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?

No Shit Dating and Relationship Advice (Part IV)

Photo by Jim Newberry

[This is going to be the final installment of this series.  It pretty much sums up my whole view of relationships, though the preceding installments are useful for more tactical approaches to dating and relationships.]

Be the person you want to attract and be in a relationship with

It’s never, ever, ever, ever about the other person.  Not even that one time.

This is the sad and good news.  Sad because accepting this holds us responsible for all of our failed relationships, courting nightmares and people we attract.  Good because nothing is wrong with the universe.  There is no shortage of good men or sane women.  Our childhoods did not irreparably damage us.  We are the problem and solution.  We hold the key to your pasts, presents and futures.

An easy way to demonstrate this is by looking at how we often seek qualities in a partner that we do not possess ourselves.  I know scores of fat, out-of-shape guys who deride women for not being pretty and thin enough.  I know scores of women who complain about men being irresolute and uncommitted yet engage in relationships with these same men, even though the women know they are not what they want; in other words, they are irresolute and uncommitted about what they want.

Focusing on other people’s faults always seems to make ours disappear.

If you want a fit partner, exercise.  If you want a more worldly partner, travel.  If you want a partner who listens, listen.  If want more mature partners, be mature.  If you want greater commitment, commit to what you want.

Perhaps you think you are the things you seek.  You think you are responsible, healthy, or whatever trait you’re looking for in a partner.  Yet you attract irresponsible, unhealthy, etc. partners—or none at all.  Instead of asking yourself if you might be the problem, conceding that you may have blind-spots about yourself, you blame the other party.  You sooner declare a global drought of suitable partners than look at what it is in you that continually attracts and creates what you seemingly don’t want.

I write “seemingly” because we always get what we want, even though it seems like we don’t.  The problem is what we want unconsciously trumps what we want consciously.  Our want to feel important, look good, be comfortable, be right, secure, not change, not be alone and so on, trumps and undermines our want to be happy, healthy, generous, etc.  Don’t believe me?  Look at your relationships and who you attract into your life.  They are the evidence that this is true.

Many of us will point to our families and friendships as evidence that we aren’t doing anything wrong.  Because they work so well, it shows that we know how to be in healthy relationships.  The only logical conclusion is that there is a good-man or sane-woman shortage.

Family, friends, co-workers and other non-romantic relationships show us who we are, but not in the way romantic ones do.  If relationships are like mirrors for who we are, then family, friends, etc. are like a mirror you pass in the hallway—useful for straightening up and checking yourself out.  Romantic relationships are like those cosmetic mirrors, where every pore and imperfection stands out.  Our romantic partners and prospects show us what we really think about ourselves, what we are really willing to accept out of our lives—not some intellectualized concept we talk about with friends.

This close-viewing is the promise romantic relationships hold.  It’s hard to find out so much about ourselves without this level of intimacy.  Living a life filled with only friends and family, it’s easier to stop short of full self-knowledge.  The level of closeness inherent in romantic relationships forces people to do one of three things:  confront themselves, impose an uneasy stalemate or abandon ship.  If you’re ready to take a deep look at yourself and really free yourself, few situations are more conducive to that than romantic relationships.

Also realize that just because our partners and prospects don’t match up with the misbegotten notions we have about ourselves, this inconsistency need not be a deal-breaker.  We need people to work our shit out with.  It’s preferable to do it with someone who’s more-or-less on the same page.  It’s delusional to think you’re going to find someone without problems.  The key is to find someone with complimentary problems and wants to work them out with you.  This is actually the best part of my present relationship:  we both have shit, but we use each other to work that shit out.

This is all a long-winded way of saying keep the attention on yourself.  Like everything, courtship, dating and relationships are inside jobs.  The perceiver and the perceived are the same thing.  You want to attract a great partner?  You want a great relationship?  Be a great person.

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.

Support Local Inspiration

I wish I could be like Bieber and is that Kanye West? I want to be like him too. Image via justinbieberneversaynever.com

Justin Bieber has a new movie called “Never Say Never,”  whose website promises, “Find out what’s possible when you never give up,” and gives this synopsis:

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never is the inspiring true story and rare inside look at the rise of Justin from street performer in the small town of Stratford, Ontario to internet phenomenon to global super star culminating with a dream sold out show at the famed Madison Square Garden in 3-D.

Seeing the Bieb’s movie made me think of a funeral I went to last night for my friend Clemente.

Clemente died about a week ago.  He was only 50 or so, but had been dealing with numerous ailments for a while.  Though his death was well within the realm of possibility, it was still a shock.

Clemente was a complicated figure I knew through a 12-step community. He was an outspoken advocate for taking newly sober people swiftly through all 12 steps.  He ridiculed the “easy does it”/“don’t drink and go to meetings” approach to getting sober, thinking it homicidal for someone who needed real relief from his demons.  His rhetoric was not hollow.  He practiced what he preached.  In the 5 years I knew him, I saw him repeatedly give his time and energy to countless men and women, many of whom seemed like lost causes.  Many of these people have stayed sober to this day.  Clemente saved lives.

His charity didn’t buffer an edge about him.  He was a pissed-off man.  He thought other people were doing things wrong and he let them know.  He was controlling and unyielding.  He felt misunderstood and ostracized and carried a major chip on his shoulder; this disposed people to misunderstand and ostracize him.   He was pedantic and self-righteous.  When he got deep into Roman Catholicism in the last couple years, his righteousness was turbocharged.

Yet in all his complexity, in all his abrasiveness and anger, Clemente was an inspirational figure in my life.  Unlike the Justin Bieber’s of the world (or his more sophisticated equivalents), he wasn’t an abstraction or a snapshot.  His trajectory to greatness was not linear or nicely packaged.  He wasn’t handsome.  He made weird grunting sounds due to his medical conditions.  He lived with his mom and got fired from his last job as a doorman because he was supposedly overheard saying he hated rich people (he confessed to me that he thought that, but never said it).  Yet more than most people, he “never said never” when it came to giving himself to those in need.   He was a pissed off Puerto Rican who showed me what is possible when you never give up. I’ll miss him.

I like to keep my inspiration local.  I’ve got many people like Clemente in my life—highly flawed people who kick ass anyway.  Many of these people, like Clemente, are not young, handsome, pretty, rich, famous or charming.  And yet it is through my intimacy with them—through knowing the specifics of their challenges and how they surmount them—that my admiration grows.  It is the reality of them that inspires me, not the fantasy.  I don’t need movies or magazine profiles to show me that people can overcome obstacles.  I’ve got phone numbers.

With this in mind, here are some things to consider:

  1. If your primary source of inspiration comes from people you don’t know, get off it. It’s easy to love people from afar.  Go local for your inspiration.
  2. If you don’t have many inspirational people in your life, don’t ditch your friends, start inspiring them. You’re probably a downer, so start sourcing inspiration.  You’ll attract inspiring people and help the people already in your life.
  3. Start looking for inspiration in the people in your life. Everyone’s doing their best.  Find that best in them and acknowledge it.

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? 

Facing Doubt and Indecision the Mormon Way

WWBYD? Image via Wikipedia.

Fortunate for my readers, I have finished watching the PBS documentary about the Mormons, but not without a comet’s tail of inspiration from these hardworking, family-oriented, non-drinking, upright Utahans.

Many know that the two most important figures in Mormon’s founding were Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  Smith was the guy who found the gold plates, wrote the Book of Mormon, wedded quite a few damsels and was killed in Carthage, Illinois by an angry mob (apparently a not-too-uncommon way to go back then).  He was the proverbial charismatic leader:  surefooted, sweet-tongued and good looking.  Like Jim Morrison or Tupac Shakur, his glamorous legacy was embalmed by an early death.

Young was the stalwart—more of a Randy Newman or Tom Petty figure.  Stolid, long-lived, awkward and not-so-easy on the eyes (see pic above).  After Smith’s murder, it was the corpulent Young who led the Mormon’s slog across the plains and over the mountains to Salt Lake City.  If Smith was the hare, Young was the tortoise.

Throughout the early years of Young’s tenure as Mormon leader, he was plagued by doubt.  He was not blessed with Smith’s speed-dial-with-God variety of inspiration.  He didn’t think himself worthy of his position until a vision in 1847.  Continue reading “Facing Doubt and Indecision the Mormon Way”

Diary of a Mad White Man: Addendum to Yesterday's Post

Madea and David Friedlander
Don't mess with me or Madea.

Yesterday I wrote a post about Peter the bore.  It was essentially a diatribe about his inauthenticity, his desire (and resultant failure) to impress, his lack of interest in those around him, and so on.  It was a warning to all the boring people in the world to straighten out and fly right.

I was pretty proud of myself for such lucid thinking, deconstructing the aggregates of boringness.  I thought I did a real mitzvah to all the bores or potential bores of the world.  They could read my post and reflect on and alter their behavior.

Last night, I headed over to my girlfriend’s where we were to have dinner with a couple friends.  I printed out my post, eager to serenade her with my mellifluous excoriation of the intolerable.

When I got to her place, I asked if I could read it to her.  She said of course.  I read it aloud and after the first few paragraphs I noticed something that I didn’t reading it to myself:  the author sounded really pissed off. Continue reading “Diary of a Mad White Man: Addendum to Yesterday's Post”

Are You an Idea Junkie?

[Read below for my limited time offer of unaccredited idea-coaching!  Supply is limited (supply is one actually)]

Ideas I’ve bailed on:

  1. Bike racing
  2. High school debate team
  3. Biking around the world
  4. Become a chef
  5. Modeling
  6. Dramatic acting
  7. Comedic acting
  8. Stand-up comedy
  9. Personal training
  10. Starting an ecologically-minded catering company
  11. Several girlfriends
  12. Mortgage sales (this was a quick one)
  13. Blog journalism (despite the money!)

I was thinking about these ideas a few weeks ago as I watched a talk by Scott Belsky at an event I help run.  Belsky wrote a book called, “Making Ideas Happen.”  In it, he outlines the difference between ideas that come into being and those that don’t.

Belsky explained that when an idea is new, progress is swift because everything is novel, learning curves are steep and we have nothing to prove.  We are willing to work long and hard.  We are unencumbered by pride as there is no shame in screwing up.  We’re beginners and that’s what beginners do.

But then something happens?  We develop some competency and the honeymoon ends.  We are no longer just dating our ideas—we’re married to them.  That’s where the work starts and where most people bail.  Unfortunately, most of us bail before our ideas even have an opportunity to fail (or succeed of course).  Continue reading “Are You an Idea Junkie?”

Killing My Inner Child

That was supposed to be me up there.

My first and last bike race started with a clatter and ended with a whimper.  I was fourteen and had entered the Illinois state road championships months before.  This would be my first outing on my coveted and crinkled US Cycling Federation category-four license.
The race would mark my ascent to cycling greatness.  Soon I would be among cycling legends:  Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, American Greg Lemond, who had just won his second Tour de France by eight seconds that day.
In preparation for the euro racing circuit, I dressed like top pros for my premiere race, wearing my PDM jersey (then the most powerful cycling team in the world) and a “hairnet,” a leather and soft-foam head covering that offers about as much protection as its food-service namesake.
My older brother, who also had an interest in cycling, drove me to the event in his beat up 83’ Toyota Celica.  My race started at 8:30 in Bloomington, a Podunk town two and a half hour drive from our place in the south suburbs of Chicago.  We arrived around 8:25. Continue reading “Killing My Inner Child”

Judgment Day

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrd-3R2Hc94&feature=related]

A Swiss-born artist named Clarina Bezzola has a performance piece called “Judgment Day.”  In a video of the performance, she wears large mitts that look like fingers, and strolls through Manhattan, pointing at things with the fingers, proclaiming her judgments of all she sees.
Bezzola begins her journey enthusiastically.  She states the good (farmers market, dog run, outdoor cafe) and the bad (a big Ralph Lauren ad, Fresh Direct, church).  But as her negative judgments turn into a frenzy, she loses steam.  She judges, but without verve.  Her pointing fingers drag.  Judgment, the viewer can surmise, is hard work.
Bezzola’s performance is suggestive of the Hamletian maxim that “nothing is either good or bad, but thinking [or judging] makes is so.”
Her’s is not a novel concept (Hamlet was published around the turn of the 17th century and I think a few others have stated similar conceits).  But it’s a nice illustration of how most of us go through the world:  creating collages of positive and negative judgments.  We like ice cream, social justice and Ira Glass.  We don’t like Wonder Bread, the industrial military complex and Glenn Beck. Continue reading “Judgment Day”