What SEALs and Caesar Teach About Slowing Down

Jeff Minick | September 30, 2019

What SEALs and Caesar Teach About Slowing Down

With the exception of some entomologists, few people are fans of cockroaches. We may admire the beauty of a butterfly, the industry of an ant, and the intricacy of a spider’s web, but show us a cockroach, and we’re ready to roll up that magazine we’re reading and swat away. 

In 1975, I rented a roach-infested studio apartment on Boston’s Joy Street. It took the roaches a couple of days, but after they had introduced themselves the war was on. Although I squashed them whenever I could, their numbers never diminished. They were fast as the wind and were, like some NFL players, excellent at broken field running.    

Once I sprinkled boric acid around my small bed to deter the varmints. That night, as I lay on the bed with my hands contentedly behind my head, a roach dropped from the ceiling and hit me on the chest. (I really wish I were making this up.) 

It was disgusting. 

Some months later I moved across the country to an apartment on San Diego’s El Cajon Boulevard.

Here again there were roaches, but far fewer of them and quite different from their East Coast cousins. These were California roaches, laid back pests, cool, groovy. They would amble across the kitchen counter, looking for all the world as if they were heading for the beach and saying, “Hey, man, what’s shaking?” While I was in an all-out war with my Boston cockroaches, swatting these chilled dudes brought pangs of guilt. 

By now you are probably thinking: Okay, cut to the chase. What’s your point here?

My point is personality types.

Though I despised them, I think I am more a Boston cockroach than a California one. I scoot and scramble through my day. I am definitely not an ambler. 

I am what psychologists call a Type A personality. People have told me this several times over the years, and after reading about Type A folks I’ve concluded that part of the description applies to me. I’m self-critical. I don’t often take joy or satisfaction in my accomplishments. I have “high work involvement” and tend to be a workaholic. Some say I don’t know how to relax.

On the other hand, some signs of a Type A personality are foreign to me. I am anything but aggressive, I am not overly competitive, and I am not controlling. (OK, maybe a little on that last one.)

I also possess some characteristics of the Type B personality. I am emotional and expressive. 

But I am not, as one description puts it, “laid back.” I am not a California cockroach.

Recently, I was reading for review Brad Thor’s novel Backlash, a self-described thriller about an ex-SEAL on the run and struggling for survival in modern-day Russia. I had a deadline for that review and so was sprinting through those pages as fast as those Boston roaches once raced toward the safety of the baseboards. At least twice in my reading, I came across this SEAL mantra: “Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.”

The saying brought back memories of teaching Latin to homeschoolers, when I would share with them a motto of Augustus Caesar: Festina lente. “Make haste slowly.” Those words, like the ones from the SEALs, imply moving forward at a steady pace, prepared and with a plan.

Like many people, I often feel each day is a race. We run as fast as we can, hurrying and hurrying, and the only finish line is a pillow and the sheets. We rise in the morning, gulp down the coffee, throw on some clothes, and start the race all over again.

So I wondered: Should I take that SEAL axiom and the emperor’s advice and slow down? Find a pace that seems smooth instead of hectic? Maybe if I planned a bit more, or prioritized my daily goals better, or even just deliberately reminded myself a dozen times a day that “slow is smooth and smooth is fast,” I wouldn’t feel quite so harried by obligations and circumstances.

So I’ve decided to give it a go. Maybe old dogs can learn new tricks.

But I also have to acknowledge that my Type A “work involvement” isn’t going anywhere. I can try to rein it in, but part of me will always be running as fast as those Boston roaches.

Oh, well. At least I am harder to swat. 

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[Image Credit: Pixabay]



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