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

Your Motto

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of
their appointed rounds.” While this is believed to be the motto of the US Postal Service, it truly is not. Although the words are engraved above the entrance to the 8th Avenue Post Office in New York City, it actually comes from Book 8 of the Persian Wars by Herodotus. However it is a guide that helped to shape that organization. Have Post Offices closed due to weather? No doubt. Has a postman left mail undelivered? Absolutely. A motto is not always a prime directive that cannot be broken. It is usually more of a rule of thumb. A way to know if you’re on the right path. Will there be special circumstances? Surely. It is not a problem that the USPS doesn’t always follow this “motto”. Possibly the bigger issue is, do you even have one?

This might seem funny because you are not a corporation or organization. Having a motto, vision or set of principles to live by can be daunting. It would be much easier to “go with the flow.” Or not “put yourself in a box.” Who wants to put limitations, expectations and consternations into their life? The answer is probably you! There’s enough science around about decision fatigue and the overwhelming nature of our world. Perhaps the Post Office guiding idea is exactly what is needed in many of our lives. There doesn’t need to be an exceedingly high bar for your motto. More than anything the idea is to breed consistency. The mail is going to get delivered and despite these obstacles, we’re still going to show up. Each of us has those types of things that we can be consistent about. It does not need to be a prison or a form of indentured servitude. Simply a statement of who you are.

“Persistently Chasing Excellence” was something that I developed years ago. The idea was to follow in the footsteps of the Jeffersonian concept of the “Pursuit of happiness.” Having a motto that lent itself toward forward motion was important. Although I have goals for myself, they are disparate. Depending on the part of my life and present circumstances, they could change vastly. However I could always hang my hat on the fact that I was chasing excellence on a regular basis. Even if I was doing it poorly, I could feel as though I was living into my purpose in some way.

So what is your motto? It doesn’t have to be original or even 100% accurate. Steal it from somewhere! Nike’s “Just Do It” was stolen from the last words of a death row inmate. Try to ignore that thought next time you see a Nike ad! Regardless, it could be a powerful way for you to take yourself to that next level. Consistency is a strong force in the human psyche. If you were a company, what would be your motto? The do your best to live by it.

Have a great day!

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

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

The Nothing Guarantee

At the turning point in the movie “Tommy Boy,” Chris Farley’s character offers to take a dump in a box and mark it “GUARANTEED.” It is part of a sales pitch to undermine his customer’s confidence in other products that offer a guarantee. After that, he gets on a sales hot streak, saves the company, gets the girl and impales Rob Lowe’s nuts. Cinematic gold! Despite my love for the movie, my focus is really on the concept of a guarantee or actually the inverse of that, the “Nothing Guarantee.”

As a teacher especially, I see the effort to reward analysis happen constantly. From time to time, it is overtly questioned. “What do I need to get on the next test in order to bring my grade to an ‘A’?” The math isn’t that hard and the effort in extra study to achieve that feat isn’t either. However the calculating still happens in the student’s brain. “How much effort do I need to exert for the promise/guarantee of what I want?” My suggestion is that this calculation is occurring in the heads of far too many people and it’s almost dangerous.

In a world where we can measure almost anything, we have begun to do so and rely upon measurement. The problem is that many of the endeavors that are truly worth our effort and attention cannot be measured and have no guarantees. People, who start businesses, families, cultural movements and the like, often have no idea how much work is going to be necessary to make it a success. The success is also not guaranteed and that’s the point! The reason that something is worth pursuing is because it’s not a guarantee. If we knew for certain that it was going to work, then anyone could do it.

So as you are reading this, I’m asking you to embrace the idea of the “Nothing Guarantee.” The concept that you are willing to put effort into things that might not work but you are willing to give it a go. My suggestion would be that regardless of the success or perceived failure of the situation that you’ll be happier with the version of you that is created. However I need to be fully transparent that even that is not guaranteed. Farmers have to plant more than they need in order to compensate for some of those seeds not maturing. The same needs to go for you. You’re probably need to put in more effort than you think to get that result but do it! So that when you make that team, achieve that goal or become that better version of yourself, you have a story to tell more than “I knew it would work.”

Throw away that guaranteed crap in a box and scale that mountain!

Pete

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The Size of Your Cell

Today the family and I visited Alcatraz Island. Despite the very moving and exhibit about the Native American occupation of the island, our main purpose for the visit was the prison. This was my second visit to “The Rock” but it was my children’s first. It’s easy to forget how small the cells are and the solitary life that must have been led by the prisoners. Surely their past actions put them into that position. However can’t that be said about all of us? The size of the cells in Alcatraz was 5 feet by 9 feet. How big is the cell that confines each of us? Are we only confined by the limits of our imaginations? Or is the size of our cell around 3 inches by 6 inches?

It easy and enticing to believe that we’re not confined by anything. The optimist inside of me would love to believe that we are all limitless, no bars, no guards, no walls to keep us in. Largely that could be true if it weren’t for us. We confine ourselves, punish ourselves and obstruct ourselves. The prison around us is man made but the man or (wo)man who made is also the prisoner. This knowledge is important but not liberating. It can help us to see past the bars and wall but escape is not particularly any simpler. Depending on how old you are, those impediments seem as real as the stone and steel of Alcatraz.

There is still debate about whether or not anyone ever escaped from Alcatraz. There is no debate that people escape their self-made prisons every day. The question is how far they get and whether or not they lock themselves back up in the same cell with the same number. It’s possible for you to make it! You don’t need to use a spoon from the commissary to tunnel through concrete. The escape plan needs to center around you and the amount of freedom that you’ll allow yourself to believe in. No one is stopping you! Unlock the cell and walk out! Freedom awaits but you need to believe.

Let’s go!

Pete

Blogpost, self-reliance

The Missing Ingredient

You can find a recipe for almost anything online. On a frustrated Sunday afternoon, I looked up a recipe for a fake Chik-Fil-A nugget recipe. Since the restaurant is closed on Sundays, I took it upon myself to make my own nuggets. The first batch wasn’t great. The recipe didn’t exactly meet my expectations. So I changed it up and developed my own version of the recipe (see below). It became a family tradition for a while that every Sunday I would make my chicken recipe.

Life has become a lot more convenient since I was a kid. Almost anything that you want is a click away. The problem is that since we can have our desires met without much personal effort, we tend to undervalue things abhor effort. It seems to take too long, be too hard or even impossible to make those things of true value come about. So we tend to settle. We settle for the prepackaged, knock off version of the real thing because it’s just easier. Searching for the solution to our problem is often too difficult, so we put a poll out on a forum or Twitter. Who has the recipe that will fix my problem? If this is just research then, have at it! Much like my chicken problem, looking at someone else’s recipe was helpful. However it was missing that most important ingredient: ME.

In many ways we’ve put ourselves on the substitute’s bench in our own lives. We look outward for so many things. Whether it is validation on social media or an endless stream of entertainment from our streaming services. The problem is that you cannot ignore this “missing ingredient”. You are the most important person in the story of your life. Every single day of your life, you’ll be there. Putting yourself on the bench makes no sense. Even in times when you need the help of an expert, you still need to be there. Otherwise your life is happening to you, not for you. I did not care for piece of the recipe that I took off the internet, so I changed them to my liking. Perhaps, you’ll not like what I’ve created below. That’s ok! It might be a starting point for you to find your own recipe.

No matter who you are. You are the main character and chief script writer of your own TV show or movie. It’s largely up to you if you have a starring role or play a minor character. No one else can make that decision for you. If you’ve started to notice that you’re not a major ingredient in your life. Perhaps it is time to make a change! Put down the phone. Stop reading this blog and go do something that makes you, YOU! Come back later for the chicken recipe.

Go make it happen!

Pete

HURYK-Fil-A Chicken

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 cup dill pickle juice
  • 1 1/2 cups milk, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/4 cup Kentucky Kernel Seasoned Flour 
  • ½ cup House Autry hushpuppy mix 
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  •    peanut oil

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a large bowl, combine chicken, pickle juice and 1/2 cup milk; marinate for at least 30 minutes. Drain well.
  2. Heat peanut oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk an egg. Stir in chicken and gently toss to combine.
  4. In a large bowl, combine Kentucky Kernel flour, Hushpuppy mix  and confectioners’ sugar; season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  5. Working in batches, put chicken into flour mixture.  Then add chicken to the skillet and cook until evenly golden and crispy, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
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