when it no longer can, it presumably has lost its sense of purpose and reason for being. I felt that the merciful thing to do was to put him out of his misery because he could no longer fly, and his remaining time was very short.

While it made me sad in a way to think about the fly having no more reason to be, I then thought about this in the context of human beings and how, as humans, we are not purely governed by instinct because we have free will. This can allow us to find unique ways to express our individuality and discover what makes us come alive.

Alexander Zverev

And that brings me to the post-match interview with Alexander Zverev after he prevailed in a grueling 4-hour and 41-minute match at the US Open in oppressive heat and humidity.  I love what he said after the match (shown at the beginning of this post) when he said that is exactly what he lives for. How beautiful is that? Most people don’t have such clarity as to what makes them feel so alive, and the fact that he felt it right then and there after being thoroughly drained, or maybe because he was thoroughly drained, is a wonderful thing. 

US Open

As an aside, Heather and I were in New York City the next day and had the great privilege of attending the U.S. Open. We saw four matches, with the last being the best and most anticipated: Ben Shelton versus Francis Tiafoe. It was an electrifying contest. Here’s a picture of me outside the entrance to the grounds which houses Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest outdoor tennis stadium in the world.

Gary Carmell outside the entrance to the grounds which houses Arthur Ashe Stadium

One of the matches we saw was Djokovic versus Taylor Fritz. During the match, Djokovic got very heated (and not because of the furnace-like conditions), and he was asked about that during the post-match press conference. If anyone is interested in seeing a master of self-reflection and personal growth, I highly recommend watching Djokovic’s press conferences (as well as Danill Medvedev’s). He is a brilliant, thoughtful guy who is also very honest. This is what he had to say in terms of his high expectations of his team and that they have of him, which speaks to deep dedication and passion for his career. I edited it for readability.

“I care about this profession, and I take it very very seriously so I know that a lot of the other players do too and we expect the highest kind of dedication and I guess involvement from our team members as our team members and coaching staff expect from us.

“So the intensity is there in the heat of the battle. Obviously, a lot of different things can be done on the court, but overall we are a team, we’re sticking together through good times, bad times and I’m grateful that I have the team that I have. We’ve had some tremendous success, especially in the last couple of years, so I’m pleased with where I stand, and yeah I can be difficult, but who is not? Again I don’t know the player playing on the highest level that is easy going and everything is sort of say flowers and music.”

Bertrand Russell & Novak Djokovic

It’s not unusual for me to go back to books I’ve read and reread my highlights and notes on my Kindle. One of the most recent books I went back to was The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Russell was a British mathematician and philosopher and quite a prolific writer. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. He attempted to identify the causes and contributors to unhappiness and happiness in his book. 

Russell wrote this at a time when the workforce was overwhelmingly men. This is what he said about purpose and work that connects well with what Djokovic said.

Continuity of purpose is one of the most essential ingredients of happiness in the long run, and for most men, this comes chiefly through their work…Two chief elements make work interesting: first, the exercise of skill, and second, construction.

If work is not challenging, then there won’t be growth. This is what Russell says about that.

All skilled work can be pleasurable, provided the skill required is either variable or capable of indefinite improvement. If these conditions are absent, it will cease to be interesting when a man has acquired his maximum skill.

Returning to Djokovic, he said that dovetails well with Russell’s beliefs.

“It has to be challenging for everyone, for the player, and for the coaching staff otherwise there is no growth. I think that’s the way to push each other to the limits to really understand how you can develop the game, how you can become better on and off the court.” 

People who are deeply committed to excelling will always have high expectations, and that comes with the territory, so if you don’t have them or want to be around people who do, then you haven’t found your calling and purpose. That’s not a judgment. It’s just what is from my experience.

Russell mentioned the importance of construction in terms of work being interesting and remaining so. Like Charlie Munger, who believes that you can learn as much about what you want by knowing what you don’t want, Russell contrasts construction with destruction.

In construction, the initial state of affairs is comparatively haphazard, while the final state of affairs embodies a purpose: in destruction the reverse is the case; the initial state of affairs embodies a purpose, while the final state of affairs is haphazard, that is to say, all that is intended by the destroyer is to produce a state of affairs which does not embody a certain purpose.

The work of construction, on the other hand, when completed, is delightful to contemplate and, moreover, is never so fully completed that there is nothing further to do about it. The most satisfactory purposes are those that lead on indefinitely from one success to another without ever coming to a dead end, and in this respect, it will be found that construction is a greater source of happiness than destruction.

I just finished listening to Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Issacson and in it, he obviously talks about the Mona Lisa. He discusses how he never delivered the commissioned work because he was continuously improving upon it over 17 years. He couldn’t bear to let it go as he viewed it as an evolving piece that always lent itself to improvement based on new knowledge he gained regarding color, light, shadow, human anatomy, conveying emotions, etc. One of his primary goals was to capture a person’s inner world in his paintings. The Mona Lisa does this masterfully, and It’s the culmination of his extraordinary intellectual depth and diverse knowledge that, over 400 years later, remains a masterpiece and always will. I think this is a classic embodiment of Russell’s work of construction.

So there you have it. Random musings on the power of purpose and finding what makes us feel alive derived from Beans, a fly, Zverev, Djokovic, and Russell.


One comment on “Beans, A fly, Zverev, Djokovic, and Russell
  1. Nancy Thrasher says:

    One of the tennis commentators, John McEnroe I think, said after those comments from Djokavic that Djokavic is a very deep thinker. He’s also a planner, in my opinion, because, though he was facing a taller, younger, very strong hitter, he had shirts and jackets done up with the number 24. He was that determined to win.

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