Attaching a Value to Can’t

In the book Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey wrote about one of the life lessons he learned as a boy. The first time he was “whupped” was for responding to Matt. He was told that he was not named after a doormat. The second time was for saying, “I hate you.” The third for saying can’t. The fourth for lying about stealing a pizza. It wasn’t the stealing that warranted the punishment but getting caught and then lying about it. What was the lesson he learned from these instances?

I only ever got in real trouble for the using or doing of the words that could harm me. Words that hurt. The words that helped engineer who I am because they were more than just words; they were expectations and consequences. They were values.

Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey

I have written in the past about the value of a name and on the virtue of Justice, which includes lying. But the use of the word can’t, this one hit the mark. Words have value. So, what is the value of this one?

Alec likes to use the word can’t frequently. If it is too difficult, too hard to understand, or requires too much effort, the default statement is, “I can’t.” I have never spanked him for saying this, unlike McConaughey’s punishment, but it has crossed my mind. He is too young to be setting artificial boundaries on his abilities.

Can’t means not possible. The value is concrete. When we overutilize this word, we put too much concrete around us. We put up barriers to what is within our abilities. Can’t is the governor on a Ferrari that reduces the car’s maximum speed from over 200 to 150 miles per hour, it is the speed limit that sets its maximum legal speed to 70, and it is the poor maintenance on the tires that further reduces it down to a safe speed of 30. Can’t is the boundaries that takes a supercar designed for speed and reduces it down to a substandard vehicle barely safe for the road.

Why put limitations on yourself by saying you can’t do it? This word has power, but it is not the kind you want to wield. Instead of saying can’t think of what it would take to make it happen. Maybe it is not possible today. But with the training, effort, and a different perspective, it could be possible tomorrow. As Les Brown said, “Life has no limitations except the ones you make.”

Your Enemies

For some high-adventure reading chocked full of action with a healthy mixture of historical facts and figures, I would recommend Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe Series. The series follows the fictional life of Richard Sharpe, a career soldier in the early 19th century.

One of Sharpe’s assignments was leading the 95th Rifle Regiment in the British Army. This unit was an advanced skirmisher company. Instead of having to stand in formation trading volleys of gunfire with the enemy, they would employ a type of guerilla warfare and harass them. Much like wolves unable to attack a herd of buffalo, they would look for weaknesses to exploit. They were an annoyance to the enemy and could slow down their progress.

Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe by Dennis Budd on DeviantArt

Who are your enemies?

We may not be fighting in a war, but we do have enemies in our lives. And like the 95th Rifles, our enemies like to employ skirmishers. Your enemies could be:

  • Viruses. Whether they are on your computer or in your body, they have one goal. Viruses look for points of weakness to exploit. Once they find the weakness, they can do their work of destruction.
  • Like the viruses attacking our bodies, we have addictions that wreak similar havoc. Sugar, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, and all the other ones that give you a temporary high in exchange for long-term, slow-growing problems like diabetes, liver/lung cancer, and all the other self-induced diseases.
  • And then there are other people. For some reason, they have their problems with you. They would like nothing better than to see you stumble in some sort of way. They want to find and exploit your weaknesses. To gain an edge, they will highlight your mistakes, sabotage your work, and spread rumors to sully your reputation.

The benefit of enemies

What can we learn from those who attack our weakest areas? Looking into the mirror, I often only see what I want to see. Somehow, I am less inclined to see the flaws. But if I look at a photograph, the story is different. My eyes noticed the flaws that were overlooked in the mirror. My posture, the way my gut hangs out, and the fit of my clothes can no longer be ignored by the bias of the mirror. Without the mirror, I would continue in my self-deception.

We tend to over-estimate our good points and look beyond our weaknesses. When we do this, we fail to fix the things that need fixing. Our enemies do not look at us through the mirror of self-deception but instead through the photograph. There are no filters to gloss over all the flaws and weaknesses. Once they know where to point their attack, they can hit us where it hurts. And while it does hurt, it also gives us an opportunity to grow. Now that we know what our weaknesses are, we can work in those areas and strengthen them. We should be grateful the enemy pointed this out. Without their help, we would continue in our delusion.

“Pay attention to your enemies,” said the Greek philosopher Antisthenes, “for they are the first to discover your mistakes.” To ignore them would be perilous. But to use them to your advantage would arm yourself against future attacks. Be grateful for the opportunity to grow. You can even take the high road and thank your enemies for pointing out these weaknesses. Who knows? You may even remove the reason why they are your enemies in the first place.

A Fruitful Mind

The dark soil. The kind you can see the richness of without even touching it. And when you do touch it, you can feel its potential. Imagine the years it took to get its composition. Whatever is planted in it would surely thrive.

Then there is the other soil. It is not perfect, but it is not bad either. It can be conditioned to maximize its potential. What you put into it will determine what you get out of it. It will take some work, but you can plant in it and still get good results.

Your mind is like the soil. Most of us are not born with the super-rich mixture, but what we do have is still good. We can condition it and add nutrients to it. And the more wholesome the nutrients, the higher the quality our minds become. You will be able to plant almost anything in it. Once it is planted, keep watering it. Give it plenty of sunshine and air. If those tender shoots start to wilt, fertilize it with some emotion. You are the farmer. It is your job to bring that seedling of hope into a fruitful reality.

Photo by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash

Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become reality.

Earl Nightingale

Peace Within

You can’t buy it. Somebody can wish it upon you, but that does not mean you will have it.

If you find that peace has departed from you, figuring out how to get it back is a must. What is it within you that is preventing you from having peace? Answer that question, and then you have the starting point to finding it.

At the end of the day, it is your actions that will make the difference. Do the right thing, and you will have peace. Do the wrong thing, and  you won’t have peace until you make amends.

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.

Constancy of Purpose

Success. We hear it all the time. We relate it to winning, which means a lack of success can be equated to losing. Everybody wants to be successful. Nobody wants to be a loser. What does it mean to win? A question like this we can agree on. What does it mean to be successful? That is a little trickier, and there is a good chance our definitions are going to be different.

There are many out there that will happily give you their secret to success. All you have to do is Google what you are interested in, find the experts, sign up to get on their email list, and then hurry up and pay for their limited-time offer into their next online course. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. If you want the shortcut to success, their way is the path that will get you there.

Photo by qi xna on Unsplash

But consider another alternative. Consider:

  • Stephen Curry shooting a basketball,
  • Mike Tyson throwing a punch,
  • Usain Bolt going out for a run, or
  • Lewis Hamilton taking another lap in the car.

Imagine the hours of repetition. Not just one day, but nearly everyday for years and years. There was a constancy of purpose to the skill they were trying to acquire. They didn’t rely solely on genetics or talent. They relied on work and on practice. When we watch them and are amazed by the ease with which they perform at the highest level, we only see the finished product. We don’t see what they did to get there. Their success on the grand stage underneath the bright lights was built when the world wasn’t watching.

There is a secret potion to success, but you won’t find it in a get-rich-quick type of scam. The potion is made of three parts: blood, sweat, and tears. These ingredients must be continually resupplied to the potion and cured over time. It is there if you want it. Best wishes!

Education…Incomplete…Always

One of the things that impressed me the most from the book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead by General Jim Mattis is that Marine officers are given assigned reading which must be completed before moving on to the next level.* If you spend a lifetime in the Marines, you will spend a lifetime learning about leadership and history.

What would happen if I chose to stop learning? Would I become the guy who could not adapt to the times, because I could not recall the past or prepare for the future? Would I become a dinosaur making way for the next dominant species?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Considering Asimov’s words that we are never finished with our education, I am reminded of so many others who have uttered similar words. It is imperative that we continue to learn. It doesn’t matter if it is formal or informal, there is so much waiting to be discovered and applied. We are never too old or too young. The only limitations we set on our studies are the ones we set on ourselves.

Gather as much knowledge as you can. From that knowledge, draw your correlations and seek understanding. From this comes wisdom. There is an unlimited supply to how much you can gather, but only if you are willing to make the effort.

*I am still reading this book and promise to return it to the owner as soon as possible.

Designing Happiness

When I get to this point in my life, then I’ll be happy. How many times have you told yourself that? And when you made it to that point, did it work out for you? Did you finally find happiness? Or, did you move your time for happiness to the next point in your life? You said you would be happy when you graduated, when you got a job, when married, had kids, on and on and on. It is as if happiness is some form of payment for completing a life step. But happiness is not currency, it is a state of being.

Is it well with my soul? This is the question you should ask yourself. If you can answer yes, then you might find yourself at peace. You might be happy. And if you answer no, then you must find a way to get there. Maybe you are not being loyal to your purpose in life. Or maybe, it is a skeleton still hanging around in the closet. Is what you envision matching up to reality?

There could be many reasons why you are not happy. If this is something you want, then you must be the chief architect of your happiness. This means designing the plans, making sure it is up to code (i.e. ethical), and then building it.

Give it a try. Along the way, you might realize that it is not about the end result but something that was there the whole time, that it was a state of being achieved by the process of doing.

Under Our Skins

I asked an old professor how it was my fault that someone else was getting under my skin. Epictetus, the great Stoic Philosopher, did not give me a direct reply, but he did give me an answer. How can someone dead for two millennia give me an answer? Am I a medium who converse with spirits?

The answer is both yes and no. No, I cannot communicate directly with the dead. I can speak with them, but sadly I never hear their voices. And though I cannot hear their voice, I can hear the spirit of the words they left behind. I’m reminded of what Ben Franklin said, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.” And the people I consult with, including Epictetus, managed to have their words passed down through the ages.

Any person capable of angering you becomes your master. They can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by them.

Epictetus was a slave for a good portion of his life. And though his master could possess his body, he was never able to possess his mind. I once heard a story about one torture session. Epictetus told his master that if he did not stop applying pressure to his leg, it would break. His master did not stop and broke the slave’s leg. What was Epictetus’s response? He simply told his master, “I told you so.” Consequently, Epictetus would be lame for the rest of his life.

It is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation.

The great Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, once wrote, “The best revenge is not to be like that.” [By the way, Marcus Aurelius studied Epictetus] What the emperor suggests is easier said than done. When we feel a perceived injustice, we want to strike back. We do this because of our  bruised egos. We feel that because we are grown adults, we do not have to endure this provocation from others. We must remember that the ideal adult practices self-control. If we can be goaded by another, it is really our own fault. It is a lack of self-control.

Whenever anyone criticizes or wrongs you, remember that they are only doing or saying what they think is right. They cannot be guided by your views, only their own…Say to yourself each time, “He did what he believed was right.”

Our puppy Rooster can be very frustrating. Sometimes he will get out and decide to explore beyond our property. If too close to the road, we will fear for his safety. All the other times, it is just annoying. Rooster’s concept of right and wrong is not based on maliciousness. Whenever he goes exploring, he is doing what he believes is natural. Next time he does this, I need to say to myself, “He is doing what he believed was right.” Maybe by doing this, I will be less annoyed.

If someone criticizes or wrongs you, this would be an idea to keep in mind. Chances are if the tables were reversed, you would hope they responded in a similar fashion. Too many social media battles are fought because there is no tolerance for a difference of opinion. If both parties feel they are right, you will most likely be unsuccessful in changing their viewpoint.

The cause of my irritation is not in this person but in me. -Anthony de Mello

Remember when Paul said, “The greatest of these was love.” * If someone is irritating us, let us not take it out on them. We allowed them to get under our skins. Instead we should treat them with love and get to work on ourselves. Do this, and they may not seem so irritable in the future.

*I Corinthians 13:13

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