Self-Image and Self-Imagination

At the moment, I am still in mourning.  The loss of the US Men’s National Team to Belgium was extremely emotional for me.  It is possible that I take these things too seriously but in the end the reason that I do is that sport is a metaphor for life.  Soccer especially seems to encapsulate the struggles that we all endure through our time here on Earth.  All of the pundits will give their opinions about what happened with the USMNT and here is mine.

Each of us has a self-image.  We see ourselves in particular ways because of past experiences and our view of how we fit into the world.  This self-image can serve us in many positive ways.  It sets up an identity that we work to maintain consistently.  We know who we are, what we do and where we stand.  It creates comfort for us and those around us because everyone knows what to expect.  The issue with a self-image is that it can become stagnant.  Although it creates comfort, it does not particularly allow for progress, which requires change.

In the minds of the USMNT, there lies an old self-image of an underdog team.  Their coach has called for a new identity that looks for them to be more assertive in their approach.  Klinsmann has imagined that they could be something different.  His picture of who the USMNT should be is ambitious.  It was not fully realized by all of the players.  I’m not sure that they completely believed in the new image.  The moments where they seemed to play best were when they were losing, embracing that old image of the underdog.  In order to get where they want to go, the USMNT will need to imagine that they can be more.  The image won’t show up in reality until it has been accepted mentally.  Over the next four years Juergen Klinsmann will continue to profess this new image to his players and the country.  We will see if US Soccer is able to let go of what it was in favor of what it can be.  It is a process that we must all go through in life, letting go of who we were in favor of who we will be.

As you sit here reading, think of yourself but not as you are right now.  Think of your best self.  Use your “self-imagination” to come up with a picture of who you are at your peak.  Most likely it isn’t where you are right now.  How do you get there?  You make that picture your self-image.  See yourself, as you want to be, and then take the actions that the new image requires. Write it down and read it every day as many times as you need to until it is burned into your brain.  Be you but be the best you that you can be.

Why I’m Nothing Without My Wife

It’s often the things that we can’t see that have the most power.  Gravity has no color.  The wind hides from our eyes.  These invisible forces influence us in ways that we may take for granted or only give a fleeting thought.  Imagine your life without them and you get a picture of what chaos would look like.  These invisible forces hold our world together like my wife does for me.

The bond between my wife and I is invisible.  However it has had a profound effect on my life and who I have become.  It is like the acrobats in the Cirque de Soleil who use each other as ladders to climb to higher and higher heights.  All that I have achieved is because of my wife.  Each time that I smile it is in at least small part because of my wife.  I get over sad times faster because of her influence.  She gives me strength and masks my weaknesses by who she is.

As I sit here ten years removed from our vows, I think of the promises that we made to each other.  Why would I not make those promises for what I have received in return?  I got the deal of a lifetime.  I love you Beck!

The Fearometer

Fear, one of our most basic emotional states, has served us through the millennia to keep us alive.  Few of us are in daily peril from the elements or predators anymore.  So our fear mechanism has little real cause for use.  So we sometimes indulge the fear mechanism in very benign circumstances.  Although emotions are not perfectly quantifiable, I would suggest that we take some time to truly assess our fears and their intensity.  Where would most of our fears of today rate on the Fearometer?

Fears are very personal.  However when I think through history and all of the possible situations that could cause a fear level of TEN, being a soldier on a boat about to storm the beach of Normandy is always at the top of the list.  Waiting for a door to open to almost certain death is something that I’m not sure that I could handle.  By comparison, my daily fears seem extremely small and petty.

So where do your fears rank?  Is talking to that special person and asking them out really a TEN?  Or is it a FIVE that you’ve turned into a TEN?  Since most of our fears are societal and not natural, inflation is something that is bound to happen.  We make things bigger and scarier in order to protect ourselves.  But from what?  A moment of discomfort?  The truth?  In the end you need to decide if your Fearometer is working well for you or is it paralyzing you?

Regret is momentary pain that you have chosen to make permanent.

Memorial Day

Today is the day that is set aside to memorialize the men and women who have died in military service of this country. Like many holidays, the meaning is often overshadowed by the modern traditions. Although we all enjoy a day off from work or a barbecue with family and friends, these momentary things mask the greater meaning of the day. This year especially, the meaning is near the surface for me.

About a month ago, my Uncle Joe passed away. Although he served in the Air Force for many years, it was not a war but cancer that took his life. Despite the fact that he did not die serving our country, he is the person that will most be on my mind this Memorial Day. It was actually his funeral service that truly hammered home the unspoken meaning of this day.

Memorial Day is intended for us to remember the fallen and we should. I was recently speaking to a student about the “Fearometer” (subject for another blog). The basic concept is rating the amount of fear caused by a situation on a scale of 1-10. Personally I believe that being a soldier on a boat about to storm the beach at Normandy would be a 10. Walking into a situation of almost certain death is something that many of our service men and women have faced throughout history. The underlying motivation for overcoming that fear was protecting the freedoms that we enjoy every day including Memorial Day. So using this day to remember these brave souls who paid the ultimate price is completely deserved.

The unspoken meaning that my Uncle Joe’s passing made so clear to me is that in remembering those that have fallen, we need to realize what it means for us. There is space to be filled. The loss of my Uncle left a hole in the world that we all have to find some way to fill: not his job or his money but his spirit, his kindness. The unique gifts, he brought into the world. It is incumbent upon us all to fill in the space that he left behind. We cannot replace those who went before us but only hope to carry on their legacy by following the example that they set.

So remember today and remember to act tomorrow.

The PIR Equation

When I was in college, I was very fortunate to have a professor, Dr. Knowles, who took me under his wing. We would often have long chats about a variety of things. On one particular occasion we discussed this equation, which has served me well through the years.

The equation was P – I = R or Potential – Interference = Results. It was a simple enough equation that I’m pretty sure he borrowed from someone else. At the time that it was given to me, I was letting Interference run my life. This is a pretty common thing for any of us to do. Interference is easy because it is everywhere and it comes in so many forms that it is easy to focus on. Unfortunately in the PIR equation, the I is the only place that you don’t want your focus. If you emphasize the I in PIR, it is said PYRE as in the materials used to burn a corpse. You don’t want to focus on the I.

If you focus slightly on the P and emphasize the R in PIR, you end up with PURR, which is what you want your life to do. When you focus on your Potential and the Result in front of you, things will purr along.

No More Today or Tomorrow

As a language teacher, I think about languages all of the time. Language is a representation of thought. There are some words that do a very effective job of representing the concept that they portray. Some words do a very poor job. One of the good (and bad) things about speaking a language like English in a country like the United States is that the language is still very alive. We can decide on adopting new words and phrases and discard the unneeded

The words that we use represent the thoughts that we have and they also change the way that we look at the world. For example imagine trying to paint a sunset, with only blue paint. It would be almost impossible to create an accurate representation because the tools that you are working with limit your possibilities. Conversely imagine trying to paint a midnight sky with only yellow and orange. I think about this a lot when I hear languages like French and German. In my mind, I can’t imagine a punk rock song in French because the language doesn’t represent anger well. Nor can I imagine a romantic movie in German, the language sound just doesn’t seem to fit (I’m sure both of these things exist).

So my suggestion is to replace TODAY and TOMORROW. These are truly neutral words that carry no emotion with them. However they should. Today is all that we have. It should have a word that truly represents what we should be doing with it. My suggestion would be something like “SOWDAY” or “HUNTDAY”. In historical terms, farmers and hunters needed to do something today in order to eat tomorrow. They truly understood something that we’ve lost in modern times, the idea that now is precious. My replacement for tomorrow is “REAPDAY”. As we all know, tomorrow never truly arrives; it is always one day ahead of SOWDAY. Therefore it pushes gratification off into the future at all times. By using a word like this we would anticipate that now is not about taking, now is about doing. Receiving is in the future and only comes if we did the things we needed to do on SOWDAY. I actually prefer HUNTDAY but sow and reap go together better.

So even if you don’t change your vocabulary to include: HUNTDAY, SOWDAY or REAPDAY, I would suggest that you put the idea into your head. Today is your chance to do. Tomorrow is only your opportunity to get if you did the work today. Get out there and make today happen.

The Power of a Poor Start

My soccer career started on a team called the Orange Crushers. I didn’t know what “irony” was at seven years old but our name epitomized it. We crushed nothing and seemed to have only one purpose in the league, to get crushed. My memories of that season are a complete blur except for one game. In one of our final games of the season, we won and I scored. I was so glad when it happened. The other team from town, Blue Bombers, was filled with friends and classmates and they were undefeated. So that lone victory was important for me because I’d received some ribbing at school.

As the years went on, there was a slow dance that went on between winning and I. One year my team would be a success. The next we were knocked back down a peg. By the time I reached my senior year in high school, I had figured out who I was as a player. I was one of the kids who wouldn’t quit. That was my first year as a “success”. Conference and County Championships were the first two real trophies that any of my teams had ever won. Thinking back on that team that won those two trophies I realized. Not one player from the Blue Bombers remained. They had all stopped playing soccer or switched to other sports.

Knowing how to lose and not quit or to persevere through tough times are skills that you acquire from a poor start. These skills are invaluable because no one maintains success forever. Using memories of our failures as stepping-stones is the way we make a staircase toward our success. The examples of poor starts are woven throughout the history of the United States. Lincoln, Ford and Carnegie are three that instantly pop to mind but one of my favorites from the present day is Stallone.

When Sylvester Stallone sold the script of Rocky, the studio wanted to make the film but with someone else playing Rocky. At the time he was completely broke and refused a series of offers from the studio for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He stuck to his guns. He knew how to survive and live with failure but he saw this film as his one ticket to ultimate success. So with very long odds, he bet on himself and won. I used to watch the Rocky films regularly when I was in high school. Later I learned just how much the movies mirror Stallone’s life. In Rocky Balboa, Rocky tells his son that life is about “how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” My guess is Stallone learned this early and never forgot.

A poor start is not something to be embarrassed about. It is something to be embraced. The power of a poor start comes in the fact that you know where you began is not where you’re going to end. The power of a poor start comes from realizing that failure did not put poison inside you, it put fire inside you. The only negative to a poor start is if you quit and make your start, your end.

The Honey Boo Boo Effect (The Bannister Inverse)

Yesterday I described the amazing capability of humans to achieve great things by following in the footsteps of those who have stretched the limits.  Unfortunately there is the other side of that coin.  Although people can stretch their limits to reach amazing heights, there are just as many people digging toward the depths.

Humans have gone through many different periods of existence.  We had the hunting age, the agricultural age, industrial age and possibly the information age.  At the moment we seem to be locked in the entertainment age where the sole desire of people is to be entertained for the moment.

Unfortunately this age lacks substance and gives the power of attention to people who don’t really deserve it.  Honey Boo Boo, Snookie, the Kardashians and others are much like a lollipop or hard candy.  They’re intended to be a quick treat to the senses, not a major part of your diet.

In life there are many types of currency that you will use, two of the most valuable are time and attention.  Spend most of your time and pay most of your attention to the people who matter: family, friends and people of substance.  When you spend time and pay attention to people of substance, much like your diet you become what you consume.

Although you have a ton people being thrust into your face who seem to lower the bar, it is your choice to let them influence you or not.  “Who is more foolish?  The fool or the fool who follows him?” –Obi Wan Kenobi

The Bannister Effect

On May 6th in 1954, Roger Bannister broke the World Record for running the mile. He was the first man to run one mile in under four minutes. Many runners had attempted the run but all had failed until Bannister. Although he is remembered for “breaking” something, I contend that what he created was much more important: possibility.

The key to Bannister’s run is that he opened the door of possibility for other people to do the same*. He pushed the edge of what humans were capable of doing. All it takes is one person to show us that our limits are not what we thought they were. Lindberg, Edison, Robinson and countless others swept aside the past to show a brighter future with fewer limits. It seems to be the natural order of things that when the bar is raised, we rise to the occasion to meet it. From my own life, I know that my father was the first in his family to go to college. It is no longer a novelty. All of my brothers and I attended college. The Bannister Effect could be found in many people’s lives.

Is the difference between impossible and possible only a matter of time? How many people told Bannister he couldn’t before he did? How many people scoffed at Lindberg before he was cheered in Paris? How many people turned a blind eye to Edison before they saw the light?

The critics will always be there and their ridicule of your dream will be true, until it’s not. In the end if you give up, they’ll have their “I told you so” moment and everyone will move on. If you persevere and triumph, they’ll stand silent and everyone will move up. I would love to see you rise up rather than give up.

*Additional information: World Records for the mile date back to the 1850s.  The time slowly and incrementally decreased over the next ninety years when Gunder Hägg of Sweden ran a 4:01.4.  Then it took ten years before Bannister broke through the four-minute barrier.  Six weeks later, Bannister’s record was broken.  Today his time from 1954 is six seconds slower than the high school record for the mile.

The Search for the Perfect Excuse

The perfect excuse is difficult to find.

  • It needs to be believable but not overly obvious.
  • It needs to take all blame and strategically place it somewhere else.
  • It cannot offend or degrade anyone that is important to you.
  • It must leave your desire completely intact: I wanted to but I couldn’t because…
  • It must be new. Reused excuses get tiresome.
  • It does not particularly have to be based in reality.

The problem with the search for the perfect excuse is that we might find it.  Or worse, we might find it and believe it ourselves.