This is by far one of my favorite pictures. It seemingly represents a father “asleep on the job”. The parenting books say that you shouldn’t do this. However I have this identical photo with my son and I never had a mishap. There are many reasons why I love this picture. One is that it is a reminder of a period of time when I learned a lot about myself.
The learning curve for a first-time (and even second time) parent is pretty steep. Your life is filled with turmoil and you work on less sleep than seems humanly possible. A key to survival as a parent is self-knowledge. My wife and I were a good team through the infant stages because we knew our own and the other’s strengths. My cuddle naps were a piece of the puzzle that made a difficult time more manageable. I knew that I wouldn’t roll because the cargo was too precious. Raising a child is a mixture of trial and error with a complete belief that you will not fail no matter what.
Babies teach you a lot about yourself because you can’t bargain with them. They let you know their needs on a constant basis. Your complaints, excuses and convenience do not matter to a new born baby. They will test your limits and then retest them the next day. Ultimately you end up finding strength that you never thought you had before. It is inevitable because you have no other choice.
What is your baby? Is it making the varsity team? Is it singing a solo in the concert? Is it running a marathon? Is it asking that special someone to prom? Is it finishing that book that you started six months ago?
Take care of your baby. Keep it warm and safe. Feed it with the best fuel that you can find. Help it get on its feet. Stand it back up when it falls flat on its face. Help it find its legs and walk on its own. Protect it from the ridicule of others. Watch it grow and be proud of what it becomes because it is yours.
Take care of your baby! Even when it throws up in your face!
During one summer in college, I worked as a buss-boy and bar-back at a Mexican restaurant in Ocean City, MD. It was kind of ironic that in a popular Mexican restaurant, all of the cooks, wait-staff and buss-boys were American or Scottish. The mixture of different groups of people made for an interesting work environment. I learned a lot in that job about how people relate.
On one particular night as we were closing up, a popular song came on the radio called “Closing time”. One of the dishwashers, a fifteen year old, was singing along as he waited for his ride. He was almost instantly chastised by a cook because he “didn’t understand what closing time was all about!” The entire exchange was a little weird. As someone who had experienced closing time, I didn’t see why the cook was making such a big deal out of it. For whatever reason, membership in the ‘closing time’ club was important to this guy. He let the poor dishwasher know in no uncertain terms that he was not part of the club.
Human beings are communal animals. We often identify very heavily by our affiliations. Depending on your preferences, you might be part of the GOP, PTA, NRA, FFA, CIA, NAACP or a thousand other acronyms. There’s also a possibility that you fly the American, Confederate, Rainbow, Mexican or Peace Flag. Most of these communities are exclusive and have trouble accepting the existence of their counterparts. Our differences separate us in many ways. Just like the cook who thought his perception of closing time was something that was important enough to put he and the dishwasher on different planes. Our communities that we choose define us in many ways but in the end we are all human.
As I think more and more about the state of the world and our place in it, one thought reverberates: in most cases, we are our only predators. For the most part, we conquered nature in so many ways that we basically no longer worry about predators. It is only the people that are different from us that cause a challenge, a threat or fear. We seem determined to take our differences to the extreme in order to invite or possibly even cause our own closing time. Are our differences so important as to bring the end to another, ourselves or everyone? I believe there are causes that warrant the ultimate sacrifice. On the other hand, are there sacrifices that are completely unwarranted? Is destroying your enemy’s boat so important when you share that boat?
Sunday morning I drove from Maryland to a soccer tournament in South Jersey. I crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge at about 7:30 am. This is not a major problem but I have a fear of heights. When I cross high bridges, I usually get a tingling sensation in my legs. It is a physical reaction to my mental picture of the bridge coincidentally collapsing as my car crosses it. This fear is not debilitating, just a sensation that I have to move past. There was a heavy fog that morning and I could not see any indication of height. Strangely enough there was no tingling in my legs despite knowing that the height was there. This was extremely odd because the tingling has been consistent for years.
Fog is nothing more than a dense accumulation of water molecules that clouds our vision slightly. The fog allowed my vision to focus on the road ahead and nothing else. It’s such as simple thing but it is profound as well. The thing that we fear is very rarely staring us right in the face. It is usually on the periphery and we allow it to distract us just enough to cause accidents or immobilize us. The fog didn’t take away the possibility of danger, it only blurred my acknowledgement of it. As you set a goal, fog your fear as well.
Make your goal ever-present. Put it in front of you in pictures, words and emotions. Print it out in 72 pt font. Ingrain its presence into your consciousness like a hot rivet being driven into a steel beam. Then take your fears and put them out there in the fog. If you’re a picture person, put the photo of your fear behind wax paper. Print it in 4 pt font, so that by comparison that fear is extremely small. It is acknowledged but not as big as the goal. Fear is almost never completely extinguished. The key is to make it an ember rather than a bonfire. Embers are easy to ignore. Fog your fear and focus on your goal.
Go for that big thing today, tomorrow and the next day!
In my dating years, the term “trading up” was used quite often. I’m not sure if it is still common but it basically meant finding a new and better boy/girlfriend before breaking up with your present one. It was a regular practice that safeguarded the person against the uncertainty of being single while creating the possibility of a “better” relationship. Trading up is not an unreasonable reaction for someone who is searching for better.
In many areas, the idea of better is completely subjective. Partners, jobs, towns, sports and so many other things can be held up in comparison with “better” only being true in the eye of each individual beholder. Despite this subjectivity, we use these comparisons to find the people, things and situations that will make us happy. The search for better is a natural human inclination. All of our senses are keenly attuned to find the subtle differences that make someone or something better.
The most difficult place to look is often the place that we are most familiar. In the trading up of the dating world, I wonder how often the thought has arisen “what if I were better?” It is easy to be self-righteous and assume that we are faultless. Unfortunately we all know that it isn’t true. So wouldn’t it serve us all, if the search was not for a better partner or place but a search for a better self? Then we might live up rather than trade up. There would be no deception and no fear of being single because we would know our value from staring it in the mirror each day.
Perhaps you do need to move on to a new person, place or situation but remember that the one thing that you will always carry with you is YOU! So be prepared in that better situation to be better yourself.
This afternoon I was driving back from Pennsylvania through the Delaware Water Gap. As I was driving, I listened to the audio version of a biography on Teddy Roosevelt (I’m really cool). As I listened to the stories of events that happened a century ago, it started me thinking about my surroundings. The Delaware Water Gap is a marvel of nature that makes the one hundred year space between Teddy and I seem like a millisecond. I wondered, where are we going in such a hurry?
The pace of almost everything seems to skyrocketing upward. For example travel: in little over one hundred years, we’ve gone from walking, riding horses and trains to cars to planes to supersonic jets to hyper-loops (Elon Musk). The pace is not limited to travel. It affects technology, communication, commerce and change.
As we move at this speed, it seems that in many ways the world is getting smaller. We can get to a place in three hours that used to take several days. We can communicate with someone on the other side of the world instantaneously. While this speed is a great advantage in many respects, it does rob us of the details that life has to offer. At 65 MPH the river and the mountains are a moving backdrop to a functional carnival ride. Having hiked the trails in the Gap, I know there’s a large stream that empties into the river. My kids have played on the moss covered stones and tickled their toes with the crisp clear water. You can’t get there traveling at 65 MPH. You need to slow down, stop the car and get out to walk. Speed is efficient but is it effective?
The underlying thought that keeps coming back to me is, where are we going in such a hurry? If our destination is new frontiers that we’ve never seen then I’m fully in favor. If we are trying to get to McDonald’s before they stop serving breakfast, then I wonder if we’ve missed something. If we are on the web or our phones to extract new ideas from thought leaders that we’d never get the chance to meet in real life, then the price of our data package is worth it. If we are re-watching the same youtube video of the kitten playing the piano 100 times, then the price is too high. Inventions are intended to enhance our experiences and not rob them from us.
As we move faster and the world gets smaller, I hope that we take time to truly experience life. Use the technology that you have as a key to open doors rather than a chain to lock you down. If you have a device in your pocket that can contact almost anyone you choose, use it to tell someone something of substance. Don’t text them a message that says nothing. Our lives should be filled with experiences that make it worth the while. Blurring those experiences with speed and efficiency may get us more experience but it will be more blurriness.
“Quality or Quantity. Don’t tell me they’re the same!” – Greg Graffin
In today’s high-speed world, people use acronyms more often than ever before. In the past people hoped to be the MVP, a VIP or the CEO. Now we are saying IDK, LOL, BRB and other things that I don’t even feel comfortable writing in acronym form. Today I’ve decided to coin my own acronym. It applies to many people and even applies to me at times. Rather than being a VIP, we seem intent upon being the V.O.C.
The VOC is the Victim Of Circumstance. It’s a really tough place to live. Circumstances keep piling up on these individuals that they don’t like. The world has thrust all of this upon them. They don’t like their job, school, boyfriend/girlfriend, lack of popularity, lack of influence or prospects for the future. These people have it, THE WORST EVER!. Go ahead and try to tell them about a bad situation in your life and they can find one from theirs that is ten times worse. The worst thing in most cases about being a member of the VOC club is that you have to choose to be a member!
That is one heck of a choice to make. There are many things in this world that we should choose to be, a victim should not be one of them. The problem with being a victim is the lack of power. It is by nature a position of weakness and defense. At some point the VOC decided that it was better to be weak, defensive and blameless rather than taking responsibility for themselves. This is a dangerous bargain to make because eventually it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you are wearing brown tinted glasses, everything in the world looks like feces.
So rather than being the VOC, become the DOC. The Director Of Circumstances is not completely in control of circumstance but acts more like a traffic cop. The DOC decides what he or she will let pass and what needs to be stopped and evaluated further. The traffic cop is separate from the traffic. They may cause it, they may alleviate it but they are not the traffic. Ultimately, they can usually move to a different intersection if their position becomes too much to handle. It is a game of choice.
Direct your life today! Don’t be a victim within it!
In 1998, my best friend, Schaefer, and I spent a month in Europe. We truly went to watch five matches at the World Cup but we also traveled to England, Spain, Germany and France. In many ways you could not have picked a more perfect vacation for me: soccer, best friend, Europe and soccer.
We actually arrived prior to the Cup starting and did some traveling in England and then headed to Barcelona, Spain. After spending about three days in Barcelona, we were scheduled to take a train to Paris on Sunday in order to pick up our ticket and start the soccer part of our trip. That Saturday, we were taking the Metro down to the Las Ramblas area. We sat on the bench waiting for the train. Schaef was rearranging some things between his money belt and backpack when the train arrived. Thirty seconds after the train pulled away, Schaef realize that he’d left his money belt on the bench with his passport in it. (Don’t judge Schaef here, out of character moment.) At the next stop we turned around and went back but the money belt and everything in it was gone.
We figured out where the US Embassy was and took the train to get there. Please bear in mind that the internet was not as widely accessible at the time. Upon our arrival we were hit with the next problem, it was Saturday and the Embassy was closed. The only person at the Embassy was a guard who only spoke Spanish. I explained the situation to the guard and he put me on the phone with an official from the Embassy. In order to cross the border into France (pre European Union), we needed a copy of his passport (we had) and a police report explaining that the passport had been stolen. My Spanish abilities were put to the test by filling out a police report. So the next day we went to the train station with our flimsy documents and a great deal of hope. Luckily we made it across the border.
On Monday morning we had our next hurdle to clear. We needed to pick up our tickets before 5pm at a hotel on the outskirts of Paris. Since the tickets were in Schaef’s name, we needed his passport first. We went to the US Embassy in Paris and spent hours waiting. I don’t recall what time we got there but I know what time we left 4:30pm. As fast as we could run with our large packs on our backs, we got to the Metro. We found the street we needed on the Metro map. There were two stops on that street but we had no idea which would be closer to the hotel. 50/50 chance and we blew it! The hotel was about a mile up the road and it was 4:55. So again, we ran as fast as we could and with our packs on our backs did about a 7 minute per mile pace. At 5:02, we reached the hotel! Upon entering we were informed that the pick up time for tickets had been extended two hours.
From a month long trip to Europe with my best friend, going to the biggest soccer event in the world, this is the story that I’ve told the most. I remember who won all of the games that we saw but I can’t remember the scores. How is it possible that my favorite part of the trip is when everything went wrong?
Life is not a spectator’s sport. It is intended for people to take what God, Allah or nature has given to them and do the most that they can with it. The times when you are going to figure out what you are truly made of are the times when things fall apart. ANYONE can take the guided tours at the Louvre or Prado. It takes little thought or ingenuity and it teaches you very little about yourself. The limits of you are not found on the guided tours. Easy, comfortable and failure-free are the lives of spectators.
We spend much of our life avoiding something that we call “failure”. Usually failure is associated with mistakes and we try to avoid making big ones at all costs. Schaef made a pretty big mistake. It wasn’t fatal and it allowed us to live in a scenario with an outcome that was uncertain. Uncertainty is something that we need at times in life. Balance between certainty and uncertainty is what makes life interesting. The thing is that we spend so much time trying not to fail that we often fail to live. Anything that is truly worth having is a gamble on some level.
Life is a scenario where the outcome is uncertain. That is part of the deal. If you are looking for a life without failure, discomfort and difficulty, then you are looking for boredom. Don’t go looking to fail but don’t avoid it either. Failure is often where you learn the most about yourself and what you’re made of. Make yourself better by learning from failure.
When I was a kid, I was an extremely picky eater. For an extended period of time, the one food that I would make for myself was ketchup sandwiches. It really needs no explanation but just in case, it is simply two pieces of bread with ketchup in the middle. (Do not judge my mother, I did this mainly at her protest or without her knowledge.)
Ketchup is intended to be a condiment. Something that is a taste enhancer. It should not have been a staple of anyone’s diet. However I made it a center of my diet between my sandwiches and drowning things so completely in ketchup that I was often asked, “do you want fries with your ketchup?” Luckily this was just a phase and eventually I found a lot more foods to fill my plate. It’s an easy thing to explain away in these terms. A young boy, who is afraid to try new foods, relies heavily on something that is safe but nutritionally empty to make it through.
This concept becomes more difficult to explain when we look at ourselves. We’re not little kids anymore yet we cling heavily to things of little or no value. In small doses, things like junk food, television, alcohol, etc. are not life altering forces. However when those “condiments” become staples of your life’s diet, it is hard to say whether you are truly living or if you are just alive.
I’m looking in the mirror here. Have a great weekend people!