Blogpost, self-reliance

Your Dress Code: The Power of Self-Signaling

The school where I work has a pretty standard private school dress code: jacket, tie, khakis and nice shoes. During COVID times, we’ve loosened it up quite a bit in due to masks and other things that needed policing. It just didn’t make sense to keep a strict dress code at the moment. As we start to look forward toward the coming school year, there is some debate about “getting that horse back into the barn.” Is our traditional dress code representative of the modern business culture? Is the tradition worth keeping? These are important questions to ask because as a school, we are a teaching/learning institution. Is our dress code teaching anything? Are our students learning anything from it?

In one of my favorite movies, The Matrix, Neo is first introduced to the idea of his being trapped in a computer program. His clothes, hair and overall appearance is something that Morpheus calls “Residual self-image.” While I’m not going to try to convince you that you’re stuck in a virtual simulation (YET), there is a lot of power in the way that we see ourselves or fail to see ourselves. As a pretty standard jeans and t-shirt kind of person, I am sending a message out into the world and to myself. The world’s perception of me is beyond my control, I can influence it but cannot do much to change other than by changing myself.

Therein lies the problem or more accurately: the opportunity. The world is fickle. It changes its likes and dislikes regularly. Fifty years ago walking down the street with bell-bottom pants sent a message about you. Now it sends a totally different message to the world. Since the world is going to change the way that it feels about you based on arbitrary rules of fashion that are environmental, season and person specific; perhaps the best that anyone can do is send signals to themselves because at least those can be consistent and understood.

The opportunities within this space are infinite. Clothes, hair, accessories, facial expressions and so many other components can be added to your “dress code.” This does not have to take extra money, effort or time. It is a simple alignment between who you want to project into the world and the ingredients that you use. For example: I wear mismatched socks on purpose. Some people would consider this a faux pas but it has been a powerful self-signaling tool that I’ve used for years. I stole it from Seth Godin but the idea behind it is this. A company called Little Miss Matched sold millions (possibly billions) of dollars of socks by doing something that no one else would have considered. They sold socks in a pack of three and none of them matched. This unorthodox but brilliant strategy was able to make them stand out and succeed. Doing the standard thing would have probably led to mediocrity or failure. No I don’t wear the actual “Little Miss Matched” socks. I don’t have to. The only person who needs to understand is me.

Can you undermine your outward signaling through your self-signaling? Abso-fricking-lutely! So it is up to you to decide where and when you need to signal to others while signaling to yourself. Since you set up the rules in the internal world in which you live (or at least you should), it’s completely possible to send yourself signals while meeting all of the arbitrary requirements of the fickle outside world. A special pair of boxer shorts can act like Superman’s cape whenever you need it to. The message is yours to choose! “I am confident in who I am!” “My creativity is inexhaustible!” “I am capable of stepping up to the next level!” “I’m sexy and I know it!” Wear it wherever you go! Even if you’re not particularly wearing anything different, put in your face, walk and posture. The only one who is usually stopping you is you! So send the message to yourself that you’re going places!

Suit up!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Results vs Resluts

If I had been born about ten years later than I was, I’m quite sure that I would have been tested for and found as dyslexic. However due to my age and a few other factors, there was no diagnosis. It’s never been a major issue, numbers are my biggest problem. So it made perfect sense for me to start out as a math major in college. For the most part, I’ve just had to police myself throughout my academic career. Now I’m not sure if my recent typing issues are related or if my fingers have just gotten fumbled up. I’ve been having a lot more instances of typos where I only switch two letters in the middle of the word. From time to time, results turn into resluts! Despite the obvious error, I gave some thought to my error and its possible uses. My fear is that far too many people are going for resluts!

The thing about resluts is that anyone can get them. They are readily available with little effort. Like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the resources needed to make that result happen are available to most people. It’s nothing special but it is still something. If they are needed in order to build confidence, habit or a streak of some kind, then by all means! Go get those resluts! Just don’t celebrate too much.

Results are what should be desired and chased. They inject enthusiasm and motivation into our lives. Although they are within our reach, they are elusive, coy or possibly aloof. They act as if they are too good for us and if we’ve lowered our standards drastically, they might be right. However it’s more than likely that we are more than good enough. It might take some extra effort, a bit more primping or charm but there’s no reason to let that stop us. Just because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it!

So as you go through your day, recognize whether you’re chasing real results or not. Are the things that you’re after worth pursuing? If you’re only after them because they are easy, then it might be time to move on to better things. You deserve the top level prizes in this carnival game we call life. But first you need to realize that you do! Don’t settle for the participation trophy because you can do more than just show up!

Go get your results!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Unpickle the Cucumber

One of my favorite places to eat in the entire world is called “The Sub Shack” in Hackettstown, NJ. As a kid, we would go there from time to time and as an adult I make it a point to go whenever visiting home. They had a barrel of pickles soaking in brine that were sold for one dollar a piece. As a child, I didn’t realize initially that pickles were cucumbers (or other vegetables). Traditionally it was done to prevent spoilage. In modern times, it seems to principally be done for taste. Once pickled, it is almost impossible to turn a pickle back into a cucumber. By soaking the cucumber in brine, that liquid permeates the entirety of the cucumber. Even if it is soaked in water for a long period of time, it can’t go back. Luckily humans are not pickles but we may be “pickled” to a certain extent.

The Sub Shack located on Main St. in Hackettstonwn, NJ.

This discussion of brining and pickles was brought about as I was thinking about my own mindset and habits. Much of who I am today is due to being immersed in a particular set of circumstances. My upbringing, education, friends, experiences, etc. form the brine that my mind has been soaking in for these forty-five years. Some components have been thrust upon me while others have been deliberately chosen. All of the “flavors” that I am can be changed on some level by “re-brining.” My American flavor would be affected to some degree by living in England for a decade. However it is almost impossible to completely “unpickle the cucumber.”

Just because you can’t start over, doesn’t mean that you need to continue on your present path. It is completely possible to change the you that people see everyday. However it takes more than an inspirational Instagram post or a week’s worth of discipline. You need to become immersed in the change that you want to create. People, location, media, schedules, etc. can all help to “brine” you in one way or another. The key is to figure out exactly what you want to taste like (did I take the analogy too far? That felt like a bit too far.) REGARDLESS the person that you are is who you will stay unless you immerse yourself in something different. You’ve already been pickled. Now it’s up to you to decide if you like the recipe that was used!

Bon Appetite!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The Hands of Leadership

Six weeks…..That’s all she was.  This was not part of the plan.  Or the standard operating procedure.  It was fear, anxiety and an entire host of emotions that coalesced into waves that could not be stopped but also could not be indulged.  The fever had spiked for no apparent reason.  And we, as new parents to a peanut of a little girl, took her to the hospital without delay.  After a few attempts to lower her fever were unsuccessful, the doctors asked which one of us was going to stay with her.  My wife had to leave.  It was written on her face.  I had to stay.  Not because I wanted to and not for some macho reason that “I can handle anything.”  I had to stay because my daughter would not be in a room of strangers as she had a spinal tap.  My right hand clasped her little legs and feet.  Under her head went my left palm.  Gently but deliberately I folded her legs above her head, so the doctor could insert the needle into her back.  Never before or since have I been so aware of my every motion and trying to subdue even my heartbeat as much as possible.  The fever broke the next day and the spinal tap came back clear.

There are times when we get to choose to be a leader.  Other times, leadership is thrust upon us.  When we sign up for roles like coach, spouse, parent, teacher, etc., we tend to imagine the circumstances that we’ll face in terms of best case scenarios.  Events that we not only can deal with, but that we want to.  Life does not let the best case scenarios last for very long.  At that point we must choose who we are going to be and the example that we set for those around us.  It is our choices that define who we are.

One of my favorite comparisons to make is between Darth Vader and Teddy Roosevelt.  They have something crucial in common.  Both lost their mother and wife tragically.  Roosevelt’s wife and mother actually died less than twenty-four hours apart.  One chose to become the evil henchman to a diabolical tyrant.  The other chose to become one of our greatest presidents.  

Leadership is a choice that we make.  Over and over again, we are confronted with circumstances.  Our choices define us and the example that we set for others which is the strongest way to lead.  Every single one of us is a leader, even if we are only leading ourselves.

It’s in your hands!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Everything Is Process

Your life will have milestones! There is no doubt about that. However at only one point in your life will you reach any sense of complete finality, at your death.  In my estimation, that is not a goal to move toward as quickly as possible.  So therefore the thing that is left is PROCESS.  Even the games, matches and contests, that we compete in are steps along the path to becoming.  Becoming what?  That is up to you. 

If you put in the requisite effort, then you are becoming better, stronger, faster, smarter, leaner, calmer and the other er’s in your life don’t ever have to stop.  They are always capable of being improved based on your potential.  Reaching milestones is not a reason to stop, unless that is what you want.  If your appetite is satiated, then by all means, take a bow, revel in your success but don’t believe that it is all you have in you.  That is not something that you will ever reach.  For some people that is daunting. The endlessness of your own capability can intimidate because comfort can be drawn from familiarity. 

In my belief it is liberating to believe in endless potential because no matter what level you’re at there is room to move.  You are not boxed in by a ceiling.  Bowling at the professional level gives me no excitement because it only allows for a certain level of performance, beyond that you can’t do any better.  Perfection or bust is not anything I’m interested in.  The pursuit of something beyond what is now known is interesting. The you of right now is a rung of a ladder for tomorrow’s version to climb upon. Give yourself sturdy shoulders to stand on by believing in the process of every day!

One step at a time!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The Applause Comes Last

A round of applause, a pat on the back, a few well placed “‘at a girls” or “‘at a boys” are what many of us are looking for from our performance. We want someone who is willing to acknowledge the effort that we just put into that thing. Whether it is a piece of art, a business proposal or a well played game, recognition is something that people crave. It’s not a selfish thing, it is a biological desire that manifests itself in a variety of ways. We are hierarchical animals who survival used to depend heavily on tribal dynamics. Doing something worthy of positive attention from the tribe created such strong bonds between our actions and the approval of others that many are driven principally by praise.

Praise is not the only motivator in the world. People are motivated by all kinds of stimuli. The issue is not really what motivators are behind the actions of a person. It is the need for the reward to come at the right time. In our distraction prone society, a premature prize could lead to a decrease in motivation. The applause of the crowd, the bonus check or better yet that feeling of self-satisfaction cannot be awarded too soon because the whole result is the important thing.

It seems silly but people do it all the time. They come up with a plan for that goal and give up. A week of clean eating and the diet is over. The championship season is over after three wins in a row. Signing up for the gym is enough of a step, why would you go? Goals and objectives are not particularly the aim. The trophy may feel good in the moment but that instant fades over time. The feeling that endures much longer is the way that we feel about ourselves when it’s over. Tasks that we leave half done for no reason weigh on our souls because we believe that we’re capable of more. Despite that belief, the proof is in the pudding or the half-made pudding.

No one else needs to hear the applause but you need to give it to yourself when you’re done. And only when you’re done. That doesn’t mean that you can’t hear the occasional clap along the way but save the applause for the end. The most important thing is how you feel about yourself when you’re by yourself. If you left something on the table that could have been, you’ll know it. Make yourself proud!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance, SoccerLifeBalance

Goal Difference Matters

Points are definitely king of the table. There’s no denying that results are the thing that win championships and get promotions. However as the season progresses, it’s often possible to identify a “sleeper” team when their goal difference is greater than those around them in the table. Usually this is an indicator that the team has lost close games and blown out a few teams. It’s not as good as points in the pocket. BUT if a team doesn’t lose heart due to their present position, a promotion push could be around the corner.

Most of us are not particularly in the position that we want: socially, financially, mentally, emotionally, etc. Your present position is not predictive of the future. Although that’s easy to think because it feels accurate. You’ve been in this same spot for a while. The thing that you need to do is focus on your goal difference. When you lose, don’t let it be a blowout. If you win, make it a big win! What are you talking about?

The experiences of your life are not inherently positive or negative. We put that slant to the situation. So if each instance has no determined value, we get to add it. When you are evaluating the results that you are getting, don’t turn negative situations into catastrophes. Use language that will put it down as a smaller loss. We get disappointed, not devastated and this is an evaluation after the fact. Be professional as we lose. Shake hands and move on. Don’t say those negative things out-loud (Trevor Moawad).

When you do get a win, make it big! Even if it means almost nothing in the grand scheme of things, turn it into winning the FA Cup (for a small club, cause the top clubs barely care). We tend to undervalue our accomplishments because they are ours. If we can do, then anyone can do it. BULLSHIT! Some people couldn’t fight their way out of a wet paper bag! Give some credit but don’t sit back and relax. It’s onto the next contest. A big win in isolation is nothing. Form matters! So take that momentum into the next thing and believe that a string of positive results is on the horizon. It’s the only way to climb up the table!

Most likely you’re the only one who is keeping score in your life. Tip the table in your favor. Stack up some little wins and then go for that title that you’ve been hoping for! It’s within your reach. All it takes is time and persistence. That combination is almost completely undefeated.

Go for your goals!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

No One Cares About Your Problems (and neither should you)

This may come off a bit harsh but honestly, no one cares about your problems. Whether you’re overweight, your pet just died, your spouse left you, your candidate lost, or a thousand other issues, nobody cares and they shouldn’t! The truth of the matter is that your friends, family, co-workers, etc. don’t care about your problems, they care about you. So regardless of how many bad situations have aligned themselves against you, no one cares. Once this realization is solid inside of your head, the other shoe must drop. You shouldn’t care about your problems either. “But my debt….my dog….my boss….the election….the pandemic….”

My statement isn’t that you don’t have any problems. It’s only that you shouldn’t care about them. People tend to become invested in the negative situations that surround their lives. They invest tons of emotion into a situation that they wish would go away. It’s like giving keys to the person who keeps breaking into your house. Regardless of the situation, your attention and emotion are only feeding the problem itself or your perception of it. So is the answer to just ignore them? Not exactly! You shouldn’t care about your problems but…

You should care about the solutions because they need your time and attention. Much like a newborn baby, solutions don’t just take care of themselves. Someone has to keep them alive and allow them to grow until they are self-sufficient. Friends and family can definitely nurture a solution for you but let’s be honest, they are less likely to do it if they see that you’re in love with your problem.

People tend to get more of what they focus on, whether in perception or reality. The key is to focus on the things that you want and give only the attention that is necessary to the things that you don’t. The big bucks aren’t earned by people who are best at describing the problem. They’re earned by the people who find the solution.

Love your solutions today!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

This Is Not The True Pain

“Regret is momentary pain made permanent through inaction.” I first wrote that as part of a post called “The Fearometer“. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the momentary decisions that we make and how they carry forward. Decisions are forks in the road that take us in a particular direction. While some decisions only make us veer slightly one way or the other, it’s possible to take abrupt turns or even turn fully around. Without a GPS, it can be easy to get lost with so many possibilities. So more than anything, it is important to know where you want to end up.

Pushups today give possibility to muscles tomorrow. Avoiding the “pain” now may mean pain later.

Many of us (including me) spend our days in almost constant avoidance of momentary “pain.” This is a great strategy UNTIL it’s not. Each of us has a myriad of destinations in front of us. Would we choose the path that is leading to the most physical, mental or emotional pain? Or would we choose long term physical, mental and emotional comfort? My guess is that the choice is pretty obvious. However our momentary decisions may be cutting us off from that possibility. Avoiding that exercise program or food decision is leading you down a path that will be painful in the long run. Unfortunately we are not programmed to think that far ahead. We are set up to think about the here and now.

So it is on you to break from your programming in order to avoid that eventual pain that is on the horizon. Cancer, loneliness, heart disease, divorce, alcoholism, obesity, addiction or any other destination that you’d rather not visit. This is not my call for a return of the straight-edge movement. It’s simply a recognition of the fact that we carry these momentary decisions with us, especially when they become consistent. Regret is momentary pain made permanent through inaction. Decide who your future self is going to be. Then work your way backwards to the decisions of today. People usually know the right thing to do. However they have difficulty short circuiting the emotion of the moment. Put the power in the plan rather than the moment!

You’re on your way!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Sharpen Your Own Axe

In Stephen Covey’s wonderful book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” the seventh habit is “Sharpen the Saw.” The concept is personal renewal throughout the process of improvement. The other six habits are specifically aimed at a part of the internal or external battles that each of us must fight. Although the chapter is called “Sharpen the Saw,” I’m going to depart from it slightly with the use of an axe. Even though a saw is an effective tool that largely does the same job as an axe, my life almost never feels like a saw cut piece of wood. There is not a perfect line cut through the wood with bits of sawdust lying on the ground. It is a hacking type of motion that gets the job done but isn’t always pretty. Maybe you can relate.

Now that we’ve agreed on the axe metaphor, it’s important to realize exactly how important its renewal is. One of Abraham Lincoln’s most famous quotes is “If you give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’ll spend the first 4 sharpening the axe.” His equation looks to spend two thirds of the time on the preparation for the task. Humans are not robots (yet haha). We require more than menial tasks to keep us engaged. The repetitious nature of the present situation calls for even more sharpening. We are hacking away at a life that does not look anything like what we’ve encountered before. It is mundane and separate. Also it carries with it a longevity that we cannot predict. Getting back to normal is what we all desire but we can’t know when that will happen, no one does. So it is more important than ever to sharpen.

Since each of us is our own person (axe), we each have distinct ways that we renew. A good book, a game on the TV, a walk, a run, meditation, or a myriad of other activities can help to elevate a person’s ability to perform at their highest levels. The thing that you need to know is what actually feeds you. There is a difference between leisure activities and renewal. Some people can sit in front of a TV for an hour and all it makes them want to do is watch more TV. Others it is respite that energizes. Often that comes down to the focus of the programming.

That is the point exactly. Where do you personally need to put your eyes, ears and maybe soul/heart for a while in order to come back refreshed? This is a personal thing that only you can know for sure. Other people may find banging their head to heavy metal music to be draining but if it gives you a boost, then bang away! Have these in your back pocket and available at any time. You’ll need some for a quick sharpen to get through the day and other longer ones that put a razor’s edge to you. Know what they are and use them when needed.

There is a reason why dull is a word that is used to describe people at times. Those are people who have not learned what it is that they need to do to keep themselves sharp. It’s your life, it’s your axe. Keep yourself sharp because life is going to hack at you for the next few months (maybe a year). Be ready to hack back!

Timber!

Pete