If you’ve never experienced it, the comedy special by Mike Birbiglia “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” is on Netflix. It’s one of my favorite things to watch when I’m bored and want something on in the background. It recounts several instances within Mike’s romantic past and weaves them together in an artful way. It’s idiotic and sentimental and truthful and funny! Just like relationships themselves.
I’ve never been confronted directly with my girlfriend’s boyfriend like Mike but anyone who has ever been in a relationship (romantic or otherwise) knows that they run the gambit. Almost nothing is a surprise anymore and no one is ever 100% right. Instead we have craziness that cannot be predicted, even with people that we’d consider rational. So what do we do in the face of that uncertainty? Be certain about who we’re going to be.
The seas can be rough and toss us about but the compass still points north. It’s our choice whether or not we adjust our sails to head in the direction we set originally or let the winds dictate. We’re never helpless! Sometimes we’re overwhelmed, unsure, anxious and doubtful but never helpless. If confronted with your girlfriend’s boyfriend, there’s many ways to shed that problem. It doesn’t require that you “abandon the ship” of you. It’s a change of course, nothing more!
In a few months a version of you will exist, November You! Although that person only exists in the future for the moment, several of their characteristics and backstory are based completely on what you’re doing right now. The accumulation of habits and daily actions will contribute largely to who that person is. They are not set in stone. So much of who they will be is a variable based on the present you.
So recognize that all you get is this moment. If you string enough good moments together that keep that future in mind, your November self will probably be thankful. If you indulge too much in the moment and put off worrying about your November self until November, there will most likely be a disappointed you that shows up.
I really like my musical taste! A variety of obscure bands that few people have heard of, mixed with some classic powerhouses. Overall it’s strange enough to avoid being ordinary but at the same time, accessible enough be understood by most people. Every once in a while, a song comes along that’s a “guilty pleasure”. Something that I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I like. One of the more recent examples is “Butter” by the K-Pop band BTS. It’s catchy and popular and I hate that I like it but I do.
We can feel guilty about things that we like for a variety of reasons. There’s no hard and fast rule about what makes something a guilty pleasure. However, the idea is pretty standard. We like something but feel badly about it for some reason. Shouldn’t pleasure just be pleasure? Why do we need to feel bad? In my case for sure, It comes down to other people. It’s the perception of you that is diminished based on what you’ve done. Being raised catholic, guilt comes with the territory. However, it’s worth considering an alternative. What if you just owned it? What if you accepted that you like what you like and other people be damned? How could your life be different?
In the most basic sense it would be freeing! Usually it is not actual judgment that causes this situation. It is perceived! We believe that other’s will judge us and therefore we judge ourselves which is the easiest game in town. All of the best stuff in life lives on the other side of fear! Therefore we have the opportunity of building a habit of breaking through our fear of judgement by admitting to ourselves and others, who we actually are.
The problem with most of the knowledge that people need is that it’s so simple, it’s easy to discount. Although there is a definite effort to confuse arguments from a variety of forces, the answers are all pretty simple. Health is dependent upon diet and exercise. In the moment, the choice between the apple and the candy bar isn’t difficult on an informational level. It’s difficult on an emotional level. The candy bar promises feelings that the apple doesn’t. For each individual the draw could be for different reasons and varied intensities. Regardless, the candy bar exists in this world because it is a ticket to “cheap feelings”. A momentary hit of a pleasurable chemical inside of the brain. Unfortunately, these cheap feelings tend to come with a high cost.
The allure of cheap feelings is that they come RIGHT NOW! They feed into our desire for instant gratification. AND the high costs that come along with them are deferred payments. The hangover from the alcohol doesn’t come until tomorrow. Extra weight doesn’t show up for a few weeks or months. The realization that your dreams have passed you by through procrastination may not come for years. Regardless of the particular cheap feelings that you indulge in, they all have a price to be paid later.
The beautiful thing about the human mind is that it can be trained. It is an obedient “animal” if its master is attentive. Since the decisions are not difficult on an informational level, we simply need to train the emotion out of the decision or more accurate attach new emotions to the right decision. We know what to do! We just need to do it consistently enough that our brain buys into the training. Every single dog in the world wants to chase after the squirrel! Some don’t because they’ve been trained not to. PLEASE don’t get offended by my comparing your mind to an obedient dog. That’s a cheap feeling too! It’s easier to get mad at me for the perceived slight than look in the mirror long enough to say “I can do better in __________ area.”
Training takes time, effort and attention. Give all three to a component of your life that you’ve been paying the high cost of cheap feelings. Eventually they’ll be replaced with feelings that are more pervasive and positive. Rather than the momentary rush of excitement with the candy bar, you get the overarching feeling of well-being, health or pride. These types of feeling require daily payments for long durations but eventually they spit out dividends that far exceed the amount put in.
My grandparents met on a blind date. I’m not even sure if that is possible anymore since we are so interconnected. The idea that a person would be willing to walk into a date with no frame of reference in today’s world seems almost laughable. Despite what they may say, people usually don’t like surprises. They like surprises that they want. The true unknown is a completely different story. In our next day delivery, free returns, 5 star customer review culture, it’s hard to imagine that anyone would accept the “fully blind date.” However, it also seems that people like to believe that they know more than they do. No matter how well you know someone. It’s still a partially blind or vision impaired date.
All of our perceptions of people and situations are filtered through our own experience. So no matter how “objective” we think that we are being, we cannot fully let go of our biases and predispositions. Being judgmental and superficial is not new but those muscles have been put on steroids through major media and social media. We are not blinded by a lack of visible content. We are partially blinded by too much of a variety of cues, shortcuts and presuppositions. It’s so much easier than getting to know someone, over time. Assuming that we know a person based on their political beliefs, clothing preferences or social groups is a comfortable shorthand that we employ with new people. Our old friends and loved ones got the benefit of the doubt years ago. Now, we just don’t have time!
Perhaps we’re actually missing out on something. Maybe my grandparents were more fortunate than we realize. If I can avoid it, I’d like to find out who you are without mixing it up too much with who I think you are. By seeing people with “blind eyes”, maybe we would be able to let go of some of the frustration, anxiety and judgment that is so pervasive at the moment. We bring it to the table with us. Perhaps we could leave it behind. We’ve all got blindspots about our relationships with people. Even the person that you know best (you), you don’t know 100%. Recognizing that we’re at least partially blind might be a good step toward seeing the world a little better.
Over the weekend, I got the opportunity to go see Top Gun: Maverick. There are no true spoilers below other than the path is similar. That shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone who has seen a movie, read a book or heard an epic story. We’ve been telling the same story for centuries but just changed the names of the characters. Joseph Campbell’s works on the subject are the blueprint. We seem to love going down the “same path” with familiar friends.
The “Hero’s Journey” is one that we identify with worldwide because we’d like to put ourselves into the story. We exist from one perspective and we cannot escape that. However, hearing or seeing tales of idealized figures for us to emulate in some basic way allows us to become a bigger version of ourselves. We can see the possibility in the space between where we are and where we’d like to be. The hero’s journey is enticing because it is both predictable and exciting at once. We know that in the end everything is going to work out fine. However, the path is fraught with danger and losing people along the way is possible. It’s not a clear path, just a recognizable one.
So tomorrow, you’ll be called to action in some way. That’s how the hero’s journey always begins. Perhaps it is something small but we all get to choose whether we’ll answer the calls that come our way. We’re probably not saving the world or even a cat but we are still the protagonist in the only story that matters: our story. So no matter how identifiable your path is, find a way to get excited about the possibility that lies within it. Only you get to make that choice. We’ve been telling the same stories for generations. Now it’s your turn to write yours with your actions!
While visiting my brothers in Maryland, I did my swimming at totally different YMCA. The ceiling was so much higher than my normal location. It made the pool seem like it was shorter in distance. As if it were less than the standard 25 meters that I was used to. My times were also a bit faster which added to the confusion. In the end, I confirmed that it was my perception and not the pool that was different. The ceiling was just higher!
It’s an odd thing! Our perception can be thrown by so many things. We’d like to believe that the variables are outside of us. Unfortunately we are a variable! Our senses are nowhere near as accurate as we’d like to believe! However there is something to be learned from my swimming experience. A higher ceiling makes the distance that needs to be traveled seen shorter. It doesn’t decrease it. It only makes it seem shorter. So perhaps the lesson is that we should have higher ceilings for ourselves in order to make the work seem shorter by comparison. When our goals are close by, the component pieces to get there feel big. Grander goals actually gives us the space to feel less oppressed.
Shoot for the stars! Why the hell not? The inspiration and perspective that comes along with it will be well worth it! The practicality of most of our dreams deadens our sense of adventure and excitement. We thrive on the idea that we’re doing something BIG! Practicality isn’t our friend. It’s a low ceiling that makes everything seem close and oppressive.
This phrase has so many connotations to it! The most powerful for me is the link to the original Rocky movie and his desire simply to withstand the onslaught of a superior opponent. Later in my life, it co-opted for a moronic song (in my opinion) by a band called Cake. I hate that I even mentioned it because it is bound to stick in my head for a while. Lately this has been a way of life. As I am preparing for my second sprint triathlon, my daily practice is quite simply to “go the distance” that I have set in front of myself. Whether it is 1000 meters in the pool or 5 miles worth of running, there is a distance to be covered and I must do it!
None of this sounds overly inspirational or grandiose. And the truth is that on the one hand it’s not! Hours in the pool, on the bike or on the run are spent largely alone with your own thoughts. Many pictures, ideas and questions pass through your mind and one of the major ones is: why am I doing this? I am not a professional athlete and my performance is bound to be largely mediocre when compared with the other people on the day of the race. So why bother? Because we don’t have to anymore!
There used to be a necessity to running long distances in order to track down an animal for the family or tribe. We no longer have to do that. So we need to put distances in front of ourselves. Some of these are metaphorical and others are literal but we need them. Our very existence cries out for us to put forth effort toward something of value. At one point, it was the hunt in order to feed ourselves and others. Now we have a much less concrete job of feeding our souls with a purpose that we must create. We must create meaning behind the distances that we cover. On the other side of those meters, kilometers and miles are hope, fulfillment, passion, love and excitement. No one else can put it there for us. We must create it, fashion it and sustain it because the truth is that we don’t have to.
Going back to the beginning, that is why the story of Rocky is so glorious. He didn’t have to go the distance. There was nothing extra for him in the way of money or accolades. He merely put it in front of himself in order to prove it to himself. “I’m going to know for the first time in my life that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.” We all have a distance that we need to go. Just be sure that you’re challenging yourself. That is when things get inspirational and grandiose. If we are challenging the self that we thought that we were. Taking on the challenge of going far enough, long enough that we come out on the other side as a new person. A better version of us that is more prepared than before.
It’s easy to get caught up in how things are “supposed to be”! A speed boat is supposed to go fast, induce a rush of adrenaline and glide across the water with ease. That’s what a speedboat is supposed to do. BUT what about when it doesn’t? What happens when there is an engine malfunction or an electrical problem? The anticipation of how things are supposed to be are not connected to how they are! It’s possible that when things break down, that oars might be necessary on your speedboat.
None of us prays for hard times or difficulties. We do not want to be stranded, troubled or defeated. The reality of life is that from time to time, it’s going to happen to each of us. Those circumstances do not say anything about us as people. Falling on hard times does not make anyone a bad person. The reaction to those hard times is more important. Becoming seduced by a preconception of a status quo of ease and comfort is not likely to produce the fortitude necessary for hard times.
So OARS! Your speedboat may need them from time to time because muscles and work may have to get you “unstuck” from a situation. It may not be the picture of perfection but perhaps that forward rowing motion will get the engine started again. A speedboat may be designed for fast but that will always be a relative term. Slow is infinitely faster than standing still!
My grandmother worked at a roller rink for my entire childhood. Despite that fact, I didn’t get “good” at roller skating until there was a rink in my hometown. For a few months, at most a year, it was the place for every teenager to hang out on a Friday night. I definitely got slapped across the face for skating “too close” to a girl by my then girlfriend but I digress! Putting wheels on our feet is a recipe for disaster in so many ways but it’s similar to the way we travel through the world.
Most of us are off balance and uncomfortable but trying our best to look cool and not fall flat on our faces. Some people really have it all figured out but they often get ridiculed for trying too hard or being odd. There’s probably a portion of each of us that’s jealous of those roller maestros but getting really good would probably require a ton of experimentation and painful falls. In the end, it’s easier to stay safe and average rather than get really good at something that could prove to be a fad or get us ridiculed. Why chance it, right?
The truth is that most of the people that you’re worried about judging you for falling on your face are just as scared and will be gone in a moment. The people who came with you will help you get up if they can. If they’re off balance too maybe it’s best that they focus on themselves. You’re more than capable of getting back in your feet by yourself! All you have is an unpredictable number of songs to get in your number of laps around the floor. The disco ball is spinning and this is your chance to shine. It will surely hurt when you fall but it will probably hurt worse at the end of the night if you just played it safe!