Drawing the Line

Situations in life, as unique as we believe they are, share more in common with a used car than a shiny new pet. If there was ever a life item that stood out as a thread that binds all of humanity it would be drawing the line between complacency and action. I recognize, as the effigy goes, there exists a time for peace and a time for war but the question begs – how does one know the difference? For myself and the many underachievers of this world this question has likely plagued us for the entirety of our existences. Answer this riddle correctly reap the rewards, miss this question and prepare for the agony that tends to follow.

There’s tons of advice on how to realize this in ones life. The problem with this wave of self-help garbage is that it ultimately helps only a fraction of those that implement its strategies. Sold as a one-size-fits all solution to what ails you, most of the suggestions you’ll come across are little more than a load of metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and serve as much utility as a size 16EEE sneaker does to Peter Dinklage. For those who have seen little to no success trying to ride the Tony Robbins bandwagon it seems giving the other end of the bell curve a crack is worth a shot.

The solution for those brave souls moving forward on this call to action is precisely that – action. It doesn’t matter what sparks the battle, simply begin wagging war. War against the job you hate, the shitty relationship you have, the unceasingly circular direction life keeps traveling in. Better to fight and expel the entirety of ones energy against the almost Calvinistic nature of our existence than to live and die giving in to the unfair level of life’s playing field. I leave you with the words of the poet Dylan Thomas;

‘Do not go gentle into that good night, old age should burn and rave at close of day, rage, rage against the dying of the light’.

Life: the ultimate contradiction of terms

I was recently fortunate enough to have had a chance encounter with a higher up from my present employer. As I listened to him spew nonsensical buzz words out of his mouth for the better part of 10 minutes I had one of my many Michael Douglas ‘Falling Down’ moments. The filter between my brain and mouth has long be on hiatus but over time I have learned to tapper down the beast. This is a good thing as I’m quite sure if I had this conversation even just 8 or 10 years ago it might have been my last as an employee. You see life is an insane contradiction of terms.

In this particular case we have the classical conundrum of human redundancy actively seeking out efficiency. I took the time to point out my confusion before even trying to offer any insights. Insights to most people in charge are like having a second asshole…it seems like a good idea to help get rid of waste but really just acts as a way to flush out good ideas. Needless to say after pointing out why this ‘new’ problem exists in the first place I quickly made my simple yet elegant (I just wanted to use that adjective today…there was nothing elegant about it at all) suggestion. Now my current crop of co-workers tend not to be interested in things outside popular culture, gossip and talking about their children (all things I give zero fucks about) but for a brief moment I had all the entire crews attention. After making my suggestion and the supporting evidence as to why it was ideal everyone was in agreement that it made the most sense.

Fast forward several dozen meetings and months from now and what will the solution be? It will of course be any one of hundreds except the obvious one I made. Why is this you ask? The answer is simple – life is a breathtaking array of contradictions. This small, seemingly unimportant (because it is) example can easily be followed up by dozens of others. Take any of a wide ranging number of socio-economic issues. Lets start with taxes, because beyond death and mythical religions this works up Americans the most. Political parties and certain media personalities spout off about the virtues of low taxes and modifying the present structure to something simpler. Huge problem – we have hundreds of thousands of jobs predicated around the complexity and never-ending changes surrounding the current system. Why would any of these people, or the likely millions depending on the income generated from these jobs want to be suddenly jobless? They don’t, on the same token nor do the developers of drugs for type two diabetes (life style caused) want people to really eat healthier or exercise more – your problem represents a multi billion dollar industry.

This leads me to the quintessential paradox of our existence – the problem solving/problem creating paradigm. I’m not intelligent enough to speak on the exact genesis of this – be it rooted in evolutionary biology, the occult, etc – but I can say with great certainty this fascinating contradiction drives the human species in all sorts of directions; some good, some not so good. Perfect example is in the defense manufacturing industry. The right to defend oneself and the general sovereignty of a universally recognized nation is a very legitimate concept. The problem lies in the fact that how does one both a) know they are properly equipped to do so and b) continually support the people who make this possible? This is where we slide into the right side of the curve, problem creation, and in this particular case, with this particular human en devour, it involves playing off two of our favorite emotions – insecurity and greed – to create a problem with someone else — in this case another country, or more recently a rouge, border-less group of individuals we call “terrorists” with the result being casualty filled warfare.

The aforementioned is of course an extreme example, quite possibly the most extreme, but an effective one in grabbing our constantly drifting attention. You see we are unknowing victims to this paradigm on a daily basis simply by the things we say and do. Our actions, or inaction, push the balance toward one direction or the other. Having to participate in this game at times is inevitable because some (perhaps many) people we interact with choose to remain unaware of this phenomenon or even secretly get off on the self-created drama that is the resulting byproduct. The key is taking a moment to analyze a nagging situation or a new one that pops up…or even ideally taking a few moments to look to the future. See the possibilities, potentials or eventualities and strive to position yourself in a position of problem solving. Better yet study, observe and be an ‘future issue identifier’. This will unfortunately require a tremendous amount of energy and isn’t likely to be successfully accomplished on a grand scale but at an individual or even family level is certainly feasible. Besides in the end you should be looking out for number one anyway.

Lonely is the Man Apart

Knowledge, when actively and correctly applied, is power. In an earlier piece I spoke on this at some length. There is though one caveat I failed to mention…being right can be a very lonely place. Fields Medal recipients, Nobel Prize winners, celebrated individual geniuses such as Elon Musk and others; they are so far beyond most people in terms of intellect who can they relate to and how do they make sense of a non-sensical world? I’m reminded of the character Ozymandias (Adrian Veidt) from ‘The Watchmen’ and a line from the film in which he states “the only person with whom [he] felt any kinship with died three hundred years before the birth of Christ…Alexander of Macedonia or Alexander the great as [we] know him”. Though fictional a person can’t help but wonder if this burden is something truly felt by the special few upon which the transformative ideas of the world are built?

As someone filling the rank and file I find myself quick to complain about the alienation of being part of the proletariat struggle (though this is self-induced) never thinking that there is an equally difficult struggle existing on the other side of the Bell Curve. For the sake of illustration, it’s worth noting this doesn’t just plague those of great mental ability. Take the superior athlete for example. As a native Clevelander I’ll use an easily relatable example, LeBron James. Regardless of how a person feels about him personally or as a teammate there’s no denying his skill level is far beyond the majority of his peers. It’s in that separation a great sense of personal isolation has to exist. For someone operating within a team sport, or a corporation for that matter, having a vision and aptitude beyond the next closest subset of colleagues can be crippling. As the saying goes, heavy is the head that wears the crown.

This is the part of my rant where I try to tie it all together. If as you go along in life you should happen to discover that you are one of these rare birds take heart. The road to achieving your goals will be an uphill battle, not merely because of what you’re attempting to accomplish but because in your way will find a slew of folks whose only existence appears to make your job harder. Prepare yourself for the burden of being different, of being special…of being great. I can’t profess to be one of these people, weird yes, gifted no, but what I do see and recognize all around me is that this world is overrun with DNA (do-nothing assholes). They control and dictate the situation of far too much economically, politically and socially. Know that the uniqueness you possess will be a one-way ticket to a deserted island, learn to swim with the sharks and everything will be okay.

The Wheels on the Bus

While on my way back from a family visit (the main reason for taking some time off from writing) I had the privilege of sitting next to a very opinionated man during the unfortunate return flight back to Chicago. He and a colleague of his were speaking on some socio-economic issues they both apparently felt those around them needed to be aware of. As is often the case the dogma spewing from his mouth was as one sided as a boxing match between Helen Keller and Mike Tyson in his prime would be. I could almost see the Politifact meter failing off the left side of it’s accuracy curve. I listened intently as I knew at some point the opportunity to engage this grossly misinformed individual would happen and little did I know I wouldn’t even be waiting to take off.

Thanks to a momentary ground stop of inbound traffic into ORD this fine fella and I were able to first exchange glances and as soon as he noticed what I was browsing through on my Reddit feed in his mind I must have been fair game. As the seconds ticked off the clock of life I could see the anticipation building on his face. Finally, I turned to him with a look that must have conveyed the statement ‘you can begin speaking your non-sense now’ because the dogma began to flow like diarrhea. After first lambasting my preferred sources of news – The Guardian, Mother Jones, the CBC and Reuters (The Wall Street Journal received his approval) – he then proceeded to go on about the topic I currently had on my feed, a report demonstrating how a series of large corporations could in fact afford to pay their employees more money in lieu of massive stock buybacks.

His position was that as a public company it was completely up to the executives and shareholders to determine and approve such a strategic decision. While in principle I agreed with his position I followed up his statement with a query – what were his feelings on such programs as SNAP, TANF, Medicaid, etc.? Not to my surprise he was vehemently against the entirety of them. To which my response was that if the minimum wage was increased to say $14/hr many of the people who depend on these programs would a) make enough to be self sufficient and b) no longer qualify for these programs thus reducing the tax revenue necessary to support these discretionary programs. Also, it would help to reduce Medicaid enrollment (currently @ 64.9 million people) as a small percent of people could thusly afford to purchase insurance in the marketplace.

The gentleman paused to take my little spiel in. I went on further to explain this is how most of life exists – not just in terms of politics, sociology, finance, etc. – that the answer lies in looking past the obvious, foregoing the process of emotional attachment and seeing that the problems of life can go around and round in an endless circle, never resolved only argued over, or a solution can be sought. This part is incredibly difficult though as it requires a skill that many of us lack, myself included, entirely…pragmatism. It’s hard to say what keeps us on this bus ride to nowhere…pride, lack of education, indoctrination…who knows? Regardless of what’s to blame and at the expense of a lot of wasted time let’s just assume that we’re never truly correct about anything. This sounds counter-productive, and at some point along the road it is, but to second guess what we think…what or how we approach something can be a very valuable tool in breaking the circle and the chains that bind us.

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.

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.

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.