Are you a veterinarian yet?

VeterinarianThe movie “Fight Club” is not for everyone but there are a few scenes that are extremely memorable for me.  Probably the most memorable and applicable is the scene with Raymond K. Hessel, the unfortunate store clerk who meets Tyler Durden.  With a gun to his head, Raymond is forced to give an accurate representation of his life.  He lives in a small basement apartment and works a meaningless job after dropping out of Community College.  During his time in college, he had mainly studied biology in order to become a veterinarian.  In that moment, he is given a gun to the head choice.  Tyler Durden tells him that in six weeks he’d better have taken steps toward being a veterinarian or he’ll be dead.  Then Raymond is told to run home.

The gun to the head choice is an easy one because there are only two options something or nothing.  Although completely fictional, I’m pretty sure that (if real) Raymond would have started on the road to being a veterinarian.  People find resources that they never knew they had when put face to face with their mortality.  In our daily lives, it is easy to distract ourselves from the fact that we are not moving forward only perpetuating our present level of existence.

So with the gun to your head, what is the thing that you’re not doing that you really need to be?  Are you twenty pounds over weight?  Are you suffering through a bad relationship because you’re afraid to be alone?  Are you stuck in a job that you hate but see no way out?  Gun to your head moment, feel the barrel against the back of your head, better or nothing, what is your plan to get there?  What you’ll most likely find is that all of the limitations holding you back are create by you.  You’ve gotten comfortable with being fat, lazy, angry and tired.  Your life doesn’t depend doing it, so it’s easier to stay the same.  Don’t kid yourself, you are dying right now.  SLOWLY.  But when you think hard about the possibilities that you’ve not taken hold of, doesn’t it feel like life is slipping away faster than it would if you were on track?

So who is going to put the gun to your head?  No one but you.  Your friends, family and coworkers will never pressure you to be much more than you already are.  Only you know that thing inside that needs to be drawn out with that gun to head choice.  Better or nothing?  It’s time to choose!  Go be a veterinarian!

Empty Trophies (the loss in winning)

LukeSoccerAs the spring season grows closer, fields are being lined, nets are being hung and young players are practicing their skills.  These are all normal steps in the preparation for a season of practices, games and championships.  Each of us has our own role to play in this system: player, spectator, coach or referee.  That role heavily influences our perspective on the process and the game itself.  The game of soccer is always the same, two teams, two goals, a specific number of players and specific period of time.  It is a finite game with a result that is measurable.

The sporting culture is based principally on the finite game.  We are enamored with the result and the perceived spoils that come with it.  Players, coaches and spectators focus on the result of the finite game, often as if that was the only thing that mattered.  The unfortunate thing in youth sports is that the hyper-focus on the finite game has made us forget about the ultimately more important infinite game.

Infinite games are not played to win or lose.  They are played in order to keep playing.  “Playing catch” is not a competitive endeavor.  You don’t throw the ball to make the other person miss.  The enjoyment comes from process and the intrinsic benefits that come with it: progress, togetherness, etc.  Life is another infinite game that we play.  The goal of life is not to get to death.  The experience of living is the benefit that playing the game provides.

The value of the finite game is in its contribution to the infinite game of life.  The players, coaches and spectators who only see the finite game will eventually find the game to be empty.  It is only when those infinite game benefits come out of the finite game that it is truly valuable.  Trophies, ribbons and plaques are worth only as much as the memories of those who were touched by the process.

If the goal is only to win on that day, then the victory is a loss.  It is only when the component pieces of the win are ingrained into a person’s soul that victory is truly accomplished.  Teamwork, focus, progress, sacrifice and a slew of other infinite game lessons are the reason that we play.  Trophies are hollow wood, metal and plastic if the spirit that earned them does not live on in the hearts and minds of those who earned them.

The true value of today’s game shows up in the coming years.

Finite vs. Infinite Games

This is intended for all of my soccer friends out there but there are lessons that can be taken that have non-sport application.

LukeSoccerAs the spring season grows closer, fields are being lined, nets are being hung and young players are practicing their skills.  These are all normal steps in the preparation for a season of practices, games and championships.  Each of us has our own role to play in this system: player, spectator, coach or referee.  That role heavily influences our perspective on the process and the game itself.  The game of soccer is always the same, two teams, two goals, a specific number of players and specific period of time.  It is a finite game with a result that is measurable.

The sporting culture is based principally on the finite game.  We are enamored with the result and the perceived spoils that come with it.  Players, coaches and spectators focus on the result of the finite game, often as if that was the only thing that mattered.  The unfortunate thing in youth sports is that the hyper-focus on the finite game has made us forget about the ultimately more important infinite game.

Infinite games are not played to win or lose.  They are played in order to keep playing.  “Playing catch” is not a competitive endeavor.  You don’t throw the ball to make the other person miss.  The enjoyment comes from process and the intrinsic benefits that come with it: progress, togetherness, etc.  Life is another infinite game that we play.  The goal of life is not to get to death.  The experience of living is the benefit that playing the game provides.

The value of the finite game is in its contribution to the infinite game of life.  The players, coaches and spectators who only see the finite game will eventually find the game to be empty.  It is only when those infinite game benefits come out of the finite game that it is truly valuable.  Trophies, ribbons and plaques are worth only as much as the memories of those who were touched by the process.

If the goal is only to win on that day, then the victory is a loss.  It is only when the component pieces of the win are ingrained into a person’s soul that victory is truly accomplished.  Teamwork, focus, progress, sacrifice and a slew of other infinite game lessons are the reason that we play.  Trophies are hollow wood, metal and plastic if the spirit that earned them does not live on in the hearts and mind of those who earned them.

The true value of today’s game shows up in the coming years.

Letting the Right Punches Hit You

RockyBoxing and all of its martial cousins are disciplines based on the idea of avoiding physical attacks while trying to make contact with your own.  Practitioners such as Bruce Lee took a philosophical approach to the art of physical combat.   In no way am I putting myself into his category.  The thought that I want to convey is a slightly more modern predicament that the metaphor of fighting may best explain.

So imagine if you will that in a boxing match, that some of the opponent’s punches gave you more energy.  The object would no longer be just to avoid punches but also discern which ones were helpful and allow those to land.  Despite the ridiculousness of this concept in terms of real boxing, it’s easy to see that the best boxers would be able to max their potential by taking positive hits and dodging the negative.

At the moment, you have millions of punches coming your way from a ton of “opponents”.  Almost like a battle royal, your life has an absolute melee of people and organizations who are trying to punch you in the face with their opinion, product, idea or service.  It’s not all bad but evaluating it all can be difficult.  Here are some steps to help you from feeling punch drunk as you make it through your day.

  1. Avoid the Negative Corner – There are some places where you know that you’re going to be hit repeatedly by people who do not have your best interest in mind.  There are billion dollar industries whose sole purpose is to distract your attention as often as possible and hit you with “BREAKING NEWS”.  Just because it’s happening now, doesn’t mean that it is important or better yet that it is important to you.  Your Twitter feed, e-mail, Facebook, TV, the gossipy coworker and others are not based on important, just recent.
  2. Pay Attention to the Source – Some sources will almost always negative and others will almost always be positive.  The amount of positive missed and negative endured from these consistent sources will be negligible.  Keeping a default position of avoid all or accept all may be the best position to keep decision fatigue to a minimum.  For those wild card sources, usually the most important question to consider is WHY?  Why is this person taking a swing at me, to help or to hurt?
  3. Decide on the Power of the Punches – Since we’re dealing with information here and not actual physical contact, the amount of pain that you feel is dictated by you.  So you can take the sting out of a punch by making it less significant.  Our perspective often dictates our reality.  For example, eyebrows are usually raised when I say that “Fear is a positive emotion”.  People take it as solely negative but if they focus on the signal rather than the sensation, it becomes clear.  Fear is sending a message to help protect you from some perceived threat.  That system is there to help, not hurt you.  Unfortunately many of us have our feelings on autopilot rather than recognizing the influence/control that we have over them.

So today as you brave the modern world and all of the jabs, hooks and sucker punches that it throws at you, remember that you’re not defenseless.  The world does not have to knock you senseless.  You can keep your wits about you and set up a system that protects you.  After all, you’re fighting for your mental life.  The only way that you get to control it is by keeping up the defense against those who are trying to take your control away.

So keep your guard up and only let in the hits that will help you.

The Pie Problem (Defining Yourself)

piesWhen I was a kid, I was very explicit about the fact that I did not like pie.  It’s really a shame too because from what I understand, my mother makes great apple and pumpkin pies.  Regardless of how much I was missing out, I held firm to my identity as a non-pie eater.  Then once at my grandmother’s house,  she was getting ready to order a pizza pie and needed to know who wanted some.  Despite my mother’s urging that I had eaten it before,  I held fast to my pie-free stance.  Once the pizzas arrived, my younger self realized the error of his ways.  There were exceptions to my pie-free world that I needed to recognize and accept.  This was not the absolute commandment that I originally thought that it was.

Commandments or non-negotiables can be extremely important to one’s daily life and overall sense of self.  I can hear some of you now “But wait, I’m an atheist (agnostic or not religious).  How does this relate to me?”  Exactly what you just said, you have a non-negotiable belief structure that  guides a significant portion of your life and mental framework.  You do not re-evaluate this belief structure regularly.  It tends to inform and guide your life rather than the events of your life informing it.  Perhaps you are consciously aware of some of your “commandments” while others lie under the surface.  Regardless, it may be time to dust off your stone tablets and see what works or what doesn’t.

This introspection may be difficult in the beginning  but will be freeing in the end.  What do you believe without question about: yourself, life, friendship, marriage, the world?  Once you have uncovered your beliefs, it is important to decide if each is a useful belief.  There will be some things that are absolute but much of who we are is based on our truth and not the truth.  Is it more helpful to believe that you have limited talent, skill or intelligence?  Or is it better to believe that you are unlimited in those areas?  You should have the final say in the adoption or deletion of your beliefs.  The power of organizing them into a rock solid structure that you don’t need to think about because you already have.

One of the most difficult things about living through this era of almost unlimited information is maintaining a sense of who we are.  Rather than being pulled in a hundred directions, you will have your own direction.  The beauty of these commandments is that they were not handed to you, you chose them yourself.  That choice gives you freedom of mind later when you do not have to choose in the moment because you chose long ago.  You are the you that you’ve chosen to be.

The Beauty of the Strikeout

StrikeoutIn 1998, Mark McGwire hit more home-runs than any other player in MLB history.  I vividly remember watching the games to see if he would break Hank Aaron’s record and I’m not even a baseball fan.  At the time, I remember becoming personally moved by the chase for the home-run record.  It changed the way that I thought about several things in my life and it had nothing to do with home-runs but rather strikeouts.  McGwire lead the league in home-runs that year but he was also near the top of the leader board for strikeouts.  He struck out 2.2 times more than he hit home-runs.  In theory, the strikeouts are failure but in reality they are three more pieces of data.

From the outside, the strikeout seems ugly and unwanted.  I’ve never heard anyone say “that’s the best strikeout I’ve ever had!”  The beauty of the strikeout happens inside.  It’s the internal process of finding the next home-run from the mistakes made in the strikeout.  Personally I always attributed this to dating.  The strikeout/rejection was originally paralyzing and kept me from stepping up to the plate.  It was after McGwire’s record breaking season that I started to embrace the beauty of the strikeout.

Many of us go through life hoping that things will be easy.  We want life to pitch us as many “meatballs” as possible, so that we can get on base.  The problem with this hope is that it guarantees us a life in little league where you hit off a tee or a lobbed pitch from a coach.  If you want to play life at a higher level, you need to be willing to take some strikeouts and get back up to the plate to chance it again.  If they are considered data and not a death sentence for your self-esteem, then strikeouts are an amazing tool.  The key is that something must be learned from each one.

So become a strikeout analyst.  Don’t shy away from the opportunity that your failures give you.  Most failure is not fatal and is only negative if we do not see the lesson.  The beauty of the strikeout is expressed in that next home-run.  So take a swing and use your mistakes as ingredients for your next success.

SWING AWAY!

Be a Definite Article

Salisbury 1994
Salisbury 1994

In my freshman college dorm, I was known as “Soccer Pete”.  The reason for the name was pretty obvious.  There was another guy named Pete who lived in Pocomoke Hall and it cut down on the confusion.  Since I was on the soccer team and mildly obsessed with the sport, it stuck.  The nickname spread to the point that when I would meet new people, I sometimes heard “Oh you’re ‘Soccer Pete'”.  This all happened organically and through no influence of mine.  However I knew the importance of standing out from one of my soccer coaches earlier that summer.

My coach, Tom Zingale, had a successful soccer career and was trying out for the United States Olympic team.  On the first day of tryouts, each player was given a white uniform and a red uniform.  Tom knew the competition was going to be tough on the field, so he did something to make himself stand out on  the field.  He did his laundry right away!  This was a stroke of genius!  The reason that it was brilliant was that he washed his red uniform and white uniform together.  His red uniform’s colors ran and turned the white one pink.  So when Tom stepped out on the field, he looked like walking cotton candy.  The other trialists  gave him plenty of inventive nicknames but at the end of the tryout he had the last laugh.  He made the team and in a conversation with the coach it became obvious to all that his strategy had worked.

Coach: “We’ll need to find someone to help you with your laundry.”

Tom: “I know how to do laundry.”

Coach: “Yeah right!  Then why is your uniform pink?

Tom: “What’s my name?”

Coach: “You’re…..”

In that silence it became evident that Tom had made himself standout.  Now obviously if he had no soccer skill, then his plan would have failed.  However with the right combination of skill and individuality, he was able to get exactly what he was after.

So my suggestion to you is to be a definite article!  Be THE one that people think about when they think of your thing.  This should be a combination of skill and individuality.  Make yourself the undeniable choice for one reason or another.  DO NOT JUST DRESS UP IN PINK unless that’s you’re thing.  You can stand out by being the definitive best in your field.  Being the only one who is using technology to solve problems in your industry may be your way to standout.  Own it completely and be comfortable with the choice to be you.  This may include having to say “I’m not for you.”  Punk rock is my favorite type of music.  When given the choice, it is THE one that I pick most often.  However it’s not for everyone and embracing that fact is better than being a watered-down version of everyone else.  So go out today, in your work, in your relationship and in your life and be THE YOU that you want to be.  The world won’t know that they were looking for that you until you’ve shown up!

If I’ve given you any hope, excitement or joy through my writing then please join the email list below.

Once in a Lifetime

Once in a lifetimeIn 2002 my girlfriend (now wife) and I went to a Fleetwood Mac concert.  We had a difficult time getting to the concert because she had a broken foot and was using crutches.  The general admission parking was at least a half mile walk to the entrance, so I ended up carrying her on my back for much of the distance.  As the diligent boyfriend, I wasn’t going to complain.  However at the end of the show, she insisted that we try to get a ride back to the car from security.  We were told to wait at the security station for the van to come pick us up.  Alongside us was an irate woman and her boyfriend, that were also waiting to be picked up.  Phrases like, “He can’t go out there!” and “This is ridiculous that we’re being treated this way!” were thrown about several times.  It became evident to me that I was sitting next to Billy Corgan.  Although the Smashing Pumpkins had broken up, I was still sitting next to a relatively important celebrity of the time.  Despite my realization, I kept quiet until after we’d all been picked up by the van and he and his girlfriend had departed.  At that point, I spilled the beans to everyone else in the van.

It is pretty likely that I’ll never get another chance to meet Billy Corgan.  I can live with that.  Even though I fumbled a chance to have a few minutes of conversation with a talented musician, it was OK.  I wasn’t prepared to have that particular once in a lifetime experience that night.  It was completely by chance.  Many of the events in our lives happen by chance and we need to do the best that we can with those circumstances.

The other “once in a lifetime” experiences are ones that we do by choice.  We seek them out and plan them.  Marriage is the most potent for me personally.  We spend years searching for this person.  Then we spend months planning the wedding.  After all of the research and planning, half of the people in the US get it “wrong”.  This is not a judgment that divorce is wrong or these people are horrible.  It is more of an interest in the story that they tell themselves before they decide.  Perhaps if we had a better story about this once in a lifetime event, we would not have fifty percent of people opting out.

The story that we tell is about getting married:  the party, the dress, the friends, the family, the cake and the honeymoon.  The story that we need to tell ourselves is about the journey through life with a teammate who is there to challenge us to get better.  Someone that we can rely on and can rely on us when things get ugly.  We trade the once in a lifetime experience of choosing a special person for the dream of a special day that’s supposed to carry us the rest of our life.

Life is a game of chance or a game of choice; so choose wisely.  Read the previous statement over and over again until it sinks in.  Basically every experience that you have each and every day will be “once in a lifetime”.  Are they the experiences that you are choosing?  Even if they are chance encounters, how are you choosing to deal with that chance?  In a life with basically no “redos” what do you choose to do this time?

Have a great day today!  After all it’s your choice.


 

The Survivors of the Mental World War

mindworldThis morning on my run I was listening to the Inside Quest interview of Carol Dweck.  Her book “Mindset” is one that I have not read yet but has been suggested to me over and again.  The basic idea is that of a “fixed mindset” versus a “growth mindset”.  People who believe that their intelligence or skills are set and cannot be improved upon have a fixed mindset.  While a person with a growth mindset believes that they are always able to improve in any given area.  Although this is an oversimplification it gives a basic understanding of her thesis.  The effect of each mindset is astounding and either can be developed largely without the person’s knowledge.  The fixed mindset puts emphasis on the outward appearance of skill rather than the internal development of skill.

For some reason listening to this conversation about growth and fixed mindset started me thinking about the present international economic situation.  The European Union in particular has had a tumultuous period because some of their member nations seem to have a growth mindset: Germany especially.  While others seem to be contented with their situation as it is with little thought of growth.  It seems almost odd that Germany, a country that has twice “lost”  World Wars would be an economic leader.  However when compared with a country like the United States, it becomes clear that “winning” and being a “super power” can lead to a fixed mindset.  After the end of the Cold War, the extrinsic competition no longer existed.  Therefore a conservative fixed mindset seeks to maintain a position of authority rather than progress for its own good.  Perhaps wars should not be won but rather survived.

In no way am I a pacifist but I’m also not sure that war should have a winner.  Everyone loses: lives, money, peace of mind, land and the list stretches on for all sides of a war.  People, land and nations survive wars, they don’t truly win or lose them.  I’ve never studied history in a German school but I’m confident that their historical loses are the exact reason why they are thriving because first they had to survive.  Survival is an instinct that runs deep within the human spirit.  Once we get above the line of survival, we look to improve life incrementally.  When survival is assured, comfort is readily accessible and no “enemies” seem to threaten that station, it easy to develop a fixed mindset of protecting that which we have acquired.

The problem is that there seems to be a new “World War” coming and the combatants will not be nations but rather individuals.  Each of us will be challenged to either grow or be the cog in someone else’s machine.  The industrial revolution gave mass production to the world and allowed a few key bosses to give direction to the masses.  It was a system that was based in a fixed mindset.  That system is disintegrating and the new one requires people to be human and think progressively.  The growth mindset will be required to survive in the world’s new economy.  The US or Germany or any other set of people can survive the “Mental World War” if they realize that it is never over.  Even if drones are farming our food and jobs in the traditional sense are obsolete, we need to hold fast to the idea that there are only three positions in the world: dying, surviving and thriving.  It is important to remember while thriving that you got there not by doing what you’ve always done but pushing for better at all times.

Be better today than you were yesterday!

Pete