Buckminster Fuller requested that this phrase be placed on his headstone: Call Me Trimtab.
What is a trimtab you might ask?
On a boat the trimtab is a small but vital part of the rudder mechanism. On an airplane the trimtab is an adjustable tab on the trailing edge of the elevator control surface that the pilot sets to keep the aircraft steady and level. Lose your tiny trimtab and you lose your ability to control the direction of your vessel. The trimtab, though small, can move a big ship.
Buckminster Fuller understood that sometimes the smallest effort could create a big redirection not only in one’s personal life, but also in the direction of society.
When we look at the big picture of our lives and our children’s lives, where are our efforts headed? Are we focused more on a goal or more on growth?
Focusing on a goal challenges us to do something to get something, but a goal is a short term effort. Focusing on continued growth, little by little, keeps us growing past our goals, and also allows us to adjust our goals when the situation changes.
To grow, to consistently learn new skills, requires self-discipline and practice. Everyday is an opportunity to grow, to be involved in meaningful tasks to enlarge and maintain our skills and knowledge. We need to make sure we engage every day to take on the challenge of our continued growth. We don’t need to expend huge amounts of time and energy. We need to use our trimtabs.
Choice of our task is one of our trimtabs. When we have control over what tasks we do and when we do them, we tend to learn more quickly.
Another trimtab is feeling connected to the job at hand with our everyday life and sense of direction. Meaningful tasks help us stay the course and focus more on growth than just getting to the end. Remember that class you had to take and hated? The lack of meaning and connection to everyday life takes life off course. A trimtab returns the journey to an affirming direction.
Having adequate time to complete our self-selected meaningful tasks is another powerful way to direct our lives.
Research shows that young children will persist with a learning task for 60 to 90 minutes if the task is meaningful, if the individual child has choice about the task and if the child is interested in the task. When these conditions are present for learning and the meaningful, chosen and interesting task is interrupted because of time constraints, learning goes down the tubes, and self-motivation takes a nosedive. When the trimtab is missing, we can see a loss of direction and stability.
A pilot or boat captain gets accurate and timely feedback from reading instruments and watching the movement of their vessels. All of us learn best when we get accurate feedback about our progress when we desire it. Self-correcting materials are ideal learning aids. Getting a response to our efforts aids our growth results. Ever try to work a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture? With a picture to provide direction and feedback, it’s easier to figure out the puzzle. Without the picture, we might give up in frustration.
People who excel in an area know that they need to be involved in meaningful tasks everyday to grow and maintain skills and knowledge. Athletes don’t like to miss a practice. We need to make sure we allow the time every day to take on the challenge of learning and growing.
As many college graduates know, you can’t cram a semester’s worth of learning into an overnight study fest. Study an hour a day for 12 days, and you’ll learn more Physics 204 than 12 hours in one day. Daily repetition and overnight rest is one reason most societies run on a five-day-a-week school and work schedule. It helps people learn and grow.
Little by little does the trick. Be a trimtab to redirect your life.