The Best Excuse Ever Told

I heard it once said, “Most people consider a good excuse and no result to be a result.”  Some examples of this adage:

  1. I was late because the subway was down (late + difficulty = I’m reliable)
  2. I didn’t talk to that girl because the bar was loud (no phone # + loud bar = I’m bold)
  3. I didn’t finish that painting because work got in the way (no painting + busy job = I’m an artist)
  4. I’m single because there are no good men/women out there (alone + lack of suitable partners = I’m a good partner)
  5. I didn’t lose that weight because of the holidays (fat body + social eating = I’m healthy).

A well-thought out excuse makes otherwise crappy results acceptable.  It maintains a peace—however uneasy, with whatever impact—between what we do and what we say we want and are committed to.  We say we want to be reliable, bold, creative, in a relationship, healthy, but because of subway delays and Stovetop Stuffing it’s okay that we behave differently.  The impact of the excuses is that friends and colleagues wait (or tire from doing so), we live afraid of talking to women, we feel creatively unexpressed, we live cut off from prospective mates and inhabit unhealthy bodies.  But it’s okay, we have a good excuse.

Excuses obscure a dark truth:  that we might not be committed to the things we say or think we we are.  A person who is committed to being punctual will be on time regardless of train repairs; he’ll get out of the train station and take a cab if he needs to.  A person who is committed to being in a healthy relationship will figure out what’s in her way of achieving that.  She will not blame a sparse dating pool.

Assuming we want to line up our commitments with our actions, we have to stop excusing our behavior.  We have to acknowledge results as they are:  that we were late; that we didn’t talk to the girl; that we didn’t finish the painting; that we are alone; that we are fat.  It’s not that these results are bad.  It’s that they don’t accord with what we want and are committed to.  In fact, the excuses verify that our results are not want we want.  If they were those things, we wouldn’t need to excuse our behavior; it and our commitments would line up.

All of this came into relief for me after a frank talk last night.  My friend bludgeoned me with the contradictions between what I say I want and am committed to and what I’m doing.  I say that I want and am committed to being a personal development author and speaker and that I want to make my living doing it—a living that could support a family.  What I’m doing is writing away without clear direction, much less remuneration.  I’ve been pitching a book idea to literary agents, but even that has been only half-thought out.  I didn’t do market research.  I didn’t run it by the people in my life.  I didn’t do the things necessary to make sure I fulfilled on my commitment.

My excuse has been confusion:  that I don’t know how to do the things I want to do.  I’ve reasoned that I will figure it out soon.  This excuse doesn’t not ameliorate my rapidly emptying pockets.

This leaves me with a pit in my stomach.  The pit is the turd of commitment, wondering whether it’s going to be released or if I’m going to get off the can upon which I sit.  Will I act now (the only time a committed person can act) or salve these contradictions with another, more elaborate excuse?  (I’m leaning toward the former route).

With this in mind, here are some things to contemplate for your life:

  1. What do you say you want or are committed to that you are not doing?
  2. What is the impact of not fulfilling on this commitment? Wasted time, dejected friends, unexpressed desires, poor health, etc.
  3. What excuses make your lack of results surrounding your commitments acceptable? Lack of money, time, a tough childhood, a rough time in your life, an unsupportive environment, etc.
  4. What are your excuses hiding? For example, that you are not in fact committed to the things you say you are, that you are afraid you won’t be able to fulfill on them, etc.
  5. Write out a list of the results in your life that contradict your desires and commitments. Write them undiluted by excuses.
  6. Commit to one thing for next week to fulfill on a desire or commitment.  For example, commit to meditating 10 minutes every morning without fail.  Note your excuses when you don’t want to fulfill.  See how these excuses stop you in every area of your life.

Will You Help Me Make My Dreams Come True?

6 months ago I set out to start my dream career as a personal development writer.  My idea was to create an alternative to the Deepak Choprah’s and Dr. Phil’s of the world.  It wasn’t that I thought those guys were harmful—it was that they didn’t speak to me and my life.  I was not brought up studying Vedic texts in India.  I am not a middle-aged Texan in a suit.  I’m a suburban-born, TV-fed, English major trying to grow up.

I also felt like few were talking about my problems.  I’ve dealt and deal with some heavy shit—family turmoil, drugs, alcohol, broken relationships, career, troubled relationship to technology, etc.  Stuff most of my friends deal with too.  I wondered why few personal development writers were talking about these issues directly.

Through various emotional and physical practices, much of the aforementioned heavy shit has been wiped away as if by transformational toilet paper.  My writing is meant as a way to offer you the same toilet paper squares that were offered to me.  I also want to offer it in a way that is neither intellectually, aesthetically nor aromatically repellent.  I want to speak to the masses who don’t need butterfly and lotus flower visual motifs to denote personal transformation.  For a career and life’s purpose, there is nothing I’d rather do.

Last week I had the most traffic I’ve had in my 6 months of keeping this blog owing to a series of posts about relationships and dating.  It’s popularity made me wonder:  What the hell do people like to read about?  What do they want to see?  How might I better serve The?

So I have an open request for suggestions.  Will you please answer one, some or all of the following questions about me and my writing:

  1. What works?  For example, do you like personal narrative or more instructional stuff?  Do you like longer or shorter pieces?
  2. What doesn’t work?  Is my stuff too long, too wordy, too pedantic, too vulgar, etc.?
  3. What are you favorite topics?  Relationships, goal-setting, beliefs, etc.
  4. What would you like to see that is not here?  Some ideas I’ve had include short instructional videos, guest interviews and an advice column.  Do any of these sound appealing?  Do you have other suggestions?
  5. How would you suggest I improve my outreach and increase readership?
  6. Who do you think are the most helpful figures in personal development, spirituality and self-help (beside me of course)?  What do you like about them?
  7. Do you have any skills or resources you’d like to lend me?  Perhaps you want to do a branding experiment with me.  Perhaps you are a writer who wants to engage a dialogue.  Please let me know what you have to offer (I’ll be happy to help you in any way I can).
  8. Etc.  Something I’m not asking.

I am committed to making this dream take form, but it will not happen without your support.  I urge and invite you to take a few minutes to help me (leave suggestions in comments below or email me at df [at] davidfriedlander [dot] come).

What’s in it for you, you ask?  The answer is that you affirm that you live in a supportive world.  This is not merely a self-serving answer.  If you don’t take action to help others realize their dreams, who will do it for you?  For my part, there is a standing offer to help you in any way that my talents and time permit.  Let me know.

What Do You Want?

Tell me what you want, what you really, really want.

I had coffee with a new friend the other day.  He asked me the dreaded question—the same question I ask when I encounter someone who is experiencing confusion, powerlessness or frustration with his life.  Answering this question can threaten the delicate balance of the answerer’s emotional and physical ecosystem.  The question is, “What do you want?”

I was flummoxed.  I thought I knew, but things had changed since the last time I wrote out what I wanted.  You see, every now and again I list out what I want for my life.  I get as detailed as possible, creating a material and emotional blueprint for my life.  The more detailed I get, the more likely I am to move in specific directions and ask specific questions.  Here are some examples of things I currently want:

  • To develop my writing such that it supports me and a family materially and spiritually in abundance
  • To start a family by the end of 2012
  • To live each day joyfully and filled with love

My wants exist as possibilities.  They are often unprecedented and have little relation to my past experiences.  The trouble is if my past dictated what I want now, I would content myself with a heated home and a girlfriend who doesn’t shoot heroin.  Not a particularly inviting future.

The most unsettling part of the question is what stating my desires entails.  If I want this, then what do I have to do?  Who do I need to be?  What if the actions I need to take and the person I need to be are different than what I’m doing and how I’m being?

Well they are different.  How do I know?  Because my current actions and states perfectly ally to produce what—and only what—I currently have.  In other words, I do what I do and I am what I am and that gives me exactly what I have.  These actions and behaviors are manifestations of unconscious desires (looking good, comfort, etc.), which are fine, but not necessarily gratifying in the long run.

If I want things other than what I have now, I need to supplant my old actions and ways of being for new ones.  For example, in order to make my living off of writing, I need to be bold, disciplined, organized, etc.  These new actions and states might not jive with last night’s engorgement on grass-fed beef and sweet potatoes while watching Deadwood on DVD.

I answered my friend’s question as best I could.  I’m not totally clueless as to what I want.  But I also saw the need for refining what I want.  It’s easier to chart a course with a map.

With these thoughts in mind, here are some exercises I’m incorporating into my life and suggest you do too:

  1. What do you want? Get as detailed as possible—emotional state, health, profession, relationships, living environment, etc.  These desires should be authentic—i.e. they are your desires, not ones shaped by the past or someone else’s conceptions; do your best to keep what your parents’ or a multinational corporation’s desires for you out of your answers.  Feel free to co-create with the people in your life; for example, make sure what you want aligns with what your wife or business partner wants.  Don’t butt desires.  Write them down and keep them somewhere you can see.  Be willing to amend if you’re wrong about what you want.
  2. Who do you need to be to get what you want? This step is aligning yourself emotionally with your desires.  For example, if you want to be a professional singer, but you’re too timid to audition, you will need to be courageous.
  3. What do you need to do to get what you want? Once you believe that what you want is possible, you will have to take certain steps—go to that audition, write that novel, quit that job, etc.
  4. Every morning, ask yourself “what do I need to do and who do I need to be to get what I want?” Write out your answers and let them inform how you conduct yourself in the world.  See what happens.

 

You Will Never Get a Break

In the summer of 1997 I rode my bicycle from Boulder, Colorado to Seattle, Washington to Portland, Maine.  It was an epic journey.  I hated almost every minute of it.

The problem was that I wanted to say I rode across the US more than I wanted to ride it.  This dubious motivation made me want the trip over before it began.  I wanted the medallion of cross-country tourer.  Most of the countless hours in the saddle were spent listening to the nagging mantra, “Am I there yet?”

The only times I enjoyed myself were during the hardest moments.  There were a few mountain passes in the Washington—Rainy, North Cascades and Sherman—where I scaled 20-plus mile passes in rain and 40-degree temperatures.  The conditions were so consuming that I couldn’t focus on the fact that the ride wasn’t over.  As cliche as it sounds, when I became absorbed by the journey, not the destination, I actually had a good time. Continue reading “You Will Never Get a Break”

On Talking Shit

Watch out for empty speech.

When I boozed a lot, I bought a micro-cassette recorder to keep track of all my ideas.  I was certain alcohol was the lubricant that unlocked my genius.  While drunk, I spoke poetry, I ejaculated ideas of earth-shattering import, I was an uncaged, intellectual giant.  And while I couldn’t stay drunk all the time (try as I did) I could record the profusion of profundity my debauches unleashed.

I would listen to the recordings the next day, eager to convert my ideas into gold.  What I invariably heard was horseshit, unless you consider protracted, vowel-heavy emanations the hallmark of genius.  “I aaaaaaaaaamm gooooooaannnn staaaaaaann, aaaaaahhh….”

Meaningless speech is by no means the sole domain of 2AM drunken ramblings:

  • “I’ll call you.”
  • “Maybe see you there tonight.”
  • “I’m going to cut out sugar this month.”
  • “For sure, let’s start a _____ group/business/team.”
  • “Blah, blah, fuckity, blah.”

We say things all the time that we either don’t think through, don’t mean or are irresolute about.  We make plans, conjure up big ideas and declare that we will make them happen—“for sure”—only to forget these things or “change our minds” when we see what it takes to carry them out.

Breaking our word is made easier by peers who let us off the hook because they don’t want to get called out on their broken word.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call last night,” we might say.

“Oh, that’s cool.  Don’t sweat it,” they say, knowing that their excusal is a coupon for their own future transgressions.

What happens over time is that every promise unkept, appointment missed, agreement broken and project abandoned creates a karmic residue.  It’s not only that others learn not to believe what we say.  We don’t believe what we say.  We don’t trust ourselves.  The connection between what we say and do is weakened.  Depending on how far we let it slide, our word can mean nothing, little or, as is the case for majority of people, it’s like a lottery that pays out every now and again.

This whole “be your word” thing is dicey in some circles.  Many think, “Don’t be such a hard-ass.  Take it easy.  They’re just words.”

I would love to take it easy.  I would love it if all the things I said but did not follow through with had no impact on me and didn’t diminish people’s estimation of me.  But my experience is unequivocal:  when I break my word it diminishes my power to make things happen.

If you’re finding it tough to keep you word, or you feel like you can’t get shit moving in your life, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Keep track of what you say. Whether it’s a planner, notebook or phone, have someplace where you keep track of what you say you’ll do (this includes old stuff).  Let your unkept words burn a hole in your head until you follow through with and complete them.
  2. Honor your word, even when you don’t keep it. There are times when you are compelled to break your word for whatever reason—sickness, injury, death, some unmissable opportunity arises.  If that’s the case, honor your word and do your best to clean it up.  If it’s a broken appointment, reschedule.  If it’s a project or goal you set out to do by a certain time, renegotiate the time.  This caveat can be abused.  We can become known as a cleanup crew for broken words.  Honoring your word in the face of a broken one is plan B.  It’s easier to stick with plan A wherever possible and keep your word.
  3. Shut up. Really, stop talking shit.  Stop saying things you don’t mean or have no intention of following through with.  It’s better to not make an appointment than make one and miss it.  I heard somewhere, “A good man does what he says.  A wise man doesn’t say much.”

Defragment Your World


What are the gaps in your life? Any why are you still using a PC?

About 3 years ago I made a determination to stop doing work that was inconsistent with my values.  I was 31 years-old, had recently finished my undergraduate degree and was squandering my vital juices on well-paid, but meaningless work.  I wanted something more from my life.  I figured the first step to doing meaningful work was to stop doing the meaningless stuff.

The quick backstory of my late graduation is that I dropped out of school when I was 23 to get sober.  After floundering through much of my 20’s, I found myself 27 years old, bereft of direction, with access to an education trust set up by my grandparents.  The choice to return to school seemed obvious.

While in school, I continued to work 20-30 hours a week as a cater-waiter captain—essentially the head waiter or maitre’d of an event.  The job paid between $30-50 an hour.  Because my tuition and living expenses were paid for by the trust, most of the money I made from that job was saved.  I finished school flush with cash.

I got my degree in creative writing and literature.  I wanted to write for a living, but ideas about how to do that were not forthcoming, so I continued to cater in the meantime.

But catering created a huge internal inconsistency.  While it was fun and easy, I saw its net impact on the world was somewhere between zero and negative 1000.  Most events created mountains of waste, which completely ran counter to what I knew about what was going on with the environment.

Destroying the environment would have been tolerable if the work seemed important.  Instead, my principle duty was idealizing the artificial.  Most events were product launches and other PR events or posh dinner and cocktail parties hosted by the ridiculously-rich and mostly gay.  I directed staffs of male models and actors to create fantasy worlds—ones littered with chiseled features; ones that precluded ugliness, age, poverty or any other unseemly aspect of reality.  I felt like I was responsible for arranging human parsley sprigs on cardboard steaks. Continue reading “Defragment Your World”

Are You a Wuss?

Sometimes you just need to man up.

When I was two, my parents divorced.  My mother received custody of me and my brother, making us a single-parent home.  Mom became the woman and man of the house, and dad an every-other-week presence with an ill-defined sexual role.

I learned little about being a man from my mother’s hermaphroditic parenting outside of the inference that if mom could take on both roles, men and women are probably pretty much the same thing excepting some anatomical differences.

Most other notions about what a man was came from TV.  BA Baracus and Hannibal from the A-Team and Magnum PI seemed like real men.  They got shit done.  They drove fast, bedded women, solved problems and fired cabbages at bad guys.  Unfortunately, they provided no instruction.  For that, I just had mom.

If you want to guarantee a boy never becomes a man, hold up a woman trying to be a man as a role model.  You don’t make the boy a man.  You make him a wuss. Continue reading “Are You a Wuss?”

I’ll Do It, But I’m Not Going to Like It

Dan and the cart in warmer days.
Dan and the cart in warmer days.

Yesterday, I was playing Battleship with my cousin’s 5 year-old son. The game started well enough but as soon as I started getting ahead (I’ve got 29 years of strategic thinking on him), he started whining.  He wanted to play, but apparently didn’t want to do it if it meant losing.  His whining got me thinking about my own recent behavior.

My friend Dan Paluska started an art/media project called “Brooklyn Mobile.”  It’s a cart he takes around downtown Brooklyn, asking people if they would like to make Youtube videos.  The intention of the project is to create a case-study in democratized news; the cart allows people on the street to be news-creators as opposed to the questionably motivated Fox News, CNN, CNBC and others.  The reality of Brooklyn Mobile is a lot of teenagers giving shout-outs to their peeps.

I often help Dan schlep the cart around Brooklyn.  The two of us hawk passerby’s asking, “Would you like to make a free Youtube video?”  We make a funny pair:  two tall white dudes with a ramshackle cart asking a primarily black and latino downtown Brooklyn population is they’d like to be on the internet.  It’s a blast.

Anyway, a film company took interest in Brooklyn Mobile and wanted to film it as part of some lame public relations campaign for a behemoth multinational corporation.  Dan is in Costa Rica, so he asked me if I wanted to do it.  Because working the cart is fun and I’m vain, I said I would. Continue reading “I’ll Do It, But I’m Not Going to Like It”

Practicum: Stop, Like, Castrating Your Words, You Know? Like, Today!

I wouldn't recommend Google Image searching "castration." Image via flickr.

Each day, there was an ominous sign at the front of the room:  “What are you pretending not to know?”  Each day it got bigger.  “What are you pretending not to know?”  Until, on the last day, it was an enormous poster.  “What are you pretending not to know?”

The place was one of those “large group awareness trainings” I’ve mentioned here before.  In this case, something called Personal Dynamics here in NYC.  It was many years ago, but the question lingers:  What am I pretending not to know about my life?

Most of our lives depend on not owning or accepting certain facts we know full well.  To our thinking, if we acknowledge and accept these facts, it would necessitate action, which we fear taking for whatever reason.  So we either don’t talk about these things, shoving them into our psyche the best we can, or we buffet their impact with noncommittal language.

For example, I was in a relationship a few years ago with someone I knew I was incompatible with.  I attempted to reconcile it with myself and with her for some time, but became convinced that it was dead long before it died.  The principle way I stayed in it was by refusing to talk about it.  Speak no evil….

The other way I avoided addressing my woes—a way that still works quite well—was with a smokescreen of irresolute language, fraught with “hedge words.”

One definition I found calls hedge words “any device that qualifies the writer’s [or speaker’s] commitment to the truth of what is being communicated.”  Traditionally, hedge words are words like “might,” “could,” “I don’t think,” etc.  They’re a way people can say something without committing to the statement’s veracity.  For example, “I am not sure if I feel satisfied with this relationship” versus “I am dissatisfied with this relationship.”  The former, hedging statement permits wiggle room, because of all the qualifications that lessen its impact.  Another reading of the first statement is, “I am not sure I am not happy with this relationship.”  The latter, declarative statement issues a fact.  Facts are objectively what is so (even when the fact is my opinion).  In this case, dissatisfaction is a fact (it certainly was for me).

The most pernicious and ubiquitous hedge words are “like” and “you know.”  These three words are responsible for castrating the thoughts and speech of several generations of English speakers. Continue reading “Practicum: Stop, Like, Castrating Your Words, You Know? Like, Today!”

The World is Your Dutch Oven

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BI23U7U2aUY

Have you ever been sitting alone in a public space letting off stinky farts?  On the one hand, we might feel comforted by the fact that we are alone.  Somehow smelling our own farts doesn’t bother us as much as smelling other peoples.  Personally, I am strangely curious about my farts’ particular flavor profiles.  Sometimes they’re highly sulfuric, sometimes they have a rotting vegetable thing going on.  They have a certain compelling dissonance, like Schoenberg or a Michael Haneke film—you want to cover your ears or look away, but something draws you in.

On the other hand, our solitary comfort is an uneasy one.  Since it’s a public space, we don’t want anyone to enter our orbit until the smell goes away.  We do quick, dog-like sniffs, monitoring the rate of dissipation, hoping that when someone does inevitably come by, the fart’s intensity will have mellowed.  But what if they come at the peak of its intensity?  We fear what people will think of us, when they know we are capable of such odoriferous atrocities.  We fear being scorned.  Maybe they’ll walk away and avoid us in the future, affixing a scarlet F to our blousons.  Maybe no one will like us when they know our acrid insides.

Self-expression can be a bit like farting in a public space.  We feel compelled to emit something, to share our unique funk, but we are afraid of what will happen when other people are exposed to it.  What will they think of us when they smell, see, hear, touch or taste the things that lurk inside of us?

Here are some questions to ponder today:

  1. What is the fart you are trying to conceal from the world? What are you holding back, hoping no one knows about you?
  2. Are you content to worry in isolation about your fart being smelled?
  3. Or are you willing to invite people into your Dutch Oven? Are you willing to be known inside and out, giving people the opportunity to appreciate your particular funk?