It’s extremely easy to get caught up in your own narrative. Look at it as if it is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. History is often told from only one perspective. The English probably don’t spend much time on the Battle of Bunker Hill in their history books. However there are always at least two sides to the story, if not more. It is difficult to avoid getting caught up in one narrative because we experience the world from only one perspective. No matter how difficult it may be to remember, it is key to relationships to understand that people are fighting a battle that you probably don’t understand.
The convenient thing about history is that there is too much of it to uncover every single situation and devote pages in books, areas of museums or time in documentaries. So historians must edit history to fit a narrative about a nation, people or group. We do the same things in our minds but our editing faculty can be skewed by emotion. We are rarely objective about the importance of the moments of our lives. So it stands to reason that we would have even more trouble being objective about someone else’s experience or stepping into their subjective experience and the emotion that goes with it.
So it is in all of our best interest to see the people around us as fellow soldiers. We are all in a fight of some sort. Although we may think we have a front row seat to the battle that other people are fighting, there is a layer that we cannot cross without letting go of our own struggle to reach out with understanding. Recognizing that we have common ground as soldiers but separated by a distance that cannot be measured in miles. It doesn’t matter if you’re fighting “The Great War”, every battle matters most to the ones who are in it.
In 1998 I spent almost a month in Europe with my best friend, Schaef, attending the World Cup. When you think of life experiences, it really doesn’t get much better than that. Spending a month engrossed in the thing that you love the most with one of the people that you love the most. It truly was an amazing trip but when it was over he and I didn’t speak for almost two months. The experience of that trip has helped me in a variety of ways, one of which I’ll share here.
The trip was planned extremely well by my friend. He was the planner and I played the role of translator because I spoke both Spanish and French. We flew into London and saw the sites there briefly. Our main focus was the games. So site seeing was kind of a fast paced game. We tried to see as much as possible in the smallest amount of time possible. Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, etc. were all done in a day and at a quick clip.
Then we took trains down to Barcelona where we spent a few days touring and watching games in the afternoon. Again, the Olympic Village, La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s buildings and all were seen but not studied as we had to block out times for the matches which were almost social events along Las Ramblas. Unfortunately Schaef lost his passport on our second to last day there. For that story, CLICK HERE.
Our next stop was Paris. There was of course the visit to the US Embassy in Paris to get a new passport which took longer than we would have liked. After getting it we had to rush to pick up our tickets to the five games that we were going to attend. Our first match was Germany vs USA. Despite both being American we were following Germany through the group stage. The most memorable thing from following Germany for me was the warm-up. Watching Jurgen Klinsmann get crossed balls for him to side volley from head height was amazing. He was obviously a world class player honing his craft and I loved seeing it up close. In addition to that match, we saw the Louvre in less than 2 hours. Art lovers we are not! Next was Germany vs Yugoslavia which was in Lens, a much smaller venue and not much around.
We fit in a quick trip to Munich Germany to experience Schaef’s heritage. This was the first time that I felt like we needed some space. I didn’t speak German but I felt there was an expectation that I was still on translation duty. I learned quickly how to say “Zwei biere, zwei pretz” (two beers and two pretzels) which was about all we needed to survive. That feeling of unnecessary expectation faded quickly because we were back on the road to Montpelier to see our final group stage match, Germany vs Iran, which ended with Germany winning the Group. Montpelier was also the first place that we were able to kick a soccer ball around. We met a girl from Chicago who got her brother to lend us a ball. Her father’s only directions were “don’t pop it”. Now I’ve never popped a soccer ball before in my life. But sure enough, the very last kick of the ball took a weird bounce hit this tree with spikes on it and POP! We felt so bad for the kid, I think we gave him around $140 in Francs to replace it. At this point, the togetherness was getting difficult. I even started smoking cigars on a daily basis just to get away for a bit.
Our final day of matches was filled with drama both on and off the field. We went to the knockout stage match in Lens between France and Paraguay which Les Bleus won in overtime. This was inconvenient for us because we had another match to attend in Paris that night and OT almost made us late. On top of that we had to navigate around riot police due to an altercation that happened during the match outside the stadium. Despite the difficult circumstances we got onto a fully packed train back to Paris. Denmark beat Nigeria handily that night.
We traveled back to England in order to catch our flight home. At this point, we have not had one argument or negative word said but we don’t speak much on the flight. The next day we part ways and don’t talk for about two months. Eventually we pick right back up in a good spot but we obviously needed some time apart.
This experience taught me so many things about relationships but the two main ones were: most upsets come from a mismatch of expectations and no matter how much you love someone, space is necessary at times. These both came into play in the best possible circumstances.
On a daily basis, we are not dealing with the best possible circumstances but we are cultivating our most important relationship. Each and every day we are in the closest possible contact with our key associate: the self. Although it may seem odd to apply the same concepts to an internal relation as an external but they can be used to good effect.
First the mismatch of expectations with who you think that you are or should be is a common cause of upset. We have a narrative about who we are inside of our head. Some of it is conscious and other parts unconscious but when our external environment fails to meet our expectations of who we are, it creates issues. Those issues can manifest in a variety of ways but the underlying problem is that our life does not match our expectations. One way to combat this is actually create a definitive description of who you expect yourself to be on a daily basis. Not the “best case scenario” or “ideal self” but rather standard operating procedure or bare minimums description. This way you are setting yourself up for success. Exceeding these expectations will be a gold star to shoot for but at least you have a definition of who you will accept going out into the world each day.
The second is slightly more complicated because getting distance from yourself can seem difficult. I’m obviously not talking about physical distance but rather psychological distance. The daily opportunity that we have for this space is sleep. I truly believe that people who do not sleep well have a more complicated internal life because they are caught up too directly in their own story. The inability to take a break from being puts additional stress onto the relationship with the self. Other forms of psychological space from the self are meditation and exercise. These can both be extremely effective provided that they can be done without intense focus on “results”. Using these tools to take a mental vacation will have great effects provided that the vacation is not turned into a business trip.
So recognize that you’re on a lifelong trip, living out of a purse sized “bag”, with the same person that you cannot get rid of. It would make sense for you to make them a friend, possibly your best friend. In order to make it work though, you’re going to need to set expectations and give each other space. Otherwise you could end up hating the person inside your head and that seems like a bad way to spend this great trip that you’re on.
I was going to post this a few days ago but thought that it made sense to wait until Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers out there!
In the modern world, there is a certain leaning toward being self-centered. The pervasiveness of selfies in the social media world sends the message, “Look at me, I’m special.” While I truly feel it is important for people to believe in themselves, things that go too far to one extreme tend to become their opposite. Too much of a lifesaving drug becomes poison. Too much focus on weight loss becomes anorexia. Too much focus on the self becomes narcissism. The key to balance is a counterweight. Brian McBride seemed to have that balance figured out perfectly.
Now I’ve never spoken to Brian McBride about this. So I’m not sure if I am representing his thought process but here is my outside view. Whenever he scored a goal, he would kiss his ring in a form of homage to his wife. This is only one of many reasons why I respected him as a player. At the moment when all eyes were on him, his thoughts were on the person who supported him. At a time when people point to themselves, their own name or have elaborate celebrations; his were a welcome counter example.
Each of us should be striving for whatever we deem to be “success”. That could mean so many things that formulating a list would take forever. Regardless of your chosen endeavor, none of us can make it completely on our own. We all require support, encouragement, love and so many other ingredients that come from our family and friends. No matter how big you get, McBride it! When everyone one is praising you for how great you are, take a moment to pay homage to the person or people who got you there. It makes the victory so much sweeter when you have people to share it with. Maybe it’s even worth it to thank them now, before you’ve made it. You’re going to need them on the climb!
My cousin who is fifteen years older than me used to go on vacations with my family each summer. At the time, I was a teenager and he was in his early thirties with a very successful career in retail. Despite my seemingly inferior station in life, I was able to change his life for the positive with little more than a few words. I’m hoping that the process can give some hints about making big changes in your life.
It was completely unintentional but it sticks out in my memory as if it were scripted out. My cousin was and is pretty fanatical about health and fitness. He would run everyday, do push-ups and sit-ups in order to maintain his chiseled physique. Despite this relentless pursuit of fitness, he had a habit that seemed out of place to me. He used chewing tobacco daily. It wasn’t anything that particularly bothered me. I had friends who used it. The thing that felt out of place was that it seemed contrary to all that he valued. So as we were driving home from North Carolina and he got his spit bottle ready for his next lip full of tobacco, I made the simple statement. “It seems odd to me that you do that. You are so healthy in all other parts of your life but you do something that you know is horrible for you. I just don’t understand.” That was all that it took. He didn’t tell me until much later that he had quit using tobacco and that was the reason.
Many of our decisions break down to the story that we tell ourselves about ourselves. It could be true or it could be bullshit. The main thing is that the story is effective at moving life forward in a positive manner. The reason why my simple statement was able to change my cousin so quickly was that it showed an inconsistency in his story about himself. In that situation, I knew his story about himself and showed him how the tobacco didn’t fit. People want to stay consistent with the image that they have of themselves. That’s the entire reason why the term “midlife crisis” exists. Men (usually) make poor decisions in order to maintain an image that they have of themselves as young, cool, etc.
The first step to changing a behavior in yourself or someone else is to know the person’s story. What is an identity that they want to uphold at all costs? Is their family the center of their world? Do they think of themselves as an athlete? Do they think of themselves as successful? Once you know the story, take that thing that needs changing and flip it against their story about themselves. I keep saying they but I really want you to do this to yourself. So if your family is extremely important but you are obese, then you actually don’t care about them very much. If you truly cared, you’d do your best to guarantee that you’ll be around for them. The combinations of stories and behaviors is infinite.
The key is to find the one that works. Results are what we are after, not an excuse to feel bad about one’s self. Your mind can play tricks on you. It is time for you to play tricks on it to help you get where you want to go. The possibilities of your tomorrow need to be forged in the thoughts that you have today.
In 1998, my best friend, Schaefer, and I spent a month in Europe. We truly went to watch five matches at the World Cup but we also traveled to England, Spain, Germany and France. In many ways you could not have picked a more perfect vacation for me: soccer, best friend, Europe and soccer.
We actually arrived prior to the Cup starting and did some traveling in England and then headed to Barcelona, Spain. After spending about three days in Barcelona, we were scheduled to take a train to Paris on Sunday in order to pick up our ticket and start the soccer part of our trip. That Saturday, we were taking the Metro down to the Las Ramblas area. We sat on the bench waiting for the train. Schaef was rearranging some things between his money belt and backpack when the train arrived. Thirty seconds after the train pulled away, Schaef realize that he’d left his money belt on the bench with his passport in it. (Don’t judge Schaef here, out of character moment.) At the next stop we turned around and went back but the money belt and everything in it was gone.
We figured out where the US Embassy was and took the train to get there. Please bear in mind that the internet was not as widely accessible at the time. Upon our arrival we were hit with the next problem, it was Saturday and the Embassy was closed. The only person at the Embassy was a guard who only spoke Spanish. I explained the situation to the guard and he put me on the phone with an official from the Embassy. In order to cross the border into France (pre European Union), we needed a copy of his passport (we had) and a police report explaining that the passport had been stolen. My Spanish abilities were put to the test by filling out a police report. So the next day we went to the train station with our flimsy documents and a great deal of hope. Luckily we made it across the border.
On Monday morning we had our next hurdle to clear. We needed to pick up our tickets before 5pm at a hotel on the outskirts of Paris. Since the tickets were in Schaef’s name, we needed his passport first. We went to the US Embassy in Paris and spent hours waiting. I don’t recall what time we got there but I know what time we left 4:30pm. As fast as we could run with our large packs on our backs, we got to the Metro. We found the street we needed on the Metro map. There were two stops on that street but we had no idea which would be closer to the hotel. 50/50 chance and we blew it! The hotel was about a mile up the road and it was 4:55. So again, we ran as fast as we could and with our packs on our backs did about a 7 minute per mile pace. At 5:02, we reached the hotel! Upon entering we were informed that the pick up time for tickets had been extended two hours.
From a month long trip to Europe with my best friend, going to the biggest soccer event in the world, this is the story that I’ve told the most. I remember who won all of the games that we saw but I can’t remember the scores. How is it possible that my favorite part of the trip is when everything went wrong?
Life is not a spectator’s sport. It is intended for people to take what God, Allah or nature has given to them and do the most that they can with it. The times when you are going to figure out what you are truly made of are the times when things fall apart. ANYONE can take the guided tours at the Louvre or Prado. It takes little thought or ingenuity and it teaches you very little about yourself. The limits of you are not found on the guided tours. Easy, comfortable and failure-free are the lives of spectators.
We spend much of our life avoiding something that we call “failure”. Usually failure is associated with mistakes and we try to avoid making big ones at all costs. Schaef made a pretty big mistake. It wasn’t fatal and it allowed us to live in a scenario with an outcome that was uncertain. Uncertainty is something that we need at times in life. Balance between certainty and uncertainty is what makes life interesting. The thing is that we spend so much time trying not to fail that we often fail to live. Anything that is truly worth having is a gamble on some level.
Life is a scenario where the outcome is uncertain. That is part of the deal. If you are looking for a life without failure, discomfort and difficulty, then you are looking for boredom. Don’t go looking to fail but don’t avoid it either. Failure is often where you learn the most about yourself and what you’re made of. Make yourself better by learning from failure.