Why do you want what you want?
Lots of people want more money, but they don’t necessarily have any specific thing they want to do with it. They just think having more of it will make them happy. Or maybe they do know what they want – or think they do. A nicer house. A new car. Exotic vacations. Fancier restaurants to frequent.
Lots of people what more recognition, but they don’t really know why. They envy famous people. They imagine what life might be like hearing applause or being chased for an autograph.
Everybody wants something. Everybody wants many somethings. We all want a lot of things.
Does that speak to our lack or our lack of gratitude? Or neither? Maybe it just speaks to our discontentment with whatever the status quo is. Warren Buffett is worth $87 billion, but he’s still working every day to achieve and amass more. And he’s giving away 99% of it so he’s not doing it to lavish anything on himself. Reports claim he lives a fairly modest lifestyle. Ridiculously modest by the standards you’d expect of somebody with his income. So why does he want more?
Why do you want more?
Because you don’t yet have it. And when you get it, it won’t be enough. Never is.
I’m gonna start by using LTW as a case study.
Leaning Toward Wisdom kinda sorta officially began on Tuesday, October 30, 2001, as a blog. But I was posting content online beginning in the fall of 1996 and using the moniker, “Leaning Toward Wisdom.” It was all done in HTML and the domain name wasn’t LTW. This was before I was domain name savvy. Proved by the fact that I didn’t register my own name domain until December 1999. It would be February 2005 before I’d snag LTW. I’m a slow learner.
Why did I want to start journaling (we didn’t call it blogging at the beginning) under the guise of LTW? I was approaching my 40th birthday when I began to chronicle things. Random things. I was all over the board. No focus. Just a bunch of scatter-shooting of thoughts, opinions and takes on whatever was on my mind. I had two kids in high school with my oldest having already turned 16.
I can’t remember why I wanted to do it at the very beginning. Maybe it’s because the next year I would turn 40. Maybe it’s because I could sense the high school days of my kids wasn’t going to last more than a couple of more years. I was operating a retail company and putting in the typical long hours required of running any multi-million dollar enterprise. Maybe the journaling was therapeutic. I’m certain it was, but I’m old now and can’t really remember all the details of the beginning. Give me a break, it was 21 years ago. The Internet was young and so was I (reasonably so).
Within a year I had put an audio file on my HTML site. No, it wasn’t podcasting. We didn’t yet know what that was. Keep in mind, Apple iTunes was launched on January 9, 2001. It would be about 3 years before the term podcasting would enter in 2004. But I do remember hearing about and reading about audio blogging. That’s what prompted some of my first audio files going up on my horrible website. Hard drive space was hard to come by, and drives were expensive…so no, I do not have those original files. When I abandoned that original website – which I can’t remember what it was because I didn’t keep any of those original sites – all the content went away. Probably a blessing. I’m sure the stuff was dreadful.
But the point is the question – why did I want what I wanted?
Expression? Brain dumping? Venting? Chronicling?
I suppose all those things were on my mind. I can tell you what was NOT on my mind. Building an audience. Only in my business endeavors did I really want to do that (for obvious reasons). Fast forward to the beginning of 2005 and I was much clearer in what I wanted. I registered the LTW domain name and started the podcast. WordPress wasn’t commonplace, but it was around. I found a local guy who did freelance web work on something called Expression Engine. It was a CMS like WordPress, but it was on the scene at least 2 years before WordPress. I think I spent a few hundred bucks to have the guy design me a site because I knew nothing about CMS and I wasn’t interested in continuing the old HTML strategy.
I like the design the guy gave me, but my blogging and audio blogging slowed to a crawl after I got the design in place. I was busy with work and family. I just didn’t have time to figure out how to pilot this stupid new web-based software. The site began to grow moss, weeds, and thorns. I had so wanted a new, snazzy design — or thought I did. Instead, I found myself reverting back to the analog world where I was writing in my notebooks.
Why did I want a new, cool design? Because I thought it would have the opposite effect. I thought if I had a site that was more captivating to ME, that I’d create more content. I still subscribe to that idea. In fact, whenever friends ask me for a bit of web help (no, I’m not a designer), I urge them to get a site that’s not perfect, but one they’re reasonably proud of — because they’ll be spending more time looking at it than anybody else. And in my experience, especially for folks just starting out with their first site, if people like their site they’ll spend more time pumping out content. It’s like the photographic evidence of our first child. We capture everything. By the time the second kid rolls in, we’re lucky if we pay much attention to all the small moments.
So I know some of the why’s, but not all of them. But I do know the important ones, I think. Mostly, by the time I was really approaching LTW with more strategic intention, I only cared about one thing. Chronicling ideas for my kids. By now I was 45 and my oldest child was 22. That’s very different than being 39 with an oldest child who is 16. And some important things had happened in those intervening years, too. I was about 5 years into a new role of leadership at church. I was still running a retailing company and I was pushing as hard as ever professionally. I’ve never been accused of lacking drive. 😉
But something was happening. The church work was taking priority. My kids were nearing the end of their college careers. I knew what was likely to happen next. Marriage. Launching their own careers and lives. And I knew we were close to emptying the nest. It wasn’t a mid-life crisis. I don’t feel I’ve ever experienced that. Mostly because it feels like every phase of my life has experienced some degree of “crisis.” 😀
Mortality is ever present. I’m weird. I get it. I think about subjects that depress others. Like death. It’s inevitable. Yours, too. (Sorry, did that come as a surprise?) 😉
But it started with a more positive, although for me depressing thought (because of what might have been) — what if our grandparents had been able to chronicle their lives? How cool would that be? But how sad, or angry, might you be if the technology had been available to your grandparents and they didn’t do it?
I was having these thoughts before the mobile revolution. Before everybody’s cell phone contained a great camera and mic. I was thinking like this when podcasting was harder, but totally doable – even for a non-techie.
And I’m a communicator. So it was deeper than an urge. It was more of a “I gotta do this” kind of a thing. So I did. Mostly to capture some things for my now grown up kids. Neither of them was married when I started. They’ve since both married and had kids of their own. Rhonda and I now have 5 grandkids – four boys and one girl. What began as a project mostly for my kids (and my wife, only in that when I’m gone – yes, that’s a metaphor for being DEAD) has now grown to expand 5 grandkids.
Along the way, you joined me somehow. I recruited you. Coerced you. Bribed you. Begged you. Or you naturally found LTW so entertaining, compelling, or disturbing that you couldn’t resist. Well, whatever the reason — I’m thankful. And appreciative. Thank you!
I knew what I wanted when I began. It’s changed a bit, but only because the tribe – my tribe – has increased. But I was clear at the outset why I was doing it. And Simon Sinek has made a career of being the guy most people think invented the one-word question, “Why?” It’s a great question and a better answer. I know my why with LTW.
I’ve known all along why I wanted to produce LTW. Like that Westie dog attacking that ice cream cone (the graphic for today’s show), I was clear about the reward. For myself. It was an entirely selfish endeavor. I wanted to pass on what I wanted to pass on. I didn’t ask my kids about it. Rhonda and I have never talked about it. Truth is, I’ve never asked any of them if they’ve ever listened to a single episode. I rather doubt they have. And that’s fine. I understand it. But I also know how people are when somebody dies. Photos, notes, and possessions that prior held not much meaning become very important. So it’s likely to go with LTW and that’s perfectly fine. Probably as it should be.
Like I said, there are many older folks I once knew – and many more I never was able to meet because they died before my birth (or my ability to remember) – who I wish I could hear speak. That thought of a grandfather or great grandfather (or mother) recording some thoughts on audio or video fascinates me. What a gift it would be, right? LTW is my gift to my family. You’re crashing our party and that’s cool.
Most people think about what they want in terms of jobs, incomes, and possessions. Increasingly, the younger generation is thinking in terms of experiences, too. But so do some older folks who love to travel. We want what we want. We just seem to rarely give deep thought as to why.
Why do you want THAT job and this one?
Why do you want to earn THAT amount of money?
Why do you want THAT car instead of the one you’ve got?
Why do you want to take THAT trip instead of some other trip? Or instead of staying home?
“Why?” is a great question. But one not always easily answered. The Westie wants ice cream for the same reason you do. It tastes great.
A year or so ago I was helping a fella out with some free counsel. Career counsel. He tossed out a number. The income he hoped to one day achieve. I asked him, “Have you ever earned that amount?”
“No,” he said. I dug deeper, “Have you ever earned anything close to that?”
“Why did you settle on that amount then?” I asked.
“I don’t know. It just feels like an amount that would be right,” he continued.
“Be right how?” He had now really piqued my curiosity how he had come to this specific annual amount.
“Oh, I don’t know. It just seems like a good amount that would give me the life I want,” he concluded.
Well, I couldn’t leave well enough alone so I continued to probe. For the next half-hour or so we talked with me pressing him with questions. Turns out other than a newer model car there wasn’t any specific motivation behind the number. His why turned out to be closely associated with his self-esteem. His perception of himself was that until he was able to earn that amount, he wasn’t as successful as he felt he should be. And it wasn’t based on his own views, but on how he perceived he stacked up to other people at his stage of life. He was busy comparing himself to others and he didn’t think he measured up or would measure up – until or unless he earned that amount.
As you might imagine that sparked even deeper conversation. I’ve talked lately about the hazards of that habit though so I won’t belabor it today. It’s largely what LTW4133 – the last episode – was about. Boy, it’s so easy to do though.
Within a few miles of where I live are many multi-million dollar houses. I don’t live in a multi-million dollar house. And for good reason. I can’t afford it.
All over town, I see big, foreign cars that any car guy (or gal) would love to drive (or own). Cars costing $80,000 or more are quite commonplace in Dallas/Ft. Worth. The most expensive car I’ve ever owned was about $32,000 and I thought that was ridiculous. Why? Because I can’t afford to drive an $80,000 or $100,00 car. I know guys who custom order Bentley’s – a quarter of a million bucks for a car! How do I stack up? Well, I’m not even in that deck of cards. These folks are playing chess while over here playing checkers.
Would it be fun to play chess? I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m not losing any sleep over it. Because I know something you may have yet learned. Not because I’m smarter, but I may be older. Much older. A man’s or woman’s worth isn’t measured in dollars. You know it’s true even though you may not always act like it. Or think like it.
Sure, a person’s value professionally can is mostly is measured in dollars. Warren Buffett is worth 83 or 87 billion because he has made many other people very wealthy. His investment acumen (and his equity position) warrant the money he earns. Ditto for every other business owner or CEO or Chairman. You may not think the CEO of Exxon/Mobil is worth $25 million a year, but if he can get it, then that’s what he’s worth. Dollar value is based solely on what people will pay. Nothing else. But dollar value is just one angle of the thing.
I’m confident to think LTW is a pretty decent piece of content. But there are no dollar values assigned because LTW isn’t a business. It doesn’t earn a dime. So does that mean it’s worthless? You tell me. It’s worth something to me. When I’m dead it’ll be worth even more to the people who love me.
So it goes.
Social media is terrific. I’ve always thought so.
Doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides. Most notably the drive behind why some people want what they want. The social media platforms often help drive people’s desires. Money, looks, trips, all the rest. It’s the consumerism that drives world economies. Buying stuff makes the world go round. Human nature isn’t going to disappoint though. People will always want to buy things they don’t yet have. Or better than what they currently do. Nothing inherently bad about that.
Wisdom is largely restraint. Self-control. It begins with controlling our thoughts, which drive our feelings and desires.
You see a friend post pictures of a trip overseas on Instagram. You think, “I’ve never been out of the country. Man, it would be so nice to go see Ireland.” And envy and morph quickly into jealousy. All the while thinking, “If we were doing better financially we could make a trip like that.” Funny thing is, we may have never thought about taking a such before seeing that Instagram post. That’s the downside of social media, but it’s not the medium’s fault. It’s our fault for being so out of touch with why we want what we want. And understanding if it’s even good for us.
Some weeks ago I was talking about this very thing with somebody and the talk turned specifically to dollars and what we’d do with extra money. It wasn’t about any specific amount of money. I know know what got it started. Maybe we talked about that person who won that big lottery or something. Who knows? I mentioned some specific things that I’d so with extra money. They were ridiculously simple, unsexy things. Things most people would scoff at.
A nice steak dinner with Rhonda. I don’t even care for steak, but she loves it.
A few house renovations. There’s always a few things that could use shoring up.
A piece of audio gear I don’t need.
That was about the extent of it. His wasn’t much better although it was a bit different than mine. What would your list look like? Suppose you got an extra $1,000 to do with as you pleased. How would you spend it? Why would you want what you want?
Look at my 3. A steak dinner because Rhonda would love it. House renovations because we could always use it. Audio gear for me because I enjoy it. I at least knew why I named the ones I named. I’m not saying they’re smart, or wise. Or that I might not change my mind if I had the money in hand. True fact. I’ve got a $10 bill tucked away in my wallet that I’ve had for almost a year! 😀
It’s not money that matters, but that seems to occupy us most. I get it. We all need it. Mostly, we feel like we need more. Why? Frankly, because so often times we need to stay up with the crowd. Which crowd? Our crowd. Whomever the crowd may be.
Significance. Respect. Love. Ability to help. Deep conversation. These are just a few things that I want. Why?
Here’s the punchline to the show. Because these are the things I value. Because they make me feel useful. And feeling useful means I’m making a difference. And making a difference feeds whatever beast lies within. For me – and I suspect for you, too – the fuel we most crave is whatever fills us up.
Some people are shopaholics. Shopping makes them feel better. It fills them. Sadly, it maxes out their credit cards, too. It’s destructive behavior attempting to fill a void it’s unable to fill. Like drugs or alcohol. Or any other destructive behavior. Short-term enjoyment or pleasure followed by the negative consequence that destroys us. Sometimes slowly. Sometimes not.
Some people are thrill chasers. I don’t understand rock climbers. I hate heights. Nothing about that activity speaks to me. I’ll watch it in amazement. But no thanks! They want it because they love everything about it. The risk is worth the reward because the value proposition is extraordinary for them.
We pursue and chase what we value. We want what we want because something about it is important to us.
Should we accept that at face value? No. There’s going to be some piece of audio gear I want. Always. Do I need it? Will it make a difference in my life? No. I can just imagine having it though and in that moment I can think, “That’d be nice.”
Would a few house renovations be nice? Sure. Some might even in time become necessary. It’s a much more practical want.
Would an expensive steak dinner be nice? Yes, for Rhonda. And if she’s happy, then I’m happier. And it’d likely be the cheapest of the 3 so I’m going with that one. 😀 (I’m nothing if not practical)
Largely I think these ideas are worth considering because it boils down so often to what do I want for myself versus what do I want on behalf of others. It’s the lead that I buried all show long, until now. The why is an important question, but maybe the bigger one is the pronoun contained in the question. Why do YOU want what YOU want?
Well, because it’s all about YOU, right? No, it’s about ME. Wait a minute. Who is this about? We all think – or know – we’re the most important person on the planet. The old adage about WII-FM is true. It’s the station we all have on our preset. What’s In It For Me.
If you think that Westie is gonna share that ice cream, then you don’t know Westies very well. Or any dog. Or any human. We’re all largely selfish. Yes, even those of us chasing significance and other things that appear so noble. Maybe they’re not noble at all. Maybe they’re supremely selfish.
Think about it. Significance is a pretty big thing. Who’s significance am I worried about? Not yours. I’ve got my own to fret over. 😀 Don’t get me wrong. I hope you are significant. Maybe better said, I hope you feel significant. But I don’t care about yours as much as I do mine. Besides, I figure you’re worrying about your own so I don’t have to. I just want you to worry about mine, with me! So it goes.
Seriously, it’s probably wise to question why we want what we want. And to ask ourselves what’s being accomplished if we get it. Or what we’ll miss if we don’t. There’s empirical evidence that when it comes to income we migrate back to some type of set point within a short period of time. We think the big raise will solve all our problems. Only to find within a few short months that those problems persist. The more things change the more they remain the same.
Maybe the elephant in the room is found in a single word we’ve not even talked about – contentment.
Let me just say that some people shouldn’t be themselves because — well, they’re royal jerks. Or worse. Some of us need to do some heavy lifting before we embrace being ourselves. Growth, improvement, and transformation are ongoing processes, but for some of us — these need attention so we can become decent human beings first. Thankfully, I’ve got a head start in that department. You, too – I hope. 😀
I’ve talked quite a lot in previous episodes about my conviction that deep down inside we’re all still the 10-year-old (or pick any other young age you’d like) version of ourselves. Over at Year Of The Peer Podcast, we just interviewed Angela Maiers. She’s in education and is among many teachers, a rock star. Appropriately so, because she argues that our schools are broken. Yep, she’s part of that choir singing at the top of their lungs how we need to drag our schools into this new century because we’re ruining our kids by failing to arm them with what they need to excel as they grow up. Yes, I agree with her premise and message. Angela said research has found that between the ages of 4 – 6 something happens to children. They begin with high curiosity and other advantages. By the time they’re 6 we’ve beaten them down into conformity and competition. She argues we need to be serving our kids to understand the value of connection and collaboration. Kids need a degree of boredom so they can embrace their creativity. Go visit Year Of The Peer if you’d like to watch that interview with me and Leo Bottary.
Well, that got me thinking about this notion of being myself — and you being yourself. Because I kept thinking about that 4-year-old who is himself or herself. But in the short span of 2 years, something happens to cause that child to be somebody else. I’m not saying it’s empirical proof that has universal appeal. I suspect some kids take longer and some just refuse to join the herd. But most probably fall into line in some sense. We learn to conform. We learn that the teacher requires us to give certain answers or we don’t score well. And as Angela points out, we reward the kids who simply figure out how the system works – the regurgitation of facts.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Sir Ken Robinson who preaches a similar message. The creativity and passion that seems so natural in our young children are quickly extinguished as they go deeper into school. His 2006 TED talk entitled, Do Schools Kill Creativity? has been viewed almost 50 million times. I’m a student of public speaking and I’ll argue (successfully) that it’s the best 20-minute speech ever. I’ve done my part to contribute to the view count on that video.
This past Saturday my grandson Easton had his first rookie ice hockey session. This is where the little kids get their first taste of ice hockey to figure out if they even want to play. He already knows he wants to play. He has his own gear so he’s ready to go. And he can already skate.
Will he love it. I don’t know. He doesn’t know. But if he does, we’ll encourage him. And if he doesn’t, we’ll support him. At this stage, it’s about trying stuff. Naturally, he’s trying this because his dad (my son) plays and loves it. I suspect Easton will, too. But it’s important for him to be who he is. We just want him to be the best version of himself possible. Mostly, as a human being.
Dave Barnes, the artist whose music you should support, went to college to further his drum playing skills. While there he got into the guitar. Proof that it can take some time to truly figure out what it is to “be yourself.” He ended up in Nashville thinking he just wanted to write songs for other artists. But he was encouraged to put his own voice behind his songs and here he is, releasing a brand new album.
Let me tell you partly why his title song to the new record so resonates with me. As I’ve grown older I’ve discovered how difficult it is to not only be myself but to know myself. Yesterday in a conversation with a lifelong mentor who is over 20 years older than me, he said, “I can say anything I want and not worry about it. I’m old.” I confess I’ve been feeling more and more like that in the last few years. If I don’t harness, there’s no telling what the next 20 years may sound like. 😀
So today, it’s about knowing yourself and being yourself. But perhaps we should give some attention to a step in between those two: improving ourselves. Leaning Toward Wisdom is largely dedicated to that process. Modern tales of an ancient pursuit are only useful if we can apply what we learn. Many people are disinterested in changing. No interest in growth or improvement. No desire to be nudged or pushed. Certainly no desire to be held accountable.
Rhonda and I celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary (it was actually January 2nd, but I got the flu and we had to postpone our celebration). We went to Natchitoches, Louisiana. I spent quite a few years growing up in Shreveport and Baton Rouge. I’ve probably spent close to 15 years as a citizen of Cajun Country. I love many things about it. And Natchitoches is the oldest city in the Louisiana Purchase, dating back to 1714. Rhonda had never been to this quaint little town on the Cane River (now an oxbow lake).
If you ever visit the Deep South and look at pre and post Civil War history of the area you’re struck by many thoughts. It can’t be helped unless you’re a heartless, stone-hearted person. Visiting plantations is always interesting for us since we both enjoy history. On this trip, we visited a few that we hadn’t visited before.
As you walk the grounds of the Oakland Plantation on the Cane River you go back in time imaging the life of these people – both white and black. Free and slave. Still standing are a few of the houses where slave family dwelled. Mostly single room cabins with large overhanging front awnings to protect them from the rain and sunshine. A single fireplace to provide heat and a place to cook. An entire family making due with one common space. Working from daylight until dark in the fields farming tobacco or cotton. Laborious work. An arduous grind. Day after day. The same thing. No doubt finding pleasure in the simplest of things within their control. Music. Stories. No, LTW isn’t like that, except we embrace the fundamental strengths of human character. Song and story.
As we walked around surveying the acreage, the buildings and the magnificent live oak trees covered in Resurrection Ivy we couldn’t help but think of our lives. And how blessed we are. To be free. To be living in America and other places around the world where safety and opportunity abound. But we thought of these poor people who lived long ago and walked on these very grounds. Enslaved. Unable to be themselves in the truest sense. Forced to be where they didn’t want to be, unable to decide so many things for themselves. But what else were they to do, but to play the hand they’d been dealt? I’m sure some were more resilient than others. And I rather suspect that, at least among their own, they were able in some small ways to be who they really were. I wonder about the slaves who were funny, providing humor for their brethren and the ones who were musicians, providing solace and levity for the group. I wonder of the best storytellers who sat the kids down in the evening to make sure they knew from whence they came. And I rather suspect there quite a few older, wise heads who shared life’s insights with upcoming generations.
We visited the Melrose Plantation, a place dating back to 1832. It’s one of the largest plantations in America built by and for free blacks. That’s because the founder of the place was the son of a freed slave mother who made good as a businesswoman. A remarkable feat considering the time. It’s a more pleasant place because of that history and because the last grand matron of the place, Cammie Henry, was a patron of preservation, restoration, and the arts. She hosted artists of the early 1900’s. These included writers and painters. But the most famous painter of Melrose wasn’t a guest, but an employee. A cook named Clementine Hunter who arrived at the plantation as a 12-year-old. Her parents were sharecroppers who moved to Melrose. Clementine worked alongside them in the fields until she was hired to become the housekeeper, then the cook. That’s when he discovered something about herself she’d not known before. A guest of Cammie’s patronage had left behind some paints that Clementine discovered. She didn’t know how to read or write, or paint. But she taught herself to paint. And somebody showed her how to sign CH on the bottom of each work.
Her family was Creole. Creole is that mixture of African, Spanish, French and Indian – particularly the Caddo Indians of this area of the state. She was born about 20 years after the Civil War, but her grandparents were slaves. She was about 52 when she discovered those paints. The folks at Melrose say she produced some 6,000 pieces of art. The art is primitive, but it tells a story and provides insights into what life was like during Clementine’s time. Proof that even at a ripe, older age we may discover important things about ourselves – things that may be the largest part of our legacy and significance.
Knowing is the first part, but the bigger part for me has been discovering. Does it occur to you that you may be like Clementine before she was 52 and discovered those paints left behind by a New Orleans’ artist who had stayed at bit at Melrose?
What if that painter hadn’t left those paints behind? What if Miss Clementine hadn’t found them? What if she hadn’t put them to any use? So many circumstances seem to have fallen “just right.” Is life so fragile that who we really are – or who we would be – is discovered merely by chance? Surely not. Hopefully not.
Discovering is tough work. When we were in Natchitoches last week, seeing the history and thinking about it…I asked a person at one of the national historical facilities why Natchitoches was the oldest city in the Louisiana Purchase? Of all the places one might think would be older, you wouldn’t think someplace so far inland would be the place. Turns out the Caddo Indians were friendly and supportive. So both the French and the Spanish, who weren’t friendly with one another, found common friends in the Caddo. And except for one battle, Natchitoches never experienced conflict. Trade and business happened during colonial times freely. And the waterway was dependable all the way to New Orleans.
How many places do you suppose those earliest colonizers went where conditions just weren’t so favorable though. Discovery is hard. But when those earliest explorers and settlers discovered this particular area, they found favorable conditions. Sorta like Clementine finding those paints. And they knew how to make the most of it, which is important.
A few days ago Johnny Manziel was interviewed on Good Morning, America where he revealed he’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He stormed through a spectacular college football career at Texas A&M culminating in a Heisman trophy. But his wheels came off. Discovery of the talent wasn’t enough because Johnny Football didn’t know how to harness it and take advantage of it. He’s currently trying to work his way back into the NFL. Time will tell if he can make it. There are too many stories of talented people who discovered something important in themselves – a skill, a talent, or something else – but they couldn’t leverage it well.
Before we start tossing rocks at Johnny Football, I suspect we’ve all got our share of stupid mistakes, dumb decisions and self-awareness shortcomings. Yes, he behaved with ridiculous foolishness. Made worse because we saw such potential being squandered. But what about our own potential?
What about YOU? What have you discovered about who you are? What do you wonder about yourself? Do you ever wonder if you might be a natural at something you’ve never yet attempted?
Imagine going through life never having tried to write, paint, sing, play an instrument, sell something, build something, fix something, manage something…whatever. I’m rather certain Clementine wouldn’t have attempted painting had those paints not been discovered. She likely never thought about being a painter even though she was cooking for some who were guest of the plantation.
Cammie Henry was the patron of Melrose who would invite artists to come live on the plantation without financial obligation. But she did have two conditions: 1) perform your craft and 2) each evening sit down at a table together with the other guests and with the hostess, Cammie Henry (where you’ll update the group on your progress and let the others know what you’re working on). Clementine, as the cook, probably never thought she’d be among the ranks of these creatives. Much less that she’d achieve notoriety greater than most of them.
It’s the “what might have been” dilemma that demonizes many of us. Regret. At not having tried something. But I’m not going to encourage you to get vexed by it all because we’re all a product of so many aspects of our upbringing. Easton, my grandson, is beginning to play hockey. That’s because his dad does. But what if my son, Easton’s dad, were into soccer? Don’t you suppose soccer would be what Easton would mostly want to play? Of course!
I know that’s not always the case, but often it is. There are so many musicians I admire who grew up in a family where music was played – and not on a stereo, but on instruments. Does that have anything to do with why I’m not driven – and never have been – to play music, but I’ve been obsessed with listening to it, knowing about the creation of it and learning more about the people who create it and perform it. But nobody in my family had that obsession. I don’t know why that became so important to me, or why I found such enjoyment from it.
Do you prefer vanilla or chocolate milkshakes? Why? Exactly. You don’t know why. And you could no more offer an explanation of why than you could explain why you like blue over green. It is what it is.
But we’ve got to be able to do something positive with all this. But what?
I’ve found that going back to childhood passions often is key. We’ve talked about this a number of times. I’ve not found anything more significant in my own quest to discover more about myself. Namely, are there things you loved as a child that you still love? Things that you’ve not stopped loving all these years?
It’s not foolproof, but it’s a start. And it can spark deeper thoughts as we try to figure out more insights about ourselves and who we are, and what we might be naturally great at. But there’s an elephant in the room we’ve not yet addressed. What we do isn’t necessarily truly who we are. Our occupation, income or other s0-called barometers of life don’t always accurately depict who we really are, or even what may be our greatest potential.
Let me pick on myself in hopes you can learn some things about yourself. And let me be clear. I’m still on the steep learning curve of trying to figure out who I am. It’s hard to be yourself. Harder when you may not fully know who you really are.
I’m naturally wired in certain ways. So are you.
The Internet has provided, for the first time in the history of mankind, a vast array of comparisons. Mankind has always had a problem with comparing ourselves to others. Mostly, comparing ourselves with people who appear better than us. Richer. More accomplished. Smarter. Whatever other e-r’s may exist. It makes our lack leap out, smack us in the face and make us feel inadequate. Worse yet, a loser!
You do know that there are likely more lies on the Internet than truth though. Don’t you? Headlines like this one abound Instagram vs. Reality: How People Lie About Their Lives with Photos. There’s lots of Tom-foolery. And Photoshopping.
The cumulative impact of all these lies is profound. The sheer volume of fiction can make us feel like we’re in The Matrix where everybody gets it, but us! Let me be the voice in your ears telling you, there is no Matrix. But there is plenty of lying going on. Plenty of folks working hard to put on a façade in order to fool others. Do not join them. You’re tempted to spin it, make yourself seem to be something or somebody you aren’t. And that kids is why we can all truthfully say, “Who knew it would be so hard to be myself?”
I know. So do you.
Last June (2017) CNBC’s website published a post about how much the average American has saved for retirement. You’d think everybody has done what the experts (including the one cited in this article) say we all should do. For instance, by the age 50 you should have saved 5 times your annual salary. Yet each year we continue to read stats of how little most American families have saved. According to that article, “In fact, the vast majority of Americans have under $1,000 saved and half of all Americans have nothing at all put away for retirement.” But it doesn’t feel that way because of all the lying that goes on. And because all that glitters ain’t gold. Many Americans are living opulent lives while swimming in debt. And others are quietly living modest lives with a million dollar net worth. So it goes.
This illustrates how deception and delusion can impact us. These inaccurate comparisons affect us whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. They can make us feel certain emotions about ourselves. They can jade our view of ourselves. Make us wish we were something we’re not – and often times, something we could never be. Because the people of comparison aren’t US. No wonder it’s tough to be yourself…you can hardly know yourself well enough to be your true self.
And we’ve not even talked about the influences and pressures put on us to be something we’re not – or something we don’t really want to be. Too many people surround us with “you should” advice. Easy for them to live our lives for us. They don’t have to live in our head and endure the outcomes of their advice. We do. But ask any therapist and they’ll likely tell you that “people pleasing” is a widespread affliction suffered by many. Who knew it would be so hard to be myself?
What a gift to be among people who can and will truly help us discover, know and be ourselves. I can’t prove it, but it feels like that’s rare. Extraordinarily so. And I don’t know why. Well, that’s not quite right. I do know why. People love to judge other people. We love to criticize and act like we’re wiser, smarter and better looking. 😉
Fact is, we’re all afraid. We’re all suffering. We’ve all got problems. Being oneself isn’t about hiding those things. Nor is it about being highly dramatic about them. It’s about being mature, and grownup. It’s handling whatever life throws at us with a resolve and acceptance that we’re going to do our best — and then doing our best (a tough enough chore).
I’m a business guy, but I’m never going to be like Jeff Bezos, or Elon Musk, or Mark Zuckerberg. It’s easy to accept that for most business people because those guys are in the stratosphere. It’d be like a basketball player aiming to be like Lebron and feeling like a failure if he couldn’t. Such dreams seem unreasonable to us because we know our limitations. Yes, Virginia, your dreams have limits because your talents and opportunities do, too.
But I’ll go you one better. I’m never going to be like Randall L. Stephenson (AT&T CEO), or James Quincey (CEO of Coke), or Mary Barra (Chairman and CEO of General Motors). It’s not going to happen. It was never going to happen. I didn’t get the right education from the right schools or have the career path necessary for such things. And you know what, in spite of the multi-million dollar salaries and opulent perks…I’d be miserable in any of those roles because I’m too idealistic and my philosophies are completely incongruent with the skills vital to success in those roles. It doesn’t make me better or less than them. It makes me different. Who knew it would be so hard to be myself?
What comparisons are killing you? What pressures and influences are hindering you? What would you do or attempt if you could block out all the noise and distractions? What would you like to pursue that you’re not pursuing? What’s stopping you? Don’t just ask the questions. Answer them.
Let’s cycle back around to those limits. My grandson Easton just turned 5. I don’t know what his limits are, but he has them. He’ll have to figure them out as he continues to mature. He’s going to have a natural aptitude for some things, and not others. And he’s going to figure out what he loves most. And what he hates. To find his “element,” he’ll need to find the place where those two things intersect. If he puts in the work, tries many different things and refuses to let others impose discouragement on him – he’ll find it. I pray he does. I pray all my grandkids do. It doesn’t mean he’ll play in the NHL one day. Maybe he’ll play hockey like his dad well into his adult years…at a local ice rink with his buddies. And it’ll put a smile on his face and feed an inner passion simply because he loves the game. Nothing wrong with that!
Maybe he’ll stumble on it like Clementine did and find that he’s got a passion for art, or writing, or math, or engineering. It’ll be something that comes naturally and easy to him. And he’ll love it. And it will change everything. And if he’s strong-willed to ignore the world’s naysaying and the comparisons that will be imposed on him, he’ll find success that will be enough for him to be himself. Unfettered to try to be somebody else. It’ll be hard, but we’re going to do everything in our power to teach him, encourage him and train him to accept nothing less.
Other than 55 years, what’s the difference? I’ve had to withstand 55 more years of the world screaming in my ears, flashing before my eyes, and harping at me to look at what somebody is doing, or who they are. But just like Easton, none of that matters except for the value I put in those empty, empty things. And sometimes I do. And that kids, is the answer to the other question, “Why is it so hard to be myself?”
Who cares why it’s so hard. It’s doable. Our job is to find a way to ignore the noise and do it anyway. Because this is our life and nobody else is going to live it for us, even though many will try.
P.S. I posted this photo on Facebook on March 13, 2016. I still feel this same way, but who knew it would be this hard just to be myself?