“The WD-40-Guy at Harvard” (An 80-second read on addressing distraction)

December 9, 2012
By

I remember well my first day of grad school.  I was awake early.  It surprised me how concerned I suddenly was about what I should wear.  (“You should have thought of this before!” I kept telling myself.)

I finally settled on jeans, a sweater and a scarf—which—it turned out—so did everybody else.

I found a seat in the back of the famous Harvard classroom.  This class was with one of the celebrity professors, so a large room was assigned.  Soon, I was captivated by the teaching offered by this great thinker.

And then the double doors at the front of the room, just to the right of the professor, screeched open on old hinges—and announced the late arrival of one of my colleagues.  This happened three or four more times during the class, each time cognitively taking me off topic, and placing my attention squarely on the distraction.

After three more such class meetings, I decided to do something about it.  On my way to meeting number four, I stopped at the corner store and bought a tiny can of WD-40.  I arrived just before class started, pulled the can out of my backpack, and squirted the heck out of those hinges.  When I turned around to face the class, I was offered a round of applause and lots of laughter.

And I became known as the “WD-40-Guy at Harvard.”

With that, I ask you, what is distracting you now? From purpose? From doing? What’s making your hinges squeak?

  • It could be an unhealthy relationship?
  • Perhaps a lack of will or determination?  (Sometimes that is just another way of saying “lazy,” and sometimes it is an indication of depression or other more serious mental challenges for which solutions do exist—if you’ll look for them.)
  • Maybe it is guilt for something everyone has forgiven you except yourself?
  • A debilitating concentration on politics?
  • Or maybe it is a lack of focus?

Whatever it is that is preventing you from fulfilling your purpose, I bet you know exactly what it is.  Life, like those hinges, can be profoundly distracting.  But it is up to us to stop and buy the WD-40—so that we can be cognitively present and focused on what we are meant to learn, be—and do.

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Nathaniel is CEO of AidChild.org. He holds a Master's Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University where he was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship, and winner of the 2010 Harvard HDP Marshal Award. He also holds a PhD in Leadership Studies from the University of San Diego where he was the Dammeyer Fellow in Global Education Leadership, and a Cordes Fellow at Opportunity Collaboration. Nathaniel is author of "We Are Not Mahogany: Three stories about the male African life." Prior to his move to Uganda in 2000, Nathaniel was Deputy Director of the Office of the Governor of Arizona, and Director of Education at Leadership, Inc.

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