Blogpost, self-reliance

Yellow Mayonnaise

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

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

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

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

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

Being Uncool and Liking Things

As a father, I made the realization a long time ago that I am “uncool.” Even if that’s not the word that’s being used anymore to describe something of value at the moment. I know that I’m not that thing that kids want to be or become. That ship sailed and I’m kind of glad. The liberation that comes with being uncool is AMAZING!!! Since I am no longer eligible to be cool, there are fewer restrictions on me. I can say jokes that I know are not funny without repercussion. They tend to be called “Dad Jokes” in our honor.

One of the best advantages to this status is that I can like almost whatever I want. In the pursuit of being cool, it seems like the decisions about what you should like are made by other people. Also, liking something too much is also a problem. Ambivalence and aloofness are often traits that need to be honed. At my age, I just don’t have time for that anymore. The payoff is never going to come my way, so why even try. My only wish was that this state of life could have come a bit earlier. Not just for my sake but for everyone.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to actually be able to tell someone that you like them without posturing? The mathematics that are required to figure out how much or little attention to give to someone or something of interest are not taught in high school Algebra. It is far too complex of an equation to figure out because it comes from both sides and is pressured by community standards. Since the equation is too tough, we need to do the dance and try to look cool. I’m not sure when this started but I wish that it could stop. At a certain point in history, I would love for kids to be able to feel comfortable enough in their own skin to shun cool. The problem is that there are very few winners and most people end up feeling like “losers.” If only everyone could “levitate” above quagmire that has been created (shout out to Dua Lipa, look at me trying to be cool!).

My suggestion would be to start the freedom of the uncool much earlier because the currency of cool only lasts for a short time. Eventually that currency that was so important becomes worthless. Then you need to figure out where you stand without it. The substance of who you are is much more than the perception points that you get from people who don’t truly care about you. The true you lies somewhere underneath! Even if they were looking, I’m not sure the cool people could see it!

I love being square!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The Product Is You

Social media is definitely a strange animal in a lot of ways. While it is “free”, it costs a lot of things including, time, privacy and other things of value. It is also odd from the perspective that a person who uses the social media is both the product and the customer. If everyone stopped posting on Instagram and only looked, it would eventually become banal. Also if people only posted but did not pay attention to anyone else’s content, the lack of “likes”, shares and other social media capital would make people question the value of posting. For this moment in time, we are both product and customer in this space. It is odd to say the least but I’d like to use this realization to focus on a truth that we all need to embrace. You are the product!

For years I’ve been saying to this to students, it did not come from my own personal realization but rather a description of the social media model. We’re all “selling” ourselves in little ways every single day. The question is whether or not we realize it and embrace it. The reason that it comes up so naturally in a school setting is that students often get confused about what school is for. In many ways, it is viewed as a low security prison where they must “do their time.” Grades are the currency of school and they are “given” grades, rather than “earning” them. The information or skills that they acquire are often viewed as incidental. History class is something to get an “A” in rather than a place to become a more informed citizen. This transactional view is not particularly new but it is contrary to why these systems were originally invented. So if you’ve never considered it before, let me state it very clearly! YOU ARE THE PRODUCT!!!

School may not be the absolute best example of how this should be applied since we often spend time in classes that do not serve our personal goals. So even though I am a firm proponent of education, that student who is reading a programming book in the back of French class is not betraying this thought process. The kid, who is scrolling through his friends’ Instagram posts, might be. As both the product and the product developer, it falls to you to decide on the specifications, marketing strategy and pricing of your product. It can be odd to think of yourself in this way but it’s also easy get caught in the traps of daily existence that devalues who you are.

That value is not particularly calculated in dollars and cents, it can be in self-esteem. Often that is the currency that we are dealing with because most of our existence is inside of our own minds. So the questions that are asked on the inside about value, quality and marketshare, all matter. How can you make yourself a better product? Not particularly for sale to other people, although in the job, friend or relationship market, that may be your thought process. The first person that you need to sell on the concept of yourself is you. Is this version of yourself one that you’re happy with? Is it time to upgrade, simplify or stay the course? No one else can answer that question. Regardless, it is worth asking. Does reading that book get you closer to being the YOU that you would be proud of? Or is it just window dressing for someone else? These are all questions that only you can answer because no one has their hands on the controls as much as you do. It is possible that you’ve been selling yourself in the bargain bins of Walmart but you belong in the glass showcases at Tiffany’s. If you don’t take a moment to consider, you might not be getting your true market value. Crabs and lobsters are “bottom feeders” but even they have a market value. They’re not cheap either. So you’ve got some things to consider. Maybe this was just a bit of intellectual tail chasing with a lot of semantics to make it seem more grandiose. Or maybe this is exactly the thing that you needed to get your stock to rise. That’s for you to decide!

What will your value be when the gavel hits today?

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The Triple F Anxiety Strikeout

It pains me a little to use a baseball reference to explain a concept but some things just fit. Not everything can be about soccer! Can it? Regardless of the reference, my intention is always to help people. So if it takes a baseball analogy to get the idea across, then so be it!

Anxiety seems to be all around us at the moment. From the pandemic to more personal issues, people are beset on all sides by things that could cause anxiety. While the ingredients are lurking about, I’m going to venture the idea that staving off the feeling is like fighting off a strikeout. It may not always be pretty but keeping yourself in the batter’s box is crucial to possibly hitting a home run or even getting the walk to obtain that bit of progress.

The three F’s of anxiety are “feeling future failure.” While none is particularly debilitating on their own or even in a pair, the three together are the recipe for anxiety. Regardless of the individual word or even the duets, they do not need to be feared in any way. “Feeling failure” is a necessary component to moving forward. It may hurt but that pain is instructive. “Feeling the future” is not a problem on its own either. Actually one of the most important keys to any visualization practice is that you emote on the idea inside your head. “Future failure” is out there for all of us. We are not going to succeed at everything that we do. This is just a fact of life. So that concept should not be fear inducing.

So the idea is to drop one “strike” from the count! The most potent one to drop is the feeling because that is the action that leads to the anxiety. While this is far easier said than done, remember that you are the one that creates your feelings. That future failure is only a projection that you have inside of your head. It’s not any more real than the winning lottery ticket or any other moment in your future existence. Choosing to feel that failure before it shows up makes as much sense as celebrating that lottery win before buying the ticket. You’re the only link between the thought and the event. Don’t buy the ticket to that future failure and definitely don’t buy into the emotion before necessary. Maybe that thing will happen but you don’t need to live through it multiple times!

All of this is said with the utmost caring and desire for positive outcomes for people. Lots of people are struggling at the moment, I’m well aware. Bottling up and denial are not the best strategies for coping with things. Each of us is playing our own internal game. Perhaps you’re facing a set of circumstances that seem to be “Hall of Fame” pitcher. They have your number and it seems like you can’t do anything but swing blindly. You can step out for a second and gather yourself for another at bat. Plenty of people in the crowd cheering for you. Keep that in mind as you step up.

Swing away!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

What Are You Trying to Pull?

There are a variety of lines within the first two Godfather movies that are worth repeating and analyzing. One in particular is a father’s wish for his son. Although framed by a mob boss, it is not an unrealistic desire for any parent. “I never wanted this for you…. I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by those big shots… when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings…” That’s Don Corleone speaking to his son Michael. He wanted a different life for his son. One where he would be in control of his own destiny. It’s a moving sentiment! Whether it comes from a mob boss, a teacher or a plumber, the desire for self-determination is a reasonable desire for any parent or individual.

People are an amazing combination of habits, thoughts, beliefs, rationalizations and so many other factors. Our bodies are the physical representations of who we are but there are much deeper forces at work. A subliminal battle between our desire for safety while desiring an existence better than the one that we know today. These are incompatible ideas that cause inner turmoil if they are not dealt with on some level. Each of us must rectify this conflict in one way or another. So the question becomes, what are you trying to pull?

It’s possible that you are on the path that Don Corleone wanted for Michael. You are pulling the strings. Perhaps not in the way that he intended, by holding a position of power. However you are able to self-determine how you go through life. This would be great regardless of how influential you are to the outside world. The ability to determine who you will be in this world is rarer than we’d like to admit. Even if you think this is you, keep reading. Perhaps you’re pulling something else.

The next possibility is that you’re pulling the wool over your own eyes. You’ve set up a world that is completely comfortable and seems like it is under your control. Unfortunately you may be looking down at the strings that you hold and never noticing the ones that are attached to you from above. In certain ways, this is all of us. None of us is truly free from every level of control but some strings are controlling our movements while others are just there.

Perhaps you’re pulling everyone’s leg. You’ve put on a show that is not representative of anything that you think or desire. However people think that they know the character that you are and that’s comforting. You don’t like the role but you’d rather play it than admit that the strings are all that you care about.

Many of us are pulling the weight of our past along with us. It’s not a burden that we must carry but rather one that we choose to carry. The releasing of the past is not particularly an easy thing to do. However your history is also something that you cannot change. Possibly you can redefine it but dragging it along as an anchor makes for slow progress.

Finally and the most scary is you feel like pulling the trigger. The strings have got you tangled in a web that you can’t seem to break free from. It’s constricting! The more that you try to break free, the tighter that the knots seem to feel. You’re not in control and believe that you never will be. So why continue?

It’s pretty obvious that there are levels to this thing. Although the thought of going from the bottom to the top may be enticing, it’s probably unrealistic. Wherever you are at the moment, it’s part of the equation to own up to it. There doesn’t need to be a huge public proclamation. The important thing is to admit it to yourself. Knowing where you are is a key component to getting where you want to go. Hopefully that place that you want to go is up. Not so that you can be above other people but rather so you can get closer to that best version of yourself. Unfortunately, you need to pull yourself up. Other people can only try to push you for so long before it’s on you again. What are you trying to pull? Hopefully the answer is “myself to the next level.”

Get a firm grip and let’s go!

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

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