My last name has a silent “H” in it. Despite the spelling of Huryk, it is pronounced “Yer-ick”. I’ve grown accustomed to correcting mispronunciations (or not). It can be a great separator of the people who know versus those who don’t. The letter has no function but it has importance. Running through a box of memories that I have, it became obvious that there were several events and people that have gone silent through the years. They are the silent letters of life.
As we progress in the modern world, everything seems to be more analytical. The value of time, interactions and relationships have an almost economic feel to them. While waste is not particularly something to seek out in earnest, it is often a necessary ingredient to the eventual path that we take.
No matter what is in the past it is only prelude to now and what’s coming. Those letters can be as silent or as loud as you choose to make them. Their power is not real. It is how pronounced you make them. Choose the ones that move you forward.
Before Amazon, there was (at least in my world) the Sears Catalog. It was a huge “magazine” that had just about every product in the Sears store. It was a place that my brothers and I would peruse some time before Christmas to find things we wanted. I remember that I always focused in on the guitars. They weren’t overly expensive at the time and I fancied myself as a future guitarist. Despite my desire, I never told my parents nor did I save up money to purchase one. In hindsight, I really didn’t want the guitar. I liked the idea of the guitar but if I had truly wanted it, I’d have found a way.
That’s the way that life really works. Look down and look around. For the most part, the things that you have are the things that you really want. They are your musts, non-negotiables, have to haves. People often think that they have wants but most of the time they have dreams or fantasies. I have a fantasy of weighing 170 lbs again. Unfortunately I don’t really want it. If I did, I’d be there. My weight is a direct reflection of my true wants: taste, dietary freedom, comfort food and convenience. When I truly start wanting that ideal weight, I’ll take the actions that will get me there. Until then, it’s not true. I don’t want it unless it’s easy.
The things worth having are never easy. Value is usually associated to scarcity or uniqueness. This is a tough thing to remember in a life of convenience. There are so many good things that are easily accessible that we bury ourselves in the good, foregoing the truly valuable because it’s inconvenient. What you wanted is all around you. If you truly want for more, you’ll find a way. In five years will you be surrounded by more mediocre trinkets? Or will you have something better? In the end you’re going to find the ultimate thing that you’re looking for is that best version of you. It won’t come easy and it’s not in a catalog or on Amazon. So get what you want by being who you want to be.
With summer almost here, it almost time cotton candy, hot dogs, games and fun. Unfortunately fair’s not coming to town. The trucks, the rides and treats might all show up for a few days but there will be kids and adults alike expecting fair. Johnny whose cotton candy is smaller than his sister’s cries about fair. The father who remembers when the ticket for a ride was a quarter, not a dollar will complain about fair. The Scrambler operator will hear about the pay that his friends get at their jobs and wish for fair. Fair is not coming to town because it’s usually a one sided proposition.
When dealing in many of life’s currencies, it is smart and possibly necessary to pay attention to equity. At times this should be pedestrian and others miserly. Regardless the perception of fair comes from the perceived value exchange. Time, money, love, gold, loyalty and a slew of other currencies trade at different values for each individual. There is no standard exchange rate. Even in monetary terms, there is constant fluctuation in the value of the dollar vs. the yen vs. the pound. Fair is not coming, it needs to be created.
The world is operating on a deficit in many currencies. The problem is that many people are miserly with currencies that are infinite. The ones that we individually create. So therefore we cannot run out of them. Love, empathy, friendship, etc. are worth giving away in the hopes of creating more. Determining a level of fair exchange is individual but why hoard these currencies? We (the world) benefit from their free exchange. Hatred, malice, jealousy, etc. are also infinite but should be wielded with great caution. They tend to injure and despite our great civilizations, we are still animals. Wounded animals tend to cower or lash out. Both perpetuate a black market exchange that corrupts the soul.
Fair is not coming to town. Your exchanges are bound to be imperfect and unbalanced. The question is; do you feel proud of your balance sheet? The sum total of your life cannot be measured in dollars and cents. It can be estimated whether or not your life made sense. Philanthropist, miser or tyrant is your choice to make and it will be decided by your actions. Is that fair?
In high school in the 90’s, it was difficult not to be bombarded with the safe sex talk of that era. The positive test of Magic Johnson with HIV gave a famous face to a disease that had not fully hit mainstream awareness. Many actions were taken to help protect young people from their hormones. Not least of all the education system’s attempt to prepare us with lessons about condoms. I remember very plainly Mr. Vellucci, my bio teacher, asking us if we understood how condoms worked. Or did we need him to demonstrate using a banana as he had been instructed to do. It was all very well intentioned and I’m sure that it worked to some degree. Unfortunately with the widespread use of the internet and mass media, our children need to be protected again from a disease that threatens to kill every last one of them: LIFE.
Luckily major efforts have been made around the country and the globe to protect young people from this abomination. Teachers, parents and coaches have been instructed to protect all children from failure, disappointment and reality at all costs. Falls, cuts, scrapes, risks, chances, expectations and a slew of LIFE’s other cohorts must be eradicated with extreme prejudice. Keeping our kids safe is JOB #1. Allowing them to live and learn fall near the bottom of the list behind getting into a good college, winning many trophies, being perfect and so many other things that are put on their schedules. What we need now are some Life Condoms! A protective covering that will keep out all negatives. Just need to find a new substance because someone is bound to be allergic to latex and sheepskin doesn’t protect anyone from anything. At this point, I feel the need to stop because I’m afraid that there is a mother someplace who is reading thinking “This sounds like a GREAT idea!”
Life is a messy business. We come into this world screaming, covered in blood, unable to speak, read, write or walk. Despite this introduction through chaos, there is an expectation that life is supposed to get cleaner, neater and follow specific guidelines. The truth is that the human animal was made for the rugged battles of the natural world. We seem to be more susceptible to the trappings of comfort and fortune rather than hard circumstances. Adopting a Spartan lifestyle is probably not necessary but a healthy dose of reality is probably in order. Letting a young person tie their own shoe laces, make their own dinner, fight their own battles is not particularly a bad thing.
The life condom doesn’t exist but based on the complaints I hear regularly, some wish it did. They want their parents, the government, the president, their teacher or any other official power figure to step up and fix their life for them. Eventually these desires are going to come up empty. No one is going to take care of you indefinitely.
So since it will be on you at some point, why not cut the complaining? Take over the parts of your life that should absolutely belong to you and run with them. Nothing is going to start out perfect and it never will be if you don’t do your part. Complaining problems away seems like a bad strategy and a poor way to live. Life was meant to be messy. Get over it! Dust yourself off, clean up your wounds and move on. Otherwise go looking for a life condom but that truly is like taking a shower with a raincoat on. Most of the joy in life is found in the things that we never expected to happen.
Don’t protect yourself out of the best parts of life.
One of the best movies from a pure story standpoint that I’ve seen is “The Usual Suspects”. The film takes you on a ride where you’re continuously led down paths for particular reasons. A main reason for the perplexing nature of the film is the doubt surrounding the myth of Keyser Söze. For those unfamiliar with the film, Keyser Söze is a purported crime boss who controls the sale of drugs, weapons, etc. from the shadows of anonymity. At one point he is portrayed as a “spook story” that thieves tell their children, “Rat on your Pop and Keyser Söze will come get you.”
Personally I never heard that version of spook story when I was a kid but I can see its usefulness to some people. The fairy tales and legends that we are told as children vary greatly depending on the desired outcome from our upbringing. Aspirational and cautionary tales alike are used to push the child in particular directions. Keep on trying courtesy of “The Little Engine that Could”. Be prepared by “The Three Little Pigs”. Don’t be sexually promiscuous by “Little Red Riding Hood” (Didn’t know until I talked to a German teacher). These stories were all fashioned to get a result.
The thing about all of these stories is that they are made up. Complete fabrications from the imagination of someone long ago. They’ve been changed, updated, amended, forgotten and remembered. The reason that they still exist is that they were effective through the years. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” got me to stop going to the nurse’s office every day in 3rd grade. So since stories are effective if they’re told enough and have the desired message, what is the story that you tell yourself about yourself? The Myth of Keyser Söze was that he was an almost superhuman figure who was powerful and ruthless. Before that story could be spread, he had to at least partially tell it to himself.
Now it is your turn. Tell the story of you to yourself. Adapt it, amend it, change it to fit your needs. The endpoint that you desire to have should be attained through some form of work mixed with an optimistic attitude to never give up. The story is out there in the realm of possibility. Now you just need to write it, tell it and live it.
It was January 2nd 2003. A clever little trick of mine to always remember the day that I proposed to my wife 1/2/03. As I waited in her apartment with dinner ready and candles lit, I was extremely nervous. That feeling was only compounded when she arrived. Then I started to ask and I could feel my legs shaking. This was gut-wrenching but necessary. The fear and the nerves came from risk. The risk of putting myself out there and the possibility that the answer could be “no”. It ended up going in my favor but I think that risk is an important factor to the things that really matter. You need to care enough to be willing to lose.
Perhaps it is part of being American or the popular culture of my youth but the idea of the underdog or long shot is ingrained within me. The Rocky movies were an unofficial soundtrack to my young life. The story of a nobody fighter who takes on the undefeated champion. He knows that he is going to lose before the fight even happens. That is the risk that the people who truly care must take. The men who signed the Declaration of Independence knew the risk of the pen strokes but chanced the loss of life for something greater. Elon Musk risked the wealth he had accrued in order to start a solar energy company, an electric car company and a space company. Each venture had very long odds. Those odds are not the ones taken on by a man looking to turn a quick profit. They are the risk of a man who cares about the change he wanted to make in the world. These are just three examples of caring enough to risk losing.
I’ve heard it too many times to count “What grade do I need to get on this quiz to bring my grade up to a __________?” The lack of the math skills from my young students is not the most troubling part. The most disheartening part of this question is the refusal to put forth any effort until a concrete exchange has been mentally negotiated. Effort will only be employed if the target seems reasonably attainable. This is not a statement about educational malaise or the disconnect between schools and our modern society. It is a reflection on a pervasive attitude toward loss. No one should fail. The ref or the coach cost us the game. The aversion to loss seems to be correlated to risk of losing one’s self. If I give my all and fail, then I am not worthy and that is too much to bear.
In a world where we are better insulated from death than ever before in history, it is the death of our image of ourselves that we seem to fear most. Much like the avatars that represent us online, we have created mental pictures of who we are. Most of us will defend that image regardless of its accuracy or usefulness. Playing within the boundaries of that existence may be comfortable but is the lack of risk truly safe? More than likely the risks that truly matter are worth taking because they force us to stretch. Reaching out into the void is not a failure if it is done with true intention. Failing to reach out is the bigger loss because the possibility of knowing yourself better and having what you actually wanted is left on the table. Don’t aim to lose but don’t only play if you know you’re going to win. All of the true joy on the back end lies in the fact that you risked yourself on the front end.
I was in 8th grade and my school soccer team was playing against North Warren. They were the only team that had beaten us all season. It was late in the game and the score was still tied. Someone passed me the ball as I was wide open in front of the unprotected goal. I shot the ball and it sailed over the goal. It almost defied physics! I was so close to the goal that missing seems as though it was harder to do than scoring. The memory of that shot is almost 30 years old and it still bugs me a little bit. All of these years later though, I’ve come to realize that I had to miss that shot. In all of our lives, there are things that we really have to f%#@ up.
No one wants to fail. The disappointment, the shaken confidence and the negative memory are all reason enough to avoid failure. People are always trying to give themselves the best chance for success in any endeavor. Aiming for success is always crucial but always achieving it is both impractical and probably detrimental to future successes.
The path to where you are is probably filled with potholes, detours and the occasional breakdown. Even though we think that we want a smooth and clear path to our destination, most of the fire that we have in our belly comes from past failures. Learning how to live through and overcome failure are key ingredients to a growth mindset. Although we live in a physical world, the beginning of almost everything in our lives starts in our mental world. That is the space where failure can be taken, molded and turned into a stepping stone for future success. I’m sure that you want whatever you’re working on right now to be a great success and I hope that it is. However what if you need to F%#@ this up to succeed later. Part of the equation is that you really want to succeed but recognize in the long term f%#@ ups are part of the equation too.
For most of my life, I’ve had a portion of Teddy Roosevelt’s speech at the Sorbonne memorized. “It is not the critic who counts… The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” It’s moving. It moves me in the sense that I actually take action when I think of it, hear it in my head or in my heart. The issue is at the moment, the critics have such a large megaphone that it becomes hard to hear our heads and our hearts. The echo of other people’s point of view tends to linger, burn and even cut the ones who are actually in the arena. The credit may belong to the man in the arena but that credit is hard earned because people want you to lose and never let you forget it.
The only thing to do is go deaf. Deaf to the jeers, the criticisms and the negativity. The volume of the critic does not matter if you pay no attention. Besides the only reason the words of the critic ever penetrated is because you believed them at least partially. Their message about you being a failure or a loser resonated with you on some level deep within. So the inner critic is actually the one that has the power to take you down.
The way to silence the inner critic is to run. Run straight into the arena. Sleep there, eat there, get your ass kicked there but at least in the arena, the inner critic has to stay in the stands. He can’t get his hands on you as long as you stay fixed in the center of the ring. Perhaps in the end you’ll find out that the critics were right and you didn’t have the stuff. But at least you’ll know for sure, while they’re left wondering about themselves. Outwardly chastising but inwardly envying the chance that you took to gain the credit of the arena.
Do me a favor and breath deeply. Pull it in and then release it. The air is incidental, isn’t it? It’s the breathing that you noticed. You probably gave little thought to the air itself. That’s because air is all around and it feels pliable and weak. It is only when air is marshaled into a formidable force, like a hurricane, that it gets the respect that it deserves. We need the air that we breath, it a building block with the potential to give life or take it away. It is a resource of infinite importance that is invisible because we only see it when it smacks us in the face like in a hurricane.
Air is not the only resource that we besmirch on regular basis. Even for those that are visible, we cannot always see because we are too busy with our present lives to notice. The world is not lacking for resources or opportunities but rather people that can see them in their dormant state. Most of us are waiting to get picked up in a hurricane of opportunity. The problem is that the hurricane is never coming. You need to go get the hurricane, possibly even build it from the ground up; one molecule at a time.
The world has already gifted you the component pieces. Are you going to complain that it has not put them together for you? Or can you find the joy in the noticing, finding, building and creating? If you don’t build your own hurricane, you’ll need to chase someone else’s and take the chance of being blown away.
Each week in fourth grade, we had a folder that contained all of our work. On Friday, if you had everything done, the word ‘Complete’ was written on your folder and you got to do some craft or game. If you didn’t have everything done, you received a note of ‘Incomplete’ and you needed to finish your work before getting any free time. In the entire school year, I think that I was ‘Complete’ only twice. It took me most of the year to finish my macrame owl due to my limited free time. I’m quite certain that I only passed fourth grade by the skin of my teeth. Perhaps I should have (or continue) to feel badly about my incomplete track record or tendency. The fact of the matter is that I don’t.
Having been raised catholic, part of the prayer for the confession of sins always hit me hardest was be sorry for the things that “I have left undone”. That’s a long list, even for the most accomplished person in the world. There are many things that each of us leaves undone everyday. Should this be a point guilt or shame? Probably not. People are not meant to be machines focused on efficiency. We have choice and can decide what is worth doing. That discernment of the value in activity should be exercised regularly.
The things that we choose or choose not to do are the elemental level of who we are as people. None of us is incomplete. Our choices may not meet with the standards of others but incomplete; NEVER! You are what you do and the person who must set the standard is YOU. The world is out there, waiting to see what you’ll do. Go show it.