Last month I read an article entitled, “Ron Howard once explained why Opie’s attitude changed after the first season of The Andy Griffith Show.”

One little segment of the article grabbed my attention.

What would happen if Opie knew that Andy was smarter than him? How about if Opie actually respected his dad? I just thought it might be different.’

I’m betting you never knew that Ron Howard’s dad, Rance, influenced the show to completely change how Opie behaved, especially with Andy. It’s some valuable insight on parental wisdom.

Every parent is challenged by kids who think they know more than they do, and who think they understand more than they do.

Research tells us the human brain isn’t fully developed until around the age of 25. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center website, the rational part of a teen’s brain works very differently than adults. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the rational part of the brain. That’s the part of the brain that provides good judgment. Without that, you’ll never lean toward wisdom. It’s the part of your brain that calculates the long-term consequences. Teens live by processing things with the emotional part of their brain. In their brains, the connection between rational and emotional is still developing. That’s why teens live drama-filled lives. It’s also why they’re often unable to explain what they were thinking. “What were you thinking?” asks every parent! They don’t know because they weren’t thinking so much as they were feeling.

Parenting is hard. Really hard.

Grandparenting is way easier.

Partly because we now have a perspective we lacked when we were young. We can see things we’d have done differently. Plus, the burden of all the child-rearing decision making isn’t on us. When that pressure isn’t there on a daily basis…it changes everything. And that distance from these kids we love provides a mutual viewpoint – the way they see us and the way we see them – that serves us both. We’re able to model behavior so they have a role model to remember. They’re able to keep us lively and maintain sight of what it’s all about. That life is mostly about how much value we can provide one another.

As kids grow up, they hopefully become increasingly aware of how self-control looks. Teens are impulsive. Adults should not be. Instead, we hope to display thoughtful intentions to our kids. We want them to see that we’re making decisions with a long-term view. That’s why we don’t buy stupid crap. It’s why we save. It’s why we behave responsibly. We hope by showing our kids what wise behavior looks like, they’ll embrace their own lives of wisdom.

But that question that serves as the title of today’s show is fascinating. What would happen if kids knew their parents were smarter than them?

Sadly, I know some parents who aren’t smarter than their kids. Well, to be more accurate, they don’t behave smarter than their kids. Parents who are colossally selfish, highly emotional, short-term thinkers given to consistent impulsive behavior. What do their children think? Better yet, what do they feel?

I can only theorize, but it can’t be good for the parent. In what surely should be one of the most important relationships on the planet, kids should grow up respecting their parents not because it’s demanded (or just because God commands it) but because the parents behave in a way to warrant it. Too many don’t. They betray their children and forfeit respect.

The more I thought about the question the more I kept turning it around a bit. What would happen if parents were smarter than their kids and acted like it? Then, in keeping with the theme of this podcast I changed “smarter” to “wiser.”

What would happen if parents were wiser than their children and acted like it?

What would that look like? For the parents? For the children?

Rance Howard knew his son’s TV character, Opie Taylor, would behave more respectfully toward his TV dad, Andy. It would also change how Andy behaved toward his TV son. Turns out it did…and it wasn’t such a subtle change. Mostly because Rance Howard focused on one thing he felt was powerfully important as a parent and a child, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Cue Aretha!

It’s the bottom line way to ask the question of our time together today. What would happen if parents and children had mutual respect for one another? What would happen if children didn’t think their parents were moronic baffoons? What if parents thought how and what their children felt was worth understanding?

Too much to ask for? You think?

Permit an aging father to harken back to when my children were small. And permit me to tell those of you listening who may not yet know this about me – I’m a man of faith. God, the Bible and the Lord’s Church are supremely important. Just here some of you are thinking, “Here we go. He’s a religious nut who raised his kids to be members of his cult.” 😀 Quite the contrary. Questions were fostered. And that’s why I bring up this particular point of context.

Some parents embrace and bark quite loudly about the religious training of children. “Let THEM decide,” they shout. But they don’t let their children decide other, more mundane things. I know parents who barely let their children decide what sport they’d like to play.

I bring this up because it’s a very emotionally charged topic making it suitable for thought-provoking dialogue. Also, because I look back and know my wife and I got this whole respect thing right. So it’s worth revisiting with you for whatever benefit you may be able to gain. If you’re not religious, then replace that topic with the one you prefer. Politics? Morality? You decide.

We’re church-going folks. Rather than ram anything down the throats of our children we talked about it. Mostly our conversations revolved around one big question: WHY?

Why were we church-going people? Why did we attend the church we attended? Why did we believe what we believed? What was the source of religious authority for us? No questions were off-limits. Absolutely none.

By the time our children were in middle school they have asked a million questions. Well, I wasn’t keeping count, but it had to be close. They weren’t coerced or pressured. They were taught and trained, which is what every responsible parent does for their children. My wife and I taught them to be respectful to their teachers and classmates. We taught them to be appropriately cautious and equally, to be appropriately adventurous. We taught them to ask questions, although like most kids – that came quite naturally to their curious minds. Something we tried to always foster – their curiosity.

We were never the parents who held that “because I told you so” philosophy – although I admit it was ridiculously tempting on those days when it felt like we’d answered 1,000 questions. Dialogue and conversation was the order of every day. And that respect thing always fueled those conversations to sound more like adult-to-adult conversations. We were the parents who NEVER engaged in baby talk even when our kids were babies. (I still throw up a little bit in my mouth when I hear baby talk, but that’s a personal bias I have)

Our children respected us because we first respected them.

Our children knew we were smart because we recognized their smartness. We each proved our intellect daily to one another. As their parents, we proved our sense of good judgment every single day to our children. They saw our decision-making. They understood it, too – because we happily explained it. No major decisions were made by us in isolation. The kids were always involved, even if they didn’t always get a vote.

Whether it was religious, school, news, morality, philosophy or anything else — we fostered deep, ongoing dialogue. No question was foolish or stupid. In fact, we spent considerable time answering the unasked questions – the ones we felt should be asked. Remember, we were the adults in the relationship so we were the leaders!

And that brings up something else very important – leadership. Parents serve their children. It’s leadership at the highest level. Our children weren’t there to serve us. We owed them. They didn’t owe us. Well, to be fair…they only owed us the respect we deserved as their parents because of the respect we gave them first.

Our lives centered on our children. That’s how it should be. Together we were four individual people operating – sometimes more successfully than at other times – as one family unit.

That’s how it went until they were no longer children. And along the path of growing up – my wife and I also grew up. We grew up in the sense that at each age my wife and I embraced the growth of our children. Letting go wasn’t hard for us. We did it at every step of the journey.

Leaning Toward Wisdom began as documentation I could create for my children and future grandchildren (I didn’t have any when I began). Passing along life lessons. That was the goal. It still is.

The curiosity that once ruled my house when the kids were small still lives. Today, it’s alive in the kids of my kids. But it’s alive in my life and my wife’s life, too.

Respect isn’t always what it should be. I don’t suppose it ever is. Mostly because people love to judge. And because sometimes things happen that cause people to lose their way – and sometimes to lose themselves.

Life happens. Sometimes the toll is high. Sometimes our own foolishness puts us in a spin where we’re unable to grab the controls of our lives and prevent from hitting the oncoming mountain. But as parents, it’s our job to help our children stay safe, learn wisdom and learn respect – for themselves and for others. And in my house, for God, too.

What would happen if kids knew their parents were smarter than them?

I can answer it. They’d accelerate their learning. The kids would most benefit. Far more than their parents. But both would grow. Hopefully, together. And embrace the respect that would serve kids and parents to have a solid relationship the rest of their lives. How cool would that be?

Here’s a link to the Instagram post that caught my eye when it was posted just Wednesday. The photo is an older gentleman laying on his side, leaning on one arm – in what appears to be a park. He’s somewhere in Paris, even though the Instagram account is HumansFromNY. Sometimes the posts are from other places. It’s a fascinating account. The gentleman pictured looks like Walter Matthau.

The post copy says this:

“One day she told me she was getting a lawyer. I tried to play catch-up, but it was too late. Apparently I wasn’t enough of a leader in the relationship. We’d fallen into too much of a routine. Or at least that’s what I was told. I’ve been alone for thirteen years now. The hardest part for me was losing the sense of family. My youngest daughter barely speaks to me anymore. I’ve seen her maybe fifteen times since the divorce. I have a five-month-old granddaughter that I haven’t even met. I don’t understand it. I wasn’t that bad. I didn’t openly argue with their mother. I never had an affair. I was present. I was affectionate. Maybe I was a little strict, but she was a tough teenager. We were afraid for her. She was only fifteen and going to nightclubs. There was a lot of screaming back then: ‘you’re an asshole,’ ‘you’re not my father,’ things like that. And maybe her mind is still locked in that time. Now we speak maybe once a year. Whenever I ask her about it, she feels attacked. It’s awkward. There’s no familiarity anymore. And it’s not getting any better. Time is working against us. Because I feel like I’m losing the feeling of being a dad. Of loving. Of caring. Obviously that’s not true, or I wouldn’t be talking about it. But everything fades eventually. At least when someone dies, you can mourn. It’s so much harder when someone just disappears.” (Paris, France)

A recent headline captured my attention.

Selena Gomez Says Her Girl Squad Kept Her From Hitting Rock Bottom

Not because I’m a Selena Gomez fan or follower, but because I have had people in my life who struggled with making poor decisions. I’m in no position to dispute or comment on Selena’s life or struggles. I’ve read enough to know that like many young performers she’s had her share of life struggles. Beyond that, nothing is clear to me.

She’s human. She struggles sometimes. She’s from here in the DFW area where life was hard. Poverty and the assorted ailments that accompany it were part of her life.

She hit big by getting on the Hannah Montana show and by 16 she had a recording contract. I respect what I know of her rags to riches story. But once again I stress – she’s human. She struggles sometimes.

I hope she’s doing well. And perhaps her girl squad indeed did keep her from hitting rock bottom. Let’s assume hitting rock bottom wouldn’t have been a good thing for her – the catalyst to propel her forward. We hope people who hit rock bottom use it for their benefit, but some (perhaps most) don’t. Selena may be among them. I don’t know.

Hitting rock bottom has been on my mind for the past 6 months or so. Sparked by somebody I care deeply about. Somebody behaving dangerously. A life filled with self-destruction. A life that went from serving and helping others to a life immersed in selfishness and hurt. A wasted life. We’ve all seen it happen. Many of us have seen it happen to somebody we know – or used to know – well. We lament that we’re unable to influence them to find their way back to a more positive way of life. A life that’s profitable for them and others.

I’m not mathematically or scientifically inclined, but if I were – and if I were young – I’d head straight into neuroscience and psychology. I was looking around at the books that surround me. Mostly, my books fall into a handful of categories:

a. Religious (Bible commentaries, Bible dictionaries, biographies, debates and more)

b. Business (that includes biographies)

c. Psychology (the mind, why people do what they do, etc.)

d. Other (the smallest category includes satire, non-business biographies, etc.)

Psychology has always been a top topic of interest and curiosity for me. My own. And others.

Watching people. Trying to figure them out. Always favorite things. But I’m a natural born noticer.

Even so, some behaviors are difficult – if not impossible – to fully understand. At least neuroscience and psychology provide some answers.

Brain chemistry is increasingly fascinating to me. I wish I could better understand it but I have a hard enough time connecting dots on beliefs, assumptions, perspectives, emotions, motivations, drives and all the other things that compel behavior.

There’s a story in the Bible, a parable actually. The Lord told the story in Luke 15:11-32.

And he said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. But when he came to himself he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called to him one of the servants, and inquired what these things might be. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. But he was angry, and would not go in: and his father came out, and entreated him. But he answered and said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but when this thy son came, who hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou killedst for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that is mine is thine. But it was meet to make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.

Here’s a son who hit bottom and it was exactly what needed to happen so he could reach higher ground. His pig pen moment was his salvation. What would have happened if he hadn’t hit rock bottom? Do we dare figure that his life would have never been what it became? He likely would have never returned home. His entire life would have been wasted…not just his inheritance. Luckily he ran out of money and it was the best thing to happen to him.

It’s only natural to want to spare people pain. We care about people and don’t want them to suffer. Unfortunately, suffering is exactly what some people need – like the prodigal. Without it, no growth. No improvement.

Helping Others Figure It Out

Over at my GrowGreat.com podcast – a business podcast – I’m constantly saying, “you’ll figure it out.” My role is to help leaders do that. Fact is, it’s our role – all of us individually and collectively – to help one another figure it out (whatever IT is).

Enabling. We hear that word a lot when people are wrestling with how to help friends or family bent on destructive behavior. It’s not what we intend to do – enable people to behave badly – but it’s the net result. That fine line between accepting and facing responsibility or being protected from it. Accountability is often missing.

Poor behavior often begets more poor behavior. A downward spiral can be hard to correct because there’s insufficient motivation to do it.

Alcohol, pills, drugs, crime, immorality, dishonesty…we’re all capable of bad behavior. Sometimes it’s due to poor or lost character. People change. They abandon beliefs and qualities that once served them to keep them on track. Poor choices that set people on a course from which they don’t correct unless or until something forces a change. The value of rock bottom.

Helping people is hard.  Preventing people from learning – that could be the result of keeping people from hitting rock bottom. We think we’re helping, but we may be actually helping them get in the way of their own growth and improvement.

Bad events are sometimes blessings.

Bad things happen to everybody. They’re not unique to just you. Nor are they unique to only those we may think are deserving. Bad things happen to good people and bad people alike.

Some years ago the Psychology Today website published a blog post entitled, “Bad Things Happen To Everyone.”

The article points out that when adversity strikes we have two choices: accept it or suffer. It’s the stuff of optimism versus pessimism. We either understand (and truly recognize) that we’re not cursed. That our bad events and circumstances are temporary. We commit to doing what we must to get through it so we can emerge victorious on the other side.

Or…

We embrace that we’re a victim. The universe is conspiring against us. Our self-talk is filled with telling ourselves, “Why do things like this always happen to me?”

Mary is 18 and depressed. Home life isn’t safe. Alcoholic parents prone to drug use have taken a toll on Mary. She starts cutting herself. It’s her senior year in high school and she has no prospects for the future. One evening she cuts herself too deeply and ends up in the hospital. She just about killed herself.

Linda is a 19-year-old college freshman working as a volunteer in the hospital. Serendipity brings these two girls together.

Linda wants to pursue social work of some sort. That’s what took her to this hospital work where a chance encounter with Mary began a friendship that would serve both girls.

Mary, laying in the hospital and enduring psychiatric help for the first time in her life, readily confesses that had this low, low moment not happened – she’d likely be dead. Medical, psychiatric help and Linda helped save her life. The bottom was her way up. And out.

Mary confesses that had she not hit her version of the bottom…she has no idea how her life may have worked out.

Like many people, I’ve been impacted by the current opioid crisis. In the past year, I’ve encountered so many families who have been touched by this crisis. The many stories I hear are heart-wrenching. Stories of what were once good people – responsible people – who over time, under the influence of prescribed pain killers lose themselves.

I’ve heard dozens of stories, mostly from people themselves – people who surrendered to the pain killers prescribed to them. Thankfully, these were the ones who found rock bottom and made the wise choice to climb up and out. I always wonder about those whose story ends in failure. Even the success stories are filled with sadness and loss. Hitting rock bottom can serve us, but it can take e heavy toll on those around us. Those who love us the most.

His real name isn’t Bob, but Bob injured his back while on the job. That was 18 years ago. The pain grew in spite of 2 surgeries. Bob wound up going to a pain management doctor where fentanyl patches were prescribed. At first, Bob felt like his life had been saved.

Bob’s life was a mess though. He’d grown distanced from his wife. The kids weren’t close to him. He felt the guilt of not being the husband or father he knew he should be. The kind of man he knew he could be. The guilt was often so oppressive he couldn’t stand it. So he drank.

A doctor also prescribed some anti-anxiety and anti-depressants to help Bob cope. They didn’t. Help. They did alter his personality. So much so that the kids wondered what had happened to him. He spoke differently, behaved differently and reacted differently. They knew dad drank too much sometimes, but they didn’t have all the facts of how medications were ruling his life – and altering his brain chemistry. Nobody did. Not even Bob.

Bob missed more work. Spent more days in bed than he could track. His life consisted mostly of him chasing a feeling. A feeling of no pain. A feeling void of anxiety. Bob wasn’t happy and couldn’t remember the last he had been. Guilt was increasing, but he was committed to hiding. Lies and fronting were daily habits for him.

Until one day he returned home from work to an empty house. His wife of 12 years and his two children were gone. All their clothing. All their personal possessions. On the kitchen table was a large manila envelope. Inside divorce papers and a letter from his wife. It was over. She’d had enough.

Bob was angry. You might think this was bottom, but it wasn’t. Bob was resentful, bitter and mad. He hadn’t done anything wrong. He was suffering. His boss. His wife. His children. Nobody understood. This was all their fault.

So Bob drank.

One early evening Bob was driving to the store. He was still being treated with Fentanyl patches and a variety of other medications prescribed by his therapist. He was crafty with the alcohol and was able to manage to abstain for days prior to pain management visits where he was routinely drug tested. But this evening things would go horribly bad. Bob hadn’t yet hit rock bottom.

It had been a few months since the family left. His wife, determined to move forward with the divorce, was unwavering. Bob just grew increasingly angry with her. All day on this Saturday he’d spent the day feeling sorry for himself…and blaming all the people who surrounded him. So off to the store he went after having finished what was left of the last six-pack. Intent on buying more beer. Maybe even something stronger.

He exited the store, got in his car and pulled out of the store parking lot. About 2 blocks away it happened. A jogger wearing a reflective vest and a headband with a light on it suddenly hit the right front portion of his car. He slammed on the brakes, jumped out and saw her laying on the pavement unconscious and bleeding. Another car coming from the opposite direction had stopped and was already calling 9-1-1.

Police came. EMTs, too. The jogger was taken to the hospital. Bob, after failing a field sobriety test, was arrested and taken to jail.

Welcome to rock bottom, Bob.

Bob sat in jail wondering how in the world he had ever ended up here. He wasn’t guilty of anything other than having hurt his back on the job many years ago. People didn’t understand how badly he felt. Nobody understood. This was all a big mistake, but he was innocent.

Here we are a few years removed and today Bob admits, “I knew it was all my fault. I just refused to accept reality. I was in such a fog I didn’t know which end was up. I absolutely knew this was down though.”

Bob’s story is like so many I’ve heard over the last year. They’re all the same. And it’s fascinating to me. They are ALL exactly the same!

Bob continues, “I lost my wife and family. At least today I have a decent relationship with my kids, but it’ll never be what it should be. And it’s my fault.”

“I can’t believe that was me,” says Bob. And that’s what I have heard over and over from everybody who finds their way out of the prescribed pain killer abyss. That expression, or one very similar, is uttered by every single person I’ve talked with who found their way beyond prescribed opioids.

Here’s the funny thing about hitting rock bottom. It often involves an outside stimulus. Namely, a substance or substances. Alcohol. Drugs. Prescribed or otherwise. Addiction. To something.

Me? I’m especially interested in opioids because that’s the very reason I’m quite interested in rock bottom. My only interest in hitting rock bottom is the good it can accomplish. Like many other people who have lost people they love to various issues, I want the very best for the person I love. But right now they’re lost seemingly unable to find their way back home. And it wrecks me.

But I know my bottom isn’t their bottom. They have to hit their own or they’re not likely going to alter their course. And I know it won’t end well if they don’t figure this out.

Bob’s words and all the other stories of the many others ring in my ears. “It’s like it wasn’t me.”

Each person behaved in ways that were 180 degrees from how they once behaved. They betrayed spouses, children, family, friends, faith and whatever else had once been valuable to them. Some were able to climb out of the bottom and regain much of what they lost. None walked away fully whole. Every single one paid a very high price, but each one is thankful today that they didn’t lose more.

“I just can’t believe I did that.”

“I would have never believed I could do that.”

Words of profound bewilderment about their own choices and behaviors.

Bob’s victim fully recovered. He accepted a deal with the district attorney to plead guilty. He served on prison time, but between the criminal ordeal and the civil suit filed by the jogger…Bob lost everything he had. And more. He’ll spend the rest of his life paying off a debt he knows he can’t repay.

Alimony to the wife he forsook.

Child support to the children he didn’t serve.

Money to the jogger whose life he disrupted.

Fines and attorney fees to the society he failed.

One big colossal failure. That’s how Bob eventually saw his life. But only when he hit rock bottom. In spite of all the loss, Bob is a very different man. Today he’ll tell you he’s the man his wife married. No matter that she’s not going to take him back, she’s happy he’s found himself. At least he’s not the miserable human being he once was around their children.

Bob got his life back. His career is on track toward heights that wouldn’t have been possible with the opioids. His children are beginning to gain respect for their father…again. He struggles with forgiving himself for all the damage he’s done, but he’ll tell you he’s getting better each week. “It’s a process,” says Bob. “I know I’ll be in this process the rest of my life, but at least today I have a life.”

What’s most fascinating to me about hitting rock bottom – and the lives of those who need it most – is the story of the prior life. These folks were responsible, upstanding citizens. Most will tell you they were once morally upright, too. “I would have never cheated on my spouse,” is a common refrain. But they did. “I would have never lost our life savings,” say others. But they did. “I would have never jeopardized my career,” say some. But they did.

Each and every one was once something very different than who they became. They look back after hitting rock bottom and none can recognize the person they became. The person who needed to hit rock bottom.

How can we help them?

That’s the question I wish I could answer, but I’m going to disappoint you. I don’t have an answer. That’s the subject of my own pain. Desperately wanting to help somebody I love find their way back to who they once were – to who they truly are.

Character. It’s at the heart of the fall people take when they surrender to bad things like addiction. Their character fades. The beliefs and convictions that once ruled their life give way to utter selfishness. Whatever compass guided their lives disappears in a life devoted to doing only what they want to do. Everybody else in their life is the cause of their pain and suffering. Their brain thinks they deserve whatever they want. So they pursue whatever makes them feel good at the moment. But it never lasts…keeping them on the merry-go-round of always chasing, never catching.

The recovery of character, self-respect, and self-forgiveness are compelling reasons for not standing in the way of letting those we love hit rock bottom. Sadly, there are no signs to tell us “Welcome, You’ve Just Hit Rock Bottom.” But we know it when we see it. And it either kills us or helps us look up to see blue sky and work like crazy to get back up.

Making Less More

Note: This post originally appeared only to the private Facebook group. If you want inside, just click here.

IS IT ESSENTIAL?

DOES IT MATTER?

DO YOU CARE ABOUT IT?

HOW MUCH DO YOU CARE ABOUT IT?

He was Oklahoma’s favorite son. For good reason. He died 84 years ago this coming August.

Coming soon — an episode (perhaps an entire series of episodes) on simplicity, essentials, less, contentment, and significance.

My fascination with minimalism began when I first started reading about a guy named Leo Babauta who lived in Guam. It was a profile on him talking about how he’d dramatically altered his life. He had just begun a new blog called Zen Habits. His blog was among the very first ones that I subscribed to using an RSS reader (remember those?). That was umpteen years ago, but it began my curiosity about minimalism as a lifestyle (when I was a kid we’d have said, “What’s that? Living like a monk?”).

This is the year — the year I’m going to personally begin the metamorphosis. I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to go about it and how I’m going to document it. But I’m emotionally, mentally and physically committed to getting it done. Managing the expectations of it has been the hardest thing to figure out. But today – for some unknown reason – I made up my mind to put just a single expectation on it: to get it done. No deadline. No timeline.

Today’s spark helped me diminish (not eliminate) the fretfulness in trying to decide in my head, “What will I get rid of?”

The rational part of me understands the notion that if I’ve not touched it in a year (pick whatever timeframe suits you), then I’m not likely going to miss it. But such thoughts send you down the bunny trail of other thoughts. For instance, “Will I regret getting rid of it?” That’s a different question that provides a different answer. I’ve got boxes of stuff I’ve not looked at in a long, long time. But I may regret getting rid of it just the same.

Enter the phrase, “Build a bridge and get over it.” Which is what I’m planning to do. Honestly, I’m going into this emotional/mental phase – the phase just prior to beginning the physical “doing” part – with the determination to see how far I can take it. In other words, how much stuff can I eliminate in my life? How few things – tangible things – can I make part of my daily life? I suspect I can rid my life of more than 80% of everything.

Some things won’t be hard. Wardrobe. I’m not a clotheshorse. Suits, ties, and dress shirts – those stay. I need them mostly for church. But daily wardrobe challenges can easily be met with sameness. I enjoy sameness so the black jeans and whatever else might make up some daily wear doesn’t frighten me.

Books. This will be near the top of my challenges. But I plan to go through and simply pose a 3-word challenge: yes, no, maybe. Yes, will stay. No will go. Maybe I’ll think about, but not too long.

Music. I’ve got thousands of CDs. Legally, I need to retain them even though I’ve ripped nearly all of them. I fret about the digital archive crashing some day. Hard drives do fail. It’s a big investment and one I enjoy daily – like books. So it’s a concern.

Kitchen. I’m already a minimalist in this department. I’ve got one bowl I use for nearly everything. From cereal to steamed broccoli to whatever else. One bowl. I’ve got one glass. A glow-in-the-dark drink container that has made an appearance in some videos I’m sure. It’s the only one I ever use. EVER. And I’ve got 2 (count ’em) forks. I suppose I can add one spoon to the mix and one good knife. Other than that I’ve got one good baking sheet, a good stick-free skillet and a flipper. I could just about ditch everything else, but Rhonda will have ideas.*

*NOTE: This is MY deal. I’m not imposing this on Rhonda.

The Yellow Studio. This is among the many reasons I’m trying to crowdfund a RODE RODECASTER PRO. The Yellow Studio is filled with yards of cables, tons of gear and big boom arms for the microphones. Mixers, preamps, compressors. It’s just too much. And too complex. I want more room – more open space here inside The Yellow Studio.

**WANT TO HELP ME GET A RODECASTER PRO?**

Go to this page and learn how: https://leaningtowardwisdom.com/support-the-podcast/

Keepsakes and memories. These can also present a challenge. But I’m determined that if it hasn’t got anything to do with family or exceptionally close friends, then it’s going away. The boxes of stuff I have from my years running companies is staggering. It’s going into the fire (wherever the fire is if there indeed is one).

So that’s the deal.

Tomorrow around noon I’m going dark. Email, social media, and the whole 9 yards. I’m going to think through this, do some reading, have some conversations with Rhonda and figure out a plan of attack, then Lord willing, in a week or so the task will begin.

Got any thoughts or wisdom you’d like to share? Well, the only place to do that is inside the private Facebook group.

And now, it’s time to step away a bit. As you know, I do this fairly regularly when I feel the need. It’s the introversion kicking in where I know I need to retreat to up my energy.

Thanks,
Randy

The Going Up Was Worth The Coming Down (5026)

See him wasted on the sidewalk in his jacket and his jeans,
Wearing yesterday’s misfortunes like a smile.
Once he had a future full of money, love, and dreams,
Which he spent like they was going out of style,
And he keeps right on a’changing for the better or the worse,
Searching for a shrine he’s never found,
Never knowing if believing is a blessing or a curse,
Or if the going up was worth the coming down.

He’s a poet, he’s a picker,
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher,
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned.
He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

He has tasted good and evil in your bedrooms and your bars,
And he’s traded in tomorrow for today.
Running from his devils, Lord, and reaching for the stars,
And losing all he’s loved along the way.
But if this world keeps right on turning for the better or the worse,
And all he ever gets is older and around,
From the rocking of the cradle to the rolling of the hearse,
The going up was worth the comin’ down.

He’s a poet, he’s a picker,
He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher,
He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned.
He’s a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction,
Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

The lyrics are by Kris Kristofferson. The song is “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33.” It appeared on his second album released in 1971, “The Silver Tongued Devil and I.” The man can write. This song has so many great lines it’s tough to single in on any one of them. You know me, few things captivate me like a great lyric and this song could supply at least half a dozen episodes.

Many people have experienced it. Both the going up and the coming down.

Sometimes I get on a biography roll. Reading them. Watching them on TV. A week or so ago while doing some writing and other computer work I decided to stay tuned to the NFL Network and watch a series of episodes of A Football Life. It featured coaches. Mike Ditka. Mike Holmgren. Marty Schottenheimer. Don Shula. Jimmy Johnson. Bill Cowher. And more. It was a nice biography marathon.

Great football coaches. Different each and every one. Some won more than others. But Mike Ditka, perhaps the fiercest of them all – certainly the biggest bull in the china closet – used Kristofferson’s line at the end of his episode, “The going up was worth the comin’ down.”

I was in my early teens when I first heard Kristofferson. We mostly knew him for the song made famous by Janis Joplin, “Me and Bobby McGee.” He was flying helicopters in southern Louisiana for an off-shore oil company when he wrote it. For some reason, I remember that. I likely read it in Rolling Stone. And likely remember it because I was living in Louisiana.

Even as a kid I was a sucker for a good line. Kristofferson could write great lines. Not surprising since he was a Rhode scholar at Oxford and proficient in the English language. He had 2 of the 3 skills I most admire: language and music. Art, specifically cartooning, is the 3rd. For all I know Kris is a great closet cartoonist. Wouldn’t that be something? 😉

Going up. Coming down.

Of course, going up is worth coming down – assuming you survive the coming down. Velocity will determine that. If you come down fast enough, you’ll hit hard enough…it’ll kill ya! Worth it? Well, it depends.

It depends on how high you went and how old you are when you come down. Ideally, you go very high, stay there for years, and toward the end of your natural life – say somewhere around 100 – you crash and burn. Totally worth it!

But if you go up to step ladder height and you’re not yet a teenager, but you fall and hit your head, killing yourself (or worse)…so NOT worth it. But I doubt Kris was scrutinizing the line so much. Many good lines can be ruined by over examination. Just take ’em as they come and don’t rob them of their glory.

Up. Down.

Ebb. Flow.

Plus. Minus.

On. Off.

Good. Bad.

Happy. Sad.

Life is made up of contrasting experiences and emotions. Life isn’t a hi-light reel. Or a brilliant Instagram moment. It’s a lot of defeat, angst, and wrestling with what to do. The going up is fueled because we’re tired of being down!

Coming down is the price paid for climbing up. We all know that going up won’t result in a permanent condition, but still we give it all we’ve got because the time spent there is worth it.

Like all forms of entropy, coming down can be a permanent condition. Well, there’s always new lows to achieve I suppose, but defeat can absolutely be a lifelong obsession if we allow it.

When people we love lose their way whether it’s physical sickness, mental illness, addiction or any number of other maladies that can ruin us…we often make a wishful declaration about their need to hit rock bottom.

“I hope they hit rock bottom and realize what they need to change before it’s too late.”

Rock bottom is that proverbial place that can help us see more clearly. It’s only proverbial in the sense that we have a hard time quantifying it, but we know it when we see it. It’s a real place with an improper description. Rock bottom implies it’s as low as a person can go, but mostly we realize there’s always a new lower level to which one can sink. Ruin and despair have no bottom.

But elation and success have no limit either. How high is high enough? Nobody knows because nobody ever arrived. The capacity for human improvement is never fully realized. Measure it any way you choose and the best you’ll be able to do is to compare it to somebody else. What a flimsy way to measure it. Your current state may best mine, but that offers little insights on what either of us is capable of. What’s possible for you may be impossible for me. And vice versa. In the end, how you stack up to me, or anybody else is of no consequence.

Then why do we spend so much time examining the going up and the going down of other people?

Because the comparisons help us feel better about ourselves. Or worse. Sometimes we enjoy feeling worse. Sometimes we don’t.

The irony of ironies is that most of our comparisons are to people we don’t really know or care about. That Instagram influencer. That book author. That keynote speaker. That CEO. That YouTube star.

It’s the people on the list. Any list.

The top 1000 influencers.

The top 30 under 30. The top 40 under 40.

The Fortune 100. The Fortune 500.

Guruism. Hero worship. It’s likely more envy than worship for many.

We’re down compared to their up. There goes optimism. Enter all the negative emotions of feeling like we’re doing something wrong. The whole world is on some exotic vacation while I’m struggling to make the car payment each month. It’s the reality we see.

Completely fake, but it’s still the story we tell ourselves. The view we think accurately depicts how pathetic we truly are. Nevermind that REM is still singing the anthem to the universe, “Everybody hurts…sometimes.”

So we see the coming down. Maybe even cheering it along when it happens. That whole build them up so we can knock them down thing we seem to enjoy as a sport.

We’re not in the news so there’s that! Thankful we’re not in their shoes. Never mind that we still owe $87 on our credit card for these shoes, but those idiots could be headed to prison. Whew! Our life isn’t so bad after all.

All the conflicting thoughts and ideas we hold – at the same time – is fascinating. Envious of the rich and famous. Relief that we’re so much better than the rich and infamous. Drawn to the interesting people while simultaneously yearning for some peaceful monotony where we can just be with people we love.

Hello Ying, meet Yang.

It’s the push-pull of our lives. The going up versus the coming down. The climbing up versus the falling down.

Must we fall down? Well, we’re puzzled by those who choose to climb down. The ones who walk away from what we perceive to be a grand life — why in the world would they do that? Something must be wrong with them? You don’t climb down when you’re at the top. You wait until you’re pushed, or you fall because you just couldn’t maintain your footing at that altitude any longer. Again, it’s the story we prefer. Mostly because we may not feel we’ve ever experienced going up.

We’re wrong. Deluded.

What if THIS is up?

There’s a phenomenon I understood back in my 20’s. Namely, that the water level of how we live is tough to change. We think when we earn a certain income, then we’ll feel like we’re up. That’s what success certainly will feel like.

But when we arrive there it feels no different than any other altitude we’ve ever occupied. Within mere months (folks who claim to know tell us within 90 days or so) our lives are pretty much as before. Warts and all.

Even lottery winners who gain vast sums learn the hard way that life largely goes unchanged except for new toys and new heartaches. Just today I saw that a 24-year-old young man, Manuel Franco, in Wisconsin won the Powerball lottery.

Franco is taking the $477 million lump sum payment from Wisconsin Lottery. He told reporters he does not plan to play Powerball again.

Odds are his life will be forever changed. Odds are his life won’t be changed for the better, but we’ll see. He’s got much more to fret and worry about now. Like him, we only imagine the upside of such events. “Wouldn’t it be great?” we think. Parts of it might. But it makes me wonder if the going up is worth the coming down. It isn’t always.

I’ve been married to the same woman for over 41 years. It’s been intentional. I love her. She’s likely tired of me. 😉

I know people who can’t imagine such a life. BORING! Unexciting.

The other day I was talking with somebody about my hope to see at least the beginning of a shift. A shift away from pundits, gurus, and influencers. A shift away from so many feeling the need to brag about themselves and how special they are compared to the rest of us mere mortals. A shift away from the pompous arrogance that permeates probably every culture on the planet.

What would I love to see in its place?

A shift to focus on the collective. A shift toward the realization that a single exceptional life isn’t restricted to a person we think has lived an interesting life because of some extraordinary circumstances or accomplishes. But rather a shift toward focusing on the collective power that fuels every individual life on the planet.

A focus on the WE rather than I.

I’m optimistic but realistic. It won’t likely happen, but it’s a nice thought. And I bring it up because of this going up and coming down roller coaster that depicts all our lives.

Some can view my marriage as mundane, boring and uneventful. Never mind that I’m kinda drawn to mundane, boring and uneventful. 😀

A man who has been married 3 times may well have more stories to tell. And perhaps more interesting stories.

Which of us is up? Which of us is down? One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.

Kristofferson got it right. The going up was worth the coming down. It’s called living. We’re all doing it. Some better than others. Some wiser than others. Some doing it as well as they can. Others not trying very hard at all to do it well.

My conclusion isn’t so profound really. Can we be better human beings? Can we provide value to others? Can we serve our family and friends? Or do we provide problems for others? Do we provide pain and suffering? Are we trying to serve others, or are we too busy serving ourselves – and lamenting why others aren’t serving us better?

Optimism. Pessimism.

Doing our best to lean toward wisdom.

Doing our best to lean into whatever impulses fuel our desires. Never mind about you. It’s about me.

You gotta serve somebody. It seems to me the going up is worth the coming down if we get that part of it right. If we get it wrong, then it’s not likely going to matter. Our life is just one downward spiral of selfishness.

It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the landing.

This Is My Letter To The World That Never Wrote To Me (5025)

“This is my letter to the world
That never wrote to me”
― Emily Dickinson

This is my letter to the World,
That never wrote to me,--
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!

Ms. Dickinson’s poem was first published in 1890. I’m not a poetry expert. Honestly, I don’t know that anybody really knows what the poem means, but that opening line has long captured my imagination.

Nicole Burns offered this explanation on Prezi:

“What Emily means by this is that she wrote a letter to the world but the world doesn’t know who she is since she never leaves her home. She also writes about what nature has taught her in hopes to teach other people lessons. In the closing of the poem she asks the readers to not judge her harshly on what she has written.”

I suppose such writing can mean whatever meaning we ascribe to it. My first thoughts when I saw the opening line I instantly had some notions. They’ve remained with me through the years.

What are you telling the world, even though the world has never asked?

What story are you continuing to share with the world, even though the world isn’t writing back?

What are you saying to the world, even though the world may not be listening – and may, instead, be judging?

Permission

The Internet empowered us to become our own publishers. Emily had to rely on somebody with a publication to print her creations. The time from creation to publication to consumption in her day could easily be years. I can write these shownotes, record a podcast and hit “Publish” and within nanoseconds it’s online. Within seconds, or minutes (at most), the podcast will be in every major podcast directory on the planet. You can do it, too. No permission or talent required.;)

But just because we don’t need permission doesn’t mean the world is going to care. Or pay attention. Or that haters won’t hate. Emily and every other person who creates anything, or says anything, or does anything is going to endure harsh judgment.

Judgment Is Easy

None of us have a tough time with it. And for good reason. We have incomplete knowledge and understanding. We don’t know what we don’t know. So we fill in the gaps of our knowledge with assumptions and opinions. Finding out – gathering more information, asking more questions, going directly to the person (or the source) – and working hard to understand, that’s tough work. And takes too long. Far easier to just complete the story on our own, then close the book.

The world never wrote a letter to me. And so I suppose that makes it sort of fair for the world to do as it pleases. Including harsh judgment.

Fair doesn’t mean it right. Or that it’s justified. It just means I understand it.

What’s Your Letter To The World?

What would you like it to be? What do you choose it to be?

First, we’ve got to think about our view of ourselves. Psychologists divide our views into two distinctly separate and different perspectives: 1) you were born as you are and the outcomes of your life are largely beyond your control or 2) you get to choose your outcomes (you have control over your life).

Moments of decision make up your life. 

Your decisions matter. Your first decision really matters. You must pick one of the two perspectives I just mentioned. Basically, the choice boils down to whether you want to be a victim or in control of your own destiny. So which is it?

This sounds like an easy decision, but it’s not. It also sounds like it would be reasonable and rational to only pick the second option. Yet, we don’t always pick that one because…

We’ve got lots of reasons to feel victimized by others, and by life itself. Everybody suffers. REM sang it correctly, “Everybody hurts…sometimes.” Truth is, suffering occurs a lot of the time.

That second choice is our only choice IF moving forward is the point. But maybe moving forward isn’t the point. I’ll argue it’s the best point. But there are others.

Do you know people who enjoy being sick? Well, to be more accurate, they enjoy being able to tell you about their sickness? Do you ever wonder what that does for them? I do.

I watch them as others lean in and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well.” They do it because it’s the only path they can seem to find to garner sympathy or compassion. Is that the point? I’m not sure. Over time it seems to me that there may be a bigger, grander point. To garner attention. Nothing wrong with that. We all need attention. We all need to be noticed. Question: What do you want to be noticed FOR? Being sick? Surely we can rise above that level of pettiness. Maybe not.

Whether we’re a victim of ill health (legitimately), or we suffer at the hands of the ninnies who surround us (and we often do), or we suffer at the hands of our own idiocy (and we suffer due to that far more than anything the ninnies can do to us)…how are we helped by leaning into that? Far better to lean into wisdom. Far better to lean into answering the question, “What can I do about this that will move me forward?”

Movement may require GPS else we have no idea the direction. Forward is the optimal direction. It’s improvement, growth, and transformation. Not always fun, but always profitable.

But forward robs us of ingratitude and complaining. And where will our attention come from? You mean I’m going to have to start being valuable to others in order to gain attention? But that means I have to do something worthwhile? #StopBeingLazy #StopBeingUngrateful

Unlike the Waze app or Google Maps…our internal GPS sometimes has difficulty figuring out how to move forward. Or whether or not we want to move forward. Too often we may be unsure of what direction to go.

Then there’s the big elephant in the room — HOW?

Empty advice abounds. “Just make up your mind.” “Just do it.”

Would that it was that easy, but it’s not. Life is more complicated and complex. We over-simplify things. Sound bites, pithy quotes, and sayings don’t properly portray the difficulties. The cumulative impact is we wrestle with the complexity thinking we’re doing something wrong because we’re not able to “just make up our mind.” Nobody is helping us figure out HOW.

It’s as ridiculous as the premise on living like a millionaire. First, get a million dollars. Okay…but how? Well, we’re not equipped to tell you that. “Thanks much!”

All this determines our story, the story we’re telling the world.

We’re telling the story we want to tell. That doesn’t mean it’s good, or the best one for us. Some of us aren’t driven to grow. We’re uninterested in being better. Not concerned with having a positive impact on others. Too many of us are selfish, living in the moment, impulsively driven to do whatever we want without concern for the consequences to ourselves or those around us.

How can we modify or change what we want – the story we want to tell? How can we change our desire and seek to tell a better story – a story that involves us being our best self?

It starts with character. Poor character will always write a poor story. No matter what else a person may have in their toolbox, poor character can’t write a great story…just a good looking chapter every now and again. But the chapters are fiction. Readers may not know it, but the writer does. It’s the proverbial truth: “You can fool some of the people some of the time.” It happens.

True character reveals itself in the story. It’s the engine behind the story. Indecent people write indecent tales. Consistently. So job one is to be a good human. Job two is to commit yourself to being even better. Consistently working hard to grow, improve and transform as you journey toward the ideal version of yourself.

It’s the only way to write a letter that impacts the world. Even if the world is just your small corner. Scope and scale don’t matter. You don’t need either in order to have impact. It’s why I’m constanly talking about the parable of the starfish.

One day, an old man was walking along a beach that was littered with thousands of starfish that had been washed ashore by the high tide. As he walked he came upon a young boy who was eagerly throwing the starfish back into the ocean, one by one.

Puzzled, the man looked at the boy and asked what he was doing. Without looking up from his task, the boy simply replied, “I’m saving these starfish, Sir”.

The old man chuckled aloud, “Son, there are thousands of starfish and only one of you. What difference can you make?”

The boy picked up a starfish, gently tossed it into the water and turning to the man, said, “I made a difference to that one!”

You want people to read your letter and feel something. You want that feeling to compel improvement. You want your letter to the world to help the world. To serve.

Why would the world read your letter? 

Jerry Van Amerongen (Amer-ho-en – it’s Dutch) is the cartoonist, creator of BALLARD STREET, easily my all-time favorite cartoon. On Saturday, March 30, 2019, he posted his final Ballard Street cartoon.

The Final BALLARD STREET cartoon - Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Final BALLARD STREET cartoon – Saturday, March 30, 2019

Jerry was writing one letter and at the age of 40 decided to write a completely different letter. In 1980 he began writing a letter that took the form of a cartoon, The Neighborhood. It was published in newspapers for the next decade. Along with the Far Side by Gary Larson, Jerry’s work refined the single panel cartoon.

In 1991 Jerry created Ballard Street. It began as a comic strip, but after 2 years Jerry went back to the single panel format, which suited him better.

Jerry was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He spent the first 17 years of his professional life in corporate sales, marketing, and product management. Jerry’s cartoon ideas often came from scribbles and drawings. The drawings rely on facial expressions and body postures to give readers a sense of the characters beyond the caption.

Boyhood memories influenced by his Dutch and Polish heritage, images of roly-poly women in print dresses and rotund men in baggy trousers helped form his characters. Jerry said, “Regardless of our physical appearance, we see ourselves as having wrinkles and rumples on the inside. We all perceive ourselves as having big bottoms.”

Since 1980, the year my son was born, I’ve been a rabid fan of Jerry’s work. I’ve often wondered how less rich my life would be – and millions of others who enjoyed Jerry’s work – if Jerry had remained in corporate America. I’m much fonder of his second and third letters (The Neighborhood and Ballard Street).

The world didn’t ask Jerry to do it – to make such a dramatic change in his professional life. But he did it anyway.

A Ballard Street print

Another Ballard Street print

Another Ballard Street print

A Ballard Street print

I’m so glad Jerry wrote the letter to the world without waiting for the world to write him first. Wise choice.

From Good To Better To Best

Some people are writing a horror story as their letter. Their lives are so incredibly wrecked, it’s the only letter they’re capable of writing at the moment. They need to change their circumstances, their choices, their actions, their behaviors.

Hopefully, most of us are trying to write a good letter. We’re attempting to pursue a good life. Doesn’t mean we craft every sentence perfectly. Sometimes we write a pretty crappy paragraph. I’ve been known to write a few awful chapters. One chapter does not the entire story make.

The writing isn’t always stellar because the decisions aren’t always wise. Or smart. Or congruent with my best effort.

Yes, it’s all relative. Good. Better. Best. But it’s not relative to anybody else. It’s only relative to YOU.

Do you ever get sick of thinking about, or hearing about POTENTIAL? I do. What’s the point of potential if it’s always unrealized? I look at Jerry’s bold move to ditch corporate life for cartooning and I’m envious. Of his bravery and his talent.

As I think about my life I wonder about my potential. By now you’d think I’d have it figured out, but I don’t. I think what I’ve always thought – my best is yet to come. I know it’s not necessarily true. I mean, it’s possible I peaked 20 years ago! 😀

Time doesn’t define impact. That’d be like saying the length of the story determines how memorable it is, or how impactful it is on your life. That starfish parable has been pretty impactful on my life. It’s only 4 little paragraphs. Jerry’s final cartoon is like so many others before it – a single panel. But look at it. How well does it tell the story of Jerry’s retirement?

I’d say Jerry figured out how to go from good (a corporate career that lasted 17 years) to better (creating The Neighborhood cartoon for 10 years) to best (creating Ballard Street for almost 28 years). I’m not him. So he’s not my barometer. Fact is, nobody is anybody’s barometer. But he’s a solid illustration (at least for me) of how great a letter can be written.

Maybe I’ve been all wrong. Maybe I’ve assumed people want to write a better story. No, I’m not wrong. People do want to write better stories. I’m convinced we mostly don’t know how. And I’m equally convinced we don’t know how – or we can’t figure out how – because we don’t change our minds. We’re stuck in our head listening to the same endless loop tape we’ve always listened to. Which is why Jerry’s story so intrigues me. And why I wish I knew more details about his story.

To go from corporate sales and marketing after 17 years to cartooning…well, if that doesn’t exemplify change, what does?

Stephen King, a famous horror writer, began professional life as a school teacher. In a few years, his novel Carrie was published. It was his 4th novel, but the first one to be published. That was in 1973. Since then he’s written a couple of hundred short stories and sold more than 350 million books. King has written lots of letters to the world and he’s still doing it.

John Prine was a mailman in the late 1960s. He wrote songs while spending all that time alone. With the mail. Then he began going to open mic nights at the Fifth Peg in Chicago. First only as a spectator. Then one night, a performer challenged him, “You think you can do better?” Prine got up and sure enough, he could do better.

By 1971 he had released his first self-titled album, thanks in large part to having played for Kris Kristofferson late one night in a club, after the club was closed (and all the chairs were upside down on the tables). His first new album of original material in 13 years, titled The Tree of Forgiveness, was released on April 13, 2018. He’s now 72. He’s battled cancer twice. And his latest record has charted higher than any of his other 22 albums. He’s on top of his game.

Then there’s a top chef, Dan Giusti. Here’s what The New Yorker wrote about him last August.

In 2011, a young chef named Dan Giusti quit his job at the helm of 1789, a long-established restaurant in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and boarded a plane for Copenhagen. Like many ambitious cooks, he had applied for a job trial at the original Noma, which was widely considered to be the best restaurant in the world. Unlike most other ambitious cooks, he swiftly rose through the ranks to become Noma’s head chef. But, after running the kitchen for three years, Giusti felt his enthusiasm for fine dining wane. “At Noma, we were forty-five people feeding forty-five people,” he recalled recently. “I realized that I wanted to feed a lot of people, and feed them every day.” He thought about opening a counter-service chain—another Sweetgreen or Shake Shack—but felt that the choices were already too abundant. What was the point? So his mind went to institutions—schools, in particular—where, despite a larger cultural shift away from industrial foods, there had been little innovation or improvement in decades. He saw both a moral purpose and a business opportunity.

In 2016 he started writing a very different letter when he left fancy hi-end luxury dining to school cafeterias. He formed Chef Brigaid, a company dedicated to changing the way kids eat.

Jerry Van Amerongen wrote some chapters as a corporate guy. Then he changed the narrative to a creative endeavor many likely didn’t see coming, he became a cartoonist.

Stephen King got an education and a teacher’s certification. It was a chapter in his life, but the best chapters were yet to be written as a best-selling novelist.

John Prine was a singing mailman. It was a chapter kind of like the chapter of being an Army soldier serving in Germany during Viet Nam. A new chapter began one night at the Fifth Peg and he’s been writing and performing music ever since.

Dan Giusti’s entire professional letter appears to be that of a chef, but what a different letter he’s writing today compared to his earlier writing. He’s no longer attached to 5 star high end restaurants. Today, he’s writing his story from school cafeterias.

What’s your commitment to your craft? If you’re not yet good, then make up your mind to pursue it. If you’re good, then decide to step up your letter-writing game to great, your best!

Don’t fret about how long it takes. It’ll take however long it takes. The important thing is to get on with it. And make progress. Take some chances along the way, too. Jerry and Stephen did. It worked out well for them. Why not you?

RC


 

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