It was my freshman year of high school. I don’t recall why I was in the halls so late that day but there I was. A friend from soccer saw me and asked me if I would play for the chess team in ten minutes. One of their players was sick and they needed someone. It was also the end of their season, so they were having a pizza party afterward. My father had taught me enough about chess that I knew how the pieces moved and how to win/lose the game. I agreed to play with the expectation being set that I was not very good.
My opponent didn’t know anything about my prior experience or lack thereof. He was an intellectual type that gave thought to each of his moves and the meaning behind mine. The truth was that my moves were haphazard at best and I was almost impatient with how long it took for him to beat me. I was there for the pizza more than the chess. In the end I did lose relatively quickly and easily because I put almost nothing into the game.
Over the years I’ve become a better chess player but I’m still nothing to write home about. The reason why I bring up this memory is that it is representative of how many people go through life. They are focused on specific things and take little notice of much else. They give up on things that could be important if they just took time to notice. Their focus on the least common denominator blinds them to the upper limits of what life has to offer.
This is probably not you. You’re probably reaching for the heights of what you can be: physically, mentally and emotionally. We can’t live at our best every single moment but to settle for the minimum offered seems absurd. I’m not just here for the pizza anymore!
Go get it! (whatever ‘it’ is for you)
In evolutionary terms, humans have not changed much in a long time. There is talk that redheads might disappear from the human race eventually. This is a relatively small change in the dominant (in certain ways) species of the world. Our historic and prehistoric ancestors generally lived an existence more focused on survival. Their lives were based on filling the void in their stomachs before anything else. Some civilizations began to fill the void in understanding the world around them and the heavens above. Regardless of the time period, man has been trying to fill a void in his life.
Today in the hyper-individualized world of the 21st century, each person seems to have their own personal void which needs filling. Generally speaking in the US, we have conquered the void of the stomach to an alarming amount of overkill. The internet has given many the excuse of bypassing the void of the mind. Since all knowledge is available, it becomes less important to know it. In a world where the stomach is full and the mind is subject to whims of the shiniest things that shows up in front of us, it’s no wonder that people are struggling. They are not struggling with staying alive but they are struggling with truly living. Survival is a 24/7 job. What do you do when that job is no longer necessary? How do you fill that time that used to be spent surviving?
It should be spent living the life that you want. You have ten, twenty, sixty more years of void. What are you going to do with it? That is the true question. I do not stand in judgment of what you want for yourself. It is after all, your life. The thing that I ask is for you to truly consider what it is that you want, rather taking what you are given. Fill your life, fill your time, fill your mind, fill your heart with the things that truly want. Do more than just stay alive. Live as if you’ve only got one shot at this.
“I’ve spent the past few years building up an immunity to iocane powder!” -The Dread Pirate Roberts/Wesley
It was a strategic maneuver. Obviously Wesley knew that at some point he would be faced with a situation where drinking poison would save his life. However since iocane is odorless and tasteless, the experience was not done for enjoyment but rather protection. If Wesley had been alive in modern or realistic times, he would have had a greater number of choices to kill Vizzini. It just would have taken years and not moments to kill him using a soft drink, ultraviolet sun-rays, fast-food and stress-laden office job. If you haven’t understood any of this post yet, stop everything and watch “The Princess Bride” right now!
Now that you’re back or never left, it should be obvious to most that our lives are full of possible poisons. Some can be instantaneous killers. Others take years to grab hold and choke the life out of people. Why are we surrounded by so much poison? Because we want to be! We really don’t want the literal or figurative death that they carry but it is usually an unwanted side-effect to some deliciousness. I use the word delicious to describe some positive feeling sensation associated with a negative action or product. It does not specifically have to be a food/drink.
The delicious moment trumps the long term poisonous effect. It is all over our society: food, drink, relationships, entertainment and the list goes on. I’m sure that it is not impossible but it would definitely be difficult to go “poison free”. So I would not ask that of anyone. Since I mainly write this blog to challenge myself, the challenge that I lay before you and I is to give up two delicious poisons this week. Tuesday (8/25) to Tuesday (9/1). Leave a comment with your two and be honest with yourself and me if you drop the ball. It’s not failure, it’s data! You’ve learned something about yourself. My two poisons are: Iced Tea and ice cream. I also promise to leave a comment if I fall short. People who know me will recognize the difficulty of this. Can you give up Facebook, unnecessary cellphone use, your anger, that cup of coffee or cigarette?
“Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” -Vizzini
Each year my brother and I go for a hike on the Appalachian Trail. It is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s an awe-inspiring thing. The trail is only a few feet wide but it is over two thousand miles long. The path is usually easy enough to follow because lots of people hike it each year. This past spring we hiked our normal section in reverse. Due to an overflowing stream, we ended up on the wrong trail for a while. Eventually we were able to get back to the AT but first we had to get our bearings and hiked some new ground with new sites. Hiking the AT is a great experience that I’ve enjoyed a lot. It’s not the only path and it’s not the path for everyone.
While hiking the AT is great, it is a horrible path to be on if you’re trying to get to Ohio. As I prepare for another year in the classroom, I wonder how many of our paths are broken. We have constructed so many procedures, social norms and belief systems. It seems as though many of them are broken or breaking. The 20th Century American Human had a pretty clear cut set of guidelines for his or her “success”. Money, fame, power, and possessions were indicators of “success”. Perhaps they still are but I don’t know that the old paths still lead to those desired ends. The fact that we have been going down these paths for generations will be little consolation to the young people who end up lost on “the right path”.
Perhaps what we need now is a compass and a machete rather than a path. The future is an uncertain thing. Following the well-worn path may still get you to its historical end but it may help more to question the path. Is this the right path for you? At bare minimum the question and the decision to follow or not puts your life into your own hands. In the end that’s where it should be anyway. If you follow in everyone else’s footsteps and don’t like where you end up, then you made the mistake, not the path.
Find your True North and follow it this week.
I’ll admit it openly that I have fallen off of the exercise wagon this summer. Grandiose hopes of more time and fewer distractions turned into shut off alarms and Netflix watching. Although there were spurts of activity, I have fallen short of my own standard for acceptability in both frequency and duration of exercise. Today I began the climb out of that hole.
After completing my run and heading for the gym, I walked by this structure on the right. I’m not really sure what it is. It is on the site of an old fish hatchery. So it might have held feed at one point or possibly it is a type of water tower. Regardless of its function, I can pretty honestly say that I have never noticed it before. Despite having many activities as a youth and an adult less than a hundred yards away, it was invisible to me. If I had noticed it at a younger age, it might have been something that I would have climbed or pretended was a fort or bunker. Now it is useless to me.
In many ways this experience mirrors that which happens to all of us at one point or another. We discover things about ourselves which were in plain sight for most people to see. However we become so accustomed to ourselves that we don’t notice. We don’t notice that we can be confident, intelligent, funny or courageous until that trait is covered with rust and overgrowth. It seems useless to us because it would take so much effort to change it, repair it and use it. It is not too late.
The rust and neglect of the past cannot compare with the continuous action of now. The picture that you have of yourself may be old and only representative of your past. Much like when we look at our yearbooks, it is easy to see that we are no longer the same. We are always evolving into new people. That evolution can come about by chance or by choice. So as you look at yourself today, find those things that are hiding in plain sight. Find your passion, your strength, your courage and charisma. It is waiting for you to pull away the leaves and polish off the rust. The same old you is always available if that’s who you want to be.
Enjoy the weekend!
My wife introduced me to this song while we were dating. It ended up being our wedding song. “Leather and Lace” is a duet between Stevie Nicks and Don Henley. It makes sense that this would be my eventual wedding song since another Stevie Nicks duet “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” seemed to be the anthem of my dating life. The song is a back and forth of accepting ones own shortcomings and relying on the strength of the other.
We are an extremely social animal. Our complete domination of the planet is testament to the extreme power of our ability to relate to one another. Just like most other creatures our very survival as a species is dependent upon the forming of unions that allow us to flourish. Our progress as individuals and as a society is based heavily on our interaction with others. At one point in history, our world was only directly influenced by the people in our family or our tribe or town. Today it is possible to reach the other side of the earth instantaneously to learn from someone whose world is physically as far from yours as possible. This grasp has innumerable positive applications. The problem is that this grasp also allows people to view themselves as a powerful individual. Often our enhanced ability to connect is shunned in favor of an ability to attack.
In many ways we (humans) need to step back in order to go forward. Our survival (yep survival) is dependent upon our ability to connect and learn. We have more knowledge and resources available to us than any other time in history. It is time to use those resources to become more human again. Connecting with other people is one of the things we do best. Now we need to revert back to a deeper level than status updates that we’ve become so comfortable with. In the last five years of his life it is estimated that former President Theodore Roosevelt wrote 2,500 letters to family, friends and other correspondents. That’s just over a letter every day. When was the last time that you put that kind of care into your relationships? It is the deliberate act of reaching out in order to connect rather than to just be in contact. Be willing to connect with others in order that you might take on some of their leather or lace.
“Finished with my woman ’cause she couldn’t help me with my mind. People think I’m insane ’cause I am frowning all the time.” Those lines don’t even need the backing of guitars or drums to churn a feeling of very raw emotion in my stomach. “Paranoid” by Ozzy Osbourne/Black Sabbath was the preferred soundtrack of my pre-high school years. Despite its melancholy and borderline hopeless lyrics, it always seemed to be able to put me into a frenzy that required action of some kind. My music selection at the time came as a surprise to many especially my middle school French teacher, Madame Gowie.
Although I’m not quite sure where my ability for languages came from, I was able to display talent even in middle school. Nothing says “cool” in middle school better than being good in French class! Unfortunately I was slightly unaware of what it took to be cool and became one of Madame Gowie’s favorites with the French name of “Pierre Paul” to boot. The first time when I truly disappointed the good Madame was when I brought in a picture of someone famous for description. My magazine picture of Ozzy Osbourne left her in a state of disgust. Her thoughts about Mr. John Michael Osbourne were not positive in the slightest and it possibly changed her thoughts about me. For my own part, I had a much stronger positive feeling toward Mr. Osbourne and the effect he had on my life. So I took up the more normal disposition and disliked French class with my peers.
It was almost too easy for Madame Gowie and others to dislike Ozzy Osbourne. He sang loud music that they disliked. His song “Suicide Solution” had been under scrutiny in a court case where a family alleged that the song caused their son’s suicide. He bit the heads off of bats and doves, what was there to like?
I’m not trying to portray Ozzy Osbourne as my hero by any stretch of the imagination. My point is that for many people, his “evil” became a way for them to feel more righteous. It is all too common of a practice today that we mask our own weakness and shortcoming by focusing on those who are worse than us. If we are fat, we find the obese or our heavier past to feel good. Do not look to the evil of others to find your righteousness. You should be able to have a sense of pride in who you are and what you do without the disclaimer of comparing yourself to another. It is a shell game that you can’t ever win. “I can’t see the things that lead to happiness, I must be blind.” There should be a level of autonomy to who you are and how you feel about yourself. By comparing yourself to others too often, you are either inflating or deflating that which is unique and special about you.
“I tell you to enjoy life….” forget the rest.
In recent weeks in my house, music has become a regular topic of conversation. I’m going to go on a music tangent for a few posts. So what better place to start than my “favorite” song. I use the quotations because much like a teenage girl having five different “best” friends, I am unable to etch the title in stone with complete certainty in all situations. Despite my uncertainty, I will take this opportunity to speak on its behalf.
“Quality or Quantity” by Bad Religion is a one minute and thirty four second barrage of aggressive guitars and drums only to be paralleled by the thought provoking lyrics that are sung over them. As a young man, I was drawn to the group and their songs because their rebellious nature matched my own. Songs like “Do what you want” were irreverent enough to align with the feelings of a teenage boy searching for his place. The surprising thing is not that Q or Q became my favorite song but that it has stayed in that position for so long.
The reason for its longevity is the fact that it sparks a new thought in my present situation each time that I hear it. As it has been said by many others, “you can never step in the same river twice because each time, the water is different and you are different.” In the 1990’s Q or Q was an angry rally against the materialism of the world. It made me think long and hard about the perception of the US to the rest of the world. At the time I also thought there was an answer. Obviously quality was the more desirable of the two in all situations. Leave it to a young man to think he knows everything.
Now as an older and hopefully wiser man, the song hits me in very different ways. The answer is not so simple and I’m not as angry. There truly is a choice to be made between quality and quantity in each day. Circumstances are rarely such that we can choose highest quality in every single moment. The choices that we make on a moment to moment basis add up to a sum total of our life experience. The choices are almost infinite and that particular quantity puts a huge responsibility on each individual. We must be filters of our own experience. Being deliberate in the way that we spend our time and emotion is essential to finding balance.
I’m not sure how it fits but I am now less concerned about finding the answers. Now I revel more in finding myself in the search.
Enjoy the search today.
Mediocre means “ordinary, average, middle-of-the-road, unexceptional, lackluster and forgettable.” In many ways, I would put myself in the category of mediocre. I’m 5 foot 9 inches tall and weigh 190 pounds. My bench press and squat numbers are nothing impressive. I got a 1060 on my SATs (the old version). My yearly income is nothing to “write home about”. By most accounts, I am pretty mediocre.
The thought of mediocrity has been one that has entered my mind several times over the past year. The realization of my own mediocrity was nothing new. I have little chance to become exceptional in most areas. Even for my age, the benchmarks of excellence are pretty high. This divide creates a chasm that stagnates improvement. With the possibility of excellence off the table, it is easy to see why so many people lose their drive. However it is actually in this chasm that I believe we actually have the greatest of societal opportunities. As a collective (Athletes, Americans, Humans), we can choose to strive for better mediocrity.
In the past, I have written about the “Bannister Effect” and how the breaking of new ground creates possibilities for others to follow. That is a concept that I still endorse wholeheartedly. However as I thought about my own mediocrity, I came to realize that we need a “second wave”. There must be another push from the middle. The outliers pulling forward will only have an effect on those that are close to their level. For example, the 10s only pull the 9s forward but the effect is almost unnoticeable by the time that it reaches the critical mass in the middle.
This second wave needs to be created as an individual and a collective undertaking. The mediocre individual competes for the most part with himself. Improving with a partially selfish desire to take a step up one rung on the ladder. Despite this selfish motivation, the individual also recognizes his membership of a collective (Athletes, Americans, Humans). The “mediocre Americans” are getting better. The middle of the road changes from 5 to 7 and there is a pride in self and the collective.
Better mediocrity would change so many things about our lives and expectations. Perhaps mediocre would no longer be a slight insult but rather an identifiable force pushing the forerunners to greater excellence. If you happen to be mediocre, choose to be better mediocre!