To my toilet, I’m either a dick or asshole. To my shower, I’m varying degrees of dirty. To my mirror, I’m vain or self-obsessed. And you can just imagine what the toilet paper thinks of me. All of these perspectives are completely accurate but taken from a narrow view
Each day we live our lives and show particular sides of ourselves to people. None of them is 100% accurate but also they are not 100% inaccurate. We cannot control other people’s perception of us. That is in their control. What’s within our control are the actions that we take and the words that we use.
I’m completely comfortable with my toilet thinking of me as an asshole. However that’s not the message that I want to send to everyone. Being the person that you want people to see takes effort and forethought. Decide to give your best to the people who matter. That way you know they’ll be there when you’re at your worst.
At one point in my educational career, transparencies were the height of technology. By today’s standards they are obsolete but at the time they were extremely helpful. The ability to manipulate and project for a group to see was used daily. My most vivid memories of them were from history class. A territory could be shown with a variety of borders and other influencers. Depending on the transparency that was placed onto the territory, a force like the Roman Empire could be all encompassing or completely inconsequential. The territory was always the same but the translucent lines of borders and boundaries changed. Even though the transparency projectors have all but disappeared, the influence of invisible and imaginary lines has not.
They are truly all around us, the transparent lines that often direct our lives. The boundary lines, goal lines, bottom lines, traffic lines and party lines are subtly informing our every day experience. So many different ways that we can choose to box ourselves in or direct our movement by using these lines. The issue comes when the lines become walls that imprison.
Many of us have constructs that we have developed or have been developed for us. Some are almost invisible until we look for them. For example you are reading this blog in English. If it is your first language, it changes the way that you look at the world compared to other languages. A simple sentence like “I dropped the plate.” illustrates the point. There is an underlying sense of responsibility attached to action because of the subject “I”. Conversely the Spanish representation of the situation, “Se me cayó el plato.” literally translates to “The plate fell from me.” For better or worse, the influence of simple things such as this can monumental and often taken for granted. So the first step is to recognize as many of the lines that are influencing you as you can. Then decide what makes sense.
When you peel back the layers of transparencies from your life, you will most likely find things that you’ve taken for granted that just don’t make sense. Driving on the right side of the road may be a useful constraint to keep. However there are probably others that can be amended or dropped in order to better service you in the pursuit of what you want today. Perhaps you’ve always believed that you’re not smart, that planning isn’t important, that sex is REALLY important, that you need to make it on your own or a million other things. Maybe you’ll keep most of your beliefs but it is worth the examination to see if you’ve painted yourself into a corner with beliefs that don’t make sense anymore. If you want to be a millionaire but think that making minimum wage is the best you can do, you’ve got a problem. Do the lines that you’ve painted for yourself point you in the direction that you want to be going?
Physically, mentally and emotionally; what do you believe about yourself, people and the world? Write it down in your notebook, iPhone, laptop or anything else that works for you. Then pick through it to see what you’re keeping, tweaking or tossing. It’s up to you to clean up whatever mess you might have. If you’re honest in your assessment, you’ll be able to see through the person that you need to read better than anyone else: yourself.
In these hot summer days of New Jersey, an air conditioned house, store or office is a sanctuary. Relief from the pounding heat and humidity seems as if it is a necessity. I often think about our “pre-AC” ancestors and how they reacted to days like this. Most likely, they had to be slightly more intelligent about breaks, shade and water. The prospect of artificial cool was long off in the future. Like so many of our modern conveniences, the advancement of technology seems to come attached to a double result: the desired effect and it’s opposite.
An air conditioner is thought of as a cooling mechanism, unless you visit the back end of the unit. There you will realize that the AC unit is producing almost as much heat as cold. So the cool factor is for a selected space and temporary. When the heat and cool reunite, the entire equation is most likely a wash. The effect for us as the recipients is not particularly a wash. The perception of cool and hot becomes skewed. While we have in theory “beaten the heat” by creating air conditioning, we’ve made ourselves less able to adapt to it when it is thrust upon us. This inverse relationship is evident in many areas. The internet has connected us all but we are losing our ability to communicate. Everyone has a phone in their pocket but people are talking less. We have more information than ever about the human body and how it works best but obesity and diabetes are rampant. It is as if we have forgotten something that could bring us back to the center. The thing that we have forgotten is that we are animals. Specifically we are mammals who were intended to find an equilibrium with our surroundings in order to survive.
The technological advances that we have created have brought us off of our center where we feel like we need to adapt. The world is supposed to adapt to us, right? Not quite, when we forget our heritage, not too subtle reminders will be visited upon us. So my message is pretty simple: Find out, without! Find out who you are without all of the gadgets that you use to cause comfort. Think, plan and execute some time in an outdoor environment that slightly tests who you are as a human animal. An overnight hike, a day without air conditioning, a period of time with no cell phone or any other exercise that allows you to come back to a natural center. (Yes! I realize that I’m asking you to unplug while writing an article over the internet. Hypocrisy? Only if I did this without doing what I prescribe.)
So find out, without! Find out whether or not you can have a face to face conversation with one of your Facebook friends. Find out if you really would shrivel up in this heat or do you just need to have a plan for hydration and find shade. The human animal has conquered this world and found now that his biggest adversary is himself. Don’t get crushed by your comfort!
A plot of sand at the beach, deck chairs at the pool, a spot in line, a seat toward the back of the class and hundreds of other locations are the temporary spots that we mark out for ourselves. They are important to us only as long as we need them. Although we know that they are just for now, we defend them and sometimes ruthlessly. The territoriality of humans and the individually made rules associated with it are complex and seemingly inherent. We want to have a space to call our own and defend it with fervor.
This phenomena was on full display for me in the past few days when I visited three different amusement parks. The defensiveness of the space is heightened as the density of people increases. Also the perceived stakes of the space comes into play heavily. The value that the individual puts on the space is largely influenced by the scarcity of the “prize” that the space provides. People waiting in line for entrance into the park are much more defensive than the people in the wave pool waiting to get hit by a wave. Although it is all temporary, the ownership feels very real.
Ultimately almost all of our space is temporary and will eventually belong to someone else. Houses, apartments, cars and even our burial plots will eventually belong to another person, creature or to nature itself. Despite our very temporary hold on these forms of real estate, we spend time protecting and preserving them as if they were indefinite. There is one place only you will ever own. Yet many people allow easy access to this space as if it were just a blanket on the beach.
Your mind is your own and will be as long as you defend it. Like holding your place in line, you need to be aware of those who are trying to sneak in. Much like the owner of a house who has teenage children, you must be aware of people that you trust having a party at your expense. No one will care for this space as much as you. So mark your territory! Be aware of who is allowed in and who needs to be kept out. This is your real estate, don’t put it up for auction.
Yesterday man was strong, intelligent and lauded. He could have run for days, lifted 100 pounds or more over his head and knew better than most of his contemporaries. The unfortunate thing is that he has lost all of his powers. In the present day, Yesterday Man is just a shadow, a myth that gets brought up from time to time. All that he left behind was Today Man.
Today man looks a lot like Yesterday Man but not as swift and sure. He has to grind out the problems of the day in order to build on Yesterday Man’s legacy. The choices he makes are difficult and he cannot even be sure if they’re right. If only Yesterday Man were here!
Today will quickly become your yesterday and that process never stops. Although your today was built on the foundation of your yesterdays, today is the only day that you have. Make it great, be that superhero that you’ll want to talk about in 10 years.
In my freshman college dorm, I was known as “Soccer Pete”. The reason for the name was pretty obvious. There was another guy named Pete who lived in Pocomoke Hall and it cut down on the confusion. Since I was on the soccer team and mildly obsessed with the sport, it stuck. The nickname spread to the point that when I would meet new people, I sometimes heard “Oh you’re ‘Soccer Pete'”. This all happened organically and through no influence of mine. However I knew the importance of standing out from one of my soccer coaches earlier that summer.
My coach, Tom Zingale, had a successful soccer career and was trying out for the United States Olympic team. On the first day of tryouts, each player was given a white uniform and a red uniform. Tom knew the competition was going to be tough on the field, so he did something to make himself stand out on the field. He did his laundry right away! This was a stroke of genius! The reason that it was brilliant was that he washed his red uniform and white uniform together. His red uniform’s colors ran and turned the white one pink. So when Tom stepped out on the field, he looked like walking cotton candy. The other trialists gave him plenty of inventive nicknames but at the end of the tryout he had the last laugh. He made the team and in a conversation with the coach it became obvious to all that his strategy had worked.
Coach: “We’ll need to find someone to help you with your laundry.”
Tom: “I know how to do laundry.”
Coach: “Yeah right! Then why is your uniform pink?
Tom: “What’s my name?”
In that silence it became evident that Tom had made himself standout. Now obviously if he had no soccer skill, then his plan would have failed. However with the right combination of skill and individuality, he was able to get exactly what he was after.
So my suggestion to you is to be a definite article! Be THE one that people think about when they think of your thing. This should be a combination of skill and individuality. Make yourself the undeniable choice for one reason or another. DO NOT JUST DRESS UP IN PINK unless that’s you’re thing. You can stand out by being the definitive best in your field. Being the only one who is using technology to solve problems in your industry may be your way to standout. Own it completely and be comfortable with the choice to be you. This may include having to say “I’m not for you.” Punk rock is my favorite type of music. When given the choice, it is THE one that I pick most often. However it’s not for everyone and embracing that fact is better than being a watered-down version of everyone else. So go out today, in your work, in your relationship and in your life and be THE YOU that you want to be. The world won’t know that they were looking for that you until you’ve shown up!
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As one of my first jobs “adult” jobs, I was a pizza delivery guy. It was great in so many ways. Six dollars per hour under the table plus tips was pretty good pay for a young man. When things got slow, I was also in charge of washing dishes or cleaning up the kitchen. I recall one of the first times that I cleaned. I was scrubbing some of the equipment and got chastised by Enzo, one of the two Italian brothers that I worked for. I was cleaning in the wrong order. He quickly explained that I needed to clean from the top down. By cleaning bottom up, I might get things dirty that I’d already cleaned. This was a simple idea but one that permeated other jobs and situations. The order of operations became important to me and I never forgot that simple lesson. Not every situation in life has a concrete order of operations. Personal preferences affect so many aspects of our lives that there are very few absolutes.
Despite the lack of universal answers, there is a lot to be said for using common sense. This is an attribute that seems to be dwindling in supply. Unfortunately in the self-interested world that we have created, it is common to forget that we need each other. We are so busy pushing our own agendas that we fail to realize that those around us have become deaf to us because we have failed to listen. The first step to making ourselves understood is first to understand. Taking the time to think about the needs of another before our own needs are met creates a bond that allows others to support us willfully. Give that which you want to receive.
By washing your face before your ass, you are preparing the thing that you are going to show to the world. You take no chances that it will be soiled by your own filthiness. There are people in this world that you can trust with that but you don’t walk out into the world with it readily displayed. Be the person that you’d like to meet on the street. Be the friend, coworker, boyfriend, girlfriend etc. that you wish that you had. The more that you do this, the more that you’ll find people like that. The world is waiting for you to lead with your best face. Very few of us should lead with our ass….
In a week’s time, Star Wars: The Force Awakens will be a cultural phenomena throughout the United States and the world. Millions of people will wait in line to be thrilled by the adventures of old and new heroes from “a galaxy far, far away.” As we (yep, Luke and I have tickets) sit there in the seats watching the new chapter of this modern day myth, some people will let their imaginations soar for two hours. Unfortunately that is where it will stop for many. The reason why Star Wars resonates with so many people is that it follows the formula of many of the greatest myths in history.
In his book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” Joseph Campbell deconstructs what he called the hero’s journey. For thousands of years, people have been retelling similar versions of the same basic story. The reason why it works is because the formula involves a regular person who is “called to adventure”. The fact that the hero’s journey is focused upon the development and ultimate triumph of the “every-man” makes it an almost irresistible hook for the general public. It is easy to see one’s self being called to a spectacular adventure and answering that call. Although we can picture ourselves answering the call to adventure, the call often does not come or is imperceptible.
In most of our lives, there are very few “calls to adventure”. The call needs to come from within. Expecting that the world is going to lift your butt off the couch and force you to do something great is foolish. Besides if a Sith Lord showed up at your door looking for a lightsaber duel, you’d probably sh– your pants. I would. You need to read the signs and choose your own adventure. Force yourself to do something outside of your comfort zone. Force yourself to be better than you’ve been in the past. Force yourself to engage with people and circumstances that would thrill you. GO FORCE YOURSELF because then you’ll have something to do until Episode 8 is released. Enjoy the movie and enjoy your life.
In my parents’ cupboard when I was a kid, there were canned products that we used all the time. Chicken noodle soup, tomato paste and green beans were in heavy rotation toward the front door. They would come in, go out and be replaced by their can cousin at the next shopping trip. Toward the back of the cupboard were the ancient staples like the can of cream of mushroom from 1985 or its even stranger companion, evaporated milk (no idea what that is). These cans were born with purpose and hope. However their lives never reached fulfillment because they were forgotten after they were crossed off of the grocery list and standing by for “someday”. Having the can in the cupboard was enough. We never actually had to do anything with it.
As I edge ever closer to 40 years old, I look at my unopened “cans” and I am awestruck by what I’ve left behind. I’m no longer talking about tin and aluminum but rather the things that I left undone because I know that I can, so I don’t have to.
I can lose 15 lbs, so I don’t have to.
I can run that 10 mile race in 1:15:00 or less, so I don’t have to.
I can reach out to great friends and family at any time, so I don’t have to.
I can be a great husband, so I don’t have to be all the time.
I can go to the gym daily and get into great shape, so I don’t have to.
I can make something better of myself, so I don’t have to.
The knowledge that “I can” has kept me from doing so many things that I know that I should. The problem with most of these cans is that I know that I can because I’ve done them before. If these unopened cans were put into regular use, my life would be exponentially better. Perhaps it’s time to open some of these cans and see, not what’s inside of them but what’s inside of me. (Note: not everything that you can do falls into the “SHOULD” category. Some cans are better left on the shelf.)
Is your cupboard full of dusty cans? Did I just open up a “can of worms”? Or do you now feel the need to open a “can of whoopass” on yourself and your life? As you find the courage to do the things that you know that you can, you’ll also see the possibility of doing some things that you thought you could not!
The Mayan people are an interesting historical group to study. Their story is filled with impressive accomplishments and shrouded in mystery because of their sudden decline and disappearance. They were highly skilled in mathematics and scientific discovery. Long before Europeans set foot in the “New World” they had a working 365 day calendar and produced thousands of books using a type of paper made from bark. Some of their cities contained sports arenas, schools, hospitals and libraries. In terms of fashion, they were far ahead of their time with ear gauges and other adornments that are still practiced today. As impressive as the Mayan accomplishments are, the thing that seems to make them most interesting is that they disappeared.
The story arc of almost any great person or society has an origin followed by a rise to prominence and an eventual fall or recession. The Mayan people seemed to be at their peak when they all but disappeared. There are theories about their decline but no one is completely certain. It was in thinking about their decline that I began to face Mayan Activity (My Inactivity).
On some level the end of the Maya is most likely the same thing that brings the end of us all. The things that are left undone. Failure is very rarely a product of someone who did too much but rather the person or people who did not do enough. The people who failed to prepare, to learn, to try, to understand or act. We can stand idly by and blame our downfall on circumstance but the truly great people make circumstances bend to their will. The rise of the Mayans did not promise them a future that would last forever. They were only promised that moment and most likely their inactivity lead to their Mayan downfall.
So the question now comes to you. Are you at your peak and ready for your decline? Or have you just begun? Is the height that you’ve reached only a stepping stone to where you will end? It is not a question of when but a question of will that makes us great. The story of the Mayans is the story of so many. Unrealized promise. Do you want to look back and think what might have been or revel in the glory of what was?