Blogpost, self-reliance

There Was a Time…

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!

Never forget! You’re stronger than you realize!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Mac and Cheesmo

Machismo is defined as “strong or aggressive masculine pride.” It is not widespread everywhere but seems to be more represented in certain cultures. There is probably a bit of it in most areas in the world. In the US, there are archetypes of what a “man’s man” is. People like Clint Eastwood, John Wayne or Sylvester Stallone have portrayed this idea in movies. While I’m not particularly a fan of the overblown male ego, I’m less impressed by the situation that I’m about to describe. The proliferation of “mac and cheesmo.”

I may fumble the description a bit because I just know it when I see it. Mac and cheesmo is the completely artificial representation of toughness or manliness. It seems to show up when someone knows they are going to fail. So rather than stare their inadequacies in the face, they fake an injury, claim an impediment, act like they never really cared, or blame their circumstances. It’s not so much the denial of the failure that is bothersome but rather the posturing that goes along with it. There are theatrics and hysterics that come along with the failure that are completely unnecessary. No one is out to criticize or belittle the person for failing. Somehow they feel that the charade is necessary to save some face but they are only fooling themselves. We can all see through the act.

I suppose it is appropriate the examples of “manliness” were actors because it’s a profession where your role is bigger than your real persona. Each of those men probably had or has weak spots that gets exposed. In life we are all acting on one level or another. We play the role of ourselves each and every day. The question is whether or not we are playing our true selves or some artificial boxed version. Although I cannot speak for everyone, I know when the fake me is on display. It’s uncomfortable and feels wrong. I don’t like it. The reason that I find mac and cheesmo so offensive is that it feigns strength where weakness would have been ok. I’m sure that I’ve been mac and cheesmo myself but now that I’ve got the term, I’ll try to avoid it more.

Between our food, clothing and other things where artificial has become the norm, my hope is that we don’t need be so artificial. If we are consistently being fake, then eventually we’ll forget what is real. I’d like to believe that there is inherent value to being authentic even when it hurts. Otherwise, no one truly ever knows us or even worse, we never really know ourselves. So please do your best to avoid the mac and cheesmo today. The real version of you may not fit in a box and that’s ok!

Let’s get cookin’!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

CPR on the Past

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.

Move forward!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The Doorman > The CEO in This Place

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.

Entrez-vous!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Be THE One and Only!

In Buttzville, NJ there is a hot dog stand called Hot Dog Johnny’s. For many people it is a Mecca on their food pilgrimage map. Serving customers since 1944, Hot Dog Johnny’s has built a generational reputation. Is it because they have every topping imaginable? No! I think they only have four and chili isn’t one of them. Is it because they have a super comfortable seating area and a stress free play area for the kids? Nope. The inside seating is probably for the 80s or maybe 70s. The outdoor seating is picnic tables. The swings set is also a throwback to simpler times. None of this seems to matter because Hot Dog Johnny’s is THE one and only.

It’s possible that some people think that Johnny’s hot dogs are better than anyone else’s. However my guess is that it has very little to do with taste. The fact of the matter is that people can get a hot dog from a variety of different places but there’s still only one Hot Dog Johnny’s. It is a culmination of a bunch of factors. Taken as individual ingredients, they don’t really amount to much. In fact, a very loud yellow t-shirt design that has not changed in decades would probably seem like a negative to a merchandise specialist. Yet they continue to sell. Not because it fits the fashion of today. It’s because it doesn’t. The lack of change is a link between past and present generations. Following trends and responding to market research is a road to being average. There are places to go for the average restaurant experience. Hot Dog Johnny’s just isn’t that place because it is the one and only.

Each of us has that same opportunity! The ability to stand out in a way that is uniquely our own. Many people shy away from that calling. It’s easier to blend in with the crowd, be invisible among the masses. While it may save you from possible ridicule or raised eyebrows, it also protects you from being remarkable. The people, places and things that catch our attention are anything but average. Those generational juggernauts do not stand the test of time because they followed the herd but rather went against the grain. Copying and pasting is so easy these days that it may seem like a viable strategy for life. Unfortunately that course of action leads to the pool of mediocrity where everyone seems to hang out. You don’t need to have a bright yellow t-shirt to stand out but you do need to be THE ONE AND ONLY YOU!

BYBS! (Bring Your Best Self)

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The Argument That You Will Always Lose

I grew up in an era when spanking your child was not only ok, it was basically the norm. This is not a post to aggrandize or demonize the practice. It just was how things were. So this story comes with 0.000 moral judgment. The last spanking that I ever received was when I was around 8-10 years old. To be honest, I don’t even remember what it was for. However, I do remember the experience because of my own absolutely stupid strategy of how I dealt with it. I took the first swat on my rear end and said “That didn’t hurt.” The second one came and again I repeated, “That didn’t hurt.” About five times in as the impact on my butt was getting harder, it sunk in. This was a stupid strategy. I was increasing my own pain for absolutely no reason.

It’s an odd phenomena but I actually run into people who suffer from a similar poor strategy quite often. This is mainly due to my position in life as a teacher and coach. However I run into adults with the same exact issue. Arguing for our limitations is a dangerous game to play that only ends up hurting us. Although I’m pointing it out and want to help people stop it, I’m also guilty of it as well. Most of the time, we’re completely oblivious to it. Words like “can’t” show up in our speech without much thought. We hope that situations change and so that we won’t really have to. Our vision is clouded by who we’ve always been, who our parents are, where we come from and a variety of other factors that are a barrier between us and something we want. Unfortunately the bricks in that wall have usually been laid or at least approved by the same person who is complaining about the wall.

Sure! People have advantages and there are always obstacles that need to be moved past. Don’t put yourself onto that list of obstacles. Your beliefs about what you are capable of doing can be a springboard to take you to higher heights or an anchor that drags you to deeper depths. At the moment, I’m not asking for you to believe that the big thing is destined to happen. For now, I just want you to believe that it is “possible”. If you start there and put out the effort, it might become “probable”. Be careful though, if you believe enough and take major action, it might just become “inevitable”. That’s really scary though! Because if you tried and failed, then you’d really know what you’re capable of doing. It might be far beyond what you’re doing now but believing that you can’t is much easier.

You have limits but acting like you know them is far different than running into them!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Some Things I Wish That I Knew In High School

High school is difficult time of life for so many people. It is a collision of so many variables that can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and a host of other issues. Below are some things that I wish that I knew while I was in high school. Unfortunately my feeling is that even if I were told these things in high school, I wouldn’t have believed them. That is the curse of Cassandra which I learned about in high school.

Senior High School Photo
  • The popular kids are struggling too! I’m sure that I would have called BS on this one had I been told it. Everyone has challenges. It always seems easier from the outside. Even the pressure to maintain their status can be a burden. Even as adults, we tend to look at people who have something that we want and think “it must be nice.” It might be but it probably comes with a price tag that you might not want to pay.
  • People only know a percentage of who you are. The movie “Swingers” was life altering and unfortunately hadn’t been released when I was in high school. We’re always projecting a version of ourselves. People are reacting to that version, not all of who you are. Even your parents, who have been there since the beginning, don’t know all of you. Different forms of rejection become easier to cope with after this realization because it’s not fully about you. The problem with hearing this information in high school is that most of us are still figuring out who we are. So this knowledge could lead to a lot of “crowd pleasing” behavior.
  • You don’t really have a permanent record. Detention in middle school or other transgressions were supposed to go on your “permanent record.” This is something that I feared and it didn’t exist. Lots of fear based tools are used on kids. Possibly with good intent but eventually the house of cards falls down. Today, the internet has more information on us than ever before but there still isn’t a single document with everything that you’ve ever done like at the TVA (Loki plug). Possibly a more accurate description of the situation would be: each of us takes a variety of actions everyday. The habitual actions that we take consistently are going to take us in a direction. Parents, teachers and others are there to help in the beginning but at a certain point, you’re on your own. Develop habits that will help you.
  • People are usually focused on themselves. There is no way that I would have bought this. It felt like there was a spotlight on every mistake that I made and everyone knew about it. Mostly people were too busy with their own stuff. The people who were making fun or talking behind your back or bullying you were mainly doing it to make themselves feel better. It’s a horrible strategy and only has short term results. Usually they feel as bad about themselves as they made you feel. Their strategy was to attack rather than defend who they are. You are “collateral damage”. That really sucks and people should not have to endure someone else’s insecurities but more than likely surviving that made you stronger in the long run than the bully.

I’m sure that there are more that I’ll come up with later. Perhaps I’ll add them or maybe not. We’re all a work in progress and more information is rarely the key. It’s acting on what we know. So as you go through your day, do the best that you can with what you know at the moment. Future you has plenty of information that they can’t tell you. You only get one chance at this moment, do your best!

School’s out for summer!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Haggling: An Underdeveloped American Skill

During my trip to Ecuador in college, I had the opportunity to visit Otavalo Market. It’s a relatively famous market where the indigenous people of the region come to sell their wares. Many of my experiences in Ecuador were memorable and this was just one of them. Early on during our time in Otavalo, I saw a blanket that I wanted to buy. My friend asked me, how much I was willing to spend on it? I said around 60,000 sucre ($1=1,700 sucre). When I inquired about the price, the woman said “Sesenta mil” which was exactly what I wanted to spend. I commented back that it was very expensive. She instantly dropped the price to 45,000 sucre. After delaying for a moment, I thanked her and walked away. I knew that I would be back but I didn’t want to carry the blanket for the next few hours and walking away was bound to drop the price some more. After eating lunch and walking around a bit more, I returned to the woman’s stand again. She remembered me and offered the blanket for 40,000 sucre. In the end I bought the blanket for 36,000 sucre (just over $20 compared to the $35 that I had originally had in mind).

None of these are the actual blanket. This photo was taken in Salasacas. I’ll post a photo of the real blanket at some point.

The skill of haggling is not one that is largely applicable in modern American culture. Prices in stores are usually fixed and people wait for a sale to get that reduced price. I learned how to haggle at flea markets when I was a kid. It’s not an overly complex skill. Mainly it is a balancing act between the seller and the buyer assessing each other and the value exchange. It’s completely possible that the woman in Otavalo was happy to get the 36,000. The 60,000 was an ideal number that she would love to get but didn’t hold out much hope for it. I’m sure that there was a number that she would not have gone below but we never got there. Haggling on either side of the equation takes a bit of self-knowledge. Understanding your minimums and maximums while gauging the other person and the value exchange. This is why I believe that it is a valuable to skill to at least encounter, if not develop.

In a fixed price world, the customer can often feel powerless. Their options are binary: buy or don’t buy. The world of haggling represents a much more accurate picture of two important aspects of life: exchange and relationship. We have become far too comfortable with the idea that other people determine the value of most things. The self-agency that haggling requires is not the “end all be all” of human existence but it gives practice to that thought process. Recognizing that each of us has value to offer and that walking away is sometimes the right move are both lessons that haggling teaches. The reason that I’ve continued to use haggle rather than negotiate is that same idea of personal separation. Negotiating is done in board rooms, at conference tables and in skyscrapers. Haggling is done at flea markets by 10 year old kids. It’s accessible to anyone regardless of education, standing in the community or lineage.

At this point, I’ve gone an awfully long way to “sell” you on an idea. The next step is for you to determine your own value and the value of others. As a buyer and a seller, you need to decide your worth. Don’t let people devalue who you are. This is not particularly a monetary thing. It goes for any exchange that you might have with someone. Do each of you value the exchange at the same level? If not, perhaps it is time to walk away. You have something to offer. Don’t devalue yourself because of past transactions. The past does not equal the future. Get what you’re worth and don’t overspend your attention, emotion or money on the meaningless and frivolous (even if everyone is buying them). Develop your haggle muscle because the price you pay in most things is really up to you.

Going once, twice, SOLD!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

IKEA Is No Longer the Idea

There was a point in my life where I owned a decent amount of furniture from IKEA. It just made so much sense at the time. Every piece was cheap, easy to put together and impermanent. I didn’t love my IKEA furniture. It was functional and I’m glad that it was there for that time of my life. At this point, all of those items have been left behind or discarded. They fulfilled their purpose and now I’ve moved on.

So many parts of our lives have begun looking like IKEA furniture. Either we have opted for them because of their simplicity or their disposability. While these are qualities that may be attractive in some areas, the IKEA mindset seems to have crept into places where it probably shouldn’t be. Areas like education, fitness, relationships and mental health often fall prey to this (lack of) thought process. Short term solutions are implemented while long term consequences are ignored or at best given lip-service. Divorce is the norm of marriages. Education is not about learning but about grades. Fitness is not about being healthy and feeling good, it’s arbitrary metrics like steps. Mental health is not about having control of a strong mind, it’s about existing in a safe space and removing obstacles.

These are oversimplifications of course. However they bring into focus the fact that we might be valuing the wrong things. IKEA is great for an answer to a certain type of furniture problem. Just like these answers to life’s problems work in specific circumstances. Unfortunately herd mentality and general malaise have brought us to the point where they are almost ubiquitous.

So if you’re in the market for solutions, the convenient answer may not be the one that will yield the best results. Shop around a bit! Consider the problem that you’re trying to solve and your unique circumstances. It will surely take more time and effort than the simple solution but it may yield better results.

Shop around!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance, SoccerLifeBalance

The Formation of Your Life

Formations in soccer are popular solution to game time problems. Often one formation or another is viewed as a cure-all but in reality, they are mainly aimed at defining responsibility. Soccer is such a fluid game that very rarely after the first whistle will the alignment of players look like a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. The positions morph to respond to the moment. It is completely possible in a moment of crisis that all eleven players could be called upon to defend in their own box. We don’t call that a 1-10 because generally those players responding to the crisis have a role that is at least partially defined by their position in the formation. If you never told a striker that they were playing that position, it’s conceivable that they spend all of their time defending in their own box.

One of the many jobs that a coach has is to align the team in a fashion that will lead to success. Perhaps that will mean crawling into a defensive shell, initiating an all out attack or finding a balance. Each of us must do the same thing within our own lives. Decide on a strategy that moves us toward our goals and protects against conceding our self-esteem. And the people that surround us are also part of that equation. Some are on our team while others are opponents to our cause. Putting the right people into positions that will help move you forward and protect you as well is important. Obviously I can’t do this for you but the suggestions below may help you begin to decide if people are in the right positions or not.

Your goalkeeper: This should be someone who will defend you with everything that they have. Depending on your station in life, this may be your parents or spouse. I wouldn’t normally put a best friend in this position. The reason why is that you don’t usually want your last line of defense to also be constantly helping to move you forward as well. However this is your team. You may do as you see fit.

Your backs: Similar to the goalkeeper, these people are interested mostly in your protection. The difference is that they are also part of your progress forward. Family, friends and possibly selected colleagues who truly have your back. There’s no perfect number to delineate their responsibility but 75% defense and 25% attack would be reasonable. So these people are invested in your protection more than your progress forward, REMEMBER THIS!!! It becomes important later.

Your midfield: These are people who are half protection and half defense. Again, friends and family are the most likely to make up this group. However there are plenty of sections to your life that may produce people to help in this area. Work colleagues may be helping to push you forward, possibly even a boss who sees potential in you. Personally in the past, significant others were almost always a catalyst for improvement, either personally or professionally.

Your forwards: This is the group that is most likely to help you to achieve (score) your goals. This may be the most diverse group. It is possible that you don’t even need to know these people. Inspiration to get you close to your goals can come from anywhere: books, podcasts, videos, speaking events. However the people that we’ve mentioned before could also play this role. It all comes down to who it is best equipped to help you in this area.

Your formation: Depending on where you are in your life, you may be playing defensive or offensive. It may also be a different strategy depending on the portion of your life that you’re considering. Regardless, it’s worth considering the roles of each person. Some people may need to be put on the bench. Others may need to become more important players. Remember that your team isn’t the only one that is playing. You can have direct or indirect opponents. Some will show up in places that you wouldn’t expect.

Opponents: These are the people who are looking to take shots at your self-esteem or just thwart you from achieving your goals. They might be “enemies” but more often than not they are people that you probably thought of as we worked through your teammate list. Remember the people who were 75% protection. Although they have your best interest in mind, they may be trying to protect you from going beyond their comfort zone and not yours. It’s worth considering the fact that the line between teammate and opponent could get pretty blurry at times. The most difficult opponent to get past is usually yourself. You know your fears and weaknesses. So it easy for you to stand in your own way at times.

As the coach of your life, it is up to you to get the right people in the right positions on your team. It’s also your job to read the opponent and change the game plan to get around them. None of this is easy! Especially when we’re not talking about getting a ball into a net but rather our lives. Regardless of whether it is easy or not, it’s necessary. Surrounding yourself with the right people and having them serve the right roles in your life is important. Only you can make those decisions though. Find your formation but don’t fall in love with it. It needs to be adjusted when necessary.

Go team!

Pete