Rant 22 February 2005: Groundhog day

February, thankfully the shortest month, nevertheless has two holidays of note: Groundhog Day and Valentine’s Day.

Groundhog Day, for those of you readers not in North America, is an event that takes place on February 2nd. A little furry rodent supposedly pokes its nose out of its burrow to determine whether there will be an early spring or six more weeks of winter. If it sees its shadow, six more weeks of winter are in order. Various groundhogs such as Punxsutawney Pete (or Punxsutawney Phil), and Wiarton Willie have made their careers from their Nostradamus-like skill.

However, since in most of Canada, spring in mid-March IS early, it’s really all the same thing. But nobody seems to concern themselves too much with whether the groundhog’s record is solid. It’s all in good fun; and the groundhog enjoys his brief fame every year. By the time March rolls around, everyone’s forgotten about it anyway. We’re consumed with lust over the prospect of seeing sexy flashes of people’s uncovered ankles, wrists, and maybe if we’re lucky, nude elbows.

The original groundhog was actually a badger, and the tradition brought to North America by the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 18th century. The spirit behind the ceremony is much older, of course. For thousands of years, humans have looked to signs such as bones, bird flight or entrails, runes, stars and planets, to provide a view into the future. In most of these cases, the divination is through external means. The future is conceptualized as something outside human control; thus, the reporting is left also to apparently random external signs.

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a jaded TV weatherman doomed to repeat the day’s events, over and over and over. He knows the future but is unable to do anything with it, until he makes major changes in his actions and his attitude.

Often when I speak to clients and trainees it is as if they too are stuck in their own Groundhog Day. They repeat the same negative patterns over and over without really learning anything or fundamentally re-evaluating why things did not work. They also look to external sources to tell them the future: a new “magic” diet or fitness plan, a new “guru”, a new celebrity shill, or a new product. They often feel that a new supplement is the groundhog that will control their future success. Or, perhaps they feel that genetics is the groundhog that predicts their failure. This occurs despite them often “knowing” the right thing to do. But as the saying goes, knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing at all.

Aside from chance or random events such as giant tidal waves, plagues of locusts, being discovered as the next supermodel on the New York subway system, or being hit in the cranium with a frozen mass discharged from an airplane’s bathroom 20,000 feet overhead, most of our future is well within our control. Our behaviour and attitude determine the outcome much of the time. I met my husband through a chance encounter; some folks would call that destiny or fate. But consider this: how many people do you meet in your life that you don’t marry? I’ve met probably thousands of people in 31 years of experience. Most of those were also what you might call chance encounters. I just happen to remember the one person that was actually successful, so if I focus on that one, it might seem like there was some special plan. I also forget all the hard work and daily care and feeding that is required to maintain a relationship, and focus instead on the magic. It’s a selective memory of destiny, for sure.

(And, by the way, this hard work of relationships is also conveniently forgotten during the second holiday, Valentine’s Day. Chocolate has a way of doing that to a person.)

Being in the right place at the right time never hurts. But the more you’re in that right place, the better your chances of it being the right time. We like to focus on stories that chart someone’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune, but we usually forget the ass-busting that is between rags and riches. I think human beings are fascinating, wonderful creatures. We are incredibly adaptive, diverse, and creative. And if we really, really want something, we usually find some way to get it (sadly, much of human inventiveness has been expended in the service of finding ways to blow other humans up good).

So, metaphorically speaking, why are you granting ownership of your future to small furry mammals? Beyond digging holes that we can step in while running, what power do they have over us? You’re not in charge of the weather, but you’re the one who decides whether to pack the umbrella or suntan lotion every morning. Instead of whining about how the groundhog screwed up when March 31 brings a giant apocalyptic snowstorm, put on your toasty warm boots and start shoveling.