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.

You’re not a Champion Because You’re Unwilling to Suck

I am not seduced by learning curves. I want to be good at everything–immediately. When I play golf, I should swing like Tiger Woods. When I do public speaking, I should orate like Honest Abe. When I meditate, I should focus like the Dalai Lama. It’s a phenomenon I call the “instant expert.”

Oftentimes, experience supports my delusion. For example, as someone who has never played gold, I imagine I would demonstrate exponential growth my first time out–mainly because I would go from zero skill to some.

This growth might continue for a few outings. I’d feel pretty good about myself. I’d buy a punch-card at a country club (or whatever golfers do).

Then my learning curve would start to plateau. Gains would come with great difficulty. I’d start thinking, “Golf is lame. All the resources used for maintaining a patch of land for the 1% to tread upon…I’m too disgusted to play.” The punch-card would expire and I’d return to the things I do with a semblance of competency, like flossing my teeth.

Most of us make poor skill mean we aren’t good at something. Quitting means that we have determined that we will never be good, like it’s an immutable law.

More pernicious is this: we conflate what we do with who we are. If I suck at something, it means I suck as a person. If this is true, we must find things we are good at and avoid those we are not. This is why TV and the internet are so popular: they allow us to be instant experts. I was good at watching TV almost from the first time I watched it.

Like many people, there are things I want to do beside web-surf, watch TV and floss. Of those thing, I suck at many, if not most of them. Or I am transitioning from suckiness to passable competency.

I write, but my words are often meandering and vague. I ain’t got a book deal. I am an employee, but sometimes I can be a dunce at work. I am a husband, but I can sometimes be a total dick (sorry babe). I am going to be a father, and though I’ve pre-ordered my “Dad of the Year” t-shirt, there may be a period where I am not the most expert father.

Of this situation, I think of an Ira Glass quote:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners…For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good….A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. [Full quote here].

The gap between what we know we can do and what we’re doing can be frustrating. But we’ve got to know it’s an intrinsic part of the process. There was a time when we all of us sucked at walking. Now we’ve attained some level of mastery. It’s not magic. It’s a function taking consistent action (i.e. walking).

What if sucking at something didn’t mean that we, as people, sucked? What if it just meant we lacked a particular skill-set–one we could learn? What would that make possible?

The Bouncer at the Gates of Heaven

On this site, I talk about how to handle relationships, overcome challenges, fears and the like. I tell stories about how I deal and have dealt with these various situations. I paint the picture that I have prevailed and am prevailing in the face of it all. And if I can do it, you can too! I even give instructions how.

There are many peddlers of personal empowerment like me. We are not sages, just guys and girls who’ve discovered a modicum of personal freedom and want to share our experiences with the world. Our central tenants are overcoming fear, explosive self-expression and abundant living.

But there’s a trap with producing and consuming personal empowerment: it’s that freedom isn’t an end in and of itself, it’s a means.  We overcome fear, explosively express ourselves and start living abundantly so we can get lots of dates, be famous and make lots of money.

This is a sort of spiritual Chinese handcuffs: the more we focus on becoming free so we can achieve the goals that elude us, the more we substantiate our lack of freedom. We perpetuate the notion that free people don’t get nervous, they aren’t obsequious and they certainly aren’t broke. Until we are those things, freedom will be out of our grasp. Freedom and happiness forever remain something out there, in the future, when; not something here, now.

What if freedom became our ends, not our means? What if freedom looked a lot different than what we thought it did? What if it happened in a cubicle or looking at your flabby body? What if all our indicators of freedom were false? What if we could be free now with our never-going-to-be-famous, inhibited, broke-ass selves? How might that change our day? What excuses would that take away?

What Do You Think of Me?

Self promotion is a funny thing. While most of us are dying for attention and recognition for who we are and what we do, when it comes time to actually show who we are and what we do, we demure. We don’t want to be thought boastful or self-important. We want to wait until our work is ready to put ourselves out there.

The truth is we don’t share ourselves because we don’t want to be judged. We don’t want anyone to question our awesomeness, so we keep it to ourselves, pets and small children. We value maintaining a fragile sense of self–one that cannot withstand scrutiny and judgment–more than contributing something meaningful to the world.

In December, my wife and I got married. We had a novel approach to having a wedding and we wanted to share it. The NY Times covered it and it eventually made its way to Huffington Post and Gawker. The latter website deemed it, “The Most Obnoxious, Do-Good Wedding Ever.”  One Huffpo commenter remarked of the wedding,

It was grotesquely obnoxious. It was taking people who feel socially obliged to attend and shoving your pet ideology down their throats. If you think it was affirming, substitute right-wing fanaticism for this left-wing fanaticism.

You know what? Despite this vitriol, my wife and I are okay. We still got married. The people at the wedding still had a great time. We still believe we helped people rethink weddings and marriage.

Our time on earth is too short to withhold ourselves, guarding ourselves from judgment and scrutiny. The world is going to judge you no matter what. Neither you, nor your work are ready for public display. Fuck it. Show us anyway.

Guido the Great

The big sexy car that almost killed me.

I was on my cell the other day, pacing down a Cobble Hill, Brooklyn side-street on a lovely Tuesday afternoon.  As I meandered from one side of the street to the other, I heard a V8 engine growl.  A brand-new, black BMW 7-series was barreling straight toward me.

While physics has other ideas, I felt like I could crush this wannabe speed-racer and teach him a lesson about safe driving.  He approached doing about 50 mph.  I stayed in the street and stuck my foot out like I was going to kick his car, asserting my pedestrian power.

Kicking cars is a recurrent act that has resulted in one outright assault and several near-misses.  In truth, I am not that tough.  However my aversion to combat is often overshadowed by my righteousness.

Anyway, seconds after my air-kick, the dude (and you know it’s a dude), screeches to halt, backs up, stops the car, and starts shouting at me out of his window.  I hope he doesn’t have a gun.

“You do not kick my fucking car, motherfucker,” followed by additional, threatening oration that more or less built on this initial thesis.

“You were doing 70 mph and could have hit me,” I replied.

He let off a few more expletives and started to drive away.  I took out a pen and paper to write down his license plate number.  He saw this and didn’t like it.  He stopped again, got out of the car, and got in my face.

“You taking down my license motherfucker?”

“Yes, I am.”

“You do not want to fuck with me.”  This comment had more than a whiff of truth.  Here was a guy, one I imagined to be of Italian-American ancestry, who had the diction of a high school dropout yet was driving an $80K car and outfitted with the accoutrement suggesting he bought the car (Persol glasses, Rolex, well-fitting jeans).  I imagined his last name to be Gotti or Gambino.

“You do not want to fuck with me,” he reiterated.  “What you jus’ move to this neighborhood, motherfucker?  I was born and raised here motherfucker.  Get the fuck outta here.”

While I hadn’t ‘just’ moved here, I was indeed relatively new to the neighborhood, and I did not think this was a very nice welcome from a local.  And while I believed he was born and raised here, I wondered why he had a Pennsylvania plate (I assumed because insurance is a lot cheaper in PA.  Smart move).  I decided to table that question.

He got right in my face.  “You do not want to fuck with me. You do not want trouble.”

The Oscar for best portrayal of a tough-guy goes to David Friedlander.  As he stood inches away, I didn’t move.  I had a relaxed stance, with my chest out.  I didn’t move my arms.  My unblinking eyes locked on his.

We were both lucky.  I was in a very clear state that day.  Though I didn’t say it, he was not going to fuck with me.  I wasn’t going to let him put me in a bad mood. Continue reading “Guido the Great”

Celebrate Dependence Day

We're whole together. (Full disclosure: I couldn't think of a relevant image for this post).

No home, a big duffel in hand, a bigger backpack on back, I headed to the uptown 1 train to crash on my buddy’s couch.  My body felt like a plucked tuning fork.  I heard every car honk, every splash when wheel hit puddle, felt every distant train rumble, smelled the dankness of cold-moisture and curbed garbage, saw every glimmer off the pavement, every swirl in the florescent lights in the train-stop.

The train arrived.  I sat and pulled out my notebook.  I had just broken up and everything was still and clear.  What had brought me to this place was clear—all the lies, all the needs I suppressed.  I was done.  I had needs.  I wrote down what I needed.  Someone who listens.  Someone who likes reading in bed (or at least appreciates that I do).  Someone who is openminded.  Someone who cares about the environment.  When I rattled off a couple pages of these things, I wrote out a declaration that for everything I listed, I would be willing to deliver the same thing.

I arrived at the 116th street stop.  A light glaze covered the bricks of Columbia’s campus walk.  I gulped in air.  I hadn’t breathed in a while.

I called my mom and told her what happened.  I apologized for lying to her (something I would do a lot of in the coming days).  Dishonesty cannot be not contained.  Lying in my relationship made it easier to lie to friends and family.  Since talking about my relationship was dooming it, I quit talking or showing up.

I got to my friend Chikodi’s place.  It was 1AM.   We talked for a couple hours—about what happened, what went wrong, what was possible now.  2 years of dammed energy were released.  There was no way I was going to sleep, so I pulled out computer and started to write.

Dear…
It’s almost 5 in the morning, I can’t sleep.  I just broke up with _____.  I’m laying on a friend’s couch.  I’ve very little idea what’s next—just a clearer idea of what will no longer be [doing my best imitation of Neo at the end of the Matrix]….I was just thinking about you.  How I’d love a lover who I would be excited to have you meet.  _____ was never that, and I’m sure it drove a fissure in our relationship….I’m sure there was an invisible but palpable toll on our connection, that everything had to be filtered through the lies that maintained my appearance of emotional and spiritual health.  It just wasn’t there…the health that is.
So to long health in a short life.
Love
David

I needed and wanted people in my life.  I was totally dependent on them. Continue reading “Celebrate Dependence Day”

All in All I’m Probably Just Another Brick in The Wall

I'm the brick on the 3rd from top row, right where the K intersects.

In 1994, I was 18 and really into Pink Floyd.  Meddle, Animals, Wish You Were Here, The Wall—I loved them all.  Their songs were elegant, harmonic distillations of my disgust with the world.

Everyone was wrong.  Everyone was a brick in the wall.  No one knew why they were living.  They went to work, ate, drank, married, reproduced because they had been told to do so by the machine.  I had integrity (or at least as much integrity as someone can have while his parents pay rent and stock the refrigerator).  I would never be another brick in the wall.  No one would welcome me into any machine.

When I heard about their concert at Mile High Stadium in June, I made sure I had a ticket.  It would be the summer’s climax.

The day of the concert was a typically beautiful Colorado summer day—dry heat, sun with a little cloud-cover, a late afternoon sprinkle to cool things off.  Before heading down from Boulder, my friends and I ate some mushrooms.  To ensure the full experience of Pink Floyd’s insouciance, I ate a quarter ounce.

I had never been to a stadium show.  It didn’t seem like the best place to experience a concert, but I had faith in the Floyd to maintain their integrity.  Tickets were $80 after all.  How could an $80 show be bad?

My friends and I tailgated before the show, bringing a keg of beer to ease us into our mushroom trips.  Everything was going great until I entered the stadium.  The large spaces, the massive crowds of very brick-like characters, the hawking of t-shirts, the concession stands selling overpriced Coors and cheese-whizzed nachos.  I became immediately disturbed.  Then I found my seat.  It was on the first level, in the last row next to the exit.  Because the seat was deep under the first balcony, I had only a partial view of stage (apparently a large inflated pig came out of the top of the stage, but I didn’t see anything).  Florescent lights flickered overhead.  I couldn’t smoke weed because cops stood next to me throughout the show. Continue reading “All in All I’m Probably Just Another Brick in The Wall”

I Could Have Been the Next Zoolander

Gratuitous modeling contact sheet.

Shortly after moving to New York City, I decided to pursue a modeling career.  I was 25 years-old, tall, in good shape, directionless, and longing for affirmation.  The decision was a no-brainer.  I had some snapshots taken and used contacts from some gay men who’d taken a liking to me to get in with the top agencies—Ford, IMG, Boss, etc.  Most of the agents said the same thing:  “We like you, but you’re too commercial.”  This is agent-speak for you don’t have what it takes.

Despite narcissistic tendencies that say otherwise, I don’t think I was ever meant to be a model.  I could never warm up to the camera.  There was always a waft of fraudulence in my expressions—like I didn’t know why my picture was being taken.  The other problem was that most top models—male and female—have slim, photograph-friendly facial features.  I have a jawline as soft and narrow as an aircraft carrier.

Despite my physical deformities, one agency, Wilhelmina, did bite.  They asked me to test.  For those not in the know, a test is a professional shoot unrelated to a paid gig.  Some people test to have fresh shots in their portfolios.  I was testing so Wilhelmina could see how I’d look through a professional lens.

Interest by one of the world’s top agencies played into my fantasies.  I saw my life unfold—I would get the contract, I would travel around the world to exotic shoots, get a young, model girlfriend (probably French), wear awesome model clothes, swap workout tips with my model buddies.

And then Wilhelmina didn’t bite after seeing my test shots.  No exotic locales, no girlfriend, same clothes, same homely buddies.

A friend told me that many models cater-waiter between jobs as many catering clients like pretty boys to staff their parties.  Though I wasn’t pretty enough to model Diesel jeans, I was pretty enough to pass trays of champagne and caviar-topped blinis. Continue reading “I Could Have Been the Next Zoolander”

Who or What Owns You?

Who buys and sells you? Image via Steamboat Pilot

Which of the following people or things dictates your actions and choices.  Check all that apply.  Answer honestly.

  1. Your mother
  2. Your father
  3. Your step-mother
  4. Your step-father
  5. Your sibling(s)
  6. Your extended family
  7. Your girlfriend or boyfriend
  8. Your husband or wife
  9. Your ex-girlfriend(s) or ex-boyfriend(s)
  10. Your ex-husband(s) or ex-wife/wives
  11. Your job
  12. Your boss
  13. Your coworkers
  14. Your unemployment Continue reading “Who or What Owns You?”

A Funny Thing Occurred to Me While Tripping on Acid

Drugs were an unspeakable evil as a child growing up in the 80’s.  The “Just Say No” campaign bludgeoned me with fear.  Many of my mom’s friends experienced coke-fueled implosions.  Shane fell off the bridge and got brain damage on Degrassi High.

But my adolescence was an unspeakable evil too.  Without drugs, I was like a cold Chihuahua, thin, shivering, plaintive eyes, tail between my legs.  I walked around certain that no one liked me, unpopular with both sexes.  I offered guys no competition.  I offered women no confidence.  Most of my nights in high school were spent alone watching reruns of Quantum Leap.

Shortly after moving to Boulder, Colorado when I was 16, I was introduced to marijuana.  I was working at a bike shop.  One night after we closed, “Shorty,” a buzz-cut, army-fatigue-wearing, 6’5” Wisconsan, who grew skunk-smelling, crystal laden kind-bud (I’m not sure if they still call it that) lit up a bowl.

I took one puff of Shorty’s weed and was sent into paroxysms of coughing.  When the coughing subsided, I spent the rest of the night in the bike-storage room hallucinating that my parents were at the front of the shop. It was not an auspicious start.

Undaunted, I worked past this initial foreboding experience.  No feelings of near-death and extreme terror were going to deter me from squashing my depression.  Throughout that summer, I learned to love marijuana.  When I started my high school, that love blossomed.

Nancy Reagan lied.  Drugs were great. I spent the next few years continuously high. Continue reading “A Funny Thing Occurred to Me While Tripping on Acid”