Archive for May, 2012

Control

People are hard to control. Ask anyone running a company or a government. Ideas are even harder to control. Control isn’t a realistic goal. To try is an invitation to frustration. Manage, lead, direct. These are extremely difficult, but at least somewhat achievable.

Most of us pretty much suck at it, because we think about it in terms of controlling or managing what is there. That’s limiting, because you can’t change the fundamental nature of things, or people. The best way is to think in terms of replacing what is there with something better — a new idea, or new way of thinking about something…or even a new person if necessary. This can be extraordinarily difficult to do, but it’s more productive than trying to control.

Making History

You’re rarely aware of when you are making history and should be documenting every little aspect of something you’re doing. In fact, quite often it’s the wrong things that end up getting recorded. We often find ourselves later wishing we had done a better job. So why not record it all? It can be a lot of work, but with the technology we have available to us these days all you need is some diligence.

At the very least you can keep a journal. Photos are really helpful too. The vast majority of it will end up being nearly meaningless to you, but there will be those nuggets of long-lasting keepers in there. One day you will appreciate it.

Easy to say. Hard to do.

Brass Tacks

The truth of who we are — our character, if you will — always surfaces in time, especially under extraordinary circumstances. It’s unavoidable.

Many moons ago I was a performing musician, which meant I would find myself in questionable places from time to time (it’s just part of that life). An event comes to mind from those days where I was standing outside of a bar talking to a couple of friends. There were lots of people around. I recall being vaguely aware of a commotion nearby. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I recognized the voice of my friend Danny in a hastened, yet calm tone saying, “Gun!” In that instant I felt his arms wrap around me from my left while he pushed me forward a few steps. As I looked back to the left I noticed a guy had been standing right next to me facing away from me. And right in front of him another guy was holding a large pistol two feet from his forehead. Thankfully nothing happened. It turns out the guy holding the pistol was an undercover cop, and the guy with the gun pointed at him had just stabbed a guy in the throat a few feet away.

People, including the friends I was talking to, screamed and scattered as they realized what was going on. Danny and I stood there as it all diffused rather quickly. Another friend sprang into action and, borrowing a pen from me, performed a tracheotomy on the victim, most likely saving his life.

In the next moment what happened hit me. Had that gun gone off it likely would have entered and exited the guy’s skull and then found its way into mine. That could have been the end of me right there. Danny, in the process of grabbing me and pushing me out of the way, had to pass through the path of that possible bullet. He put himself right into the line of fire, having no way to know whether that gun was about to go off. Everyone else ran. My friend didn’t freeze. He didn’t run. Without thinking, without hesitation, he acted on my behalf. He was ready to take a bullet for me. I would come to learn that’s just the kind of guy Danny is.

In these kinds of decisive moments much is revealed. I don’t recommend anyone go looking for people with guns to test the instincts of friends, but there are numerous less dramatic things that happen in our lives. See who is there, even when it’s inconvenient and uncomfortable for them. And ask yourself, are you there when you need to be? There’s a point beyond which none of this can be faked. You are who you are. The people in your life are who they are. The truth shines through.

I highly recommend investing in these kinds of friends. “Invest” means you have to work to earn the privilege. I have had the fortune to have a few over the years, and no matter how our orbits may take us into and out of proximity with each other I know that when it’s important they are in my court.

David, Todd, and Danny, making music together, circa 1984.

Tick…Tick…Tick…

Part Two (continued from yesterday)

At some point you will begin to grapple with the limitations imposed by time. Not just the time it takes to do things, to nurture yourself and your relationships, but the amount of time that you have left to do it. At 48, how many “good” years do I have left? Of course, we don’t know. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. But try to put a best guess number on it. I’m referring to years where I feel good and am in good health, feel like doing things, etc.

Is it 20?

Let’s say it is, just for the sake of argument. I’ve been an adult for 30+ years already. I definitely know what a 20 year span of time feels like to live, and how fast it seems to have gone by when looking back. I am realizing I can no longer fool myself into believing I’ll get to all the things I want to experience. I can plan to get to them. But when does it happen? A year from now? Okay, then I only have 19 left. When you start counting down the (estimated) years you have left it shines a whole new light on things. It generates an urgency. Because it’s not just about the time available to do something, it’s also about the time left to enjoy the fruits of it.

And what if it’s a lot less time? There is a history of cancer in my family. I drive too fast. Who knows?

There is a line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption spoken by the lead character, Andy Dufresne: “It comes down to a simple choice, get busy living, or get busy dying.”

Sobering.

Time seems to speed up as we age. Where are you on your clock?

If you’re 20 years old, do whatever it is now. If you’re 60 years old, do it now. Waiting is not always a bad thing. In small doses it can give you perspective and help you test your judgment, but waiting is a decision that has consequences. Best case is that next year you have one less year available to enjoy whatever it is you do for yourself. That can be a pretty dear price for a delay. Maybe not so much when you’re 19, but as you get older that year becomes more and more precious. You can’t get that time back.

Until you reach a point where you are counting down instead of counting up there is no way to fully grasp the gravity of this. But trust me, you’ll get there. Everyone does. Choose wisely now, even though you aren’t fully qualified.

Take some risks. Act. At my age I can already see that I have more regrets over things I didn’t do than things I did do. I’ve done some questionable things. I’ve done things that have had dire consequences. Few regrets. They moved me off center and put me on a trajectory to grow. Things I haven’t done, however, in the interest of staying safe…that becomes a load to carry. An unknown.

Good things come to those who wait. Patience is a virtue.

These tranquilizing statements may be true under the right circumstances, but I assert that very often they end up in the abyss along with all of our dreams and good intentions once times runs out.

Don’t wait. Don’t avoid. Hit it head on.

Unqualified

(Part One of a two part thought that is so massive it cannot be contained in one post!)

Sometime later this year I turn 49. Not an old man by a long shot (think of me as “seasoned”), but I’m starting to be able to see old from here. And that changes everything.
I have written about some perceptions of age and time before. Young people will not be able to grok the following until they get a few more years behind them.
We have to make many important decisions in life before we are qualified to make them. Some of those decisions have long lasting consequences. We need help, which is part of what parents, teachers, spouses, clergy, and friends are for. The network of help you are able to build becomes an important part of enabling you to have a better life. But be careful….they aren’t as objective as they may appear. Ultimately you (and only you) have to take responsibility for how your life turns out.
As we get older we become more aware of what we don’t know. We get less arrogant and more introspective. We come to understand how unqualified we can be to make big decisions (though we have to make them anyway), and we get less willing to take risks. We want more information before deciding. Through experience our decision making gets better, but sometimes it takes us significantly longer to move. This risk reducing behavior can be helpful, but…
There is always a but, isn’t there?   (Continued tomorrow.)


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