Awareness means knowing what is going on around you. It involves all kinds of things, like the weather, the time left on the clock, the feelings and thoughts of others, and what’s at stake if you lose. These are some of the endless variables which contribute to success and failure. To be aware is to recognize a great many of them and then act accordingly. Having awareness allows one to make decisions quickly while thinking long term.
Awareness combines all of the other character traits. Because of this, awareness is the highest level of character.
When I think of Awareness I think of three people. One fictional, the other two very much flesh and blood.
The first is the character Neo in the Matrix movies. Throughout the first installment, Neo has his doubts about his place and identity. Gradually he gains knowledge, skills, and confidence. He grows increasingly aware.
In the final battle of the first movie in the trilogy, Neo conquers the unbeatable foe, Mr. Smith. Neo does this when he sees things as they are. This is far different than his very limited initial perceptions. Neo has summoned all of his new found knowledge and skills. His OODA Loop is so well developed, his perceptions are so clear, that he sees the 1’s and 0’s of The Matrix.
“To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are.”– Bruce Lee
When I see highly successful people, both near and far, what I see is people who have grown their character and mental toughness to the point where they can see the 1’s and 0’s of life. Every situation, every issue, every problem or circumstance boils down to these 1’s and 0’s. The aware person can identify them and take the appropriate action, while those around him seem rather mystified.
I see this ability develop in the best of my players and students. They seem to not only have the answer, they also know why other’s don’t. The same holds true of the great leaders of history. This is because they have developed their character and mental toughness to the level of awareness.
Until a person develops those qualities, and lives their life in accordance with them, they will remain unaware. Unaware of their potential. Unaware of their influence. Unaware of the needs of others. Unaware of the connections between past, present, and future. Unaware of near and far. Unaware of the how lessons and concepts can be applied across fields. Unaware of the reasons for success and failure across the broad array of human experience.
The unaware will make bad decisions and mistakes which will cost themselves and others; often in ways they will never understand.
To be aware is to see the 1’s and 0’s everywhere and in everything. The great ones have this ability.
The second person I will use as an example was an idol of my youth. He succeeded in his professional and personal life. He had his flaws and made mistakes, some have been recently documented. But he was human, not a work of fiction.
He was nicknamed “Sweetness” for his kind and generous demeanor outside of competition. But he was also known for his relentless and fearless physicality as a player.
Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton is remembered as an explosive competitor and gentleman.
He learned to compete at an early age growing up playing sports against his older brother, who also later played in the NFL.
Some of his runs in the NFL are among the best of anyone who ever played. For most of his career he played on poor teams and only made one Super Bowl. He retired with almost every rushing record in the NFL including most yards in a career and game. Although he gained all those yards, he was better known for never giving an inch.
He died at an early age (45) of cancer.
But in my opinion he was the greatest football player who ever lived. He may not have been the greatest running back, but he was the greatest football player. He may have also been the greatest person to play football who ever lived. Not due to his talent, but due to his awareness. He saw more of what was going on around him than normal people do. Not just on the field but off it. The NFL has an annual Walter Payton Award honoring one player as Man of the Year for his volunteer and charity work.
Payton was mentally tough. He only missed one game in his 13 year career. He never missed a practice.
He was caring. He not only gave his money, but his time to many charities in Chicago. Payton was always nice to the people around him, including his opponents after a play was done. He made a point to befriend the younger players even though he knew some of them wouldn’t last. He knew the names of the custodians and secretaries and made sure to ask them about their lives so they would know he appreciated their efforts too.
He was humble. Although he took pride in his performance, he always gave credit to his teammates and family. He learned the systems of new coaches that came in and mastered new techniques. He flipped the ball to the ref when he scored rather than draw attention to himself. He sacrificed his body to the extent that he helped a teammate rush for 1,000 yards in the same season that he did.
He was responsible. He knew his plays. He took care of his family. He knew people looked up to him and he avoided situations that led to problems with substances or the law.
He was loyal and optimistic. He always gave the Bears and his teammates his best. It took ten years for his team to reach the Super Bowl, but he never complained and instead gave a great effort every Sunday and worked hard in practices and games.
He was committed and had initiative. He came from a very small college and had to prove he belonged in the NFL to achieve his dream. Long before players worked out in the off-season, Payton was known to run a dirt path that was almost a mile long and very steep…over and over. This was Mississippi in the summer time. He was disciplined.
He had courage. Payton was a fierce competitor and would often run over defenders trying to tackle him. He did this even though he was small by NFL standards. He never ran out of bounds at the end of the run, choosing instead to dish out a hit rather than avoid one.
Payton was the most complete running back to ever play football. He was an excellent blocker, receiver, and even threw for touchdowns a couple times a year. When his quarterback would throw an interception it was often Payton who made the tackle. Walter Payton was aware that he had to make sacrifices in order for his team to be successful. He knew teamwork was important.
In 1985, at the end of his career, Payton’s Bears made the Super Bowl and whipped the Patriots 46-10. Even though his team had the ball on the one- yard line towards the end of the game, his coach decided someone else should score the touchdown. His teammates told Walter not to worry about it, that he would score when the Bears got to the Super Bowl the next year.
Walter told them “I keep telling you guys….tomorrow is promised to no man.” He didn’t say this in frustration, but rather to make his teammates aware that they may never get back to the Super Bowl; that every day counted and should be used to its fullest.
The Bears did not make the Super Bowl again for another 20 years; long after Payton had retired and passed away.
But Payton was aware of those around him, he was aware that his playing career, and even his life would not last forever. As a result, he made sure to maintain great character every day and became the greatest and most respected player to ever play the game.
When it came time for Payton to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, it was his son Jarrod who joined his father in giving memorable speeches during the induction ceremony. Payton’s legacy exceeded his football exploits. A fine family, every bit the representation of his life as the bronze bust placed in the hall.
The following quotes are examples of awareness. People who are aware can apply them to situations in their personal and professional lives as well as to events in their community and around the world. Those who are unaware would not be able to do so, much less be aware of the concepts. There are no shortcuts to awareness. One must develop the core character traits and their mental toughness.
“Creativity is the ability to see relationships where none exist. “– Thomas Disch
“Life consists not in holding good cards, but in playing those cards you hold well”– Unkown
“To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is: a dissatisfaction with self.” -Joan Didion
“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.” – Albert Camus
“No society can prosper if it aims at making things easier-instead it should aim at making people stronger!!” – Ashoka
“Better a little which is well done, than a great deal imperfectly.” –Plato
“Success is all about being able to sacrifice.” -Mike Tyson
“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” –Aristotle
“The fire you kindle for your enemy often burns yourself more than him.” -Chinese Proverb
“Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use.” – Wendell Johnson.
“A man grows most tired while standing still.” -Chinese Proverbs
“Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them.” –Aristotle
“The freedom to be your best means nothing unless you are willing to do your best. “– Colin Powell
“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” – Lao-tzu
“If you want to accomplish the goals of your life, you have to begin with the spirit. “– Oprah Winfrey
“When people do not ignore what they should ignore, but ignore what they should not ignore, this is ignorance.” -Chuang Tzu
“The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle.” -Author Unknown
“Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances. “– Gandhi
“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.” –Aristotle
“Life’s value is not its duration but its donation – not how long we live but how fully and how well.”-unknown
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”-unknown
“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” – Flora Whittemore
“Every path has its puddle.” -English proverb
“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” – Aristotle
“No goals = no contol over your success.”JK Thompsett
“Improve your spare moments and they will become the brightest gems in your life.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol
“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” – Henry Ford
“Little people belittle people.”– DJ RUN
“A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing another mistake.”– Confucius
“The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.” – Benjamin Disrael
“Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” – Henry Ford
“You can motivate by fear, and you can motivate by reward. But both those are temporary. The only lasting thing is self motivation. “-Homer Rice
“Bad is never good until worse happens.” -Danish proverb
“Don’t wait for extraordinary opportunities. Seize common occasions and make them great!” JK Thompsett
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” – Elbert Hubbard
“Take heed: you do not find what you do not seek.” -English Proverb
“Only you can control your future.” – Dr. Seuss
“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.”– Benjamin Franklin
“What is told into the ear of a man is often heard a hundred years away.” -Chinese Proverbs
“The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity & grace, making the best of circumstances.” –Aristotle
“One person of integrity can make a difference.” – Elie Wiesel
“Nurture your mind with great thoughts, for you will never go any higher than you think.”– Benjamin Disraeli
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world. “– Robin Williams
The final example is Martin Luther King Jr.
The final night of his life was an amazing example of awareness. He was aware of his past; the day before he had seemingly bailed on a civil rights march in support of striking garbage workers in Memphis. He was aware that some people thought him a charlatan and coward for not standing defiant in the face of violence.
He was aware of the moment. Just as he had done in Washington less than five years earlier in delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech, he went off script and spoke from the heart to address the needs of the people before him. His “Mountain Top” speech equally memorable and poignant in addressing perceptions from the previous day and the needs of the moment.
He was aware of the future, as evident in the certainty of his predictions of success for the civil rights movement, and his inexplicable premonition of his own impending death only a few hours later.
Awareness is the highest level of character.