In kindergarten (at least according to my recollection), I was the fastest kid in Mrs. Palma’s class. The reason that I know this is that we often had races across the blacktop outside of the classroom. I won everyone that I ran in. Although my memory is extremely fuzzy about that time period, I can make this statement for a few reasons with little fear of repercussion. First, it’s possible that it is true. I definitely wasn’t the slowest in the class. Second, everyone else’s memory is probably as fuzzy if not fuzzier than mine. Finally and most important, IT DOESN’T MATTER! While this may have been extremely relevant over thirty years ago, it’s importance has taken a nose dive down to zero.
Throughout our lives we re-calibrate the things that we build our self-esteem around. In a young person’s world, the focus is almost exclusively on short term races. Winning, the game, getting the right answer, having the newest outfit and other activities are momentary wins that give a quick burst of self-esteem. Most are not meant to be long lasting nor remembered years later. They are the icing on the cake because most of your life is about other things.
The real substance of life is made up by those things that we do on a regular basis. The more generalized self-esteem comes from all of the little things. Those thoughts, words and actions make us either proud or disappointed in who we are as people. It is not a competition to be better than someone else but rather a verification that we are living up to our own principles. Through the years the layers of who we are can either become a cake filled with robust flavor or a turd that needs to be covered in icing to hide its true taste. These are not the only two options but reality’s limits are informed by the extremes.
So the daily choice comes down to you. Choose who it is that you want to be and take the time to deliberately define the ingredients that you’ll allow into your life. Or use any icing that you can find in order to cover up the distaste that you have for yourself. Unfortunately both work but the latter will leave you malnourished and unable to run the long race of life with anything more than fits and spurts. Everyone needs to feel good about themselves but a life made mainly of fluff will most likely not sustain.
Idols are supposed to be held in high esteem, the very personification of the things that we want to be. It hit me like a lightning bolt this morning that Mr. Magoo is truly an American idol for so many people. For those youngsters out there, Mr. Magoo was a cartoon character whose poor eyesight routinely got him into precarious situations but he always escapes unscathed and sometimes falls into good fortune. Feel free to watch one Mr. Magoo cartoon on YouTube. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve basically seen them all (minus little details). The overarching idea behind Mr. Magoo is that his problem would be easily fixed if he were just to put on his glasses but he wants to deny his problem rather than face it.
Although it isn’t pretty, this seems to be a scarily accurate description of how many of us live our lives. We recognize our problem but are too damn stubborn, lazy or indifferent to do anything about it. Seemingly our greatest hope is that we can meander through life blind to our inadequacies and not have them bite us in the ass. While this makes for a mildly amusing cartoon, it is a disastrous strategy for living a life of fulfillment and progress.
Rather than turning a blind eye to your inadequacies, stare at them with crystal clear vision, even put them under a microscope if need be. Decide what you truly want: to feel good in the moment or feel good long term. If you want the Magoo life, then by all means turn the blind eye. BUT if you want more from your life, then you and you alone will need to make the decision to systematically work on your areas of weakness until they can no longer hurt you. Maybe it’s something as simple as putting on glasses but perhaps it will take years or even decades to overcome. Regardless, it’s up to you to Magoo or not.
It is not an uncommon thing at all to wish for a future that is yet to come or a past that is long gone. Humans have the blessing and the curse to be able to mentally exist in the past and future while ignoring the present. It is a blessing because it allows us the freedom to live in the most useful plane. The curse is the propensity to relive or project the worst of experiences or possibilities. At all times, the mind has the capability of transporting the self elsewhere. With this ultimate power to determine much of our existence, surprisingly most people defer control to the moment or to their “monkey mind”. Imagine if you will driving a car with no steering wheel. The gas and the brake are great tools but without the ability to steer, one is at the mercy of the terrain and the tires.
So the key to moving forward in a direction of your own desire means developing a steering mechanism. How long would you drive that car without a steering wheel? Not long at all before you or someone else added that key component. The key to your mental steering comes down to practice. Pulling your mind in the direction of your choosing on a regular basis. When it wanders, you must take control again. Under no circumstances is this easy. It’s easy to be swayed by right now. It’s easy to run the patterns that you’ve been running for years or decades. Those are the paths of least resistance but I assure you that they will not get you to your destination in a timely or comfortable manner.
So take this moment to decide. Decide who you are now and who you want to be in the future (you can’t fix the past but you can change its meaning). Once you have those in mind, start with a half hour each day where you think and act only in line with that vision. If you mind wanders, bring it back! As you get better and better at completing that half hour, it will begin to dump over into the other hours of the day. Eventually the you from the vision and your reality will be one in the same. The only question for now is, are you willing to take control?
I’m fully willing to admit that I’m a relatively passive driver. It’s almost to a fault. Most of the driving routes that I take for local trips are based on their lack of difficult left turns. It’s not that I’m incapable of making the turns nor do I lack the patience to wait for openings. My overarching thought process is that I don’t engage with unknown chaos if I don’t need to. Overall I’m happy with the strategy. However recently I’ve been forcing myself to do more left turn heavy routes. Just to demonstrate to myself that my passivity is a strategy that I want and not character flaw born out of fear.
In many areas of our lives, we tend to become accustomed to things. There is almost an autopilot type of function that we employ to the regular and presupposed. This is not a problem until it is. Often the need for comfort keeps us anchored to the known. Most of the time the known is a positive but eventually you may end up driving in circles. “Big Ben, Parliament!”
People have an ingrained need to feel safe and comfortable. Unfortunately those emotions do not usually help you move forward in the most direct route. The road to your ideal life is not lined with rose petals, rainbows and unicorns. It is going to require grit, determination, unwavering faith in that unseen and YES! Hard left turns through major traffic! This realization is necessary to reach new destinations. If you’re happy going where you’ve always gone with path of least resistance, then by all means keep going that way. If not, then it’s time to recognize the power of the left turn and accept that they are going to be integral to you reaching your destination.
For my international reader who may drive on the left hand side of the road, just reverse all that I just said! :p
Go get there!
Sometimes the hardest things to see are those that are right in front of you. Your nose is always front and center but most of us don’t pay it any mind. The reason why we tend to forget about it is because it is always there. Our brains tend to discard or ignore those things that can be taken for granted. Air, light, food, water, friends, opportunity, etc. are just a beginning to the list of things that we take for granted each day. This is not to say that we should be spending major amounts of time contemplating air in a recreational effort. It is simply to point out that your brain is working at all times to determine what is worth your attention and what is not. This ability to ignore the inconsequential is wonderful until it isn’t. As they say, the dose makes the poison.
Although our brains were originally designed to act in our best interest, the operating system has not been updated in a long time. So if you do not intervene on your own behalf, your brain will protect you from things that are no longer relevant. Most of the fear and anxiety that you feel is supposed to keep you from being eaten by a bear or be kicked out of the tribe. The latter is more relevant than the former but both need to oversight. On its default settings, your brain will keep you alive and partially comfortable in the modern world. If you are looking for more than that, then you need to be more deliberate about the things that you see.
The invisible nose is just a representation of the things that you’re ignoring. More important things are out there that you should be aggressively pursuing but you just don’t see them. Opportunities pass you by or better yet you pass them by regularly. The reason is that you’re not programmed to notice them. That’s not safe! Stay where it’s comfortable! Don’t stand out! Don’t fail! These are all things that your brain screams subliminally everyday. Unless you take control and look for that which is most important to you. Those things may not be as obvious as you want them to be. Although they might be directly in front of you, they may be buried under a pile of societal and personal hard-wiring. Hacking your way through that will be difficult, time consuming and totally worth it once you’re on the other side.
So I’ve give you permission. Look at the world with fresh eyes and endeavor to see everything. Hack away at the beliefs that no longer make sense. Filter your vision to look for the ideal rather than the real. Your past low expectations will be there to catch you if you fall. It starts with a moment and builds from there. Make this your first moment!
Have a great day!
Imagine it. A soldier walking through a jungle in a foreign land just as the rain stops. In the distance there is a rainbow. All of the sudden there is an attack from the enemy. The attack is repelled and the soldier marches on. The next day the rain stops, rainbow, surprise attack. This pattern continues for a week. On the eighth day, the soldier comes upon a beautiful waterfall. With the water plummeting from a height of over fifty feet, a mist above the surface of the water forms a miniature rainbow and soldier discharges his weapon several times into the falling water. There is no attack, so the soldier is sure that the enemy is dead. It is ridiculous, isn’t it? The soldier believing that the rainbow somehow caused or could help the prediction of the attacks. The truth is that we all do it at one point or another.
The combination of two things that have almost no association whatsoever is quite common. An undefeated streak and an unwashed pair of socks. Traffic and the driver in front of you. School and learning. WAIT!!!! That’s blasphemy! Especially for someone who has spent years as a teacher and vehement proponent of learning.
The problem is that in many ways the statement is true. School and learning have almost completely been divorced from one another. People recognize that at one point in history they went hand in hand. However that relationship has decayed in people’s minds. School has become a pariah that people only endure because they have to. Learning has gotten mistaken for its cousin, information. Since information is everywhere, people have no need to engage in the relationship with learning. So this once inseparable couple is now separated and only feign a relationship “because of the kids”.
This is an extreme picture of the present situation. While not completely accurate, it is not altogether inaccurate. School is in a precarious position because it only ever came into being because of learning. The point of school was to learn (especially how to think). In many instances that has been replaced with “The point of school is to get good grades.” Like the telephone game that many of us played as children, over time the message has gotten garbled and disjointed. Politicians, administrators, parents and teachers propped up a system that only partially meets its expressed purpose. Like the situation of rogue traders who bet on speculative numbers with the life savings of others, this could leave many people bankrupt.
So for now, my suggestion is double, triple or quadruple down on learning. If it happens at school, GREAT! If it happens elsewhere, GREAT! Learn about the things that are important to you and the people in your life. Dive deep into learning about yourself. How you work. How your mind works. How your emotions work. Not so you can be self-centered but you can find balance with the world. Learning is not actually the hard part as it happens all the time. The key is learning things that are useful and meaningful to your world. So if you are still in school, don’t think of learning as drudgery. Seek out those opportunities when school style learning overlaps with your life. If you’re already done with school, realize that you aren’t done with learning. Don’t try to kill the rainbow just because it was lumped in with something that you perceive to be your enemy.
Have a great year!
Have you ever woken up from a night of intense dreaming and not been able to remember much of anything about the dream? Well that’s not what I’m talking about at all! I’m talking about your dreams forgetting you! Those things that you want to have in your life: a goal, a person, an item or anything else you can imagine. It started as an image in your head. Then you took some form of action to make it a reality. You might have even got close. But then it was gone. Sorry to say, your dreams have amnesia!
Your dreams don’t know who you are and don’t care about you in the beginning. Like the most popular girl in high school, your dreams could not pick you out of a line up. What’s worse is that your dreams have a form of amnesia. You can walk up and introduce yourself but the next day you’ll be forgotten. Just like Adam Sandler in the movie “50 First Dates”. You need to recognize this condition and not take it personally. DO THE WORK! The only way for your dreams to remember you and begin to accept you is through constant contact. Don’t let a day go by that you’re not courting, coaxing and down right harassing your dreams (the last one doesn’t work well with people). It won’t happen overnight!
I can’t even tell you how long it will take but if you’re consistent daily, hourly and minutely (is that a word?). You’ll find yourself getting closer to your dreams. Maybe one day they’ll welcome you with open arms. Unfortunately that’s going to take a lot of work first.
Dream big and make yourself memorable!
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!
Most Chinese restaurants seem to have the same basic decoration. The chairs only seem to vary in the pattern of the vinyl upholstery. The pictures of the food look almost identical up on the menu board. It’s almost as if they are all part of a chain like McDonald’s. Despite the similarities of the furniture, the food is what separates the good from the bad. In the past I know that I’ve gone out of my way to go to the “good” Chinese restaurant. That distinction was never about the decoration or the koi fish swimming in the fake pond with a waterfall. The good restaurant distinguished itself by making better food once it got the furniture in.
In so many areas people are losing sight of the fact that being better is necessary. As a coach and a teacher, the overwhelming sense that I get is that most people only put for the effort to be “good enough”. Good enough to make varsity. Good enough to pass. Good enough to graduate. This would be fine if their desires matched their effort. Unfortunately too many people expect great results from their mediocre effort. They expect adulation for just showing up. Success should be as easy to get as ‘likes’ on Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook. Showing up is the starter kit, performing consistently high level enough for people to notice is the key.
So don’t rely on the starter kit. You already have a bunch of them. Life is the restaurant space. Your limbs and senses are the chairs and tables. Some people are performing even without those advantages that you have. All of the window dressing in the world is not going to move your business forward if you don’t make better food. In your life, that could be any action that you take: studying, interacting with people, selling, playing or anything else. You need to put forth the effort to at least be better than you used to be. Otherwise you’ll end up as another forgotten place in a strip mall.
The trilogy is not truly the king of cinema but rather stack-able stories. There’s no magical power to the number three. The key component to the greatest movie series is the way that the stories fit together and one movie can be catapulted based on the strengths of its predecessor. While I’m a huge movie fan and have been since my childhood, there is something that’s missing from the great movies that are being released today. Kids aren’t stacking them into their own lives.
Han Solo was my guy from about 4 until 10 years old. In the VHS culture of the day, my brothers and I would watch Star Wars and then play Star Wars for hours afterward. I was Han Solo for hours on end and it gave me a chance to wear his overconfident skin for a while. His character was stacked onto my personality for a bit and I’m sure that some of it stuck. After Han, there was Rocky Balboa. I never climbed in a ring or drank a cup of raw eggs but I got up at 6 am religiously and ran. Training for events or just life became part of my stroy.
While I think that the present day movie technology puts the 70s and 80s to shame, the greater shame is that since Iron Man’s mask is so readily available in the store, kids don’t need to wear his skin. Everything is prepackaged and fabricated to perfection so much that a young person is always separated from their heroes by a layer of plastic that none of the residue rubs off.
The human race has reached its place in the world through the stories that we tell ourselves. Thousands of years ago it started with a group of cavemen believing that they could collectively beat a saber tooth. Then a man told himself that steam could move machines. Now children are being told the most elaborate stories of all time but they are not stacking them like they used to. The story is a ceiling rather than a staircase. So if you are young or have contact with young people, stack those stories and attach them to your soul or the soul of someone else. It’s not just entertainment. It’s ENTERtrainMENT. A new world you can enter to train your mental image of yourself. So if you go out to the movies, be sure to go out afterwards and wear something new.