Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

The Trouble With Twitter

Created in 2006 and launched in July of that year, Twitter helped create a new paradigm for global communication. There was no gatekeeper, and, at 140 characters, your thought didn’t have to be profound or even well written to post – hell, it didn’t even have to be coherent. Whatever might pop into your head you could publish to the world 24/7 instantly. Holy shit – this was a profoundly new way of expressing yourself to everyone in the world with a Twitter account, and you could do it in a few seconds! No pesky editors or publishers looking over your shoulder making judgments about whether any of this was good or not – just think something that can be stated in 140 characters, press “Tweet” and presto – send it out the entire goddamn planet. Instant global publishing!

Pretty heady stuff, especially if your judgement is chemically altered, or if you’re bipolar and in a manic phase, or even if you’re just an impulsive person with too much spare time on your hands. Of course, every action has a reaction…

Now, I’m not saying Twitter is a bad thing – I use it, I just don’t tweet. It’s a great resource to discover new things, all you have to do is follow some interesting people (or companies) and check out the links in their Tweets.

But here’s where it starts to get weird – when the President of the United States is Tweeting whatever pops into his Ambien riddled head at 3 AM, things can begin to seem a little out of control. It’s as if there is no filter, no deep thought put into it, and nobody’s running the ship – just click “Tweet” and let the repercussions be damned. I mean, I’m a nobody and I’d parse my words very carefully before throwing them out there for the whole world to see.

But I realize there is another element at play here. World leaders and visionary entrepreneurs don’t think like me – in fact, they probably don’t think like anyone else, that’s why they are where they are. And let me clear – I don’t want other people to think like me. But whether this instantly accessible ability to broadcast is good or not is kind of irrelevant – Twitter is here, and this model of global communication isn’t going away.

But boy, sometimes it sure can be more than a little unnerving.

Expert Schmexpert

One of the things about being an ER nurse is that you never know it all, and the minute you start to think you do, the job will take you down a peg or two real fast.

Understanding the human body and everything that can go wrong with it, and knowing how to respond, is a subject that is too vast to ever really master. This obvious truth implies a sobering reality that can be a rude awakening each time you run into it – especially when you are supposed to be an expert. What I’m talking about is this:

You are going to make mistakes.

I’m not talking about everyday garden variety mistakes, I’m talking about mistakes made caring for someone who is vulnerable and is trusting you to  know what to do. How you handle these mistakes defines who you are. This can be a painful process, but it’s absolutely critical to your growth.

You have to recognize the mistake and reflect carefully and thoroughly on what you did wrong, because only in doing so will you be able to learn from the experience. You must own it and document appropriately, alerting and talking about it with your peers, so that they may also learn from what you did wrong.

Once you have done these things, you can’t beat yourself up and perseverate on it. There are others to take care of who need your help.

Learn from it, then move the fuck on.

Changing The Culture Of Your Workplace

Before I get started, let me define what I’m talking about. All workplaces have a culture that is uniquely theirs. Since I have worked primarily as a musician and an ER nurse, I’ll use my experience to try and illustrate this concept. Recording studios are a great example – particularly before the internet when information was a little harder to come by. The ones that were very successful and stayed in business would develop their own way of doing things based on successful practice. Where to put the microphones, how and when to “ride” the faders on a console, the way clients were to be treated, when and how to use compression and EQ, etc.

Likewise in the ER there are standardized “best practices,” but each individual site would have their own way of doing things in terms of how they meet these guidelines. For example, does nursing place intraosseous devices or does medicine? Does nursing administer Alteplase to acute stroke patients in the ER or in CT immediately upon interpretation of the scan by neurology? Do they reconstitute at the bedside or wait for pharmacy to do it? What does the relationship between medicine and nursing feel like?

All of these things generally start with an individual, someone who is a “game changer” – they come up with a better way of doing things, and because they are totally engaged, tenacious, and focused on improving practice, their coworkers notice and begin emulating their methods and behavior.

This is how culture changes.

This is what we should all strive for. We won’t always make it, but as long as the consistent intent to improve is there, things will change.

Try it. You probably have more influence than you think.

Grateful

Whenever trouble rears its ugly head in life, our natural reaction is to focus on it – we have to, otherwise we can’t overcome it. We must examine all possible options, develop strategies, and then plan an attack for whatever shit storm we are dealing with. All this seems reasonable, yes?

Well, kind of. See, when I was younger I would perseverate on my problems to the exclusion of everything else, and this would end up working against me. I’d get in a very negative state of mind that wasn’t doing anyone any good.

And then I got cancer – and it changed everything. Suddenly I might die. Not later, more like right now. And I was going suffer on my way there, and make my loved ones suffer too. All I could think about was “I’m not ready to go…” And then I realized everyone who was ever in my position probably said the same thing. But cancer doesn’t give you any choice, it’s not like you can say, “Whoa, just hold on a minute, I need some time to think about this.” It’s like the train has left the station and there is no way you, or anyone else for that matter, can slow it down much less make it stop.

Your next stop is unknown, and it’s fucking scary as hell.

But if you’re lucky, as I was, the train lets you off before your final destination. Oh sure, you had great medical care, and it was successful. But you know it could have gone differently, and there is no other way to explain your good outcome except that it wasn’t yet your time – by some random quirk of fate your number didn’t come up.

No matter how damaged and traumatized your body and mind were by the experience, at the end of the day, you were handed a gift.

You now understood how precious life is and are truly grateful to be alive, no matter what happens. Knowing you somehow cheated death makes it all that much sweeter.

It’s coming, just not today.

Duly Noted

A person who is not afraid of looking like a fool gets to do a lot more dancing.”

Margaret Renkl

Looking For Inspiration, Part 1

When we are young, inspiration is everywhere, because it is all new. When you are in the process of discovering the world, everything is fresh and you have very little point of reference for comparing it to other paradigms, because your personal database is pretty much a fresh slate, tabula rasa. When you see or hear something that resonates with you, it becomes inextricably tied to your physical experience at that exact moment, which makes it’s imprint even more indelible in your brain.

So inspiration is the discovery of something new that literally rewires your brain – it changes the way you think.

Once you understand this, it becomes easy to see how inspiration becomes less spontaneous as we age – our biological neural network is filled with the experience of a lifetime. We have seen and heard and thought and learned to the point where novel sounds and ideas become harder to find.

We have to actively seek them out.

They ARE out there, but the chance of “just happening on them” as in our youth becomes less and less likely. So we must work to find them if we want to experience the exhilarating feeling of inspiration, of seeing the world fresh.

Keep your mind open, because it can appear in the most unlikely places.

Day Of The Triffids

Danny Boyle cited this 1962 British horror film about giant carnivorous plants that are somehow connected to a colorful meteor storm that blinds the population of the entire planet (making them easier to catch and eat) as a major influence on “28 Days Later.” On a recent re-viewing, the connection is indeed pretty obvious. This was a horror film that deeply disturbed me as a child, so it made a pretty indelible impression. It was a seriously fucked up premise that was not, by any means, obvious. The plants were giant, they could move, and they ate people – real nightmare stuff. Insert zombies for plants and there you go.

I love the idea that something as seemingly benign as a plant could turn out to be so horrifically dangerous. Plants aren’t supposed to be mobile, so there’s mindfuck number one. They also aren’t supposed to be carnivorous, and certainly not big enough to actually eat people. These “Triffids” were not only capable of doing all of these things, they could also use their branches as crude arms by which to grab and hold their prey while slashing them with whip-like appendages before slowly eating them. Brilliant!

I was probably 6 or 7 when I first saw this film, and it was one of those formative experiences where you begin to realize that the world might actually be much different than it first appears. With art, even as a child, I always gravitated to the most fucked up shit – the weirder and more disturbing the better. What does this say about me? I guess when I was growing up the world seemed mysterious and dangerous, and nothing, especially people, were quite what it seemed. So art that took this idea and tweaked it up a few notches spoke to my experience.

Or maybe not – it’s interesting to think about, but ultimately I don’t think it really matters. One thing I do know is this: Life is short, so embrace and celebrate the things you love.

Long live the Triffids!

What Makes America Great, Part 1

That this country is an amalgamation of immigrants is our greatest strength. This point is so important I want to repeat it for emphasis and clarity: Immigrants are what makes this country great.

Why, you may ask, is this so?

At the risk of stating the obvious, let’s start here: We are all immigrants. The only people on the north American continent who aren’t are the indigenous native American Indians. Everyone else came here from somewhere else, ergo they are immigrants. Unless you are First Nations, that means YOU. But the act of immigration isn’t the point here, what’s important is why they came.

People risk their lives and endure great hardship to come to America and make a better life for themselves and their families. They are, by definition, the most motivated and hardest working people from their countries – and they often choose give up everything, including their language, to come here. Part of the traditional American dream was this idea of a meritocracy, that the harder you worked and the more you contributed, the greater the rewards. These are the people that make things happen. They don’t come here to break the law – drawing negative attention to themselves is the last thing they want, because it means deportation and the end of everything they have worked for.

This all seems so obvious. Don’t we want the hardest working, smartest people to come here? Of course, there will always be a small percentage of criminals and religious extremists with intent to harm. But these people exist everywhere – you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

How about this: Try judging each person as an individual based on what they can do and who they are – not what color they are or where they came from.

They are us.

Haunted

Shit always seemed to happen in the summer. You were squatting in this old, giant house that had long been abandoned with your boyfriend. I remember he was a Vietnam vet who enjoyed his alcohol and pot – and he used this as an in to try to get to know me. I was a suspicious 16 year old and probably a little aloof, but I wanted to like him, for you.

The old house had a lot of windows, and I remember you telling me it was haunted, and I believed you. You saw spirits in the windows late at night. Of course, to me, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world that you would be staring out windows late at night. I would have too.

It was one of those drug filled summers that I wandered through as a teenager, wondering who I was. I already knew you were crazy as hell, but we had been, and forever would be, inextricably intertwined. I loved you from a remote place that kept me protected, but I was afraid of the crazy in both of us, so I kept my distance.

My adult life was really just beginning and I knew it. I had no idea where it was going, but I knew it had to be far from you and our past together.

In retrospect, the haunted house was really a metaphor for our childhood. In some ways it seems so remote now, yet I can remember it like it was yesterday.

I loved you but was too broken to show it.

I had to get out.

Revealing Who We Are

There is a universal arc over which all lives travel; everyone’s experience is unique, yet there are private struggles we don’t reveal that are more common than we know. Instead, we suffer alone, afraid to acknowledge what we are going through for fear that we will be rejected by others we care about. These are the fears of a child, because that’s when we learned them. They are not the fears of a rational, mature adult who has achieved a state of self-acceptance and gained an understanding of the way the world works.

Here is a fundamental truth I have learned at the age of 61: Everyone experiences shame and everyone feels vulnerable. But those who are open and comfortable with themselves, flawed though they may be, are not shunned – they are the most charismatic. Their honesty and comfort in acknowledging their vulnerability makes them magnetic. Instead of people turning away they are drawn to them like moths to a flame.

Here is the interesting paradox – it takes bravery to live like this, because we’ve all been hurt and rejected, and nobody wants to experience that if they can prevent it. Unfortunately, our desire to protect ourselves ends up accomplishing the exact opposite of what we intended. Instead of protecting us, it isolates us, pushing others away because we are afraid to reveal who we are.

The big question is: How much do you want to reveal? Because this isn’t an all or nothing proposition, you don’t have to reveal everything all the time. But if you really want to connect with and help others, you need to be as honest and genuine as you can muster.

Your fear might be the thing that’s holding you back.

We Only Understand What We Already Know

This is both why it is so hard to learn and understand new concepts and paradigms, and why it is critical to our growth that we continue to do so. Nowhere is this more perfectly illustrated than in a podcast interview I recently listened to with Luzer Twersky, a young Hasidic man who left his culture and religion at the age of 22. It’s a compelling story, but the thing that really struck me was his vivid explanation of what it was like to strike out in the world as a young adult who knows nothing except what he learned in his cloistered upbringing in a sect that prides itself on knowing as little as possible about the modern world.

It’s both funny and heartbreaking, but I was mesmerized by his honest description of setting out on his own having never seen a movie or television, barely able to read and write English, and having no education except the Torah. As soon as he left his parents house, he got a DVD player, went to Blockbuster, and began watching movies in his car, hiding from his community. He was hungry to learn – the world was a complete mystery to him, but he was determined to try and understand it.

This is the hunger we can never lose, because the minute you lose it is the minute you begin dying.

 

Critical Thinking, Part 1

The United States (now there’s an oxymoron) in 2018 is a very, very confusing place. Questioning and discussing ideas is the most basic social mechanism for moving society forward, and yet some topics appear to be off limits. I’m not talking about everyday life, I’m talking about academia and science. This is just madness, and I’m not sure how we got here. Censorship of ideas and demonizing those who would dare to question the status quo is never a good thing.

Because here’s the problem: the world and the humans who inhabit it are extremely complex. If it can be difficult to parse facts and interpret research for smart people who specialize in doing so, where does that leave the rest of us?

It leaves us with a responsibility to work hard in an effort to understand our world, that’s where. And in doing so it requires that we remain open and respectful of others, even when we don’t want to. It also mandates that we question our own beliefs, and be willing to change them as necessary.

I am not talking about core values here; xenophobia and racism are not up for discussion. But their effects on society are. And discussion of how to mitigate their influence and of their place in history most certainly are.

None of this is simple but if we have any hope of moving forward we must learn to listen and think very carefully about what we are saying.

All ideas are not equal – just don’t always assume yours is the better one.

Oh, and BTW – you’re probably not as smart as you think you are, so at least try to be thoughtful and respectful.

You might actually learn something.

Turning Down An Opportunity

This is a tricky one – and the answer isn’t always self-evident. Aren’t we supposed to seize opportunities? Not always

This question is probably best answered by first asking another question: Will this opportunity help me get where I want to go?

Because life is short, and you most definitely do not have all the time in the world. If there are things you want to do and accomplish, don’t commit to something that will prevent you from being able to achieve the goals that are important to you.

However, even if you answer yes to the first question, you still have one very important question to answer: Will I be fulfilled by attempting to undertake this opportunity and perform it to the best of my ability?

Because if you answer no to the second question, you are going to be one miserable puppy. Work should make us fulfilled, knowing we are contributing something important.

Everything we do should be in the service of humanity – both the collective and the individual.

Personal Rules, Part 1

The more intense and stressful the situation gets, the calmer you must become. This is the law.

I understand that this isn’t a natural reaction for most people – but that doesn’t mean that they can’t do it.

This is one of those cases where the old adage “fake it ‘till you make it” really works. Unless you are a psychopath (in which case you don’t break a sweat in a crisis naturally), you just have to force yourself to remain calm until it becomes second nature. If you can do it, you get the nice bonus of an adrenaline rush.

Like getting good at most things, it’s really just a question of practice. The problem is, most people don’t get exposed to chaotic crises very often.

A bit of a “catch 22,” but there you go.

Navigating Obstacles: Game On!

Supposition: The obstacles that must be overcome in order to get to “the good stuff” make it too hard.

Correction: The obstacles that must be overcome in order to get to “the good stuff” are part of the game that makes it fun.

Not Exactly Regret

I have a personal edict – never feel regret. And yet…

Sometimes in life you are faced with making an important decision where all of the choices for resolution are bad. When that happens, you have to listen to your inner compass and choose the decision that seems the most ethical to you. So far so good, right?

Well, if you’re an adult, there’s a good chance that you’re in a relationship with someone else. Now your uncomfortable decision will affect this other person as well – and they may have chosen a different solution. Add to this dilemma a time constraint and the element of surprise and you have a perfect storm for making a decision where someone is going to be very unhappy. Welcome to life!

If you’re in a long term, lifelong relationship, what do you do when, years later, your partner angrily throws your decision resentfully back at you? Well, your first reaction is probably to feel like shit. Then feel angry, because you didn’t like the decision you felt compelled to make so many years ago, and maybe even embarrassed because you made it. But here’s the thing: you did the best you could at the time. Unfortunately your partner had to live with the shitty results of your attempt to make a decision that, although it seemed morally right to you, was also wrong for them. And you will always feel terrible about the whole fucking mess, but hey – nobody ever said life was going to be easy.

So what do you do? Apologize and move the fuck on. Because life will give you plenty more opportunities to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Accept that you’re not always going to get it right.

But try your best.

Rolling With Life’s Punches

The term “rolling with the punch,” not surprisingly, comes from boxing – a sport I love deeply. To me, boxing is a metaphor for life. Just as we are born alone, we ultimately live our life by our wits and we die alone, at least in the sense that death is a deeply private and personal experience. There may be others around you at the end, but they are not the one who is dying – you are. Along the way life will deal out some severe punishment, and we will most definitely be hurt badly in the process. How we take it and deal with our pain and adversity is a measure of who we are.

Unlike most sports, and much like life itself, the boxer is alone in the ring, fighting to survive. There are no “team players” upon whom the boxer can rely on for help, there is just him or herself and their opponent. Physical strength is just a small part of what makes a great fighter – the ability to remain cool under pressure and to think while absorbing punishment are equally important, if not more so. See the connection?

To “roll with the punch” means you move your body and your head “with” the punch in order to mitigate it’s destructive power. It’s physics, really – and we can use the same concept in dealing with life’s blows. Be flexible, take whatever punishment life throws at you and don’t fight it – flow with it.

It’s your only chance for surviving and coming out ahead.