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

I’m On the Outside

To fully understand the situation, it may take you an extra five minutes to watch the video that is linked here. That is the video from the 1990s for a song called “Outside” performed by Aaron Lewis from the band Staind and Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit. It doesn’t really matter whether you’ve heard of either of them or the song. The story behind the song and how it relates to the rest of us is really what matters.

The performance of that song was recorded during the “Family Values” tour in 1999. The relevance of the performance is that it was the first time the song was performed anywhere. Quite literally, Aaron Lewis was making up the lyrics as he went along. At the time, Limp Bizkit and Fred Durst were the big name headliner of the tour and Staind were the opening act. Lewis asked Durst to come on stage during their set and perform as a backing vocalist. Fred agreed but didn’t like the original song selection. He wanted to sing the backing vocals on “Outside” which Lewis had been workshopping months before but never finished. He had the first verse and the chorus. With the pressure of a live audience and a “star” performing with him, he was able to produce a song that still strikes a chord twenty years later.

This is the story of all of us. The stakes may be different and we may not be on a real stage but it is how we exist. We are making it up as we go along. Some of it we have prepared but much of the performance is ad libbed in the moment. The audience size is different every time and sometimes we’re a solo act. Regardless, this is the gig of being a human being. Producing something in the moment. Despite our desire to be consumers, we are actually producers!

Although I love the idea behind the performance, the song is worth noting as well. The reason that I still listen to it from time to time is the universality of many of the lyrics. “Inside you’re ugly, ugly like me.” I haven’t met a person yet who is not self-critical on some level. We spend so much time with ourselves and know our deepest and darkest secrets, it’s easy to get fixated on our imperfections. “I feel all this pain, stuffed it down, it’s back again.” Perhaps this one is just me but the demons never go away! I get far better at fighting them off and taking away their ammunition. However they are still there waiting to attack in my moments of weakness. They’re there because they are part of me. I’m both on the outside and the inside. The enemy and the ally at the same time.

It’s easy to feel as though you are the only one who is struggling in the moment. Perhaps you’re playing in front of a big crowd with huge stakes with no back up. I hope that it helps you to know that you’re not the only one who is fumbling for the right chords in the moment. We all are! Anyone who isn’t, must be in the audience and they are more afraid than you are. They’re afraid of criticism. That someone will see through them. You’ve gotten beyond that. “It’s not the critic who counts…” Hopefully your performance will blow up in the best possible way like it did for Aaron Lewis. Regardless of whether it does or not, you still have tomorrow to get back on stage and give it another go!

You rock!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny and Talent

Children around the world are taught to believe in some things that just don’t exist. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are two western world creations that give excitement and anticipation to children around their respective holidays. Eventually these particular mythical creatures are revealed for what they are: cultural fantasy. I’m not sure that they do any pervasive psychological harm because the fantasy is replaced by a functional reality that young people can understand. The same cannot be said for the cultural ghost of “talent.” I’m sure that my argument is going to get someone’s knickers in a twist. So let me be as specific as I possibly can be. I am referring to the seemingly “god given” ability that comes without effort, training or intention. The ability that comes from nowhere.

Unlike Santa Claus and the Eastern Bunny, this myth is extremely dangerous and erodes the possibility of personal achievement in so many lives. It breaks the confidence of young people and older people alike. People are left feeling like a child on Christmas with nothing under the tree but they don’t seem to ever realize that they’re waiting for something to appear that really doesn’t exist. The way that people generally think of talent has set them up for disappointment. Sure there are people that are born with some slight advantages such as height, intelligence or kinesthetic awareness. However these advantages are the beginning of a path, not the end of the road. Someone who is dedicated can catch up to those with a head start. It happens all of the time. The stories of people like Michael Jordan are told often in order to dispel the myth of talent. However the truth isn’t what most people are looking for. They are actually looking for an excuse.

Talent is the perfect alibi for low achievement. The lack of it can be used to explain away the poor results that were unwanted. People want to receive positive results but often are unwilling to put forth the time and effort required to get them. It’s so much easier to point the finger at the people who are getting better results and brand them as having “talent.” Then their conscience is free because God, Allah, Buddha, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy or some other deity did not bestow upon them the magical power necessary to become something special. It’s a lie and it needs to be called out.

Unfortunately we don’t put “talent” into shopping malls every year in a costume where everyone older than ten years old can see the farce. We perpetuate the lie because most of us want to be protected by it in some way. However we have to realize that it is not protecting us from anything more than all that we could be. So let go of the myth! Your lack of talent can be overcome with grit, determination and consistency. When you eventually become so good at something that people call you talented, you’ll know the truth. It will then be up to you to tell them or let them believe in fairy tales. Either way, you’ll be free!

Merry F#$@ing Christmas!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance, SoccerLifeBalance

No Substitutes!

In the present footballing world, a longstanding tradition has been suspended due to COVID-19 concerns. Teams have been allowed to have five substitutes within a match rather than three. This has opened up the possibility for a manager to change almost have the team. For a squad that is deep in talent, this is a lifesaver because a compressed schedule has led to tired legs. Energy and desire can be thrust into the match in order to turn the tide of a game at that is going wrong. I’m sure that many traditionalists have hated this development while others see it as a great addition to a strange season. As I frequently do, I started to think about the overlap of this aspect of the game with life. And in life, there are NO SUBSTITUTES!

It’s harsh isn’t it? Especially at times like these where it might be nice to have someone else step into your life for a day or a week. All of your responsibilities and obligations taken care of by another person while you lounge on the bench, recouping your strength to give it a go in the future. This is not a call for cloning or AI to take our places (this already scares the bejeezus out of me). Just a thought exercise to bring to light the fact that no one gets to take time off from being themselves. It is your position on the field. A role that only you can fill. No doubt that you can surround yourself with teammates who will pick up the slack when you feel tired but there are NO SUBSTITUTES!

In some ways this could be daunting. A lifetime of one position without anyone to take it over when you get tired. However it is also a beautiful thought. No one gets to replace you. Even if you’re an identical twin, your sibling is not you and can never be. So now that you have this position on the field and no one can take it away from you, what are you going to do with it?

Many people lament their role. They see other players of the game with more of this or more of that. Inside their head, they think “I’ve gotten a raw deal.” It’s common but it doesn’t make much sense. The complaint doesn’t progress anything forward, especially the complainer. So it is energy wasted in hope that they might get to substitute someone else. As we know now, that’s just not happening.

So the only sensible action as far as I can see is to play. That’s right! Even if you’re in your 90s or older, play that starting position that you’ve been give with everything that you’ve got. No one can replace you and that’s a great thing! When you’re eventually taken off the field, be sure that your teammates miss you. Give them performances to remember, that inspire them to be a better version of themselves. They can never replace you but they can follow your lead. Sure you’re bound to get tired, bumped and bruised but there’s pride to be found in continuing on.

Regardless of how you decide to play the game, remember that there is NO SUBSTITUTE for you! The world is full of obstacles, difficulties and challenges and we need YOU. Put your hand in because it’s another opportunity for you to play your part.

1, 2, 3, Go get ’em!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Two for the Price of One: UROK

My uncle served in the military. Our last name is Huryk (pronounced Yer-Ick). Due to the unusual spelling of our name, there were always mispronunciations. At one point, the best mispronunciation ever emerged: UROK. It stuck within his group of military friends and as a young kid, my brothers and I used it as well. This was the best moniker that could have been created at the time. I idolized my uncle and it just sounded cool! For a while, the name got forgotten because my uncle was no longer in the military and we didn’t see him as much either. My intent is to resurrect the word but not for my own purposes. It has more possibility in the hands of others. With the widespread use of “text speech”, the cool version of my last name has a dual meaning.

If each letter is said individually, then it reads “You are okay.” This is a most important message in our present circumstances and HELL, we’ve got a lot of circumstances at the moment. Since I principally work with young people, that’s where my mind goes automatically. Unfortunately a lot of the underlying message of what kids perceive now is the opposite of this message. They are bombarded by images and videos of other people and comparing themselves incessantly. It’s a losing battle but one that they feel like they are trapped within. My hope would be that each and every person has someone in their life that is regularly telling them “You are okay.” Each person has inherent value that cannot be determined by the number of likes or follows that they get. Despite all of the turmoil in the world, if you are reading this, there is a pretty good chance that “You are okay.” There may be a lot on your plate and it could be overwhelming at times but if you’re reading this blog, you’re not in immediate peril. The problems that you have can most likely be worked out.

The other version of the name brings it back to how we used to say it in my childhood: “You Rock!” In the era of hair metal bands, this was a compliment and I still mean it as one. This might take a little longer depending on how much or little that one person believes that “You are okay.” That has to come first. But once you believe that you are okay, it serves as a foundation. Eventually it is possible to construct self-confidence, self-esteem and self-reliance on top of that very basic belief. However most of us, regardless of whether we believe it or not have someone that would say, “You rock!” Because in some special area basically everyone does. This doesn’t mean that you have to be the best in the world at something. It merely means that you pour yourself into a part of your life that makes you unique. Unfortunately many people are so caught up in the noise of the world around them that they have trouble hearing their own song. Nothing could be sadder! Each of us is special in our own way but if we let the world turn up its volume too loud inside of our own heads, it makes it impossible to play our own tune.

So here is your homework. Yes, I said homework!

If you feel that you are more in the “You are okay” headspace, then take a few minutes each day for the next week and write down 3 good things in your life. By the end of the week, you should have over 21 (no repeats) things. Before writing the next 3, take time to read the others.

If you are more of a “You rock” person, then put your talent on display in the best way that you can think of. If you’re a great dad, then double down on all of the things that you do to be great at that job this week. Act like it is your concert at Wembley Stadium and everyone is watching at you rock at being a dad. Or perhaps you’re an artist, this week draw, paint, sculpt or sing like your hair is on fire. Don’t hold back and self-edit. Rock was never about being perfect. So make some noise within your space.

As is almost always true, I say things in my blog that I need to hear. So if you want to start a conversation about where you’re at, drop me a line. None of needs to be alone in this world but it can often feel like we are. Just remember, no matter what!

You are okay and you rock!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Results vs Resluts

If I had been born about ten years later than I was, I’m quite sure that I would have been tested for and found as dyslexic. However due to my age and a few other factors, there was no diagnosis. It’s never been a major issue, numbers are my biggest problem. So it made perfect sense for me to start out as a math major in college. For the most part, I’ve just had to police myself throughout my academic career. Now I’m not sure if my recent typing issues are related or if my fingers have just gotten fumbled up. I’ve been having a lot more instances of typos where I only switch two letters in the middle of the word. From time to time, results turn into resluts! Despite the obvious error, I gave some thought to my error and its possible uses. My fear is that far too many people are going for resluts!

The thing about resluts is that anyone can get them. They are readily available with little effort. Like eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the resources needed to make that result happen are available to most people. It’s nothing special but it is still something. If they are needed in order to build confidence, habit or a streak of some kind, then by all means! Go get those resluts! Just don’t celebrate too much.

Results are what should be desired and chased. They inject enthusiasm and motivation into our lives. Although they are within our reach, they are elusive, coy or possibly aloof. They act as if they are too good for us and if we’ve lowered our standards drastically, they might be right. However it’s more than likely that we are more than good enough. It might take some extra effort, a bit more primping or charm but there’s no reason to let that stop us. Just because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean that it’s not worth it!

So as you go through your day, recognize whether you’re chasing real results or not. Are the things that you’re after worth pursuing? If you’re only after them because they are easy, then it might be time to move on to better things. You deserve the top level prizes in this carnival game we call life. But first you need to realize that you do! Don’t settle for the participation trophy because you can do more than just show up!

Go get your results!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Unpickle the Cucumber

One of my favorite places to eat in the entire world is called “The Sub Shack” in Hackettstown, NJ. As a kid, we would go there from time to time and as an adult I make it a point to go whenever visiting home. They had a barrel of pickles soaking in brine that were sold for one dollar a piece. As a child, I didn’t realize initially that pickles were cucumbers (or other vegetables). Traditionally it was done to prevent spoilage. In modern times, it seems to principally be done for taste. Once pickled, it is almost impossible to turn a pickle back into a cucumber. By soaking the cucumber in brine, that liquid permeates the entirety of the cucumber. Even if it is soaked in water for a long period of time, it can’t go back. Luckily humans are not pickles but we may be “pickled” to a certain extent.

The Sub Shack located on Main St. in Hackettstonwn, NJ.

This discussion of brining and pickles was brought about as I was thinking about my own mindset and habits. Much of who I am today is due to being immersed in a particular set of circumstances. My upbringing, education, friends, experiences, etc. form the brine that my mind has been soaking in for these forty-five years. Some components have been thrust upon me while others have been deliberately chosen. All of the “flavors” that I am can be changed on some level by “re-brining.” My American flavor would be affected to some degree by living in England for a decade. However it is almost impossible to completely “unpickle the cucumber.”

Just because you can’t start over, doesn’t mean that you need to continue on your present path. It is completely possible to change the you that people see everyday. However it takes more than an inspirational Instagram post or a week’s worth of discipline. You need to become immersed in the change that you want to create. People, location, media, schedules, etc. can all help to “brine” you in one way or another. The key is to figure out exactly what you want to taste like (did I take the analogy too far? That felt like a bit too far.) REGARDLESS the person that you are is who you will stay unless you immerse yourself in something different. You’ve already been pickled. Now it’s up to you to decide if you like the recipe that was used!

Bon Appetite!

Pete