It’s Saturday morning rush at a local coffee shop. Every table is occupied by an array of couples, families, friends and loners. Some feverishly type away on their laptops, some are deep in conversation, others deep in a book, while others are blissfully aloof. There’s a bell that chimes whenever new patrons enter, and, for a split second, the majority of the occupants glance briefly up at the door in Pavlovian acknowledgment before returning to their conversations, computers and books. The aloof continue to demonstrate their aloofness.
An insecure person is the next to enter the establishment. You are this person. The bell jingles your arrival, triggering the aforementioned Pavlovian glance, and in an instant, everyone is back to their business. However, those momentary glances toward the door trigger your insecurities. “Is my fly open?” “Do I look bad?” “I knew I shouldn’t have worn this shirt!” “They are all mocking me!” “People suck!”
Two minutes later an arrogant person strides through the door, becomes immediately aware of the glancing patrons, and pauses to bask in the glory of this immediate attention. You too are this person. You smile and think, “They all know what’s up! I look good, and they are drinking me in along with every sip of their coffee. A few weren’t lucky enough to see me, but that’s their loss.”
It may be easy to separate these responses into opposing categories of negative and positive, or fear and confidence. Neither would be true. Both internal monologues are rooted in the irrational. The truth is that nobody cares! That statement may sound harsh, but the truth is that the glances were a response to a neutral stimuli, not you. It could be argued that both insecurity and arrogance are both forms of vanity. Even if insecurity is painted with the negativity of self-doubt, it still requires the irrational idea that you are the focus of everyone’s attention, even perfect strangers. The truth is that nobody cares because they have their own lives to focus on. This is a liberating concept for the insecure person, and a humbling one for the arrogant.
Rivalry. It’s human nature to oppose one another. Look to any competitive sport from chess to MMA, curling to baseball, poker to football. Gamification is part of the fabric of our society. Reality programming depends on it (Chopped, Cupcake Wars, Storage Wars, Survivor, Guy’s Grocery Games, Flea Market Flip, etc.). We are a society that has taken mundane and leisurely activities like food shopping and going to garage sales seem skillful, glamorous and savage. In these situations, you are with or against, friend or foe. A soup can sitting on a shelf is worth $1.50, but if that one can is the final item needed to claim a grand prize, its value increases, and we will let our baser instincts steer our shopping carts to victory, plowing over anything that gets in our way. Victory is mine, not yours! We seek out rivalry, and yet we are also hardwired for connection. What binds the seemingly diametrically opposed ideas of rivalry and connection are the belief systems, more specifically, all-or-nothing belief systems. Belief is not truth. Imagine this scenario. You go to a friend’s house to watch a baseball game: Yankees vs Red Sox. There are 15 people there, you being the 15th, and the room was divided equally with 7 Yankee and 7 Red Sox jerseys. From the moment you arrive, which was later than everyone else, the trash talking is intense. The rivalry is real when it comes to this game! These people all liked each other…unless of course the Yankees happened to be playing the Red Sox. Wearing no attire to suggest any allegiance to either team, someone asks, “Who are you rooting for?” Without thinking, you blurt out, “I don’t really care, I’m just here to hang out and watch the game.” Then, something interesting happens. You become the target of all the trash talk. You’ve done something remarkable. You’ve connected the disconnected. The rivalry disappears momentarily for a greater cause: the desire to learn whether you are with or against. You hold the key to giving one side some advantage. You could tip the scales in favor of one team. Neutrality is unacceptable. When this need goes unmet, the two opposing sides join together because they know where they stand and there is comfort in that. There’s discomfort in not knowing where you stand. Obviously, none of what happens in this room has any impact on the game itself. There’s something powerful about choosing to not choose sides, in not pledging allegiance to things that can divide, compartmentalize and distract us from what’s truly important. Connection.
Stepping into vulnerability is akin to physically exerting yourself to the point of nausea. Nausea may be the reaction to the situation, yet that’s clearly not the desired result. A daily routine, the cooperative of behaviors and choices that make habits, lead to the desired outcomes and reveal the benefits over time. Once in the flow, it’s near impossible to pinpoint what specifically is the shining star. You can’t look in the mirror this morning and say, “it was that one particular set of push-ups Monday of last week that did the trick,” – “that one run stride during a 5k that took fifteen seconds of my time this month” – “that one healthy meal that made the weight come off” – “that one day I woke up early that increased my productivity this year.” Consistent effort drives transformation; never a single instance. Life is a Rube Goldberg machine. It can be simple or overly complicated. It can be as ugly, messy, quirky and clunky as it can be beautifully rhythmic and exciting. Nested within the contraption itself is the knowledge that in order for the machine to work properly, everything has to execute as it’s intended. It’s more important to know that the odds are in failure’s favor. You’ll naturally spend more time resetting and reworking than you will celebrating. And even when you’re celebrating, the afterglow is spent in harmony with the aftermath of effort. Taking the painstaking time every day to reset and examine what worked and didn’t work, gives you the insight of how to fix problems that cause flaws in execution because you understand why they happened. It’s not glamorous. There’s no glory in setting up the machine. OK Go’s video for “This Too Shall Pass” is a massive Rube Goldberg machine. It’s a triumphant video and a perfect analogy for life. The final product is the closest they come to “perfection,” but you also get to see the mess of their previous attempts. Practice makes progress, not perfection. The room was only pristine once. To move the machine to a new room for every take would be unrealistic. Our lives are pristine only once – the day we’re born. Sometimes, even those days aren’t pristine.
For me, this is a step into something absolutely terrifying. Why a blog? Because my goal of writing a book seemed a lofty goal for someone that currently has no audience. I’ve always feared putting out original content, whether it be music, poetry or simple thoughts. For what purpose? Who the hell am I? Why would or should anyone care? Well, what a lovely excuse to ensure that I forever remain comfortable by avoiding discomfort. Stepping into discomfort, through the help of listening to the wisdom of likes of Brené Brown, Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Eckhart Tolle, Jocko Willink, Ryan Holiday, and the many great Stoics, has allowed me to grow exponentially in the past year. At the core of that growth is action. I’ve been known to quote quotes that were meaningful to me as a way to let people into what I believe or where I stand, and sure, there’s good in that. I turned 40 this past December, and I wouldn’t say that triggered some life crisis, but it did kick start what’s been eight months of rather deep reflection. With any luck, I’m at the midpoint of my life. I’m starting to consider mortality as a coming reality. My parents and in-laws are in the winter of their lives as are other relatives that always seemed to be older but naively timeless. I’ve witnessed the physical weakening and the body beginning to fail, but more importantly, I’ve seen that the lack of action only exacerbates the inevitable. As a result, accountability has become a priority in all areas of my life. My current mantra is: Reflection + Action = Normalized Accountability. I will do more with the time I have left, and I don’t want a future diagnosis or some unforeseen tragedy to be my catalyst for change. All I have to do is watch and listen to what’s around me to realize that there are valuable lessons to be learned from what others experience. And, what I know to be true, is that inaction – doing nothing while holding the expectation that something will change – leads to disappointment. Expectation is the root of disappointment.
“Reflection + Action = Normalized Accountability” – me