You are the ancestor of survivors! Cavemen and women who braved the bitter cold, extreme heat and dangerous predators just to continue the species. Their successors improved hunting and developed farming in order to make survival more probable. Eventually they were succeeded by people who developed technological advances that gave us every advantage and the ability to bend many of the laws of nature to our will. This is your lineage!
Despite that fact, you feel weak, uninspired, defeated or out of control. For so long our species had one objective: stay alive. Now that survival is less of a concern, we seem to have forgotten how to live. The words “successors” and “succeeded” were used intentionally because they illustrate a point that has been lost in the shuffle of the demands of modern life. Success is now an arbitrary term that people often conflate with money, possessions or other status symbols. It was originally about passing something on to those who would come after.
So don’t balk at the opportunity that you have. You are the descendant of people who were brave, resilient and strong. They left us every advantage and that has tricked us largely into believing that we are weak that we are nothing without them. That we can’t handle the cold or the heat or the difficult or uncertain. DON’T ASSUME THAT YOU’RE WEAK, JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVEN’T FOUND YOUR STRENGTH YET! Inside of your very DNA is the stuff that made survivors. Now it is your turn to do whatever you can with the time that you have. Your strengths, the things that you were meant to do are out there, waiting for you. Your belief in them and your ability to find them will beckon them eventually but first you must act! You must do things that take you outside of your comfort zone. Test the limits to see where your strengths lie!
In 1998 I spent almost a month in Europe with my best friend, Schaef, attending the World Cup. When you think of life experiences, it really doesn’t get much better than that. Spending a month engrossed in the thing that you love the most with one of the people that you love the most. It truly was an amazing trip but when it was over he and I didn’t speak for almost two months. The experience of that trip has helped me in a variety of ways, one of which I’ll share here.
The trip was planned extremely well by my friend. He was the planner and I played the role of translator because I spoke both Spanish and French. We flew into London and saw the sites there briefly. Our main focus was the games. So site seeing was kind of a fast paced game. We tried to see as much as possible in the smallest amount of time possible. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc. were all done in a day and at a quick clip.
Then we took trains down to Barcelona where we spent a few days touring and watching games in the afternoon. Again, the Olympic Village, La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s buildings and all were seen but not studied as we had to block out times for the matches which were almost social events along Las Ramblas. Unfortunately Schaef lost his passport on our second to last day there. For that story, CLICK HERE.
Our next stop was Paris. There was of course the visit to the US Embassy in Paris to get a new passport which took longer than we would have liked. After getting it we had to rush to pick up our tickets to the five games that we were going to attend. Our first match was Germany vs USA. Despite both being American we were following Germany through the group stage. The most memorable thing from following Germany for me was the warm-up. Watching Jurgen Klinsmann get crossed balls for him to side volley from head height was amazing. He was obviously a world class player honing his craft and I loved seeing it up close. In addition to that match, we saw the Louvre in less than 2 hours. Art lovers we are not! Next was Germany vs Yugoslavia which was in Lens, a much smaller venue and not much around.
We fit in a quick trip to Munich Germany to experience Schaef’s heritage. This was the first time that I felt like we needed some space. I didn’t speak German but I felt there was an expectation that I was still on translation duty. I learned quickly how to say “Zwei biere, zwei pretz” (two beers and two pretzels) which was about all we needed to survive. That feeling of unnecessary expectation faded quickly because we were back on the road to Montpelier to see our final group stage match, Germany vs Iran, which ended with Germany winning the Group. Montpelier was also the first place that we were able to kick a soccer ball around. We met a girl from Chicago who got her brother to lend us a ball. Her father’s only directions were “don’t pop it”. Now I’ve never popped a soccer ball before in my life. But sure enough, the very last kick of the ball took a weird bounce hit this tree with spikes on it and POP! We felt so bad for the kid, I think we gave him around $140 in Francs to replace it. At this point, the togetherness was getting difficult. I even started smoking cigars on a daily basis just to get away for a bit.
Our final day of matches was filled with drama both on and off the field. We went to the knockout stage match in Lens between France and Paraguay which Les Bleus won in overtime. This was inconvenient for us because we had another match to attend in Paris that night and OT almost made us late. On top of that we had to navigate around riot police due to an altercation that happened during the match outside the stadium. Despite the difficult circumstances we got onto a fully packed train back to Paris. Denmark beat Nigeria handily that night.
We traveled back to England in order to catch our flight home. At this point, we have not had one argument or negative word said but we don’t speak much on the flight. The next day we part ways and don’t talk for about two months. Eventually we pick right back up in a good spot but we obviously needed some time apart.
This experience taught me so many things about relationships but the two main ones were: most upsets come from a mismatch of expectations and no matter how much you love someone, space is necessary at times. These both came into play in the best possible circumstances.
On a daily basis, we are not dealing with the best possible circumstances but we are cultivating our most important relationship. Each and every day we are in the closest possible contact with our key associate: the self. Although it may seem odd to apply the same concepts to an internal relation as an external but they can be used to good effect.
First the mismatch of expectations with who you think that you are or should be is a common cause of upset. We have a narrative about who we are inside of our head. Some of it is conscious and other parts unconscious but when our external environment fails to meet our expectations of who we are, it creates issues. Those issues can manifest in a variety of ways but the underlying problem is that our life does not match our expectations. One way to combat this is actually create a definitive description of who you expect yourself to be on a daily basis. Not the “best case scenario” or “ideal self” but rather standard operating procedure or bare minimums description. This way you are setting yourself up for success. Exceeding these expectations will be a gold star to shoot for but at least you have a definition of who you will accept going out into the world each day.
The second is slightly more complicated because getting distance from yourself can seem difficult. I’m obviously not talking about physical distance but rather psychological distance. The daily opportunity that we have for this space is sleep. I truly believe that people who do not sleep well have a more complicated internal life because they are caught up too directly in their own story. The inability to take a break from being puts additional stress onto the relationship with the self. Other forms of psychological space from the self are meditation and exercise. These can both be extremely effective provided that they can be done without intense focus on “results”. Using these tools to take a mental vacation will have great effects provided that the vacation is not turned into a business trip.
So recognize that you’re on a lifelong trip, living out of a purse sized “bag”, with the same person that you cannot get rid of. It would make sense for you to make them a friend, possibly your best friend. In order to make it work though, you’re going to need to set expectations and give each other space. Otherwise you could end up hating the person inside your head and that seems like a bad way to spend this great trip that you’re on.
This is your one and only opportunity at TODAY! Yes tomorrow is right around the corner but there is no guarantee that the same situations, circumstances or people will be available. Whether you are truly in a once in a lifetime situation or simply building the inertia that will be necessary to get you over the mountain that your climbing; TODAY CANNOT BE DISCOUNTED! So give it the attention and forethought that an opportunity like this deserves. If you treat today like every other day, then that is exactly what it will be. However if you treat it like the unique opportunity that it is, you’re more likely squeeze all of the juice out of it. So ask yourself the following questions:
What do I want long term?
What do I want short term?
What can I do today that will bring me closer to both?
Once you’ve identified those three things, then take action! You can’t do everything today but you can do something. Your life is a series of one day sales. Can you become the best possible shopper or leave the store empty handed because you didn’t notice the signs? The choice is up to you!
In my junior year of college, I traveled to Ecuador as part of a winter semester program. I lived with a local family and took a class on literature. It was a life altering experience on a variety of levels. Although I went there to improve my Spanish abilities, I can link many of my fundamental beliefs back to that trip. I changed as a person during my time there. One of the simple ways that I changed was that I became the “King of Introductions”. There was no official coronation! It’s an unofficial title that I developed for myself but it was a key component to many later successes.
Two days after Christmas in 1996, I arrived in Ecuador. After a few days of touring, I was paired with my ‘Ecuadorian family’ on New Year’s Eve. For the next two days, I attended no less than three family parties. If I had to guess, I was introduced to over fifty people in less than 48 hours. Obviously all of those introductions were done in Spanish. It was nothing that I had planned but the more times that it happened, the better that I got at introducing myself. With the first few people, I was only saying ‘hello, nice to meet you’. Eventually the conversations got more robust with full explanations of why I was in Ecuador and my thoughts about the country so far. The repetitions were the key. Even though all of conversations were slightly different, each one gave me another opportunity to organize, edit or add. By the end of those first two days, I was definitely the “King of Introductions”.
It seems so simple but often people ignore this methodology. People give up on things quickly because they’re not “good enough”. The need to not look foolish is ingrained so strongly within us that we tend to avoid even chancing it. So we never get past the peasant status much less reach to the level of king. With something so simple, it would seem like everyone would follow this recipe but often we don’t. Any success requires that you:
Notice what’s working/what’s not
Adjust the approach
Pay attention to those already getting the result you want
It’s almost too easy, isn’t it? The problem usually isn’t a lack of role models to follow. It’s a failure to take any action at all. When there is no guarantee of success, a lot of work and a possibility of looking foolish; peasant status is what is chosen. In the minds of so many, it is better to be the peasant that never tried rather than the one who went for the crown and failed. The most important thing for you to recognize though is that the walls between you and the crown are usually built by you. The world offers all kinds of riches and above is the plan for how to get any of them. We just need to be willing to follow it long enough to get them!
In about a month and a half, I’ll be moving to Virginia. It’s an exciting time! Filled with all kinds of possibilities. While we’re looking forward to that future, we must first deal with the daunting task of moving all (or most or some) of our stuff. The process of packing is a necessary evil where you must decide what is going with you and what things just need to go! Some people have trouble letting go of the things that they’ve accumulated over the years. For better or worse, we get attached to things from the past and have trouble letting go.
The same holds true for the events from our past. Some are vital and need to be packed in bubble wrap to make sure that they never get damaged. While others should be sold at a garage sale or taken to the dump. It’s difficult though. Somehow the events of our lives feel like part of us and letting go of anything seems like a mild betrayal to who we really are. Much like the physical moving, the weight of carrying the past into the future is a consideration to be made.
Since we are talking about emotional weight rather than the physical, the process for unloading or putting old memories into deep storage is different. It is actually the process of making the memories that support the new future bigger/more important or re-purposing those unhelpful memories. Talk about, envision and feel the stories from your past that you want to carry forward with more intensity and belief that it is who you are. Let the less than helpful ones fade or flip them to support where you are going rather than where you’ve been. That breakup or firing does not need to be a scar on your self-esteem. It can be a rallying cry for better performance in the future. Those “small” accomplishments that you overlook when you discuss what you’ve done can be made larger and more vivid. It is simply a process of focusing on it in a different way.
So regardless of who you are or what portion of your life you are in. You’re always packing for the future. What are you going to bring with you? Are you going to allow yourself to be weighed down by things that are probably insignificant to where you want to go? Or are you going to be selective about the “baggage” that you carry with you? It’s all your baggage but you don’t need to carry it all.
“It’s my industrial strength hairdryer. AND I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT!!!”
I just wept in front of a room of teenagers. It wasn’t part of the lesson plan but every once in a while, you just have to go with it. Whenever I talk about a particular former student, it is bound to happen. It has almost gotten to the point where the waterworks start before I even tell the story. That’s because I’ve let it happen. The memory does not have to be painful. It is a combination of factors that make it so and they’re all within my control.
It seems as though many of us have a very hands off relationship with emotions. They are things that happen to us rather than our creation. Emotions are the effect of some cause outside of ourselves and all we can do is point the finger at the guilty party. As we become more tethered to technology it seems to be getting worse. Rather than the local humans and situations that can impact how we feel, there is now a virtual world that can impact us day or night, instant by instant. So we deflect, deny or deliberate on why we feel this way regularly. But as is usually the case, the answer is all inside.
The chemicals coursing through our brains are there to make the feeling happen. So in a sense, you are in bio-chemical warfare at all times. Bringing out the big guns of oxytocin and serotonin to combat the overwhelming attack of cortisol. It’s not the stuff that they make movies about but it is the reason that we watch movies. Our brain and body are in a constant feedback loop with each other. The secretion of these chemicals are what makes feelings happen but we have our hands on the release valves and need to pay attention to these things in order to influence them: physiology, focus and inner dialogue.
Physiology is the way that you use your body. It includes movement, food, sleep and many other factors but movement is crucial. Exercise, facial expressions, posture and any other movement that you can think of influence your feelings through your physiology.
Focus is the things that you pay attention to. At any given moment, there are thousands or possibly millions of stimuli coming in through your senses. We can only pay attention to a finite number. So we either pay attention to the obvious things or we need to take control of our focus.
Inner dialogue is the things that we say to ourselves inside of our head. For good or ill the consistent things that we say to ourselves affect how we feel. Being mindful of habitual self-talk is extremely important.
These are the ways that we can turn the tide of the chemical warfare that we have going on inside. It is by no means an easy fix. Each of these component pieces takes diligence and practice but we are not by any means helpless.
The spring season brings rejuvenation and tryouts. Soccer tryouts, hockey tryouts and I’m sure many others. The constant evaluation of players is now a cultural norm. While it may seem like a necessary evil, it is our job as the adults or forward thinkers to ensure that it doesn’t become pure evil in the mind of a young player. The constant question can go swirling through their head “Am I good?” While it may be a common question, it is probably the wrong question.
Comparison is all around us. There are grades, likes, follows, rankings and so many other ways to compare people and anything else. Some of them are objective and others completely subjective. They are easy to focus upon because they feel real. A sense of power and prestige can be derived from comparison but the opposite is also true. It is often easier to feel powerless and insignificant because we are usually comparing our worst with our projection of other people. Neither of these pictures is completely accurate but the feeling of inequity can be overwhelming. So we often look for validation from others, such as coaches, teachers, parents or others with the question, “Am I good?” The answer is never going to satisfy in the long term. It becomes a button that needs to be hit every so often to keep things in balance. Multiple choice is not your friend in most instances.
Although most people avoided them in school, it is two open ended questions that allow for a more compelling look at one’s self. “How am I better than I used to be?” “How can I progress forward?” Both questions are asked with a leaning toward positive self discovery. Our brains are an amazing piece of machinery that will answer almost any question that we ask of it, even if it needs to make the answer up. Consistently asking “Am I good?” will inevitably lead to plenty of instances where the answer will be “No” because metric and competition change frequently. However by asking the open ended questions, the question sends a subtle signal that in some small way you are better than you were. Also there are ways to progress forward if you’re willing to look for them.
These are obviously not the only questions that can be asked. They are simply two examples that can break the comparison chain. Done consistently, proactive questions like these can be life altering because we are evaluating ourselves and our lives continuously. Wouldn’t it be better to stack the deck in your favor?
Geometry was probably one of the easiest classes for me in high school. Despite its relative ease, I had trouble staying engaged with it. I found it tedious to give all of the reasons why something was true. It was usually pretty obvious whether a problem was going to withstand the scrutiny of the different theorems that we were learning at the time. So it seemed like a relative waste to my teenage self to write out all of the steps in proving or disproving a problem. Especially when the answers (to the odd problems usually) were in the back of the book.
In our every day lives, there aren’t a lot of ‘proofs’ to be done. Very few things are black and white. So regardless of how SURE you are of your argument, there’s someone out there with the exact same information screaming the opposite (just think of our present political situation). So if we have nothing to prove, maybe the aim should be to improve.
Although there are few cold hard truths that we encounter daily, we do have a sense of who we are personally and what it is that we want for ourselves. So recognize the fact that you have nothing to prove. Even if you were to prove something, the circumstances of tomorrow may wipe away the thing that your proved today. However, each day we have the ability to improve. In small and subtle ways, it is possible for you to see progress in yourself, your life and your circumstances. Almost nothing about you is going to stand the test of time like Pythagoras’ Theorem. That does not mean that your life is meaningless. You are a sand castle that can be improved and enjoyed for the time that it exists. Get digging and sculpting because when the tide comes in, you’ll wish that you had!
Cautionary tales like “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” seem to be less prevalent than in the past. Perhaps that is just my perception or my own implementation of life lessons to my kids. I remember exactly who told me this story and for what reason. It had the desired effect. In third grade, I would frequently “not feel well” in order to be sent down to the nurse’s office. Once my visits became frequent enough, the nurse recounted the story of the boy who cried wolf. My visits to her office became more legitimate.
Although the moral of the story is extremely clear, it might be worth a revisit because it could go further. In the end, the boy gets hurt because the townspeople don’t believe him. His dishonesty lead to pain because it short-circuited the system that was intended to protect him. While this moral has served me and countless others well, let’s go further.
The boy not only put himself in peril, he also robbed himself. He robbed himself of the experience of watching how the townspeople dealt with wolves. His deception was a short term diversion that took away his long term solution. If he had been diligent in his duties, he may have seen that scaring off the wolves was something that he could eventually do on his own. Developing this skill set over time could have saved his life in the future.
This revisited moral is possibly even more useful than the original now. The world is full of alarms, warning devices and security systems that keep us safe from “wolf attacks”. However with all of this “protection” are we going to be ready to act when things go sideways. If we are always providing our young people with a “safe space”, will they know how to handle themselves when real dangers show up? Hope is not a strategy. Hoping that the systems in place will be enough to cover all eventualities actually leaves those on the inside helpless. So don’t hope that nothing will happen, take steps to prepare for those possibilities.
Systems can be great and it is completely fine that we depend on them, until it’s not. Following the credo of the Boy Scouts, “be prepared!” You don’t know what is coming in your future but if you never consider what’s possible in either the positive or the negative, then you’re bound to be unprepared. We’ve all got exactly one objective in life: FCO (Figure Crap Out!). That’s it! You don’t deserve a problem free life. You can only create one. Not by eradicating all problems but by preparing for so many eventualities that you’re never caught by surprise!
We live in a modern world but humans are prehistoric creatures. Obviously we have acquired skills and knowledge that our ancestors did not have. So I am not suggesting that we are on their level in that respect but I do want to point out that we are using the same hardware. The same brain structure that caused us to run from saber-toothed tigers is now tasked with managing a world that moves faster than we were intended to go. We’re overwhelmed and stressed because we created an environment that stresses and overwhelms our prehistoric brains. This is not a blog to suggest that we go back to living in caves. Rather it is intended to point out the fact that there are limits on our bandwidth, therefore we must manage ourselves so the prehistoric brain does not go into overload.
The odd irony to our situation is actually that in a modern world, very few things are trying to kill you. This is an important thing to realize. Our prehistoric brain’s major functions were centered around keeping the self and the species alive. So things like fear and sex were major priorities, while general happiness was farther down the list. The world that we live in requires very little self/species preservation. Despite this fact, the “wiring” for the old world is still intact. So a modern “threat” feels very much like a situation of life or death without any of the true peril. The signals will continue to be sent in this fashion, until we are willing to “re-wire” ourselves.
This process is not like the re-wiring of house. It doesn’t require a professional or a lot of money but it does require time. Humans generally don’t change without time and/or major incentives. A methodical approach to managing your mind can go a long way to creating a better life for you. Regular practice at calming your prehistoric brain will go a long way. Taking the time to recognize that your response to situations is not based on what will help but rather things that are pre-programmed will help you to re-program those responses. Remember that you don’t have to act like a caveman even if you have the same operating system as one.
Go make history by reprogramming your prehistoric systems!