1st Prize for Worst Life

It’s easy to get into comparison debates to justify our irrational responses to situations. When we are not feeling our best, it’s even easier to fall into the trap of fishing for pity. Simple rule: Don’t explain yourself while bothered. Whether we are feeling depressed, anxious, angry, under the weather, stressed, overwhelmed, etc…you are not alone. Furthermore, it’s likely a solid statistic that you’re not currently holding the title for having the worst day or worst life. Even if you were, is that a title you’d be proud to claim? Chances are, as soon as this grand trophy was handed to you, the first thing you’d want to do is give it back. If before speaking, you just choose to say nothing, you’re likely to hear someone else begin telling some tale of woe. When you’re on the receiving end of such complaints, what are your reactions? How does it sound to you? Pity is for those who don’t “get it.” Feeling sorry for yourself or wanting others to feel sorry for you is not going to change any outcome. All you’re doing is piling negativity on for the sake of claiming the prize. Who wins in that scenario?

Past Imperfect

The past imperfect tense can be summed up by the phrase: “I used to….” It’s typically  said of things we can still do, but for some reason it feels like an impossibility at the present moment or in the foreseeable future. I used to be an athlete – I used to love to paint – I used to play an instrument – I used to love going to museums – I used to be in shape. Whatever your “used to” is, if you really wanted it, you would find time for it, but we are brilliant at making excuses aren’t we? If we spent as much time being proactive and productive as we do rationalizing why we cannot do something, the world would likely be better off. We have one go at this thing called life, and yet we choose to let time go by as if it’s an endless resource. Consider how much time we waste. If you’re honest with yourself, how much time do you spend on average each day choosing not to be productive? Even if it’s not spent in one cluster of time but rather spread out into minutes at a time, how much would it add up to? For sake of argument, let’s say it’s two hours (30 minutes on social media, one hour on Netflix, and 30 minutes down a YouTube rabbit hole). That’s 14 hours per week, which is 60.6 hours per month, which is 728 hours per year. That’s two hours shy of an entire month! According to MIT’s technology review, Americans spend 24 hours a week online. And that’s just online! That doesn’t include the multitude of procrastination strategies we employ. Crunch those numbers and online time alone is not far shy of two months wasted each year. Tack on whatever other time we waste, and the average person is wasting about 25% of every year not doing anything constructive. So for every 4 years you’ve been alive, you’ve essentially wasted 1 full year. That’s a scary consideration!

At 40, to think I’ve literally wasted 25% of my life being idle is sobering. It’s also motivating. There’s a three-pronged fork in the road: one where you lean into complacency, one where you start fighting like hell to make the most of every day, and one living some hybrid of the two. Balance is often seen as a good thing, but in this scenario, it doesn’t seem so appealing. There’s a difference between taking time to recharge versus abusing escapism. Coping mechanisms are typically seen as being either positive or negative. I tend to lean more towards the thinking that coping mechanisms are inherently positive. You either have positive/healthy coping mechanisms,or, in the absence of such coping mechanisms, you resort to destructive behaviors.

Take a good look in the mirror and what you really see is yourself only in relation to everything that’s behind you. Our pasts are all imperfect. That’s one of the few absolute truths in life. The only perfection is striving to be better than you were yesterday. It’s knowingly unattainable and yet it’s the birthplace of motivation. The future perfect tense is composed of “will” and “have” followed by the past participle of a verb. For example, “by this time next year, I will have wasted another two months of my life.” That doesn’t sound like a sentiment that anyone would voluntarily rally behind. The present is the only time for change.

Echo Chambers

Empathy, compassion, open-mindedness and tolerance. All good things! The societal issue with tolerance, it would seem, is that it’s often misdefined and misinterpreted. When this happens, the essence of empathy, compassion, and open-mindedness are tainted as well. If you are only tolerant of those who already share your views, you are not tolerant. You are in an echo chamber. You are not demonstrating empathy if you expect that if someone hasn’t walked in your shoes that they are unable to be compassionate about your situation, without also considering their situation. You are expecting empathy from others and that expectation is egoically motivated because it’s one-sided. If you don’t like the feeling of being judged, perhaps first consider how your expectations of how others is a form of judgement. You may choose to wear your heart on your sleeve, and that’s okay, so long as you acknowledge that it’s okay for others to keep their hearts in their chests.

Those Who Can’t?

As the saying goes, “those who can, do; those who can’t teach.” The intention of this remark is to disparage those who teach. But, in reality, how many of us do actually do? There are three sides to this debate. The first is that doers and teachers are one in the same. Every choice we make (what we do) holds a teachable moment. This follows the “I do, We do, You do” model of teaching. The second is that the world is mostly occupied by those who can’t. There are far fewer that “do” if “success” is really the subliminal message. In this case, 1% of the world’s population are “doers” leaving the remaining 99% of us to be average, living our lives in some form of servitude to those that supposedly “can do”. The third is that there is an incredibly small percentage of people who, through their brilliance and innovation, actually do help to shape the world. The best and brightest so to speak. What the two latter positions share is that a small minority are responsible for how what the vast majority live. The second position seems to speak to the origin of what’s implied in the adage “those who can, do; those who can’t teach.” However, the third position is most intriguing. This idea about the best and brightest. Often, when we look at the minds of the best and brightest, whether it’s in regards to science, technology, music, art, chess, athletics, there’s typically a disconnect between what this population can do versus how well they are able to accurately communicate what makes them great. They are often misfits in this world. They can connect billions of people through their social media platforms, but struggle with personal connection. They can excel physically and believe that everyone else around them is weak and not working to their potential. They can see color, shape and form so beautifully, and be disappointed by the inability of others to comprehend what they see. They can hear and play music so intricate yet fail at being able to find musicians capable enough to execute it for or with them. They can have tremendous insights about the how universe we live in works and yet fail to have others grasp the enormity of their intellect.

Teaching implies learning is happening as part of the mutual reciprocity that coexists by nature of the process. Teachers are those that bridge gaps between the misfits that see and interpret the information of the world around them so uniquely and help relay it to the masses so it’s easily digestible. Teachers help the world make sense and do so by knowing how to communicate complexity to a diverse audience of learners. Teachers are everywhere. Teachers do what the doers can’t.

 

Wolves and Sheep Dress Alike

There’s an amazing video entitled How Wolves Change Rivers (found here) that demonstrates how the reintroduction of wolves at Yellowstone National Park not only changed animal behavior, but the behavior of the landscape. It’s truly remarkable, and in just four-and-a-half minutes, you learn everything you need to know about what it looks like to be a leader and what true leadership means. You might have the initial reaction that since the focus of the story is the behavior of wolves, and wolves are often synonymous with fear, that their tactics mirror what we think of when we envision bullying archetypes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Communication in the form of language is a burden we humans bear, and as a result, we feel the need to use our words to express our expectations. That’s how we tend to lead: telling, asking, demanding, suggesting, advising, coaching, etc. We lead through language – Wolves lead through presence.

Without ever uttering a word, they changed the entire environment around them. Even if they could speak, they would only be able to speak wolf. Assume even the brightest of wolves may know a few other animal languages; they may be fluent in deer, bear, elk and know some colloquial squirrel and a few phrases of beaver. Even so, they would be unable to communicate with any species of birds, fish, plants, flowers or trees. In reality, they are outnumbered and unable to communicate through anything other than what they know; how to behave as a wolf.

Just by showing up, their presence over time improved the well-being of an entire national park. Wolves being wolves, helped deer be better deer, bears be better bears, beavers be better beavers, etc. And this, in turn, helped bring in new forms of life and allowed for older forms of life to thrive again. And this, in turn, helped the vegetation be better at providing nourishment for all this new life, and the river itself changed to be a better wellspring.

By now, the pessimists are thinking about all the death that naturally accompanies such bountiful life. In all life there are both predators and prey. The difference is that in nature, animals are acting on instinct. Animals are not murders; there is no evil intent. Life feeds on life.

Leadership is showing up and being what you are. If what you are holds value where you happen to be, then positive changes will happen simply as a result of you being there. How you choose to live will always tell the truth. Be careful with what you choose to say, however, because that will always reveal the lies you tell yourself and others about how you think you live. Your words will never be more powerful than your actions. Your silent actions have the capacity to bring about tremendous change. The only problem for humans here is that when you succeed, you’ll never be aware that you were the root cause. You’ll never get credit for it. Humans struggle with this idea, because our worth is often so tied up in what we own or accomplishments we can add to a résumé. Wolves don’t know or care about that. Wolves, just being wolves, put humans to shame, and are better leaders than we will ever be, but you’ll never hear them bragging about it.

Sudden Depth

We’re all guilty of using the logic that once we either obtain or attain something, then our lives we be better. When I get that promotion, I’ll start being able to show everyone how great a leader I am! When I get that raise, I’ll start saving money! Come New Years Day, I’ll start my new exercise regimen! When I get some time off, I’ll start reading more! When I get some peace in my life, I’ll start meditating! When we get Eddie Van Halen in the band, we’ll finally be able to make a triumphant video! When we make a triumphant video, we’ll finally be able to get Eddie Van Halen in the band! The list goes on.

We all know this logic is flawed and, for lack of a better word, is bullshit. Back in college, a friend of mine once jokingly said in passing, “If bullshit were liquid, we’d all be drowning!” It’s certainly funny, and I’m certain he didn’t mean it to be profound. However, that saying has stuck with me all these years, and what’s truly funny is how something so unintentional and seemingly meaningless, has become something I still ponder quite regularly some twenty years later. Why? Because it challenges our perspectives, and because of its inherent truth beneath the facade of humor. Perspective is one of those things that can we can never “attain,” but we can obtain from time to time. Having perspective is something that’s not universally applied. You may have profound insight and perspective on one or more matters, but be completely blind to your own blindness in a multitude of other areas.

Perspective holds great power. Just one moment can completely shift someone’s way of living and/or thinking. Sometimes just for a while, but in some instances, forever. A 180-degree turnabout is possible for anyone, anywhere, at any time. And, can be done so without needing to attain anything new, but by simply introducing a new way to look at something as a means of receiving profound enlightenment. The truth is that the only thing that needs to change in that moment isn’t even you, but rather how you look at something. In return, you change completely. Take for example 3D Hidden Art. Those posters that were all the rage at mall kiosks back in the 90s, where you stare at a sea of color and confusion, and eventually some image magically emerges from within. For some, the image comes into focus rather quickly. For others, the struggle is real. The point is that everything you need to see the image, you already possess. You don’t need to be any taller, smarter, older, wiser, etc. You just have to look at it differently. More importantly, you have to allow yourself to be open to seeing things differently. We may think we see something at first, and instead of accepting that what we see isn’t right, we dig our heels in and try to protect our viewpoint – to protect our ignorance. The image itself is what it is and cannot change, just as truth cannot change. Truth is not subjective. Once you are open to seeing beyond your stubbornness, because your stubbornness is a comfort to you, it’s almost impossible not to see what you strained so long to see in the first place. That’s perspective! It’s sudden depth.

Handedness: The Sharknado Identity Crisis

One of the most existential crises we experience in life is trying to figure out: Who am I? The philosophical approach asks a string of questions that only lead to more questions, never coming to a truth. The scientific method leans closer to the truth; we can test hypotheses about ourselves, form theories and these theories can evolve and get close to becoming scientific law, but that’s pretty rare. As the saying goes, “the only constant in life is change.”

Handedness is defined as “the tendency to use either the right or the left hand more naturally than the other.” When we’re young, our handedness reveals itself. Only 10% of people are left-handed. In a world with something like 7.6 billion people, that equates to roughly 760 million lefties. My wife, my daughter and I are all left-handed, so our house proudly boasts a 100% left-handed population. That said, speaking from experience, lefties often compensate for living in a right-handed world, and adapt to things that are not made for us. Other times, we unknowingly learn things before really discovering our handedness. For example, my father plays drums and guitar and as a result there were drums and guitars in my house growing up. I started playing drums when I was three and aped how he played, which was playing as a conventional right-handed drummer using a matched grip. At three, I didn’t know that drums could be set up or played any other way. There are debates in the drumming world to this day about the supposed conventional method of playing and the modern-day use of traditional grip, but that’s not where this is headed. Same goes for guitar. At 3 years old, I didn’t know you could play the guitar any other way let alone know they actually made lefty guitars. My grandfather, a lover of baseball, also started showing me how to bat at an early age, and he batted righty, so I too batted righty. However, when it came time to throw, my left-handedness became apparent. Handedness is one of the few things we believe about ourselves to be true. But, then philosophy rears its ugly head once more: the Sharkado Identity Crisis.

Watch out! A sharknado is tearing through your town. You can’t hide. Alas, just when you thought it was safe, a shark storms through your makeshift shelter and attacks, biting off your dominant hand. It takes years, but over time, you learn to adapt to this new way of living and your non-dominant hand becomes, by necessity, your dominant hand. One day, you’re on a conference call for work. There’s a big project in the works, and the sharpest minds are assembled from office locations all over the world. All hands on deck as the casual expression goes. Whilst waiting for all the callers to get on the line, people are making small talk. The talk somehow turns to handedness. Perhaps someone that’s lefty mentioned scissors, and references those weird green-handled scissors lefties were given in grade school, and asks the group: “Is anyone else left-handed?” It is a common superficial question. These are colleagues that know you in name only, so there was no malicious intent when this question was posed. They don’t know about the trauma you experienced in the sharknado. They don’t know anything about all the painful years of learning how to adapt. So, how do you answer their inquiry? To use myself as an example. Do I say: I am left-handed – I am right-handed, or I used to be left-handed but there was an accident so now I use my right hand? How would you answer?

The reality is that this situation is a reality for some (obviously not as a result of a sharknado). This existential crisis is very real and is also simultaneously metaphorical. For others still, perhaps born without hands or arms, how do they answer? Or if an accident claims both limbs, how would they answer? The casual superficiality of asking something so seemingly innocuous as “Are you righty or lefty?” suddenly has tremendous depth.