Eleven years old, playing in a baseball tournament in Urbana, Ohio. I’m playing shortstop. There is a hard hit ground ball up the middle. In a diving attempt to stop the ball I cut the heel of my hand, lodging a few small stones in it. When I got up, blood was running down my hand. My dad, an assistant coach for our team at the time, came out of the dugout. Walking, slowly, on to the field he made his way across the 3rd base line and out to where I was bent over holding my right hand.
Dad took my right hand and gently wiped the blood off it with his shirt. As he raised it to take a closer look, I expected him to console me or empathize with my pain and injury. He didn’t do that.
After examining it closely for what seemed like minutes, dad brushed the remaining pebbles off my hand and pushed a few larger ones out from under my skin and back onto the field. Then he spit on it, reached down, scooped up some dirt and rubbed it into my palm.
He tapped it a few times with his hand, turned back to the dugout, and said ‘Yer, good.’
Why Should We Care? As unsanitary as this story may seem in our current world, it reminds me of something that is core to my belief system now: dirt is good.
We are who we are because of the dirt. As much as we try to dust ourselves off, clean ourselves up, it’s our own dirt that defines us. Our family problems, our personal inadequacies, and the challenges we face need to be embraced. We not only need to live WITH our dirt, we need to live IN it.
Our desire to be ‘clean’, and dirt free, is crippling to our progress and pursuit of excellence. This race to eliminate our dirt robs us of our most important lessons - the ones that help us gain self awareness.
When we live in the dirt we begin to understand who we are. We appreciate our shortcomings for their contribution to the person we’ve become, and are becoming.
REAL TALK - Action Steps So what is the dirt? We know it’s not shiny watches and fancy clothes. We know it’s not a new hairstyle and the nicest cars. Dirt is more foundational than those things of course.
Dirt is Work
Yea, that’s right. We can talk about a whole lot of fancy things that lead to excellence but there is one thing that has to be on every list created for it - work. If we aren’t willing to work, none of the other theories, beliefs, and practices matter. And work is dirty - doesn’t matter if our job requires us to wear a three piece suit or overhauls. Living in the dirt means we are willing to roll up our sleeves and dig in. No excuses, just work.
Dirt is Failure
We progress through failure. And, failure is dirty. It makes us look bad. It often disappoints us and those around us. But without it, we know nothing about ourselves. We don’t know the limits of our potential. We don’t know where we can contribute to others and where we need to improve ourselves. Failure is the gateway to excellence. Everyone says it … but it’s dirty. So, we try to avoid it. We need to stop viewing our failures as setbacks and start viewing them as the dirt that is providing the foundation in our pursuit of excellence.
Dirt is Humility
Is there a better, modern picture of humility than a farmer’s worn, dirty hands? The dirt on our hands helps others appreciate the dirt on theirs. It shows that we are in this life together. We’re not above or below each other regardless of our position. There is always dirt. Our willingness to get dirty in our position will show those around us our level of humility.
So, think about your dirt. What is it in your life? What can you do to become more familiar with it? How can you live in the dirt?
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