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Your Call Cannot Be Completed As Dialed

For those younger readers, the image below is the remnants of a pay phone. Prior to the widespread use of cellphones, these things were all over the place. You could pay a certain amount to make a call. Most of the phone part of this one is gone. My guess would be that it is hanging in someone’s apartment as a decoration. Regardless of what happened to it, there is no chance that any calls are being made from or coming to this unit. Even if the wires still exist inside, the connection just isn’t going to be made.

There used to be a pay phone here.

Despite all of our different formats for connection, people seem to be more disconnected than ever. It is not a question of means for communication. We have more than we know what to do with: text, instant message, Facebook post, Tweet, etc. The issue is not the means. It is the quality and interpretation of the signals that are coming through. Wearing masks seems to have made this even worse. People are generally not sending the signals that they want to put out into the world. It is usually a watered down version of their truest feelings. It has become just a bit too dangerous to put your authentic self out there. It can be misinterpreted. You could be labeled a thousand different things. Or worst of all, you could be heard clearly and no one responds. That might be the scariest of all. Putting yourself completely out there and no one cares enough to hear you.

We’re losing something in these overly cautious half messages. That piece of ourselves that makes us truly human. Other animals travel in packs but the human animal can relate on a level that they cannot. Pack animals travel together for the protection of the individual and the whole. Our society has grown to a point where we no longer need the protection but we still need the connection. We still need the pack, not because of physical danger but emotional connection. The pack could be as few as two people. The blanket of emotional safety that it creates is not so much a want but a need. We need to feel safe emotionally in this crazy world. Our ability to say anything to anyone anywhere has not freed us. It has stifled us because that phone call used to be with one person. Now all that we say and do can be turned from a gift into a weapon regardless of our intent. Unfortunately, the voices of the masses are not truly hateful voices. They are insecure voices. That insecurity is based in a fear that they also won’t be loved, appreciated, praised or even just heard. So it’s easier to send out a half truth that keeps us protected than the whole truth that leaves us exposed. The trivial, trite and mundane becomes the message on everyone’s masked lips. Those masks are not due to COVID. They’re invisible protection from putting one’s self “too far” out there. Because if the real me shows up and no one answer my call, then what does that say about me.

The truth is that it probably says nothing more than most people are disconnected like that phone above. They have all of the wiring to make a true connection but choose to stay separate and protected. Don’t become a rusted out shell of your former self. People were meant for more than the snarky and filtered. We were meant to be raw and imperfect. This is not a call for you to post your “emotionally naked” self online. More than anything, it’s an invitation to be real with one person at a time. Like a pay phone, it’s small investments that over time with make a big difference in the value that you are returned.

Hello! Is there anybody out there?

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Define Yourself

If you look up any word in the dictionary, you will read a variety of other words that are used to represent that item, idea or whatever. So understanding that definition is dependent upon knowing the other words. It’s an odd kind of shell game. There are also other words that we feel like we know what they mean. But without a dictionary in hand, if we were asked for a definition, it would be a struggle to come up with one. We just know. Much like a dumbbell, there is a balance to be struck with the things that are dependent upon others in order to have meaning and things that just are.

High School Soccer from Senior Year
It may look foolish now but at the time, we LOVED these jerseys!

As human beings, we are often trying to make sense of things. We are looking for meaning in a largely random set of circumstances and characters. Sometimes we use the dictionary approach. Our meaning is dependent upon others. Things that could be easily represented to people. At times, the more intuitive route “feels” right. We do not know how to explain it but our decisions seem to have a cosmic GPS that we couldn’t really explain to someone else.

I’ve had both experiences and cannot say wholeheartedly that either is 100% correct. They each have their advantages and disadvantages. At a certain point though, you need to be you. Defining that completely externally is dangerous because it can end with losing yourself. The completely intuitive route can ignore vital information in favor of feelings that may be misguided. It would be a lot easier if we had a map but then we would lose the joy of “figuring it out.” Our lives are largely lived in duality. Too much certainty is boring and too much uncertainty is chaos, not fun.

At the moment, we’re going through a tough time. A lot of the paths that we believed were important are becoming less so. A deluge of readily available “information” has made us doubt ourselves on a variety of fronts from how we look to our health and well-being. Within all of this turmoil, each of us must try to define who we are. This is a constant process that requires a bit of thought and some trust that you’re going to get it right eventually. The definition of who you are is not showing up in a dictionary and thank god! You get to figure out who you want to be over and over again. Take the time to get to know you, so maybe you can define you.

None of this will be on the quiz!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Un-Pete

As the third in a line of Petes, there are several clever lines that have been used with my name. One of my dad’s favorites was “My name is Pete and this is my son, Repete.” Obviously a dad joke of major proportions. I used to think there was more to my name. There seemed to be a certain amount of pressure put on me to follow in my father’s footsteps. It was largely internal but I still felt it. That’s why I decided not to name my son after me.

At this point in time, I feel almost none of that pressure to be like my dad. However I do put the pressure on myself to remain consistent with who I have been. It’s a mental tug of war at times. The forces of habit and consistency pitted against change and new horizons. There is not a crowned champion in this battle. It waivers.

There are things that will never win out. Those actions are un-Pete. They are things that no one will ever see from me. Lines that cannot be crossed. It’s comforting to know that there are things that we just won’t do. It’s often said that “character is what you do when no one is watching.” It is also the things that never cross your mind to do.

I might have said something like this before. Sorry! I tend to “repete” myself! Hahaha

Blogpost, self-reliance

If You’re Going Through Hell…

I cannot take credit for this quote. The origin may not be from Sylvester Stallone but that’s where I heard it. “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Like so many of the quotes that stick with me, it reframes an idea in such a way that makes me want to take action. The idea of going through hell is overwhelming. It is the place of true suffering and the landlord leaves a lot to be desired. So the quote brings the full picture into focus. If you are in the worst place, keep moving until you get out. Even hell must have some form of boundary and just like New Jersey, you probably have to pay a toll to leave. Regardless, the idea of staying is unthinkable (in hell, not NJ, love the Garden State). So it’s in your best interest to put feet to pavement (or hot coals) and get the hell out of there!

Portion of the album cover to “Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden. Original painting by Derek Riggs.

“That’s easy for you to say! You don’t know what I’m going through!” You’re absolutely right! Words are cheap but let’s forget that for a moment because that will always be true. Is that what you need? Someone who understands what you’re going through? There are support groups for just about everything under the sun at this point. Chances are that someone out there could understand your situation but would it really help? Or is it just easier to feel badly about the situation? These are legitimate questions that might be worth answering. If you need the understanding, search it out.

Just like so many other situations, an unwanted vacation in hell can be remedied by three words: vision, chunking and reasons. You need to have a vision for where you want to be, not a focus on where you are. The road is most likely going to be long and painful but if you can chunk it down or break it into pieces, progress can be seen more easily. Finally, you need reasons. In Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he talks about his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. People needed to develop reasons to carry on in those inhuman circumstances.

Perhaps the situation that you are in is not exactly hell, the three words still work. Regardless of who you are or what your circumstances, we all run up on hard times. Often, our reaction to them is how we end up defining ourselves.

Safe travels!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Someone Is Coming After You!

It sounds almost sinister if you put the wrong inflection in your voice when you say it. Horror movies find a way to make this idea last for almost two hours. A series of jump scares and near misses that bring the hairs on our arms to stand up straight. The panic that comes with the idea of some shrouded figure who is following our footsteps is almost palpable. But what if they meant you no harm? What if they didn’t even know that you existed? They were just someone who is coming after you. When you are gone, they will show up and they mean you no ill will. If they are not coming in order to hurt you, would you be willing to do the little things that will keep you from hurting them?

This thought experiment was brought on because I tripped on a dumbbell in our gym yesterday. I was the first person to enter in the morning. The lights were off and the weight was right in front of the door. It ended up ok. I didn’t end up on the ground or impaling myself on any of the nearby metal. The person, who left that weight there, just forgot that “someone is coming after you.” They gave no thought to the fact that I would be there in the early morning and could have gotten truly hurt. No malice, just indifference.

At this point in history, we seem to have forgotten that this moment that we are living in was created by a lot of people who knew someone was coming after them. No doubt mistakes were made and there was carelessness on their part at times. The recognition of the future was key. The future seems to be coming so fast that it has pressed itself directly onto the present. We seem to have trouble remembering the next people who will be here. Are we leaving something behind that they will actually want or be able to use? Or have we decided that our moment is so important that leaving a mess is our right?

More than likely, it is in our best interest to remember the people that are coming after us. We should be leaving them gifts to find rather than messes to clean up. It’s a force multiplier if everyone does it. The good will moving forward allows for others to be “infected” by it. If each of us is able to see the gifts from those before and remember that someone is coming after us, then the world becomes a better place to live on a regular basis. It’s not our moment that is most important. It is just most important to us. Giving a portion of it to the people coming after shows respect to the people who built our present.

They are coming! But it doesn’t need to be scary for either of us.

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

TGIF (Do The Math!)

Thank God It’s Friday! is a phrase that has been uttered far to many times in the modern work world. It’s close cousins of “two weeks to vacation, ______# of days until school is out, ” etc. While I understand the sentiment and I am very in favor of having things to look forward to in the future, the idea of lamenting the present is troublesome. If we truly are only “working for the weekend” as Loverboy put it, then we’re giving away five sevenths of our lives. Work, school and other obligations may seem like necessary evils to be endured but what if they could be something more?

The week can be daunting if the only thing that you pay attention to is the “have to’s”. Our focus determines our reality. Even though the obligations of our lives may take up a majority of hours, they do not need to take up the majority of our emotional bandwidth or possibly even focus. The other possibility is that they do not need to be characterized as negative experiences. Since we live so much of our lives in these spaces, perhaps we could see them in a positive or at least neutral light. Most of us don’t work in a coal mine or an asbestos factory. We are plugging away in places that probably have the possibility for joy but we go into the day seeing the grind. It might be your coworkers who bring the positive flavor or the environment. There is a good possibility that the perspective may not change to “sunshine and roses.” It may just be a transition to a feeling of neutrality. Regardless, the slog of the day should not overtake the fact that it is still a day in your life. If all you’ve done is “made it through the day”, then the day was not as valuable as it could have been.

By all means! Have a crap day when one comes along. That is a far cry from trying to bypass every day until some desirable situation finally comes along. We were not meant to live only 28-36% of the time (2/7 or 2.5/7 depending on whether half of Friday counts). Our lives being put on fast forward is not a great plan for fulfillment. Even when our lives are filled, it does not mean that they are fulfilling. Find ways to make today worth living regardless of the “to do’s” on your list.

Have a great day people!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Turn On The Bat Signal!

If you want Batman to show up, then turn on the Bat Signal. It’s not a difficult thing to figure out when you live in Gotham City. There is only one superhero with a signal that the commissioner has at his disposal. However, what if there were lots of signals? Not just for the heroes but also for the villains, sidekicks and everyone in between. Depending on what signals you put out into the world, you could have the entire population of Arkham Asylum on your doorstep. Or you could attract the “Caped Crusader” and Boy Wonder. The key would be putting out the right signals.

Obviously there aren’t a lot of winged vigilantes hanging around looking for spotlights in the clouds. However, you are putting out signals all the time. The world is picking many of them up and people are reacting to your signals whether you realize it or not. If your world is full of villains, is it possible that you’ve called them into your life?

I waiver back and forth on exactly how strong the powers of our intentions are. At times they seem to be “all powerful”, a single thought of an old friend seems to cause a text message or phone call to come my way. Other times, it seems like the signals just aren’t getting through. Either my spotlight isn’t turned on or Batman isn’t looking. Regardless of what is floating out there in the ether, we are sending a variety of signals throughout the day.

  • Texts and emails – They are probably the most pervasive messaging that we send out at the moment. When was the last time that you audited: Who you’re sending messages to? What are you saying? What’s your tone? Would you want to get a message from you?
  • Words – These come in combination with the next category but they are extremely important. Not simply because other people hear them but because you’re hearing yourself say them. They are double signals! They go to yourself and your audience. Be careful how you use these signals because they can repel or attract equally well.
  • Body language – This is a crucial signal that needs attention. Eye contact, body posture, hand movement, etc. can all play a part in attracting the forces of good or evil toward you. Or sending the message to stay away! It can be difficult to see yourself in the moment. So consider practicing in front of the mirror. It’s almost stupid enough of an idea to work!
  • Mental messages – If this is too “woo woo” for you, then move on. I’ve already said that I waiver on how strong this can be. It’s one of those things that is not reliable enough to be scientific but at the same time I’ve seen enough evidence to believe there is something to it. Our intentions have power! I’m just not sure how much!

These are just some of the signals that are available to you. There are also: smoke, dress, scent and more. Regardless of whether you are conscious of the signals that you’re sending, they are out there and people are receiving them. The main thing is sending the right messages. Don’t leave it to chance. Don’t assume that the message that you want to send and the one that is received are one in the same. This requires some detective work on your part. It may be cumbersome (good song) but it’s worth the time and effort.

Holy subliminal messages Batman! Be loud and clear!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Yellow Mayonnaise

It’s not like yellow snow which is extremely different from regular snow. Yellow mayonnaise is simply an amazing concoction that left in an unnecessary ingredient, egg yolks. Let’s start from the beginning, mayonnaise is amazing! Not because of the taste which people are allowed to have their own opinion on. Mayonnaise is amazing because it is scientific marvel! When asked if you want oil and vinegar on your sub sandwich or mayonnaise, it’s not really a choice. In both instances, you’re getting oil and vinegar! The only difference is that the mayonnaise has taken two things that don’t mix and forced them together through an emulsifier, egg whites. It is amazing! But it’s usually white. I didn’t experience yellow mayo until I visited Ecuador. The family that I lived with served yellow mayo and I was intrigued. The taste was mostly the same but it wasn’t normal.

Normal is something that seems to have been taken away from us in many ways. Some things are being described as “new normal” while people more often long for the “old normal.” Regardless of which camp you fall into, normal suggests some level of expectation. A way that things are supposed to be, otherwise there is reason to be upset. While this is all perfectly reasonable, how much should the outside world be dictating whether things are normal or not? Since we are largely the ones that are making the “mayo”, shouldn’t we be deciding if yellow is acceptable in times where white isn’t available? Of course by “making the mayo” I’m referring to the internal processes of physiology, focus and internal dialogue that determine so much of how we feel. It’s easy to forget that we are mixing the ingredients as they come in. NORMAL is only partially dependent upon the outside world. Accepting the “yolks” is largely up to us.

So start by remembering this! Just like mayonnaise, YOU ARE AMAZING! You’re a beautiful mixture of physical matter, intelligence, spirit and a lot of other ingredients that has been bound together into this wonderful package. There will be times when you don’t feel like the miracle that you are. That’s ok! Not all mayo is pristine white. Not every day is perfect. Not every thought that you have will be bright and sunny. Sometimes the only thing that we notice is the exterior that looks different than we expect and forget that inside you’re a miracle! You are yellow mayonnaise.

Just don’t spread yourself too thin! Hahaha (dad joke)

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Human Fruit

My first job was working at an apple orchard. My brothers and I were paid twenty-five cents per box of apples that we picked up from the ground. Since these apples had already fallen, they were not able to be sold for eating. So they were used to make cider. There was a decent amount of opportunity to make some money from this deal. If we were diligent about our work, filling a box was not too difficult or time consuming. Generally speaking though, we weren’t overly effective at our job. We semi-lazy preteens who spent as much time talking as we did picking, probably more.

Outside of Hackettstown, NJ. My first job was at Best’s Fruit Farm. It’s apple season now.

Although we were not titans of the cider industry, that experience held a lot of lessons in it. Recently I started thinking about the actual apples though. The most valuable apples are the ones that are picked at the right time and sold for eating. The ones that fall to the ground are worth far less as cider or possibly worth nothing if they rot. Although it doesn’t happen much with apples, there are fruits that “die on the vine.” Usually this is due to a lack of nourishment. While most of don’t give much thought to the growth of fruit, we just buy it at the store, have it sit on the counter for a week and forget to eat it before it goes bad. Or maybe that’s just me at the moment! Regardless, it is a great metaphor for our dreams and goals. It got me thinking about how most dreams die. Do they die on the vine due to a lack of nourishment? Or do they fall before they’ve been picked, essentially a lack of timing or attention.

It’s really hard to say because it depends on a lot of factors. However, if I was pressed for a guess, I’d say that it was more than likely that most dreams die on the vine rather than falling to poor timing. Humans are amazing creatures with so many positive attributes. Despite all of the positives that we possess, there is rampant pessimism within our species. We tend to see all of the things that could go wrong before we even start. Therefore we do not pump the metaphorical juice into things. Our preference is to only give resources to the fruits that we “know” will ripen. On the one hand, this is not a bad strategy. We do not have infinite resources: time, energy, attention, etc. These are only a few of the ingredients that are needed to bring anything to life. So the high probability (low hanging) fruit may seem like the right move. Unfortunately it tends to leave almost nothing for the low probability but more valuable dreams. So much of life is spent producing results that just about anyone could.

We watch as our dreams shrivel and die as they get none of our time and attention. Yet our boxes are filled with “cider apples” that do not inspire us or anyone else. They represent a variety of minimal effort endeavors that we do not long or ache for. We only chose them because they were basically guaranteed to work out. So maybe this apple season, it is time to let some of those easy dreams fall to the ground in favor of a few long shots. It’s possible that you’ll come up empty handed. Or maybe you’ll find that that sweet juices were worth the extra effort!

You won’t know until you try!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Your Motto

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of
their appointed rounds.” While this is believed to be the motto of the US Postal Service, it truly is not. Although the words are engraved above the entrance to the 8th Avenue Post Office in New York City, it actually comes from Book 8 of the Persian Wars by Herodotus. However it is a guide that helped to shape that organization. Have Post Offices closed due to weather? No doubt. Has a postman left mail undelivered? Absolutely. A motto is not always a prime directive that cannot be broken. It is usually more of a rule of thumb. A way to know if you’re on the right path. Will there be special circumstances? Surely. It is not a problem that the USPS doesn’t always follow this “motto”. Possibly the bigger issue is, do you even have one?

This might seem funny because you are not a corporation or organization. Having a motto, vision or set of principles to live by can be daunting. It would be much easier to “go with the flow.” Or not “put yourself in a box.” Who wants to put limitations, expectations and consternations into their life? The answer is probably you! There’s enough science around about decision fatigue and the overwhelming nature of our world. Perhaps the Post Office guiding idea is exactly what is needed in many of our lives. There doesn’t need to be an exceedingly high bar for your motto. More than anything the idea is to breed consistency. The mail is going to get delivered and despite these obstacles, we’re still going to show up. Each of us has those types of things that we can be consistent about. It does not need to be a prison or a form of indentured servitude. Simply a statement of who you are.

“Persistently Chasing Excellence” was something that I developed years ago. The idea was to follow in the footsteps of the Jeffersonian concept of the “Pursuit of happiness.” Having a motto that lent itself toward forward motion was important. Although I have goals for myself, they are disparate. Depending on the part of my life and present circumstances, they could change vastly. However I could always hang my hat on the fact that I was chasing excellence on a regular basis. Even if I was doing it poorly, I could feel as though I was living into my purpose in some way.

So what is your motto? It doesn’t have to be original or even 100% accurate. Steal it from somewhere! Nike’s “Just Do It” was stolen from the last words of a death row inmate. Try to ignore that thought next time you see a Nike ad! Regardless, it could be a powerful way for you to take yourself to that next level. Consistency is a strong force in the human psyche. If you were a company, what would be your motto? The do your best to live by it.

Have a great day!

Pete