I’ve given myself exactly twenty minutes to write this blogpost because I’ve been staring at a blank screen for a bit too long. Somehow humans seem to be able to conjure up motivation or inspiration when there is a deadline. It truly doesn’t make very much sense since it is all in our heads. The measurements of time that we use are completely made up as is the “pressure” of the moment. Despite their artificiality, they are effective. What would we do without these constructs? More than likely we’d only respond to our most basic needs.
By putting myself under this pressure, I’ve taken back some form of control that I had lost in moments prior. Although most people would say that they don’t enjoy pressure, it is one of those forces that coerces us to action. Historically we were not a lazy species but our lives of limited pressure and overt comfort have let that disposition spread. So modern living is more of a mental exercise than it is a physical one. We must contort and push ourselves mentally in order to induce action (either mental or physical). It’s a silly game but possibly necessary.
So what is it that you must do today that is not getting done? The next question becomes, what mental game do you need to play with yourself to make it happen? Are you going to use time, incentives, punishments, rewards, social pressure….? The list goes on and on but the realization that is hanging out there is, IT’S YOU AGAINST YOU! The battle is more than likely one with yourself and no one else. So be ready for the fight because if you’re anything like me, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the task will get done.
As a father, I made the realization a long time ago that I am “uncool.” Even if that’s not the word that’s being used anymore to describe something of value at the moment. I know that I’m not that thing that kids want to be or become. That ship sailed and I’m kind of glad. The liberation that comes with being uncool is AMAZING!!! Since I am no longer eligible to be cool, there are fewer restrictions on me. I can say jokes that I know are not funny without repercussion. They tend to be called “Dad Jokes” in our honor.
One of the best advantages to this status is that I can like almost whatever I want. In the pursuit of being cool, it seems like the decisions about what you should like are made by other people. Also, liking something too much is also a problem. Ambivalence and aloofness are often traits that need to be honed. At my age, I just don’t have time for that anymore. The payoff is never going to come my way, so why even try. My only wish was that this state of life could have come a bit earlier. Not just for my sake but for everyone.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to actually be able to tell someone that you like them without posturing? The mathematics that are required to figure out how much or little attention to give to someone or something of interest are not taught in high school Algebra. It is far too complex of an equation to figure out because it comes from both sides and is pressured by community standards. Since the equation is too tough, we need to do the dance and try to look cool. I’m not sure when this started but I wish that it could stop. At a certain point in history, I would love for kids to be able to feel comfortable enough in their own skin to shun cool. The problem is that there are very few winners and most people end up feeling like “losers.” If only everyone could “levitate” above quagmire that has been created (shout out to Dua Lipa, look at me trying to be cool!).
My suggestion would be to start the freedom of the uncool much earlier because the currency of cool only lasts for a short time. Eventually that currency that was so important becomes worthless. Then you need to figure out where you stand without it. The substance of who you are is much more than the perception points that you get from people who don’t truly care about you. The true you lies somewhere underneath! Even if they were looking, I’m not sure the cool people could see it!
For many years now, I have stated my preferred level of fame. I want to be “Tom Skerritt famous.” This level of fame is perfect for me. Although Tom Skerritt is famous, he is not someone that you would stop on the street for a photograph or autograph. Most people would comment to their friend about how they “saw that guy that was in Top Gun or Steel Magnolias or (insert another TS movie here).” His level of discomfort is probably pretty low. Weighing the positives and negatives, my guess would be that it’s more positive than negative.
Each of us has our own levels for what we would tolerate to get our objectives. I know without a doubt that Michael Jordan level of commitment to basketball is not inside of me. Although many would like to believe that they want to play on the world stage, they just aren’t willing to put in that level of work. If you’re not willing to get up at 6am to go for a run, you’re also not cut out for the NBA or Hollywood or (insert high level endeavor here). The key is having your aspirations match your dedication. There is nothing wrong with aiming for Tom Skerritt famous, if that’s where you want to be.
So rather than looking at people who are performing under bright lights and feeling a pang of jealousy, look at what you’re willing to do when no one is looking. That’s how those people got there in the first place. They worked for years before anyone knew who they were, hoping that they’d get noticed. In some ways they were probably like the rest of us but then they did something about it. You don’t need to want to walk down the red carpet. There are thousands of other locations that you could prefer to strut your stuff. A local karaoke place or the stage as you get your high school diploma are completely worthy places to make your personal mark. Just decide for yourself! Don’t feel pressured to be something that is inconsistent with your objectives. The work will need to come before the reward, so set your expectations on that rather than the promise of fame and fortune. Do you work and see what rewards come from it!
Social media is definitely a strange animal in a lot of ways. While it is “free”, it costs a lot of things including, time, privacy and other things of value. It is also odd from the perspective that a person who uses the social media is both the product and the customer. If everyone stopped posting on Instagram and only looked, it would eventually become banal. Also if people only posted but did not pay attention to anyone else’s content, the lack of “likes”, shares and other social media capital would make people question the value of posting. For this moment in time, we are both product and customer in this space. It is odd to say the least but I’d like to use this realization to focus on a truth that we all need to embrace. You are the product!
For years I’ve been saying to this to students, it did not come from my own personal realization but rather a description of the social media model. We’re all “selling” ourselves in little ways every single day. The question is whether or not we realize it and embrace it. The reason that it comes up so naturally in a school setting is that students often get confused about what school is for. In many ways, it is viewed as a low security prison where they must “do their time.” Grades are the currency of school and they are “given” grades, rather than “earning” them. The information or skills that they acquire are often viewed as incidental. History class is something to get an “A” in rather than a place to become a more informed citizen. This transactional view is not particularly new but it is contrary to why these systems were originally invented. So if you’ve never considered it before, let me state it very clearly! YOU ARE THE PRODUCT!!!
School may not be the absolute best example of how this should be applied since we often spend time in classes that do not serve our personal goals. So even though I am a firm proponent of education, that student who is reading a programming book in the back of French class is not betraying this thought process. The kid, who is scrolling through his friends’ Instagram posts, might be. As both the product and the product developer, it falls to you to decide on the specifications, marketing strategy and pricing of your product. It can be odd to think of yourself in this way but it’s also easy get caught in the traps of daily existence that devalues who you are.
That value is not particularly calculated in dollars and cents, it can be in self-esteem. Often that is the currency that we are dealing with because most of our existence is inside of our own minds. So the questions that are asked on the inside about value, quality and marketshare, all matter. How can you make yourself a better product? Not particularly for sale to other people, although in the job, friend or relationship market, that may be your thought process. The first person that you need to sell on the concept of yourself is you. Is this version of yourself one that you’re happy with? Is it time to upgrade, simplify or stay the course? No one else can answer that question. Regardless, it is worth asking. Does reading that book get you closer to being the YOU that you would be proud of? Or is it just window dressing for someone else? These are all questions that only you can answer because no one has their hands on the controls as much as you do. It is possible that you’ve been selling yourself in the bargain bins of Walmart but you belong in the glass showcases at Tiffany’s. If you don’t take a moment to consider, you might not be getting your true market value. Crabs and lobsters are “bottom feeders” but even they have a market value. They’re not cheap either. So you’ve got some things to consider. Maybe this was just a bit of intellectual tail chasing with a lot of semantics to make it seem more grandiose. Or maybe this is exactly the thing that you needed to get your stock to rise. That’s for you to decide!
What will your value be when the gavel hits today?
Before every company had a streaming service, there was the DVR. Before that, it was the DVD. And before that, the VCR! With its clunky cassettes and a clock that almost no one knew how or cared enough to set to the correct time. Therefore it always showed 12:00. By modern standards, the VCR is a dinosaur. Its limitations make it laughably simplistic but it was a necessary step in the evolution of entertainment. It was quite possibly the last one that required real time interaction with its human operator. Regardless, I’m going to use it as a quick representation on moving toward one’s dreams.
V – The first letter stands for VISION! It is necessary to have some sort of picture inside of your mind’s eye about where you want to go or what you want to do. If you don’t have the target inside of your head, you won’t hit it. This is obvious and simple but often people have too general of a target and therefore anything looks like progress. Be specific about what it is that you want or else you’ll only get something that looks a little like it.
C – The second letter stands for CHUNK! Specifically I’m talking about breaking that vision into chunks that will be achievable. A vision can be huge and overwhelming. When broken into chunks, it feels much more manageable and achievable. I love the old phrase, “there’s only one way to eat an elephant, one bite at a time.” Of course I’m not a proponent of eating elephants but the statements holds the greatest truth. Anything can be broken into enough pieces that it is achievable. So whatever your vision is, break it into small enough pieces for you to digest.
R – Even though it is last, it’s probably the most important, REASONS! Having a vision and breaking it into pieces are both easy. I just had a vision of me running a marathon. My chunks would be slowly increasing distances over the coming months in order to prepare with long runs on the weekends and shorter more intense runs during the week. It’s meaningless!!! I’ve run a marathon before. It was a great experience but at the moment, I don’t have any reason to run one. Of course I could create all kinds of reasons. The reasons are where the power is and that is all up to you! People quit smoking because their kid coughed in the back seat of the car, not because of the pain of lung cancer. Humans have an amazing ability to create reasons to do anything and everything.
So now it is on you! What is your vision? What are the individual steps that will get you there? And why do you want to make it happen? It’s not overly complicated but if you follow through on doing each step well, you’ll get where you want to go. No doubt about it. Just make sure the reasons are enough. You want to find “rocket fuel” reasons rather than charcoal. Charcoal may get you to some places but if you’ve got a big vision, it may take a long time.
As a child of the 1980s, many of my thoughts are encased in characters from sitcoms and movies. I wish that I could say that William Shakespeare had a huge influence on my thought processes on love and loss but alas it is Family Ties, Cheers and Night Court. It’s not the worst thing but my references are not particularly known by the world. So you’ll have to indulge me a little as I explain.
In the TV show, Family Ties, Irwin “Skippy” Handelman is the quirky neighbor to the featured family in the sitcom. The Keatons accept Skippy as an extension of their family because of his kind hearted, although slightly dimwitted by nature. While he is truly Alex’s friend (Michael J. Fox’s character), Skippy is possibly best known for having a huge crush on Mallory. His feelings for her are never reciprocated yet he presses on with little or no hope. Even his best friend, Alex, undermines other love interests that Skippy has. It has been a really long time since I’ve watched Family Ties. So this next part might be just what I want to believe. Eventually Skippy finds someone and Mallory recognizes her loss. That may not have actually happened in the show.
However there is a moment from Night Court that has stuck in my memory for years. The custodian, Art, brings Christine (Markie Post) to a function and it ends poorly. Eventually he puts it all on the line “I’d always treat you right. You would never want for anything.” Upon hearing those words, Christine gets upset. Art lets her off the hook though. It’s not Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet but it represents a part of the human condition. A man who would do anything for someone, sacrifices his own feelings for the other.
The role of the “nice guy” (or girl, this is not gender exclusive) is not an easy one to play. Decisions need to be made about what to do and there isn’t usually much wiggle room. The answer is the right thing. Sometimes that’s hard to swallow because the Skippy and Art characters of the world are not the stars. Their names are not on any marquis and they don’t usually get the girl in the end. So why do they do it? Because someone has to!
I don’t want to live in a world without the nice guy. Despite getting the distinction of “finishing last”, they tend to keep the world in balance. With self-less abandon, they go into every situation trying to do right by other people. This is not in a superhero kind of way, although Captain America could be characterized as a “nice guy”. Mostly this is done in simple ways through small actions that no one notices at first. That’s why I force myself to believe that Mallory has the recognition moment when Skippy has moved on. The nice guy tends to not get noticed until he’s gone.
My hope is that at some point, the nice guy gets his due. The Skippy characters of the world get a little bit more than a pat on the back. If you have one in your life, recognize it because they would quite literally do anything for you. That’s a great person to have around!
In one of my favorite places on earth, I love to do a semi-“childish” activity. While at the beach on Topsail Island, I enjoy “riding the waves.” I’ve never learned to surf or boogie board. My brothers and I got into the habit of swimming with the waves until their momentum carries you to the shoreline. It’s nothing overly difficult nor do I imagine that the payoff is as good as riding a wave on a surfboard. Despite its shortcomings, it is an enjoyable diversion.
Not every wave is worth riding and even the ones that are worth it can come at the wrong time or you just miss them. It’s nothing to get overly upset about. There will be another opportunity coming within moments. No one is keeping score of how many rides, distance, frequency or anything else. The effort put into catching the wave is payed off through the individual rides. Often the joy also comes from the waiting and trying.
At the moment, I know that I need to embrace this thought process in so many places other than the beach. Opportunities seem like unicorns, hard to find and unwilling to be saddled. They aren’t, they just seem that way. Expectation is too high and measuring everything against past experience or other people saps the joy out of the moment. I need to remember that some of the best rides I’ve had ended with my face in the sand.
Most of life isn’t meant to be measured, graded or judged, it’s simply meant to be lived. Often that comes with a lot of waiting for that next opportunity. The thing is that if we cannot find joy in the waiting, the riding also loses some of its luster. It’s all part of the package deal and the perfect ride is probably not coming anytime soon. So take some half chances and see how they go!