Fail, fail, fail, fail, succeed

Monthly Archives: January 2019

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back (Part 2)

Reality check #1) The larger the institution, the longer it will take to affect change. Depending on the magnitude of the change and the amount of power you wield, be prepared for years.

Reality check #2) It ain’t over ‘till it’s over, and just when you think it’s a done deal, don’t be surprised to find you’re not quite there yet.

So this begs the question “Why bother?” Hmm, the answer to that is somewhat complicated, but let me see if I can drill it down.

If the change you are trying to implement is going to help people, it’s worth hunkering down and settling in for the long game. It takes a special kind of toughness and tenacity to make things happen in this kind of environment.

Take pride in being the kind of person who can tirelessly and relentlessly pursue this goal for the greater good.

Don’t ever, ever give up.

You Don’t Have To Know What You’re Doing Before You Start

This is something I am really learning just now, and honestly, it’s a bit of a revelation. I’m finishing up my second short story and the whole process is completely not what I would have expected. In fact, it’s making me rethink my whole approach to creating.

I literally started spontaneously with one sentence, and the whole thing just grew organically from there.

After the first sentence, I came up with a title, but I had no idea what it meant. Then I came up with a name, and I still had no idea what was happening, but now I had a character with a name. And then I just started writing, letting this character talk, and boom – he was alive!

I quickly realized who he was, and the whole thing just started to come together. It has been fun letting the story reveal itself to me, and that’s what I wanted to make note of here.

If I thought about it, I couldn’t do it. Instead, I just start and let the thing tell me where it wants to go.

Think about that.

Yin And Yang

Here’s a lesson I learned pretty early on in life. It’s not earth-shattering, but it can help give you a heads up on what people are capable of. Think of it like “for every action there is a reaction,” except it’s applied to human behavior.

For every quality displayed by any person, understand that they are capable of the opposite behavior manifested to the same degree.

For example, if someone is really nice, that means they are also capable of being very mean. The more extreme any given character trait, the more extreme will be it’s opposite.

Now this doesn’t mean that these opposite traits are actually manifested – it just means they are potentials, waiting for the right signal to wake up.

Be careful out there.

Gratitude (Part 3)

It’s interesting – the concept of gratitude permeates my life, and it’s not feigned, I am absolutely sincere. I am grateful for everything I have. But I sometimes think – grateful to who?

Obviously, if someone does something for us, we are grateful – especially if they didn’t have to do it. In my mind, giving of yourself because you want to rather than have to is the highest form of human behavior. Reaching out and helping someone just because you want to, expecting nothing in return, is something I find profoundly moving. In fact, sometimes I am grateful simply because I can help.

But free-floating gratitude is a bit of a mind fuck if you’re an atheist. There is no god or higher power I am grateful to since I don’t believe they exist. So when I feel this way, it’s more of a state of mind. I choose to be grateful because it makes my life better.

I am taking nothing for granted because I know it can all be gone in a second.

I am grateful for every fucking minute because I know that at some point the show will be over.

Until then, I’ve got shit to do, some of which will hopefully be useful to someone else.

Cool Under Fire

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

Mike Tyson’s famous quote perfectly encapsulates that moment where you realize that life doesn’t give a fuck about your plans and instead decides what you need is an extra helping of pain and humiliation, delivered as publicly as possible.

In other words, it’s easy to make plans when you’re alone, but what do you do when you get punched in the face? Do you fall apart or somehow regroup in the middle of getting punished?

Staying with the boxing analogy, Round 1 of the first Juan Manuel Marquez-Manny Pacquiao fight provides the perfect example, along with an awe-inspiring performance from Marquez.

Juan Manuel gets knocked down not once, not twice, but three times in Round 1. He keeps getting up, and for the next three rounds he takes a vicious beating. But here’s the thing: he is regrouping while this is happening, changing his timing and strategy – he is thinking under fire. Ultimately he wins the fight (although technically it was called a draw).

This is a great lesson in remaining cool under pressure, and an inspiring example of how to handle adversity.

When life is beating you up is when you show your true character.

Creativity (Part 1)

This quote reiterates a very important point, one that can be discouraging when trying to create something. That point is this: Everything is going to kind of suck in the beginning.

Obviously, you start with an idea you like, that part’s easy. But as soon as you start developing your idea you are going to run into this, and it can be very disheartening. In fact, it can actually make you question the validity of what you’re trying to do. 

Ed Catmul’s quote here illustrates that this “sucking” phase is completely normal and to be expected.

This is where showing up and doing the work comes in – you just keep hammering away until things start taking shape.

Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so—to go, as I say, “from suck to not-suck.” This idea—that all movies we now think of as brilliant were, at one time, terrible—is a hard concept for many to grasp. … Creativity has to start somewhere, and we are true believers in the power of bracing, candid feedback and the iterative process—reworking, reworking, and reworking again, until a flawed story finds its throughline or a hollow character finds its soul. 

From Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmul

Lessons In Aging Part 3

I have a whole lot more yesterdays than you.

This means I’ve had the opportunity of learning from lots more mistakes than you. See how all that failure turns out to be a good thing? I see things as they are, not how I wish them to be. Surprisingly, this opens up possibilities because I can see things more clearly.

I also have a lot fewer tomorrow’s.

This is a tricky one, because it can be a black hole you don’t want to fall into. Understanding this correctly becomes a question of perspective, but when I get it right it prevents me from taking anything for granted.

Because I’ve got fewer days left, they each become more precious.

Amateur Vs Professional

What a useless question.

Just do the work.

Let others label you as they wish, it doesn’t really matter.

Let the pundits declare you a genius or a fool, it’s all the same.

The work, however, cannot be denied.

Don’t Question Your Compulsion

Let’s say you feel compelled to create something, but you don’t know why. So you get deeply into it, and start spending more and more time working to make this thing, whatever it is.

You realize you’re going to have to teach yourself and eventually master some very difficult things in order to realize your vision. This takes more time, but you don’t care; you are focused, maybe even obsessed.

At first, you think other people will share your enthusiasm for this thing, but over time you realize they don’t.

Then you start wondering why exactly you are doing this thing. If no one else cares, what’s the point?

Well, here’s the point: You want to do this thing because it’s why you are here, it’s who you are. Something inside of you wants to come out. Whether it means anything to anyone else is incidental. If you don’t do it, you will not fulfill your destiny.

The thing is, one day you will be dead, and your chance to make this thing will be over.

Don’t question it.

Here’s A Revelation

It doesn’t matter where you start.

If you’re creative, it’s easy to question yourself before you even get started. Whether you mean to or not, you’re setting yourself up for failure right out of the gate.

You know the questions I’m talking about – “Is this really a good idea?

Here’s a news flash: they’re all good ideas. It’s your artistic sensibility that will make it good – not where you start.

What I am trying to say here is this: If you want to compose a piece of music, write a story, sculpt, paint, or whatever – don’t waste time waiting for the “good” ideas, because you will doom yourself to fail before you even get going.

Instead, just start with anything.

Who you are and what you have to say will come through no matter what. So where you start is irrelevant, because you will always start at the beginning.

Whatever you end up with is you.

Don’t be afraid of that.

Well That Was Interesting

I just wrote my first piece of fiction.

Tomorrow I will post it in its entirety. The way it happened was completely unpremeditated – in fact, it started as a post about something real, but quickly took on a life of its own.

I’m sure I’ll write more about it as I give it more thought – I certainly learned quite a few things in the process. When I was doing it, I didn’t overthink anything, I just let it happen organically.

If anyone is reading this, it began as a post titled “The Question Mark Bridge.” Once it started coming to life, I wrote each part almost like a serial. As I got close to the end, I just finished it in a burst and it seemed silly to keep posting it in pieces – it was becoming too disjointed to read like that anyway.

So if you have been reading it in pieces over time, I encourage you to go back and read it again from the beginning – it works best read in one sitting, where the story and characters can slowly reveal themselves to you.

As an artist, you have no control over how others interpret your work, and that is as it should be. But you live for those moments where you create something and you know it’s good. Artists are their own harshest critics, so this isn’t easy.

I think one of the lessons here is to pay attention to where your mind and life are telling you to go. If you’re trying to force something to make it happen, it’s probably not the right thing for you to be doing at that moment.

Super Power

Concentration is like a super power in most knowledge work pursuits. If you take the time to cultivate this power, you’ll never look back.”

– Cal Newport

Life Is Not An Either Or Proposition (Part 2)

It’s a fools game to think that only one particular thing (brand, artist, chef, etc) is the greatest (this would of course be the thing that you think is the greatest) and everything else sucks and only ignorant dummies could possibly partake in enjoying their obviously inferior nonsense.

Maybe, just maybe, everything is good, at least to some degree. Who the fuck are you to judge the worth of these things? Who made you the czar of good taste and high quality?

Seriously – don’t fall into this trap. It makes you sound like a condescending asshole, and there are already way too many of those in this world.

You are better than that.

Be Comfortable With Who You Are

Trust me, life will be so much better, and you will be so much happier, if you would just relax and be yourself. Because here’s the thing: for the most part, no one else really gives a shit. You might think they do, but you would be wrong – and it’s a good thing they don’t care. That frees you up to worry about shit that’s actually important.

The sooner you get comfortable with this idea the better. Because at some point in your life the penny is going to drop and you will think “Why didn’t I get this sooner?

Just let go and be who you are. It’s okay.

Own it.

Showing Up

Seriously – if you want to move ahead in life, there are two things you must always do. First, you have to show up, and second, you must show up on time. Sounds pretty basic, huh?

Here’s my rule, and it took me longer to fully learn this than I’d like to admit. If someone doesn’t honor this commitment the first time, it will only get worse from there.

Once I understood this, it made how I respond to these situations much easier. If I am paying someone for a service and they are late, we’re done. Especially if it’s the first time we meet. Because I now understand that they will always be late.

The type of service doesn’t matter – it could be a plumber, a house cleaner, or a doctor. There are exceptions, but these exceptions generally involve either someone who provides a unique service (e.g. a highly specialized surgeon), or a corporate monopoly. The former we will wait for because they are the best at what they do, the latter we will curse and hate with every fiber of our being while they continue to make us wait while taking our money.

The ones who don’t show up are not even considered to exist. They have doomed themselves to failure by their own hand.

Oh, and BTW, on a related but separate note – if a restaurant is empty, turn around and leave. There is a reason why it’s empty. It sounds cruel but you’ll thank me later.

ER Sucker Punch

There’s not many things that happen in the ER that stop me dead in my tracks, but diagnosing someone with cancer is one of them. When I wrote the title of this post I was thinking about the patient, but I guess it applies to me as well. There’s this devastating moment in every cancer patients life where a doctor says something along the lines of “I’m sorry but I have some bad news.” And at that moment EVERYTHING suddenly changes. The moment before, you were just a person living their life, concerned with the same hopes, dreams, and mundane bullshit that fills up every persons life. The moment after is like regaining consciousness after being sucker punched by Mike Tyson. You’re mind is trying to think but nothing’s happening – all you can think of is “Wait – what did he just say?

It’s so fucking heartbreaking – they come to the ER for what they think is some benign event: abdominal pain, maybe they’re just feeling tired, or perhaps sudden weight loss. Then we do a CT scan and there’s fucking tumors everywhere. The doc now has the unenviable task of telling them, and trust me, there is no easy way to do it. The best approach is to bring them into a private area (not easy to find in a busy ER), and then just be brutally honest in as compassionate a manner as can be mustered. I don’t know which is worse – this or telling someone their loved one just died.

When I have to take part in this process it’s because they are my patient – as their nurse, part of my job is helping them understand what’s happening, I am there to help provide guidance through murky, rough waters. But I went through this process myself, and although I came through it, all of those feelings come rushing back.

I want to tell them everything will be alright, but I can’t do that because they need my honesty and I know too much. It’s a terrible moment in someone’s life. When you’re a nurse, pain, suffering, and death are everywhere.

It’s just part of the gig.

It’s Not Just About You

Really. Just stop. You’re on an entire planet filled with other humans, some of whom are most definitely smarter, stronger, and better looking than you. So take a deep breath.

You are special, just like everyone else. No more, no less. You may have convinced yourself otherwise, but you’re only fooling yourself. If you don’t believe me, just wait until it’s all over and get back to me.

How about taking some of whatever it is you think makes you so special and give it to someone else.

Now that would make you special.

My Problem With Throwing Shit Out

Ok, I’m not really a sentimental guy, but it’s hard. I don’t like throwing things out because, whether it’s positive or negative, they seem to somehow be imbued with the power of the past. They might be a physical reminder of failed plans, or maybe connected to a memory that involved someone who is no longer here.

See, when you get older, you realize these things are artifacts from a time in your life that is now over. They are a painful reminder that you will never be that age again, because my friend, that ship has sailed. You’re older now and time is running out. You realize that many of the things you thought you might do are probably going to remain undone. There’s other stuff that you will do, but the open ended possibilities from your youth are gone.

You don’t have these problems until you’re 60 or so, and by then I guess you should feel lucky that you’re still alive. ‘Cuz the downhill slope from here is quick, assured, and inevitable. The train has left the station and it’s picking up speed to reach its final destination.

If there’s any business you want to take care of, you might want to get cracking. I’m not sure how many stops are left on this ride.