I was arrogant. Pompous even. And I messed up big time.
I hurt a close friend and it was entirely my fault. Worse yet, I didn’t mean to hurt him. I was honestly concerned.
For sometime I’ve tried to make sense of some observations I had made about my friend. Something was different, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. He’s got mad skills. He performs. I’ll just leave it at that. His performances over the past few years didn’t seem quite up to par with the ridiculously high standards I’d seen in years past. It baffled me.
A guy who was smooth, polished and always on top of his game seemed to struggle at time. It just wasn’t the same and I was perplexed. To be fair, his performances were still very good, but he was special. The performances too frequently weren’t.
I set about to examine lots of the performances. And there it was. Something different. No idea what it was exactly though. The signs were evident. Struggling here. A little bit there. Was he just tired? Beaten down? It happens. To all of us. Even him.
Like most, I try to make sense of the world. It’s a habit that’ll drive a sane man crazy. Once, long ago, I was sane.
I was searching to connect some dots because I cared deeply about this guy. Enter my big problem. Arrogance of heart.
Some people approach life with more rational thought than emotional. I have mostly felt like I could measure both rational thought and emotion, but I’m very heart driven. It helps me empathize with people more than most. It helps me relate to many people. This time, it got me into hot water. A big hot mess.
I went looking for answers because I was worried about my friend. I made inquiry with a joint friend. He had some insights that I lacked and almost instantly I connected some dots. “Yes, that’s it,” I felt. Thinking I had spotted the source of the changes, and believing they weren’t positive, I wrestled with what to do. For days. And nights. I anguished about it, as I am wont to do.
I started writing an email draft. Only because my email program was open and my word processor wasn’t. It got quite long and I wondered how to best approach this. I’m sitting here staring at a few mics and audio gear, why not record a message? Yes. That’s a great idea. That way I can say it the way I want and he’ll hear it the way I intend.
Enter another big problem. I acted on my arrogance of heart. It’s one thing to be arrogant of heart. It’s something worse to act on it. I should have gone into a corner until the mood passed. Or climbed into bed and ducked my head under the covers. It would have been a wiser choice.
But that’s not what I did. If I’m anything, it’s proactive. I don’t tend to sit idly by. I tend to seize the moment. Those who claim living by carpe diem is the way to go haven’t likely lived by that motto as much as I have. I can tell you it often doesn’t work. It’s more likely that the day will not just seize you, but it’ll grab you by the throat, kick you in the groin and leave you on the ground wishing you were dead. But still I try. To seize the day. The moment. Make a difference.
And that’s the arrogance. I see it everywhere. People who claim, and others who actually feel, that they’re world changers! Like Pinocchio giving that motivational speech in the Geico commercial, they want to think they can make a big difference. And they can. But the arrogance is the belief that the big difference can always be positive. Or that it can be widespread. I know, I often suffer from it.
But I’m learning. Well, I’m leaning. Toward wisdom. The problem is leaning and learning require effort, pain and suffering. You don’t think so?
How many skinned knees did you suffer learning to ride a bike?
How many sore finger tips did you suffer learning to play the guitar?
How much suffering did you endure learning calculus?
I didn’t say it couldn’t also be fun or rewarding, but there’s some pain. You best make up your mind you’re going to endure the pain or you’ll never grow.
There’s a different kind of pain though when it’s your idiocy. It’s one thing to learn to ride a bike. It’s something else – far more idiotic – to learn to ride a bike off the roof into a swimming pool.
I recorded an audio of my concerns. I uploaded it to the cloud and sent my friend a short email telling him how much I cared about him. I decided to ride the bike off the roof into the swimming pool. An empty swimming pool.
I didn’t break any bones, but I almost broke my friendship. It didn’t go well. At all.
I spoke from my heart. I was emotional. I was concerned. My friend was moved. He was confident I cared about him. But he didn’t agree with me. And I could tell it hurt him.
So I apologized. And meant it. It’s something carpe diem taught me years ago. I have no trouble making amends. I’m quick to apologize. And I’m not one of those characters who does the same thing, always apologizing for it. No, I’m much smarter than that. I never make the same mistake twice. I’m ingenious in my ability to find brand new ways to mess up. My imagination for creating new problems knows no bounds. I rather crafty like that.
I fell on the sword. Then I fell it again. And again. I felt awful. On many fronts. I felt badly that I observed a decline in performance. It was true, but I still regret it. Yes, I did (and still do) feel my friend’s performances in earlier years trumped more recent ones. I felt badly for connecting dots. Dots that my friend felt didn’t exist. So not only did I draw lines between dots, but I was drawing lines between imaginary dots. See, I told you I was crafty.
So today, I’m sitting in the corner with my dunce cap on hoping you’ll learn from my foolishness. Hoping to help you lean toward wisdom where I failed to. And I’m hoping I’ll learn, too.
So here are my learning points.
Yes, I had honestly studied and observed a difference in my friend’s performances. I still stand by that. He doesn’t agree and that doesn’t make me right. He thinks his performances are as good as ever. I think he’s losing confidence (he’s admitted as much) and it shows (he thinks he’s good as masking it, and he is).
My hopes that he would see what I see failed. Proof positive that my opinion is worth exactly what he paid for it. Nothing. He didn’t ask for my insights. I had no right to speak.
Here’s the odd thing. I’m not a person driven to always share my opinion. In fact, I’m only driven to share my opinion with my closest friends. Standing around a conversation circle where people are chiming in about how they feel about a subject has little or no impact on me. I’m not compelled to chime in most of the time. I’m rather content, in those circumstances, to watch and listen to everybody else.
I’m not excusing my arrogance to speak my opinion. There is no excuse. However, I am aware – self aware – that my opinion does sometimes drive me to share concern with close friends.
We mostly believe we’re right when it comes to our opinions. That’s why we have our opinions. I don’t know anybody who holds an opinion because they don’t believe it’s right, or true. But all of us know other people who hold an opinion counter to ours. We think they’re wrong. Not us. Well, we can’t all be right. Sometimes, we have to admit we’re wrong.
Have I changed my mind about my friend’s performance? No. But again, that doesn’t mean my observations are correct. I could be deluded noticing something that isn’t there. I’ve quantified what I’ve observed. I’ve noticed very specific changes. But it’s possible my vision is blurred, my perceptions foggy.
We all know people who will share their opinions with anybody, anywhere, anytime. I’m not that guy. This was a close friend. Somebody I really care about.
I always ask, “Who am I?” But this time I didn’t take the time to answer it properly. I should have spent more time thinking about that, but I didn’t. I let my emotions rule the moment. My heart felt concern drove me to do something I now regret.
Do you feel like you can make a positive difference in any situation? Do you feel like there’s always something you can do? Me, too.
Yet I know – my rational mind understands it clearly – that there are many situations beyond my control or influence. Still I try. It’s the fallacy of that carpe diem.
Maybe it’s my competitive nature. I hate to lose. I’m not talking about a friendly game of volleyball or cards. I’m talking about more important things. I hate losing a sale. A customer. A friend. I don’t surrender easily. Sometimes I don’t leave well enough alone.
It’s the arrogance of thinking I can make a difference, but sometimes I can’t. Does that plague you sometimes? Do you examine things and wonder how you might be able to affect change? Yeah, me, too.
Lesson learned though is that I may not be the right guy for this particular job. If I needed new flooring in my house (and I do in some places), I would never attempt that job because I’m unqualified. Why then do I feel qualified to tackle other problems? Because I sometimes lean away from wisdom instead of toward it. Sometimes, I’m an idiot.
I never do it unless I believe I’m right. But that’s not the point – not for today’s lessons. The real question is, “Who am I?” Who indeed.
Well, in this case I was a close friend. That confused me. It made me feel an obligation to help, to support. And lest you get the wrong idea, I didn’t just criticize my friend. I lifted him up. I did it clearly, too. He even acknowledged that he wasn’t worthy of the confidence I had placed in him. Well, I think he’s wrong. See, there I go again…thinking I’m right and he’s wrong. 😀
He admitted some admiration for the performances of some other people, people who are inferior (in my opinion) to his own natural ability. I likened it to him being a real hundred dollar bill, but admiring the qualities of the counterfeit hundred dollar bills in the market. He knows I think he’s a terrific talent. That was entirely my point.
But my point got lost. Instead, I inadvertently cut my friend’s pride. And my own throat.
Patience is a virtue. We’ve all heard it. We know it’s true. Why then do we violate that law? When I find out, I’ll tell you.
All I know now, that I may not have known before, is that I falsely believed patience would allow my friend to continue to experience a slide in performance as he mimicked some things he admired in lesser performers. I felt he would continue to do things that I thought would hurt him. Again, arrogance. And I didn’t really try to let it go. Mostly, because I care about him, or so I said to myself.
I’m not him. I’m not living his life. He’s an adult fully capable of doing his own thing. If he wants to change some things, that’s his business. I should have let it go. I should have told myself that it’s just my opinion and my view isn’t more important than his.
So what if I feel his performances aren’t as sharp as in the past? He feels good about them. I didn’t know that until I created this mess though. I learned a lot after the fact. Too late. And that results in another lesson.
This is a big lesson. Rather than dive into what I was seeing, or what I thought I was seeing…I should have just talked with him and asked him how he felt about things. I purposefully avoided that though because I didn’t want to put him on the spot. And I didn’t want him to see my questions as, “You think something is wrong with my performance?” I just didn’t know how to go about it, but I should have figured out a way.
As I have done a postmortem on this debacle I’ve thought about how I could have found out how he felt without doing what I did. I still don’t have an answer. I’m sure one is hiding somewhere. Probably in plain sight.
If you can just engage in meaningful (and that’s the operative word) conversation, do it. I wasn’t smart enough to figure out how so I skipped this step. Don’t let your own stupidity get in your way like I did.
It’s the famous Seinfeld episode where George gets a dose of his own medicine. A girl breaks up with him using a line that is his signature move, “It’s not you, it’s me!”
True confession. You know why I suck at cold calling? Sure, I hate it, but that’s the real reason. I’m bad at it because I’m too arrogant. I think, “There’s got to be something I can do better.” I assume control where there likely isn’t any.
I’ve long known this about myself. In fact, one time I had an opportunity to become a Vistage chair. I thought it was something that would be right up my ally. My skillset and experience was ideal, or so I thought. Part of the process, as with many organizations, involves various assessments. Suspecting that cold calling was an important activity, I noticed some questions were designed to flesh out a person’s propensity to do it. Rather than answering what I thought they wanted, I answered honestly. My thought process was pretty clear at the time. If they really want somebody wired for that, then I just need to be true to who I am and not try to be something I’m not.
If I cold call people and get shot down, I’m going to think about how I can do it better the next time. That’s an awful habit for cold calling demons. Great cold callers will learn, but they just go in knowing it’s a numbers game. Rejection doesn’t mean they need to learn anything. They just keep dialing.
I don’t take rejection personally, but I’m such a control freak – and I’m too arrogant to surrender to the thought that there’s NOTHING I can do to affect a better outcome – that I’m going to work harder the next time to find a better way. That’s counter productive in the cold calling world. Great cold callers just make the calls fast and furious. It’s not work for the faint of heart, or for people wired like me – people who think there’s some way to get a “yes.” I own my performance too much sometimes.
For me, it’s all about relationships. Even in business, I’m not transaction driven. I don’t even involve myself in transaction oriented enterprise. It’s not who I am. That’s why client or customer loyalty is THE thing for me.
That’s what I mean when I say, it really is the other guy sometimes. That’s likely the biggest lesson of it all for me. I’m not in control. It’s not my decision. All I can do is what I can. I’ve got to leave the rest without fretting about it. So this point is really about moving on! Just move on. Forget about it.
ACE. And I mean that in a bad way. Dom Irerra did a comedy bit a long time ago, “I Don’t Mean That In A Bad Way.” He said it was an Italian disclaimer enabling the person to get away with saying anything.
Well, arrogance, control and ego…I do mean it in a bad way. How could it not be bad? Easy. I’ll give you common synonyms.
Arrogance = Self Confidence
Control = Taking Charge
Ego = Ambition
So I guess they can be good or bad, depending on the context and intention. Today, I’m using them in a context that isn’t good. Don’t ask me to define the line for you ’cause I can’t. At what point does confidence become arrogance? When does taking charge morph into control issues? What prompts ambition to become a problem?
All good questions. Somebody wiser than me has to provide us with the answers.
All I know is that in this particular instance, with my dear friend, I let all 3 of these converge into something dreadful. In my arrogance I thought I could and should provide some clarity and advice. My sense of control led me to believe I could affect some positive change. My ego convinced me I was the person for the job. Three big problems. The trifecta of blithering idiocy.
I never did claim to be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I did claim to be a knife. Today, I’m not sure. I’m feeling more like a spoon today. And not just any spoon.
Have you ever had a spoon go into the garbage disposer? I did. Just recently. It made the spoon unserviceable. There are some gashes in the spoon that will tear your lips up if you get that spoon by mistake. I did that yesterday morning when I used it to eat my yogurt. For the umpteenth time I thought, “Why do we continue to wash this thing and put it back in the drawer?” I guess we’re looking at that spoon like I look at myself today. We’re thinking it’s not that bad. And it’s not. Until we pull it out of the drawer and use it.
That’s how my brain is these days. It’s fine. Until I decide to use it. Fool that I am. I didn’t realize I’d slipped into the garbage disposer of life and damaged it.
Time for some sandpaper. Time to smooth out the rough edges. Time to lean harder toward wisdom. And nothing will do that like a big dose of humility. I know. Because today, I’m humbled. And I won’t soon forget it. Hopefully, my friend will.
Linda Dee posted this on Google + and it properly depicts my performance. I intended to hit that large bag, but I missed. Woefully.
My obituary is already written. No, I’m not dying. Well, no more than most people. Daily we’re all dying. Bit by bit. Some of us more so than others.
I don’t remember when I first created a Word document entitled, “When I Die.” One day I created it and sat down to write down out what I wanted to happen when I die. There wasn’t a circuit breaker moment that caused me to consider my mortality. I’ve considered my mortality all my life. I also consider the mortality of my loved ones, mostly my wife.
If you’ve listened to or read my stuff you know I’m a Christian. I’m trying to be a devout Christian. We can all do better and I need to try harder. It’s the never ending quest. A process.
Part of my Christian faith – a big part – focuses on the Judgment. The fact that there is an eternity, a life beyond this one, changes everything about my perspective about this life. And about death.
I can’t separate my faith from thoughts of my death. Or from thoughts of anybody’s death.
Hebrews 9:27 “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.”
Before Judgment comes death. Death is ever present. It’s in the news. Movies and books show it often. Some of the most impactful stories use it as a centerpiece. But when it comes to our death we grow queasy. Death is a better spectator sport.
Robin Williams’ death raised all kinds of speculation and commentary. Mental health, Parkinson’s disease, suicide, depression and all sorts of conversations ensued after Robin took his own life. I was thinking of death long before. Not because I’ve got any knowledge of failing health, but because I know it’s an appointment that we’ll all meet.
My current Word document shows it was created on Monday, July 7, 2008 at 10:00 PM. I’m uncertain if that’s when I first created such a document, but maybe it’s right.
I grew up attending funerals of church members. Singing hymns. Hearing prayers uttered. Standing at a graveside, watching people mourn. Fascinated by pall bearers who would remove their lapel flowers, place them on the casket before it would be lowered into the ground. The open casket always seemed odd to me. Adults would attempt to explain it, “It gives people a sense of them really being gone.” As though if they didn’t see the person actually dead, in the casket, then they might wonder, “Are they really dead?”
I have no idea how many funeral sermons I’ve heard. Today I can’t remember how many funeral sermons I’ve preached. I hate doing it. Not for reasons you might think. I hate it because my empathy factor is outrageously high. That makes it’s tough for me to hold it together. Not that I mind crying in public, but it’s not particularly strengthening for the family if the guy preaching the funeral loses it. Trust me…you don’t want to be that guy!
Our circuit breaker will eventually blow. The energy we pass through from now until then is entirely of our choosing. I’m not certain it’s all about passing through as much energy as possible. Rather, I suspect it’s more about passing through as much meaningful energy as we can. The electricity in our houses can power a radio that plays the music we find most annoying…or it can play the music we love most. Same juice, different output.
Our lives are comprised of input and output. I suspect most of us focus mostly on input because it seems easier. And we’ve grown accustomed to viewing and watching. So we read blogs, books, articles and ebooks. Well, to be fair – we scan over them. It’s likely that few of us actually read the entirety of anything. The preacher who married us back in 1978 is a book hound with an extensive library of religious books. Once, while talking about other preachers who collected and accumulated massive libraries, he remarked, “The difference between me and them is I’ve read all the books in my library.”
I’m guilty. I will read a book or article and if it doesn’t snag enough attention right away, then I will either put it down or I’ll begin scanning. I’ve not always done that. I used to read everything grinding it out if it was uninteresting, feeling I had invested this much time…why not keep at it hoping it finally grows exciting. After repeated instances of wasting too much time reading crap that never materialized into meaningful content, I decided a different approach was needed.
Digital books haven’t helped me with input focus. I love the portability of them. I hate the lack of tactile sensation. And I hate the lost sensation of past, present and future. Jeremy Rifkin in Time Wars wrote of the old analog watches and clocks versus the digital ones. Clocks with hands show us the past, present and future. Digital ones only show us the present. Such is the plight of the digital age.
It makes sense that we’ve grown increasingly obsessed with input. Moore’s Law has been applied to a number of things including information and data. According to Science Daily, a full 90% of all the data in the world has been generated over the past few years. But there’s a lot more that just data happening. Click on the website of WorldOMeters and you can see a running tally of how many blog posts are being published. On June 22, 2012 Mashable published an article with an infographic entitled, “Data Never Sleeps,” about how much information is published every minute.
No wonder we’re focused on input – or consumption. There’s a lot out there to consume. Plus, all the luring headlines captivate us and suck us in like a carnival barker or Bourbon Street doorman hollering, “Hot and nasty inside!” It’s all designed to do exactly what we did as kids when we’d prank somebody to look at something, then we’d say, “Made ya look!” The world is making us look. Okay, they’re not making us look, but they’re making it hard to avoid looking.
Okay, right now think about dying. You, dying.
That kill your desire to go read another blog, huh? See. Thinking of death will quickly focus you.
As you’re thinking about your own death you’re not thinking about a new book or movie. You’re not thinking about buying concert tickets to your favorite band. Or downloading their latest hit.
You’re not thinking about what anybody can do for you. You’re not wishing somebody would help you paint your house or clean your garage.
You’re thinking about what YOU can do. You’re thinking about YOU need to do. And you’re thinking about people. Mostly, the people you love. Family. Maybe close friends. Not Internet friends. Real life friends. People who are in your favorites on your iPhone.
You’re not thinking of them doing something for you. You’re thinking about what you want to do for them. When you consider your own death you’re going to start thinking of your actions – your output. It’s about what you can do for these people you care about most.
Try it. Think about your own death and try to embrace a trivial thought at the same time. You’ll fail. It can’t happen. Not if you’re really thinking about your death.
The score of the ballgame doesn’t matter. Shoot, your job doesn’t even matter when you’re thinking of your death. The most important things that dominate your time suddenly lose all value when you consider your death.
You’ve likely experienced this without thinking about your own death directly. These feelings have probably hit you when you learned about the death of a family member or close friend. Death is an instant priority correction tool.
For me, it’s spiritual. Thinking of my own death forces me to consider seriously my relationship with God. It makes me think of whatever sin may be in my life that I know needs to be corrected (repented of, confessed and forgiveness sought).
Thinking of my own death focuses me instantly on my wife and my family. My tribe started with just me and Rhonda. Then came Ryan, our son. Then Renae, our daughter. Today, my tribe includes a son-in-law, a daughter-in-law and four grandchildren. These are the people who instantly get priority in my mind when I consider my own death.
I think about the things I’d like to say, but maybe have yet to say. I’m a podcaster so it comes as no surprise that talking and communicating are crucial for me. Death makes me think even more about how I feel about these people and the things I want to make certain they know before I leave.
Thinking of my own death focuses me on the people I serve at church. It’s not a large group, but it’s an important group. Like my family, I consider the things I’d like them to know. I think of some lessons I’d like to teach them, wisdom I’d like to pass on. And I consider some more specific things that have to do with spiritual living. I think of my obligations to these people, my responsibilities to their spiritual welfare.
Nothing else matters. Not to me. You’ve got to consider your own priorities. Isn’t that a big part of what leaning toward wisdom is all about? Making sure your priorities are straight?
Years ago when I created this new document, I named it “When I Die.” The title has never changed, but the content has. I open it and edit it at least four times a year. Some years more. Like last Spring. When I lost a lifelong best friend, Stanley.
This past April I released a podcast episode entitled, 6 Lessons I Learned In A Year Of Suffering (Reflections On Losing A Lifelong Friend). A year earlier on May 12, 2013 I published a blog and podcast titled, As My Lifelong Best Friend Lay Dying. When your best friend – a friend you’ve always known – dies, you’ll soberly consider your own death. Days later, on May 15, 2013 I wrote a blog post, Top 10 Ways To Prepare For The Funeral Of Your Best Friend.
My document contains the specifics of what I want “When I Die.” Rhonda won’t have to do a thing other than follow my wishes. It’s all spelled out. In detail. She knows who I want to do what. She knows what I care about most and what I’ve told her she can adjust if she’d like. The document stays updated in a DropBox folder that she and I share. I don’t think she’s ever looked at the document. I suspect she never will until I’m gone. She’s also got another copy of it on a USB drive that’s locked away in a safe. I make sure I keep it updated whenever a thought comes to mind about something I’d like to change.
There are some other things in that folder, too. There’s a letter to her. Then there are letters to my son and my daughter. I’ve even got a letter to a fellow servant at church.
I’ve also passed along some instructions about this online stuff. Passwords and other things. I suspect there’s a business waiting to be born (maybe there’s one already there that I don’t know about) that can help people with the digital footprint of a loved one who has passed on. My digital footprint is way too big and I don’t have any notion that my family will be able to properly handle it, but I’ve written a few pages that may help.
I must have edited my “When I Die” document and the other documents in that folder about 10 times since last May. I know the last year has been an outlier though. I won’t maintain that mad editing pace. Time does that. It softens things a bit. Takes the edge off.
Some days I find benefits in embracing the edges that result in thinking about death and dying. Now I’m not advocating some unsafe obsession with death. And I’m completely against suicide because killing violates God’s rules. We have no right to kill anybody, ourselves included. Yes, I’m against abortion for the same reason. So I’m not talking about embracing some notion of these actions. I’m talking about avoiding taking the edge off death by thinking about what matters most…the things we’d like to accomplish before we die.
Maybe some people think about making money. I don’t see how, but what do I know? You’ve likely heard the old adage that no dying man ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” Surely that’s true, but I know some guys who seem unconvinced that they won’t be able to take their money with them when they die. Money is their god. Sadly, it’s not a god that can save them, but they serve it like it can.
I know thinking of death is hard, but sometimes we need to endure hard. We need to avoid easy and simple. Sometimes.
Sure, it’s heavy stuff. Sobering. Maybe even depressing. But look at the benefits. I’ve not touched the hem of it and it’s pretty powerful to consider how it can help us grow and be better!
I grew up hearing sermons with titles like, “If I Died Tonight.” If you’re a church going type person you probably know the kind of sermon that’d be. One where you’re encouraged to consider all the things you’d do if you knew tonight you were going to die. It’s a pretty common exercise – to consider how you’re life would be different if you knew you only had a specific amount of time left.
I’ve long said that there’s no courage in asking the question, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” The courage is in answering it.
Thinking of my own death helps me do that. It’s a worthwhile practice. I need to make it even more worthwhile by putting into action all the things death forces me to consider.