Finding Inspiration in Good Times and Bad

IMG_8312I’m reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I’m only a few chapters in and Frankl is recounting some of the initial horrors of his holocaust experience. The preface explained that detailing the horrors of the holocaust was not its main objective, but rather to illustrate how to find meaning or hope in even the bleakest of circumstances. Frankl explains that the only people who survived were those that never lost hope and/or never lost meaning. It’s remarkable that someone finds hope and meaning while in such horrific situations. It makes me wonder if there’s something lost in the middle experience. How do you find hope and meaning in the everyday experiences? That’s the challenge for many of us. The middle where everything is comfortable and maybe a bit non-exciting is where we spend most of our lives. It’s so easy to just sink into the middle. Nothing is bad enough to prompt serious change and nothing is good enough to inspire or build confidence.

I’m hesitant to say that people with bigger challenges have an advantage. I have noticed that the most meaningful, fulfilling, and successful times in my life have been those in which I face a serious challenge. When my father died, I felt a desperate need to make meaning come out of it, so I poured myself into law school prep.

My father always seemed excited about the idea of me being a lawyer and fascinated with the thought that I could go to Harvard Law School. I didn’t get into Harvard, but reaching for that huge goal, to give meaning to my father’s life and death, pushed me harder than I’d ever been pushed. It was the first big loss of my adult life and while it initially came with confusion and numbness, that eventually gave way to massive inspiration. Inspiration so strong that it was like being pushed by an invisible hand every day. Perhaps this is what writers feel when they talk about a muse writing the book for them. I think back on that now and it was incredible. It was the most effort I ever put into anything but I recall it feeling mostly effortless. As a result of this I got into Northeastern University, which as it turned out, was a far better law school than I should’ve attended given the fact that I actually had very little interest in being a lawyer (that’s a story for another day).

So, yes, adversity, loss, challenges, seemingly bad things can change our lives for the better. They can give us that need to hit back and say, ‘No, I need this to be a positive thing, and I’m going to make it happen.’ That can be a comfort for us when things are good and we worry about the bad; we can remember that the bad events can awaken our superpowers and help us achieve things we didn’t know we could. But how do you awaken those superpowers without having to lose a loved one or experience some other tragedy? There has to be a way right? If we can do that stuff in the toughest of times, we can definitely do it in good times. I think it comes back to finding a strong reason – a strong why. Giving meaning to my father’s life and death through my own actions, and converting that into something not altogether painful and terrible was an incredibly strong purpose. Fuck, it’s purpose. So obvious, right?

If purpose is the answer, then I suppose the next question is how do you identify and internalize that purpose that will be your muse pushing you to new heights of energy, confidence, work ethic? I don’t know. If I knew, I’d be doing that work right now. Writing might be part of that job actually. Exploring your mind, your experiences, your emotions for answers. What causes you pain? What brings you joy? What is something you can’t imagine not achieving in your life? For me, right now, I can’t imagine not regaining my physical fitness and energy. It’s that thing that weighs me down physically and mentally almost everyday. That seems like an excellent starting point, but what’s missing? Pain.

There is pain, but it’s pain that has come on so slowly over the years that you can almost not even notice it most of the time. Alcohol, food, entertainment all help numb the pain. The pain needs to be more fully realized. I need to see all that I’m losing to my lack of physical fitness. I avoid pictures like the plague. I avoid seeing old friends because I don’t want to endure that moment where I’ll say, ‘yeah, I got fat.’ I avoid putting myself out there confidently in the world and trying new things because I don’t think I can do them at a level of which I am proud. I enjoy most things less and am less present because I’m tired. I achieve less. I hate seeing my reflection. I mean wtf. I hate seeing myself? I feel embarrassed by the way I look much of the time. I hide. Man, this shit is fucked. I’m starting to get angry.

I’m 38 years old and if I don’t fix this soon it’s just going to get harder. Why do you want to fix it? Because I want to play sports, and be in the world without worrying about how I look. I want to feel like a young, successful man. I want to feel fucking great when I wake up in the morning, so I can be excited to be alive. I want to pursue challenges and make a unique contribution to the world. I want to be really fucking good at something. Something that has a physical component. I want to have enough energy to create everyday, and to help other people improve their lives.

I’ll never do any of this stuff the way it’s going. Drinking, smoking, undisciplined eating, inadequate sleep, inadequate mental and emotional work. Just undisciplined aimless living across the board. I’d be fine with all of it if I were happy, but I’m not. Something is missing. Fulfillment, joy, health, enthusiasm, confidence, clarity. All missing most of the time. Just knowing I can get it back through hard work is really nice. I like hard work and honestly the hardest part of hard work is just getting started, so let’s get started.

I’m going to go sign up for a gym today and work out. That’s the start. I can do that. I want to do that.

We just need to start. Pick a bite-sized action that’s just exciting enough, but that you know you can totally handle. Then let’s do it again tomorrow.

What’s the point of it all?

question-mark-2154831_1280You ever have one of those days where it all feels pointless? Why do I get out of bed? Why shower? Why get dressed? Why go to work? What is the point of my work? Why does it matter?

I realize on days like those that most of the time we’re on autopilot and just doing what we’re programmed to do. Get through the day. Don’t piss anyone off. Get some work done. Make some money. Eat. Sleep. Yikes.

When the seeming meaninglessness of it all hits me…it’s pretty heavy. We do so much. We exert so much effort into things without having a clear understanding of why. What’s the connection to the big picture. What do we want? We’re not here forever. Shouldn’t each action be carefully measured against our huge life goals? Assuming we have big life goals. Maybe you don’t. I used to. Now, I’m so caught up in the daily “essentials” that I don’t think that way much. It lurks in the back of my mind though. This thought that I’m wasting time, or that I’m moving forward without a clear motivation or inspiration for my actions.

I’m about to turn 38. If you’ve ever turned 20 or 30 or really any age in the thirties, you probably know that feeling of time evaporating. I had a lot of days at age 37 where I felt like, “Well, it’ll be over soon. It’s been a decent ride. Wish I achieved more.” Sounds crazy to a lot of people. 37 isn’t old unless you’re 37 or any age younger than 37. But it is a stage of life where suddenly you start to see the world through your parents’ eyes. You start thinking about where this is all going and how do you keep your kids safe and healthy. You start worrying about the economy and your retirement and, if you have any spare mental energy, your legacy.

I have the best job I’ve ever had in my life. I have the best life partner (as I get older this term seems ever more appropriate to describe what marriage really is) I could’ve imagined. I have the most amazing daughter. We just bought a house we love. We have everything we need. I’m more confused than ever about the meaning of it all.

Some days it feels like the meaning is to love people and be good to them and enrich their lives. Other days it’s really hard to give a shit about humans – they just seem so selfish and ignorant. Some days the meaning is self-improvement – crafting the best version of myself. Some days the meaning is fun – just play games and do things you enjoy and laugh a lot. And some days there’s just no meaning to be found.

The days searching for meaning are good though. It forces me to look past the superficial. Past the beauty of my car, past the salary and importance of my job, past what other people think of me, past the possessions I want to collect, past the recognition I desire – look past all the trivial shit that will not matter at the end of it all.

I think most of us want to feel like we’re making some positive mark on the world. It’s the feeling that matters more than the actual making of the mark. It’s all feelings I suppose, although the meditators say that we are not our feelings. Most of us can’t separate the two. It is interesting that the sense of progress is more important than actual progress. Or maybe it’s the proper intentions in our actions that is most important.  I know when I put my head down and just do some work with the intention of that work being great, it feels good. How often can we say we do that? How often do you put your head down and do things with great intentions? Whether that intention be kindness, greatness, generosity, love, or whatever you define as a great intention.

I think it’s pretty rare for me. If I have any common intention it typically just to make things easier for the people in my life, which I suppose I’d call a good intention. Occasionally, I feel inspired to show someone how much I appreciate them and/or love them, and I send them a heartfelt message of gratitude. That action and intention invariably brings emotions and a feeling of meaning to the surface. Gratitude is all the rage these days. I guess they’re onto something.

It’s time to wrap this up, so I guess this post is a call to take actions with intention. Do your work with the intention that it be great or generous or useful. Live your home life with the intention to deeply love and appreciate the people to whom you are closest and who love you the most. Drive your car with the intention to be kind, safe and efficient. Live in the world with the intention to brighten people’s days. Live with intention.

My intention is that this post helps you see your world with more clarity, depth, and meaning. I appreciate you taking the time to read this. Thank you.

Do Your Craft Every Day

I wrote a great post about doing your craft every day, and how that’s what successful people do and how it’s like breathing for them. I then realized that I was not actually logged into wordpress because I changed my fucking password yesterday, so I copied the post, and then I went to log in, and then had to go copy the new password from my notepad, and then I lost the whole post and I’m really fucking discouraged, so instead I’m going to just summarize this supremely fucking annoying experience. Losing creative works is painful. How the fuck does Apple not allow you to see your last few cuts or copies!!!!!!?????!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*(!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*()!@#$%^&*(

Fuck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Going to a movie alone

I went to a movie alone today for the first time in my life. It was a departure from my comfort zone to go to a movie alone. You walk into the theater alone and say give me one ticket for The Big Sick. You try to evaluate the face in the box office and see what he thinks. He registered essentially no reaction. He played it super cool, “sure man, here you go, you’re in theater 5.”

He’s seen people like me before. Probably every day he works there. People go to movies alone everyday because they want to or have to.

I truly enjoyed the movie. It was a good movie and there were only 2 other people in the theater. Closest experience I’ve had to that was seeing Blair Witch Project with my brother back in the early 2000s. I think there might’ve been a couple other people at that movie too.

I got popcorn and a Diet Coke because I was at a movie and because I needed something to keep me company other than my phone. It worked. The soda and popcorn were the perfect stimulus to launch me into the comfort of locking into that comfy seat for two hours.

Today was a glimpse of loneliness. I’m lucky. I have an amazing wife and a delightful young daughter — something I struggle to not take for granted every day.

Ok, I have to go, but at least I got here today and wrote something. Progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jump Through the Window

Tony Robbins said that if you don’t jump through the window when it presents itself, you’ll have to start over, and wait for the window to open again. I absolutely love Tony Robbins. He’s been dismissed by much of society as something along the lines of Stuart Smalley. Mention Tony Robbins the next time you’re out with a group of people and survey the reactions. At least half the people that have heard of him will think he’s a cheeseball life coach positivity scammer. What a fucking advantage you have if you don’t believe that.

Tony Robbins gives off that scary vibe because he doesn’t give a fuck. He’s counseled multiple Presidents of the United States. He doesn’t care if the average reaction to him is at the intersection of skepticism and sarcasm. He’s rich. He’s successful. He’s made many people rich and successful. Rich and successful — to so many of us that reads like 100% money back guaranteed. We just can’t believe it. We can’t filter between the two. There’s too much out there that draws our attention so we put up track switches in our brains that quickly route bullshit one way and useful shit the other way. The information travels so fast that sometimes bullshit is routed useful and vice versa.

I remember so many times being in conversations with people that believed in something that my default reaction to was, “that’s some bullshit.” For years, I treated vegans and vegetarians this way — like they were some sort of sensitive weirdos to be extricated from without offending. I probably felt this way about vegans and vegetarians sometime in the last 10 years, and now I feel like, “holy shit, they are right.”

Maybe I’m getting off topic or getting there too fast for you. It’s ok. You can be offended by my new inclination towards a plant-based diet. It’s an inclination that developed slowly due to information, but I’m not here to persuade you to stop eating animals. I’m here to make you see that the ability to change your mind is a superpower.

Seth Godin talked about his book, What Does It Sound Like When You Change Your Mind?, on The Moment with Brian Koppelman (a great podcast by the guy that wrote Rounders). Seth said that people rarely change their minds. Not sure if he made this explicit, but I’d add the older a person is, the harder it is for them to change their mind. We get entrenched. Maybe I should call this Detrenched.

Imagine if Donald Trump could change his mind. It might save the world. It does beg the question, does Donald Trump have anything in his mind at all except gobbling up power, but imagine he was open to changing his mind to what advisors or chance encounters told him. If that was the case, President Obama could have instilled some amazing things in Trump when they met shortly before Trump took office. That kind of shit can literally save the world. Trump could’ve been persuaded to the importance and reality of climate change. Fuck.

So, that’s what this first post about? It’s about putting aside long-held beliefs. Putting aside identities. Putting aside blind affiliations. It’s about putting ego aside and saying I want !@#$%^ truth. I want what’s right because I’m going to die someday and sticking to a falsehood that grants me some short-term gain is not what my life is about.

I’m going to commit to doing this every day. Coming here and writing truth as it exists in my mind every day. If for no one else, I’m doing it for myself. This is a rare opportunity for any aspiring trolls out there to come down and crap on someone’s work in its infantile stage. To put your trollness to work in a place where it could actually have an impact. Call me out if I don’t show up tomorrow and any of the next days. Tell me why this blows and why I’m wasting my time. I welcome it. Let’s chat.

And perhaps for those few that happen upon this and feel something more than indifference, perhaps we can be friends in the fight for creativity and progress for ourselves and those around us. I know that some significant percentage of what I write here will be of a quality that fails to acquire recognition, but I am ok with that. Maybe some small fraction will have an impact on someone — that will make it all worth the while. Thank you for spending some of your precious time reading this.

-Bill