Tag Archives: culture

Missing From the Story

MissingStories 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.

Act today!

Pete

Accidentally Mummifying Yourself

KilimanjaroThe world is filled with things that cut.  Like walking through a patch of thorn bushes with exposed skin, injury is an almost certainty.  In the short term, bandaging the cuts is the right strategy.  In time, the wounds will heal.  If too many cuts pile up, the bandages become wrappings.  You become a mummy.  Movements constrained by the bandages on wounds that never healed.  Avoiding cuts completely is an impossibility but choosing a new path and learning how to wield a machete are both options.  Band aids are not a long term solution, they are a short term fix.  This concept is obvious when thinking about real wounds but with metaphorical wounds, this is a common strategy.

The key has always been preventative medicine/measures.  Solving old problems with solutions that minimize or eradicate the issue is the best way to get better problems.  That is an understanding that everyone needs to have: PROBLEMS AREN’T GOING AWAY!  The most that you can hope for is to have the best problems possible because you’ve solved the old and boring ones.  Why would you choose to flail around in that same old thorn bush when you can figure out how to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

I know that many of you out there are bleeding and it hurts.  My heart goes out to you and I hope that this message will help you move on.  Break free of the thorns and find the path to the mountain where you can see for miles.  It won’t be easy but it may be worth it!

Have a great day!

Pete

 

Small Amoeba Syndrome

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.

amoebaLiving 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!

Pete

 

Your Part of You’re Problem

ObesityIt’s Mr. Baxter from 7th grade science class that started my tendency toward being a spelling/grammar Nazi.   Two times receiving a 99.5% based on spelling errors was enough frustration to get me to pay attention.  I fully recognize that language is a fluid and live thing.  Every day we can influence it for the better or worse.  Outside of church, very few people are using “thine” and “thou”.  These words have been morphed and replaced with their more recent counterparts.  Change is not my concern.  It is laziness and apathy.

Widespread education and technological advances have democratized access to knowledge and the overwhelming response of the public has been indifference.  There was a time in this country when only a select few could hope to become educated.  The huge supply of knowledge seems to have caused an equally huge plummet in demand.  While this lowering of expectation has happened in the realm of language, it is just as obvious in personal health, civic responsibility and many other areas of life.  As the challenges of life have become easier, we seem to be less inclined to meet them head on.  Instead we have found a degree of comfort in social proof.  If “everyone else” is holding a low standard, then it makes us feel that we are OK.

What if you were the one to hold the line for yourself?  Not to tell the world that it is wrong but to do what is right for yourself and those around you.  If you held the line on your health, your marriage, your relations with people or yourself; what kind of a ripple effect could you have on your family, community or even the world?  Even if no one else took up your particular cause, how would it feel to be the answer to your own problem?  Deciding for yourself, exactly what you would and would not stand for could be liberating.  Rather than looking at those around you to find the path of least resistance, you could look inward to find the strength to hack out a new trail.  Our world is filled with more possibility and less hardship than every before, so are you going to sit there and bask in the glow of what our forefathers built?  Or are you going to do your own work?  The choice is yours!  And that is probably the biggest kicker of all, we get to choose to step up or not.

So I hope that you find within yourself a desire for better than most.  Be a leader by doing first.  Utherwhys whee May knot bee aybl two reklame wut weave lust!

Make today better.

Pete

 

 

What Won’t Be on the Test

TestThe other night I had dinner with a former student/player of mine.  We ran into each other a few months back.  Our common love of books and podcasts started the conversation.  He’s freshly out of college and we’ve been talking about life and career lately.  This dinner was a eye opening conversation for me and I’m hoping that this post will help someone who may be in the same spot as my friend.

The phrase that he uttered the most was “I don’t know.”  In some ways this could be viewed as a positive.  Moving from the teen years where young people tend to think (or project) that they know everything, “I don’t know” could be a sign of positive motion.  In this case (and possibly for this generation) there was a definite sense that his need to know was a bit of a surprise.  His GPS had gotten him to the restaurant.  He mirrored my choice in beer and our conversation followed that theme of uncertainty.  While I know that this is not completely his fault, he needs to deal with the consequences.  The finger of blame will do nothing to give him direction or satisfy the remainder of his life.  So how does one find the answers for the test that’s not coming?

The first step is recognizing that the answers are your answers, not right or wrong answers.  While the majority of a young person’s life may be spent in a very regimented existence today, the “real world” is becoming less definite each year.  The internet has changed the rules of almost every facet of our lives.  Industries that did not exist ten years ago are major components of our everyday life.  The economy, geopolitics, the job-market and many other areas of life are variable at best and regularly volatile. While this amount of change may be disconcerting to some, the way to avoid being swept away in a tumultuous seas is to have an anchor.  In a world that is always changing, it is important to find consistency in something that is under your control: YOU.

Perhaps the hand that you were dealt is not what you wanted, you still have to play it.  For most of us, mom and dad can’t be relied upon forever.  At some point we all must take responsibility.  Break that word down into “response” and “ability”.  Having the ability to respond to the good, the bad and the ugly of your life rests completely with you.  Is your response going to be “I don’t like this”, “I hate this”, “I’m not ready for this” or “I can work with this”?  Regardless of your circumstances, the only one that makes any sense is to work with the ingredients that you have.  Stop comparing your life to some celebrity’s airbrushed picture perfect life or some other source that detracts from your pure power.  No matter what comparison is a waste of time.  No one has exactly your set of unique ingredients, so the only person that you’re competing with is yourself.  There comes a time in each of our lives that we realize that this life belongs to only us.  It is not your teachers’, parents’, professors’ or bosses’ life.  If you choose to give them control, it is still your choice.  So no matter what the question, the answer is yours to choose.

The second key is realizing that time is on your side and patience truly is a virtue.  If you’re in your twenties or teens, you’ve got the time to figure things out.  Just because you don’t have the answer right now, doesn’t mean that you won’t eventually.  Amazon does not do “same day delivery” on the perfect life.  Even the most incredible stories of overnight success usually have a less known story of hardship and patience.  Unfortunately in a 140 character world, it’s easy to have expectations that surpass what the world actually consistently delivers.  The only thing that you can get RIGHT NOW is the opportunity to plant seeds that you can reap in a year, five years, ten years or more.  Climbing the mountain is not an instantaneous process and even if you could teleport there, you’d miss all of the good stuff that comes with the climb.

So take these two points out into the world and use them.  Anchor yourself with an unshakable belief that you can figure out your life on your terms.  Then be patient with your pursuits because nothing worth having comes without effort.  With those two concepts in mind, I’m sure that you’ll do well on this art project called life.  Enjoy it!  It’s yours!

Pete

Early Seinfeld

SeinfeldSeinfeld is one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  It has so many memorable episodes and characters.  Despite my love for the series, I’m not a huge fan of the early episodes.  Many of the episodes, I just don’t find funny at all or they feel forced.  This is not surprising in the slightest.  It took those early episodes in order to get to the later ones.  Early failures lead to better episodes later.  A few of the story-lines were even repeated with better effect the second time around.  The early episodes of Seinfeld were not a good indication of where the series was going.

JKRowlingDespite all of the examples of enduring early hardship, there is still a pervasive desire for instantaneous results.  People want to be hit right away, if not sooner.  The perception of overnight success is usually due to the glossing over of the hard work done before the big break.  Sylvester Stallone was a breakout start with Rocky!  After he was a starving actor who had to deny a big pay day in order to star in his own movie.  J.K. Rowling had the blockbuster Harry Potter book series followed by movies.  After she was on welfare and had her book rejected by many publishers.  Most of us are looking for the triumph without the trials.  It seems that it doesn’t usually work that way.

The road to success in anything will most likely be filled with potholes, detours and poorly constructed bridges.  The sports car or limo that you’ve imagined yourself arriving in will probably not make the trip.  In fact you’ll probably have to go most of the way on foot.  Are you willing to make that trip?  Or will you take the easy road to Nowhere Near Where You Want To Be?  It sounds like a town that many people live in while they dream about being someplace else.

Get on the road today!

Pete

The Beloved Poison Merchant

poisonDuring college and for the first year after I graduated, I had a job as a poison merchant.  It was a really good job for a young person.  The pay was above average, the hours fit perfectly into my personal and social schedules.  My boss was a great guy who treated me extremely well because he recognized that I was a valuable member of the team.  Our customers really liked me and I had banter with the regulars.  I knew the preferences of the regulars and was adept at helping the people who didn’t know what they wanted.  Despite how well things were going as a poison merchant, I opted to follow a more noble cause: knowledge salesman!

The past sixteen years as a knowledge salesman have been a tough slog.  I have plenty of prospective customers who are forced to consider my products.  Unfortunately most of them are resistant to buy because of the obligation that is held over their head.  Most see no point to my product and think the price is too high.  My store is antiquated.  Even though I see all of the deficiencies in my company, it’s an old industry that believes that it will always exist.  Despite the poor working conditions, I truly do care for my customers and know that my product could help them toward a better life.  Unfortunately I have grown weary from fighting with my customers in their own self-interest.  I know that in other parts of the world, customers risk death to get my products.  While in my territory, low prices are demanded constantly and I know that many of my customers despise me for trying to do my job.  The thing that keeps me going at the moment is my former customers who send me the occasional message of thanks.  I’ve thought often of going back to being a poison merchant.

Value is not a fixed thing.  Currency, real estate, commodities and almost anything else in this world has a value relative to the desire for that item, service, etc.  Since value is driven by need/desire, it changes by region, time period or circumstance.  It can also be deceptive.  Humans put great value on things that are inherently worthless much of the time.  They also put little to no value on things that are of great importance.  My time working at a beer and wine store and as a teacher are not particularly an indictment of American culture but they do paint a picture of the value that we put on different things.  Value is decided both individually and collectively.  As each of us presses forward in our lives and communities, it is important  to decide what we truly value in both the short and long term.

Soccer Is Not a Zero Sum Game

lukesoccerThe youth sports culture (especially soccer) is in need of change.  The needed change is not one of rules or procedures but culture.  The norms and beliefs surrounding youth sports are largely influenced by the adults that administer the delivery of the sport.  This article is not a complete plan on how to fix all of the problems.  It is the beginning of a conversation to be had on an individual, team, club and national level.  Are we giving our children the experience that they deserve?

A Zero Sum Game: Look at the Goal Differential table for any league from the Premier League all the way down to a U8 Flight 9, the table always adds up to zero.  By this mathematical analysis of soccer, there is balance that delineates some teams as “winners” and some “losers”.  By taking this viewpoint, a team that ends up at the bottom of the table receives less from the game than the one at the top.  While this may hold true in accolades and trophies, it completely discounts the majority of reasons why young people and adults play soccer in droves every year.  Winning is not the point!  If it were, then the key to being a successful team or club would be to join the weakest league possible.  

In Search of Something More: The game is not the result.  The game is a process that is intended to bring out more of what makes us human to begin with.  Many clubs are fully committed to the Zero Sum Game.  Putting all effort into getting better at winning.  Replacing players each year with better players, investing in trainers who look to win but not develop and charging a premium price for a sport that is mostly for recreation.  The problem with aiming to be at the top of the Zero Sum Pyramid is that the cups that are received there are largely empty.  The reason why sports and specifically soccer are so popular is that they can mirror and enhance the human condition.  Unfortunately many have fooled themselves into chasing some elusive prize while sacrificing most of the value that they aimed to get from the sport.  Although this process of empty cup chasing may be pervasive, it does not need to be.  We can go after more.

Breaking It Down:  Electrical signals and chemical reactions are all that we are looking for.  This is taking the human experience down to the smallest pieces but it will bring clarity to what we are doing.  The four major chemicals that cause good feelings or “happiness”.  

The “Selfish” chemicals can be produced without anyone else.

Endorphins – Their major purpose is to mask physical pain and are regularly released during physical exercise.  Soccer and most other physical exercises are a great source of endorphins.  Although endorphins are a great start, their production is only dependent upon the individual.  Go for a jog and the same endorphins get produced.  It’s a start but soccer is merely one endorphin producer.

Dopamine – This is the achievement chemical.  It is a reward system for moving closer to goals.  It is not particularly linked to physical activity but can be attributed to physical goals.  This can be a useful tool for progress but can be an extremely addictive chemical.  Dopamine “hits” can be caused by things such as completing a task or achieving a goal.  Unfortunately they can also be caused by getting a text or email message regardless of its importance.  In our modern culture, no one needs to go out of their way to develop a dopamine addiction.  It is everywhere.

The “Selfish” Chemicals can be dangerous if they are not kept in balance.  The “Community” chemicals are aimed at the survival of humans in a group setting.

Serotonin – This is the leadership chemical.  It produces feelings of pride and status.  Serotonin in the veins increases confidence of the person.  Pride and status were extremely important in a hierarchical society.  Desire to be acknowledged by the community helps to reinforce the actions that are in the best interest of the group.  This chemical helped to strengthen tribes because it biochemically rewarded the individual for putting forth effort in the interest of the common good.  The problem in the modern world is that status can be bought and manufactured.   It is however an essential ingredient to effective group living that humans have serotonin releases based on real pride.

Oxytocin – This is the chemical of love, trust and friendship.  There are many ways to get oxytocin.  Physical contact is one of the key releasers of oxytocin.  Acts of generosity also release oxytocin into the system and encourage more acts in kind.  Oxytocin inhibits addiction and boosts your immune system.  It is a gradual chemical that builds up over time due to the inherent relationship dynamic.  It is the chemical that is released during childbirth that makes mothers feel an overwhelming sense of bond with their newborn.  Although our society is interconnected like never before, the separation between us seems to be widening.

Good for the caveman but not the modern man.

Cortisol – It is the chemical of stress and anxiety.  This is the chemical of fight or flight.  It prepares the body for dangers that are threatening.  Although the release of cortisol into the system can be extremely useful in the short term, its long term use is devastating.  The side effects of cortisol release are paranoia about possible threats and inhibition of the immune system.  

Club Culture

Our present club culture is aimed at systematically creating better soccer machines through the help of the “Selfish” chemicals and Cortisol.  The system is ingrained throughout almost the entire country.  Teams are formed by annual or seasonal tryouts.  Clubs use names like “Elite”, “Select” and “Premier” in order to advertise status.  While competition is an integral part of soccer, the club culture is unbalanced in its approach toward the development of our young players (who are more importantly people).  In essence we’re trading our human equity to rent falsified prestige.

The present club model will create better soccer players over time.  The competitive cauldron that we have cast most of our players into will incrementally produce better soccer in the US.  While that may be an objective for the USSF and other agencies invested in player improvement, is better soccer without regard for other consequences truly the aim?  

From a biochemical standpoint, our present club model is relying principally on Endorphins, Dopamine and Cortisol in order to move soccer forward.  While this method will be effective in getting players to perform, it is not a fertile field in which to grow confidence, connection, empathy and trust.  When viewed from a national level through a soccer lens, these attributes are not particularly the recipe for success.  However the majority of our youth who are playing soccer today will not be part of a National Team or a Professional Academy.  They will play club soccer through the years of their youth and at some point their playing career will end.  Even the longest professional careers only last into the early forties.  So the competitive cauldron ends for everyone with the message, “you’re no longer good enough”.  Whether early or late the player becomes what we all are on some level, a member of a community.  Since they will live a majority of their life interacting with other people and not a ball, it is the interpersonal skills and self-realization that should take precedence in a majority of our clubs.  Rather than treating the vast majority of our youth as if they are heading to a storied career of individual glory, focus on the team dynamic and each player’s contribution to that collective.

Suggestions for change

  1. Recognize the level – Teams and clubs can be broken up many ways but in terms of competition: Elite, Competitive Recreation and Recreation.  The competitive cauldron has its place but should not be everyplace.  If a team or a club is truly “elite”, then they are competing at state or regional level or have a proven gateway to professional ranks.  Most teams/clubs are “Competitive Recreation”.  Recognizing this fact is a great opportunity for parents, players and coaches to embrace the best of what both worlds have to offer.  The moniker of “Recreation” almost has a negative connotation in most sport circles today but it is something that needs to be embraced again.  Playing for the joy of the game is not a bad thing.  
  2. Act appropriately within the level –  Elite clubs need to be pushing their players and re-evaluating their talent levels regularly.  The level of expectation is higher because the ultimate desired destination is also higher.  Most Elite clubs do not have a problem setting this higher expectation.  The issue is usually that a club is trying to keep Elite expectations without being Elite.  At Competitive Recreation clubs there can be high expectations but the long term growth of the person should supersede the short term desire for “success”.  Simple changes like holding tryouts every second or third year would allow players, coaches and parents a period of team building.  This long term view allows players and all others involved to develop both on and off the field.  Professional trainers are still an option to develop players soccer skills.  However as we head into a third or fourth generation of soccer players in this country, the knowledgeable parents will begin to make this less of the norm.  The Recreation level should continue to be fun with friends.  
  3. Remember what’s at stake – Often the famous line from Bill Shankly used by people to discuss the sport’s importance. “Some people think football [soccer] is a matter of life and death. I don’t like that attitude. I can assure them it is much more serious than that.”   In terms of game results, I would disagree wholeheartedly with Mr. Shankly.  Game results are a moment in time that may be remembered or forgotten.  However in terms of societal impact, he is absolutely right.  This game has the ability to give and take life both literally and figuratively.  The passion for the sport has unfortunately taken life in several tragedies.  It has also given life by stopping violent conflicts in different parts of the world and giving a pathway to many poor children who would otherwise succumb to their impoverished beginnings.  In the US, the game is rarely a matter of life or death.  It can be a catalyst toward a better life.  Using the game as a vehicle toward better living involves a conscious recognition of short and long term impact of the game on the young person.  Pushing all of our youth into a “one size fits all” system of sport kills most of the inherent positives of participation.

The conversation does not end here.  The difficult thing is not recognizing a problem.  People see problems every day but generally wait for someone else to do something about it.  The answer is usually much closer to home.  Each individual needs to contribute to see the cultural shift that is needed in the beautiful game here in the land of the free and home of the brave.  There is a reason why “We The People” are the first three words of Constitution.  Change is brought by regular people, doing the right things consistently.