I’ve given myself exactly twenty minutes to write this blogpost because I’ve been staring at a blank screen for a bit too long. Somehow humans seem to be able to conjure up motivation or inspiration when there is a deadline. It truly doesn’t make very much sense since it is all in our heads. The measurements of time that we use are completely made up as is the “pressure” of the moment. Despite their artificiality, they are effective. What would we do without these constructs? More than likely we’d only respond to our most basic needs.
By putting myself under this pressure, I’ve taken back some form of control that I had lost in moments prior. Although most people would say that they don’t enjoy pressure, it is one of those forces that coerces us to action. Historically we were not a lazy species but our lives of limited pressure and overt comfort have let that disposition spread. So modern living is more of a mental exercise than it is a physical one. We must contort and push ourselves mentally in order to induce action (either mental or physical). It’s a silly game but possibly necessary.
So what is it that you must do today that is not getting done? The next question becomes, what mental game do you need to play with yourself to make it happen? Are you going to use time, incentives, punishments, rewards, social pressure….? The list goes on and on but the realization that is hanging out there is, IT’S YOU AGAINST YOU! The battle is more than likely one with yourself and no one else. So be ready for the fight because if you’re anything like me, it’s not a foregone conclusion that the task will get done.
As a father, I made the realization a long time ago that I am “uncool.” Even if that’s not the word that’s being used anymore to describe something of value at the moment. I know that I’m not that thing that kids want to be or become. That ship sailed and I’m kind of glad. The liberation that comes with being uncool is AMAZING!!! Since I am no longer eligible to be cool, there are fewer restrictions on me. I can say jokes that I know are not funny without repercussion. They tend to be called “Dad Jokes” in our honor.
One of the best advantages to this status is that I can like almost whatever I want. In the pursuit of being cool, it seems like the decisions about what you should like are made by other people. Also, liking something too much is also a problem. Ambivalence and aloofness are often traits that need to be honed. At my age, I just don’t have time for that anymore. The payoff is never going to come my way, so why even try. My only wish was that this state of life could have come a bit earlier. Not just for my sake but for everyone.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to actually be able to tell someone that you like them without posturing? The mathematics that are required to figure out how much or little attention to give to someone or something of interest are not taught in high school Algebra. It is far too complex of an equation to figure out because it comes from both sides and is pressured by community standards. Since the equation is too tough, we need to do the dance and try to look cool. I’m not sure when this started but I wish that it could stop. At a certain point in history, I would love for kids to be able to feel comfortable enough in their own skin to shun cool. The problem is that there are very few winners and most people end up feeling like “losers.” If only everyone could “levitate” above quagmire that has been created (shout out to Dua Lipa, look at me trying to be cool!).
My suggestion would be to start the freedom of the uncool much earlier because the currency of cool only lasts for a short time. Eventually that currency that was so important becomes worthless. Then you need to figure out where you stand without it. The substance of who you are is much more than the perception points that you get from people who don’t truly care about you. The true you lies somewhere underneath! Even if they were looking, I’m not sure the cool people could see it!
For many years now, I have stated my preferred level of fame. I want to be “Tom Skerritt famous.” This level of fame is perfect for me. Although Tom Skerritt is famous, he is not someone that you would stop on the street for a photograph or autograph. Most people would comment to their friend about how they “saw that guy that was in Top Gun or Steel Magnolias or (insert another TS movie here).” His level of discomfort is probably pretty low. Weighing the positives and negatives, my guess would be that it’s more positive than negative.
Each of us has our own levels for what we would tolerate to get our objectives. I know without a doubt that Michael Jordan level of commitment to basketball is not inside of me. Although many would like to believe that they want to play on the world stage, they just aren’t willing to put in that level of work. If you’re not willing to get up at 6am to go for a run, you’re also not cut out for the NBA or Hollywood or (insert high level endeavor here). The key is having your aspirations match your dedication. There is nothing wrong with aiming for Tom Skerritt famous, if that’s where you want to be.
So rather than looking at people who are performing under bright lights and feeling a pang of jealousy, look at what you’re willing to do when no one is looking. That’s how those people got there in the first place. They worked for years before anyone knew who they were, hoping that they’d get noticed. In some ways they were probably like the rest of us but then they did something about it. You don’t need to want to walk down the red carpet. There are thousands of other locations that you could prefer to strut your stuff. A local karaoke place or the stage as you get your high school diploma are completely worthy places to make your personal mark. Just decide for yourself! Don’t feel pressured to be something that is inconsistent with your objectives. The work will need to come before the reward, so set your expectations on that rather than the promise of fame and fortune. Do you work and see what rewards come from it!
Social media is definitely a strange animal in a lot of ways. While it is “free”, it costs a lot of things including, time, privacy and other things of value. It is also odd from the perspective that a person who uses the social media is both the product and the customer. If everyone stopped posting on Instagram and only looked, it would eventually become banal. Also if people only posted but did not pay attention to anyone else’s content, the lack of “likes”, shares and other social media capital would make people question the value of posting. For this moment in time, we are both product and customer in this space. It is odd to say the least but I’d like to use this realization to focus on a truth that we all need to embrace. You are the product!
For years I’ve been saying to this to students, it did not come from my own personal realization but rather a description of the social media model. We’re all “selling” ourselves in little ways every single day. The question is whether or not we realize it and embrace it. The reason that it comes up so naturally in a school setting is that students often get confused about what school is for. In many ways, it is viewed as a low security prison where they must “do their time.” Grades are the currency of school and they are “given” grades, rather than “earning” them. The information or skills that they acquire are often viewed as incidental. History class is something to get an “A” in rather than a place to become a more informed citizen. This transactional view is not particularly new but it is contrary to why these systems were originally invented. So if you’ve never considered it before, let me state it very clearly! YOU ARE THE PRODUCT!!!
School may not be the absolute best example of how this should be applied since we often spend time in classes that do not serve our personal goals. So even though I am a firm proponent of education, that student who is reading a programming book in the back of French class is not betraying this thought process. The kid, who is scrolling through his friends’ Instagram posts, might be. As both the product and the product developer, it falls to you to decide on the specifications, marketing strategy and pricing of your product. It can be odd to think of yourself in this way but it’s also easy get caught in the traps of daily existence that devalues who you are.
That value is not particularly calculated in dollars and cents, it can be in self-esteem. Often that is the currency that we are dealing with because most of our existence is inside of our own minds. So the questions that are asked on the inside about value, quality and marketshare, all matter. How can you make yourself a better product? Not particularly for sale to other people, although in the job, friend or relationship market, that may be your thought process. The first person that you need to sell on the concept of yourself is you. Is this version of yourself one that you’re happy with? Is it time to upgrade, simplify or stay the course? No one else can answer that question. Regardless, it is worth asking. Does reading that book get you closer to being the YOU that you would be proud of? Or is it just window dressing for someone else? These are all questions that only you can answer because no one has their hands on the controls as much as you do. It is possible that you’ve been selling yourself in the bargain bins of Walmart but you belong in the glass showcases at Tiffany’s. If you don’t take a moment to consider, you might not be getting your true market value. Crabs and lobsters are “bottom feeders” but even they have a market value. They’re not cheap either. So you’ve got some things to consider. Maybe this was just a bit of intellectual tail chasing with a lot of semantics to make it seem more grandiose. Or maybe this is exactly the thing that you needed to get your stock to rise. That’s for you to decide!
What will your value be when the gavel hits today?
Before every company had a streaming service, there was the DVR. Before that, it was the DVD. And before that, the VCR! With its clunky cassettes and a clock that almost no one knew how or cared enough to set to the correct time. Therefore it always showed 12:00. By modern standards, the VCR is a dinosaur. Its limitations make it laughably simplistic but it was a necessary step in the evolution of entertainment. It was quite possibly the last one that required real time interaction with its human operator. Regardless, I’m going to use it as a quick representation on moving toward one’s dreams.
V – The first letter stands for VISION! It is necessary to have some sort of picture inside of your mind’s eye about where you want to go or what you want to do. If you don’t have the target inside of your head, you won’t hit it. This is obvious and simple but often people have too general of a target and therefore anything looks like progress. Be specific about what it is that you want or else you’ll only get something that looks a little like it.
C – The second letter stands for CHUNK! Specifically I’m talking about breaking that vision into chunks that will be achievable. A vision can be huge and overwhelming. When broken into chunks, it feels much more manageable and achievable. I love the old phrase, “there’s only one way to eat an elephant, one bite at a time.” Of course I’m not a proponent of eating elephants but the statements holds the greatest truth. Anything can be broken into enough pieces that it is achievable. So whatever your vision is, break it into small enough pieces for you to digest.
R – Even though it is last, it’s probably the most important, REASONS! Having a vision and breaking it into pieces are both easy. I just had a vision of me running a marathon. My chunks would be slowly increasing distances over the coming months in order to prepare with long runs on the weekends and shorter more intense runs during the week. It’s meaningless!!! I’ve run a marathon before. It was a great experience but at the moment, I don’t have any reason to run one. Of course I could create all kinds of reasons. The reasons are where the power is and that is all up to you! People quit smoking because their kid coughed in the back seat of the car, not because of the pain of lung cancer. Humans have an amazing ability to create reasons to do anything and everything.
So now it is on you! What is your vision? What are the individual steps that will get you there? And why do you want to make it happen? It’s not overly complicated but if you follow through on doing each step well, you’ll get where you want to go. No doubt about it. Just make sure the reasons are enough. You want to find “rocket fuel” reasons rather than charcoal. Charcoal may get you to some places but if you’ve got a big vision, it may take a long time.
In a Hollywood film or a TV show, there are often crowds of people in the background of a scene. They are called extras. My uncle Bob has made a pretty interesting second career out of being an extra. His name doesn’t show up in the credits because his role is not important enough to the production. If he were playing a bigger part, he’d get credit. Under the circumstances, no credit is given.
We’ve come to a time in history where people have a much broader reach than they ever did before. It can make everyone feel like they are “important.” Somehow the ability to reach millions through the device in someone’s pocket means that they deserve that level of credit. Unfortunately, on that scale, most of us are extras. We’re hanging out in the background and no one will ever really notice us. However, the one place that we are not an extra is in our own lives. In fact we should be playing the starring role. Everyday we help to create our dialogue and actions but somehow we pass up the great opportunity that we have to embrace the role. Most of us are so enamored with the people that we see on the screens getting “credit” that we forget that we’re a star too. Sure we’re playing on a local channel or in a theater that’s way off Broadway. Does that really matter? Probably not.
That’s probably the exact amount of fame that you’re looking for. Most of us don’t want the scrutiny that comes with the big screen life. We’re far better off playing to a small crowd of people who love us without the spotlight and the makeup. Our names don’t get put on the marquee but they do get put on invitations, thank you cards or a text chain with people we love. Playing to a bigger audience may get money, fame and “credit.” However it may not get us the love and respect that we actually crave. Our “no credit” lives in the background are probably the best place for us to thrive.
So tomorrow when you get the opportunity to play you to the local audience, remember that you’re the one that they want in that role. Don’t hold out for the credit because it is not coming but give those people that matter a performance. Be the best version of you that they’ve ever seen. You’re worth it and they’re worth it. The credits won’t be rolling anytime soon anyway.
There are a variety of lines within the first two Godfather movies that are worth repeating and analyzing. One in particular is a father’s wish for his son. Although framed by a mob boss, it is not an unrealistic desire for any parent. “I never wanted this for you…. I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by those big shots… when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings…” That’s Don Corleone speaking to his son Michael. He wanted a different life for his son. One where he would be in control of his own destiny. It’s a moving sentiment! Whether it comes from a mob boss, a teacher or a plumber, the desire for self-determination is a reasonable desire for any parent or individual.
People are an amazing combination of habits, thoughts, beliefs, rationalizations and so many other factors. Our bodies are the physical representations of who we are but there are much deeper forces at work. A subliminal battle between our desire for safety while desiring an existence better than the one that we know today. These are incompatible ideas that cause inner turmoil if they are not dealt with on some level. Each of us must rectify this conflict in one way or another. So the question becomes, what are you trying to pull?
It’s possible that you are on the path that Don Corleone wanted for Michael. You are pulling the strings. Perhaps not in the way that he intended, by holding a position of power. However you are able to self-determine how you go through life. This would be great regardless of how influential you are to the outside world. The ability to determine who you will be in this world is rarer than we’d like to admit. Even if you think this is you, keep reading. Perhaps you’re pulling something else.
The next possibility is that you’re pulling the wool over your own eyes. You’ve set up a world that is completely comfortable and seems like it is under your control. Unfortunately you may be looking down at the strings that you hold and never noticing the ones that are attached to you from above. In certain ways, this is all of us. None of us is truly free from every level of control but some strings are controlling our movements while others are just there.
Perhaps you’re pulling everyone’s leg. You’ve put on a show that is not representative of anything that you think or desire. However people think that they know the character that you are and that’s comforting. You don’t like the role but you’d rather play it than admit that the strings are all that you care about.
Many of us are pulling the weight of our past along with us. It’s not a burden that we must carry but rather one that we choose to carry. The releasing of the past is not particularly an easy thing to do. However your history is also something that you cannot change. Possibly you can redefine it but dragging it along as an anchor makes for slow progress.
Finally and the most scary is you feel like pulling the trigger. The strings have got you tangled in a web that you can’t seem to break free from. It’s constricting! The more that you try to break free, the tighter that the knots seem to feel. You’re not in control and believe that you never will be. So why continue?
It’s pretty obvious that there are levels to this thing. Although the thought of going from the bottom to the top may be enticing, it’s probably unrealistic. Wherever you are at the moment, it’s part of the equation to own up to it. There doesn’t need to be a huge public proclamation. The important thing is to admit it to yourself. Knowing where you are is a key component to getting where you want to go. Hopefully that place that you want to go is up. Not so that you can be above other people but rather so you can get closer to that best version of yourself. Unfortunately, you need to pull yourself up. Other people can only try to push you for so long before it’s on you again. What are you trying to pull? Hopefully the answer is “myself to the next level.”
There was a time when I didn’t understand my parent’s (and other older people’s) fixation on where they were upon hearing that Kennedy was shot. It was definitely a historical moment, worthy of remembrance but I just didn’t understand. Now that we are twenty years removed from September 11th, I kind of understand. My life basically split into two on that day. Some of that would have happened without the attack but in so many ways, my present life tracks directly back to that day.
It was one of the oddest days of my teaching career. I got called down to the office at one point in early part of the day. In a conference room, they had the TV on where the students wouldn’t see. I was being given a glimpse of events that I needed pretend were not happening for the next several hours. As the day unfolded, parents started picking up their kids and yet I needed to pretend like nothing was wrong. By the last period, few students were left and they all knew something was up. Something was different.
Perhaps everyone who lived through the Kennedy assassination feels the same way. As if that one horrific event had changed their entire existence. Or maybe it was just the period of my life that caused the splitting. Regardless, it’s there. A scar from a cut that I wish never happened but it did. So what do we with an unwanted past? Do we run from it? Forget it? Or leverage it?
One of the beautiful things that seems to happen around many tragedies is that people come together. Differences that seemed important yesterday are cast aside. Humans have an amazing ability to be the best versions of themselves when things are at their worst. Not because we are special or supernatural but rather it is who we are deep inside. We are born literally through adversity. Any mother will tell you that it is called “labor” for a reason. Unfortunately we tend to shield ourselves from adversity because comfort feels better.
My life before September 11th was largely filled with comfort. This second life has had a lot more struggle and difficulty but it’s made me who I am now. This is not a call for tragedy. It is a call for embracing those hard things that instruct. Not pain for pain’s sake but pain for progress! There was a time when I was afraid of difficult periods, I’m not afraid anymore. Hopefully we’ll meet on that other side!
There are transitions in life that we make willingly and others that we do begrudgingly. Recently I’ve been reminded that my involvement as a parent is going to be wanted less and less in the coming years. It was kind of an odd realization to make that at one point I was one of the two most relevant people in my children’s lives. From the first moment, I was there for midnight feedings, explosive diapers and everything else that came along. Now that my role is changing, I might mourn it a bit or possibly get nostalgic. The thing that I can’t do is perform CPR on a past that is no longer healthy or viable.
Parents are not the only ones who try to “keep the past alive” unnecessarily. Anyone can get caught up in the idea of how things used to be. It’s comfortable and familiar. There is an allure of that known past because it carries none of the fear of the unknown future. The problem with living in the past is that it is exhausting to do CPR on something that has no chance of survival. That version of you is gone and you can’t get it back. The energy that you’ve put into those chest compressions would be better used to move you forward. By all means, reminisce and enjoy the memories but do so as the you of today.
I love this lyric from John Mellencamp although I’d like to amend it a bit. “Life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.” There is no doubt that other parts of life carried a certain thrill that you can’t get back. However there is no reason that you can’t get just as excited for today. You can’t go back to the “glory days” but you can create new ones, if you’re not completely fixated on the old.
The CEO has been held in high esteem for decades now as the pinnacle of business career success. Corner offices, private jets, and big bonuses are just a few of the pictures that people put in their heads when they think of this position. On the other hand, doormen are pretty rare by comparison and usually thought of very little. Unless it is for a ritzy residential building in a big city, the doorman often is invisible. A quasi-security guard who is on a lower rung of a different ladder to the CEO. There is one place where the doorman may be more important than the CEO even though the CEO calls all of the shots.
At the moment, we are all being bombarded constantly by information. The things that we let in are influencing us tremendously. Regardless of whether we are truly processing it all or if it is just in the background, the tendency toward informational fatigue and overload is pervasive. It is important to put some constraints on what is coming in. Even the most skilled CEO in the world would be rendered completely ineffective if the doorman let anyone and everyone in to see her/him. The pure volume would lead to a grinding halt of productivity. The CEO may be directing the who the doorman lets in but if that job is done poorly, the higher executive functions don’t matter.
At this point, it’s obvious that I’m no longer talking about people but rather your mind and the mechanisms that you have in place for processing information and protecting your attention. People are amazing “deletion creatures”. Meaning that we cannot pay attention to everything at every moment, so we delete a large portion of what comes into our senses. The things that don’t get deleted are let in or deflected by the “doorman” through focused attention or passing notice. The things that we focus on create our reality. Your focus (doorman) can make or break your day, week, month, year or life by letting all of the wrong stimuli, ideas, words, etc. into your mind (CEO). The key is being specific with your doorman about who gets access. If not directed, the doorman will let the loudest and pushiest people in. That’s a recipe for disaster! So train your doorman to only let in the people that are worthy of your time and attention.