Blogpost, self-reliance

Don’t Let Gumby Beat You (leveraging your self-image)

“Comparison is the thief of joy!” I’ve heard it more than enough times in my life and I tend to believe it as a general rule. Especially in our social media world where a constant barrage of possible comparison points comes to our pocket, it can be easy to get sucked into a whirlpool of self-esteem damaging photos, videos and messages. It’s an uphill battle to say the least and the options or ending the conflict seems to be surrender or retreat. Neither of those options is 100% healthy nor practical. So my suggestion is leveraging it when it’s appropriate. Below is an example.

My uncle Bob, yes! the actor from a prior blogpost, was an accomplished runner in his 20s. In 1980, he qualified for and ran the famed Boston Marathon. In 1995, he was trying to make a return to Boston for the 100th running of the race by qualifying in the New York Marathon. At the halfway point, he was on target to qualify for Boston. Unfortunately he got a leg cramp and hobbled for a bit. He was considering dropping out of the race. That all changed when a person dressed in a Gumby costume passed by him. Something inside of him would not accept being beaten by Gumby! So he got back into the race and finished with a very respectable time of 4:00:56.

Comparison can be a problem there is no doubt about it. Looking at Bill Gates’ financial success is only going to make my financial world seem pathetic. However, complete denial of comparison is probably an unrealistic goal for most of us. Perhaps the Buddhist monks have it figured out but I sure don’t. So the only thing that makes sense to me is to leverage it when it is useful and ignore it when it isn’t. Uncle Bob got more out of himself with the brief comparison to Gumby. It was a catalyst to get him to do something that was in line with his abilities and goals on a particular day. He did not feel horrible at the finish line because he hadn’t won. That was a comparison that would not have served him. Nor did he compare his fame to the green claymation character. It was a tool that was used but then discarded.

So unless you are channeling your inner monk, there is a good chance that you are comparing from time to time. Let most of them go because they don’t serve. When it makes sense because your goals and abilities align with some healthy competition, so be it. Another option is having what Simon Sinek refers to as a “worthy rival“. They are not simply a competitor to be beaten. Instead they serve as mirror for us to look at ourselves and seeing their strengths allows us to see ourselves more clearly. In the long term the human experience is not set up in a win/loss scenario. There are too many metrics to determine who “wins” at life. However it is possible to define for yourself how to live a “good life” and align your goals and objectives with that. Seeing people who are already doing that which you want can be helpful and powerful, provided that you don’t bury yourself under the weight of comparison.

Who do you want to be? Now go be that!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Your Life Motivation Formula

If you’ve been through a basic algebra course or just about any high school math class, you’ve probably had the “Slope Intercept” form tattooed inside your brain. If you’ve not already said it to yourself, it is y = mx + b. The reason why most people remember it or it’s taught so vehemently is that it’s chock full of simplified information. The m that goes directly next to the x represents the slope of the line (rise/run as some teach it). So the “trajectory” of the line is given to you right there in the equation. Large numbers in the slope mean a line that is skyrocketing upward. Low numbers are gradually heading upward. While negative numbers are heading downward at a rate equal to their negative slope. The other crucial number is b which represents the “y intercept”. It’s the “starting point” for the line in my discussion anyway. Whatever the b is, it’s where the line “starts” from. So a high positive b starts from a high position and goes up or down based on the slope. A negative b starts from below the x-axis and can either go down further or slope upward over time. NOW WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH MY LIFE? I’m so glad that you asked!

If you think of your life as a timeline, then you’re traveling along the x-axis. An hour, a day, a month or a year could be your unit of measurement but time is passing in a measurable fashion. We’re going to reverse the equation a bit and talk about your b.

Your Y Intercept: As I said above, that’s your starting point. At zero, you started someplace. Maybe you have all of the advantages in the world: supportive parents, finances, favorable bone structure, good looks, athletic ability, etc. Or maybe the opposite is true. You had a less desirable start. Advantages were few or possibly even disadvantages put your b into the negative at the beginning. Regardless of which camp you’re in, there’s nothing that can be done about that now. Your b (starting point) is a solid number.

Your m or slope: This is the only thing that you truly have control over. Although x is usually the variable, time is so constant, we know where it’s going. However we can adjust our slope. By your slope, I mean your incline or decline in any particular area. How much are you getting better (or worse) in an amount of time (rise/run)? There are some areas where you can have a massive slope upward. Others where a slow but steady increase would be great. Unlike a graph of a line though, your individual slope can change at any moment. Perhaps you have been on an exercise regiment consistently for two weeks. You’ve got a slope that is heading upward but then you take a week off. That slope is heading downward. The net effect might be slightly positive but keeping that consistent upward slope is truly what you needed.

Putting the equation together: Recognize the fact that having a consistent upward trajectory for the slope of your endeavor is key. It can overcome a disadvantaged starting position over time. However an advantageous start cannot counterbalance a negative slope forever. Eventually the work needs to be done to maintain that starting position.

So regardless of whether you’re looking to improve your finances, health or a variety of other things, this is the equation. If you can keep your slope consistently moving upward, then you can overcome any poor starting position. Unfortunately, most people become so blinded by their b that they never try to change their m. Put another way!

Your results = Momentum of action for X amount of time + Basic starting position

Give yourself a chance by impacting the one and only variable that matters. Improve your slope in order to intercept your goals!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Visits to Southport (A Reflection on Reflecting)

On my drive to the beach from Atlanta, my route took me closer to Southport, NC than I’ve been in years. It was once a place that I visited annually. Despite being the backdrop for several famous movies, I went to this very picturesque spot for the conversation. Each year I would go to Southport and meet my former professor for lunch and talk about our lives. Although he was no longer grading me and never would have said a negative thing about my life choices, I always used it as a measuring stick to decide whether or not I’d used my year well. If I was proud of the things that I had to tell him, then it was a good year. If I felt that I needed to avoid some less than proud moments, then I might have work to do before our next meeting.

The great thing about these little check-ins was that I recognized it and looked forward to it. There is no doubt that I loved and respected my mentor. That was what made our meetings so very special. Rather than bringing home a report card to show a letter grade, I got to tell my story to someone who truly wanted me to succeed while always knowing whether or not I was editing. It was a gift worth its weight in gold because between my story, his reactions and our discourse, I saw myself. It wasn’t a 100% accurate picture. More like one of those carnival mirrors that distorts your shape. This was a reflection of a realistically idealized version of myself that can be found most abundantly in parents and teachers. The people who see you as you are but also better than you are. They forgive your shortcomings while seeing your potential and possibly give you some credit for it before you reach it.

Unfortunately, those meetings are no longer available to me with that particular mentor. The world and I truly lost something when he passed on. Now I need to look at myself without him and wonder. What would he think of how I am handling this moment in time? If we were at the Provision Company having lunch, would I be squirming in my seat or relaxed in my skin? It’s not an overly difficult exercise to do on my own. He would be supportive and offer his bits of wisdom but avoid being too “preachy” and it would all circle back to Don Quixote somehow. At the moment, I just miss my friend.

Mirrors are a spectacular tool for seeing yourself as you are. Friends and mentors are sometimes a better tool for seeing the best version of yourself. When you find one that truly shows you the best things about yourself, I hope that you recognize it as I did. It is such a gift while you have it and it won’t last forever. So cherish it. You’ll never look so good as you do in the eyes of someone who truly loves you!

We are human storytellers.

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The Drops That Matter

In Spanish the idea of “dropping” an item is far less accusatory than it is in English. “Se me cayĆ³” is the way that it can be phrased. The literal translation in English would be “It fell from me.” The blame goes to the item rather than the person. Normally “dropping” an item is an accident and therefore the Spanish version makes more sense. However in this instance, I am going to actually ask that you be deliberate. The drops that I’m going to suggest should be with purpose rather than accidental.

Drop your habits that you know are harming you – This is of course easier said than done. We become attached to our habits whether they serve us or not. Our brains like the idea of a predictable future and habits tend to deliver that. However if you don’t like something in your present, there is probably a habit that you could drop to change things for the better. Just be aware that as people drop something, they tend to pick it back up. Pick up something else!

Drop the people who are holding you back – If you thought that the first one was difficult, this one is even more so. Severing relationships is never easy. Even when we realize that people are counterproductive or even destructive in our lives, letting go is hard. So if you cannot do a full drop, put them at a distance or do your best to reduce their influence over your thoughts and feelings.

Drop some tears – Tears are a double drop because they fall down and they are little bits of water. Although there are times to put on a brave face, tears can be cathartic. They are a release, not just of liquid but of the emotions that often keep us rooted to the past. Drop the tears and possibly the memories that cause them. After the tears, learn to forgive. That doesn’t mean that what happened in now ok. It means that it has happened and you have no ability to change it. However you can moving forward give (forgive) yourself the gift of a life without the burden of the pain. Perhaps you need to forgive an enemy, a friend or even yourself. Regardless of who or what it is, the past was never meant to be an anchor. So drop it!

Drop some sweat! – Again this is a double drop and one that really matters. There’s so many reasons why the sweat might be coming from your brow but hopefully it’s due to some form of work. Lounging your forward is an unlikely remedy to anything. Most things are going to require work and probably a sweat inducing level of it. Your comfort and your conquest probably don’t live in the same zip code and THAT’S OK! It’s possible to enjoy things that create sweat. Labors of love exist and attaching your sweat to them is more than appropriate.

You don’t need to drop everything! But dropping these things intelligently can definitely help. Don’t let your life be an accident that you need to clean up later. Make it a journey that you pick up and drop off things along the way. Most people and things are not going to be with you for the long haul and that’s ok. Just give some thought to the load that you’re carrying.

Dropping anchor!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Coming Up Short

There are two Hollywood movies that chronicle the story of Steve Prefontaine from the 1990s: Without Limits and Prefontaine. Each have their positives and negatives but I’ve gone back to Without Limits far more often. The racing scenes are done much more effectively, especially the race from Munich that uses actor footage interlaced with footage from the real race. Since the events happened in the 70s and the movies were released in the 90s, I feel no shame in spoiling the fact that Steve Prefontaine takes fourth in the 5,000 meter. Despite a herculean effort to beat the best runners of the time, he came up short.

If the movies are at all accurate, the defeat shook a man who rode very much on his confidence. We never get to find out if he would have rebounded from the defeat because he dies tragically. Although the story is one of an athlete who failed to accomplish his dream, the scenes from that race are amazing especially the end. It shows a man who gave all that he could in the moment and not have quite enough. It is glorious! Glorious? That’s right glorious. Everyone wants to win! Everyone wants to be on top but most are unwilling to do all that it takes to get there and accept the risk of coming up short.

None of us wants to lose, fail or be second best. However taking the chance that it may happen is part of the deal. The guarantees in this world are for mediocre prizes. Anything worth having requires the risk coming up short. Each of us needs to assess our own level of risk taking but be willing to take a chance on something. One thing I can say for certain is that Steve Prefontaine wanted to win that race and left a piece of himself on that track. Coming up short is not the problem, never trying for anything that mattered is!

Give something, all that you have!

Pete

Blogpost, posh, SoccerLifeBalance

The Half Frozen Pond (and POSH)

The fully frozen pond is a slick but relatively safe walking space. It can be used for all manner of frivolity including ice skating, hockey, ice fishing or even Curling. The completely unfrozen pond offers an equal measure of possibility with swimming, boating, fishing, diving or just floating. The dangerous pond is the half frozen pond. It offers nothing but uncertainty. At any moment, the surface can crack and leave you in a scramble for survival with hypothermia and drowning both being real possibilities. It is the one to fear and avoid.

The same can be said for commitment to a team. Fully committed players make a good team into a great one because they are not just in it for themselves. The completely uncommitted players are often put on the bench or removed from the team. Just like the ice, the half-committed players are the ones that are dangerous because it’s hard to tell when they’ll crack under the pressure. While players are the easiest to identify with this metaphor, it works equally for fans, management, ownership, etc. Commitment is not just for one group of people to rectify. It is something for all of the different groups who are attached to the club to consider and contribute their part.

This season has been a disappointment to say the least. The POSH looked promising at times early in the season, even without a recognized striker. As time wore on, the pond began to melt and became unstable. The manager was the one who fell through as he was given the cold shoulder by several of the players. Now Grant McCann has been given the task of mending the cracks. With twelve matches remaining and the POSH eight points (plus goal difference) adrift; the team, fans, management, and ownership need to be solid for that time. This is not a task for one or even a handful to complete. At best that is more of the half frozen status quo that has brought us to this point. Everyone who steps onto the pitch, all of the fans in the stands and the ones at home need to solidify in their commitment to the one and only objective: staying in the Championship! The opportunity is not gone. It is only difficult.

My hope is that Peterborough has a cold spring, not literally, you get the metaphor! Rock solid!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Not Sure How We Got Here

The beauty of movies, history books and our memories is that they are an incomplete record of occurrences that portray themselves as complete. A narrative can be created that is streamlined and economical. It can overlook unimportant routines like brushing one’s teeth or less public friendly activities. Also it allows for missteps, mistakes and blunders to be overlooked in favor of the favorable outcomes. This does not just make for better stories. It makes for better futures because we tend to forget how nervous we were on that date that ended up going well. We also tend to give our own actions a bit more credit than they possibly deserve. A bit fortunate timing or circumstance may have played into the success that we claim for ourselves.

The problem is that the reverse is also true. Our failures tend to belong to us. We erase or edit the factors that we had little to no control over in favor of our faults. There is also a tendency to make stories have an end that comes in a reasonable timeline. Failing at diet or relationship can seem like a finished story but even movies have sequels. There is no reason why trying again is off the table. Usually it is not due to a lack of opportunity but rather a lack of desire to fail again.

Regardless of who you are, there is a backstory that has brought you here. Most of it doesn’t matter. You’ve already edited most of it out. So as you move forward be ready, willing and able to recognize those moments that will end up cut from the final story. You don’t need to be perfect. None of us is! You are doing the exact same thing as everyone else. Trying to progress through your story. At this very second, you are existing due to mixture of intent, luck, fortune, misfortune, laziness, etc. Do your utmost to step forward into this day and make it memorable in the best possible way. While also keeping in mind that if does not live up to that billing, it will probably be forgotten. Often we do not have any clue what days are going to be memorable or not, so do the best that you can with the ones that you’re given.

Action!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Man of Golden Words

Music has always been a big part of my life. Different songs have become the soundtrack to years or even decades. Some hang on even longer than that and speak almost directly to something inside. One of those songs was written by Andrew Wood. An artist that died before I even heard any of his music but his impact on me and the musical landscape lingers on. He was the lead singer of a band called Mother Love Bone which almost directly preceded Pearl Jam. In addition to that, he was the roommate of Chris Cornell who reportedly the song “Man of Golden Words” is about.

It’s a relatively simple song with mainly piano and guitar played behind lyrics that are repetitive but poignant. Admittedly, Wood and I could not be more different. The reason that you’ve most likely never heard of him or Mother Love Bone is that he died of an overdose before his band could ride the wave of the Seattle music scene in the 1990s. Probably his greatest link to fame is his former bandmates who formed Pearl Jam and a tribute “band” called Temple of the Dog which is a lyric from this song. Despite his untimely demise, his impact was undeniable on the scene of the time and on individuals like myself thirty plus years later.

Each of us has within us both the propensity to give gifts that are more meaningful than they should be and also receive the same. The man of golden words doesn’t truly live because his words are not golden to everyone. Someone will read this and take the impetus to listen to the song and not hear what I hear. AND THAT’S OK! It’s not the catalyst for them but for me it has been and continues to be a form of rocket fuel for my soul. I put things out into the world regularly with my students, through this blog and other places simply in the hope that one person might have that golden words moment. We all need them! The world is often unforgiving and at the moment, it seems to take more energy than it gives. These gifts that we can put out into the world for others to find are so extremely important. It doesn’t need to be a song or a piece of art or anything more than sharing a moment with someone that lifts them up. The idea of being stingy with what you have is common place because you might not get back what you put out. I can never give back to Andrew Wood what he has given to me but I can pay it forward.

There are other souls in this world who are in need of golden words because they are hurting or just disillusioned. Our species is not defined simply by our flesh and blood. If it were, we’d have gone extinct long ago because we are mediocre animals. The thing that separates us is the ability to put meaning to things far beyond what is true. We elevate our thoughts and ourselves to heights that we should not be able to reach. However we do it regularly when we are inspired. Each of us has the ability to give and receive these types of gifts. Look for them and don’t be afraid to give them, even when you’ll never know the recipient.

Words and music, my only tools!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Adults Don’t Want White Belts

In several martial arts practices, the white belt is given to the novice. The person who is just beginning their journey gets the symbol with no color to it. Mostly this is not an issue because the beginner is often a child who does not get overly concerned with status. A lack of knowledge or prestige is not a problem. It is a matter of fact. However adults tend to not want to be white belts. Not just in martial arts but in anything. They avoid the new and difficult in favor of the known and simple. It is an exercise in ego protection rather than a strategy for growth and fulfillment.

So many of the forces in our lives are counterproductive to our progress as people. Although things like friends, family, education, culture, etc. should be forces on the side of our self-actualization; they tend to come with the baggage of expectation and comparison. This tends to thwart our efforts in invisible ways. Our desire to “stay the same”, “not look foolish”, or “get good grades” tend to override our natural inclination toward discovery. Ask any kindergartener about their ability to be president, make a movie, be an astronaut, and their confidence will astound. Adults tend to only be confident when criticizing the performance of others. When faced with their own shortcomings, the subject is quickly swept under the rug.

It’s never been a better time to be a white belt! Why? Because today is all that you get. If you’re not willing to try something new today, tomorrow you’ll be even less likely to go for it. We are creatures of habit and just like anything else avoiding the new and difficult is a routine. It must be broken in order to claim the prizes on the other side of being a beginner. It is hard. It is humbling but it is necessary! So put on your white belt and try something new. At bare minimum, you’ll learn that you’re not perfect and that’s something we all need to remember from time to time.

Beginner and failure are not the same things!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Is The Cave Necessary?

As I’ve been spending a lot of time on a stationary bike recently, my movie watching has shot up dramatically. At the moment, I’m delving back into older films. Today I started the original Iron Man movie that began the MCU. Tony Stark begins his journey as a superhero in a cave with a man named Yinsen. Up until that point, he is completely self-interested and almost gluttonous in his life’s pursuits. In the cave, he goes through a transition where he must consider his mortality, legacy and future. Physically weakened and with limited resources, he is able to devise a plan for his own escape and embarks on a path toward a more selfless role. He went into the cave as one man and came out another. Although his abilities had not changed, his perspective and his decisions had. DRASTICALLY!

Each of us has certain abilities. At times we do not get the absolute best out of our potential. We know that we “should” do one thing or another but often we don’t. That is UNTIL we hit a “cave” moment where we are forced to look at ourselves from the outside and emerge different. It’s not easy because we usually don’t go into the cave by choice. An event usually puts us there. We always had the ability to change but comfort in our present situation usually stops us. The cave is a catalyst because our comfort is stripped from us. Through the discomfort we feel compelled into action but it could have been done at any time.

The cave isn’t usually necessary but often it is the thing that truly works. Human beings are odd creatures who find all manner of reasons to do the wrong things but often must be forced into doing the right. Circumstances are a great motivator but wouldn’t you rather do something because you want to and not because you have to? All it truly takes is a change in perspective and decisions. You can save yourself before you’re truly in peril!

Be your own superhero today!

Pete