Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: September 2018

The Substrate of Art

Sometimes when I’m reading and I come across something that really speaks to me, I’ll clip it and save it. Forgive me here, because I don’t know where this came from, but thank you to whoever said it.

All that stuff you’ve always been ashamed of, you’re now going to turn that into your art, and it’s going to heal you, and also make it meaningful, and a productive thing.”

I don’t think I need to add anything here. Just read it again and really let it soak in…

The Universal Singular

I’m still not 100% certain, but for the sake of argument let’s say that this blog is some kind of internal dialogue with myself, so at the very least it’s useful to me.

Let’s also postulate that each of our experiences forms the collective whole of humanity, so in a sense they are universal, at least to some degree.

Then accepting that the broad arc of the human experience is universal, and that this blog represents the thoughts of a single person who’s contributing to the collective whole, I think it’s possible it could be relevant and perhaps useful to others.

Hopefully.

Understanding Who You Are

I think it’s a common misconception in life to think you could ever really fully understand yourself. I’m not just talking about our psychological makeup, no, I’m talking about the depth of our humanity.

I’m talking about knowing what you are capable of.

For example, there are so many things we don’t know about ourselves until circumstances tests us. How would a child who grows up with no intellectual stimulation ever know whether they could succeed in academic study without exposure? The answer is they wouldn’t. Before you can succeed or fail at something, you must first be exposed to it, and then encouraged if you show any interest. Only after a period of discipline and study can it be determined whether one has aptitude for any particular subject. Even this is a complex topic – since one is expected to fail at something in the process of learning it, perhaps desire should be the most critical piece of this puzzle. But again – in order to discover desire, one must first be exposed.

How about knowing how you would deal with fear and death? Well, it’s impossible to really know this until you are directly confronted with it.

My point here is this: We never stop growing, both in the sense of truly understanding our inner strengths and also knowing what we are capable of. Life will eventually teach us the former, and our active curiosity will show us the latter.

Stay proactive and pay attention.

Cultural Disrupters

Change – particularly change that disrupts the status quo – doesn’t happen peacefully. No, it’s ugly, messy, and sometimes downright violent. And when there is large scale commerce involved, it’s going to get even uglier.

Enter Elon Musk.

Now here you have a guy who has decided to take on not one, not two, but three large scale industries at once: space travel (Space X), electric cars (Tesla), and solar energy (Solar City). I’m not even going to bring up high speed underground transport (the Boring Company) and his “brain/machine interface” (Neuralink). Make no mistake, these are all “real” companies working on technologies that will one day be ubiquitous.

For the sake of this post, let’s just focus on Tesla. In 2003 Elon decided to start a new car company focused exclusively on electric vehicles. It is now the first successful American car manufacturer since the establishment of the “big 3” in the early 20th century: Ford (1903), General Motors (1908), and Chrysler (1925).

But Elon wasn’t just interested in making a new car, no, he wanted to make a car that bypassed the petroleum industry completely. His car would be run on electricity. He was going to upend the paradigm of using the internal combustion engine (ICE) to power the vehicle, because he thought it would be good for the planet. WTF!! You mean here was a titan of industry who was motivated by something other than money? How dare you! Disrupter indeed…

Up to this point, Tesla has essentially been a car for the wealthy – which was part of his plan from the beginning. Now, however, he is in the critical process of rolling out the Model 3 – the first Tesla vehicle for the masses. In other words, up to this point, it was a niche market – now Tesla is entering into the business of mass marketing their vehicles, and it is making the “powers that be” very nervous.

Elon Musk is now looking more and more like a credible threat to both the petroleum AND automobile industries, and that my friend is the point at which lines are drawn and weapons come out.

Things are about to get rough.

In three days the third quarter of 2018 ends, and he will release sales numbers. It is expected that Tesla will outsell BMW in this time period, a significant first. The company is doing everything it can to deliver vehicles to meet this milestone, and it is learning how to do so as it goes along. These growing pains are rough, as would be expected for a new product.

So what happens today? The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sues Elon Musk for fraud. As if that wasn’t bad enough, if he’s found guilty, they have recommended he be barred from serving as either an officer or director of a publicly traded company. In other words, he will have to step down as CEO of his own company.

Hot enough for ya?

Now, Elon holds some responsibility for all of this – his own “eccentric” behavior set this particular chain of events in motion. However, one thing I have learned in life is this: if something seems highly coincidental, there is usually more to the story than meets the eye.

BTW, I have a personal interest in all this: in 2 days I am due to take ownership of my new Model 3. How does all this make me feel? Excited and unsettled.

I do, however, believe in this man and what he is trying to do. History has yet to be written as to whether he succeeds or not.

It’s going to be a very bumpy ride.

System Down For Maintenance

Sometimes I feel like I’m held together with hope and a prayer and some duct tape.

On second thought, I think we can safely remove “prayer.”

We’re gonna need some extra duct tape here boss…

What Did You Contribute Today?

I don’t mean to anyone specific (although that would certainly count), I mean generally, to the world at large.

Did you only take and not give? Were you only concerned with yourself and your needs? Or did you, with great intent, at least try to give something of yourself?

Listen, I’m as guilty of this as anyone (sadly, maybe more so than most), but I’d like to think I at least try. I don’t always succeed, but I do, in my own way, strive for this.

I sometimes struggle with understanding where the pursuit of healthy self-actualization ends and egocentric self-involvement begins, so I have to constantly question  myself. My natural inclination is to help others, but I can also be hard. Maybe too hard.

I’m sensitive with ice water running through my veins at the same time, which can be unnerving for both myself and others. It’s a weird combination of traits to have. Sometimes I think I’m being sensitive to the needs of others and find out that’s not how they feel at all.

That’s when I realize I have more work to do.

So I try to contribute something everyday, even if it seems inconsequential. Fortunately, helping other people is built into my job, so there’s that. Being hard and sensitive are actually very good qualities to have in an ER, so it’s a good fit for me.

Make an effort to contribute something positive everyday – create something to express your humanity, or at least just smile at someone.

Give something back. It might have great significance for someone else.

The Question Mark Bridge, Part 1

“If you’ve never seen it, I’ve got to show it to you – you’re not going to believe it,” you said, smiling. Sounded good to me, I had nowhere else to go, and what seemed like all the time in the world.

It was a cool fall night, and we were doing what we always did, which wasn’t much – just hanging out and aimlessly driving around, smoking pot, drinking warm beer, and looking for something to do. I was probably around 17, you were a couple of years older and life seemed like a long and mysterious road stretching out endlessly in front of us.

Nothing much had ever been expected of us, and it was clear that unless it came from within, that wasn’t going to change. I wasn’t yet at a point where I thought too much about this kind of thing – for me, at that point in time, the moment was all I had.

It was enough.

”So what exactly is the Question Mark bridge?” I asked. You were smiling and mildly animated, which was kind of unusual. It was still early, maybe 8 o’clock, but already getting cold. In the Appalachian mountains, winter could come up real fast. “You’ll see,” you said, “It’s about an hour and a half away.”

I really started to get interested when you added “There’s just one thing – you’ve got to promise me you won’t tell anyone we went there.”

I only had one response: “Let’s go…”

The Power Of Suggestion

This has deeper and more far ranging ramifications than might first be apparent.

We experience life as we perceive it.

Do you perceive yourself to be a loser? How about a winner? Depending on your mindset, you are going to interpret your life and the world around you very differently.

How about if someone says something bad is going to happen to you? It could be something as casual as going to a psychic for fun and they say “You are going to die before you’re (pick an age). You may think of yourself as an intelligent, rational adult, and yet..

This is one of the reasons why bullying is so toxic, especially for children – they are already at an impressionable age and their self identity is not yet fully formed. So if you tell a child they’re worthless and won’t ever amount to much, it can have a devastatingly profound effect.

The story we tell ourselves about our place in the world, and who we are, determines the trajectory of our lives.

Use this power at your discretion.

Smart And Dumb

Guilty!

Seriously, I’m not afraid to admit that this describes me quite nicely. One minute my brain is firing on all cylinders, the next minute it’s “uh oh…” In fact, I think we could extrapolate this idea further and just state that it’s a pretty good assessment of humanity in general.

Now understand that I’m talking full spectrum intelligence here: intellectual, emotional, spiritual (whatever that is), creative, and whatever domains we don’t even yet fully understand.

We’re all smart and dumb at the same time – it’s just a question of degree.

So look at yourself in the mirror, be honest, and prepare to be humbled.

Leading By Example

You may not think of yourself as a leader, but you are. Even if you think you are the least charismatic person in the room, trust me – people are watching you and paying attention. We all do this constantly, it seems to be hardwired into our neurological awareness of our environment. We watch other humans for clues on how we should behave.

We want to know who we can trust, and we are subconsciously assessing for three things: who’s a potential threat, who’s a potential ally, and who seems like they’d know what to do if things go catastrophically bad. We are tribal creatures – developing this awareness was necessary for our survival.

But the more you explore this idea, the deeper it gets. For example, people will hold themselves to a higher moral standard if they see someone else behaving morally. Likewise, violent mob mentality will sweep up everyone in its path if left unchecked…

You’d do well to remember this the next time you think no one is looking.

Fidelity

Faithfulness to a person, cause, or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.”

I think we all know what this means in the context of a monogamous relationship with a life partner, but what exactly does it mean in the context of other relationships in our lives?

What does it mean to be faithful to others?

Learning Boundaries

Suppose you are a child growing up in an environment of abuse and neglect. Your role models, the very people who are supposed to be loving and protecting you, are either hurting you or ignoring you instead. You innately know that something is wrong, but you have no real idea what’s right, so you set about trying to figure it out on your own – which seems to be your only option.

Since no one is teaching you what normal behavior is and providing a role model for how people are supposed to interact, you try to cobble it together yourself. The problem is, because you’re a child, you don’t really have the tools to do a very good job of figuring it all out.

So you watch how people act on TV and in the movies, and you study the adults in your environment, trying to model what seems like good behaviors. You try to figure out effective strategies for interfacing with the world and how to treat people.

The problem with all this is, YOU ARE A CHILD, and because of this, you are ill equipped to figure this shit out on your own. These problems and strategies can vex intelligent adults, so it’s absurd to expect a child to figure it out, yet necessity is the mother of invention, so there you go.

But here’s the bigger problem: once this child has grown into an adult, they are now building their model of how to deal with the world on top of behaviors and strategies they learned as a child. It’s as if there are bugs in the operating system that were never worked out, and you keep writing code on top of it trying to fix what is broken. As you might imagine, this doesn’t always work out well.

I guess my point here is this: sometimes people may genuinely be trying to do their best, even if might not appear that way to an outside observer.

Don’t always assume that they know what they are doing wrong.

You Only Learn When You Suck

This point comes up so often, it could be the name of this blog. But it keeps recurring because it’s true.

Our natural tendency is to do anything possible to hide the fact the we don’t know how to do something, when in reality we should actually seek out situations where we are incompetent.

Remember; a lack of competence doesn’t mean you are stupid, it just means you aren’t yet competent. And even once you gain some competence, you are still a long way from being an expert, much less a master. So you’ll be failing all through this process, and that’s not only ok, it’s expected.

No one wants to look like they don’t know what they’re doing, especially the older they get. But this is completely the wrong mind set. You should be failing like a child.

Because here’s the thing: if you are trying to learn something and you suck at it, you’re on the right track.

Maximum Chill Factor

When I say my job gives me a front row seat to the human experience, I’m not kidding.

I just met a 95 year old man who worked with Alan Turing on the Enigma code project in WWII. He clearly knew him personally and was still, 64 years later, traumatized by his death.

I have read quite a bit over the years about Turing and not only were all the details right, he was actually filling in historical perspective with personal anecdotes. His memories were complex and bittersweet, as might be expected.

For all that Turing contributed to the Allies winning the war, British society persecuted him for being a homosexual without mercy. Like much about the war, on full display were the extremes of human behavior, from its triumphant and tender best to the depths of its cruelest and most depraved.

Unbelievably, this gentleman looked like he was 20 years younger, seemed cognitively intact, and was funny and engaging. He walked with a cane but didn’t appear to really need it. Security called him a taxi, and he left with no assistance needed, thank you very much. I was truly awestruck, and that doesn’t happen very often.

Before he left, I shook his hand and held on as long as I could.

I literally felt like I was touching a precious part of human history that would soon be gone forever.

I didn’t want the minute to end.

Don’t Give Up

Life can be fucking hard. You’d think that the older you are, the easier it would get – unfortunately, this isn’t how it works. But if you can stop beating yourself up over whatever it was you think you did wrong for a minute, it turns out there is a very good side to this uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful dilemma.

Every uncomfortable mistake is an opportunity to grow.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if it doesn’t hurt – you’re probably not growing. So pick yourself up, reassess the situation, and try again.

What you initially perceived as a mistake may have really just be a test to see what you are made of, a chance to become a better human being.

Well Said

Nursing, like poetry, is the place where metaphorical and literal meanings cross borders. A hole in the heart is a hole in the heart; the nurse is the thing at the center: between the surgeon’s skill at fixing the literal hole, and the patient’s anxiety and loss, the metaphorical hole. Nursing is—or should be—an indiscriminate act of caring, compassion and empathy. It should be a reminder of our capacity to love one another. If the way we treat our most vulnerable is a measure of our society, then the act of nursing itself is a measure of our humanity. Yet it is the most undervalued of all the professions.”

Christie Watson

In Praise Of Casually Superficial Friendships

OK, I know you might be thinking “WTF!?” here, but before you bail, first hear me out…

If we’re being honest with ourselves, deep down we know that most, if not all of our friendships are somewhat superficial – at least in sense of ever really knowing and deeply caring for someone without judgment. I’m honestly not sure that humans are that good.

But I don’t mean to sound too dark here, on the contrary, I think these casually superficial friendships are the glue that binds society together. They provide more than enough support to sustain and meet the emotional needs of most humans. We are all tremendously flawed creatures and I think it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to willingly take on the whole matzoh ball without choking. And really, do you need that? Isn’t it enough to simply be pleasant and supportive of each other in our day to day lives?

If you have even one person who can take on the whole package, much less two or three in your lifetime, you’re a very rich person indeed.

So let’s celebrate and be thankful for our friendships that may not be quite as deep as we would like to think.

Humans can be quite cruel and nasty creatures – let’s not expect too much of them. After all, how much should they expect from you?

I like to try and surprise them by going past that point – but I acknowledge that I have my limits too.

Life Isn’t What You Think It Is

From our earliest memories, humans seem to be hard wired to covet – to want some “thing,” the pursuit of which will give meaning to our mundane, day to day lives.

This could be anything; a particular career, an education, material objects, wealth, an idealized physical appearance, love, power, adulation, family, respect and admiration – you get the picture.

People spend their whole lives pursuing their “thing,” some more successfully than others. They think that when (and if) they finally get what they desire, all will be good – they will feel completely fulfilled and life will be full of peace and contentment.

They are wrong.

Here’s how I know – because I am an ER nurse, I have spent a significant amount of time with suffering humans near death or in the process of actively dying. Some of my experiences outside of work occurred in my personal life to people I knew and loved deeply. Because of my profession, I’m not talking about one or two – I’m talking about hundreds. I have also had the paradoxical privilege of being diagnosed with something that I might have died from quickly – but I somehow survived, which prompted me to think long and hard about what was important and what wasn’t.

These experiences changed the way I think about life in a powerfully transformative way. Here’s what I learned:

The only thing that’s important when you are about to die are the ones you love and those who loved you.

Nothing else matters – not what you did or didn’t accomplish, not how much money you made, not how famous you were, not what regrets you may have, not the dreams you did or didn’t pursue, and not the power you had. Because all of that is gone the minute you stop breathing.

The only afterlife is the part of you that will live on in the memories of those you touched.

Try to remember that while while you are alive.