#89: Why I’m Quitting Facebook

donwriting

There’s a great episode of Mad Men in which Don Draper takes out a full-page ad in the New York Times and airs his grievances with Lucky Strike Cigarettes by writing this open letter:

don_drapers_tobacco_lucky_strike_adI am not going to take out a full-page ad in the Times, nor even the Wilmington Star-News, but I am going to use my modest platform to air a grievance in a similar fashion. Like many others before me, I am going to attempt to quit a habit that has become even more detrimental to my overall well-being than cigarettes. This is:

Why I’m Quitting Facebook.

People talk all the time about Quitting Facebook in the same tone that they might use to talk about quitting drugs or alcohol. Facebook has become so ingrained in not only our culture but also our day-to-day lives that the thought of deleting it brings about reluctance bordering on anxiety.

After all, how do we live if there’s no electronic proof of our exploits? It doesn’t count as a trip to the gym or to Whole Foods if there isn’t a litany of photos/posts/tweets documenting the experience.

But most of us understand how narcissistic and self-indulgent Facebook and Social Media at-large tends to be. In fact, I’m not even the first person to write an article with this title:

quittingfacebookUsing Don Draper’s Lucky Strike Letter as a parody is a reasonably-clever idea, but my point in writing this article wasn’t to take credit for it. I’m writing this to serve two ends:

1) To consciously remind myself of why I’m deactivating my Facebook account

2) To encourage readers to ask themselves how much value Facebook and perhaps Social Media in general is adding or subtracting from their lives

With no further buildup, here is Why I’m Quitting Facebook.

The Main Reason

The main reason – and the story is so ridiculous I’m not going to fully repeat it – is that my relationship with a close friend has been damaged severely due to a freaking Facebook post. Adding insult to injury, it wasn’t even a post that I made.

I tried to hold down my temper as I apologized and explained that the Facebook post was taken well out of context, but it was too late. My friend’s feelings are hurt, and as I write this it has obviously damaged our relationship. To what long-term extent, that remains to be seen.

It doesn’t matter that I consider Facebook and similar Social Media a total joke, because reckless Status Updates clearly have the ability to hurt the feelings of people I care about. I apologized to my friend through gritted teeth, because the notion that a Social Media service was causing me a real-life problem was infuriating enough to make me rip my steering wheel off the column, but ultimately it didn’t matter. The damage had already been done.

Facebook claims I have around 210 Friends, but the reality is that I have four or five. I have a bunch of acquaintances that I could happily do without, but in terms of true friends – meaning people I could count on to support me when the chips were really down – at best I have a handful. Now I’m down one because of a Facebook post that I didn’t make.

Something I like to say is that Social Media is Free Marketing. My logic has always been that if you run a business or a service, you should have as many Social Media accounts as possible. If your business or service generates one lead or sale via Social Media, you’ve won, because you invested zero dollars in constructing an account.

But the converse is true as well. If I lose one actual friend because of something ridiculous that was seen or written on Facebook, Instagram, etc., then that particular service has outlasted its usefulness.

I’m Quitting Facebook mainly so that this same situation never has the opportunity to repeat itself. But there are some secondary reasons why Quitting Facebook is a good idea anyway:

Facebook Murders Productivity

I’ve written this before, but I’m retiring Jack Has Spoken at #100 because it detracts too strongly from my other projects. Aside from Reboot Hockey, I think I have a novel or two up my sleeve, and they aren’t getting written as long as I allow myself to write self-indulgent articles about Cougars or whatever.

In a very similar fashion, for me Facebook is a stop-gap activity that impedes productivity. It’s entirely too easy to go home for the night, pull up a combination of Facebook/Netflix/Whatever and call it Living (more on this in a minute).

I would challenge most people to keep track of the amount of time they spend on Facebook or similar Social Media in contrast to the amount of time they spend exercising, expressing themselves artistically, or having actual conversations with other people.

Facebook is ultimately worthless, and if you disagree, ask yourself: what happens if you have the most Facebook Friends or the coolest profile or the most-clever Status Updates? Do you get paid? Do you get an award? Does it make you healthier? Is it truly improving your relationships with other people?

I’m Quitting Facebook because it does the opposite of all of the items mentioned above. It doesn’t pay me, it doesn’t improve my health or relationships, and in the end it builds toward nothing. I would rather disconnect from it and make better use of my time.

Facebook Isn’t Living

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I’m sure you’ve gone on Facebook and looked at someone’s vacation pics and thought to yourself, “it must be nice to be in Miami/San Marcos/Cozumel” or whatever. Facebook is much less about Living and much more about constant one-upping, with people demonstrating how much better or happier they are living than you through the use of strategic photography and carefully-doctored Status Updates.

Using Photos and Updates strategically isn’t a bad thing if you’re trying to market a product or even yourself. In fact, I’m keeping a ninja Facebook account just so I can continue to moderate Reboot Hockey’s Facebook page. But Facebook is not Living, and it never will be.

There’s a great quote from the movie Any Given Sunday in which Al Pacino’s character, in the midst of a Football pregame speech, refers to Living as “the six inches in front of your face“. He’s not wrong. You can look at as many pictures of the most gorgeous beach in the world as you like, but if you can’t taste the salt in the air or feel the warm sand beneath your feet, what’s the point?

Facebook is unnatural. It’s Sweet-and-Low, Equal, and Splenda, all rolled into one innocuous-looking packet. It does such a good job imitating Life that many of its users stop actively pursuing real experiences.

Real Life requires effort. Facebook offers a cop-out, because it’s easy to convince yourself that you’re interacting with other people and thus Living. But the best Facebook Messaging conversation in the history of the written word can’t compare to the kind of a fulfillment you can get from a good in-person conversation.

I am fortunate enough to know what social interaction was like before Facebook. Thinking back, my pre-Facebook life involved more time at the gym, more talking with women face-to-face, more worthwhile writing, and more actual time spent with real people. Facebook and similar Social Media services are easy and free, and what ends up at happening is that people – myself included – repeatedly forgo real experiences in lieu of electronic ones.

It has gotten to the point where Facebook is detracting from my Life, rather than enriching it. I am Quitting Facebook in the interest of focusing more on Real Living.

damon

Facebook = SkyNet

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Nerds with Calculators will know what I mean by the term “Data Mining“, but for people like me who get laid regularly and play sports, Data Mining is, “an analytic process designed to explore data (usually large amounts of data – typically business or market related – also known as “big data“) in search of consistent patterns and/or systematic relationships between variables, and then to validate the findings by applying the detected patterns..

What this means in lay terms is that an electronic entity – let’s call it Facebook – keeps a record of the websites you view, what type of music you listen to, where you buy those fetish sex toys that you adore so much, etc. Right now, this is used primarily as a Predicative Sales tool, but I personally don’t like having something record every keyboard click I make. I’m pretty sure this is how the Machines take over in the Terminator movies.

To further my point, I would have just deactivated Facebook and been done with it, but a Facebook account is necessary for a number of other Media applications that I enjoy – notably Spotify. If I were a tech geek, I can’t imagine how many other ways I would be inconvenienced by deactivating my Facebook account.

I realize I am not going to take down this infestation by Social Media that some of the tech conglomerates are pursuing. All I am saying is that I don’t want Facebook and their associates to have my personal information via Data Mining.

While we’re talking about personal information:

Facebook Is Not Vague

vaguedrinking

People who know me know that I am a pretty reserved person. I have plenty of reasons for this, but let’s focus on the professional reasons why I am Quitting Facebook:

In every place that I have worked or done business as an adult or a near-adult, there has been some troublemaker who wants to take a Facebook picture from 2005 or an out-of-context Status Update related to my hatred of the Philadelphia Flyers and try to make my life more difficult.

My favorite example was the time I made fun of the local adult hockey league manager’s inability to conjugate a verb properly on my Facebook page. I didn’t use any coarse language and I didn’t call him any mean names, but I did point out that I’ve seen more professional-looking writing in Valentine’s Day cards from my seven-year old cousin.

My little cousin at least knows how to use “Your” and “You’re” properly, as evidenced by the “you’re my favorite cousin” she wrote in magic marker on a red construction paper Valentine card, but I digress.

you're

At the time, my Facebook profile wasn’t set to ultra-private. Someone I probably knew but wasn’t necessarily friends with noticed my remarks, alerted the manager, and it became this huge deal where the adult league manager tried to have me banned from the local hockey rink. Again, the manager of an adult hockey league attempted to ban me from the local rink because I made fun of his misuse of “grammer” on Facebook.

Similarly, as you may or may not know, I worked for a number of years as a personal trainer. I was actually very good at this job, but one thing I couldn’t reconcile with the profession was that I did not live the Globo Gym lifestyle. I would be a complete pro at work, but after work I wanted to go out, have some drinks, and talk to some girls. Nothing out of the ordinary for a 24-year old guy.

Most of my fellow trainers despised me because I was both in better shape than them and not a money-grubbing scumbag like they were, so they dug around the internet to find anything they could use to assail my character. They never managed to find anything that could stick, but they did like to use the Facebook Tags placed by our mutual Facebook friends – Jack’s at Cabana Bar with Missy and Rachel again!to depict me as an alcoholic.

The issue here isn’t how a fitness trainer should spend her or his free time. The issue is that in a competitive professional setting, many people are more than eager to use information they find on the internet, and Facebook in particular, against you.

I’m a grown man, albeit one who occasionally likes to make fun of people on the internet. I just don’t have a place for this brand of high-school nonsense in my life any longer. For whatever reason, I can say whatever I want on Twitter or Tinder and no one aside from Brandon Sutter cares, but if I call someone a clown on Facebook it becomes newsworthy. By Quitting Facebook, I’m cutting off the problem at the source.

Speaking personally…here, I’ll be as Vague as possible ….

mystery

All I’m suggesting is that Christian Grey, James Bond, Batman, Prince Charming, and pretty much every desirable man in the history of the human race doesn’t have a Facebook account. If women want to get in touch with me, the traditional ways still work well.

And lastly …

Facebook sends the Wrong Message

I am Quitting Facebook because it is communicating all of the wrong things about me to my family and friends, which is exactly the opposite of what I intended for it to do. Aside from the falling-out with my friend described above, here are two other recent examples:

My sister and I are far apart enough in age that we have not spent a lot of time together since I was 18 or so. When I went to college, she was starting high school, and when she was in college, I was out in the world, etc. She loves me and we have a familial closeness, but there are a lot of things about my Character that she misunderstands because of the age difference. I’m almost more like an uncle than a brother to her.

We also live far apart, so she has kept tabs on me mostly through Facebook. This has become a problem for me because again, pictures and updates posted on Social Media come without much context. What has happened is that she and other people who don’t see me every day have taken some of the least-relevant aspects of my Character and made them my defining characteristics.

Here are the facets of my Character that I consider most-relevant: I am a Hockey Player, through and through. I am intelligent and thoughtful. It’s not always obvious, but I am a good person who cares deeply about his friends. I am not a coward and I am not a quitter. I usually Do the Right Thing. I am not always easy to get along with, but I am reasonable and usually open to discussion. Once I lower my guard around people, I have a great sense of humor.

Here are the facets of my Character that my sister takes from Facebook: I am a drunk and an obnoxious prick. Also, for some reason she seems to think I really like GNC. Those aren’t really the impressions I want her to have of me.

Like many people, I occasionally go out and drink too much. At this point, this happens no more than two or three times per year, usually after my hockey team wins another championship. I like to have a few drinks in a low-key setting, and maybe chat up a lady or two. I’m the definition of a social drinker.

But thanks to some indiscriminate Facebook Tagging, there were a number of pics of me looking like Lindsey Lohan clogging up my profile. Sure enough, for every flattering photo of me helping an old lady cross the street or laughing with my friends, there are five pics of me flipping someone off after having a few tequilas.

Both personally and professionally, this just isn’t the image I want to project. In recent years I’ve gone ultra-private on all things Facebook-related, but I’ve finally reached the point where the hassle outweighs the reward.

I have another close friend, a girl I grew up with, who has also developed a misunderstanding of the kind of person I am due to Facebook. She rarely logs into Facebook, but of course the one time per year that she logs in my Status is something like, “Going to Rue21 to hit on high-school girls” or something.

An out-of-context Facebook picture or Status Update becomes like a punchline without a joke. Acquaintances, or family and friends who aren’t around you on a regular basis, can get this warped impression of who you are based on this lack of context.

I write articles like this because I can give some context and depth to my actions. If you read my writing with any regularity, it becomes apparent that I have my head screwed on straight and that most of the ridiculous things I’ve said or written on Social Media are complete jokes.

In person and in real writing, I choose my words quite carefully, but I consider Social Media such a joke that I will get mad watching the Penguins play, post something like “Brandon Sutter is a no-good cocksucker” and think nothing of it. Without fail, it always becomes a major ordeal.

To wit, Sutter himself keeps an eye on my Twitter to make sure that I don’t write 10,000 words pointing out how he’s bad at his job. Social Media is a much smaller playground than we realize, and people are so hyper-sensitive that one can’t write something in-jest without potential real repercussions.

Most people don’t know me very well, because I don’t say a lot about myself. I try to offset that by writing articles like this, but most people don’t have the patience to read something longer than 160 characters. What has happened is that many of the people in my life have taken my Facebook profile – which I have not been careful with – and used it to entirely shape their impression of me.

Maybe Facebook is an insight into a person’s Id, or maybe Facebook is the greatest impediment to true understanding working today. Regardless, it has sent the wrong message on my behalf, so I’m done using it on a personal level.

 I’m sure I’ll be back on at some point – after all, Facebook has it’s dirty little hooks into many aspects of my day-to-day life – but I’m looking forward to starting 2015 without it. Maybe you should consider a similar approach.

Jack

#88: On Excellence

mariohart

“The grit, the character.” – Mario Lemieux

I had a version of this article ready to go about two weeks ago. I sat on it because it was … OK. It was fine. It may even have been good.

But it wasn’t Excellent. It was funny and insightful at certain spots, but at other points, it rambled. Lord knows I have a tendency to get off-topic, and while that can be entertaining, it does not always make for a congruent read.

So the article sat while the wheels turned. I picked and picked at it until I realized the problem: I was trying to write three articles at the same time. After putting this article aside for a few weeks, it eventually occurred to me that I had three interrelated-but-separate points to make. Trying to mash all of them into a single article detracted from each of the respective points, and didn’t make for outstanding work.

After that realization occurred, the knots became untangled, and the second version of the article flowed much more cohesively. This article is On Excellence:

Excellence is Out, Emo is In

bron2

I don’t know if it’s my environment or just a sign of the times, but I have seen a cultural shift in which Personal Excellence and the habits that go along with it have been continuously denigrated. Mediocrity is the new normal, and people want awards simply for showing up to work. The current generational trend is one of entitlement and narcissism.

National Basketball Association fans are well aware of this cultural shift. As recently as 20 years ago, it was commonplace in the NBA for a franchise to build their team around one superstar player: Larry Bird on the Celtics, Isiah Thomas on the Pistons, Charles Barkley on the 76ers, Hakeem Olajuwon on the Rockets, etc. This ethic of hyper-competitiveness, individual achievement, and personal-pride-bordering-on-egotism was culturally pervasive across the NBA.

In fact, it took a revision to the Olympic Games to get more than a pair of the elite basketball players of the early-1990s, many of whom openly despised each other, on the same team. Even then, there was so much animosity between some of these elite players that several were left off the ’92 Olympic Team entirely.

The model at the time – and the cultural mentality – was for one elite player to prove he was better than all of the other elite players by winning with “his” team. Aggression, Competition, Dominance, and Rivalry were core values of the era. The values that are currently more revered – Cooperation, Equality, Passivity, and Social Acumen – were almost frowned upon, or seen as signs of weakness.

mj

No player or team better represented this model than Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls of the late 1980s/1990s. Even the most casual sports fans know about the iconic Jordan, who won six NBA championships and a litany of personal awards despite taking a three-year hiatus in the middle of his prime to pursue a professional baseball career (or to accept a secret suspension for gambling). Michael Jordan is almost universally regarded as the Greatest Basketball Player of All-Time.

Meanwhile, Scottie Pippen – a Hall-of-Famer and an all-time great in the NBA – will forever be remembered by many fans as Michael Jordan’s sidekick, so much so that the phrase “the Pippen to his Jordan” is more-or-less commonplace. As great a player as Scottie Pippen was, there was never a question about who was the face of the ’90s Bulls, due to the charisma and magnetism of Michael Jordan.

The state of Western culture at the time was for an individual or small group to demonstrate their superiority by dominating all comers. Having to partner up with a true equal was seen as a sign of inferiority or weakness. This attitude was prevalent in everything from big-budget motion pictures to Professional Wrestling. Life was all about rising to the top and beating the other guy.

But times have changed. Society seems to prefer collaborations and ensembles to individual transcendence.

For example, the modern NBA is defined by “super-teams” in which multiple superstar players finagle their way onto the same roster. This is best represented by LeBron James, who in 2010 opted to join two other elite NBA players on the Miami Heat. The Heat went on to win consecutive NBA titles in 2012 and 2013. LeBron James has since returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the current culture is still one of Cooperation rather than Dominance.

LeBron-James-hugs-partner-in-crime-Dwyane-Wade

The criticism LeBron James will likely endure for the rest of his career, unless he somehow takes the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title, will be, “You couldn’t do it without Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. You needed help.” While it’s perfectly fine to accept support, this trend – this current tendency of the Excellent to revert to the mean – concerns me quite a bit.

I am not going to go into a tangent about why Western society has gotten less dominant and more cooperative, other than to say that cooperation, getting along, and protecting everyone’s feelings all the time has become the new norm. I think this is an observation something most reasonable people can agree upon. My concern is that the current trends of coddling and collaboration are directly leading to less personal excellence and individual accomplishment.

Like my favorite basketball player Kobe Bryant, I am a remnant from the “Michael Jordan” generation. I have an unhealthy obsession with Winning. I think dunking in someone’s face is Awesome. I want to see an NFL team go 15-1, not see 12 teams finish 9-7. My view is that Parity is a direct antagonist of Excellence, and that people that put in the extra effort to excel deserve to see their efforts rewarded. I see competition as serving the greater good.

I adhere to a mentality of Dominance, often to my own detriment. It’s not enough for me so simply work hard and have a place in the hierarchy. It’s ingrained into me to beat the other guy. As you would expect, like Kobe Bryant, I step on a lot of toes as I make my way.

At this point, I can’t be reprogrammed. In fact, even if I could, I wouldn’t want to be. I hate having to go around and choose my words ultra-carefully or risk offending someone with hair-trigger sensitivity. I’ll spare you my full tirade on the current state of hyper-sensitivity in America for the moment, other than to say that I am not thrilled with how things are “progressing” socially.

Moreover, I hate – Hatewhen less-ambitious types try to make people like me feel bad or uncomfortable for striving to be Excellent. It aggravates me so because all Excellence really takes is dedication, hard work, and perseverance. But it’s easier for the lazy and uninspired to tear down people trying to make the most of themselves than putting in the effort necessary to succeed.

People frequently ask me why I’m always working so hard at the gym or on my writing, or why I do so much extra conditioning and technique work for beer-league hockey. I almost never have a response for them, other than “Why are you not doing extra work?” Overreaching and striving to be better is a self-evident proof for me, yet many others need to be coached or persuaded into working to improve.

I don’t think I’m better than most other people, but I sure as hell try to be. I want to be a great person, not a mediocre one. I don’t simply want to be a good writer; I want to the Best Writer. This mentality – striving to be better than other people – is almost the verbatim definition of an Elitist:

1. (of a person or class of persons) considered superior by others or by themselves, as in intellect, talent, power, wealth, or position in society

While almost everyone lauds Excellence – which is frequently attributed to positives like hard work and sound choices – most people detest elitists. Some of this is likely due to how elitists carry themselves, but an equal measure of this disdain comes from the preconceived notions of the apathetic and mediocre.

The elitist mindset generally involves bruising the ego of someone resigned to wallowing. Meanwhile, it infuriates someone who blames her or his own lack of success on circumstances within their control to see someone else excel. This has led to our current culture in which Excellence is almost frowned-upon.

A terrific, personally-close-to-home example is the almost-irrational hatred people tend to show toward Duke University, which has done nothing but routinely excel in College Basketball for the last 30 years. Alas, Duke University is one of the country’s most-selective colleges, nestled in the middle of both a state and a region that abhors all things pretentious.

The Duke University Basketball program is a prime example of Excellence and Elitism being almost indistinguishable. The main question revolves around the general impressions of “elitist” institutions such as Duke versus actuality, as well as the impressions the “elite” have of themselves.

Is everyone who Excels an Elitist? Not necessarily. But Excellent People are certainly Elite, and a lot of traits that are mindlessly assigned to Elitists and Egotists are also commonly seen in the Exceptional. It’s worth considering the value of self-acutalization before tearing down someone who wants to make the most of her or himself.

I’ve concluded that my views are probably those of an Elitist, plain and simple. I will leave that to you to judge if I am a Good or Bad Person, but I will continue to explain my perspectives on Elitism and Excellence below.

On Elitism

2013 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship

“You cannot be a team of common men. Common men go nowhere.”

– Herb Brooks, Gold Medal Winner, Team USA Hockey, 1980

A teammate and I were talking about how expensive it to play Amateur Hockey. He was telling me that a parent of one of his Amateur teammates kept receipts, and totaled all costs – equipment, ice fees, hotels, travel expenses, etc. – at just over $10,000 for a single year. I nodded in agreement.

“Sounds about right,” I replied, doing some rough math in my head.

My teammate referred to Hockey as an “Elitist” sport, which I initially disagreed with. I cited the roots of Hockey being played on frozen ponds by poor Canadian farm kids, though acknowledged that the cost to propel an aspiring player higher up the ranks in America was astronomical. After a bit more consideration, I came to agree with him.

While Hockey may have humble origins, this is the reality of Amateur Hockey in North America: the kids whose parents have money have a tremendous advantage. They get better equipment, better ice times, and better opportunities. If a pair of parents can afford to put their son or daughter on a AAA Elite team, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite, the player is getting more exposure and likely sharing a locker room with the sons or daughters of former professional players. As with everything else, money factors prominently into predicting future success.

While in theory Hockey Players are some of the most Down-to-Earth, self-deprecating people you could hope to meet, again reality paints a different picture. Hockey Players, generally, are not a bunch of impoverished kids sharing a $15 basketball or soccer ball on some rundown court or field. The cost just to outfit a Hockey Player is often hundreds if not thousands of dollars.

There are programs in many cities such as Hockey in Harlem that encourage inner-city kids to pick up the sport, but the cost just to participate in Hockey is a major mitigating factor. Hockey is also not recession-proof, evidenced by several years of declining enrollment at the Amateur levels.

As an example, for tax purposes I recently totaled the receipts for my hockey-related purchases in 2014. This was somewhat easier than in the past because I play most of my Hockey at a single rink, allowing me to estimate costs much more accurately. I’ll spare you the details, but here I spent a total of $5435 (!!!) on league fees/ice-time purchases and an additional $1670 (!!!!!!!) on equipment-related purchases. 

I am not rich, and I figured on the low-end of all expenditures just for the sake of simplicity and my own sanity. I assure you that figure is extremely conservative, and if it were up to me I would play much more frequently, which of course would drive up all of the above figures.

Now, Hockey is my Love and exclusive interest in life. I don’t ski, I don’t go to concerts, I don’t do drugs, I basically hate electronics and other expensive toys, and in most respects I am value-conscious bordering on miserly. But that does not negate the fact that I conservatively spend over $7000 per year on my chosen sport.

More over, this is not even close to being an all-time high for me. God bless my mother, who somehow found a way to outfit both my brother and me and put us both on multiple amateur teams. I’m sure there were years in which she spent $20,000 or more in total to allow the two of us to play. Soccer certainly would have been cheaper.

And honestly, I didn’t even play for the “Elite” teams. I was the pond hockey kid who skated funny and tried out for second and third-tier teams and had to play my way up to the “Elite” teams year-after-year. While the mentality of constantly having to “try-out” has helped me to build a lot of character, it does not change the fact that more money would have paved a much smoother path.

So speaking socioeconomically, Hockey is absolutely an “Elitist” sport. The larger questions are, “Does Hockey Produce Elitists?” or “Do Elitists Gravitate to Hockey?” I’ll attempt to address those questions next.

Winning Fixes Everything

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Mark Messier, as with Michael Jordan in the NBA, is one of the Greatest Hockey Players of All-Time. Ignoring all of his individual accomplishments, Moose is best-remembered for two team-related accomplishments:

1) The Guarantee, in which Moose promised a victory in a 1994 Eastern Conference Final elimination game against the New Jersey Devils. Moose made good on his promise by scoring three goals in route to a Rangers’ win. The Rangers would of course go on to win the 1994 Stanley Cup in what is remembered as one of the greatest Cup Runs of all-time.

2) His six Stanley Cup Rings, including Captaining the depleted 1990 Edmonton Oilers (sans Wayne Gretzky) and ending 54 years of frustration in leading the Rangers to the ’94 Cup.

Moose is also remembered as one of the bigger egotists in NHL history. But this alleged character flaw, for which players such as Alex Ovechkin are highly criticized, is the foundation upon which Moose forged the most-impressive resume of Team Accomplishments in the history of the League.

The lesson? Winning Fixes Everything. While poor Alex Ovechkin – despite being a three-time Hart Trophy Winner and 60-goal scorer-  is hailed a me-first diva by the assembled Canadian media, Mark Messier so revered as to have the NHL Leadership Award named after him.

Most athletes, and Hockey Players for sure, are taught to believe that they are better than their competition, or capable of being better. So it may be true that Hockey Players are in fact Elitists, or at least raised with an Elitist perspective, because the Elitist view literately serves a greater good: Accomplishment as a Team.

As established above, Hockey is absolutely an Elitist sport, and to make it in the higher levels of the sport a player needs to have a certain dedication to Personal Excellence. But eventually, when a player’s Personal Excellence is given up wholly for the greater achievement of the team – as is the case with NHL Hall-of-Famers and Stanley Cup Champions such as Steve Yzerman and Mike Modano – the player is revered, or even immortalized.

Egotism, or perhaps the Elitist perspective, is simply a means to an end. While arrogance for the sake of self-satisfaction is basically worthless, Ego in the name of Excellence – and ultimately Team or Group Success – not only worthwhile, but noble.

Excellence in Writing (?)

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While I write in part to air my grievances with the world, as noted previously I also write to teach and pass information along. My view is that if I am going to take the position of an Author – as an authority on a given subject – I need to not only know what the hell I’m talking about, but also present my points in such a way that they can be understood. This need of mine to put forth an outstanding product is usually just attributed to my massive ego.

But there’s an alternative view to dismissing this need of mine as egotism. It’s possible I spend so much time editing and honing these articles of mine because I want the work to be Excellent. After much thought and reflection, my view is that my pursuit of Personal Excellence has fed my self-confidence, not the other way around.

And suddenly, there’s a nobility to these self-aggrandizing articles I write. While most of these articles are about me, they aren’t really about me. The articles are about the life lessons I’ve learned, which I try to pass along to readers. I try to use my experiences and personal growth as a template – in both negative and positive ways – for others to follow or reject, but ultimately to learn from. All of this is done in the name of producing something Excellent, not putting myself on a pedestal (yet another reason I’m retiring the blog at #100).

Writing, as with all other forms of art, gains or loses value dependent on the writer’s dedication to the work versus her or his personal agenda. When the writer or the artist makes the work about the work itself, rather than the name on the bottom of the work, I think the quality of the work increases exponentially.

If you want to be an Excellent writer, make the writing about the work – as Bruce Lee did with Jeet Kune Doand not simply a vehicle for ego fulfillment.

A Final Lesson in Excellence

As you may or may not know, most of the Jack Has Spoken articles double as therapy for me. If I am annoyed or dwelling on something, I don’t generally go and vent to my friends or family. I often spend significant time alone, and try to look at whatever is bothering or distracting me as objectively as possible.

In fact, I have always been kind of a loner. Even though I have made a team sport my religion, I have always been kind of kept to myself and more recently used writing as a means of curing what ails me.
In any event, I have taken a lot of quiet time to reflect and think. Here are two absolute truths about I know about myself:

1) I Give a Fuck

I will get into this more in a future article. But the truth is that I do care, deeply. You know those people who are always spouting about, “no fucks given” before they do something reckless or short-sighted?  The people who use the phrase “You Only Live Once” as an excuse to be an obnoxious bane on society? Those are the people that are doing YOLO wrong.

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The people who truly understand how fleeting and fragile Life is Do Give a Fuck. My favorite example from fiction is Rick Grimes, lead character from the best-seller novels/smash-hit TV series The Walking Dead.

Here is a great misunderstanding about Rick Grimes from the Meme crowd:

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Like me, Rick Grimes Does Give a Fuck. In fact, Rick Grimes gives many, many fucks. He cares so deeply about the safety of his family that he can will himself to rip the throat out of another man with his teeth.

Some people – usually losers who secretly hate themselves – think being dedicated to your goals or the people you care about is lame or a weakness. It’s exactly the opposite of that. Caring about something or someone provides you with inner reserves of strengths that you did not realize existed.

Rick Grimes gives a fuck, and so do I. One of my biggest character flaws is that I will go through extended periods of time when I pretend not to care. I even lie to myself about it, and in the past I’ve tried to drown that truth in binge-drinking. But the truth is that I do care.

(Critical Note: I am not turning my back on Alcohol, my One True Friend. Unlike the rest of my friends, Alcohol has always been there for me. Having said that, there is a huge difference between having a few pops to celebrate your Hockey Championship versus using Alcohol or Drugs to dull the pain of a battered soul. I speak from experience on both counts.)

2) I May Be an Elitist/Egomaniac, but it’s because I’m a Competitor/Winner

noexcuses“Rule #76: No Excuses, Play Like a Champion!”

– Vince Vaughn, The Wedding Crashers

People frequently point out that I am a dick, a snob, arrogant, cocky, SMOFO, (Smug Mother Fucker) or some variation therein. Half the time these people have never even exchanged words with me, but that’s another story altogether.

I fully admit I was a raging prick throughout college and a few years afterward. Many men go through a maturation period in which they realize they have greater responsibilities than themselves, and I am one of them. I have spent recent years atoning for mistakes I made as a younger man.

But here’s something I learned: without that extra edge and that drive to compete that I’ve traditionally had, I’m an inferior person.

My father had me playing baseball before I could put one foot in front of the other, and I’ve played Team Sports nonstop since. Without realizing, I was raised to adopt the traditional values of an Athlete – Aggression, Cooperation, Dominance, Fair Play, Work Ethic, Refusal to Quit, and ultimately Excellence – as my Core Values. I can lie to myself about it, but the fact is that I want to beat the other guy, not get along with him.

As I’ve explained, my Core Values have become a limiting factor as I’ve gone out into the world. As an example, I recently described myself to a friend’s wife as having “an aggressive personality”, and she replied sincerely, “oh, that’s too bad.” The point is that while I see Aggression not only as something to aspire to, but as a Survival Necessity, most people view Aggression as a highly-undesirable trait.

(Note: My friend’s wife also likes to say, “You catch more bees with honey.” My response? Who the hell wants to catch bees?)

My mistake in all of this has been attempting to apologize for who I am and what I believe in. It’s fine that I am aggressive and cocky and competitive, because the world takes all types to revolve. Moreover, being surrounded in recent times by mostly-complacent people led me to forget why I was raised to be this way:

Sports are ultimately about defeating competition and/or reaching new peaks in performance, in a controlled environment. Sports are thoroughly noble. Sports have a beauty and a purity surely unseen in War and Politics. If I were King of the World, I would use the Olympic Games to settle disputes between countries. But I digress.

Without competition, without the possibility of someone taking your job or getting a better opportunity than you, a person will atrophy. Having the drive to outdo someone – not all the time, but when needed – is what has protected our race since the dawn of time. It’s simply Darwinism: the better hunter gets the antelope, and the weaker hunter starves.

My view is that getting too far away from the competitive mentality ultimately damages a person’s ability to survive, which I covered at-length in #87:  Challenge Yourself. Cooperation has immense value, but so does having the ability to excel.

I am a Hockey Player. To my core, I believe that Collectivism and Unity achieves much more than Individualism. But I also believe, in my core, that my family/friends/teammates and I are the ones that deserve to achieve, and like Rick Grimes I will go to extreme lengths to see the people I care about prosperous and/or victorious.

There is room to strive for Excellence and the Elitist approach, just as there is room for Compassion and Cooperation. All of these ideals are best achieved while conducting yourself with both Character and Class. The trick, as usual, is using a measure of discretion as you navigate the minefield.

My closing piece of advice is to refuse to let the dissatisfied and the mediocre drag you down. If like me you instincts are to Rise and to aspire to greater things than yourself, do not let the bitter and the vindictive sway you.

BK

Jack

 

#87: Challenge Yourself

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Not long ago, I had the opportunity to play in a local Fire vs. Police Charity Hockey Game. At the time, I was in the process of becoming a Firefighter with the local department, and the veterans were kind enough to include me. Being asked to play was a big personal thrill.

While I’m extremely grateful that I was asked to play, months later I am still too salty to fully appreciate the experience. Predictably, the Cops cheated and brought a line full of ringers, and Law beat Fire 8-5. Not that I am at all biased.

You need to understand that Fire and Law have a mostly-antagonistic, Dogs vs. Cats-type relationship. Last February, I had a New Hanover County cop pull me over and hand me a $160 ticket for “No Seatbelt” as I was leaving the Fire Station. My experience has been that Fire and Law cooperate when absolutely necessary – such as legitimate crises or life-and-death situations – but otherwise squabble like siblings.

Fire won last year’s game 10-0, and really it shouldn’t have been shocking if I saw Alex Ovechkin deputized for the day and skating for Law. Understandably not wanting to be drubbed again, the cops enlisted a few overqualified players with loose connections to the local departments. Fire got manhandled on a number of shifts by this unit of players, the three of whom appeared to be a regular line on an upper-tier amateur team.

It would probably be much more sound politically for me to not publish this portion of the article, but as you know my ethics as a Hockey Player supersede everything else about me. As a Hockey Player, I don’t think what Law pulled was particularly classy. Fire beat Law badly in the 2013 game, but all of the guys skating for Fire in the 2013 game were Firefighters or EMS personnel. I am ruthlessly competitive, but I don’t play D-League to sate my ego because there’s no honor to it. As the iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger says in the epic film Predator, “No Sport.”

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I know for a fact that Fire could have had a much stronger roster for the 2014 game, but the Captain of the Fire team rightly pointed out that the game was “so people could watch the firefighters in their community.” He very respectably stayed within the spirit of the game, even though he could have beefed up the roster with players loosely connected to Fire/EMS. This entire scenario seems to play into my view on how some people look to break rules in order to Do the Right Thing while others do whatever they want as long as it’s within “the rules”. I’ll let you figure out which groups most cops and most firefighters respectively fall into.

While I’m salty, admittedly irrationally so, that Law brought in a group of 18-year old Junior players to win a Charity Hockey Game, that’s not the issue at hand nor the point of this article.

Months later, I am angry about how I played. I played…OK. I had a Goal and an Assist, won 90% of my Face-Offs (as I am wont to do), and competed hard. But outside of the Face-Off dots, I was not dominant, at least not in the way I am accustomed to being. Fire lost, so in my view, I did not Rise to the occasion. My view is that it doesn’t matter if Law brought half of the Carolina Hurricanes in to play for them, I should have made a better account of myself. I did not play to my ability at an opportune time, and that clearly continues to bother me.

(Jack’s Note #1: I am may not have been “Tiger Mode” dominant, but I’m still Jack Farrell. See Alan in the red jersey cutting behind me? I also see him, even though I’m looking at the net. He’s about to get a pass under Blue’s stick as soon as Blue bites and tries to knock the puck off me, which he won’t because I’m teasing him with it as Mario, Jagr, and Kovy taught me. God, do I love Hockey.)

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(Jack’s Note #2: Not to further detract from the point, but I am able to sleep at night knowing that I had blown rivets on my skates for the Fire/Police game. Notice the glorious USA Hockey soakers on the Modano Tacks. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, but holders coming off the boots will knock any Hockey Player down a peg or two. Here’s a picture because I don’t lie about this sort of thing. Keep reading though, there’s a lot of helpful stuff later in the article.)

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As with most aspects of my life, it takes failure in Hockey to force me into personal or psychological growth. I did not elevate my level of play in a situation that really mattered to me because I had become too accustomed to playing at half-speed. The root of this problem, like many of the other problems that plagued me in 2013 and early 2014, was not my lack of effort or Will, but the fact that in several ways I had become complacent, or worse, resigned.

I am not entirely sure how it happened, but at some point I began to routinely accept mediocrity in my life. If you know anything about me, you know how completely out of character that is for me. I am an Elitist that borders on being snobby. Like MLB Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, I hate to suck. My disdain for personal incompetence trumps my desire for Excellence, a trait you commonly see in those of us with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. It’s almost more important to not be bad than it is to be good.

Also, if you consistently read my blog, you know some of my core tenets are Rising and using Willpower to get through almost any conceivable scenario. But there is an underlying concept that enables Rising and Will, the same way spark plugs enable engine ignition, and that concept is Challenging Yourself.

Challenging Yourself is the road that leads to Rising. You cannot be expected to swim the English Channel if you can’t do fifty laps in the community swimming pool. Continually overreaching and exceeding your limits is what allows you to Rise to a given occasion, when needed.

A Simple Lesson Lost

At some point, like so many other people, in a number of ways I stopped Challenging Myself. It becomes frighteningly easy to stop striving and to embrace the relative comfort of complacency. When there are a cacophony of external stresses – Financial, Mental, Physical, Psychological, Sexual, Social – it becomes very easy to cut corners, or worse, put particular areas of your life on Cruise Control.

The problem is that at times Life is like pushing a boulder uphill: it gets more and more difficult, especially if you lose momentum.

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If you are familiar with Greek Mythology, you will know the tale of Sisyphus, King of Thebes. An arrogant, clever cat if ever one existed (my kind of guy), Sisyphus continually mocked the Greek Gods, at one point cheating death by tricking Thanatos, Death Himself, into releasing him from bonds in Tartarus.

Anyway, as punishment for his gall and hubris, Zeus eventually condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of pushing a boulder uphill, only to watch the boulder roll back down as soon as Sisyphus neared the top. Wikipedia sums it up very nicely:

“…an eternity of useless efforts and unending frustration. Thus it came to pass that pointless or interminable activities are sometimes described as Sisyphean…”

Going back the Boulder analogy, this is what happens when you cease to Challenge Yourself on a consistent basis: useless efforts and unending frustration. There becomes a recurring pattern of falling a day late and a dollar short. Sisyphean activities. How much you care and how hard you try become irrelevant if you have not properly conditioned yourself for adversity. Almost all of us can identify with this.

I’ve given a lot of thought to why 2013/early 2014 was such a rotten time in my life personally, and I think I have traced the problem to the source:

A few years ago, I was doing very well in all of the areas mentioned above – Financial, Mental, Physical, Psychological, Sexual, Social – and like Sisyphus, I had perhaps grown a bit too arrogant for the gods’ liking. Shortly after college, I decided that I had enough of my bar manager at the time stealing from my register to fund his on-the-clock cocaine habit, so I became a Personal Trainer. Obtaining the PT Certification was a Challenge, but my work habits were strong enough that I was able to accomplish it with a reasonable amount of dedication and effort.

I took a job at the first place I applied, the endlessly-greedy and corrupt LA Fitness, despite the fact they were offering me slave wages and nonexistent benefits. I made more in an hour fondling the waitstaff and letting drunk girls flash me than I would make in a day at the vaguely-French LaFitness, but for whatever reason I decided to…settle. It was easier to let LA pay me pennies than to continue searching for a job that compensated me properly.

As they say, Fortune Favors the Bold. The inverse is true as well. Because I settled for the first employer that said ‘yes’ rather than continue to beat the bushes for a better opportunity, I set myself up for failure, and in the process managed to take a very bad perspective: Good is Good Enough. I’ll explain why this mindset is not only flawed, but potentially self-destructive.

 Unlearning Bad Habits

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Regrettably, one of the things most of us learn is how to stop striving. We encounter professional situations in which nothing in our power can compel an employer to increase our pay grades or in some way show greater appreciation. Rather than continuing to press or finding a new employer, we most often yield and accept that things are the way they are. We don’t just accept, but embrace, mediocrity.

This leads to a litany of undesirable effects, not the least of which is a cloud of negativity that not only follows you around, but permeates to everyone in your vicinity. Resignation is a slow, painful death by atrophy, and the emotional erosion is in many ways worse than the mental and physical tolls extracted.

I have always been a worker, and as an adult my confidence has usually bordered on arrogance. As such, traditionally I have never needed motivation to strive for accomplishment. For most of my Life, I have wanted to be excellent at everything simply for the sake of being so. Challenging Myself was something that came naturally and thoughtlessly.

Unfortunately, the decision to take the LA Fitness job taught me an awful habit: to accept mediocrity, from others and eventually myself. A heavy toll was taken on all of those areas – Financial, Mental, Physical, Psychological, Sexual, Social – in which I had previously expected accomplishment and progress.

One thing that will always stick with me about the LA Fitness experience was how thoroughly unprofessional most of my coworkers were. I would sit for hours at night coming up with innovative training programs for my clients, and treat all of my clients – even the absolute train wrecks – like they belonged to the President’s Cabinet. Meanwhile, my coworkers couldn’t be bothered to stop playing on their phones long enough to ensure that their clients weren’t dropping weights on themselves, or to look at their clients while they were speaking. The contrast was jarring.

At first, this didn’t change anything in my approach, because I was dedicated to excelling. But the combination of the atrocious employee treatment, nonexistent pay, and catty glares and whispers from my indifferent, lazy, resigned coworkers began to grind me down, again in all of the areas of competence mentioned above. A poisonous professional situation such as this is one most anyone reading can identify with.

The first thing to give was my body. Because my employer was more than happy to drive me into the ground without compensating me properly, my ability to Challenge Myself physically went by the wayside. If I managed to force myself through a workout at the end of a 12-hour day, it was almost certainly a half-assed one. I gradually lost the ability to stave off the daily physical stress I was putting on myself.

One of my major character flaws is that almost everything I like to do is Physical. I have tried to round myself out to a certain degree, mainly through writing, but my favorite activities, in no order, are fighting, working out, having sex, and playing hockey. I actually like farming and doing chores around the house (ladies, take note). Every job I’ve ever sought – bartending, landscaping, house-painting, stripping, training, construction, Fire/EMS – has involved the use of my body rather than my mind, and not by accident. My version of Eternal Torture is being forced to sit still.

So, it was a catastrophic blow to all areas of my well-being when I severely injured my knee about four months after taking the LA Fitness job. I was playing a hockey game at Bethel Park in Pittsburgh, made a routine turn, and something just snapped in my knee.

I did not have Health Insurance at the time – thanks again for the employee benefits, LA Fitness! – so I never had an MRI nor the surgery that those results likely would have recommended. I still haven’t had an MRI, so Lord knows what’s happening down in my right knee. All I know is that I walked with a noticeable limp for nearly a year, and had disability and intense pain for nearly two. The knee still flares up if I am not diligent with my training and nutrition.

I might have still injured my knee if I had not taken the job with LA Fitness. However, I have a hard time envisioning a scenario in which I would be more employer-raped and physically run down for less money. As I detailed in Jack’s Rules, I made a major miscalculation by putting pride and the wants of people who did not care about me above my own needs. Had I made the more Challenging decision to put my own well-being above that of a ridiculous, underpaying job, I likely would have saved myself a lot of future turmoil.

Because I did nothing, I not only embraced but endorsed a culture of mediocrity. My advice for you is to refuse to do the same, both now and in the future. If you have learned how to underachieve and how to do the bare minimum, Now would be an excellent time to reverse that line of behavior.

Challenging Yourself vs. The Challenge of Others

youvsyou

As I wrote above about my experience with LA Fitness, an insidious Challenge becomes when you have to differentiate between Challenging Yourself and the Challenges others present to you.

Let’s say you are a talented, goal-scoring soccer player. You work your tail off, you’re gifted physically, and you have a great mind for the game. Yet, you are failing to reach your potential on your current team because the moron playing Center Midfield refuses to pass you the ball.

When you have controlled all of your personal factors – your commitment, your conditioning, your work habits, and so forth – and external factors begin limiting your personal success, the Challenge of Others comes into play.

This is an experience I personally understand very well, because I have spent my life playing Team Sports. While many athletes are naturally cooperative and team-oriented, quite a few thrive despite being relentlessly selfish. A unique frustration sets in when the selfishness of someone else undermines your personal success, and this idea is never more prevalent than with Team Sports. One indifferent or lazy player can often derail the efforts of 10 or 20 committed, hard-working ones.

The Challenge of Others is one area in which I have to admit writing is superior to Sports: in writing, the Writer becomes the only true impediment to his or her success. All of the brainless editors and bureaucracy in the world cannot stop you if you properly hone your writing ability.

Anyone who has spent considerable time in the Dating Scene will also know what I mean by The Challenge of Others. The ongoing Battle of the Sexes, and the continued unwillingness of most Men and Women to admit that they need each other, is a Biblical-era classic. Men and Women present continual and never-ending frustrations for each other because their genetic goals are diametrically-opposed. It’s the oldest rib in the history of the human race, and it’s hysterical.

One thing that most of us will agree is that you cannot force other people to be attracted to you. There are ways in which you can influence others and enhance your own attractiveness, but I’m sure all of us have that “one that got away” who we seemingly couldn’t seduce under any circumstances.

The Challenge of Others in this case is that there is only so much we can do to make another person attracted to us. If you Challenge Yourself properly, it’s possible to climb Mount Everest or lift 500 pounds, but most of us have yet to unearth the secret to making someone special fall in love with us. It’s like trying to use a net to catch a mist.

The only thing you can really to combat the Challenge of Others is to stack the deck in your favor as much as possible. You may not be able to make anyone fall in love with you, but it certainly helps if you’re a handsome, talented, wealthy actor. The freedom comes in knowing that there are external factors that you can control, if you Challenge Yourself appropriately. Focus on yourself, and do not let the Challenge of Others frustrate you to a debilitating degree.

Grow or Die: the Atrophy Principle

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In Exercise Science, there are a number of terms that refer to the state of Muscle Tissue. Muscles, like all tissues, can grow (Hypertrophy) or they can wilt (Atrophy). Homeostasis, a state defined by little or no change, is possible in Muscle Tissue, but many factors make it uncommon.

Meatheads like myself are obsessed with Hypertrophy, not because we are obsessed with growing to the size of gorillas (most of us), but because of how unpalatable the alternative, Atrophy, happens to be.

“Muscle Loss” will make a fitness enthusiast break out in a cold sweat. There are many fitness-minded people, myself included, who would rather lose a job than consistently lose muscle. Atrophy, or the idea of erosion and wasting away, is powerful enough to compel people to go to the gym at 5:30 AM or to eat Protein Powder by the spoonful.

Speaking of fitness-minded people, as noted above one of my all-time favorite people is Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s safe to say that he played a heavy influence in my decision to pursue a degree in Exercise Science. In my estimate, Arnold Schwarzengger is the real Most Interesting Man in the World, having had such a variety of experiences that encapsulating them would go beyond the scope of this article.

If you want to talk about someone who never stopped Challenging Himself, take Arnold. All of the details are in his outstanding book Total Recall, but here are some of his accomplishments:

* Went from being poor as a boy in Austria to being a five-time Mr. Olympia, champion bodybuilder, and fitness icon

* Parlayed his bodybuilding career into an acting career, in which he was one of the highest-grossing box-office stars in the history of entertainment

* Parlayed his acting career into a political career in which he was elected and re-elected as the Governor of his adopted state, California

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More recently, Arnold has returned to his roots and become an Action Movie and Fitness icon. He is absolutely revered, and rightly so. If you were to ask Arnold the key to personal success, I strongly suspect he would cite the fact that he never grew complacent, and never stopped Challenging Himself, a concept he largely drew from his experiences as a bodybuilder.

One of Arnold’s first films was called “Stay Hungry“, an idea he frequently acknowledges in interviews. I think most would agree that a big reason for Arnold’s success is that he has continued to evolve and grow as a human being, if only because the alternative – Atrophy – was completely unacceptable. Again, I think Arnold would agree that this was a lesson he learned moving heavy weights and subsequently applied to other arenas.

This lesson applies to you and I, as well. Grow or Die. If you fail to Challenge Yourself, you will assuredly regress. Embrace competition and reach beyond your comfort zone, in all areas of your life, and always pursue growth.

Areas of Challenge

I could describe specific examples, but I believe those of you still reading will know how to Challenge Yourself in all of the following Areas of Challenge:

Challenge Yourself Intellectually

Challenge Yourself Mentally

Challenge Yourself Psychologically

Challenge Yourself Physically

Challenge Yourself Sexually

Challenge Yourself Socially

What you may or may not have articulated or considered are specific methods of Challenging Yourself, or that you have become complacent or worse, resigned, in certain areas of your life. My suggestion to you would be to consider the Areas of Challenge I listed above, and to seek balance, as in my view they are all interconnected.

As a fitness trainer, I came to know many people who would endlessly Challenge Themselves physically, but would not pick up a book or strike up a conversation with an attractive stranger. Like bad bodybuilders, some people overdevelop certain areas of competence while completely ignoring others. As written above, failure to regularly Challenge Yourself in all areas will lead to Atrophy, compromising the Areas of Challenge you are striving to hard to enrich.

The Final Lesson

Writing is not a major challenge for me, at least under most circumstances. I have a clear voice, and I love the sound of it, so I am almost never short for ideas or material. My Challenge becomes making my writing more and more worthwhile.

Any idiot with Microsoft Word and a stolen WiFi Connection can compose an article that looks and reads adequately, but fewer writers can consistently entertain, invigorate, or motivate their readers. At this point, simply putting words to paper is not an adequate Challenge for me. My Challenge as a writer is to write exceptionally, rather than just passably, because I’m capable of doing so.

However, obtaining my EMT-Basic certification was a major, major Challenge for me, for reasons I’ve written about. There were people in my class who I was pretty positive could not read the nutrition label on a box of Ritz Crackers or operate a can opener, but were excelling while I was floundering. But as I wrote in the EMT article, I was extremely proud of myself for leaving my comfort zone of Barbells, Hockey, and MILF Porn long enough to complete something that I do not have a natural aptitude for.

The Final Lesson is to keep Challenging Yourself. I separately and deliberately underlined those words so they sear into your brain. What Challenges me may or may not Challenge you, and vice-versa. Do what Challenges YouIf you are lacking for inspiration, consider and evaluate the Areas of Challenge I’ve suggested. Look for Challenges every where and in everything. Upcycle. Do whatever it takes to continue evolving and growing, for the alternative (Atrophy) is not just undesirable, but unacceptable. Grow or Die.

Jack

#67: On Doing the Right Thing

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“The more I live I see, this life’s not about me.”

– Anberlin, Burn Out Brighter

I have learned some lessons on Doing the Right Thing, some of which I have loosely organized below. I hope you can learn something from them.

Arrogance as a Barrier to Truth

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There is a saying in sports: “There are those who are humble, and those who are about to be humbled.” I alternately have read that this is Pride versus Humility. The point remains the same, being that the line between Confidence and Arrogance is perilously thin, and must be toed with absolute caution.

I am and always will be a little cocky. I am confident and optimistic, and that is always going to rub certain types of people the wrong way. In my view, the difference between healthy self-confidence and Arrogance gets crossed when one ceases to be appreciate of what one has.

Five years ago, I thought I deserved everything the world had to offer. Not warranted – deserved. I was a snapshot of entitlement. Since then, a number of circumstances have beaten a healthy dose of humility into me, and I think this has helped me to become a better person.

Appreciation for the gifts I have been given has overtaken the delusional narcissism that used to envelop me. I have a desire to Do the Right Thing not because I am afraid of Karmic retribution, but because I am thankful. I would rather start a Positive Feedback Loop rather than a Negative one. This is the well-covered idea of “Paying it Forward“, but personally I like the take-away message from Yes Man better.

I am not trying to sound like a motivational speaker, but the Truth is that if you Create and do Positive Things, more Positive Things will come back your way. This is something that I took a very long time to learn, because my own arrogance prevented me from trying it.

Writing has certainly been a cathartic and helpful part of the process, but my own Arrogance has been the biggest Barrier to Truth, as I interpret it.

This is a lesson I have a sudden urgency to impart onto others. I see people who remind me of my younger self – caustic, cynical, ruthless, and most of all, excessively-confident – and I want to save them the trouble my own personality shortcomings have caused me as a young adult. I have found my message goes over about as well as trying to bathe a cat, but out of appreciation for the intellectual and physical gifts I have been given, I won’t stop trying. In my view, getting the other Arrogant Bastards in line is simply Doing the Right Thing.

Letting Go of Negative Emotions

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This is going to double as closing commentary on my now-former roommate, so bear with me for a bit while I make a point:

The analogy that comes to mind when I describe my experience with the ex-roommate is that we were like two people walking toward each other from opposite directions: I was coming from a darkened road, while she was heading that way. My view is that we are frightening similar on a number of levels, so it’s obvious that we would stop and talk to each other for a few moments during our respective treks. This moment of “talking” was the 21 months we lived together.

I like the traveling analogy because she and I hit right in the middle of a Morality cross-road. I did not realize the entirety of it at the time, but I used to be constantly angry and miserable and negative; like a deep sickness, it had gotten so bad that I almost did not feel the symptoms anymore. Feeling irate and vindictive all the time was “normal” to me, but thankfully this cloud of negativity was a function of the company I kept and the people I worked with. As I have gotten away from hateful and pessimistic people, I have gradually started to lighten up.

Meanwhile, when I met my ex-roommate, she was in a pretty good place, from what I can tell. She remains sharp and worldly, but she had not had an endless parade of bad experiences in the same way that I recently did. When we first met, the good still outweighed the bad in her life by a decent margin. She was hopeful, optimistic, and for the most part a pleasure to be around.

However, she has been in a kind of gradual descent since I met her. She has been somewhat victimized, but she has also been the cause of some of the problems that have led to this free-fall.

In my view, a main problem is that she got away from her 9-to-5 job and went back to bartending. Working at a bar is fine, except that you are constantly exhausted and surrounded by irresponsible, selfish people. Bartending works as a limited-time-only way to make extra money, but the people who make it their long-term or primary business get pulled through an emotional meat-grinder on a regular basis.

Again, I am not criticizing her line of work. I was a bartender for many years. I just know from experience that it leads to this negative cycle in which people become disposable and the uncertainty over your future becomes suffocating. Most bar jobs do not offer 401K plans and insurance benefits, and this eventually becomes a millstone around the neck of a person once they start moving through their 20s.

Going back to the analogy, a series of poor choices and circumstances compelled her to start heading down the dark road I had just come from. Meanwhile, I was desperate to get away from the darkness and negativity, and I spent most of our time together trying to drag her with me away from it. But like me just a short time prior, she was insistent on surrounding herself with noxious, two-faced people and living a septic lifestyle.

darkroad

True Story: the consequence of being constantly surrounded by service-industry vampires is that you start treating the quality people in your life badly. You pass along the me-first selfishness and vitriol of the after-hours crowd like a plague. Don’t get me wrong, you can have a blast working as a bartender, but it comes with a toll. You become calloused and sometimes vicious, because you are frequently degraded, marginalized, and lied to.

I am not writing this to make my ex-roommate out to be the Devil. I do not think she is an evil person. Again, I think she’s largely a victim of some bad luck and a few regrettable decisions. I know this because I was just like her, not very long ago at all. But she kept dragging me back into her lifestyle of lunacy and turmoil, and eventually I got so sick of the endless drama and negativity that I basically cut her out of my life.

Our personal relationship came to an end because I had worked almost all of the bitterness and resentment toward the world out of my system, like a poison being expelled. Writing has certainly helped me, but for the first time in a long time I have a loyal and supportive group of friends. My ex-roommate had become what I would call a “tough cut“, in that I did not really want to remove her from my life, but the baggage that came with her was affecting everything else to too great of a degree.

We met recently to settle some debts between us and effectively end communication. It’s kind of a sad story, because we used to be close friends, but this happens in Life.

We fought for months over what are relatively small sums of money and personal property. I was so tired of wasting energy battling with her that I basically surrendered, handing her a wad of cash and opening myself up the risk that she might never reimburse me. I just did not want to hold onto the bitterness needed to keep fighting her over what amounts to ash in the grand scheme of things.

Meanwhile, she continued to lash out at me over things that no longer mattered. It was mostly nonsense – just pure rage spewing out of her mouth. I sat there patiently and let her vent for 30 minutes over a matter that could have been settled with a handshake. In the end, all I could do was sigh, because she was using so much of her energy and focus on hating me and trying to make me out to be the Bad Guy.

Once more, I am not trying to throw rocks at my ex-roommate after the fact. Maybe two or three people reading this would have any idea who she is or what she looks like. I am trying to paint a picture and make this point:

Letting Go of Bitterness and Rage is a way in which I am attempting to Do the Right Thing, or at least do the Wrong Thing less often.

Do not let me convince you otherwise: I am no saint. I used to be berserk and had an insatiable lust for atonement in the form of corrective punishment, alternatively referred to as Wrath:

Certain people want to devote the time in their lives to fighting every trivial battle that might potentially lead to personal gain. They claw and gnash at each other like animals over things that, again, amount to ash in the end. I am not judging these people, because I was one of them for a long time. But I no longer want to be one of them. The big step for me personally has been to become less of a bastard, which meant putting an end to grudges, petty feuds, and spitefulness.

The Real Truth is that if you work to help other people, you get it back tenfold. You just have to be a little selective about the people you help, and sometimes let go of people who are more trouble than they are worth.

Doing The Nice Thing versus Doing The Right Thing

walkingdead2

This is the simplest lesson in principle to learn about Doing the Right Thing, but the most difficult in execution.

There are some people, like me, who have a burning need to help other people. This is not like Nightingale Syndrome, but more of a survival instinct. Some of us just know in our bones that protecting other people is what we have to do, and people like me often end up becoming Doctors, Police Officers, or Firefighters.

You may be confused by the picture at the top of this section, which is plays the cast of the hit television show The Walking Dead. The overriding theme of both the show and its source-material is a realization by the main character, Rick Grimes: while Rick is initially hardened and views others as disposable cogs who only serve to provide protection for his wife and young son, he eventually comes to realize that by being so dismissive of others, that he is indirectly making Life more dangerous for his wife and son. Rick comes to learn that Cooperation, rather than self-absorption, is the Key to thriving in Life.

Regardless of which anecdote is more relevant to you, Cooperation is a conclusion that most intelligent people come to. We are nothing without other people. Helping and Protecting those who cannot protect themselves is the most basic form of Cooperation, and this is often a great thing. However, many people have learned to manipulate others by feigning weakness as a way of dodging responsibility, forcing more accountable sorts to take Life’s lumps for them.

Let me describe it another way: picture a loving parent with her or his child. Let’s say the child starts begging the parent for a gallon of gasoline and a lighter, or for a gun.

Would it be responsible of the parent to give the child anything this dangerous? Of course not. No matter how much the parent loves her or his child, giving the child a weapon would not be the Right Thing to Do, in normal circumstances.

Unfortunately, this is what many of us do every day in Life. We do not arm children, but we do acquiesce to the demands and wishes of those we dote upon, even if we know we are not Doing the Right Thing. Many people would rather be Liked than Right.

You Do the Right Thing when you use a measure of temperance in your decision-making. Remember what I said above about nurturing positivity? You seek to do that, but you should not arm children, which is what we often do when we opt to do the Nice Thing rather than the Right Thing. Sometimes, you have to be a prick, lest the children of the world burn everything down in search of their fun.

Carefree versus Careless

petercopter

Speaking of which…

Moving to North Carolina, and in particular a beach town like Wilmington, is a drastic departure from a place like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steel City is conservative and resistant to change, but the typical Type-A, East Coast mentality that dominates the Metropolitan Northeast is still very present. A lot of people in Greater Pittsburgh are businesslike or brusque, and many are just flat-out rude.

By contrast, the common demeanor in a beach town such as Wilmington is comparatively very lax. Most of the people you meet in Wilmington are happy and pleasant to be around. I have touched upon the differences between Pittsburgh and Wilmington frequently, but in this case let me point out the difference in attitude in the interest of explaining Carefree versus Careless:

It’s great to be carefree and breezy, as most of the people I have met in Wilmington tend to be. However, as prevalent as the easy-going, Southern-mixed-with-beach-town attitude tends to be down here is the equal tendency to be Careless. 

As I have written before, I get into an auto accident almost daily (knock on wood) because the drivers of Wilmington cannot be bothered to use their turn-signal, or wait to change lanes, or wait to pull out into flowing traffic. I don’t believe these wayward drivers are malicious or intent on causing an accident; they are simply being Careless, otherwise known as Irresponsible. I think you know how I feel about Responsibility and how it ties into Doing the Right Thing.

I don’t expect everyone to feel the Burden of Responsibility on the pathological level that I do, but I also expect people to have a measure of respect for others. The problem is that people who tend to be carefree and easy-going also tend to cause problems with their Carelessness.

Moving to a laid-back beach town like Wilmington has been very instructive, because it allowed me to see the flaws in my character magnified. For example, while I was bartending, I was once angrily sent home from work by management because I did not check I.D.s on a group of 20-somethings that walked in. Granted, we ordinarily had a bouncer who did that, but that does not mean that I had no responsibility to double-check. At the time, I did not really understand why such a big deal was made of the issue by management, but I now see how my Carelessness could have been equally as destructive as purposefully serving under-agers.

It may come as a surprise, but by nature I am much more laid-back than the standard Type-A East Coaster. It turns out I fit in fairly well down here. But I am also Responsible enough that by comparison, I am frequently correcting the Carelessness of others and trying to teach them how their happy-go-lucky attitude can lead to disharmony if a measure of discretion isn’t used.

Carefree become Careless when the consequences of choices become potentially-destructive.

Conclusion

The conclusion is summarized in this quote:

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
George Bernard Shaw

The takeaway lesson is that you can choose to Do the Right Thing, or to Pay it Forward, if you will. I now wholeheartedly believe in Karma, and as they say, What Goes Around Comes Around.

If you choose to be bitter and vindictive, you will find yourself mired in this swamp of never-ending negativity. You may be able to get away with burning through other people for your own selfish reasons for a length of time, but eventually your inconsiderate and self-serving actions will bury you.

Alternatively, you can choose to let go of negativity, and choose to Do the Right Thing on a regular basis. You have a Choice, which most people understand but do not internalize. You do not have to be malicious and underhanded just because other people in your orbit happen to be that way.

You can opt to look out for the interests and well-being of other people, as well as (and occasionally at the expense of ) yourself. For sure, there will be times when your choice to pick up other people, rather than step over them, will be costly to you. But you will want to weigh the costs of looking out for the other people in your life against the spiritual toll it takes on you to feud with and spite them.

More on this later,

Jack

The Only Help is Self-Help

Bruce Lee adorns the cover of April’s Muscle and Fitness, which makes it a must-buy for me. I manage to learn something new every time I read even a small amount of Lee’s writing. As a writer, I strive to one day be similarly impactful; as a Man, I find myself coming to many of the same conclusions that Lee did, which helps give me the Confidence to continue living and writing the way I despite fair amounts of criticism.

As always, even a small sample of Lee’s writing manages to reinforce an idea that I inherently know to be true, but had not yet put into words or even conscious thought:

The Only Help is Self-Help

If you’ve read much of what I’ve written, such as Building a Charismatic (https://jackhasspoken.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/building-a-charismatic/), you’re aware of the appreciation I have for Bruce Lee and the Eastern philosophical perspective in general. While many if not most people respect Lee for his physique, my repsect stems from his musings on life and writing – much of which is contained in his first book, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

Not to get all New Age on you, because I thoroughly love America, but Eastern philosophy has always rung true to me in a way that Western philosophy has not. Western culture is defined by borders and clocks; you work from this hour until this hour, you meet at exactly this time, you do this and than this and than this. Frankly, the Western way of doing things seems like living in a cage to me, and while I do what I have to do, I’ve always been a square peg in a round hole as far as social conformity is concerned.

In my never-ending battle with modern living, I’ve become something of a philosopher and a writer myself. While in small part I write to entertain people and to be heard, I largely write because I come to Conclusions that I Believe are very important, and much like Bruce Lee, I have a need to share these Conclusions with anyone willing to hear me out.

Most satisfying to me is that I am coming to the same Conclusions at Bruce Lee with increased frequency; there are times when I think we might be on somewhat-similar paths. I have no aspirations to be an actor or create my own martial art (…yet), but it’s very reassuring to me that I have developed a similar mindset to someone as innovative as Lee.

This brings us to Today’s Lesson, which is that Only Help is Self-Help.

How to Help Yourself

This has been said many times and many ways, but Lee’s interpretation is that the responsibility for saving yourself ultimately falls on You.

Have you ever been asked to give someone advice on their love life? Maybe your naive younger cousin or sibling, who is nervous about interacting with the opposite sex?

Being a wise Mentor (more on this later), you can give them all sorts of tactics and tips to make their experience with a potential boyfriend or girlfriend run more smoothly, but ultimately it’s up to every individual person to figure out how to kiss the boy or girl they like. Even if someone holds your hand 95% of the way, at some point you have to step up and cross the finish line by yourself. Good advice and guidance can be very helpful, but it ultimately falls to you to Do whatever it is that you set out to accomplish.

This concept is one of the things that I found irreconcilable with being a fitness trainer: while I have no problem presenting information to people and helping them with program design and technique, in the end a coach or trainer cannot give somone the motivation they need to achieve their Physique and Performance goals. That can only come from within.

While I have had some clients who possessed the self-motivation to achieve the Physique and Performance goals they sought, for every properly-motivated client, I probably had three or four who wanted me to hand-hold them to six-pack abs or run their half-marathon for them. In most cases, it wasn’t an issue of lacking work ethic in the gym, but lacking the Internal Drive to see their goals through to completion.

Chris Shugart, an Editor at my favorite fitness website T-Nation.Com, covers the idea at length his article, “Phoenix Theory”. His assertion, which I completely agree with, is that You Have to Set Yourself on Fire. His article can here found here: (http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sex_news_sports_funny_grok/phoenix_theory).

If the notion of Self-Help is true for Achieving Goals, it’s doubly true for those time when you need to pull yourself up.

Consider the notion of mourning a loved one: while your friends and family can provide all of the support in the world, it’s ultimately You that needs to come to accept the passing. This is not to devalue or undermine the role of a good Support Network, but to illustrate that other people can only take you so far; there are some things in life that only you will  truly understand about yourself, and there are questions in life that only you will be able to answer for yourself.

Self-Reliance and Self-Sufficiency are not synonymous with isolating yourself from other people, which is a mistake some will make when interpreting this lesson. I am not encouraging your to take this adolescent stance of “everyone is against me, and you can’t rely on anyone but yourself”. That’s a view emo kids, teenagers, and other victims of arrested development take when their roulette-wheel hormones are convincing them that the entire world is against them.

I am suggesting that you empower yourself by realizing that Change, Self-Improvement, and especially Salvation lie within. If you hate your shitty job, shitty perosnal situation, or your shitty life, You are the only person who can really pull yourself out of the hole you’ve fallen into.

This idea is covered well in the movie Bridesmaids:

Anyone recovered from an addiction (with the possible exception of Charlie Sheen), while quick to credit all the support given to them by their friends and family, will tell you that the decision to kick a habit is a battle that a person fight by her or himself. While fortunate people have healthy amounts of support, there comes a point in time where everyone must make a lonely walk by her or himself, and must be prepared for the trial and tribulations that they will come across.

On Being a Captain

My Dad, using Sports as his model for everything, has always said I was a born coach. He meant this in a complimentary way, meaning that I have a great mind for sports and natural leadership abilities, but it was always kind of a back-handed compliment.

He was half-right. The hitch was that my Dad only played baseball, basketball, and football. I’m a hockey player.

There aren’t Captains in other sports, not like in hockey. Sure, I realize Derek Jeter struts around with a “C” on his uniform, which was the Steinbrenner family’s way of apologizing to him for signing Alex Rodriguez (that, and $23 million dollars per year), but the Captaincy isn’t a baseball tradition in the same way bench-clearing brawls and tobacco-spitting is. In football, the Quarterback is the designated Alpha Male and the presumptive locker-room leader; while there are Offensive and Defensive Captains, I don’t think they bear the same burdens of responsibility as Hockey Captains. I mean no disrespect to a middle linebacker who calls the plays for the Defense, but it’s not the same as everyone in the room or on the ice looking at you during times of indecision or turmoil.

This clip from Mystery, Alaska is the best way I know to differentiate between a Coach and a Captain:

The idea of the Captaincy is something I can’t really explain to non-hockey players. There’s no higher honor. It’s your friends and teammates telling you that you’re their Leader, and even if you aren’t the most talented, you represent the best of what the Team has to offer.

No sport undervalues the contributions of the Coach like hockey, which is why I always gave my Dad a wan look when he offered up the “born coach” assessment. But no sport reveres the contributions of the Captain, which is why I’ve been so honored on the occasion I’ve been asked to take the Captaincy.

The carryover lesson from hockey to life is to Be a Captain. You can best represent your family or group and serve the world by Being the Best of what your group has to offer. Leading by example, and partaking in the world like a Captain on the ice, rather than like a Coach on the bench, is my suggestion for improving the lives of yourself and others.

This ties in with Bruce Lee’s notion of Self-Help in that you cannot help others if you cannot help yourself. In both Lee’s view as well as my own, you ultimately serve the greater good by keeping or making yourself as prepared as possible, both mentally and physically, as well as investing a certain amount of time in yourself. While it’s extremely noble to run yourself into the ground for the betterment of others, it’s inevitably futile if you do so at the expense of yourself. Working for exclusively for others with no thought of oneself will lead you to fray and eventually collaspse, at which point you will be unable to help anyone at all.

This doesn’t even speak to the idea that a selfless person will constantly be taken advantage of and looked down upon, even under the pretense of appreciation.

Conclusions

Even if you aren’t a martial arts or fitness enthusiast, you can learn a ton from Bruce Lee. The Man had head screwed on as tightly as anyone you’ll ever meet, despite claims to the contrary.

Here is a link to a sample of his philosophy, cleaned up with interpretation:

http://www.positivityblog.com/index.php/2008/03/07/bruce-lees-top-7-fundamentals-for-getting-your-life-in-shape/

His first book, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, comes highly recommended. You can find bits of his philosophy all over the internet.

My final thought is this:

If you’re struggling, like someone stranded in the middle of the ocean, you have three choices:

1) You can give up, accept the hopelessness of the situation, and let yourself drown

2) You can tread water and hope for help that may or may not come, or

3) You can start swimming

The conclusion that Bruce Lee and I came to is that we would rather swim than drown or wait for a phantom life-line. While there is no shame in accepting help from others, waiting for others to help you is an induction to victimhood. “Self-Help” is not a book or seminar topic, but a skill a complete person should be actively striving to cultivate.

BK

JF

Building a Charismatic

“There’s a highway to, to the edge, yeah
Once a night you will drive yourself there
At the end of the road you will find the answer…”

The Distillers, Hall of Mirrors

It has become fashionable and even pervasive in modern society to tailor oneself to the desires and whims of others.

Tragically, most people in modern society play for the Silver Medal, and by that I mean most people choose to marginalize themselves at the expense of someone else. Take dating or a job interview, for example: given the relative stakes, most people opt to mask their own personality in an attempt to get an interviewer or potential love interest to like her or him. While this can be an effective tactic, it’s less sustainable and ultimately less rewarding than winning someone over with your own effervescence.

Charisma is Fire. You are either consumed by it, you put it out, or you stay far clear of it. By contrast, contemporary socialism encourages people to hide themselves and their Beliefs, and to reduce oneself to the lowest common social denominator. Even if this is done with noble intentions, it inevitably backfires, as one will come to be seen as subservient, or worse, deceptive.

Establishing a Belief Structure

To be a Charismatic, you need to soundly know what your Beliefs are; otherwise, it’s like you’re selling a product you don’t know intimately. Charisma is based upon being congruent with one’s Beliefs, adhering to one’s Beliefs, and if necessary enforcing one’s Beliefs.

Take for example two strangers in an elevator who appear to have nothing to say to each other. While they may have tremendous amounts in common with each other, they are both insecure about expressing any commonalities or building any rapport because they lack either conviction or definition in what they believe in. Even if they have diametrically opposite views (say one is a Democrat and one is a Republican), both lack Conviction in their Beliefs because they fear offending even one other person.

Take this in contrast to a Charismatic such as Bruce Lee, who had such strong Conviction in his Belief Structure (Jeet Kune Do) that he was not only willing to repeatedly engage in mortal combat (MK) over it, but could also create an entire book detailing the Belief Structure off the top of his head (The Tao of Jeet Kune Do).

The primary reason I write is so I can reinforce my own Belief Structure. In times of uncertainty, when I’m dealing with heavy amounts of social resistance and given a litany of reasons to doubt my own Convictions, I go back to things I’ve written previously. There are times in everyone’s life when she or he is her or his only ally, and for me re-reading my prior writing is the most powerful way to put me back on my proper path.

To wit, here are my Beliefs:

I believe in God.

I believe in America.

I believe in Chemistry.

I believe in Darwinism.

I believe in the Ladder Theory.

I believe in Heroism and Valor.

I believe in Willpower.

I believe Love is possible but rare.

I believe in Masculinity, and that Men should act like Men.

I believe that to offend another Man is to have a Fight.

I believe in Overcoming Fear.

I believe in Myself.

I believe that Life is Extremely Short, and Time is Too Valuable to Waste.

I believe I am a truly exceptional driver.

I believe Mario Lemieux was better than Wayne Gretzky.

I believe you can feel the puck better through a wooden stick.

Having a Belief Structure such as the one above sets someone up for all future social interactions, as knowing exactly where you stand breeds both Charm and Confidence. While it is not important that a Charismatic takes a stand on every divisive issue, it is important for that a Charismatic knows that certain Beliefs are worth fighting over.

Though at times I’ve certainly lost my way, I have always had a solid Belief Structure in place. This is simply the first time I’ve written it down. Knowing precisely what you Believe in gives one a solid base from which to Form an Identity. I’ll discuss Identity Construction at a later time, but the takeaway point is that most people, when asked, “Who are you?” cannot come up with a clearly-defined answer. A Charismatic, however, has a list of Beliefs from which she or he can derive intensity and passion.

Making Others Believe

Aside from the fact that so many people do not have detailed Belief Structures, the reason that there are so few Charismatics relative to the general population is that a Charismatic must make others Believe.  

This is not as easy to accomplish as one might suspect. Many people are cowardly and easily swayed by social mores and the pressure to conform. It is easier to mindlessly revert to the social mean rather than take the punches that come with standing out from the crowd.

This is also why a Charismatic must be entirely congruent with his or her Belief Structure. A Charismatic is certain to encounter both apathy and conflict, as the preconceived notions of others make imparting one’s Beliefs an uphill battle. A Charismatic will need to feel in her or his bones a strong Belief about something, lest she or he get beaten down and overwhelmed by a social tidal wave of opposition.

Oliver Stone absolutely nails the concept in his film Any Given Sunday. Here’s a clip of Al Pacino telling Jamie Foxx about what it means to be a Quarterback, the athletic equivalent of a Charismatic (0:45 Mark):

A Charismatic is only as powerful as her or his ability to make others feel strongly about her or his own Belief Structure, or to at least to get others to see her or his perspective. The ability to convey one’s Convictions is as important as the Belief Structure itself. Charismatics almost always have a healthy or even unhealthy Belief in themselves, but it often takes incalculable amounts of exposure and time to get others to Believe in them.

Charismatics vs. Chameleons

(Note: Charismatics are Riki the Mongoose, not that bastard Cobra. You can tell by the aggressive posture and the crazed gleam in Riki’s eye.)

The primary opposition to a Charismatic is a Chameleon, i.e. one who tailors her or his personality portrayal to suit the situation. While a Charismatic might use discretion and choose her or his battles wisely, a Chameleon actively shifts large sections of her or his personality to meet whatever goals she or he happens to have.

For example, a woman’s goal might be to provide for her child at any cost; to accomplish this, she rapidly alters her personality to accommodate whatever potential providers she may be trying to forge a union with. There is no message to get across and there is no Belief Structure; there is simply a list of Goals a Chameleon wishes to accomplish, and Charismatic traits such as Dignity and Pride hold no relevance. As Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, “the ends justify means”, whatever those “ends” happen to be.

The reason Chameleons and Charismatics can seldom co-exist is divergent goals. A Charismatic may want to be heard, while a Chameleon may want to silence her or him. The disputes between a Charismatic and a Chameleon may grow particularly venomous because a Chameleon generally has extreme flexibility in her or his ethics, while the ethics of a Charismatic are strongly tied to her or his Belief Structure.

This is not to say that there cannot be noble Chameleons, just as it is not to say that there cannot be evil Charismatics; Adolph Hitler, the most despicable person ever to live, was a noteworthy Charismatic. But this article is operating under the assumption that the reader, should she or he decide to Build Charisma, is benign if not altruistic. The Chameleons an altruistic Charismatic may encounter will likely be of the amoral and unsavory variety, and a Charismatic should be prepared to deal with them.

If a Charismatic is Fire, a Chameleon is Water; if a Charismatic believes in Black, a Chameleon can not only say “White”, but can also get plenty of others to say “White” through the uses of Deception and Social Manipulation. Chameleons in fact make excellent sales-people because their Frame and Interpretation of the Truth is so flexible.

Accordingly, a Chameleon can “douse” a Charismatic relatively easily is the Charismatic Fire is small or not strong. However, a Chameleon can also be like a water balloon in a forest fire if the Charismatic Fire is strong enough; thus, it is once again important to note that a Charismatic must be truly congruent with her or his Belief Structure, for that alone will protect her or him from the deceptive tactics of the amoral Chameleon.

Female Charismatics

The problem with women being seen as Charismatic is that their looks and sex appeal actually work against them. While Charisma makes an unattractive man attractive and an attractive man stunning, as you are likely aware our society seems to prefer our women demure, soft-spoken, and unwilling to submit opinions. When a man is outspoken, he’s often commended; when a woman speaks, she’s often deemed a bitch.

Even worse, the more attractive a woman is, the more apt people will be to agree with her regardless of the message. Getting people to follow you based upon your looks and not your Beliefs is not Charisma at all, but simply Seduction. One’s looks can be the means to an end in getting out the word about one’s Beliefs, but it will be an unusually-difficult battle to separate the Believers from those who are just infatuated.

For a woman to truly be Charismatic, her accomplishments and message must truly override her looks. Take for example Joan of Arc, Rosa Parks, or Betsy Ross – women who are revered for their accomplishments and message rather than their looks. Meanwhile, consider someone like Cleopatra, who despite her throng of followers was worshiped for her seductiveness rather than her spirit.

Example of the contemporary Charismatic woman include Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has remained prominent and relevant after differentiating herself from her husband, and adult entertainer Jenna Jameson, who used adult film as a springboard to build her brand and distinguish herself as a businesswoman.

Notable Charismatics

It would be obvious to note Biblical or legendary Charismatics such as Jesus Christ, Moses, Buddha, Solomon, Alexander the Great, Betsy Ross, Dr. Martin Luther King, or Malcolm X. However, there is plenty of information on these Charismatics elsewhere, and honestly much of what they strove to accomplish does not have the same relevance in 2012 as it did when they lived. It is the destiny of the Charismatic to be misunderstood and under-appreciated for most of her or his life, and often times Charismatics are not given their due until their Beliefs and accomplishments have stood the test of time.

Here are some examples of the contemporary Charismatic, referenced from Pop Culture:

Bruce Lee

Lee was a natural Charismatic, one to whom people could not help but gravitate toward. He used his prowess as a martial artist to eventually create his own style, a fighting and spiritual philosophy called Jeet Kune Do that continues to be revered. Prior to his death, he was also a very noteworthy film star.

If you have not seen the film, “Dragon: the Bruce Lee Story” has held up very well and gives good insight into who Bruce Lee was.

CM PUNK

Currently the darling of the professional wrestling world, CM Punk is a Charismatic who has used a variety of methods (including religious fundamentalism, as seen in the picture above) to gain popularity and to get people to buy into his Belief Structure.

Punk is Straight-Edge, which means that he does not drink or do drugs. He has defended this Belief fiercely since his arrival in the WWE. Beyond that, he is of the Belief that he is the best wrestler in the world, and after years of battling uphill he has finally gotten many people to acknowledge that.

Many pro wrestlers are Charismatics; in fact, pro wrestling is where many exceptional Charismatics all end up congregating, as pro wrestling is to extroverted, over-confident egomaniacs what The Bachelor is to crazy, hot women desperate for attention and fame (which explains my fascination with pro wrestling; it’s like the fraternity that I’m obviously supposed to join).

Punk is notable because of his stead-fast commitment to his Belief Structure, which has finally “gotten over” with the masses. Unlike some wrestlers who use a Gimmick, Punk is a true Charismatic in that he completely Believes . He’s not really putting on any kind of masquerade or presentation – he’s simply being himself and barking about his Beliefs in front of tens of thousands of people.

As you’ll notice in the picture above and in the video clip below, Punk took Charisma to its ultimate inevitability and started presented Straight-Edge as a religion. When he was leading the “Straight-Edge Society”, he bore more than a passing resemblance to Jesus Christ:

Don Draper

The lead character on AMC’s period piece Mad Men, Don Draper represents the Masculine Man, which an increasingly-endangered species in modern society. Whereas strong masculine figures like Draper used to be commonplace, in 2012 he represents a charming anomaly; something rare that people pine for the return of.

Dr. Christian Troy

Dr. Christian Troy was the star of the F/X television show Nip/Tuck before the show ended in 2010.

As I’ve written before, I strongly identify with both the Don Draper and Christian Troy characters, which seems odd because they are so divergent. In fact, until recently I was of the opinion that Christian was a Chameleon rather than a Charismatic.

As I sought to rectify how I can so strongly identify with both an insensitive stoic such as Draper and a brash peacock like Christian, the answer occurred to me: Don Draper could not survive in 2012 as is. The social landscape has changed to such a degree that the traditional Masculine Values Draper so embodied are now frowned upon. I am not referring to the drinking and the womanizing; I am referring to his confrontational demeanor, his desire to dominate others, and his tendency to do what he pleases without approval from others (especially the women in his life).

This is why Mad Men is so captivating: what was socially-acceptable fifty years ago is now strictly fiction. Men, especially, yearn for this; not to go back to the days of limited social rights for women, but to go back to a time when men could act upon their natural instinct of callous aggression and limited social acumen.

Today’s man simply must be socially-savvy if he hopes to survive. I know this because I am naturally very much like Don Draper, and being this way has repeatedly put me through the social wringer. Acting upon natural Male aggression, or even talking about it, has people avoiding you at best and at worst dismissing you as a future criminal.

Christian Troy is the evolution of Don Draper. While he does not mask who he is, Christian is highly socially-aware and has managed to control and temper his aggressive instincts  in such a way that he can thrive in modern society. Brazen aggression is great, until some pussy sues you for head-butting him in the face after he picked a verbal argument with you at a bar; Christian represents a temperance in behavior for the contemporary Man, without compromising his Core Beliefs.

I have used this clip before, but here is Christian on his Beliefs:

A few notes from that Clip:

1) Notice how Christian has an incredibly-strong Worldview and is totally congruent with his Beliefs

2) Notice toward the end of the Clip as Gina becomes doubly-attracted to Christian even as he is throwing her out of his apartment. This is because he has used his Force of Will to demonstrate his Charisma and his stronger Worldview. This, even more so than his looks and money, is what has made Gina fall desperately in love with him, and this goes a long way toward explaining why certain women stay with men who are terrible for them.

This “Evolution” has also included somewhat distasteful social skills such as Deception and knowing how to verbally fight with a woman, rather than refusing to dignify such nonsense and simply walking out of the room. The gender neutrality of the modern workplace  has forced men to learn how to verbally-spar with women, lest women use their superior social skills to trample men; even in the face of social conflict with a female, Christian remains a modern dignified Man, refusing to bow to the social adversity facing him.

(Important Note: Masculine Dignity is what women define as “Sexy”. If you want to be Sexy, have some pride as a Man.)

Again, while the obvious comparison between Draper and Troy is the womanizing, that is not what I am referring to. In our effort to become a more equitable society, we have collectively drifted toward androgyny; women have sought to be equal on all levels, and most have interpreted that as meaning that men and women should be exactly the same. I strongly Believe they should not, and that men and women have complimentary skills that have evolved as a way to ensure the continuation of our species (see Belief #3, I Believe in Darwinism).

Johnny Cash

I have written extensively about Johnny Cash elsewhere (see https://jackhasspoken.wordpress.com/2011/07/11/how-to-be-awesome-part-ii/), but it is worth repeating that Johnny Cash was a better Showman than almost any other contemporary Charismatic. Most of the details of his personal life were not revealed until the very end of his life, at which point he commissioned the auto-biopic Walk the Line. Like Dragon, Walk the Line  is mandatory viewing for potential Charismatics who need instruction on how to create a Charismatic presentation and separate their personal lives from their public image.

The Joker from “The Dark Knight”

The apple does not fall far from the tree, as Heath Ledger’s performance as the character was so intensive that it may have contributed to his own death. His dedication to his art and his performance in the role were so powerful that they rightfully garnered posthumous accolades praising his work. Unlike some artists who die early, the overwhelming majority agree that praise of Ledger for his work is well-deserved.

Ledger’s first line as the character sets up the character’s entire Belief Structure: prompted by the question, “What do you believe in? “, the Joker doesn’t pause for a heartbeat before responding, “I believe that what doesn’t kill you makes you…Stranger.”

Tim Tebow

Even if you are not a sports fan, you are likely aware of Tebow on a pop-culture or social level.

For the uninformed, Tebow is a Quarterback for the NFL’s Denver Broncos. He has an extremely strong Belief in God and commitment to his Christianity. This has been highly divisive, and drawn both wide-spread praise and criticism.

His accomplishments as a player aside, he is single-handily renewing more Belief in a Higher Power than hundreds of thousands of churches worldwide have been able to do. Because of his exposure and platform as a celebrated athlete, his commitment to his Beliefs has had an extremely pronounced effect on the general public. Regardless of your personal stance, you likely have a strong opinion on Tebow, and his placement of his Beliefs in the national sports spotlight. His Charisma cannot be denied.

Common Characteristics of a Charismatic

  • Religious or Divinely-Conferred Abilities or Voice

Many Charismatics use the guise of religion to impart their Beliefs; for example, you may recall David Koresh had managed convince a throng of people in Waco, Texas that he was the re-incarnation of Jesus Christ. The use of religion by a Charismatic is not limited to Christianity, but simply the notion that the Charismatic has the backing of a Higher Power.

  • Being a Leader of Men

This should be obvious, but a Charismatic should have a number of “Believers” who idolize him or her and surround the Charismatic in order to better understand his or her message. This is not necessarily the same thing as being the Alpha Male or Queen Bee of a group, though often times the designated Alpha has Charismatic qualities.

A good way to differentiate is that people want to follow the Charismatic, whereas other times people are appointed to follow a designated Alpha, or do so because they have no better alternatives.

  • Building a Mystery

Like the great Oz, a Charismatic never lets her or his Believers see the little man behind the curtain. While being true to oneself is a crucial tenet of being Charismatic, Charisma is like exceptional theater: you do not let the audience see the all the work that goes into the final production. Alternatively, this is referred to as “Being Vague”, which sharp readers will note is Rule #2 of “Don Draper’s Guide to Picking Up Women”:

http://www.hulu.com/watch/40972/saturday-night-live-don-drapers-guide

  • Force of Will

The greatest ability of a Charismatic is the ability to manifest her or his Force of Will in times of duress or opposition. This is equally true if two Charismatics with opposing Worldviews get into a confrontation, or if a Charismatic faces social opposition in her or his personal life or workplace.

Additionally, Force of Will is what a Charismatic uses to Overcome Fear. Being a Charismatic, you have outlandish or unconventional Beliefs; seeing these Beliefs realized will likely cause you a good deal of personal anguish and hardship. Rather than learn to be afraid and thus subject to the social mean, a Charismatic must learn to overcome her or his personal fears and push forward with her or his Beliefs. This is Willpower.

To name an example, while bleeding like a stuck pig and nailed to a tree at the top of “The Place of the Skull”, Jesus Christ continued to shout scripture at his tormentors; the famous line, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” was actually Jesus reciting some Old Testament while people were spitting on him and throwing rocks at him. That’s Force of Will.

Of course, the Bible might be wrong and this might have happened instead:

  • Extremely Strong Frame/Worldview

A concept from psychology, a Frame is the way one sees the world. For example, I think I am a genius and an innovator, while others might see me as a chauvinist and a moron. I continue to both write and have positive self-esteem because I have a stronger Frame than many of my detractors (and there are many).

Worldview is a social-science term that is very similar to a Frame. “The View in which you see the World”. The social-science perspective takes into account factors that influence one’s Frame, such as origin of birth, ethnicity, gender, etc. Frame versus Worldview is essentially a “Nature versus Nurture”-type argument subject to whichever discipline you personally subscribe to.

In Conclusion

Search yourself and find what you truly Believe in. As long as you do not have aspirations of “genetic cleansing” like that kraut bastard Hitler, your personal Charisma likely has value and a prominent place awaiting you in the world. The question is: Do you have the Courage to stand up for your Beliefs, and if necessary, to enforce them?

SF