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Trade-offs and Triumphs 30 by @jennykim
Issue 30: The Boxers in Your Life; Celebrating Wins; Resources for the Week; Closing Thoughts: Letting Go, Listening, and Talent vs. Genius
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Welcome to issue 30 of Trade-offs and Triumphs - a newsletter of resources and thoughts about how to balance trade-offs in life to find and celebrate the small triumph; every decision point requires thinking through trade-offs and not just immediately aiming for the “solution.”
How was your week? What were your trade-offs and triumphs?
This week we will hit on:
The Boxers in Your Life
Resources for the Week
Closing Thoughts: Letting Go, Listening, and Talent vs. Genius
For a quick oral summary of Issue 30, hit ▶️ below:
The Boxers In Your Life
“Majesty,” Kang Yi said again, “yesterday I went to the birthday celebration of the first lady in the household of Duke Lan. More than a hundred Boxers live in his outer courtyard, under their own commander. They have the gift of calling upon magic spirits to enter their bodies. I saw youths no more than fourteen or fifteen years old, who went into trances and spoke strange languages. Duke Lan says that when the time comes these spirits will lead the Boxers to the houses of Christians to destroy them.”
“I have not seen it with my own eyes,” the Empress declared. She raised her hand to end the audience.
Between 1899-1901, the Boxer Rebellion was an armed, anti-Christian conflict near the end of Qing Dynasty in China. The Boxers were very superstitious and believed in magic that allegedly would make them immune to bullets and other modern weapons. They were also anti-foreigner, and in part, reflected the final dynasty’s division over whether to wage war against the invading foreign powers.
This weekend, I flipped back and forth between Mary Gallagher’s memoir of her days serving as secretary to Jacqueline Kennedy and Pearl Buck’s fictional account of the last empress of China, Imperial Woman: The Story of the Last Empress. As women married to men with power, and who wielded their own power accordingly, I noticed a lot of similarities between Jacqueline Kennedy, former First Lady, and the last empress of China, Empress Dowager Cixi. Both were intelligent, savvy, and incredibly self-aware about the power of their images and how to wield that to their advantages.
And both tended to perceive matters in a light favorable to them, even when the facts stacked up against that perspective.
For example, in Pearl Buck’s novel, Empress Cixi refuses to decide whether to support the Boxers, but allows her court and circumstances to decide for her. Despite a dissenting voice, she declares that she cannot restrain the people, including the Boxers, against the foreigners, for they will even destroy her. And when a court supporter of the Boxers declares that the Jade Emperor god approved of them in his dream, the Empress grasps at straws and agrees that this is a good omen - even though she cannot verify the Boxers’ magic:
Then Duke Lan, protector of the Boxers, rose up in his turn to say that he had had a dream the night before, wherein he had seen Yu Huang, the Jade Emperor god, surrounded by a vast horde of Boxers in their patriotic exercises and the god approved.
To this dream the Empress listened with all her heart and she smiled her lovely smile and said mildly that she remembered from her books that so the Jade Emperor had appeared to an Empress in ancient times. “It is a good omen,” she concluded, “and it means that the gods are for us and against the barbarian enemies.” But still she did not promise to use the magic of the Boxers. Who knew it to be true or false?
In fact, when doom is impending and she must escape the Forbidden City (disguised as a peasant woman), Empress Cixi realizes too late the value of humility:
She listened, saying not a word. When he was gone, she sat down and opened her book and her eyes fell upon strange words written centuries before by the sage Confucius. “For lack of a broad mind and true understanding, a great purpose has been lost.”
She stared at the words and heard them as though a voice had spoken them. Out of the past they came direct into her heart and mind, and she received them humbly. Her mind was not broad enough, she had not understood the times, and her purpose was lost—her purpose to save the country. The enemy had won. She closed the book slowly and she surrendered her spirit. From now on she would not shape the times but be shaped by them.
We all have gone through moments like Empress Cixi - the “Boxers” in our lives that we should not have believed, that we should have questioned long ago, but refused to. Questioning those “Boxers” would have required us to re-examine ourselves, our beliefs, our lies, and to shatter the “safe world” we had so carefully constructed.
The house of lies is the mirror that reflects back at us. And, in the process, did we miss our purpose too?
Because, as Roxine Kee points out, it’s not so much about knowing the right answers, but finding the right people to ask the questions and to dispel the lies that we retain.
✨What or who are the “Boxers” in your life?
✨Are you prepared to confront them?
✨And what will you do about them?
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✊⚒️️🧰 Resources for the Week
✅ Contentbot.ai - Ever had problems generating good headlines, blog titles, or product names? Experiment with this new tool that leverages AI to help you be your most creative self 👇
✅ Easy and Legal Ways to get books for FREE: Alex and Books 📚 lists out “5 Easy (and legal) ways to get read books for free” - a Twitter (thread) 🧵
✅ Finding unusual book recommendations via AI (h/t Jane Friedman’s Electric Speed newsletter): Input three titles, filter by fiction versus nonfiction, by level of eclecticism, and also by decade.
✅Should this be a meeting: Some great resources about whether something requires a meeting:
Flowchart on “Should this be a Meeting?”
Closing Thoughts: Letting Go, Listening, and Talent vs. Genius
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Be conscious of your trade-offs. Before settling on any one “solution,” run your fingers through all the trade-offs and decide intentionally and specifically.
And then celebrate your triumphs, no matter how small.