What I Owe You

Along with the continually unhealthy desire of people to be nice there is another idiotic concept that needs to finish its lifecycle sooner rather than later – that’s the idea of ‘owing’ people things. It’s one thing if a person owes a bank or a friend money, these are transactions in which there is some type of contractual agreement, written or spoken, that sets the expectations of the arrangement. No, what I am speaking of is this overwhelmingly burdensome belief that if something positive should happen to an individual that they have an obligation to return or ‘pay forward’ the generosity they received.

First, I want the reader to understand this, I am NOT suggesting that a person become a total, self-serving prick. No, what I’m specifically addressing here is the too often occurring state of leveraged one-upmanship. We all know this type of relationship either from personal experience or having a loved one in this kind of demented predicament. There’re a variety of names for it but two prevailing extremes tend to make these people easily identifiable. The most common kinds are the ‘control freak’ and at the other end of the spectrum ‘the user’. Their describable behavior patterns are well documented so I won’t elaborate.

What I do wish to do here is emphasis the value of taking emotional inventory of relationships; particularly the ones involving family and/or spouses. A person can use whatever metaphor they like when undertaking this action…me I like to think of it as house cleaning. The dynamic that exists between two people doesn’t need to (and probably shouldn’t) be spotless. A little dust and dirt are natural. Trying to get every nook and cranny borders on mental defect and if that’s the prevailing personality of one of the respective party’s I can assure you they are the aforementioned ‘control freak’. Ultimately the level of commitment between two individuals should be clean, livable, and operable within the presence of company. Sure, things will get messy from time to time (keeping the analogy going) but at the end of the day how we are with those who matter shouldn’t require more than a gentle spring cleaning.

Someone’s Punching Bag

You live and you learn…or if you’re someone like me you live and you don’t, not at least until life hits you in the face so hard you find yourself emotional concussed. Of the variety of topics, I’ve covered so far, ranging from professional to academic and even including personal there’s one item I realized I haven’t spoken on (at least of any great length) and that’s self-worth. While the concept has been touched on I want to speak to it in the form of a very common American phenomenon – participation in athletics. Americans LOVE their sports and I must admit I’m a pretty big basketball fan. The reason I’m drawing a line between the two is that they together illustrate a euphemism for almost all of life.

At some point in our history sport(s) became a right of passage. As we as a society completed/abandoned our conquest of what’s become the modern United States and her territories the focus shifted on rallying our people around something other than (near constant) warfare (didn’t work out but the thought was nice). After all variety is the spice of life. With the ushering in of the modern Olympic games in 1896, the development of American football, basketball, and modern professional baseball, people found a new way to socialize and shortly thereafter stratify individuals based on the combination of skill and genetics. Fast forward some 60, 70 years later and we found not only these sports as professions but as serious collegian activities as well.

From this historical understanding let’s proceed to weave this cultural caveat into the articles topic, self-worth. It’s natural for people to define their value in the context of others. What people think of us, their opinions – manifested through words and actions – have tremendous influence over our emotional framework. We seek acceptance and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing its something that can be leveraged against us. An area where this is blatantly obvious, yet for some reason never spoken upon, is the world of preparatory sports; namely high school athletics. It’s the perfect storm of social upheaval and (in many instances) the last step before coasting to adulthood.

The thing that makes this particularly note worthy is that in addition to being thrown into a world dominated by primal thought (which I’m certainly not against) – defined by a hyper-obsession with winning and domination over one’s competition/enemy – there is an additional toll not often thought of; the physical taxation levied on a person’s body. As someone that was a part of a national championship high school wrestling team and an attempted collegian walk-on I feel the aches and pains of what I’ve put my body through every single day and at 37 feel as if I’m someone 20+ years older. Through all the vigorous training I gained nothing. I was not a recruited athlete and received zero additional instruction or focus from any of my coaches. I’m not bitter about this and only bring it up to make a final point on the matter.

Athletics, like much of life, is a casting call in which most people will not even get a supporting role. There are many folks I’m sure that participate in these gaming events based not on a clear desire or passion for the activity but rather as a way to create value for themselves. My concern lies in the fact that the overwhelming majority (especially in sports that are extremely demanding in nature – such as American football and wrestling) will serve as little more than turning someone into the bricks upon which competitively superior participants will walk. Your injuries, frustrations and time spent in the mostly inefficient routine of practice illustrate an occurrence that happens also later in life; where in the business world those who are better connected, though inversely skilled to their colleagues, will once again use those around them to lift themselves up. I don’t wish to say that participation in sports is a bad thing, it’s not and is able to help a sizeable number of people in a variety of ways, what I am cautioning against is a person blindly throwing their future physical (and to a degree mental) health out the window in the statistical likelihood of receiving nothing in return. You’re likely worth far more than making someone else’s dreams come true.

Managing Expectations

To loosely paraphrase the writer Charles Dickens, from his novel Great Expectations, ‘suffering is stronger than all other teaching…it will bend and break us with the hope of it being into a better shape’. A truly ingenious observation. Much of society operates on the premise of hope. It liters religion as well as a large portion of contemporary society. The problem is that hope is a sit-down process in a world built only on action. Fortune may or may not favor the bold, it definitely favors the financially and genetically well-off, but all things equal it more often than not rewards the doers over the wishful thinkers. This I know to be true, as I have wasted most of my life being the later.

The question then begs where does wishful thinking come from and if it’s such an unhealthy practice what is the more appropriate life course to take? Let’s start with the first. Wishful thinking is a failure to recognize things in their truest nature. It is the suspension of data-based fact in favor of a sentimental and false reality. Wishing in fact has little to do with thinking and a lot more to do with hoping…and hoping has more to do with idealizing rather than realizing. In order for things to be or remain cohesive they have to be connected correct? If you and I are talking on the phone and our call drops we have become disconnected and on a microcosmic level we have become separated from one another because our signal was ‘lost’.

It’s in this state of being ‘lost’ we become (at least at times) extremely desperate to be found, to be saved, to be reconnected. We are vulnerable and in becoming so find ourselves operating on an increasingly emotional level. Constantly submitting a person’s thought process to this state is tantamount to giving your teenage driver a 12 pack of beer, a bottle of Xanax and the keys to a Formula 1 vehicle…essentially a terrible idea. Here we arrive at the second part of the aforementioned, ‘the more appropriate life course to take’. This one is tricky and likely why it is not done with greater frequency. The solution is in the above title – managing expectations. This goes back to the core of what I’m sure I’ve repeated numerous times; see, recognize, understand and plan accordingly.

See where you are. The ability to do this even a younger child can conceptualize. They can also mentally bridge the next part, recognize. Comparing oneself to others generally happens pretty early in life so constructively take advantage of it. Understanding who we are, how we relate to others and the required facets for living is a giant leap that once made, while not insuring success, is 3/4th the process. The final part is to plan accordingly. Take what you enjoy along with what you’re good at, in addition to what you’re not so good at, and begin to carefully craft the possibilities. When a person does this life becomes less of a guess and more of formulated calculation. Managing your expectations in the end is just as much an act of dealing with the distortions promulgated by those overly fixated on the ‘hereafter’ as it is about becoming self-aware. Shakespeare was correct when he stated that above all things be true to yourself…because, as you’ll discover, much of the rest of the world is hellbent on selling you its crap.

Look at Me

Welcome to the new world. In this world, things such as humility, candor, and sense of a unified purpose have been replaced by self-aggrandizement, back handedness, and the will of the individual. We have moved from a society of forward progress and achievement based on production to one of mindless consumption. Despite the tone of my words I don’t want it to be thought I find this backward slide a critique on society; particularly in America. This is a natural part of empire, we are western Rome leading up to the crises of the 3rd Century, only instead of Christianity to calm the fervent masses we have social media. The super natural has been supplanted by the ordinary and talent-less.

Where I would diverge from many of the critics of popular culture today is that I first don’t fret this transformation. History, as its been continuously stated, repeats itself and I am merely an observer. Secondly, the turning from the outward to the inner is the direct result of an overly subservient personal nature. The scales of balance between ‘me’ and ‘we’ have long been broken and the default of the human system is always back to the self. For of all the negative characteristics that can, and do, exist in the id the inability of the collective to carefully manage and respect the necessary autonomy of the singular person make it an even more unlikely candidate than pure, classical liberal thought to reign supreme.

As the world has grown to unsustainable proportion the competition has only gotten fiercer. Try as we may to wear a smile during our interactions people have become more of a concern than ever to other people. Our dispensing of kindness, particularly in business or potentially competitive settings, drives a greater number of people to judgement rather than analysis. We haven’t quite reached the point where we view each other as enemies by choice and colleagues by default but that is certainly a possibility. The concept of blending in is perceived as disastrous, yet becomes a necessity at some juncture particularly as group size increases. A bizarre duality that makes managing life feel like the equivalent of traveling backward on a one-way road, blindfolded.

Is there an end game to all this? What is a person to do that doesn’t know where they stand in all this mess? The only advice I can offer is for those at the fringes; for those people caught between generational commitments, those who are torn between the concepts of loyalty to others or loyalty to self. Simply remove yourself from the spectacle, at least for a period of time. When you can see how things unfold from the sideline you get a better sense of how the rules of life dictate the sport of existence. After this grace period you can then decide what works for you, an existence spent glorifying the self, honoring the group or if your especially clever navigating back and forth between the two. Personally, I haven’t mastered any of these skills but with an early enough start future generations possibly can.

Seeing things however you want

Life is a hard thing to figure out. There’re billions of people on this planet with an equal number of different opinions. In my line of work, I see thousands of people a day and in the finest capacity one can see them out side of a hospital system; an airport. Watching folks mindlessly float about like the outer electrons of a highly reactive element is both hilarious and horrifying. Trapped in the country of their mind, population 1, if a person sat back and simply observed they would be entertained for hours on end. As I sit here at my gate on standby for a flight I likely won’t get on I’ve seen 4 different people run into each other, a child urinate while turning the dividers into a jungle gym of sorts and listened to a number of breathtakingly pointless and self-absorbed diatribe.

This is it in a nutshell. The world isn’t merely overpopulated with our species, it’s overrun by a countless number of internally constructed worlds constantly colliding. The result is extraordinary…not in a good way…nor necessarily bad way either. I find it all really just odd. I suppose in the end the best thing to do is to assign an emotional response to it. The two most popular seem to be joy and hatred. Well maybe that’s a bit extreme, perhaps like or dislike is more appropriate. You are free to have whatever feelings you want and see the world however you choose. An obvious statement, I understand, but something that needs to really be re-enforced. There’s so much non-sense out there placing emphasis on feeling or seeing things this way or that, it’s really all just crap.

The reason its crap goes back to my opening paragraph. A person isn’t just seeing the world through their eyes, they’re seeing billions of little worlds dancing within the mainframe of a bigger world…one that’s shaped entirely by the individual’s collective experiences which in turn forges their perspective. You and I can not turn back the clock on life. We can’t change those unpleasantries chance threw our way and thusly are as much in control as out of control. For many folks this is what life is, whether they reside in one of the numerous economically disadvantaged countries on our planet or were simply dealt an insanely shitty hand in the “first world”, it is an up and down roller coaster with no immediate exit in sight.

With all this going on I simply suggest to take it for what it’s worth. If you find yourself disliking something then it’s probably safe to say it has little value to you. Little value should be assigned the according amount of your time, energy and emotion. The things you like feel free to assign as much of yourself to those as possible. Provided what you’re doing or not doing isn’t ridiculously heinous see the things in your life however you want. It’s your life to feel and do however the hell you want. There’re too many competing forces, too many folks caught up in their own realities to spend any of your time not working solely on the construct of your own. Harmony and balance will work their way out, or they won’t, that’s not your concern. Ultimately you are the only thing that matters.

Slow and steady wins the race

As someone on the outside looking in at the success of other’s I’ve noticed an interesting commonality. Lasting achievement doesn’t resemble a hurricane, it’s more a steady rain that provides the fields of life with just the right amount of sustenance to keep everything green. This is something visible to both the well-known and common person alike. The strange and interesting thing to me is how often this is overlooked. In our desire to have all the necessary items of existence ‘out the box’ ready we fail to recognize where the true success of the average lies – in the process of growth. The concept of steady improvement, adjustment and learning along with calculated planning has taken a back seat to dominance.

From the business world to sports a person can see this everywhere. A company and its board bring in a new CEO to replace an outgoing one who was not given enough time to execute their vision. A team drafts a player that was a high achiever at the collegian level with the blind belief that the level of success will automatically translate in the pro’s. The trouble with this thinking is that it puts little premium on tomorrow while placing nearly all the eggs into ‘today’s’ basket. We trade in impact for stability and in the end often get neither. Is there a solution to this conundrum? You bet there is and it involves a radical process…exercising patient.

To breakdown the pitfall of not allowing natural growth to take hold I’m going to turn to a place where it’s most obvious – the world of sports. Of all the positions in a sport one that has possibly the greatest premium is the quarterback in American football. Let’s take what many analysts consider to be the top five players as of 2018: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers. Of these guys only two of the five (40%) were drafted in the first round and neither (Roethlisberger or Rodgers) was selected in the top 10. Also, of note is that the teams Aaron and Ben played were a complete non-factor in the race for a college championship title – Miami of Ohio unranked the entire season and the University of California finishing the season 7-4 in the 25th spot.

The point of this divesture is that reaching a certain level of success, on whatever stratosphere it exists, relies perhaps more in the foundation than the completed project. Time changes things and the ability to adapt is often time as critical as skill level. Peaking, while a naturally occurring phenomenon, should not be where the greatest concentration is placed, albeit sport or life. Rather I purpose a two-prong approach. The first, operate within a healthy framework of output. Whether that is athletically, academically or even professionally – too much, too soon, ultimately equals something that doesn’t last. The second is prepare for the transition. This one is a little tricky because it requires a lot of self-reflection and/or unbiased 3rd party opinion. An ounce of honest, intelligent, reflection is worth a pound of long term future achievement.

Time is the Enemy

I wanted to follow up on the piece I wrote yesterday to speak in greater depth about a particular sub-topic that emerged from it. Weaved within the idea or concept of commitment is a fixed constant that depending on a person’s scientific or spiritual affiliation is as inescapable as paying taxes…time. As a greater fan of the sciences than the supernatural the doors that have been opened recently in the paradoxes of this idea have been amazing. From absolute time (Newtonian) to quantum time to relativistic, an individual could spend their entire life in pursuit of studying these fields and only make microscopic progress. The expansion of these theories appears boundless but one thing that is certainly not is the human lifespan. It is from this point I will move forward.

In the article prior to this one I spoke about commitment and what I felt was a better way to view the process, particularly as it relates to emotionally underdeveloped individuals like myself (see neurotic twats). I still stand by the importance of viewing life in terms of a series of decisions rather than unwaveringly blind devotion but it’s the second part I feel necessary to clarify. True a decision can be made in favor of something, made against something or not be made at all. There’s one small caveat to the last choice though and that’s where time comes in. As time passes and events unfold and become the past a tiny phenomenon occurs that effects the foundation under which indecision stands.

This anomaly moves the resulting outcome of indecision toward a either a positive end result or a negative one. Based on my own experience I have found it trends more toward the negative. I can’t speak to why this is; whether it’s bad luck or part of a greater course of interconnected things I’m unable to see and have no data to directly correlate. Regardless the prevailing logic the only thing I feel that matters is the present or immediately foreseeable result. I have found that there is a small pattern between the time lag and the type of decision being avoided. It is this pattern that could potentially help patch the messy roadwork between staying indecisive and choosing a course of action.

A pair of examples that come to mind because of their diametrically opposite timeframes are post high school career life decisions and the unhealthy romantic relationship. With the first a person could put off making a ‘decision’ in theory for the rest of their life. While the ground on which this commitment stands is not made of sand it’s not necessarily concrete either. Along the way chance or circumstance will expose a person to a unique variety of opportunities. There’s a very strong potential for one of these being an excellent future life pursuit, but if a person remains in the neutral zone the prospect for a more meaningful existence will be lost. On the other hand, in the case of the unhealthy relationship the longer one waits to address the issue, to make the necessary decision(s), they will discover the quick sand they have built this part of their life on sinking at a frantic rate.

At the end of the day it’s your life; only you can live it. To do or not do, that’s all on the person. The final call belongs solely to the individual party. Solace in having the freedom to pursue, avoid, or act in direct opposition to a present or future decision/commitment is liberating. But keep in mind that as time robs our bodies of the mobility of our youth it also acts to make decisions potentially harder and less easy to avoid. So, in summary, use your head – as the saying goes there’s a time and place for everything…just keep in mind time is not necessarily your friend, or on your side

The Cost of Commitment

According to a 2014 report by Bloomberg since 1978 the cost of college tuition and fees have increased by roughly 1,120%. This period increase is more than food and medicine combined. A bit concerning when one takes into account the fact that according to a publication released around the same time as the aforementioned Bloomberg report (2014) by the National Student Clearinghouse that the combined percent average of students completing a so-called four-year degree within six years or less was approximately 46.5%. Is there any wonder that as of this writing there is over 1 trillion dollars’ worth of student loan debt (I personally have over 36k of it)? While this topic could be expanded into multiple articles touching on an enormous number of sub-topics I’ve only referenced it for illustrative purposes. What I prefer to highlight is the underlying concept behind this phenomenon – commitment.

What is commitment and why does it mean so much to humankind? Regardless the source one uses in searching for the definition (almost) anyone with the ability to read this will define it as essentially the dedication to a cause. For the second part of the question I believe the answer could be simply stated as it is an act that helps foster trust. If you’ve read any of my other posts, read a copy of my manifesto, or like me tend to see things not as they appear but search for a deeper interpretation, I offer to you the following. Commitment, as it’s most commonly practiced in todays world, is the engagement in cyclical obligation. It’s the nature of this last defined part that deprives humans of true freedom – removing any inkling of choice.

While it may read as though I’m not a fan of the concept of commitment (which is not true) I see and understand its overall value and contribution to the upward movement of society. What makes me quasi-skeptical of the practice as a whole is the blind adherence we have as people to the principle. It’s this almost drug-like dependence to the construct that prevents us from an equally as valuable idea – reconsideration. I’m not sure exactly what drives this (if I did I wouldn’t likely be in the position I’m in both personally & financially today) but for the sake of speculating I would say fear in the form of perception. Western society places a high premium on confidence, so much so that people that exude it despite their other personal shortfalls are often held in high regard.

The question then begs, ‘how can one escape the grips of toxic commitments’? For someone like myself that has a tremendously difficult time of navigating through the big-ticket items of life the only success I have had (which isn’t much) is in re-framing the action. I don’t make commitments any more, rather I make a collection of decisions. By reverse engineering the process I’m able to catch more of the mistakes I make before they cumulate into the ‘c’ word. Simply by turning the auto-pilot off and taking control of the wheel we become more engaged. It is during this period of engagement, which exists consciously or unconsciously before every action, that we are afforded an opportunity to see what direction our decisions are trending in.

Some everyday examples of this include items both big and small. From whether or not a person asks someone out, to buying a home, to having kids, hell even the shoes they buy these are all really just decisions at one point in time or another. After beginning to make the transition away from commitment and toward decision (it’s not necessary to master this skill but rather only start implementing it) the next step is critical; I would even argue this is more important than the transformation itself. This next step is to realize that decisions (or commitments) don’t EVER have to be made. While it can be detrimental to put things off perpetually it’s worth stating that many, if not most, of the fatal errors in judgement we make DON’T have to be made at all. Having second thoughts on marrying that other person, then don’t. Not sure you can afford that 4-bedroom home…okay then don’t buy it. Can’t figure out if college is the right fit…yep, you guessed it, don’t enroll.

Very little of what we think we have to do, do we really have to do. This is the point many people that fail, fail to realize. I’ve performed a personal jihad during most of the decision-making process. Where this differs from actual self-destruction is that in a greater percentage of the incidences the individual will go on to repeat the same course of action numerous times. The cycle will not be broken until we can free ourselves of the burden of fear; fear of not meeting one of the many idiotic pressures of society. In the end I’m not saying don’t get married, or don’t go to college…I’m not even saying don’t get those pair of insanely priced sneakers. You’re free to do whatever you like, it’s your decision and the best part of it being yours is you can say ‘yes’…you can say ‘no’ or you can say nothing at all.

The Truth about Lying

How many times you were told as a child to be honest? Whether it was by your parents, family, friends, a teacher or a mentor, for most people this was a top three personal commandment. Regardless of your background – racial, religious or ethnic – the concept of telling the truth is a hallmark of human civilization. The funny thing about embracing this behavioral novelty is that after the age of innocence (childhood & adolescents) comes the age of bullshit (adulthood). Why is this such a shocking thing to most people? We see it everywhere around us; priests diddling little kids, politicians saying anything to get elected, CEO’s telling employees one thing and stockholders something altogether different. Lying on a grand scale has become an art form. We have moved from despising dishonesty to the literal celebration of it.

The only problem I see in the whole equation revolves around two things: preparation and participation. As it relates to the former I’m speaking in regards to childhood. During this time, we are like wet clay being molded into the form of our future selves. The lack of disclosure through mindlessly brain washing kids into the belief that the world is this wonderful, Disneyland like place, where people are always kind and honest to one another is a tremendous disservice. The greatest gift a parent can give a child, beyond bringing them into this world of course, is a true understanding of the playing field of life. Kids are brought up around games many of which help to foster a sense of identity along with teaching them to socialize with others.

The problem is that somewhere along the line children become adults and during that time they’re invited to a new game, with a new set of rules but unlike football, track or tennis this one isn’t optional. Participation is mandatory and where you’re picked or traded to means everything. Coaching is important but at this level what you’re born with (physically and/or financially) means just as much as, or maybe more than, what you learned. Fairness, or even the idea as an abstract construct, no longer exists (not that it ever did). Win’s and losses are no longer merely a blemish to one’s record, at this juncture of life they are the difference between the promotion, the million-dollar grant, affording the mortgage or even putting food on the table for the next generation.

Now to tie all this in. The truth…the truth about lying is that it’s everywhere. It’s as pervasive to the experience of life as sunshine. Little or big it’s a nearly daily endeavor. The key to it, similar to a day spent at the beach, is to apply “sunscreen” as often and liberally as possible. We owe it to ourselves, to our children (if you should happen to have any), to understand that as often as we’re sold an honest bill-of-goods there’s an equally likely chance that what we’re hearing, what we’re seeing, is a total load of shit. At the end of the day the best that can be hoped for is a home environment built on the principles of trust and honesty while simultaneously trying to foster that in the world outside the one we spend with those around us. Keep in mind that not everyone is hip to or a fan of this idea and as the saying goes, learn to take things “with a grain of salt.”

Quit your Dreaming

It doesn’t matter who we are, what matters is our plan.’

– Bane from the film ‘Dark Knight Rises’

I suspect it’s not often a person glancing an opinion piece on the various subjects of life – particularly those meant to be inspiring or uplifting – will find a quote from a despotic, fictitious character. Fortunately for those reading, this is not one of those kinds of articles. In fact, this one is quite the opposite. The human concept of having dreams, specifically as it relates to achieving things, albeit going on an exotic beach vacation, purchasing the nice home with property in the suburbs, or landing a role in a big Hollywood production, is a breathtakingly misguided principle. To paraphrase the late George Carlin – ‘you know why they call it [dreaming], because you have to be asleep to believe it’.

Google any quote about dreaming and I’m sure you’ll see a million plus different results. You could also see something similar if you were to look at any twenty-something year old, white girl’s Instagram account. Few people seem to understand you can have an idea, vision or dream of what you want to accomplish but this means jack shit if you don’t have a plan. Sure, some people win the genetic lottery and are born not having to do much to get much (i.e. any of the Kardashians) but most likely you aren’t one of them…I know I’m certainly not. What you need is a plan.

Herein lies the problem; what if you don’t have plan? What if your only goal every day is just to get by? What if it feels like the cards are stacked against you? Well, then – as the old adage says – get a clue. Try things, as many different things as you like, have time or resources for, then see what sticks. After you’ve narrowed it down – and this could take awhile (which there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with) – the next step is have a plan. Think of life as if you were building something. Unless your Michelangelo chances our you’ll need to come up with a blueprint. This blueprint will become the draft template from which you make decisions and take actions. Build in some contingencies as life is likely to throw you a curve ball or three. Step by step you will build your life in the closest approximation to what it is you desire.

While it’s normal to get emotional about life there’s no need to turn your existence into an Academy Award winning performance at every bend. If you stop dreaming and start simply doing you’ll find you’re oftentimes too busy to get caught up in the trap. Dreaming is really just a futile exercise, instead be a thinker then a doer. You’ll likely get much further along the path you’re taking to get to the things you want. Remember while sleeping is good for you and your body when you get up, getting going and start putting that plan into action. Let other people dream of the things they want – you’ve got work to do.