Archive for January, 2014

A Metaphor for Life

An accounting of a typical morning run05-sinking-captain

I’m less than a kilometer in and feeling not so strong today. My back is hurting and stiff. That crummy bed…or was it falling asleep on the couch with the game on? Yeah, that was probably it. Plantar fasciitis is bothering me, too. Didn’t do what I should have done (my stretches) yesterday. I’m going to pay for it today.

One kilometer in. Damn, it is COLD this morning. And the wind…wow! I should have put on another layer. And these knit gloves were not the greatest idea. My hands feel like blocks of ice, and the arthritis that’s in my once broken thumb serves as a reminder of how things can change in an instant. Maybe it didn’t heal right. I did beat the crap out of it practicing my bass playing for an important engagement. The price we pay… Oh David, don’t be a martyr.

Still too dark to see the beauty of this place I am in. Beauty that is now and forever muted by all of the past drama I associate with being here. Maybe I shouldn’t come anymore. Tormented. I let a some people down by getting distracted with selfish things. Let it GO, David!

Nearly two kilometers in now. Everything is tight, leg hurting now. Feel so tired and fatigued. I am not going to be able to make it this morning. I wonder why? Was it my diet yesterday? I didn’t sleep well, but that’s pretty typical for me — half my life happens in the middle of the night. That’s probably catching up with me. I need to see the doctor about it. What if it’s psychological? When I wake up my mind just kicks in with all of the thoughts about everything. Can’t shut it down. Why does stuff weigh on me so much? Shut up and just focus on the music, David. I remember recording this song with Danny. He was in big trouble at the time. I never went to see him. He always came to me in the studio. I wasn’t a good enough friend. I was “too busy.” Self-absorbed. But we made some great music. I wish there were an artist around I could work with like that again. Maybe I need to form a band…oh…HELL no. Never mind. I would go nuts trying to get that off the ground on top of all the other crap I have to do.

Three kilometers. David, just give it up and walk the rest. Sweating like crazy. You’re dying this morning, and you’re not going to make the distance so give in and get back to it another day. Why punish yourself? Because I deserve it. I need it. I wish I had developed the practice of running at a time when my body was in better shape. Uh, yeah, that would have been a LONG time ago. Man, I hate this crap. Running to stay fit and healthy. It’s SO boring. Oh, for crying out loud David. Stop being a sissy. It’s just another kind of pain. Accept it. Be glad you can experience it. Slow the pace a little and press on. If I quit I know I will be disgusted with myself.

Coming up on Four kilometers. Oh, look! Another runner (rounded the corner on the other side of the street). Man, he looks like he is suffering, and very slow. Wait a minute…he is pulling away from me. What?! Do I look that bad?! Oh, come on David. Okay, this guy doesn’t know it, but he is in a race with me. One I am not going to lose. Speed up. COME ON. Pain is only a sensation. Good. It is working. I just have to pick up my pace a little more and I should be able to pull away. Hurts like hell, but I am not letting this guy kick my ass. Ouch, the stiffness in my back is really persisting today. Running with the Devil is on the iPod now. How ironic. The devil and me. Running. From what? I have been a bad person on occasion. I probably AM running with the Devil. How can I fix it? Fix myself? Fix the damage? Hard to when you push people away. Argh!! Wow…David Lee Roth’s vocal performance in this track is unbelievable. It makes me laugh every time I hear it. I can just see that goofy look he gets on his face. Or, maybe he was serious. I mean, this was their first real record. Yeah, he was probably taking himself so seriously. But it’s a hilarious performance — he was SO over the top. Just awesome. It’s a double-edged sword that I hear a lot of things in music most people don’t.

Just Past Four kilometers. Weird. I actually feel better. I’ve loosened up a bit more, feel more fluid. I wonder if I can speed up more? Do I mess with it or just maintain this pace? I feel like I can make it now. Shouldn’t I push for the maximum? No settling. Oh wait, that other guy is gone. He must have turned, or given up. Maybe I demoralized him. Feeling guilty about that — me and the devil. Now…there is nobody to push me. Nobody to help. I am on my own. Just me and my companion, misery (and the devil). Some people may care about me, but…they aren’t here. Nobody is ever here with me. When I suffer, it is always between me…and me. Nobody but me to blame about that, though. We live in the reality we build for ourselves. I guess I am sort of strangely comfortable in this one. Nothing to do but run. Feeling tired, but I know I can make it now.

Five kilometers. It’s getting light out. I can see silhouettes of palm trees against the burgundy sky. It would make a great photo, if I could stop to take it. But don’t stop. My crummy camera wouldn’t do it justice anyway. I really need to get a good, modern camera. I am letting my photography talents atrophy, which I’m probably going to regret one day. Need to sell my old A1. That was a great camera, but it’s probably about worthless now. Nobody shoots on film anymore. Can’t waste time worrying about the way things used to be. Nobody cares. The sun just keeps coming up. Speaking of which, it will be up in another 15 minutes. Really exhausted now. Just look down and watch the cracks go by. Thinking about the cracks that form in things that were solid. Focus. Maintain your pace. Ignore the fatigue. Push through the boredom, because there’s nothing else to do.

Approaching my goal of six kilometers. Wow, another song I recorded just came on. Funny, I remember working so hard to get that reverb pitched up a fifth from the vocal and blended. I thought I was so clever. Nobody has ever noticed that (that I know of). Typical…lost in the details while the stuff people actually pay attention to passes me by. What a great record this was. I was at the height of my powers on this one. Another great band that crumbled under the stress of being a band. I went down with the ship. I cared. All of the work I did, for nothing. Of all things my leg is really hurting now. What the heck is this? Some type of pulled muscle? Whatever. Just about a half mile to go. What a miserable run this has been. Don’t be weak, David. Come on! Kick it! I am going to go full-tilt for the last half-mile. No crying. Just get it done. You’ve been eating like crap, you know you need this.

DONE! Made it, albeit with a very slow time. If any of my physically fit friends saw me now — with the panting, dripping sweat, the drool, almost on my knees — they would feel ashamed. Yeah, best that I am alone. Too embarrassing otherwise. Walk it off. Long and stressful day ahead wearing one of my many hats. At least my metabolism will be elevated. That which doesn’t kill us…

Tomorrow, I lift weights. If there is anything I hate more than running that’s it. But it’s better than the alternative…

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The Depth of Everything

When a young husband to be starts looking for rings for the first time he encounters many more things to decide about than expected. Just deciding on the particulars of the rock involves a learning curve of distinctions.

How about knitting?

NeedlesTechnolodge

This photo, quickly snapped at a local craft store, reveals only slightly more than the tip of the iceberg when it comes knitting needles. Make no mistake, there is a whole universe of stuff to know if one is to become serious about this hobby. So much so that referring to it as a hobby underplays it to the point that I suspect it could be offensive to the more serious practitioners.

Painting? Gardening? Even a seemingly mindless game of tiddlywinks belies the complexities underneath.

Everything gets technical. There is a depth to nearly all endeavors that one must get to if serious about it. But those looking in from the outside rarely see any of that, nor do they care.

This depth is by design in many cases. One probably doesn’t need to know what ‘Center Double Decrease’ is to make a nice sweater. The manufacturers who sell knitting needles are always looking for new ways to sell more and different ones so that when the sweater gets boring they can sell you more stuff. They invent new styles, techniques and other distinctions that are designed to hold and engage their crowd.

It speaks to our quality of life in general that we are able to get to such depths with so many disciplines. We are, in fact, bored. Life is actually so good and easy that we spend untold amounts of time learning about and purchasing tools to fix things ourselves. A quick trip through a Home Depot store tells one a lot about how much time so many Americans have on their hands, or at least what we choose to do with the time we have.

The pressure is there. If my bushes and landscaping don’t befit the area in which I live then I better make a Lowes run and get busy. As long as we keep consuming the goods and services we’re told are required for these activities all is well.

God?

bigquestionwoman-7Why is it hard to believe?

Think about what the world would be like if there was an all powerful, all knowing, loving, perfect person that controlled it all.

Think about what this being would do if he wanted to have a personal relationship with you.

Then compare that to reality.

If the dots connect, man is too finite to understand it, which is where faith might come in. But — and here is the rub — our perceptions (our realities) are so driven by our environments that we never truly understand how the world appears to others. We can only know through our own experiences. Faith or fantasy? Many of us are taken down a well constructed path towards faith all of our lives, such that we see existence from that perspective. While many of us are not, and therefore don’t tend to see it that way. Why is that? Is it random chance, or some kind of plan? Religion tells us God has a plan. If it’s a plan then we’re preselected, no?

The Role of School

AppleBooksJust about every aspect of our education system has (rightly) come under scrutiny (to put it kindly) in recent years…er…really it has been under fire for decades. The questions that get raised haven’t changed that dramatically over the many years (should they?), but the answers have gotten more nuanced.

What is school’s role in education? If our actions as a society are any indication the answers range from surrogate parent to personal trainer and therapist. Except we don’t pay teachers enough to do all these things.

Pragmatically it seems as though the answer falls along the lines of preparing people to get a job. A loftier version of this idea would be that we prepare them to build a career. No matter how you dress it up it’s clear we’re still operating from a mindset that says we need to prepare people to work in factories. The “factory” could be a laboratory, bank, ad agency, business office, university, or any number of other careers where products and/or services are pushed out and sold.

And we’ve reacted to that market. The great drought of capable technical help that has been so publicized for the last two decades illuminates this attitude very clearly. We need kids coming out of college with tangible skills in a variety of technical fields. So we gear up to make them. And now those classes are full of bright kids looking to graduate and go make bank working for some high tech firm churning out code, graphics, chemical compounds, marketing, etc.

In the spirit of this we now dismiss other areas of study as being too abstract, or not useful. Music, art, creative writing, philosophy, psychology, etc. are all taking a back seat to a more focused curriculum. We’re producing a generation of kids who are very skilled technically in some area, and very awkward interpersonally. They interface with devices more effectively than with each other.

Our methodology assumes that 18 to 22 year olds know enough about life to paint themselves into a specific career. That they can forgo the ‘frivolous’ pursuits in order to take a more efficient path to the skills that are really needed to get a job.

We will reap what we sew, of course. So maybe it’s time to step back and more carefully consider what the goals should be.

Beyond the basics that obviously need to be taught in the earlier school years I assert that at least higher education should be equipping students to answer these four questions:

  1. What is worth knowing?
  2. What is worth doing?
  3. What makes for a good human life?
  4. What are my responsibilities to other people?

And all along to whatever degree possible we should empower and mentor them in thinking creatively and in taking initiative, especially in moving themselves forward in what will be a lifelong pursuit of a much more nuanced brand of “success.” They need to be encouraged to fail so they can understand and get over the fear of it.

College is not the only place in which answers to these questions can develop, but it is an important place. Siloed, specialized training in a discipline — any discipline — answers none of them.

BookwormGirlOf course lots of people parrot the sentiment that we don’t just want to teach students a discipline. We need to “teach them how to think.” Just like businesses really want to hire people who “know how to think.” This is not incorrect, but…what does it mean to “know how to think?” What does that look like? Is there a right way to think that applies to the problems people will face in their professional and personal lives? If so, what is it? Is it being able to distinguish true from false, evidence from opinion? Is there only one kind of truth — one kind of evidence? Everyone wants people to learn how to think. But nobody really knows what it means to know how to think.

There isn’t a target to shoot for. We sometimes recognize it when we see it in action, but it’s generally pretty difficult to quantify (and test for). What we can do is expose people to the many different forms good thinking takes, the truth takes, and that evidence takes, across multiple disciplines. Nurturing a kind of wise appreciation for the complexities of the world and its problems makes it clear to students that not everything is a nail awaiting their hammer.

Specialized training helps one solve small problems other people identify. Broad education helps one recognize big, arching problems, break them down, decide which ones or which parts need to be overcome, and identify the best ways to attack them.

Maybe Liberal Arts ins’t such an “airy-fairy” pursuit after all…

Our Own Worst Enemy

CatsHow out of whack is it that most of us possess one or more devices capable of accessing much of the documented information known to man, yet people often choose to use them to look at silly pictures or spend time debating the pedantic?

There are countless examples of us knowing the right thing to do, yet choosing the wrong thing, or letting the wrong thing be chosen for us.

Perhaps we need to be shown the right way more often.

Space of Possibilities

bookwormImagine you enter a library filled with seemingly endless rows of books. You open one and notice that it’s filled with random strings of characters. You take another book off the shelf. Same thing.

You pick up the first book off the first shelf and see that every page is blank. The next book has a single letter ‘A’ on the first page, and all the other pages are blank. You look at the third book. It has a single letter ‘B’ in it. And, again, all the other pages are blank.

You look out across the library, and the shelves go on and on as far as the eye can see. Your best guess is that each book in this library is a unique combination of characters, and that, collectively, the books in the library cover all the combinations that can be formed.

Then you begin to wonder what books might be out there.

There must be:

  • A copy of Hamlet, — Take THAT, infinite monkeys!
  • A copy of Hamlet with one typo.
  • A copy of Hamlet with a different typo.
  • A copy of Hamlet with two typos.
  • An elegant proof of string theory.
  • A book containing a cure for cancer.
  • An accurate biography of your life (from birth to death).

Wow! This is exciting. Those books are there somewhere. You just know it. You have a cure for cancer almost at your fingertips! And there must be a solution for whatever is tripping you up.

This characterizes the space of possibilities before you. It’s too much to say that anything is possible, but far more is possible than you likely realize, and FAR more is possible than what you act to achieve. At some point along the way the reality of the situation hits you, and you realize that the odds of finding any book you might want to find are very, very, . . . in fact vanishingly, . . . slim. How demoralizing.

Then the fear sets in. Why devote time and energy to finding a book I probably won’t be able to find? I’ll go through too much and might wind up with little or nothing to show for it.

The error in this thinking is that it presumes the envisioned destination is the outcome of value. No, as it turns out each point along the way creates for us a whole new space of possibilities. In the end the journey may take many twists and turns and end up nowhere near what was originally imagined. It’s not really about the destination. It’s about the journey you take and what that leads to.

Steve Jobs once said

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leads you off the well worn path; and that will make all the difference.

Begin. Take a journey.

The Culture of Mentoring

MentoringBirdsMentoring is a vital part of getting a practical education in some fields of endeavor. Many successful people across virtually all professions report that a significant portion of their expertise came to them through learning ‘the ropes’ from another in their field. While common in our (U.S.) culture it is not a given worldwide. In Russia, for example, they do not know why people mentor because the benefits for the mentor aren’t usually tangible.

To many that seems naively short sighted. Mentoring helps create a rising tide of competency that raises all boats. Mentoring helps the teacher learn more about the lesson, and provides some valuable existential benefits (perhaps similar to some of the same ones we get from raising children). The benefits to the person being mentored are more obvious, but one of less apparent ones is that it helps to foster a culture of giving that works better for everyone in the long run. People who get mentored often become mentors.

In practice, however, most people who are mentors aren’t that intentional about it. They don’t devote much of their time or resources developing ways to help others learn their field. In fact, the benefit of being mentored is largely in the hands of the mentee. Being present, asking good questions, listening to and acting on coaching, and other signs of engagement and care create opportunities to gain mentoring without the mentor having to do much particularly special. Yet when one does show up as engaged the mentor becomes more likely to invest more time. We all appreciate it when someone is genuinely interested in us, and that makes it a lot easier to give something extra to it.

So the catalyst is often the person who is the mentee. But it’s the generosity of the mentor that makes it possible. Think what we could do if we worked even harder at it. All we have to do is be better receivers at the right times, and better givers at other times. The rising tide will do the rest.

Of course there are countless other examples outside the workplace.



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