Regretting Things Undone

In The Biggest Bluff, Maria Konnikova wrote one short paragraph that shook me to the core. She mentions a poker player named “X” and says this about him:

That was the only time I ever saw him. The chaos of life is greater than the chaos of games. And now X is dead, and all his future books remain unwritten.

When it comes to books that is my biggest fear. Will I get this stuff out of my head before I die?  I want quality and an enduring legacy to leave behind for my family, but none of that is possible if I don’t get the words written down.

What is it in your life that you need to get done? What is it that you would regret if like “X” you died before finishing? It reminds me Paulo Coelho’s words from The Alchemist, “There was nothing holding him back but himself.” Don’t let it happen to you.

The Road to Valor

valor: great courage in the face of danger, especially in battle

I loved listening to the classic hero stories growing up, such as the little guy David, who despite his age and stature, took down the giant Goliath. And then there were the stories about Ivanhoe, Robin Hood, Beowulf, and even Luke Skywalker. They were people that overcame the odds, stepped up when needed, and did it with class and honor. As I got older, I continued to read the stories of brave samurais, honorable knights, and the valorous modern-day warfighters.

This world we live in is a dangerous place. There are those who would harm others without any provocation. They would do it simply because they felt like it. There are the unexpected accidents and a Mother Nature who is indifferent to our comfort and safety. The world still needs its brave heroes. It needs its people of valor and honor.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be the hero that saved the day, the one who put his life on the line for another. But how can someone like me, a common, everyday guy, become a hero? I can start by looking at history. I can read and listen to the stories of ordinary men and women who rose in the times of need to do the extraordinary. I can study their lives and model my life after them. I can practice the little things to test my mettle slowly working my way up. Step by step, I can move to more difficult challenges and go places where few would dare.

This is something we could all do. We can prepare for a time when the world, or the community, or just one other person might need us. We can resolve now how we would answer that calling. We could be the heroes so desperately needed.

Commit to study acts of bravery and valor; emulate them. Do not cast away your life as a coward. One way or another death will come. Resolve now how you will face it. -Daidōji Yūzan

The Phoenix

The sun rises and a new day begins. With it comes new hopes and new dreams. The dawning of the sun brings a rebirth. It brings life. As the evening comes, the hopes of the day cease. This close signifies death, a conclusion to the life that was.

We see this cycle repeated over and over. Days, seasons, eras. Life followed by death, which in turn is followed by new life, a new hope from a new generation in the cycle.

The long nights and the long winters are filled with despair. Without hope, life ceases. There have been times when the sun seemed to refuse to rise. There have been times when the Spring was long overdue in its return. It was in those times that it was toughest to keep the faith.

When we come to the end of an age, we are faced with a choice. We can choose to stay where we are, or we can move forward. You must be brave to move forward into the unknown, beyond the confines of comfort. You must be even braver to leave the dead behind and forge ahead into a new life. It takes courage to decide to be the phoenix and rise up from the ashes.

Only you can make this decision, no one else can do it for you. It may sound scary, but there is still hope. Alone you choose whether to be reborn. But once you make the choice, you are no longer alone. Others are there to help you grow in this new season of your life.

Harnessing Good Fortune

Buy a lottery ticket, and you might have a chance to win. Granted, your chances might be one in several hundred million, but it is still a chance. If you don’t buy the ticket, your chances go all the way down to zero. Is it worth the dare, or the money?

Instead of spending the money playing a game where the odds are not in your favor, you could invest in your own development. Your chances of success dramatically improve. And if you come into a big payday, you might even find that you are better prepared to handle it. It is a chance, but at least you have some control in the outcome. Is investing in yourself worth the dare, or the money? I would hope your answer is yes.

We are far more capable than we think are. We can be our own winning lottery tickets in this life if we are willing to dare. We are not guaranteed good fortune, but as Virgil says it sides with the one who dares. Take the dare on yourself and maybe along the way you can harness some good fortune. It might be the best investment you will ever make.

Omne Bellum

Omne Bellum translated from Latin is “Everything is War.”

Exercise. Every time I work out, I go to war. In my mind, I have two options: win or lose. In my heart: press on or give up. There is a battle to begin, another battle to stick with it, and one to finish strong. There is a battle to push down my ego and another battle to not go too easy. Exercise, in fact, is a battle.

Communication. I have a lot that I want to say. So does everyone else. Can I listen, be empathetic, and still have a conversation that is productive? The great communicators can do it, but they had to develop the skill. They had to overcome their fear, while at the same time tamper down their cockiness. As I attempt to improve my communication socially, I have to do the same things. How can I get my point across and still be mindful of my audience? Communication, in fact, is a battle.

These are just two examples, but I’m fighting battles every day in about every aspect of my life. The battles are usually between what I want to do and what I should do. Between virtue and comfort. The key for me is to stay vigilant and to remain in the fight.

The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy’s not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable. –Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The worst kind of war you can fight is the one that you don’t know you are in. If the enemy is free to fight unmolested, he is going to win. If you are not fighting back, you are going to lose. The enemy wants you to stay dormant. He does not want you to fight back. And as my old drill sergeant used to say, “The enemy is everywhere.” We are all fighting a war. For most of us, it is an internal war between virtue and vice. It is between righteousness and evil. Discipline and sloth. It begins at birth and continues on until our last day. The only way to win is to keep fighting. Omne bellum, because, “Life is, in fact, a battle.” –Henry James (1843-1916

Walking Alone

The wildebeest in the middle of the pack has no ability to affect the herd. It is safe as long as it keeps running. Well, as long as it is not one of the thousands that get trampled along the way.

When you run with the mob, you run a risk. Your intentions might be good and noble. But if the frenzy leads it down the wrong path, you might find yourself in a dangerous situation.

To consort with the crowd is harmful; there is no person who does not make some vice attractive to us, or stamp it upon us, or taint us unconsciously therewith. Certainly, the greater the mob with which we mingle, the greater the danger. –Seneca, Letter 7: On Crowds

Remember as kids we were asked if we would jump off a cliff if our friend jumped off a cliff. If the herd goes off the cliff, the wildebeest in the middle will run off of it, whether they want to or not. The herd with good intentions to migrate to better grazing has gone astray.

It is better to walk alone, than with a crowd going in the wrong direction. –Herman Siu

To walk alone takes courage. You have ask the questions, do the research, and then come to the best conclusions. It doesn’t mean you will always be right, but at least you did the work. And if it means failure, that is okay. Keep failing until you get it right.

The great innovators of the past chose their own paths. Change came in walking alone, rather than going with the flow

Evolve or Die

The trend with businesses: If you don’t evolve, you will die. Blockbuster, Sears, JC Penney, Pier One Imports, Hertz. Just to name a few of the more notable and most recent.

As with business, so it is with humanity. We must evolve or we will die. Death will come for each and every one of us in time. But with longer life expectancies, the reaper might be delayed from his usual rounds. Almost 8 billion people on this planet. That is about double than what it was fifty years ago. The number is only going to go up. Unless:

  • We can’t get along. A more crowded earth means more differences between its inhabitants. Add some global warming in there, and we are staring at a big bucket of crabs keeping everybody else from getting to the top for a breath of fresh air (or freedom).
  • More pandemics. They have been around for centuries, and they are only getting stronger. Every couple of years a new one surges to the forefront. It is only a matter of time before the next one comes to collect its due.
  • More global catastrophes. We think we are the all-powerful dominators of this globe. Yet in the face of a hurricane, earthquake, or volcano, we are faced with our own fragility.

The list could go on. One only has to look at the Book of Revelations and start making the comparisons. What can we do with such dire tidings? How can we ensure a brighter future for our children and their children? We can:

  • Figure out how to get along. At least, until we learn how to zip off to Mars and begin the prequel to Frank Herbert’s Dune.
  • Get aggressive in fighting these viruses. We need to get healthier. We need to become more resilient as individuals. And we need to put our minds and money to work fighting the real enemies.

“The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all. That is clear. Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman, simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion.” –Winston Churchill

  • Be responsible citizens of this planet. Right now it is the only one we got. We might not be able to change the weather, but we can at least pick up after ourselves. We can make better choices, consume less stuff, and take care of the things we have. Until technology can come up with the right solutions, we can do our part.

The earth’s population will soon recognize, if they haven’t already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: evolve or die. –Eckhart Tolle

The choice is ours. To stand idly by the wayside and let things run their course is to invite death. We must find the courage to forge ahead. We might not suffer too much if we don’t, but we won’t leave humanity, our children and their children, a better place for those who come after us.

Using What I have

Today, I was thinking about a new piece of exercise equipment for my home gym. What can I get that is shiny and new? What will take me to the next level in my fitness? As I thought about this, my current inventory of equipment came to mind. Am I using what I have to the best of my ability? Has my interest in the older equipment begun to wane?

The desire for having more stuff, for having something new, is constantly weighing on me. Why do I need more? Is there something wrong with what I have? This goes beyond gym equipment. There is always a new tool that I need or would really like to have. Shoes, clothes, tech. There is always something that I think I am missing.

Beyond “stuff” is the very essence of me. I am my own biggest critic. Often, I think upon my shortcomings. It is one thing to think of how to improve, but it is quite another to use my “have-nots” as an excuse for why I –have not. If certain genes are missing from my double helix, I can’t change it. It is out of my control and wanting it will not change anything. I am who I am.

Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is. –Ernest Hemingway

There are those exceptional athletes that despite not fitting the ideal profile for their sport have gone on to great success. They weren’t handicapped by supposed shortcomings. Instead, they allowed their desire to fuel them to overcome the stereotypes. They worked with what they had and went on to amaze the world.

I shouldn’t listen to the self-conjured imaginary naysayers that prevent me from where I want to go. The voices in my head* are a form of resistance reluctant to leave the comfort zone. They want to impose limitations on what is possible. To listen to the chatter would be disastrous.

The courageous do not make excuses for why it can’t be done. They make the most out of the gifts they were given. As Abraham Maslow said, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” We can overcome a lack in natural talent with persistence and courage.

*I say this jokingly lest anybody would consider locking me up.

Dare to Get Hit

Last week, my son Alec and I started watching the Rocky movies. I was amazed how interested he was in watching them. The movies held his attention even when there were no fight scenes or training scenes. When we finally made it to the sixth movie, I was impressed by Rocky’s speech to his son.

One line in particular resonated with me:

It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.

It is not about how hard you can hit. Actually, it is not about any of your physical attributes. Instead, it pertains to a matter of the heart, to the soul. Do you have the heart to keep going despite taking the hard hits? Do I? It is a question I have to constantly ask myself. More importantly I have to ask myself another question: Am I preparing myself to get hit? If you have never been hit before, the shock of that first one is hard to bear. But if you shake it off and get back up, you can recover. In time, you can become stronger and absorb harder and harder hits in the future. But none of that is possible, if you don’t learn to get hit. It isn’t possible if you can’t get back up. In the words of General George Patton, “Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”

To want to get hit when you don’t have to takes courage. It is a daring risk that rewards in resilience. A true champion takes that risk. They practice getting hit. They take the chance in the hope of discovering who they really are. They dare to lose their footing along the way, because not doing so would result in a greater loss.

Rocky’s speech was a great one. I hope it resonates with you the same way it did with me.

Transcript from Rocky 6:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that! I’m always gonna love you no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, ya ain’t gonna have a life.

If you would rather see it, watch it here:

To dare is to lose one’s footing. Not to dare is to lose oneself. –Søren Kierkegaard

Only Forward

This morning I listened to a guided meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh. It was a simple 15 minute practice into mindfulness. Being mindful is being in the present. When you concentrate on your breathing, you are being mindful. When your mind wanders, the concentration is no longer on the breathing.

I struggle with being fully present. In my twenties and thirties, I lived in the past. I spent so much time on “what might have been” and “what happened” that my progress was slow to move forward. I wasn’t aware of what was going on in the here and now, because I could not escape my demons from the past.

And then something happened as I got older. I left the past and moved right into the future. Progress stalled again as I was tormented by stress and anxiety. I was looking so far ahead that the projects I started were never being completed. My dreams were not coming to fruition but only remaining as dreams.

What I was lacking was balance. Since I was living in the past, I wasn’t learning from it but only repeating the same mistakes. Lost in the future prevented me from completing the tasks at hand. It does no good to be “way back when” or “someday up ahead.” Like the Jesus Jones song, I need to be right here, right now.

I demolish my bridges behind me –then there is no choice but forward. –Fridtjof Nansen

What do you know about Fridtjof Nansen? I had to look him up, and what I saw was amazing. This man was a Norse Indiana Jones. He was a champion athlete, museum curator, and artic explorer. He cross-country skied across Greenland. Two others attempted it before him and only made it 100 miles before turning back. Nansen forced himself into a one-way trip with no hopes of rescue by turning around. The only direction he could go was forward. Later in life, he would become a diplomat and a statesman eventually winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his humanitarian work in helping refugees after the First World War. Nansen lived a full life. He tested the limits of what was possible. If he could do it, what is keeping us from our own grand pursuits? Are we willing to test our limits and do something extraordinary with the lives we have been given?

Fridtjof Nansen
From Google Page 1 search.