Are You Trying to Win Someone Else’s Game?

In my late twenties–days long before marriage, babies and persistently creaky joints–my friends and I would go out on weekends to meet chicks.

Around that time, I had returned to school to finish my bachelor’s degree (in the very practical arts of English). I was working as a head waiter for a catering company–technically a “captain” in the self-important language of cater-ese.

When we went out, I dreaded the “what do you do?” question. I lived in New York City, and thought what I did was not very age-appropriate. 27 year-old’s did things like work at branding firms and develop iPhone apps.

When asked, I would say something like, “Well, I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree in English, because I want to be a writer. I dropped out when I was younger. It’s really cool because I appreciate the chance to learn so much more than when I first went to school. And I work as a head waiter–well, a ‘captain’–at a catering company. It allows me to go all over the city and see cool places and go to fascinating events.”

My voice must have acted as a diuretic because women instantly had to go to the bathroom after I started talking.

There were a couple reasons I was exciting bladders:

  1. I was selling myself. Implicit was that who I was had no self-evident value. If it did, I wouldn’t have to sell it.
  2. I was trying to win someone else’s game. I tried to create a compensatory value for who I was in relation to what I thought 27 year-old’s should be doing–making money, having a career, whatever. In other words, my life + lengthy explanation = lawyer.

These oft used-strategies keep us in the middle management of life–sucking up, hoping for a promotion from our boss, who is often someone we don’t want to be anyway.

After a good spell of swinging and missing at the bars, I realized I was losing hard. I realized that if I wanted to start winning, I’d have to play another game. So I picked the only game I was good at: mine. I looked at what was important to me: my personal evolution, relationships, spiritual life, health, etc. With these things, I was valuable. I was a winner.

When women asked what I did, I started talking about my games, inviting them to play. A funny thing happened: women started holding their bladders. They started selling themselves. They tried to get on my team–telling me how much they do yoga or something (of course, I found these things unattractive).

Sure, many women couldn’t give a shit about meditation or the healing I had done with my mom, but those weren’t the women I wanted to play with. I ended up marrying a chick whose values were aligned with mine–one who would have had nothing to do with the self-justifying loser I used to be.

With these thoughts in mind, consider:

  1. Pick an area of your life where you lack power that involves other people. It could be meeting a partner, your work, athletics, etc.
  2. Where do justify your existence in this situation? Where are your explaining your value rather than being valuable?
  3. Is this situation your, or someone else’s game? Where do you lack ownership of the your life? Keep in mind, even if we’re doing things that seem like someone else’s game, e.g. making a family or practicing medicine, we can make these things ours.
  4. For the day, stop justifying yourself. Stop explaining why you’re valuable. Look for and cut out the self-diminishing things you say to yourself and others. Be valuable, don’t explain it.
  5. Focus on winning your games, not others’. Decide what’s important to you and align your life with those things. Talk about and share those things. Look how it changes your interactions with others. Remember, if it’s not your game, you will fail.

What is Your Untended Blog?

Few things are sadder than untended blogs. Unlike unfinished manuscripts stashed in a drawer, the blogger’s defeat is public. You see the transition from inspiration to resignation. You see expanding intervals between posts, and finally one that starts like “sorry I haven’t written here a for a while.” It’s like the last wringing from a towel once loaded with inspiration and possibility.

Of course untended blogs are my thing. For you, it might be an unfinished canvas, screenplay, charity project, business plan, whatever. It’s that thing you started with rocket fuel in your veins and finished with lead in your shoes.

When we start things, we are usually driven by a combination of authentic inspiration and fantasized reward.

Authentic inspiration is about our gifts. I believe writing is the gift I have to give. It’s my calling. It’s an act that’s interchangeable with who I am. If that were the only reason I wrote, I would be in good shape.

Fantasized reward is where I get in trouble. When most of us do things, we fantasize our best-case-rewards. I fantasize my packed book tour appearances. Actors fantasize their acceptance speeches at the Oscars. Entrepreneurs fantasize their IPO. While inevitable, these fantasies are not very helpful; when they are not achieved in what we consider a suitable time-frame, we think ourselves failures. We begin asking ourselves, “Why bother? This isn’t going anywhere anyway.” We either stop writing, painting, networking, meditating, whatever, or do it so joylessly, we question why we started in the first place.

What if we were to do the things we wanted to do because they are extensions of who we are, not because they were the ticket to get to someplace we wanted to be? What if there was no place to get to, no reward to reap, no ceremony to attend? Would you still do this thing? I would. I write when no one is looking. If you are doing something only for the reward, or you don’t have a thing, I suggest finding something.

If you fall into the inspiration-but-stalled-or-stopped camp, consider:

  1. What is that unfinished/untended thing in your life?
  2. What fantasized reward are you holding onto that is stalling or stopping your work? E.g. your book deal, first client, etc.–the external affirmation that this is what you’re supposed to be doing. Note: it’s not your lack of time, money, etc. If you knew you were receiving $1M for doing this thing, you would find a way to do it.
  3. Give up hope for a reward. It’s probably not going to happen anyway (or it won’t be the reward you anticipated).
  4. Take one action now around that thing. Do it because it’s who you are and what you do.

 

Seeing What is Possible, Dealing with Reality

Emily Dickinson: Possibility/Bedroom Dweller.

Emily Dickinson wrote the famous verse, “I dwell in possibility.”  Unlike the famous poetess, many of us dwell in limitation, using the past as our main referent for the future—i.e. because we’ve have never done it in the past, it will not happen in the future.

Possibility on the other hand allows for unprecedented realities.  Something that has never happened can happen simply because it’s possible.  We might not know how it will happen, but when we acknowledge the possibility, we are more likely to take the action corresponding to realizing that possibility.

For example, if we think being physically fit is impossible, based on the fact we’ve been unhealthy our whole lives, we won’t do the things necessary to be fit.  Conversely, if we believe being fit is possible, even if we don’t know how, we can figure out ways to realize that objective.

There is a dark-side of possibility however.  It’s what I call “the narcosis of possibility.” The easiest place to see this is at 12:15AM after a few vodka-sodas.  You invent a possibility, like starting a business.  You can’t wait to start making it happen.  The dude on the next bar-stool is going to design your logo.  Any-fucking-thing is possible!

You wake up the next day with a vague recollection of what was so great about your idea.  You try to muster the enthusiasm of the night before but are preoccupied by thoughts of coffee, eggs and Law and Order reruns.  You think of your lack of business skill, money, etc.  Fuck it.  It wasn’t that good an idea anyway.  Reality trumps drunken possibility once again.

This phenomenon is not limited to buzzed brainstorming.  Many sober minds have conjured great ideas that do not withstand reality.  We get psyched about a project, relationship, fitness plan, etc., but we fail to deal with things as they are in reality.  We don’t acknowledge our level of business training, our emotional maturity (or lack thereof), our state of health, etc.  Instead of developing these things, we become overwhelmed by the gap between possibility and reality, often doing nothing.  There are others who use willpower and force to bridge that gap—these people can make things happen, but generally at the expense of their health and happiness.

Sometimes we can’t admit that just because something is possible, it doesn’t mean we should do it.

Other times we create a possibility aware of the realities we’re dealing with.  It’s something we’ve considered well.  We have an idea and plan to carry it out.  But once the plan is in motion, we don’t ask ourselves often enough, “Is this working?”

Lest I be too abstract, I’m writing about myself.  I started this blog 6 months ago based on the possibility of writing for a living.  This idea was pure, uncut possibility.  According to the past, I had no reason to believe I would make it happen.

I love the writing part and the feedback I’m recieving.  I love processing my life and helping others process theirs.  But I haven’t been dealing with a couple nagging realities:  I don’t love not making money or working in isolation.  I’ve been trying to will these things out of my reality, but I can’t seem to do it.

Sure, it’s entirely possible I can make money if I refine my plan. I could find more ways to engage people.  I actively do both these things.

But the truth is I’m not dealing with reality.  I want to be better at working alone.  I want to be more of a self-starter.  I want to be one of these people—who seem so numerous on the internet—who through pluck and Twitter, amass great followers and fortunes.  But in reality I am not these things—at least not right now.

I have to assess where I’m at, based not on the narcotic effect of possibility, but on the sober truth of reality.  From there, I can create a new possibility.

The new possibility I’ve created is to continue to develop my writing, but with more human contact and steadier income.  There’s an ancient tradition I am going to employ to remedy this situation.  It’s called a job.

Maybe if Emily Dickinson took a similar approach, she would have left her bedroom.

It’s important to note that deviating from an original possibility is not killing it.  In fact, sticking to the original plan would kill it.  My new possibility affords me self-expression through writing, supported by the stability and relationship building of a job.

Here are some things to consider for yourself:

  1. What possibility in your life is being thwarted by reality? In other words, name a dream—one you may or may not be taking action on.  Within that dream, what realities are compromising your ability to take action or enjoy acting?  For example, you want to date, but don’t do so because you have trouble being open with potential partners.
  2. What new possibility could you create if you dealt with reality as it presently exists? Using the above example, based on your lack of skill, you could create the new possibility of being supported, getting a dating coach or asking someone who is romantically fulfilled to find out what he or she does.
  3. Take one action that based on this new possibility right now.

My Shittiest Blog Post Yet

In the 5 or so months I’ve been writing this blog in earnest, I’ve churned out some pretty shitty stuff.  My first posts were definitely the worst—long, meandering, pointless or multi-pointed.  There’s this one called “Advanced Fonzametrics”—so bad.  I tried to cram 20 years of life-lessons into one 2K+ word post.  There have also been some not-so-long-ago posts that seem to equally stink.  I think my mom was the only person who read yesterday’s post.

I was pondering my ineptitude while reading the blogs of the luminaries in my chosen genre (personal development, I guess) last night.  Many of their posts felt like they were going through the motions.  I could see the author staring blankly at his or her computer, thinking, “What the hell am I going to write today?  I guess I’ll write about that thing my kid does.”  It got me thinking that there might not be such a wide gulf between those who are making it and those who are struggling to do so.

It’s tough for those of us who haven’t gotten into a positive feedback loop to believe that what we’re doing is worthwhile.  No one is asking us to do what we’re doing.  We put ourselves out there—whether we’re writers, painters, singers, entrepreneurs, activists, whatever—unsure if anyone beyond our family and friends gives a shit (and we suspect we might soon exhaust their enthusiasm).

We wonder how we can be more like “successful” people.  How do we crack the code?

Sometimes there is a code.  There is such a thing as skill.  For example, I’ve written posts that resonate with readers more than others; I can try to figure out what qualities people respond to and imbue future writing with similar attributes.  But I would never learn these things if I hadn’t put out some pretty crappy stuff first.  In other words, the “code” might just be a willingness to put ourselves out into the world consistently.

It makes me think of Adam Sandler.  There were a few years when you couldn’t take a piss without seeing his movies.  Yet I never thought he was very funny.  Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy, Little Nicky—Sandler was an inanity machine.  But the guy put himself out there.  He wasn’t deterred by my criticism.  If I didn’t like his movies, I didn’t have to watch them.

So in the spirit of Adam Sandler, I’m going to keep writing shitty blog-posts. I might even make a shitty video or two.  I’m going to promote myself in ways that might be disproportionate to my talents.

It’s not my intention to churn out shitty writing or related media products.  I have no desire to waste my time or yours.  I want inner peace to flow from my words to your heart.  Seriously.  But in the process, I might miss the mark.  My apologies in advance.  I  genuinely appreciate your support and hope you enjoy what I write.

Are You a Bore?

If you have to try to be interesting, you are probably not. Image via memegenerator.net

Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.
Oscar Wilde, De Profundis, 1905

Last night I ran into an acquaintance at a holiday party.  I will call him Peter.  Peter is tall, muscular and handsome for his age (I’d clock him at 45).  He’s an artist.  He’s a mountaineer with several major expeditions to the world’s highest peaks under his belt.  He’s into MMA (mixed martial arts for you sissies).  He’s lived in New York City for most of his life, but has traveled throughout the globe.  Peter is also a complete bore.

I was already tired when I ran into him last night (see yesterday’s post about burst pipes), but the moment we started talking, my fatigue blossomed.

For a guy who has so many interests, he talks about nothing.  All of his monotonic ramblings were about the accessories of his lifestyles—the real estate deal for his new artist’s studio, his pickup truck, the gear for his expeditions.  He divulged almost no information about himself, about that which was being accessorized.

Peter also did something called “qualifying.”  This is basically when someone gives reasons why you should find him or her interesting.  The reason I know about his rarefied art, his heroic expeditions, his down-home pickup truck and his manly mixed martial artistry is because he talked about them.  But he didn’t talk about them in an organic way.  They didn’t just come up as if they were extensions who he was.  They came up as if each interest was a part needed to construct a specific impression. Continue reading “Are You a Bore?”