“Nobody can mess with me; I got my haircut.”

More than twenty years ago, opposite the main entrance to West Liberty State College, a place called JB’s offered beer, cigarettes, and a small but delicious menu of better-than-bar-food options. It was a convenience store roughly the size of a standalone two-car garage. You didn’t need to drive to get there, and almost everyone who lived on campus walked across the street at least a couple of times while they were Hilltoppers. It wasn’t my first job, but it was one of the best experiences in my life. I made four dollars an hour.

“JB” was a retired trucker who owned the place. He was Smart Country and had a strange lens through which he viewed the world. Even though his long-haul days were far behind him by the time he hired me, it was obvious that the lifestyle agreed with him. He wore mesh-backed trucker hats in an attentive fashion; they were more perched than worn. A this-might-come-in-handy vest draped over flannel shirts suggested a laid-back outdoorsman. JB was every bit the wily uncle you didn’t know you had, and his stories rivaled Mark Twain’s most days. There was a mason jar full of white lightning stationed on an out-of-normal reach shelf in the back of the store. Real moonshine from downstate West Virginia. With a beer, JB’s stories and life wisdom was good medicine. With moonshine, JB’s half-missing index finger on his gesturing hand became a celestial wand, and his word became cosmic law. JB was alright, man.

We had a small crew of college students who ran the night shift. All of us were in the first years of our undergraduate degrees, but Brother Fell was nearing the end of his time on campus. He was set to graduate after completing his student-teaching internship. He was “Brother” Fell because his high school football coach called everyone “Brother” as a title of respect. I pictured Macho Man Randy Savage as a Friar. It worked.

On slow nights in JBs, it was storytime. Nobody sauntering across the street from the college and no phone orders meant that the night shift might drag. We depended on each other to pass the time, as we sure as shit weren’t going to do any homework. Get outta here. I had a few good stories, but Brother Fell’s were those of Anytown, USA, and as such, they couldn’t be beaten. Plus, he was probably the most agreeable and likeable fellow with whom you’d strike up a conversation. Top Ten story material, without a doubt. Honest folks always are.

There was the time Brother Fell accidentally turned from a side street and found himself and his old Civic in the middle of a Main Street parade. Instead of attempting to drive back out, he tapped the Happy Honda horn and waved as though the act were planned. Meep Meep! Onlookers waved back. Stories of football and general shenanigans were on par with the classic rites of passage from Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Sometimes Porky’s. If you worked with Brother Fell, it didn’t matter what night it was. You were guaranteed to pass the time excellently.

Sometimes in the spring semesters of college life, classwork starts to pile up, or some damn fool makes the mistake of taking several more classes than is generally advisable when attempting to balance good times. The looming end to a degree program accelerates the threat of the Outside World encroaching on the otherwise more perfect years of your life. Meeting new people, learning new things, expanding your horizons. Questioning who you are, and what “it” is all about. I was lost in thought, leaning on my elbows next to the cash register one day when Brother Fell walked in with a sigh, grinning and shaking his head. “New hat?” I asked, nodding toward a sharpish fitted baseball cap. Brother Fell nodded and stopped. He took off the hat, held it in one hand while smoothing it appreciatively and said, “Loooong day. No worries, though. They couldn’t get me down. I got my haircut.” He ran his hat-smoothing hand over his short hair and snapped his fingers. His eyebrows raised, he nodded his vigorously once as if in agreement with himself. “Nobody can mess with you when you have a fresh haircut.”

The phones hadn’t rung, and the only customers popped in for a pack of smokes or a tall boy, mostly Budweiser. Pounders were less than a buck then. Glorious. Brother Fell sat down his bag in the back of the store, took a look around to see if there was anything we needed to do after day shift’s exit. There wasn’t. “Tell me about this hair cut deal,” I said. I had kept my hair short for years at that point. I wasn’t aware of any benefits–I just didn’t want to do anything with mine. Brother Fell walked back up to the counter from the back, put one knee up on the lower shelf and squinted at my hairline. “You don’t know about how nobody can mess with you when you’ve gotten a haircut?”

I shook my head. He took a five-finger dip of long-cut wintergreen and grabbed a foam cup as his spitter, then glanced out across the empty street toward the college. “Here it is,” he said, moving the tobacco around to situate it to the right of his lower lip.

“When you get a fresh haircut–and it doesn’t matter who you are–your whole perspective changes. Don’t know why, don’t know how. It’s just the way it is. Now, take my haircut. You’d think it doesn’t even matter, since I have it hidden under this ball cap. But my ears hear more. I’m more aware. With this cut, it’s one less thing to think about,” he said, eyes twinkling. He spat a little juice in the foam cup.

“Everyone’s got it all wrong,” he continued, explaining, gesturing with casual sweeps of his right hand. “Take a look at certain majors over there across the street. Some frats, some sororities wearing their Greek letters all over everything. Some kids walking around worried about repping their teams all day, every day. Pro teams they don’t play for. It’s weird. College athletes here, they don’t seem to worry about that. Our colors are nice, and they have plenty of gear comes their way. Black and gold West Lib gear. Nice stuff.” Fell nodded, spat again.

“It’s a zen thing, having a fresh haircut. You oughta celebrate it by just taking time to make sure it’s a focus,” Brother Fell nodded.

“You mean like with product? Gel?” I grimaced. I didn’t want to do anything. That was high school shit. Kid stuff.

“Nawww, man,” Fell laughed. “Not unless you’re trying to get the job. Start the ol’ career. Think about it like this–how fast is a shower now? Ten minutes maximum? That’s even faster with the fresh haircut, right?” I nodded. “Right. That’s a focus. That’s what I mean. No extra time making yourself pretty, because the haircut’s fresh.”

Pause. Another spit. We watched a car full of girls in Greek letters pull into the parking lot, converse animatedly with their hands, and then pull back out. “Forgot their IDs, I’ll bet,” said Fell. “Can’t sell them Zima without their IDs,” he reminded me. Brother Fell stood up straight and stretched away the earlier part of the day, and adjusted his hat. “I saw a guy get his ass kicked outside of Bubba’s last year, but it didn’t matter to him none,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Cause even though he was beaten and a little bloody, and a pretty good black eye, his haircut was fresh,” he laughed. “People weren’t sure he actually lost the fight.”

I was beginning to see.

“So, even on a long day, when you’re working on finishing a degree and you’re about to apply for jobs you aren’t even sure you can do,” Fell put extra emphasis on the do to make his point. “That fresh haircut is one less thing to worry about.”

I got my haircut today. It’s fresh. Tomorrow morning I’ll move a little faster, and the commute will end a little sooner, and I’ll have a few more minutes of quiet time before the work day begins and we try to move heaven and earth with our wills. But I”ll have one less thing to worry about.

The Writing on Your “Wall”

When I was still on Facebook, I used to post a video of Sean Parker admitting that the founders of that site and other popular social media applications used basic psychology to trap users. I didn’t post the video to announce how much smarter and in control I was compared to fellow Facebook users (I was part of the dimwitted masses), but as far as I know, Parker was one of the first to come out and say, “Here’s what we did, and why we did it, and now I think it wasn’t a good idea.”

I finally left Facebook for good about six months ago, and even though at that point it wasn’t really a major factor as far as daily time wasted, I just didn’t want it to be a part of my day at all. So now it isn’t.

I think people forget how much we used to get done before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and all the shitty “look at me dance” video apps that I won’t mention by name. It’s laughable. And you’re an idiot if you’re an avid user. Be honest with yourself.

Unless you’re a teenager, there is a strong possibility you still remember the world before social media. Media manipulation and mass advertising came through television, print, and whatever websites you visited, but there was still a disconnect. An on/off button existed, because our phones weren’t yet super-computers. YouTube and Google and the rest of the apps weren’t constantly shaking hands to keep us connected and scrolling.

In my thirties, the apps were there, they just didn’t really do much. It was cool to see what some people were up to, but nothing really came of it. About a year ago, everyone became an epidemiologist. Then a political expert. I had already seen that movie a few times before, though. Every American election cycle gives voice to psychological bias and unchecked stupidity. This one was a little bit worse. So 2020 was the last gasp for me. I cannot believe the amount of idiocy propagated through media designed to exploit the masses. It’s a shame I was ever a part of it. Soon, I will retire from the other apps too.

No more people whining and not doing anything about their unhappiness, which was magnified by the app through which they are whining.

No more dipshit morons wringing their hands about “the state of things” in which they barely participate. Hunching over a keyboard with poorly-research “facts” doesn’t count, Username.

No more glamourous influencers jamming their piece-of-shit products down my throat. No more subpar music clogging my brainwaves while some hip waif styles the freshest drip in the latest colorway. Those shoes came out when I was a kid, my guy, and they were fifty dollars cheaper. But yeah, please let me get them in bright green or orange.

Unbelievable, how we let these apps run us.

This is a question I have asked for a few years, and I think I will continue to put it out there:

“In forty years, when your life is mostly behind you, how do you want to be defined? Do you want to look back and say, ‘I pissed away my best years being manipulated by a software application that was designed to keep me trapped through psychological weakness’?”

It’s not easy to admit how much time we’ve wasted on these things. I know. When work from home became the thing this year, I spent more than two full weeks in a Call of Duty game. As in 14 full days, 15 hours, and some change. Oh, sure, it was fun. We ran our mouths and made some pretty cool videos. The highlight was winning a match with two elementary students. First-graders, dude.

However, at some point near the end of the year, I just kept thinking, “Jesus, man, you’re 41. Forty-one. How much longer can you get online and be okay with spending even an hour a day mindlessly gripping a controller?” I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that out of 52 weeks in a year, I spent two full weeks on a single game. That doesn’t even include time spent in other games.

I started keeping informal track of my time spend digitally. What I found was unsettling: thirty hours a week between an Xbox and apps on a cell phone. But yeah, I “don’t have time.” Lies.

So, now that January–which is by far the shittiest month of the year–is more than half over, it’s time to become even more accountable. The software created by smarter people to keep me trapped and complacent have a chief design flaw: I have to turn them on before they can waste my time.

I hope that as the vaccine rollouts continue we will start to see reality become a little more real, as opposed to what the screens tell us, but it will take a while before that happens. In the meantime, try something: keep track of where the time goes, and see if you’re any happier. If not, make some changes.

A Single Step

36 days ago, I was melting into Matt and Natalie’s giant couch. I was slightly short of breath, with one leg propped up on the coffee table. It was Thanksgiving Day.

“I only had one plate, and it’s not like it was overflowing!” I wheezed in glossy disbelief. My confusion was somewhat justifiable. Matt has a rare turkey technique. Wielding a giant syringe, he channels dark magic to inject buffalo sauce into various pathways, then dusts the entire bird with a matching dry seasoning before deep-frying the turkey. No mortal stands a chance. Honestly, I went into the day with every intention of not overeating. One plate (honest!) later, I was semi-conscious and lounging in front of the TV, eyes rolling around while I daydreamed of an out-of-the-blue points surge from a WR or RB that I hoped nobody else had noticed. Naturally, I wasn’t winning anything in the DraftKings contests. My belly seemed to be growing larger by the minute. At that point, I wasn’t drinking anything, and I wasn’t snacking. I wasn’t doing anything at all.

That’s when it hit me. With Christmas right around the corner, and most of the shopping done, I was kind of in a state of cruise control toward the end of the year. I had a bizarre thought. What could I do that day to kick off a new era in life? What was missing? What action could I take that would begin a journey of a thousand miles?

My mild devotion to doomed DraftKings contests had encouraged superstitious behaviors. Horse betters had their weirdo routines, and athletes had their pregame rituals. Matt and I had “Pittsburgh pushups”–regular pushups that generated mystical energy to power the Black & Gold to a W. Nothing more than a drunken excuse to pretend that real activity on our part could influence the destiny of a football game. Anyway, X amount of pushups later (I’m sure I didn’t reach a hundred), I actually felt a little better. Was it possible that the smallest amount of activity on my part created a feeling of achievement? Was it real? It had been so long, I couldn’t even remember what real physical activity felt like.

The next morning, I went into the garage and got onto our nearly decade-old treadmill. Recalling the best motivational quote ever (thanks, reddit), I got started. Nothing extravagant. Just a run/walk combo to get started. Something to jar the gears and knock off some rust. A spark to ignite The Machine. Thirty-five days later, I feel better. Every morning I get up to exact revenge against what I might have become if had I continued to do the exact same thing for another year.

More movement led to better eating, and also to a real accountability to self. The goal is to be better than I was yesterday. I think I am on to something. This year I will be documenting the journey every day. It might be something cool I found, a thought I have had, or an idea I want to explore. It’s funny that it took a pandemic for me to finally do this, but here we are. If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Just Leave Well Enough Alone

I’m not in a lockdown state. I work from home these days, and I’m thankful to be employed. Every once in a while, I just want to log on, tune out for an hour or two, and just mindlessly enjoy a game. Emphasis on “mindless.”

Infinity Ward has other plans for me, it would seem. For what feels like the twentieth time in three weeks, Modern Warfare Warzone has endured an update.

And what an update.

If I found this outside, I’d put it in my mouth. Thanks, Infinity Ward.

See, a small group of us like a game mode called Plunder. The original goal was to grab as much cash as you can. Get to a million dollars before the Others. You know—just like real life, depending on your habits.

I guess.

So there we were: that’s me, John, Norm. Speed, the Dude, and a few others.

We all need a bit of the Ol’ Milk Plus, o my brothers.

We float in and out of the online gaming arena, make nuisances of ourselves, give each other a hard time. Have a few laughs.

If you’re not a gamer, I don’t blame you. In reflective times like what alcoholics might call moments of clarity, I’ve often pondered the idea of putting away the controller for good. Writing a book. Taking a few more classes just for me. But no. I log on, I sign in, and I get my face shot off immediately due to the latest “update.”

This week I couldn’t hear or see my enemies as they parachuted out of thin air onto my shoulder. They took my wallet, my watch, my shoes, and my cookies. They took my ability to enjoy myself as well, but there’s no perk for that, so I guess I’m S.O.L. on that side of things.

Top: every Call of Duty update.
Bottom: a player attempting to enjoy oneself.

A couple of years ago, I starting playing games again after a lengthy absence. This morning I felt an inconsolable rage I had not experienced for nearly twenty years. I deeply considered taking a hammer to everything within arm’s reach. Truly.

I’m forty years old, folks. Quarantine or not, I ask you, “What the actual fuck?”

I mean no disrespect to the younger gamers who enjoy ever-closing circles, whether they are gas, fire, or energy fields. Hell, I don’t care about blue-haired streamers with their own shoe lines. To each their own.

For the love of God, Activision, while the United States and fifty other countries are trying to figure out how to right the S.S. Rona, could you just leave it the fuck alone? For a week, even? Can you just not fuck with a video game long enough that we might feel a peculiar peace in these “trying” and “uncertain” times?

I’m taking the rest of the day off. Maybe tomorrow, too. At any rate, I’m sure there will be another update before I log in again. Maybe there will be a bonus round where every achievement I reach can be summarily undone in a matter of minutes.

Cheers, everyone. It’s been…fun?

Most of what you want is free

It’s true, but it’s hard to admit: most of what you want is free. Take a second to let it sink in. It’s a simple and elegant truth. A knee-jerk reaction could be something like, “What? I ‘need’ the latest Item X! That’s not ‘free’!” The reality is that you probably don’t even want that X. Not really.

Some part of you has decided X is necessary, but you’ve gone this far without X, what’s another ten years without it?

What’s another thirty years without it?

Exactly. You never wanted it in the first place.

Asshole.

(I do it, too. It’s fine.)

Everyone is different, but there is an era that represents “happiness” for each of us. Mine didn’t start with X, and yours didn’t either. It’s much more elemental than that. We just lose track of the honesty behind it. We’re afraid of judgment.

We shouldn’t be.

X didn’t bring you happiness, and most likely, X came along after you forgot what true happiness was. What true happiness looked like. Judgment came along, and we stopped being honest, and we started worrying about what others think. And the problems began.

Yeah, that was pretty stupid.

Fast-forward twenty years, and you might have even found yourself working a job you hate to buy shit you don’t need to impress people you don’t like. Sound familiar? At least on some level? It’s from Fight Club. Before Fight Club, it was from something else. But we rinse, repeat, and we trudge along. Maybe sometime, if we have the slightest awakening, we say, “Oh…hey, this wasn’t it…”

And that’s where it begins.

What I like to do (most) is to learn, and also to write. I don’t always do both every day, but they both bring me joy, and they’re both free. It’s a trip to think that thirty-three years ago, I was smarter than I am now…at least in action. It’s because I was more elemental. I went to school, and I did what I was supposed to do, but I wasn’t selfish and I didn’t have ideas about what I “should” have and what I “could” have and I just rode my bike and played basketball with my friends. Life was good.

Fast-forward. Tons of stupid shit. Way too much to go into. But, if I’m being honest, all of it was totally worth it, because a lot of it was “free” too. I just made a lot of excuses to act like I was trapped by outside forces.

I don’t ride bikes with my friends, and we don’t shoot basketball. I (mostly) still do what I am supposed to do in school–which makes sense, given my position–but I can’t believe it took this long for me to be honest again about the cost of what makes me happy.

It’s free. And it always has been. It always will be.

Yours is too.

 

The Currency of Time

I switched to gin this summer, and with its help, I figured out that my ideas of wealth are all wrong. Partially wrong, anyway. There is no formula for building wealth, and there is no forthcoming tell-all. It’s this simple: time is the chief currency of our lives.

Naturally we won’t admit this when we are young. We’re lucky if we ever learn this at all, but at some point, it becomes crystal clear that we need time more than anything. Anyone who doesn’t have it knows its importance. Sometimes when you try to acquire it, too much of it is gone. So, then…

What does it look like to buy time?

Artists have the best understanding of the value of time. People who place little value on art do not understand why artists have this understanding, but that, too, is simple. Artists spend time more than anybody else. Sometimes they spend it poorly (based on your highly subjective opinion of what they create), but just the simple abundance of opportunity afforded by their lifestyle choices consistently exposes them to a greater experience level of time.

The first point of argument could most likely be “Hey, I’m not an artist, and I know the value of time.” That’s fine. Maybe your idea of what constitutes “art” is a little too limited.

Athletes are artists. No paint necessary. Writers are artists. Smooth talkers are artists. Here is where I will lose a lot of you, but just think about it for a minute: art is so subjective, you could easily defend your idea of it just by saying it is anything that brings joy. The trick, then, would be to find and revel in what brings you joy.

I consider all kinds of things to be art. So, here is how I think we can buy time, in a manner of speaking. We should create things. We should check out what others are creating, and we should share those things. Especially if they bring us joy.

I am lucky in that I know a giant range of people who create things. I am obsessed with the power of words, but I am so visually driven, it’s a wonder I didn’t spend more time developing my drawing skills. After a certain year, I spent my time elsewhere, though. We’ll see if it pays off later.

In the same way that we share the songs, the shows, and the movies we like, I think we should share the work of the creators in our lives–not just to bring awareness to their efforts, but also for the opportunity to let their creations work to encourage more creation.

I want to start with my sister and her husband, not just because they are family, but because I really have always loved what they do. Note: This is just the first post of many. If you’re making something, we’ll be chatting soon.

My sister Amanda is a photographer (among other things). She is a nurse and a mother of four boys, and she somehow finds time to do this: https://www.facebook.com/pg/AmandaFlynnPhotography/posts/ or https://instagram.com/amandaflynnphoto?igshid=8iqs2xivrbyd

Her husband David’s work can be seen here (until if/when we collaborate on a future project): https://pittsburghillustrators.org/accounts/view/davidMflynn

When you buy some time, please contact me with what you are making and where we can find it. Let’s keep this going.

 

colossal

Today’s as good a day as any to be grateful. I have long been a cynic by excellent and consistent practice, but I have traded in my rehearsed standard countdown toward trendy temporary dooms. Instead, I started the long walk to another new beginning. I’m returning to the classroom.

It brings mixed emotions for me, but not in the ways you might think. I have spent the last thirteen months trying different paths in earnest. Some worked better than others. I found out that I am not cut out to work in sales–at least, not in sales that do not bring meaning to me, or for me. It’s a curious selfishness, but with a wide angle, it makes perfect sense.

My grandfather was an insurance agent. It wasn’t the kind of career that defined his entire life, the way some people’s jobs account for more timelines than they ought to. It wasn’t, “Yeah, he was an insurance agent” and nothing more. This was something I had not considered when I put a couple months into studying and testing for that career shift.

In retrospect, I guess that was easy to forget, as my focus was singular: I was looking for a job to substitute substance, when I knew it wouldn’t. It can’t. At the end of last year, I even had a part-time night gig in higher education. Even though it was entry-level, it was enough light to see where I had taken a wrong turn.

Then came a few other opportunities. I have long been fascinated by financial markets–not so much in the get-rich-quick schemes and subscribe-here-to-know-the-secrets advertising cramming my inbox and social media, but more of a How do we actually retire? or How should money be working for us? kind of approach.

I wasn’t a good fit to be a financial advisor, but I am thankful for the forty-six days I spent in the vetting process. An education start-up spent another twenty days on me before they decided I wasn’t what they were looking for. I’d lie if I said I wasn’t disappointed in both cases, but a larger truth emerged. My strengths do not lie in another rebirth. They are sitting on a shelf in a classroom, right where I left them.

The big a-ha moment of the year so far: the lights we placed in all directions start to show the thousands of ways we can move. I didn’t even realize how many points of light were already there. Some of them I put down absent-mindedly a long time ago. They still give the faintest glow–enough for me to find my way back. I have a long way to go, but I get to pick up where I left off, which is sometimes all we need.

I hope to see some of you this year, even in those little frames that we pretend don’t exist while years speed by. If we don’t get a chance to sit and share a sip or a laugh, I hope we find another way.

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High-speed shifts and Seven Marches

A tremendous two days in Nashville with Ashley have left me overly-optimistic about the rest of the year ahead.

IMG_1547

On Sundays twice a month, we clean the house. Ashley specializes in the downstairs, while I tackle the upstairs. Some trash-talk ensues, mostly from my side. I like to highlight the speed with which I accomplish the task. Honestly, Ashley is more thorough, but I like to pat meself on the back, likes, then take a drink. It’s very satisfying.

With the Venturi effect pulling a breeze through the front side window in our “office” through the back of our bedroom, it’s a perfect time to pause to say Hello to all of you.

Some years ago on the line at Uncle Sam’s, Marco and I stood in front of blazing Vulcan Wolves (Wolfs?), slinging piles of chopped steak and onions. Truthfully, I always overcooked mine a little bit, but it seemed to all balance out by the end of the first swallow. There’s a metaphor in there, somewhere, but let’s let sleeping dogs lie for the now.

Anyway, Marco had a theory that every March had been bollocks for quite some time. He had evidence to back this up, as well–several anecdotes that did, indeed, feature large degrees of nonsense and unnecessaries. With a light perspiration clouding my judgment and some non-linear customer-related shenanigans, I did agree with Marco. March was proper Bollocks, based on his foundations.

In the years since his cheese steak confessional, though, I find that my revelation is quite the opposite. I am not semi-prepared to thoroughly explain, I instead will offer this: I find March to be the early redemption of each year. I have put some thought into this.

Ashley and I are both big December people. We now live in the (fairly) Deep South, and there is precious little snow to be had, so it’s never a proper December whilst we’re here, but we do what we can. Truly, I love mid-November all the way through the end of the year with you, Ashley. After the holidays, we don’t know what to do with ourselves. There are no snow days. There are no comparable Februaries than those with you.

My sister Amanda’s birthday is after Christmas and right before New Year’s Eve, so that’s another reason to celebrate. Cheers, Sis.

My father’s birthday is in March. We have little in the way of proper Irish heritage, and yet I have always been fascinated that his birthday is on St. Patrick’s Day. Truly, a fine holiday, and celebrated every year to its proper extent by yours truly and his constituents. Slainte, Da!

So, here we are, a week after St. Patrick’s, and spring has maybe sprung. A glorious concert of Mumford & Sons in Nashville, and a possible giant shift in the Dynamic.

What a year!

Marco, this March has delivered. I humbly over-cook this sandwich and slide it behind us to be finished.

To everyone else, I sincerely hope you can say the same. To your health!

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The Merits of Struggle

“Struggle” is a tricky word. Long before the interconnection of IoT and the ever-changing way “We” communicate with each other via related channels, a simple exchange might go something like this:

“Hey–how’s it going?”

“Not so great. Some struggles lately.”

“Oh, wow–I’m sorry to hear that! Is there anything you might like to talk about?”

And then the conversation could progress. Or not. Very fluid, the process, depending on who was involved.

I’ve noticed a different trend over these last several years. I’ve seen or read some folks say or write “I’m experiencing some hard times” or “I’m struggling,” and the immediate feedback has too often been something like, “Oh yeah? Here’s why your struggle is less significant than this other topic.”

Before I proceed, let me first take a moment to humbly acknowledge that I have definitely had the same knee-jerk reaction in many cases. This is something I work with daily and continue to evolve as part of becoming a better version of me. Just to be clear.

Lately I have been ruminating on the merits of struggle. Since hardship is relative to the one who experiences it, I first went back to philosophers to see what they had to say, which was enlightening–as it usually is. It’s my own way of calibrating my thoughts before I attempt to grow. Results vary by person. You may have a better method. (If you do, please feel free to share it.)

I have now spent the last year in sales. This was an unexpected turn for me, and as difficult as it has been to transition to a career that is not a natural fit, I have learned more in the last three hundred days than I had acknowledged the previous thousand.

Here are a few takeaways:

  1. Once you know what you are supposed to do, you should pursue that.
  2. Once you become good at what you enjoy doing, you should strengthen that.
  3. Once you modify your viewpoint of what you can do to make the world better, you should offer that.

These are, of course, vague enough to be applied in whatever fashion you prefer, but I will expand on each of these. What you are “supposed” to do could be seasonal. Plenty of people gave their all for Something that worked for them for a long time, and brought value to those around them. Later, maybe not so much. Becoming “good” at something is in itself a nondescript qualifier of what it means to be “good” or to considered proficient or worthy of consideration in something. I think most people who are “good” at something enjoy becoming better. Therefore, even if it were just for the sake of improvement itself, such an endeavor would prove to be time well spent.

The last one is the most difficult, and as it is so highly subjective, here is what I mean “by making the world better.” For me, one of my chief motivators in life is to show others how “A to B” works. Specifically, going back to my classroom days, my favorite thing was to show the ups and downs of thoughts or actions to learners in the largest sense possible, for nothing more than the hopes that a percentage of students would be able to benefit from such experiences. Broad? Vague? Maybe. Here it is in the plainest fashion:

  • I want More for others based on what I have experienced.
  • I want others to skip hardships or have an easier time with them based on what I learned from similar difficulties.
  • I want everyone I meet to become better by having communicated with me, even if only for a few minutes. This includes people who do not like me and do not appreciate anything I might offer. In such cases, those people are made better by knowing that I am not “for” them, and that is okay.

Some people’s lives fly by and they are clever enough and able to grab onto what matters most to them. They may improve lives or the general condition of things accordingly. They may have no impact at all on the improvement of others. This is also okay. I don’t think that cosmically we are all supposed to function in such manners. However, I think that anyone who might consider the cosmic application of our existence is capable of having significant impact.

That brings us to the struggle. I ask each day for meaningful struggle in that I may do more with my life in the time I have. I don’t mind rolling the boulder, but if nobody benefits from it, I am keenly aware that decades may pass, and I could have nothing at the end of my life except looking back and extolling the virtuous effects of wasted efforts.

That is not a cosmic purpose. That does not work for me.

Here is what I hope for everyone who reads this: I hope your struggle has merit. If you truly believe in what you really struggle to realize, I hope you achieve it. I hope it brings you value, and I hope that you will not waste too much of the time you do not have convincing others the worthiness of your struggle, which may prove to be yours alone to bear.

Broad? Vague? Maybe. Then again, maybe these poor, poor words will mean something to somebody. Maybe this is just the smallest speck of what somebody needs at the beginning of another week.

Let these thousand words swim through you or let them pass right on by. But, if you wake up some days like I do and think that there is probably something a little bit more that you could be doing, please feel free to share that realization in some way.

I am heading back to the classroom when I can. I am thankful for the difficulties of this last year, and as I work to make the most of my time each day, I hope I can be a little more than I was yesterday.

And I hope the same for all of you.

 

Rust

stopped to look at Orion briefly

I stood on the street and looked into the quiet night sky

and wondered how many more years would pass

before I might be filled with

wonder

once again

 

and remembering how small all of us are

and how quickly all of this goes

I gave up on today

but Just For Today, I told myself

these defeats run deep

and corrupt slowly, over time

 

it’s hard to be careful

and to know the lengths

to which we can go

before the rust has broken through

and ruined what

we waited so long to build