I have been working on my non-dualistic thinking. Trying to give myself grace around the things I don’t particularly like about myself after acknowledging they exist. Recognizing that both sides are the same person. It’s all me, not just the good or the bad, but all of it. Creating that unity is hard.
“So, I’m Thinking About…”
This phrase stood out to me this last week. I heard it a lot. More than usual. It stood out because it’s something I’ve said...a lot.
Hearing it this week bothered me...a lot. Because I know what it means.
On the second Sunday of every month my family gets together to have dinner. During that dinner we celebrate whatever holiday or birthdays are happening that month. It’s a great way to optimize our time and stay connected.
In June we celebrated father's days. To celebrate we exchanged gifts and watched this:
I knew that my parents sacrificed a lot to raise me. Now that I have kids I have a greater understanding of the things they sacrificed to provide the life that we have now.
For that, I am grateful.
There have been a few times that my wife has asked me if I had a good childhood. Despite typical teenaged angst I am able to recognize the incredible experiences that I had. So, yes, I had a pretty great childhood.
At one point my mom and I ended up sitting down and having a conversation about sacrifice. Rather than the typical conversation about ancestral sacrifice she told me about her friend that doing some missionary work on a Native Reservation.
They are working specifically with high school aged youth. At one point the youth were invited to their house. I don’t know what this missionary did before he retired but he made a good living. He and his wife live in a very nice house.
For one particular young man it was the first time he had come across this kind of money in real life. Experiencing something that is so far from reality has the ability create a paradigm shift.
This young man asked the missionary, “How do I get here? How do I get what you have?”
The answers to these seemingly impossible questions are always simple.
The missionary responded with, “Stay in school and work hard.”
While the answers may be simple the process of putting them into reality are never easy.
My brother and I often talk about a sociology study that looked at the projects in New York. The researcher talked about how the only thing that young people need to do to make it out of the projects is to get a minimum wage job. Yet, almost none of them do it.
After telling this story to my mom she talked about my dad. My dad was the first in his family attend college. He's told me on more that one occasion that during high school he felt like he was destined to graduate from high school and get job. That was the norm for his friends. Lucky for me he was driven for something different.
He broke the social expectation he grew up in. He saw what his potential was and stretched himself to make it happen. Because of his sacrifice I have enjoyed privileges I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
I like to think I am making similar sacrifices for my kids. But I don’t want to focus on sacrifice in this post, although that has a bit to do with it. I want to focus on breaking out of social expectation.
I am inherently social. Who I surround myself with has a big impact on who I am. When I spend longer than a couple of days in Canada I will start to speak like a Canadian.
There is a theory that we are the average of the five people we spend our time with.
I have spent most of my life thinking that I was the exception to everything. I was somehow a maverick in everything I did. The more I learn about evolutionary psychology and my own biology I realize that a lot me is natural response not deliberate choice.
This concept of being the average of the people I spent my time with became very clear when I tried to start going to the gym.
The only reason I had any success going to the gym was because of my friend Mark. If ever had a chance to see Mark you’d understand. It wasn’t uncommon for people to come up to me in the gym and ask me what I was paying Mark to be my personal trainer. He’s a big dude.
Eventually his habits eventually became mine.
If I want to change my situation, whatever that might look like, I can do it myself fighting agains the social expectations of my circle of friends. Or, I can change my social circle and let their influence help me develop new habits.
Not only is the social plan easier it’s way more sustainable.
Changing social circles is intimidating. Reaching outside of my comfort zone causes fear and anxiety. That’s why teenagers don’t get jobs at McDonalds to get out of the projects. Social fear is very real.
Here’s what I’ve found, especially recently. When there is genuine interest in other people, those people will open up.
We live in an age of facade and filters. Authenticity is hard to come by. When I am authentically interested in another person they open up. There is real connection. When that happens my social circle grows and starts to change.
I’ll give you an example.
I recently met a successful real estate agent. We had a few things in common but mostly I was very curious about real estate. That genuine interest got him to open his mouth and gave some insight into a different way of thinking. I learned a lot and got a new friend. It was a win/win.
Real change doesn’t happen overnight. Just like friends aren’t made in one 15 minute conversation. Things take time and they take work. Just like the advice that the missionary gave that kid. Stay in school and work hard.
What level do you want to get to and what social expectations are preventing you from getting there?
I am scared to start. I have a million ideas that I would love to execute. I can visualize the details and imagine the success but most of the time I don’t even start.
Even if I do start I get a little ways into the process and realize that my original idea has changed, or the market has changed, or I get a new idea. It’s the change that freaks me out. I put on the breaks and I throw in the towel.
And…nothing happens. I still have a million ideas that never see the light of day.
When I first started blogging and had every intention to create something that others would value. But, I worried about what the end project would look like. That insecurity led me to reach out and ask for some advice. I didn’t take it, but I got it.
Truth is I wasn’t ready for it. There are a lot of insectaries that I was working though (still working through) that prevented me from really committing.
The first person I reached out to was Tanner Guzy. He runs the men’s style blog Masculine-Style. He quit his full time job this February to run his sight full time.
He told me that the most important thing was to be consistent. Be consistent and people will show up.
I wasn’t consistent.
Then I reached out to my friend Richie T. Steadman. At the time his podcast The Cultural Hall was getting some early traction. I asked him if the podcast had changed since he recorded the first episode?
He said that it absolutely did. That it was very different from what he thought it was going to be and that he just had to get to a point where he had to let evolve into it’s own thing.
Then yesterday as I was eating lunch I came across this video of Casey Neistat with his company Beme. If you don’t know Casey Neistat then you need to spend some time on his channel.
Beme started out as a social media app, which then got bought by CNN. They have since turned it into a media company that is trying to find it’s footing. I edited this video just to shoe the process Casey talks about.
My point is this:
This are going to change, opinions change, opportunities change, it’s what makes like exciting. If you would have told me in college that I would eventually be the Director of Admissions at a small private art college in Oregon I wouldn’t have believed you. I was dead set on doing theatre for the rest of my life. But, I wouldn’t change where I’m at.
Just because a project I start changes doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value. It just means that things changed and it provides a different kind of value.
When I took Drawing 2 in college I took my final project to my professor to ask for a critique. She was honest and told me it was awful. I erased the whole thing and started over again.
After I was done with the second iteration I went back to my professor with it. I could tell something wasn’t right but I needed some validation. She told me again to start over.
I did and third one worked out. It was a crappy process that I don’t remember when I need to.
It’s okay for things to change. It’s okay for me change.
The key thing for me in managing my time is understanding how long things take. In order to do this I have to remember to pull out my phone and time what it is I’m doing. That never happens.
If I don’t know how long something is going to take I hesitate to get started. Especially little things. Because things always take longer than I think they’re going to take.
In his book Getting Things Done, David Allen explains a rules he has to getting these little things done.
This is all well and good except for the fact that I have a hard time judging how long two-minutes really is. When I’m watching an episode of Master of None two minutes flies by. But when I’m watching a crappy YouTube ad two minutes feels like forever.
I discovered a new way to judge two minutes, that way I can get more done and manage my time better.
I have a Sonicare toothbrush. That toothbrush has an internal timer for 2 minutes broken up into four 30 second chunks. The other night I had forgotten my headphones downstairs, rather than wait until after I was done brushing my teeth to get them I went while brushing my teeth.
I assumed that it would have taken me a minute maybe even a minute and half to get my head phones. It actually took me less than 30 seconds.
It’s not important that it took me less than 30 seconds. What is important that I now have a standard to judge against. The more I understand how long two minutes is the more I can judge the time I have to get things done.
What unconventional methods do you have to managing your time?
I attended my sister-in-laws wedding at the beginning of May. Leaving the kids behind, my wife and I got away for the weekend.
Weddings can be great events; they fit into same category as family reunions. There are more pleasantries and less honesty due to the nature of the event surrounding a single person. That respect is nice.
Like most stereotypical weddings there was a dance following the ceremony and the dinner. I have a history with dance. Despite my childhood dream of becoming the tap dance guy from Sesame Street I’ve only had a week (3 days) of formal lessons.
Like Ellen, I just like to dance.
I went to two different high schools. At the first one it was customary to spend upwards of $100 on tickets to the dance only to show up for a couple of slow songs and then leave. At the second, my date and I were always the first ones through the doors.
It took my high school girlfriend a little while to get used to this. The reason I liked to show up early was because we’d have a sold half an hour with the dance floor to ourselves.
I love the dance floor because of the lack of judgment. It’s a safe place to let loose, even for a moment. I don’t judge anyone, including myself. That is incredibly freeing.
Although I don’t think I realized it in high school there is a part of my authentic self that will only show through on the dance floor. When I can move to whatever music is playing, preferably surrounded by friends (but not always).
This freedom creates vulnerability and connection. Adding in touch it is a great way to connect with anyone.
I got sick at dance in high school and the girl I went with was great about it. It didn’t workout romantically but we have history that can’t be replaced. While she doesn’t know my darkest secrets, she has seen me vomit. That’s worth something.
It’s vulnerability that gives power to dance and makes it scary as hell.
I have jumped on the cooking bandwagon. I find the process rewarding on multiple levels.
When I first dove into the world of cooking I connected with the chefs on an unexpected level. I recently came across some notes in an old notebook that made parallels between the creation process of a stage director and a chef.
I think it was this process that has kept me hooked.
The process of a chef is like any other creative endeavor and one that runs right in line with the Robert Greene’s Mastery. Start as a dish washer, learn and work every station until skills are built and there is an understanding of how it all works together, continue to deepen those skills.
Like most things it appears simple but it is intricate and complex. There are a lot of working parts that need to work together.
Ideally once the common cook learns all this they start to have ideas of their own. They want to branch out to create and build. Have a leap of faith from their teacher/mentor and do their own thing.
I can imagine it’s scary as hell. Evolutionarily, comfort is a wonderful thing. But there is very little growth in comfort. Very little growth comes from staying in the same place doing the same thing.
Through this whole process the chef develops a style. Creates a way of doing things that makes his dishes uniquely his. It’s this style that will carry him.
That’s the ultimate goal. To create dishes where the chef is recognized by the presentation, flavor combinations…the style.
This runs deeper than food. It runs deeper than work. Style is in everything.
It’s in the way that I write emails. The way that I high five my kids. How I introduce myself and talk to people. Everything I do communicates me and my style.
That is both liberating and….scary.
It’s not that I want the fame of a celebrity chef. It’s that I want to behave in a way that is consistent and communicates clearly.
I have a certain idea of how life should be lived. It’s up to me to live that way. To be deliberate in my actions. So that my life is the way I want it to be and not the way it was given to me.
Liberating in that I have a choice and can make things better for me, my family and those that I work with. Scary because it’s up to me to make it happen.
When Socrates said,
The unexamined life isn’t worth living.
I used to think that he meant that everything needs to be analyzed. I’ve done that for a long time. There’s nothing wrong with analyzing as long as it leads to changed behavior.
Analyzing emphasizes the past. That’s where I’d get stuck. I worry too much about what I did and what I was going to do instead of being concerned about what I am doing. It’s an ingrained habit I’m am constantly trying to replace.
Examining life for me now means creating style. Going through the process of living to many times that I learn what works best for me. I don’t like the results, I try something else.
It’s same process for becoming a traditional artisan; only it’s not just the craft. It’s the way I live my life. It’s reason I wake up, the purpose behind my decisions, how I connect and reach out.
It’s my style.
I think this is what the internet means when they say personal brand. Branding is a look and a feel, but more than that it’s process of how things are done.
The most frustrating part about this process is what Ira Glass calls the gap.
I wrote a few proposals to present at three enrollment conferences this summer. Two of my proposals were accepted.
It was at that point that the fear set in.
Writing a proposal is easy. Especially when it’s a matter of answering a few questions on a form.
I have nothing to lose in writing the proposal. If it’s not a good idea then it wouldn’t have been accepted and then I can move on like nothing happened. Now that it’s all electronic there’s not even physical proof that I put myself out there.
Any time my ideas get any kind of validation I go through two stages:
Then the fear sets in…
What if I’m not good enough?
What if I can’t pull it together?
What if it’s not really that great of an idea and the validator was just being nice?
And it continues into a spiral of self-deprecation and doom.
That might be a little dramatic. But, it’s not far off either.
The only benefit of this summer’s presentation is that it’s far enough off that I’ve been able to push a lot of those feelings aside.
Because it is an unusual occurrence, I’ve never presented at a national conference, and these fears are biological reactions. All the self-deprecation is a physical response to the unexpected.
Fight or flight.
I learned about it in 2nd grade, and then again in 6th grade. It was always explained in context with zebras and lions. That fight or flight is triggered by life threatening situations.
It wasn’t until I started teaching and was getting training for new teachers that a new light was shed on fight or flight. It’s not just life threatening situations but perceived life threatening situations.
Because my brain is so powerful perception is processed the same way as reality. My body starts to react in order to save my life. This is the concept behind public speaking being a greater fear than death.
It also explains the girl in seventh grade class who stood up in front of the class with a box of cupcakes like she’s always done it, until she looked in the eyes of her audience. Then she burst into tears and couldn’t make it through (true story).
It also explains why, even after 20+ years of being in front of people I still sweat like crazy when I present. Especially in front of my peers.
Despite understanding the science behind it and having the experience that presenting has never killed me, by body still goes through the same reactions. I get scared.
The same thing happened with the money I spent to get to the conference. I worked with my boss to set up a budget. I had an idea of what I was going to spend. But all of that is like filling out a proposal. It doesn’t mean anything until I spend the money.
I spent a couple of weeks looking at flights and hotels and calculating food costs. When it finally came time to put the credit card number in and commit to going to the conference I froze. I waited a few more days.
The only thing that got me through was that I am going with a colleague and was booking for both of us. She asked me about it. I felt some social obligation to get it done. So I got it done.
Submitting the payment left me with a sinking feeling, like I had done the wrong thing. I literally looked over my shoulder concerned that someone was going to tell me that it was too much, the wrong flight, the wrong hotel, the wrong amounts for food.
Talk about irrational fear.
That was with someone else’s money. My own money is completely different story. For a completely different post.
How does your fight or flight get triggered?
I have a routine for just about everything. I set it up that way so that I don’t have to think about it. There are some pros and cons to this strategy.
On the one hand, I am able to get things done. On the other had it provides me time to think, which in itself, can be good and bad.
For me, I have fallen into the bad habit of getting into my head during this time. To think about all the things that I’m doing. To analyze them. To break them down and rebuild them. To know myself thoroughly.
Which sounds pretty good. At time it has been.
The problem is that this process filters everything through the lens of how I think things “should” be. Instead of just experiencing them in the moment, letting things happen, and discovering how they turn out.
A friend of mind told this story about being Rome and how his friend spent a chunk of time experiencing Rome through his camera. When he finally put the camera down he noticed things, for the first time that had been right under his nose.
When I’m in my head I am experiencing a counterfeit of reality.
This came to my attention a week or so ago when I was making breakfast and packing lunches for my kids. My wife came downstairs and the next 20 minutes were spent dancing, singing and telling inside jokes.
Before you roll your eyes about my idyllic marriage let me tell you that this is not normal. In fact I need to write a formal apology to all the women that I dated before getting married about my seriousness.
You see I am very serious. Too serious.
Serious to the point that this moment in time stood out. I tried to figure out why these moments didn’t happen more.
In standard Wade-search (my version of research) I tried to figure out what was going on. In the process, a friend of mine suggested that maybe I was too scared to feel. Too scared to be in the moment and feel what I was going through. Then came the aha.
She was right. I was filtering.
I am so worried about my performance and the judgment of others that I don’t allow my self to be in the moment and feel what’s going on right here, right now. I don’t participate because I something might happen that I’m not proud of. I have to be on.
That makes me serious.
Instead of enjoying a book for what it is, I look for meaning and application.
Instead of listening to a conversation, I am planning my rebuttal and the solution.
Instead of playing with my kids, I am worried about how they are going to process problems in their teens and wonder if I am going to be seen as a resource and not a monster.
Instead relaxing into a good nights sleep, I think about all the good I am going to do in the world…tomorrow.
The time that I’ve been given is way more precious that I give it credit for. It’s value comes from being in it, not from thinking about it.
On the reverse side of that I had an experience that triggered a deep spiral of analytical thought. I could feel my demeanor change from here to in my head. I could feel myself revert back to my angsty teenage self. I was instantly stuck.
The only way out of it was to open my mouth and talk to my wife. Now that I’ve had a glimpse of what life is like without the lens, I would much rather experience the real reality.
How do you focus on the here and now and not get caught up in the past and the future?
I wanted to be a performer at a very early age. That’s due, in part, with the movies that my parents exposed me too.
Things like this:
I dreamt about being a chimney sweep/street artist/one-man-band. Because of those experiences I got into theatre early (12) and stayed in for a long time (I can’t say I’ve really left).
Seeing the end result of the some of the best performers in the world and made me want to replicate their success. My assumption was that it was talent that carried them to those points.
This assumption was based on my early success with natural talent. I have the ability to pick things up quickly. It’s diving deep and following through that I struggle with.
Here’s the thing about rehearsal, any kind of rehearsal, it’s boring. It’s monotonous. It is literally doing the same thing over and over again until you get to the point where you don’t have to think about it.
Don’t get me wrong, there is something about the rehearsal process that I love. Getting around creative people and creating something is intoxicating and exciting. When that group of creators becomes uninhibited and discovers something incredible it makes the monotony worth it. It’s probably my favorite part of improv.
When it comes to making progress on anything, it is exactly like rehearsal. It’s boring.
I wrote about my new morning and evening rituals and the benefit of the ritual. Now that I’ve kept it up for a few months I am different person. I process things differently. I have a different outlook. I have no intention of changing those rituals.
Day in and day out it feels like nothing is going on. It feels like I’m doing the same thing everyday. But, my writing is better. My mindfulness and presence is better. I feel better.
Results never happen over night. It is from the compilation of boring tasks done on a regular basis.
I have a list of things that I want to do. Things that I think will make my life better in the long run. When I was thinking about this list, a few months ago, I had came up with a new analogy for my change in perspective.
When I would look at that list all I saw was the mountain at the end of the trail. It was overwhelming. Looking at all the work that has to happen between where I’m at where I want to be is so discouraging that I would give up. I’d done right after I got started. I’m a good starter.
Now that I am feeling more present and focusing on the here and now I glance up to the top, but don’t stare. I get an idea of where I want to go and then I look at my feet. I look at the hill ahead. I look at where I can go and what I can do today to get there.
This concept isn’t new. I have heard a form of this analogy all my life.
A few years ago I bought a goal-planning book that describes this same process, except he says drips instead to steps. Completing tasks one drip at a time slowing making progress to the end goal.
I’ve understood this concept, but I’ve never learned it.
The best definition of learning I’ve heard is: when you learn something, it changes your behavior.
My behavior never changed. I still have these worries that I will revert back to my old self. I try to be aware of where I’m at and what needs to happen. I realize now that the process I’m going through is going to be boring. That’s how I know I’m doing it right.
It’s boring. There is a part of me that fights against this. Life should be exciting. Thanks to the constant feed of modern society my expectation is that it should constant.
Every celebrity’s life is awesome all the time. Until they get to work. Until they have to perform and then it becomes a series of mundane tasks that eventually lead to the performance of a lifetime.
So really, boring is okay. Because eventually I’ll get there.