Wishbones and Backbones

Good morning! I hope your day is off to a nice start.

Yesterday, I was reading a post where the writer quoted a long list of things we should teach our sons. I agreed with just about every one of them, because I’ve always believed we need to do a better job of passing strong values on to our kids.

One particular item on the list stood out, because of its sheer simplicity. “Don’t grow a wishbone where the backbone is supposed to go.” I did a little research and found that this quote originated from a writer named Clementine Paddleford, and it was written for daughters, not sons. “Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.”

It’s not uncommon for sentiments such as this to be misquoted, or even re-directed. Still, I think the message remains strong, whether we’re talking about sons, daughters, or even ourselves. But, like many other such quotes, it’s easy to take it out of context and miss the meaning entirely.

“Don’t grow a wishbone.” Those four words, taken by themselves, have some pretty strong implications that fly in the face of what I’ve been promoting all this time. I talk about the importance of dreaming, and how it drives us to bigger and better things. And the closing words, “where the backbone ought to be,” could be misinterpreted as well. It would be easy to read this entire statement as, “Don’t dream of the things you want – stand up and demand them!”

And, to be honest, there are people in this world who live by that mantra. If you want something, take it. To the victor go the spoils, and everybody else can just live with their loss or grow a backbone of their own. We’ve all met people like this.

And, the problem with that line of thinking is that it assumes every gain in life must be balanced by a corresponding loss. I’ve been in business a few different times, and something I’ve never understood is the concept of a balance sheet. I guess for accountants, it’s pretty simple. But the notion that assets and liabilities must always balance out to a sum total of $0 is beyond my comprehension.

I read another post this morning, in a comedy forum of all places, that said “A rising tide raises all boats.” Now, there’s something I can understand. And, we’ve talked about this before – the concept that, by elevating those around us, we elevate ourselves as well. When the collective total increases, so does the individual average.

In accounting, balance sheets make sense (I guess). But in life, dreams are not a limited resource, nor are the things that enable our dreams. Money is a renewable resource. So are fancy homes, boats, airplanes, RVs, vacation packages, and just about anything else you can imagine. Winning yours doesn’t mean somebody else has to lose. There’s more than enough to go around.

So, let’s assume Ms. Paddleford wasn’t suggesting we don’t dream, or that we should “grow a backbone” and take what we want. I think the statement goes much deeper than that. To me, it says don’t let your ability to dream overcome your will to achieve. If there’s something you want in life, and you want it badly enough to wish for it, then have the guts to pursue that dream.

In terms of dreams, having a backbone means standing in the face of adversity and saying, “You can make things tough on me, but you can’t make me quit. I’ll stand against you day after day until you give up or just move on to somebody else, because I have already decided this shall be, and there’s no turning back. So, give it your best shot. I’ve got this.”

I doubt you can point to very many things in life that you achieved without any resistance whatsoever. Okay, people who have won the lottery may not agree, but that aside, just about every worthwhile thing you’ve accomplished in life came with some challenges. But determination and commitment carried you to the goal. Simply stated – you didn’t quit.

Should we grow a wishbone? Absolutely! And, unlike the one that comes with our Thanksgiving turkey, we need to make sure our own wishbone isn’t quite so brittle. It needs to be strong and resilient, something that can be bent, but never broken.

And that, my friends, takes commitment. It takes an unwavering belief in our ability to reach the goal, and a determination that nothing will stand in our way. Starting to sound a little like a backbone? I like the way you think!

A wishbone by itself can’t accomplish anything except pipe dreams. A backbone by itself can’t accomplish anything except standing in the way. But when you make the two work together, there’s nothing you can’t do, no goal you can’t achieve. At that point, the world is your playground, just waiting for you to enjoy whatever your heart desires.  

That’s all for now. Have an awesome day!

© 2018 Dave Glardon