Hollywood is regularly churning out super hero movies and their sequels. At the moment they seem to be almost a sure thing at the box office. Iron Man, Spider Man, Batman and Captain America all seem to capture the imagination of the people as they pay big movie theater prices to see these super humans. It is obvious that “super” is what the people want to see.
What if there was a hero named Mediocrity Man? He had super powers that were inside of him but he was afraid of them. Any time that he saw himself do something out of the ordinary, he would instantly recoil and deny his abilities. Rather than keeping his secret identity from everyone else, he would hide or deny his powers to himself. What if Clark Kent never changed into Superman? Would you watch that movie? Of course not.
If this hero existed, why would he hide his powers? The reasons would be the same that you or I don’t do the things that would produce greatness.
- It’s too hard.
- It will take too long.
- I might not succeed.
- Or worse, I might succeed and the people would expect more out of me.
- I don’t want people to make fun of me.
- No one in my family, town, state or country has ever done it before, who am I to be first?
Imagine the Earth being filled with superheroes. What if people were getting most out of themselves every single day? What would that look like? I’ve been Mediocrity Man. I’ve traded in my cape for a t-shirt on a regular basis. Feeling comfortable in the cape is difficult because I know all of my faults, all of my weaknesses and every way that I have ever screwed up. The hero in the movie never falls for long. He gets his super powers and continues on until the world is safe again. For us regular heroes, it’s not a magic movie moment involving a radioactive spider or the destruction of Krypton that begins our ascent. It’s a consistent decision to be the best form of ourselves.
Stories are an integral part of our society and have been for thousands of years. Whether the Odyssey, the Bible, Star Wars or Romeo & Juliet, the stories of the present and past have almost all been intended to tell us something. Not particularly something about the past although many are historical in nature. More often than not, stories are trying to tell us something about the human condition. Although a form of entertainment, they can also be instructive.
Characters are not just imaginary people to play make believe for us real humans. They represent a myriad of possible traits, life courses and mindsets. Whether Han Solo, Jesus, the Lorax or Hector, each one offers the gift of possibility. The idea of a life slightly different from our own. They offer themselves up in front of us on the screen or the page in order for us to judge them and their value. At that point their power or lack there of is left up to us.
What’s missing from the story is you. If you only admire the heroism of Han Solo or the kindness of Jesus but never transfer it into your own life, then these characters truly are lifeless. However, if you’re willing to take up their plight from the page, then they truly do live. It is not enough for heroism, kindness and love to exist in movies and books because evil and hatred are alive in the real world. So if you truly love a movie or book, then show it by becoming an actor. A person who acts in the stead of those imaginary people. The world is waiting for your story to be told and you’re the only thing that’s missing.
Despite being a 41 year old man, I really like the Harry Potter movies and watch them regularly. My wife would say that it’s because of Emma Watson but that’s not quite the truth. The story itself is what draws me in. It’s a pretty classic story of good vs. evil with enough twists and turns to make it unique. I’m also very interested in young people and how they learn to find their way through the world. Obviously completely fictitious but in parallel to the real world, one major failing of Hogwarts is to maintain a consistent Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. In that world, the imminent danger of Voldemort made that post important. In our much less magical world, the danger does not come from a completely evil dark lord but rather other young people trying to find their way in the world.
Just prior to sitting down to write, I was watching the Today Show and their guests were the parents of the twelve year old girl who killed herself in Rockaway, NJ. With an eleven year old son and many young people in my life, I truly feel for these parents as they’ve gone through the worst pain that a parent can bear. That story is not fiction and no matter the result of the lawsuit, it will not end completely happily.
I do not believe that social media is inherently bad or evil. It does create a loosely guarded gateway for evils to be perpetrated. While most of the focus is on stopping cyber-bulling and the perpetrators, I’d suggest that young (and older) people need to learn how to defend themselves against the dark arts of bullying. Let me say here, I am not condoning bullying in any way shape or form. Schools and organizations need to respond to these types of actions. Unfortunately the adults in a child’s life can only protect them so much. At a certain point, a child (or adult) is going to need to know how to protect themselves; not just from bullies but from friends, strangers, rejection, failure and loss. Knowing how to cope with and defeat these “dark arts” is crucial but rarely taught or even discussed. The two best Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers were Remus Lupin and Harry himself. Both were effective because they were practical in their approach. They did not deny that their students might face dark times like Dolores Umbridge. The beauty of the Order of the Phoenix is that students organize in order to protect themselves because they know that danger is out there.
In the real world, young people are increasingly living their lives in a virtual world where the perceived becomes as important or more important than the real. So they are fighting in a world of perception when they are still learning how to perceive themselves. If you know of someone who is struggling to manage the world, here are some starting points:
- Keep your phone/iPad/etc. in another room while you sleep.
- Do not log onto your device of choice for the first 30 minutes of your day.
- During that 30 minutes, take about 15 to do the following:
- Write down or think of people, things, experiences that you’re grateful for.
- Write down or think of the positive things that you’d like to have happen today (things that depend more on you than other people)
- Write down or think of the person you want to be in the future. Don’t get caught up in the space between where you are and where you want to be. Allow yourself to be in the future.
- After you’ve made these first 3 a habit, add in some form of body movement. Enough to get your blood pumping above a resting rate.
The point behind all of these items is to focus your mind on the things that matter most to you before it gets distracted by the desires of others. Decide what it is that you want out of your life/day before anyone else gets to add their input. If you need a helping hand, my email address is email@example.com.
Have a great day people!
The thought of school being like prison is not a new one. I’m sure that most students have thought it or said it at one point. It’s an easy enough correlation to make: brick walls, questionable food, time to be served and other ne’er do wells in the same boat. Although I’ve visited a prison before, most of my frame of reference comes from books and movies. The most prevalent being The Shawshank Redemption. While this book/movie is completely fictitious, conceived in the mind of Stephen King, there is value in the exercise of comparing the fiction to the reality.
Most prisoners in the story are simply waiting out the term of their sentence. Like the character Brooks in the movie, they wait for many years and then are utterly lost when they are released. This is not unlike many high school students. Their years in captivity are spent waiting for their time to be up but not fully conceiving what they might do with their freedom.
The one outlier in Shawshank Prison is Andy Dufresne. A former banker that does not endure his time in the prison but uses it. Although his sentence is life, he always has an idea of what he’ll do with his life when he gets out. Slowly and methodically he uses time as his ally to dig his way out of prison and to his desired future. While this makes for a good movie, it is just fiction, isn’t it? A quick read of the story of a young Bill Gates shows a great example of art imitating life imitating art.
Prison is a place where a person is confined. It is possible to be in physical prison and be free mentally. The much more common situation seems to be people that are physically free but mentally imprisoned. They are shackled to self-limiting thoughts and habitual attitudes that keep them from living freely. If you feel like you’re in prison, take a look around and try to find the warden. There really isn’t one. Just systems that can be endured or used to improve your station when you’re done with your time. Don’t let a situation that you don’t like turn your life into one that you don’t like. The only one who can give permission for your mind to be a prison is you.
Be free today!
I have a very clear recollection of the day that I passed the test that told me that I was ready to be a father. I was on the bottom floor of my in-laws’ house on a lake in Virginia. A strange sound came from outside that I didn’t recognize. A few seconds later my wife screamed my name. It was the kind of scream that I knew something was wrong. I jumped up and sprinted out the door. When I reached my wife on the deck outside, I quickly found out the source of the sound and why she screamed. Our dog, Kelme, was pinned down by another dog that was attacking him. The two dogs were about ten feet below the deck on the rocks that sloped down toward the lake. Without a moment’s hesitation, I jumped over the deck’s railing and dropped the ten feet landing next to the two dogs. Luckily my sudden appearance and loud shouts were enough to scare the dog off without my having to fight him. I picked up Kelme and raced him to the vet with my wife. His wounds were very minor and he made a full and energetic recovery. It was after that incident that I knew for sure that I could be a father.
Not everyone gets that type of real life test that tells them something important about themselves. Generally people have to take a leap of faith that they can handle the situation. The phrase there is not unimportant, “leap”. I can’t say for certain whether I would have gotten the same type of self-assurance from that situation had I run down the stairs to Kelme’s aid. The jump was important because it separated me completely from safety and put me directly into harm’s way: both from the rocks and the dog. The willingness to take the risk of the leap was key. Lives don’t need to be at stake. Broken limbs and dog attacks don’t need to be risked.
The keys to any endeavor of creation: child, book, movie, relationship, song, poem, etc. are the leap and the foregoing of self. Neither is particularly easy to do. Leaping requires a detachment from the stability of the known world for something much more uncertain. Putting something else before ourselves is also an exercise in chance. With both, fear is a major opposing force. While fear is an emotion that is intended to protect us from pain, it is often the force that keeps us from living fully. A full life is one that requires creation and therefore risk. There are no diplomas, courses or tests that can prepare you to live fully. It is something that needs to be done on the fly everyday with consistent action. The act of leaping may never become completely comfortable but it may just become completely worth it.
One of the best movies from a pure story standpoint that I’ve seen is “The Usual Suspects”. The film takes you on a ride where you’re continuously led down paths for particular reasons. A main reason for the perplexing nature of the film is the doubt surrounding the myth of Keyser Söze. For those unfamiliar with the film, Keyser Söze is a purported crime boss who controls the sale of drugs, weapons, etc. from the shadows of anonymity. At one point he is portrayed as a “spook story” that thieves tell their children, “Rat on your Pop and Keyser Söze will come get you.”
Personally I never heard that version of spook story when I was a kid but I can see its usefulness to some people. The fairy tales and legends that we are told as children vary greatly depending on the desired outcome from our upbringing. Aspirational and cautionary tales alike are used to push the child in particular directions. Keep on trying courtesy of “The Little Engine that Could”. Be prepared by “The Three Little Pigs”. Don’t be sexually promiscuous by “Little Red Riding Hood” (Didn’t know until I talked to a German teacher). These stories were all fashioned to get a result.
The thing about all of these stories is that they are made up. Complete fabrications from the imagination of someone long ago. They’ve been changed, updated, amended, forgotten and remembered. The reason that they still exist is that they were effective through the years. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” got me to stop going to the nurse’s office every day in 3rd grade. So since stories are effective if they’re told enough and have the desired message, what is the story that you tell yourself about yourself? The Myth of Keyser Söze was that he was an almost superhuman figure who was powerful and ruthless. Before that story could be spread, he had to at least partially tell it to himself.
Now it is your turn. Tell the story of you to yourself. Adapt it, amend it, change it to fit your needs. The endpoint that you desire to have should be attained through some form of work mixed with an optimistic attitude to never give up. The story is out there in the realm of possibility. Now you just need to write it, tell it and live it.
Tell your story!
The life of the single celled organism, the amoeba, must be tough. In order to survive, it needs to change its shape in order to “absorb” its food. It is the ultimate “go-getter” in the microscopic universe. It’s survival is completely predicated on how much and how often it “puts itself out there”. A lazy amoeba would be a dead amoeba.
Living in the world of higher order organisms, we are not as dependent on stretching ourselves in order to survive. In fact over the past century we’ve been rewarded for being small amoebas. Stretching or standing out was discouraged. Get good grades, get into a good college, do your job and follow the rules. Being a small amoeba is not as smart as it used to be. The systems that rewarded the small amoeba are breaking down all over the place and we’re being asked to stretch again.
The opportunities to stretch are all around. The problem is the same as the amoeba “Am I stretching in a direction that will help me survive?” The trial an error method is probably a big part of the amoeba’s life and may be required of you. This is uncomfortable. The old system was predictable, repeatable and safe. Even becoming a big amoeba only required adherence to the system that almost told you where to stretch.
The question is not whether the world will require you to stretch or not. The question is whether you’ll allow yourself to be stretched, pulled apart or reach of your own volition. Do you believe that you are a small amoeba with very defined limits? Or are you consistently able to reach out into the void and find what you need and stretch yourself? You are much less rigid than you think. Most of your limits are not based on DNA but rather WTT (Willingness To Try). The old rule book is slowly being torn apart. You don’t need to go with it. Reach out into the void and see what you get. Then do it again!
Keep the Nucleus Strong!
The Shawshank Redemption is one of my all time favorite movies. Based on how often it is shown on TV, I’m not the only one. SPOILER ALERT! If somehow you’ve not seen this movie that was released in 1994 and don’t want it ruined, STOP READING! (For those that are pressing on) The movie and the book that it is based on recount the multiple decades of Andy Dufresne’s life in Shawshank State Penitentiary as the wrongly convicted murderer of his wife and her lover. There are some differences between the movie and the book but mostly Andy is a methodically planning his escape through a tunnel in his cell wall. He finally achieves his goal after years of slow chiseling and eventually crawling through a shit-filled pipe. Shawshank was not meant to hold Andy Dufresne because he was free where it counted most, in his mind.
While most of us can’t imagine living Andy’s life in Shawshank, we can definitely imagine the way that we wish our life was. We wish that things were easier, less busy, more money, fewer problems and more “perfect”. The problem with the image of perfect is that it is a prison of its own. That image exists in a completely fictitious world where things just fall into place magically. While it may be a nice diversion, it is not anything resembling a game plan.
So if you want to break free from the prison of that perfect image and move to real freedom, you may need to follow the path of Andy Dufresne. Chisel away at that dream that you have, possibly for years. Take joy discarding the small pieces of rubble that you’ve chipped away from the wall in front of you. Just be ready when you finally feel that you’ve broken through, there could still be 500 yards of shit for you to crawl through. Expecting that type of a path will make your real journey to your dream life seem like a walk in the park!
Break out the rock hammer!
In most cases when a movie is made from a book, the general consensus is that the book is better. There are many reasons for this but the main one is that a book uses words that the reader must employ to create pictures in his mind. Books may be written in black and white but they exist in the world of imagination. The writer’s words are a map that reader uses to create a world without compromise. I love this medium because of its limitations being based only on the mind of the reader.
As I have mentioned before, I am also a huge movie guy. The experience is completely different because it happens in “real” time. The emotions caused by the combination of director, actors, scenery and etc. are much closer to the surface. Everyone in the room can have a simultaneous reaction to the sights and sounds on display. Movies inch closer toward reality because we are visual creatures.
The disappointment of the adapted book comes from expectation and compromise. The viewer wants to see the pictures from their head come to life on the screen. Movies have several limitations which cause compromises. If the viewer goes in with the expectation that the movie will be different, it leads to less disappointment and an appreciation for each in their own right. In all honesty they are two very different things.
Now the point.
We all have this war of Book vs. Movie going on inside of us. The book is our thoughts. The way that we envision that our life will go. The movie is the reality of how things actually go. In this situation, the same factors cause most of the upset: expectation and compromise. Your life will almost never match your mental picture perfectly. As soon as you add in other actors and their interpretations of the script, the movie is bound to stray. Finding your own balance of expectation and compromise is the way to be satisfied with the movie version of your mental book