Blogpost, self-reliance

The Teenage Ten (The 10 Movies High School Boys Should Watch and Why)

Movies are a spectacular medium for telling a story and also relating a message.  One of the main reasons that I believe that movies can be so transformative is that they work a lot like memories.  They are not the full story because showing every small detail would be exhausting and detract from the overall point.  Also they tend to be “larger than life” which is what we often do with our memories.  We do not have a completely accurate recollection of the situation, often our emotion about the situation tends to give more color to them.

For these reasons and many others, movies are great teachers.  They give us audience to experiences that we may have never had.  It’s done in safe environment.  We can have peak emotions while taking whatever information is on display and assimilate it as our own.  Below is my list of movies that a high school age boy-man should see in order and what they should extract from them.  They are listed in a tenuous order where the lessons build on top of each other but in the binge watching culture of today, the order may not matter as much.  By the end of this list there may be an accusation that I have a “man crush” on Matt Damon but that crown belongs to Ryan Reynolds!

There are a ton of spoilers in the descriptions of each movie.  So if you want to go in with a clean slate, just refer the list below to start and return to this post for the descriptions and takeaways:

  1. The Martian
  2. The Matrix
  3. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
  4. Rocky
  5. The Breakfast Club
  6. The Wizard of Oz
  7. Dead Poet’s Society
  8. Rounders
  9. Swingers
  10. Good Will Hunting

 

MartianThe Martian (2015) – This movie has probably the most overarching message that young men need to have ingrained.  Each of us has exactly one job on this planet or that planet:  FCO (Figure Crap Out).  Throughout this great story, Matt Damon’s character keeps getting sucker punched by circumstances.  Every time that he comes up with an answer, a new problem arises.  Despite all of issues that he has, his determination to FCO is the key component to his success and the lesson that needs to be carried out of the movie.  I use the acronym FCO because “responsibility” seems stuffy and oppressive but that’s all that I’m talking about.  The ability to respond to a situation coupled with the recognition that it’s on you to do so.  Thumbs are a feature that separates humans from much of the animal kingdom.  Although they help with our ability to grasp things, I believe in the concept of “thumbs before fingers.”  Point at yourself first with the thumb before pointing at anyone else with the finger.

matrixThe Matrix (1999) –  After the Martian, the next step is to recognize that each of us has exactly one possession in this world: the mind.  The body and the mind are definitively linked but “the body cannot live without the mind.”  This movie can be taken to so many places philosophically.  The main one that I would focus on to begin with is that of belief.  While the Martian had a focus on the ability to respond, it takes belief in one’s abilities to engage with situations.  Although uploading information directly to the brain through a computer program has not happened (yet), the picture painted is relatively accurate.  In order to navigate successfully through life, one must acquire skills.  As skills are layered one on top of the other, belief is constructed.  Unlike the Matrix, this takes time and deliberate effort in the real world but it is worth it.  Believing in yourself long enough to make things happen is crucial.

Walter mittThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) – I would absolutely love for all of the philosophical concepts covered in this movie to hit home with the young men who watch it.  Right down to the LIFE motto which has so much to offer.  However if just one thing was to be extracted from this film, the idea of connecting your dream world to the real world would be it.  Humans are special in a variety of ways but our ability to imagine things then make them happen is one of our greatest strengths.  Walter’s life starts out as a collection of day dreams where he escapes his reality.  In the end, he starts engaging with life and has better experiences than most of his daydreams.  All of our actions start in our minds but if they stay there, then they only exist in the hypothetical.  We must transpose our dreams into the real world in order to give them life.

RockyRocky (1976) – You’re going to lose!  This may not seem like a very positive message to take in.  However at times, the odds are going to be so astronomically against you that it may seem like trying isn’t worth it.  People are going to tell you that you’re crazy.  In those circumstances, you need to find a version of success that is in line with who you are and stretch yourself.  There are magical moments throughout this film including the 14th round knockdown.  Probably the most important comes prior to the fight where Rocky admits to himself and the woman that he loves, exactly who he is and what he expects of himself.  Power is not always displayed through a punch.  Often power is ability to be vulnerable and defenseless to the people that matter.  Although most of the movies thus far have focused on going for the prizes that are out there to be won, Rocky is a reminder that winning is not everything.  There are ways to go through life as a “success” without winning every time.  So be prepared to be punched in the face!

wizard of ozThe Wizard of Oz (1939) – Like so many of the movies on this list, there are a variety of takeaways.  Even though the main character is a teenage girl on an adventure to get herself home, I’ll focus on the great and powerful Oz.  This is a man who has created  a reputation of great prestige and power for himself.  In the end, he is only a small man hiding behind a curtain who is trying to project a fearsome alter ego.  Each and every one of us will have to put a version of ourselves out into the world.  Many of the people that you will meet will be exactly like the Wizard of Oz, lots of theatrics to make themselves seem important.  Eventually we realize that the Wizard was valuable because of what he had to offer the travelers, not his big persona.  So as you project yourself into the world decide who you will be.  Also be on the look out for people who are hiding behind the curtain.

BreakfastThe Breakfast Club (1985) – I’d like to believe that the walls of cliques in high schools have broken down slightly since this movie came out.  Unfortunately I don’t know that it’s true.  Even if it is, there are still valuable things to be taken from the film.  Mostly it involves self-reflection and understanding your place within the social strata of your world.  Ideally everyone in your school, town, etc. would get along wonderfully.  Unfortunately that’s not very realistic.  So recognizing how you perceive and are perceived by others is extremely important.  You don’t need to live in the box that others try to put you into but knowing that you’ve been put in the box helps if you want to break out of it.

DeadPoetsDead Poet’s Society (1989) –  Similar to The Breakfast Club, the ideas of conformity and living in a school community are on full display.  Whether it is teachers, parents or peers; there will always be pressures to become what other people want you to be.  There is nothing wrong with people trying to influence you.  Generally it is done with a certain amount of caring for your well being.  However the teenage years are a time for self-discovery.  Figuring out who it is that you want to be.  I’m not calling for all out revolt against the powers that are trying to influence you.  But rather a recognition of the pull of the things that make you feel most alive versus the push of those in positions of power in your life.  In most cases there is a balance to be struck.  The death of Neil toward the end of the film is a cautionary tale about failing to communicate.  The Dead Poet’s Society is all about expressing one’s self honestly.  Try to find your voice.

RoundersRounders (1998) – On a surface level this movie is absolutely about poker but it has several layers underneath that are worth exploring for a young man.  First is the concept of friendships and loyalty.  The movie does a good job of putting loyalty on full display while also warning against blind loyalty to people who may no longer deserve it.  The reason why I truly put this movie on the list is the scene with Mike in the Russian bath house.  He tells Joey Knish about an encounter with Johnny Chan.  “I’m just going to outplay the guy, this hand.”  So many of us get overwhelmed by how big our goals are in this world when it all comes down to this.  Are you going to give it your all in this moment?  Are you willing to bet on yourself?  If you’re not, then who else will?

Swingers.jpgSwingers (1996) – This movie is on the list for a very specific purpose.  As a young man gets into the dating world, there is bound to be rejection either external or internal.  Although you may never hear the word “no” from a girl but there is still rejection because you rejected the idea of asking.  The story that each of us has running inside of our own heads about who we are and what we are capable of is crucial.  After years of being tentative with women in the singles world, Swingers gave me a new insight.  If I approached a girl and she “rejected” me, it had very little to do with me and more to do with her perception of me and the perception I projected.  This is a skill like any other that must be honed and practiced over time.  The “bear” discussion between Mike and Trent in the middle of the movie is the key.  There are ancillary parts about dealing with a breakup but overall this movie got me to believe in all that I had at my disposal to “kill the bunny”.

GoodWillGood Will Hunting (1997) – This is another film that has layers to it.  Although it could be dissected from a variety of angles.  We’ll focus in on the romantic relationship.  Will has put up walls and created masks to protect himself from both past and future pain.  That constant state of protection keeps him from all of the possibility that is banging at his door.  He is so afraid to admit who he is that he creates a fake world that he shows to other people and denies possible opportunities to move on to a better existence.  His relationship with Skylar is tumultuous at best but that is a result of his protection strategy.  The movie Swingers was all about how to get your foot in the door long enough to get someone interested.  Once you are inside, you need to let the other person see who you are.  Teenage relationships are supposed to be like chemistry experiments.  They are supposed to blow up in your face from time to time but you learn and progress based on what you’ve learned.  If you are always in protection mode in order to avoid being hurt, no one will see your imperfections.  That may seem like a great strategy until you actually find someone who you want to let in, you’ll have no practice.  

These are most definitely not the only movies available that could have an impact on a young man’s life.  These are just the ones that I’ve selected at the moment.  I’m sure that each person out there has at least one that could be added with good reason.  So in the comments below, give me your suggestions.  Even I had trouble keeping it to just ten.  Below is my honorable mention.  So with that film in mind as I finish this post up, don’t just be a consumer!  Take these films into your life (RESPONSIBLY of course!)

Enjoy!

Pete

Honorable Mention

VeterinarianFight Club (1999) – This is a film with great possibility but it comes with a lot of distractions for the young teenage mind.  So I put it on the list very tentatively realizing that many will get sidetracked by the sex, violence and mayhem; missing the point completely.  Although Fight Club focuses principally on the underground club that encourages violence and eventually mass destruction, the key component to the entire story is the relationship between the “two” main characters.  The two is in quotations because they are both Tyler Durden.  Tyler is split in two.  Each version brings something to the table but Brad Pitt’s character leads the charge into uncharted territory.  He is everything that the other version of himself is not.  He’s confident and capable!  This is taken to the extreme of course but it is something all of us have within us.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

self-reliance, SoccerLifeBalance, Uncategorized

The Power of a Poor Start

RockyMy soccer career started on a team called the Orange Crushers. I didn’t know what “irony” was at seven years old but our name epitomized it. We crushed nothing and it seemed as though our purpose in the league was for us to be crushed by others. My memories of that season are a complete blur except for one game. In one of our final games of the season, we won and I scored. I was so glad when it happened. The other team from town, Blue Bombers, was filled with friends and classmates and they were undefeated. So that lone victory was important for me because I’d received some ribbing at school.  Perhaps that lone victory kept me hanging on despite the poor start to my soccer career.

As the years went on, there was a slow dance that went on between winning and I. One year my team would be a success. The next we were knocked back down a peg. By the time I reached my senior year in high school, I had figured out who I was as a player. I was one of the kids who wouldn’t quit. That was my first year as a complete “success”. Conference and County Championships were the first two real trophies that any of my teams had ever won. As I thought back to that team, I realized that not one player from the Blue Bombers remained. They had all stopped playing soccer or switched to other sports.

Knowing how to lose and not quit or to persevere through tough times are skills that you acquire from a poor start. These skills are invaluable because no one maintains success forever. Using memories of our failures as stepping-stones is the way we make a staircase toward our success. The examples of poor starts are woven throughout the history of the United States. Lincoln, Ford and Carnegie are three that instantly pop to mind but one of my favorites from the present day is Stallone.

When Sylvester Stallone sold the script of Rocky, the studio wanted to make the film but with someone else playing Rocky. At the time he was completely broke and refused a series of offers from the studio for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He stuck to his guns. He knew how to survive and live with failure but he saw this film as his one ticket to ultimate success. So with very long odds, he bet on himself and won. I used to watch the Rocky films regularly when I was in high school. Later I learned just how much the movies mirror Stallone’s life. In Rocky Balboa, Rocky tells his son that life is about “how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” My guess is Stallone learned this early and never forgot.

A poor start is not something to be embarrassed about. It is something to be embraced. The power of a poor start comes in the fact that you know where you began is not where you’re going to end. The power of a poor start comes from realizing that failure did not put poison inside you, it put fire inside you. The only negative to a poor start is if you quit and make your start, your end.

It’s ok to start poorly, if you finish strong.

Pete

self-reliance

Missing From the Story

MissingStories are an integral part of our society and have been for thousands of years.  Whether the Odyssey, the Bible, Star Wars or Romeo & Juliet, the stories of the present and past have almost all been intended to tell us something.  Not particularly something about the past although many are historical in nature.  More often than not, stories are trying to tell us something about the human condition.  Although a form of entertainment, they can also be instructive.

Characters are not just imaginary people to play make believe for us real humans.  They represent a myriad of possible traits, life courses and mindsets.  Whether Han Solo, Jesus, the Lorax or Hector, each one offers the gift of possibility.  The idea of a life slightly different from our own.  They offer themselves up in front of us on the screen or the page in order for us to judge them and their value.  At that point their power or lack there of is left up to us.

What’s missing from the story is you.  If you only admire the heroism of Han Solo or the kindness of Jesus but never transfer it into your own life, then these characters truly are lifeless.  However, if you’re willing to take up their plight from the page, then they truly do live.  It is not enough for heroism, kindness and love to exist in movies and books because evil and hatred are alive in the real world.  So if you truly love a movie or book, then show it by becoming an actor.  A person who acts in the stead of those imaginary people.  The world is waiting for your story to be told and you’re the only thing that’s missing.

Act today!

Pete

Uncategorized

Story Stacking (A Star Wars ripoff story)

StarWarsThe trilogy is not truly the king of cinema but rather stack-able stories.  There’s no magical power to the number three.  The key component to the greatest movie series is the way that the stories fit together and one movie can be catapulted based on the strengths of its predecessor.  While I’m a huge movie fan and have been since my childhood, there is something that’s missing from the great movies that are being released today.  Kids aren’t stacking them into their own lives.

Han Solo was my guy from about 4 until 10 years old.  In the VHS culture of the day, my brothers and I would watch Star Wars and then play Star Wars for hours afterward.  I was Han Solo for hours on end and it gave me a chance to wear his overconfident skin for a while.  His character was stacked onto my personality for a bit and I’m sure that some of it stuck.  After Han, there was Rocky Balboa.  I never climbed in a ring or drank a cup of raw eggs but I got up at 6 am religiously and ran.  Training for events or just life became part of my stroy.

While I think that the present day movie technology puts the 70s and 80s to shame, the greater shame is that since Iron Man’s mask is so readily available in the store, kids don’t need to wear his skin.  Everything is prepackaged and fabricated to perfection so much that a young person is always separated from their heroes by a layer of plastic that none of the residue rubs off.

The human race has reached its place in the world through the stories that we tell ourselves.  Thousands of years ago it started with a group of cavemen believing that they could collectively beat a saber tooth.  Then a man told himself that steam could move machines.  Now children are being told the most elaborate stories of all time but they are not stacking them like they used to.  The story is a ceiling rather than a staircase.  So if you are young or have contact with young people, stack those stories and attach them to your soul or the soul of someone else.  It’s not just entertainment.  It’s ENTERtrainMENT.  A new world you can enter to train your mental image of yourself.  So if you go out to the movies, be sure to go out afterwards and wear something new.

Enjoy!

pete

Uncategorized

Early Seinfeld

SeinfeldSeinfeld is one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  It has so many memorable episodes and characters.  Despite my love for the series, I’m not a huge fan of the early episodes.  Many of the episodes, I just don’t find funny at all or they feel forced.  This is not surprising in the slightest.  It took those early episodes in order to get to the later ones.  Early failures lead to better episodes later.  A few of the story-lines were even repeated with better effect the second time around.  The early episodes of Seinfeld were not a good indication of where the series was going.

JKRowlingDespite all of the examples of enduring early hardship, there is still a pervasive desire for instantaneous results.  People want to be hit right away, if not sooner.  The perception of overnight success is usually due to the glossing over of the hard work done before the big break.  Sylvester Stallone was a breakout start with Rocky!  After he was a starving actor who had to deny a big pay day in order to star in his own movie.  J.K. Rowling had the blockbuster Harry Potter book series followed by movies.  After she was on welfare and had her book rejected by many publishers.  Most of us are looking for the triumph without the trials.  It seems that it doesn’t usually work that way.

The road to success in anything will most likely be filled with potholes, detours and poorly constructed bridges.  The sports car or limo that you’ve imagined yourself arriving in will probably not make the trip.  In fact you’ll probably have to go most of the way on foot.  Are you willing to make that trip?  Or will you take the easy road to Nowhere Near Where You Want To Be?  It sounds like a town that many people live in while they dream about being someplace else.

Get on the road today!

Pete

Uncategorized

Bock-rottom

bockrottomAbout a year ago, I was having a discussion with a friend and she said she had hit “bock-rottom”.  It was a moment of mental dyslexia.  I really liked the word but wasn’t sure what it should mean.  This morning on my run it became obvious what bock-rottom was.  Rock-bottom is the place lowest point that a person can hit.  “Hitting bock-rottom” is the act of hitting your lowest point, bouncing up and hitting the lowest point again.  It is so disorienting that it mixes up the letters.

Negative circumstances can be so discouraging that they thwart positive action.  Even worse is the discouragement of getting up from poor circumstances only to be knocked down again.  Look at that word again “discourage”.  Break it apart “dis-courage”.  The situation has taken away courage.  The thing is that courage is not created by circumstance, courage is created by people, INSIDE.  It is a choice to be courageous and one that can be made at any time.  Even in the worst of circumstances, courage is possible but are you really at bock-rottom?

If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re not at bock-rottom.  You’re most likely in the “pit of perception”.  You’ve made the hole that you’re in seem deeper inside your head.  Or you have a negative situation but you’re ignoring all of the positives that are working in your favor.  If you’re reading this, you have advantages that you’re probably ignoring because you’re focused on how bad it is.  You can read, you have internet access, you probably live in the US (but a shout out to my friends in India & Brazil), you have a mind that is searching for answers.  These are all advantages that can be used as weapons in the battle with your poor circumstances.  Complaining, whining and sulking are not going to help you.  Depression is not a strategy!  It’s an emotional state.  Just like a hole, you can climb out of it.

So take a moment to see where you are, since most of us are not truly at bock-rottom.  We’re in a bad spot that we need to get out of.  The fight is yours to make.  Is there any value in giving up?  Don’t surrender to circumstances.  Make your circumstances!  Here’s the theatrical version!

Make today a better day!

Pete

 

Uncategorized

Choose Your Near Death Experience

Rocky Feet

This photo was taken on January 18th 2015 at approximately 7:15am.  If you don’t recognize the location, this is the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art affectionately known as the “Rocky Steps”.  The relevance of the time and the date is that it was lightly raining that morning but the temperature dropped suddenly and the steps became extremely slick.  About thirty seconds after I took this photo, I started my descent, slipped and fell on the steps.  My upper back and pelvis both hit the points of two steps.  I lay there on my back for a moment with no air in my lungs trying to decide just how hurt I was.  Thirty seconds after standing on a spot of personal inspiration, I was on my back wondering if I could get up.

After peeling myself off the ground and determining that I was battered but not broken, I slowly worked my way back to my hotel.  As I walked, I thought of how close I could have been to real injury.  The “what if” question ran through my mind several times when finally, my thoughts rested on George Lucas.  His fate was changed by a near fatal car accident.  It changed his entire perspective on his life and what he was doing.   Many people have near death experiences that change their lives forever.

The key to the near death experience is that it reminds us how temporary life is.  We often forget for long stretches of time that in essence we’re dying.  The number of tomorrows that we will get is limited.  So today’s value is enhanced because we got so close to not having a tomorrow.

Rather than waiting for that experience to come, shouldn’t we just choose it instead.  Choosing a life that recognizes how close death could be.  What if your actions of today were what determined whether or not you got a tomorrow?  How would you live?  Would you have any doubts about the things that were priorities?  It all becomes clear when tomorrow isn’t a guarantee.