Jasper Fu drives two hours a day for Uber, an app-based taxi service. He doesn’t do it for the money, since he already has a fulltime job. He says he does it because it’s a good way to “talk to people.” Chinese culture encourages quiet restraint, so it can seem inappropriate to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. It’s different when you’re picking them up in your car. Jasper says, “Under no other circumstance can I find a stranger to talk with me for like 10 to 20 minutes.”
Watch a video of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, and you’ll be struck by the charm and grace with which they performed. It’s easy to assume that the four musicians were simply born with the skills they displayed. But in his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that what made the Beatles a hit with fans was lots of hard work. Before that celebrated performance, the band had done nearly 1,200 shows—practice that prepared them for greatness.
The movie Amadeus depicts Antonio Salieri as a composer who couldn’t enjoy his gift because he happened to live at the same time as the great Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Salieri worked diligently to create a decent musical work, only to watch the impish Mozart sit down at the piano and play soaring music, seemingly off the top of his head. Salieri begged God for Mozart’s gift, but he believed that God gave him just enough talent to recognize the many ways he didn’t measure up.
I’m lonely,” wrote Augusten Burroughs in one of his edgy memoirs. “And I’m lonely in some horribly deep way and for a flash of an instant, I can see just how lonely, and how deep this feeling runs.” I’ve seen Burroughs’ quote shared multiple times on social media. Clearly, he’s expressed a feeling many of us share.
Ahead of me, two rows of cars waited for the traffic light to turn from red to green. Beside us, in the turn lane, a third line of vehicles awaited a green arrow so they could turn left.
My carpenter friend accidentally cut off a car as he made a lane change. The man driving the car came alongside my friend’s vehicle, shook his fist in anger, and sped off. My friend felt bad and wanted to somehow atone for his driving mistake.
Actually, I’m divorced.” My friend’s eyes fell as he spoke. This was not something he enjoyed telling others. “I’m not sure what happened. We were both wrong. It all just fell apart.” As our conversation continued, he shared that his wife’s departure had crushed him.
I spent my birthday this year at a conference with my husband and some friends. At the end of the conference, I enjoyed taking some time to talk with an acquaintance that is a year younger than I am. As we chatted, he said, “The older I get, the more I realize I haven’t accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish by now.” Then he wistfully remarked, “I may never accomplish it.”
The sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic seems like a woeful tale of inevitability. But the truth remains that the demise of the massive ship could have been prevented had its crew listened to others. Ships in the area had tried to warn the Titanic that they were steaming into a field of ice, but the radio operator was so overwhelmed with work that he disregarded these messages and famously wired back, “Shut up, shut up. I am busy . . .” (a comical response had it not been for its catastrophic consequences).
By lap three of seven I was already exhausted. My trainer told me to give 80 percent of my best effort at first and build up to “200 percent on the final lap!” As I rounded the bend before that last lap, he shouted, “I need you to be throwing up at the finish line!” Unfortunately, I duly obliged. But I finished well and clocked a great time.
A young man had been fleeing from the law, and his concerned father tried desperately to reach him. When his son finally called from a city far away, the dad convinced him to turn himself in and even took a flight to retrieve him. As he later described the trip to friends, the loving father said with unmistakable warmth, “He’s my son!”
In 2011, a Brazilian fisherman came across a struggling penguin. The tiny creature’s feathers were soaked with oil and it desperately needed food. So the man took the sickly bird home and cared for it. Once it was healthy, he released it and the bird swam happily away.
In 2013, a jet crashed in San Francisco, resulting in three tragic deaths. One young woman died not from injuries caused by the crash, but from being run over by a rescue vehicle that rushed to the scene. City authorities conducted an investigation and determined that the death was accidental and that the driver would not face criminal charges. But the board of the airline involved took a very different approach to this tragedy: They called a public press conference and bowed low in apology. Even though they may not have been individually responsible for the girl’s death, they felt they shared responsibility as the leaders of the company.