Blogpost, self-reliance

A Case for Valentine’s Day

It’s a sore subject! I get it! For many people, Valentine’s Day is the absolute WORST! A reminder from seemingly all of the world about an unwanted status or a commercialism that seems to come with everything nowadays. If you’re steadfast in your hatred of February 14th, have at it! All of your complaints and thoughts about the quasi-holiday are completely accurate! My hope here is not to convince the unconvinceable (real word?). It is merely to offer an alternative to those people who encounter flowers, candy or hearts and automatically SEE RED!

Imagine if there was an International Water Day (actually there is! It’s March 22nd). A day that was intended to celebrate water and how wonderful it is. People going into pools, playing in fountains, drinking that clear sparkly stuff to their heart’s content. The people without any water whatsoever would have every right to get pissed about their lack as others splurge. However I have no doubt that some company named after an Eastern European Company and a season would create commemorative bottles or something to make a few extra bucks off of the holiday. People who didn’t get their “extra special” Water Day present would feel like they had missed out on something. Even if they had plenty of “normal” water to quench their thirst. Somehow the regular water doesn’t seem special enough (hey wait, we’ve kind of done this anyway). You see my point though. It not a real lack! It’s a manufactured lack or a perceived lack. At bare minimum that thirsty person on water day can most likely count on the fact that they’ll find themselves quenched at some point soon.

Just like water, love is a human need. We don’t need it on the same level or consistency as water but nonetheless, it’s there. Unlike water, love is something that we can create on our own without digging a hole or waiting for a storm. It’s a moment away from us and the most important person to give that to is yourself. Obviously, many of us have been sold on that “extra special” version of love that Valentine’s Day is supposed to represent. The fact that you thirst for it is a good thing! Even if you don’t have it at the moment, doesn’t mean that you won’t. This day is not life thumbing its nose at you. As it is said in one of my favorite movies “Love Actually is all around.” Whether you have someone “special” in your life or not, there’s plenty of love to go around.

You’re pretty awesome regardless of your relationship status!

Pete

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The Art of Loving Something

The definition of “art” that I am going to use from the dictionary is “human works of beauty”.  Obviously beauty is a slightly amorphous term that depends completely on one’s perception.  I’m fine with this limitation because art is not quantifiable.  That is the point.  Art is simply meant to move the soul in some way.  Love is another one of those unquantifiable things that we as human spend a great deal of time on.  By putting these two unquantifiable terms together, it might seem that I am talking about a whole lot of nothing.  Quite the opposite, I’m talking about something that can define a life.

Although the world has shown many of its uglier sides over the past few years, the truth of the matter is that the human race has a knack, propensity or even a yearning to love deeply.  The problem is that we are methodical creatures who want to have a formula to create that desired thing.  Since love is something that we only seem to be able to identify when we feel it, the processes often leave us empty.  On those same lines, art is something that we know when see/experience it.  We can put work out into the world that does not qualify as art.  Both phenomena seem to be linked in some way to a leap.  A forgetting of the self.  A release of the process or control.  Recognizing on some level that we are standing in our own way of that thing that we desire.  The problem is that we fear that it won’t happen without us or even worse, it will happen without us.  

The art of loving something requires that you let yourself be given up to chance.  It is probably the hardest thing to do because sometimes, you’re going to lose.  The cosmic forces that seem to control the world do not let anyone bat 1.000!  We need to remember that all creative endeavors are messy.  Love and art both fall into that category of creative.  Much like birth, they take a certain amount of labor that seems to yield no results to bring the new into the world.  Eventually it all ends up worth it but you’re not going to get there without the labor, the leap and the willingness to chance the loss.

Love is on the horizon but you need to believe it before you see it.

Pete

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Skippy Handelman Is Dead, Long Live Skippy

As a child of the 1980s, many of my thoughts are encased in characters from sitcoms and movies. I wish that I could say that William Shakespeare had a huge influence on my thought processes on love and loss but alas it is Family Ties, Cheers and Night Court. It’s not the worst thing but my references are not particularly known by the world. So you’ll have to indulge me a little as I explain.

Just to avoid any confusion, Marc Price, the actor who played Skippy is alive.

In the TV show, Family Ties, Irwin “Skippy” Handelman is the quirky neighbor to the featured family in the sitcom. The Keatons accept Skippy as an extension of their family because he is kind hearted, although slightly dimwitted by nature. While he is truly Alex’s friend (Michael J. Fox’s character), Skippy is possibly best known for having a huge crush on Mallory. His feelings for her are never reciprocated yet he presses on with little or no hope. Even his best friend, Alex, undermines other love interests that Skippy has. It has been a really long time since I’ve watched Family Ties. So this next part might be just what I want to believe. Eventually Skippy finds someone and Mallory recognizes her loss. That may not have actually happened in the show.

However there is a moment from Night Court that has stuck in my memory for years. The custodian, Art, brings Christine (Markie Post) to a function and it ends poorly. Eventually he puts it all on the line “I’d always treat you right. You would never want for anything.” Upon hearing those words, Christine gets upset. Art lets her off the hook though. It’s not Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet but it represents a part of the human condition. A man who would do anything for someone, sacrifices his own feelings for the other.

The role of the “nice guy” (or girl, this is not gender exclusive) is not an easy one to play. Decisions need to be made about what to do and there isn’t usually much wiggle room. The answer is the right thing. Sometimes that’s hard to swallow because the Skippy and Art characters of the world are not the stars. Their names are not on any marquis and they don’t usually get the girl in the end. So why do they do it? Because someone has to!

I don’t want to live in a world without the nice guy. Despite getting the distinction of “finishing last”, they tend to keep the world in balance. With self-less abandon, they go into every situation trying to do right by other people. This is not in a superhero kind of way, although Captain America could be characterized as a “nice guy”. Mostly this is done in simple ways through small actions that no one notices at first. That’s why I force myself to believe that Mallory has the recognition moment when Skippy has moved on. The nice guy tends to not get noticed until he’s gone.

My hope is that at some point, the nice guy gets his due. The Skippy characters of the world get a little bit more than a pat on the back. If you have one in your life, recognize it because they would quite literally do anything for you. That’s a great person to have around!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Who Has Your Nuke Codes?

Next month we are going to go through a presidential transition. Whether you’re happy about the results of the election or not is irrelevant to this post. As the commander in chief, the sitting president has a variety of weapons at his disposal including nuclear weapons. The destructive capabilities of these weapons are so devastating that only the president can order their use. This authority is not given out to everyone in the armed forces.

Usually when I talk about this concept, I use the example of keys. I’ll ask an audience who I would trust with my keys. Answers like wife, friends, siblings, parents are all common. Eventually after we’ve established that I would not trust my keys to just anyone, I relate the keys back to the mind. Who do you trust with the way that you think about yourself? Are you as discerning when choosing the people who can impact your self image? Most of the time, this brings to light some judgment issues. People often given power of influence to strangers, acquaintances or even “enemies.” Although this discussion is one that I think is worthwhile, I wanted to take it to that next level. Who has your “nuke codes”?

The difference here is that nukes have the ability to destroy everything. This goes far beyond the ability to influence. Perhaps the best strategy is never to give these codes to anyone. Keep the pushbuttons that could destroy you hidden away. Never let anyone know that they exist. Pretend like you’re invulnerable. Some people seem to go to the other extreme, giving the power of destruction to everyone and everything.

The best strategy that I’ve been able to come up with is to give them to the people who would never use them. An exchange of codes that allows each side to feel a level of safety but also trust. In real relationships (not nuclear standoffs) the key is vulnerability. It is only when we show our weak underbelly that people can feel that. they really know us. Acting like that weakness doesn’t exist guarantees that no one can get close enough to our reality. On the one hand, that might seem safe because then no one else can hurt us. While that might be true, it also means that the only possible destruction is self-destruction. The gamble comes down to vetting people that you trust with the real you or propping up the walls around you while trying not to hit the button. It’s not as hard of a choice or a task as it seems. Most people aren’t interested in pushing your button, they’re just trying not to push their own.

Go be vulnerable!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Worth Fighting For

It was 2003, I believe. As I was driving north toward Hyannis, Massachusetts, even I was having trouble making sense of what I was doing. Everyone else had bailed out and I had the same exact option. I was supposed to be part of a 4 or 5 person group who were all going to compete in the Hyannis Sprint Triathlon. My girlfriend (now wife) and her friends had made all of the arrangements. I was tagging along for my first triathlon experience. On the day of our departure at the last minute, everyone decided not to go but for some reason I went. Due to all of the uncertainty about the others, I got a late start. After 11pm when I arrived to town, the bed and breakfast where we had reservations was shutdown for the night. So I started scouring the town for a hotel room. The first place that I went had nothing. Luckily the Days Inn had one room left, the “honeymoon suite,” complete with mirrors on the ceiling and a heart-shaped bed. It was not ideal considering I would only be sleeping for about 5 hours but I took it.

Although the race didn’t start until later in the morning, I got to the headquarters around 5:30am because I needed to pick up my race packet and drop off my bike. My first triathlon was off to a bumpy start to say the least. Luckily my registration was done ahead of time and that was the first thing to go off without a hitch. Ill prepared, on my own and completely unsure of the task in front of me; I sat and waited. The swim was by far my weakest event and it is first. Despite being a triathlon newbie, I had received one piece of good advice from a veteran weeks prior, wear a wetsuit. It helps to keep you afloat slightly. Even though I had that slight help, I still swam very slow. Out of nearly 1000 competitors, I was around 800th after the swim (from results after the race, no idea at the time).

My ability on the bike was definitely better than my swimming but my equipment was not. I had borrowed my older brother’s mountain bike for the weekend and although it was functional, it wasn’t set up for speed. Of course I really can’t use that as an excuse because a few miles in, I was passed by an older gentleman on a bike from the 1950’s (I’m guessing). He had no gears or special clipped in shoes and he passed me like I was standing still. Luckily I was also moving up in the pack. I focused on one by one passing the person in front of me. By the end of the bike, I had climbed into the 500s out of 1000.

The run was by far my best event. Having been a track athlete and soccer player, I knew how to pace myself over long distances. However my legs were heaviest during this portion of the race. After about a mile, the weight of my legs was starting to get into my head. What was I doing? No one was here to cheer me on. I was alone. Whether I ran harder or not, that fact was not going to change. Then I started thinking about my girlfriend. Even though I knew she wasn’t there, I became fixated on the thought of her and my legs felt lighter. So I picked up the pace and began catching as many people as I could. Although I knew it really wouldn’t matter one way or another to her, I was able to mask the pain of the moment by associating my performance with her. Much like the knights of the past used to go into battle to win the favor of a lady, I put that emotion into my legs. By the end of the run, I had progressed to the low 300’s.

When I crossed the finish line, I still did it alone but I had a full heart. Although I had entered the race ill prepared and unsure, I walked away from the event feeling more certain. Since I had already paid for a hotel room that I used for about 5 hours, I wolfed down as much post race food as I could. Then I had just enough time to go back to the “honeymoon suite” to take a shower before checking out and going home.

This story is about me but it applies to many more people. There are battles to be waged throughout our lives. Some are simple and fleeting like a triathlon. Others are complex and life altering like cancer. Regardless of which you are engaged in, it’s important to realize that you don’t need to be alone in that fight even when you are alone. People believe in you. They care about you and want you to win. Sometimes that can be hard for them to say. Perhaps they don’t even know that you need to hear it because they just think it’s implied. In a world where we can send and receive messages from around the globe through a device in our pocket, we can forget to send the simplest of messages to the person next to us. Perhaps we need to turn off that “connection” device and get reacquainted with the device inside of our chest. It can also send and receive.

Now more than ever we have the opportunity to connect with those that we love in order to raise each other up. There are things in this world worth fighting for and most of us have more ability than we realize. Sometimes it just takes the right person believing in us to bring it out. Don’t wait around for them to say it though. Just trust that it is out there. No matter how many people are cheering you on, you need to show up first. You’re worth fighting for!

Thanks Beck!

Pete

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A Father’s Day Tradition

IMG_4513Just about every year on Father’s Day, I take a short hike with my children and wife to a little waterfall at a local park.  Although my wife and kids are aware that it is one of my favorite places in the world, I’d never really given an explanation as to why we return to the same spot.  The tradition is based on a quote from Heraclitus.  “A man can never step into the same river twice because the river has changed and so has he.”  Although I usually don’t set foot into the stream near the waterfall, I recognize the change in us both.

This tradition is meant as a time of reflection for me to realize the changes in my life, my children and the world that surrounds me.  Personally I find this to be very helpful because I don’t take for granted the many things that have changed.  My son growing taller is an obvious change but juxtaposing our past visits against yesterdays I more clearly see the man that he is becoming.  I cannot freeze these moments to keep them from flowing by like the water.  The only thing that I can do is notice them.  It is my job to remember that each time we return to this place to be grateful for the time that we have had.  Unlike the stream that is sourced from a large lake, there is no telling when this time will run out.

So as you go out into your day, take a moment to appreciate the people in your life that really matter.  The time of your life will keep flowing by no mater what you do.  However you can take this moment to appreciate all that you have.  There is not a lack of beauty in this world.  There is just a greater amount of distraction.  So it is up to us to look for the beauty before it passes us by.

Have a great day!  And Happy Father’s Day to the Dads out there!

Pete

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Blogpost, self-reliance

Amazon Doesn’t Work Like The Amazon (The Balance of Being Human Today)

RightNowThe past was a simpler time in many ways!  There’s no doubt about it.  The complexity of the world has jumped exponentially.  Despite its complexity, human beings remain relatively the same.  The complexity is around us, not within us.  So it is possible to keep the effects of the world at bay if we remember that we are part of the “natural order” of things.  In most cases we act much more like animals than machines.  Despite this fact, we expect ourselves to work similar to machines or want results to show up machine time.

Our ancestors understood that the amount of time spent hunting was far greater than the amount of time spent eating.  This proportion is a natural occurrence.  Obviously there would be times when a quick hunt would happen but it could not be relied upon.  The same was true of the harvest.  While the farmers did less “intense” labor than the hunters, it was stretched out over a longer period of time.  Again the time and effort spent obtaining the desired outcome was far greater than the time enjoying it.  However these proportions were in line with expectation.  So people prepared and adjusted for them.  Now we live in the world of Amazon, INSTAgram, SNAPchat and Uber.

These services and other recent cultural norms are not bad if they are kept in context.  The separation of modern expectations from “natural” phenomena is the key component to surviving the complexity of our world.  Trust is not one click away.  Overnight shipping is not available on love.  Physical fitness is not dependent on an application but rather dedication over time.  Keeping the expectations for the enjoyment of results in correct proportion to the necessary inputs to obtain those results is the key.  This balance can be difficult for people to maintain because the call of the modern context is so enticing.  Why would you spend months going to the gym when you can swallow a pill?

My hope for you is that you’re able to see past the false advertising.  Many of the things that you want are not available “On Demand” and that’s OK.  If everything were as easy as one click shopping, it would cheapen the peak experiences of life.  Time, struggle, intention, effort, passion and so many more ingredients are the appropriate price tags for what is truly important in this world.  It is those people that keep in line with their nature as humans who will avoid the trappings of the modern world.  So go out there today and get whatever it is that you want but don’t click on “one day shipping”!  Enjoy the process instead!

Pete

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Like as a Four Letter Word

IMG_3202At a certain point too much of something becomes its opposite.  The drug that could save your life becomes poison.  Too much time and attention from a significant other, no longer feels warm and fuzzy, it feels weird and creepy.  The key to keeping this from happening is to keep from overdosing on something.  At the moment, if I’m being honest, I’m LIKED out.

Growing up in the ’80s and the “Valley Girl” movement, you would have thought that it would have happened earlier.  However it is only recently that the word like has become so pervasive that it feels like its opposite.  No longer do I want to ‘like’ anything because it feels meaningless, a throw away compliment because it’s time to move onto the next thing.  Perhaps it is time to dismiss the notion of ‘liking’ every thing that you like and only ‘like’ the things that you love.  By putting this plan into action, it reduces the number of ‘likes’ to go around.  Only the truly special will be donned with this moniker.

In life our most precious resource is our time.  If all we do is like the time that we spend on this earth, then maybe we should hold out for more loves rather than drowning in likes.  They might take some more effort to find but at least everything won’t feel like different flavors of vanilla.

Find the peaks of experience today!

Pete

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The Battle You’re Not Fighting

NormandyIt’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.

Put up the good fight today!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The World Cup and Learning How to Love Yourself

Best of friends ready to travel together.

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.

The LouvreOur 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.

Travel well!

Pete