“Frisbee Factor” Part Two

Last week, I shared the story of the first time I played ultimate Frisbee. My Frisbee skills were so pathetic that gradually my teammates stopped trying to throw it to me. But then I secretly practiced Frisbee every day for two weeks until we met up to play again. I thought that as soon as someone threw it to me, I would show everyone how I had improved. But . . . no one threw it to me because they remembered how bad I had been before. This is the phenomenon which I call the “Frisbee Factor.” I ended my last post with two questions. First, when you’re the one trying to change, how can you have the chance to change when, metaphorically, no one throws you the Frisbee? Second, when it’s the other way around and someone close to you is trying to change, how can you treat them in a way that doesn’t block them from changing, even when they haven’t “caught the Frisbee” in the past?

I’ll try to give partial answers to both those questions, starting with the second question.  Recently, I read the following story in Dale Carnegie’s famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People:

“Bob Hoover, a famous test pilot and frequent performer at airshows, was returning to his home in Los Angeles from an airshow in San Diego.  At three hundred feet in the air, both engines suddenly stopped.  By deft maneuvering he managed to land the plane, but it was badly damaged, although nobody was hurt.

“Hoover’s first act after the emergency landing was to inspect the airplane’s fuel.  Just as he suspected, the World War II propeller plane he had been flying had been fueled with jet fuel rather than gasoline. 

“Upon returning to the airport, he asked to see the mechanic who had serviced his airplane.  The young man was sick with the agony of his mistake.  Tears streamed down his face as Hoover approached.  He had just caused the loss of a very expensive plane and could have caused the loss of three lives as well.

“You can imagine Hoover’s anger.  One could anticipate the tongue-lashing that this proud and precise pilot would unleash for that carelessness.  But Hoover didn’t scold the mechanic; he didn’t even criticize him.  Instead, he put his big arm around the man’s shoulder and said, “To show you I’m sure that you’ll never do this again, I want you to service my F-51 tomorrow.” (How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie, 1936, Pocket Books, p. 14)

When I read this story, my mind was blown, and I stood up from the couch where I was reading and exclaimed, “Now that is someone with a mindset that isn’t influenced by the Frisbee Factor.  How can I become like that?”

Have you ever met someone like that?  Someone who sees clearly enough to see past your mistakes and believe in you more than you believe in yourself?  If you have, I’m sure that person has changed your life forever, and I’m sure you would do anything for that person.

I want to be that person for someone else.  In honor of this story, I personally call this trait the “Test Pilot Character,” and I think it’s a fitting name because having this kind of character takes a lot of guts and a lot of perspective.  Why is it so challenging to develop the Test Pilot Character?

Obstacles to Developing the Test Pilot Character

  1. Pride.  If we ourselves are not humbly striving to improve, then subconsciously we don’t want anyone else to improve either because then we would no longer be better than they are.
  2. Lack of Observation. Once we feel like we have someone “figured out,” then we don’t really notice them anymore.  The way we interact with that person becomes habitual.
  3. Stress. In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to care more about the person than the problem, hard to care more about the growth of the player than the winning of the game.
  4. Protection. We don’t want to be taken advantage of.  When someone lets us down once, it’s natural (and often necessary) to protect ourselves from letting it happen again.
  5. Acceptance. More often than not, people want us to accept them for who they are.  Some people get grumpy when they feel like we expect them to change.  It makes them feel judged, or like they’re not good enough.  So to avoid offense, we train ourselves not to expect much of people.
  6. Avoiding Disappointment. We don’t want to be disappointed.  We don’t want to hope and expect that people are changing, because most of the time people aren’t changing . . . right?

Instead of discussing solutions for all these obstacles at this time,  I invite you to think about each one and see if you can come up with your own answers.  (Though I will point out with number six that if you’ve read my post called “Plateau or Phase Change” then you’ll understand that there’s never a time when people aren’t changing.)

Since trusting everyone completely and unconditionally would be a dangerous and unrealistic goal, my current goal is to trust people at least one degree higher than what they’ve actually earned.  But even for a goal like that, I have a long way to go.

Since the Test Pilot Character is so rare, and since we can’t always count on people like Bob Hoover to be present in our lives, we need to learn various strategies for how to overcome the Frisbee Factor when we ourselves are the ones trying to change.  I have three main strategies to discuss, though there are many more.

Strategies to Get Past the Frisbee Factor

  1. Awareness. Once you recognize that the Frisbee Factor exists and understand how it works, you can anticipate it and mentally prepare for it in advance.  You can program yourself ahead of time to not let it affect your actions.  Be convinced in your own mind that you have changed.  Also, don’t resent anyone for using the Frisbee Factor against you, because, as you can see from the list above, it’s hard for others to think any differently.

Along with that, don’t be concerned about whether or not people can see the “real you.”   You see, when I become acquainted with someone for the first time, I often sense that person automatically assumes I know what I’m doing and trusts me from the start.  Sometimes, rather than taking confidence in their trust, I tend to disregard it and tell myself that they wouldn’t think I was so competent if they really knew me.  I’m willing to bet some of you have had the same experience.

But what if this new acquaintance sees a part of the real you that your friends and family can’t see because they still see you for who you used to be?  They’ve gotten so used to you that they’re blind to what you’ve become.

So who sees the real you?  The people who have known you forever or the people who you’ve just barely met?  Whose trust in you can be trusted?   Both and neither.  At most, a single individual can only see half of the real you.  Old friends see one half and new friends see the other.

When a new person treats me with the assumption that I’m better than I really am, more often than not I work harder to make sure that person never has a reason to lower their respect.  And sooner or later I find that I’ve become the person who they thought I was all along.

So does this mean that to escape the Frisbee Factor, you just have to get rid of all your old friends and associates and find new ones?  Well, that could work in some circumstances.  (For example, when I’ve played ultimate Frisbee with entirely new groups of friends then I’ve been able to participate just fine.)  However, I don’t recommend applying that idea to family members.  You can’t just disown them or shun them every time you want to change.  Since you’re bound to your family forever, I think the next point will be much more practical in their case.

2. Communication: Inform Associates that You’re Changing

Looking back at my Frisbee experience, suppose I had just announced to everyone, “Hey guys, guess what!  I’ve been practicing, so please throw the Frisbee to me now so I can show you how I got better!”

Problem solved, right?  It sounds easy, but most of us are shy and struggle to find the right moment.  Or we don’t want to call attention to ourselves or call attention to the fact that no one was throwing us the Frisbee before.  Another reason is that we don’t want to give up the dream of “surprising” people by letting them notice and point out the change on their own.  Sometimes daydreaming about surprising someone is what motivates us to change to begin with.

Shyness is a complex topic which I address in other posts.  As for the desire to surprise, I have a friend who absolutely detests surprise birthday parties, and when I asked her why, she explained that “anticipation is better than surprise.  Surprise only lasts for one second.  But if I know that a birthday party is coming, I can look forward to it and participate in planning, and then the joy is spread out over several weeks.”  I think the same principle applies to personal growth and change.  It’s better to make loved ones aware that we want to change and to share with them our goals and plans so that they can be aware and recognize the change as it’s happening.

There’s a technique called “companionship inventories,” which I will do an entire post about in the future.  These inventories are something I learned how to do as a missionary, and I found them very beneficial for informing a close friend on what my personal goals were so she could be aware that I was trying to get better and praise my progress along the way.

As a cautionary note, some people might doubt you or even tear you down after you share your personal development goals with them.  Which is why the next point is most important of all.

3. Spend More Time Seeing Yourself Through God’s Eyes

If you haven’t read the book You Are Special by Max Lucado (an illustrated children’s story), obtain a copy as soon as possible.  And if you have children, read it to them before bed on a regular basis.  I can’t do the story justice.  In short, the book is a beautiful reminder to care more about what God thinks of us rather than what others think of us.  However, you need to spend more quality time with God for that to happen.

God will always trust us more than we trust ourselves.  The scriptures are filled with examples of when God asked someone to do something they had never done before.  He knows we’re ready before we think we’re ready.  When I struggle to have faith in myself, I can instead have faith in the faith that God has in me.

Jesus Christ knows exactly how it feels to be a victim of the Frisbee Factor.  He understands how it feels to have those closest to you be unable to move past the same label that they’ve always given you.  When Jesus visited his home town and tried to share his true identify with all his childhood associates, they all shook their heads and exclaimed, “Is not this Joseph’s son?  A lowly carpenter?  Haven’t we known him and his family for years?  How dare he claim to be something more!”  (Paraphrased from Luke chapter 4)

Christ couldn’t change how others saw him, but he remained undaunted as he continued to become who he knew he was born to be.

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