Randy Cantrell

Randy Cantrell is the founder of Bula Network, LLC, a boutique coaching company specializing in peer groups to help people leverage the power of others. Visit the website at ThePowerOfOthers.com.

Everything Is Hard, Until It’s Easy – Season 2021, Episode 1

Today’s show was prompted by an email from a new listener who asked if I had any episodes giving “my story.” Well, I didn’t have the heart to tell him this entire podcast is pretty much “my story,” but I know what he meant.

Hopefully, this is my not-so-boring effort to provide him, and YOU, a bit more context about me. But as always, this isn’t about me, but it’s about US. All of us, who have an interest in leaning more and more toward wisdom…while simultaneously leaning further and further away from our own foolishness.

Mentioned in today’s show, as a resource for those who care to learn more, is RandyCantrell.com.

I hope you enjoy this show. And I hope collectively and individually we devote ourselves to making 2021 a year where we live better lives.

You Have To Be Totally Tired Of Who You Are (Season 2020, Episode 15)

He lost 75 pounds in 3-1/2 months. He admits it wasn’t likely the ideal way to do it or the ideal timeframe. But he was sick and tired of being sick and tired. Here’s what he did:

1. Gave up soda and sugar
2. Ate oatmeal every morning
3. He ate grill chicken every day and premade enough for the week, his only veggie was broccoli
4. When he got too tired of chicken he ate eggs instead
5. He ate special k bars for sweet cravings (high glycemic but it worked for him)
6. He did eat fruit but his overall calories were under 1500 calories a day
7. He was hungry at night so he would go to bed early
8. He avoided dairy and went to almond milk
9. He did not go to the gym but he did walk and run

I saw his video about a year ago and for some reason, it popped up in my YouTube feed again so I watched it again. He’s just a good ‘ol boy trying to get better. The minute he said it, I instantly remembered watching this a year ago – because it’s such a true statement.

Lots of folks who are smarter than me had said it. We all know it’s true. In our own lives. In the lives of others.

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”                   – Dr. Henry Cloud

Our slimmed-down country boy says it in a way I can completely understand.

“You have to be totally tired of who you are.”

Why would I be totally tired of who I am?

Let me count the ways. 😉

Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection.

That’s how an article at PositivePsychology.com begins. The title of the article is, “What Is Self-Awareness and Why Is It Important? [+5 Ways to Increase It].”

Social media is overrun with people disparaging the opinions or viewpoints of others when it comes to YOUR life. It goes well beyond the seemingly wise admonition to ignore the haters. It presupposes that everybody has the ability and desire to see themselves accurately and that each of us is able to do that without any help. It also foolishly holds that none of us benefits from listening to others.

The truth is we all struggle to accurately see ourselves or to face the realities of ourselves. We likely lean toward thinking too highly of ourselves, or too lowly. It’s too easy for us to overestimate or underestimate ourselves. Accuracy is difficult. Others can help provide just enough perspective where we’re able to more accurately see ourselves. If we choose to ignore their help, it hinders us. We need the insights, experiences, and observations that others can provide.

But not just anybody can do that for us.

Those with whom we’re fully safe serve us best. These are the people who only want our best. They have no other agenda. They don’t want to live our lives for us. They don’t want to make our choices for us. They simply want us to do the right thing by helping us make the wisest choice that will help us be our best. They love us enough to challenge us, nudge us, push us, question us, support us, and do whatever else they can to help us move forward. If we choose to ignore or banish these people, we do so at our own peril.

Self-awareness is not a solo pursuit. It demands we make wise choices in who surrounds us.

That’s a critical component to succeed in growing tired of who we are when who we are has become destructive or detrimental to being our best.

Recently we learned that a business hero to many – Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappo’s – was living a life most of us knew nothing about. Virtually every major news publication, including the Wall Street Journal, has written pieces that reveal Hsieh had a serious drug addiction. According to multiple accounts, he banished those who attempted to help him correct his poor behavior, choosing instead to surround himself with people who would support anything he chose to do – common behavior for drug addicts. Sadly, Hsieh’s story ended as so many do…with his death.

During this pandemic, there have been a number of other sad stories where people have died at their own hands. Mental health is, thankfully, gaining more and more attention as we’ve seen too many people fall into depression and despair. I’m certainly not able, or willing, to pass judgment on people in such cases and I only use them to make the point that self-awareness and improvement demand a degree of being tired of the status quo – but it also requires a clear enough mind (free of drug abuse and addiction and also free of mental illness) to face, in the most healthy way possible, the pain of our present state. Enough pain to compel us to consider making different – aka *better* – choices!

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The pandemic and the Presidential election have both proven how valid this is. As Psychology Today says, “The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly overestimate their knowledge or ability in a specific area. This tends to occur because a lack of self-awareness prevents them from accurately assessing their own skills.”

Last year Jeff Haden, one of my favorite Inc. contributors wrote an article entitled, Here’s How to Tell Within 5 Minutes If Someone Isn’t as Smart as They Think.

Writes Jeff…

That’s because wisdom isn’t found in certainty. Wisdom is knowing that while you might know a lot, there’s also a lot you don’t know. Wisdom is trying to find out what is right rather than trying to be right. Wisdom is realizing when you’re wrong, and backing down graciously.

Some are certain the pandemic is a hoax. Others are certain if they contract COVID 19 they’ll die.

Some are certain Donald Trump won the election. Others are certain he’s the worst thing to happen to humanity since Adolf Hitler.

Now, some are certain the COVID 19 vaccine is going to a lifesaver. Others are positive that their family will never take the vaccine.

It seems we’ve leaned further and further away from wisdom and more and more into being dead sure that we’re right. Even though certainty goes from one extreme to the other, rarely are we pausing long enough to wonder, “If both extremes are certain, does that mean both are right? Might both be wrong?”

How can such a wide gap exist in certainty?

The Dunning-Kruger Effect. That’s how. And it’s not about being confident. Or sure about things. It’s about being open enough to consider things before you reach certainty. It’s about embracing questions – or at least not resenting questions – as you navigate your decisions, choices, and actions.

Truth will withstand tough scrutiny. So will wisdom.

Defiance is another enemy of growth and self-improvement.

Our stubborn refusal to listen, question, discuss, consider, and think don’t serve us well. Defiance is our stubbornness fueled by anger. Or bitterness. Or some other negative emotion. 

Defiance isn’t the fuel for self-improvement. Or wisdom. It’s destructive.

So how does pain serve us? The pain of facing the reality that we’re now unhappy with ourselves?

Lately, I’ve been looking more deeply into heart issues. Not cardiac stuff, but spiritual stuff. The Bible-view of our heart, our mind. That place where we reason things, believe things, ignore things, disbelieve things. That place from which flows who we are, which is based on what we choose to do.

The Biebs posted this over at Instagram just a few days ago, “What you do doesn’t define who you are.” I share what commenter Jake Callanan said, “Yes it does actually.”

If what you do doesn’t define who you are, then what does?

There’s a sermon in the Bible delivered by Jesus. Even non-Bible readers know about the Sermon on the Mount.

Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23 “On that day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And there were gathered unto him great multitudes, so that he entered into a boat, and sat; and all the multitude stood on the beach. And he spake to them many things in parables, saying, Behold, the sower went forth to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them: and others fell upon the rocky places, where they had not much earth: and straightway they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And others fell upon the thorns; and the thorns grew up and choked them: and others fell upon the good ground, and yielded fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He that hath ears, let him hear.”

“Hear then ye the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart. This is he that was sown by the way side. And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth. And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. And he that was sown upon the good ground, this is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; who verily beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

This matters because it determines whether or not we become tired of who we are – when what we are isn’t good. Not all hearts – or minds – are the same. Not all of them are good, or wise enough to recognize the need for a change. Some people lack self-awareness, wisdom, or sobriety. And it may be due to their own self-will and defiance. Or it could be due to mental illness or substance abuse. There is a reason it’s so difficult to convince people who abuse substances or who suffer a mental illness that they need help.

So many among us are roaming about aimlessly lost in drug use and/or mental illness that they simply are unable to see themselves in the nose-dive that’s apparent to the sober people observing their lives. Like the drunk who thinks he’s perfectly capable of driving safely, they suffer delusions. Their detachment from truth and reality has skewed their ability to get tired of who they are. The result? They lack the desire to make a change that just might save their life.

I’ve yet to see anybody who harbored bitterness and defiance ever reach the positive place required to be totally tired of who they are in order to grow, change, and improve. Growth, self-improvement, and improved wisdom demand a humility that only sober people can fully embrace. Defiant, bitter, and angry people tend to spend more time thinking they’ve been victimized by others. The line of people who have suffered wrong forms to the left. We’re all in that line. Humility affords us the opportunity to escape that line so we can busy ourselves making changes that will make us better.

Let’s talk about these pronouns. YOU have to be totally tired of who YOU are.

This isn’t about you being totally tired of who somebody is. 

Well, you can be tired of somebody’s poor, foolish, or self-destructive behavior, but it won’t do you or them much good.

So it’s best to just sit down, hold that mirror in front of your face and look intently to see yourself as you really are. That’s the hard part – seeing yourself as you really are. This is where we all have to leverage the power of others. We need people in our life who care so deeply about us they’re willing to tell us what we need to hear. Willing to teach us what we need to learn. Willing to serve us no matter what. All because they have our best interest at heart. Not for any other reason.

That’s who the safe people are. People who can help us figure out if we are or should be totally tired of who we are.

Then there are the unsafe people – like the ones who made fun of the guy who lost all the weight. By making jokes about how he looked pregnant, it got him to see something. Of course, he already knew he needed to drop some weight. Their comments didn’t give him a sudden flash of insight, but they did serve to inspire him. Maybe it was an “I’ll-show-you” kind of inspiration. Whatever it was, he described it as provoking him to instantly be totally tired of who he was…so he set about to change. He made up his mind to do something about his weight. Nobody else could do it for him.

He could have made a different choice.

Anger. Resentment. Bitterness. Defiance. Sadness. Depression. Blame. He could have hugged it out with any or all of those when those co-workers poked fun at him.

Instead, he chose to face what he already knew was true. As he says in his video, he knew they were right. He didn’t blame them. He opted to blame himself for letting himself get so out of shape. Accepting responsibility for his current state helped him accept responsibility for changing it. When others could have hidden behind resentment, he chose to step forward, taking on the challenge to control his own destiny by doing something about it.

His refusal to just accept his current state as some new norm prompted him to chase improvement.

We have those same choices. All of us.

No matter what our current problems may be. Weight. Career. Fitness. Money. Relationships. Plugin whatever ails you and it’ll fit. Accept your current state and continue down a negative or destructive path. Or, accept that your current state can be changed if you’re willing to take matters into your own hands. He’s right – until we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, we’ll continue to remain sick and tired.

The Dr. Cloud quote needs to be emblazoned in our mind…

“We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.”                   – Dr. Henry Cloud

Pain. Let’s wrap this up thinking about the pain because that’s the impetus for this change – growth and improvement. If there is no pain, we’re not likely going to change anything. Of course, millions of people are blocking out the pain with drugs, alcohol and all kinds of illicit and immoral behavior in hopes they can keep running from their pain. But like a shadow that follows them everywhere they go, they can’t outrun the pain. Sadly, they wind up making the pain worse and worse. Wasted lives. Horrific lives that serve no positive purpose in their own life or in the lives of others.

The Bible calls it the “root of bitterness.” It’s how many people opt to feel about their own need to grow, improve – to change! They hate those who try to help them. They hate even more those who aren’t trying to help but to hurt (like the co-workers making fun of the guy’s weight). They’re totally tired of others, not their own shortcomings, or failings, or weaknesses. They focus more on what others “do” to them instead of focusing on what they can do for themselves. Their pronouns are them and they, not me. The irony is that by refusing to focus on their own need for growth, improvement, and change they’re behaving with colossal selfishness.

Are you in touch with your pain? The pain of something you know you can change if you’ll just make up your mind?

Are you blaming that pain on others who really aren’t responsible for your situation, but you’d like to think they are?

Are you deflecting that pain away from your own responsibility in order to stop feeling so badly? Are you searching for solace in feeling like a victim?

Perhaps you’re tired of being the victim and you’re totally tired of who you are as a victim. Lean hard into that pain so it can fuel your desire to at long last do something about it.

Others may have their own desires for your best but until you want it for yourself, nothing matters! First, you must do it for yourself because it’s your life. You alone will answer for the life you’ve lived. What others have done to you, or for you will not excuse you from facing the reality of your own choices, behaviors, words, and actions.

Permit me to leave you with a few tips that might be helpful.

Step One

Be thankful. Be exhaustive in your attempts to be thankful. See how many things you can list or name. When you think you’ve reached the end, keep going. Figure out what else you have to be thankful for. Make sure people are your first thought.

Step Two

Now focus your gratitude on the present opportunities. Keep on going with your thanksgiving, but now focus it on the chances, happy accidents, people, and circumstances that afford you the opportunities to at long last do something about those things you need to fix or repair.

Step Three

Figure out the answer to, “What’s next?” Don’t fret about getting too far ahead of yourself. Just figure out the first step. What will you do to get yourself on the right path toward self-improvement, growth, and change?

Ask those famous journalist’s questions:

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Apply those questions to the first step. Just the first step!

Step Four

Get busy with that first step. Start. Don’t delay. Don’t talk yourself into waiting.

You will not make matters worse by taking that first step. Any movement in the right direction will help. The sooner you take the step, the sooner you get on the path toward growth. The key to getting unstuck is to MOVE.

Step Five

Be very aware of how it’s working and adjust. This is why it’s unimportant that you have every “i” dotted or “t” crossed. No worry about it being just right, or perfect. It just has to be good enough to give you clarity of what you’re going to do first. After you take that first step, pay attention to how it’s working, and make adjustments.

Step Six

Don’t quit. Keep going with the intent of improving just a little bit each day. Embrace the process of daily improvement. Quit thinking about what you’re giving up and instead, think about what you’re gaining. One day at a time. Remember that adage about how you eat an elephant – “one bite at a time.” Small steps compounded over time make BIG IMPROVEMENTS.

Step Seven

Remember, the end result – the goal – is the reward for the work so stay focused on enjoying the process, the work!

And don’t forget the pain that you’re ridding yourself of. It’s important to remember what we’re running from as we focus on what we’re running toward. It’s that “this is better than that” kind of thinking that will help us stay on course. We want to put THAT behind us so we can reach for THIS.

I hope that helps you in your battles.

And I hope you and your family have a safe and happy holiday season!

Late-Life Lucky: Anticipating The Ideal Outcome (Season 2020, Episode 14)

Robert H. Frank is the Henrietta Johnson Louis Professor of Management and Professor of Economics at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. I don’t know him personally and until 2016 I had no idea who he was, but that’s the year I read an article in The Atlantic entitled, “Why Luck Matters More Than You Think.” It was intriguing me, but honestly, there wasn’t anything new about my intrigue. The subject of luck has fascinated me for a long time.

Some people don’t believe in luck. Or serendipity. Or chance. Especially when it comes to success or achievement.

By “late-life” I don’t necessarily mean age, but it might include that. Most certainly it includes experience.

A person begins to learn something at an early age. Take a current professional ice hockey player. His parents put him in ice skates for the first time when he was 3. Since then he’s spent almost as much time in ice skates as he has sneakers. By the time he’s approaching 14, he’s a decade into the learning curve. Off he goes to play major junior hockey – a high level of play for boys approaching high school. He moves to another town where the team is located and he begins to play the highest level of amateur hockey while living with a host family who has taken him in. Before his 18th birthday, he’s drafted by an NHL team. He’s 15 years into the learning process, but he’s only 18.

A person matures past middle-age. She’s spent her entire life pursuing art. As a young girl, she fell in love with painting and she’s been at it ever since. It’s never earned her much of a living. Until now. A while back she had a little showing at a local gallery. A blogger with a widely read blog happened to live in the area and visited the exhibition. And wrote a piece about this woman’s artwork, along with posting some pictures of her work. About a hundred miles away, in a big city, an art gallery owner saw the blog post about this now older woman’s showing. An email was sent and now after 4 decades of painting artwork in relative obscurity, she’s achieving late-life luck. She’s experienced at art and life.

There are many flipside stories that counterbalance these. Stories of people who began early and never found any success. People who persisted for decades and never found any luck.

Let’s talk more about it.

If I Reach The End Before I’m Done (Season 2020, Episode 13)

In 2012 a musician Joshua Hyslop released an album, Where The Mountain Meets The Valley. Track 6 is “The Mountain.” It contains a lyric that serves as the title of today’s episode.

When I first heard it I wrote that phrase down. Often I’d remember it.

I’d consider the long list of things I set out to do as a young man. And those things I’d still like to get done now that I’m old. It’s different now. Not at all like it was when I was 20 and my ambitions seemed more fantastic.

When Joshua’s latest record was released, on September 11, 2020, I went back to listen to other music he’d produced, including this song, The Mountain. I hadn’t thought of the phrase in a long while, but there it was marching its way to the front of my mind. Especially during early morning walks, I’d think about it.

Then, a few days ago, on September 29th my father turned 97. I thought about his life and the years he’s experienced since 1923, the year he was born. For his birthday I decided to record a sort of year-by-year historical commentary from 1923 up to the present. It wound up being almost an hour-long, but the last few minutes being a son’s message to his dad. I’m blessed that both my parents are still alive and doing well, living in a house by themselves. My mom is 88.

My folks have enjoyed long lives. They’re still enjoying life. They’re blessed. They won’t likely reach the end before they’re done – the blessing of living a long life. But you can never be sure. Time – our time – is tenuous at best. Which is why the admonition “make the most of it” is so common. But also why it’s become so trite and ignored.

2 Peter 3:4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”

It’s the trap we all step into. The trap of thinking we’ll have tomorrow. Or this afternoon. Or tonight. Why? Because that’s how it’s always been for us. We had yesterday. Now we have today. So we’re fooled into thinking – believing – we’ll have tomorrow.

I’m not trying to be a downer or be morose.

Today’s show focuses on 5 words:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Understanding
  3. Judgment
  4. Criticality
  5. Grace (compassion)

Also, here’s an old episode you may have missed that speaks to one aspect of today’s topic: the process.

Enjoy!

“I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” (Season 2020, Episode 12)

It’s a few minutes past 5 o’clock. In the morning.

The sky is light thanks to an almost full moon. The city lights help, too. When you live in the city the sky isn’t nearly as dark as it is out in the country.

I walk. Quite a lot.

You’d think I’d look like it, but you’d be wrong.

No matter. I walk 4 to 6 miles every morning. Often before the sun is up. But not as often as I did before this pandemic. 3 am and 4 am were favorite times back before life was disrupted by COVID 19. I’m not sure why that changed my readiness to hit the streets in the middle of the night, but it did. I suppose I figured people were more uneasy so I just haven’t wanted to risk it.

Part of my walking routine involves traipsing through a field near a densely wooded stretch filled with all sorts of critters. I’ve seen a coyote-type creature a few times. And a cat of some sort. Not the domestic kind either. But I’m not a wildlife expert. You won’t ever see my on reality TV…especially one of those survivor type shows. Unless somebody produces one of those as a comedy where morons are dropped into the middle of nowhere so the audience can laugh maniacally at them.

Mostly, in this stretch of trees are cottontail rabbits. I attribute this to the reproductive reputations earned by rabbits. But I’m not complaining ’cause I rather love them. I just wish they’d stick around a bit longer.

The path I walk is about 15 to 20 yards from the tree line of the wooded area. By the time I get within 30 yards or so of them, they quickly scamper into the woods. You can see a handful of little holes that serve as their escape routes. Each hole has a nicely worn pathway as proof that they frequent these routes to dart in and out of the woods. I bent down and took the picture shown below. To give you some scale, that opening is about 10 inches wide. It’s not very big. What you don’t see is the density of the wall of growth where this opening exists.

rabbit exit and entrance

On a typical morning, I’ll spot 6 to 10 rabbits out foraging for food outside the woods, within 5 to 10 feet of their wooded home. They don’t venture out too far. I’m supposing it’s because of that coyote-type creature and the cat. But I’m sure there are other predators who’d love nothing more than a rabbit for breakfast, lunch or supper.

That’s why there is no rabbit in that photograph. The little buggers are really camera shy. They’re the perfect creature for zoom lens photography, but all I have is my phone.

In 1925 Hugh Harman drew a mouse around a photograph taken by Walt Disney. Walt was inspired by this tame mouse near his desk at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri. Mortimer Mouse was the name Disney gave the mouse until his wife, Lillian, talked him into changing it to the name we all know. Mickey Mouse.

From that cartoon began the modern small animal stories told in moving pictures. But the stories existed long before that.

Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. Like rabbits. Or other animals.

Enter Aesop, a Greek storyteller credited with a number of fables. The timeframe? Around 564 BC is the date ascribed to his death. It’s up for dispute whether there was a real person Aesop behind the fables. Somebody crafted the stories though. He was reputed to be a slave who passed from various owners until he was eventually freed. History or legend has it that he was executed by being thrown from a cliff after false charges were leveled against him because he had insulted powerful people.

No matter. Attributing human-like qualities to animals in his fables happened long before Walt ever imagined a mouse.

Frogs. Turtles. Birds. Foxes. I suppose somebody has anthropomorphized just about everything. Especially by Hollywood. I’m thinking of Ice Age, Bugs, The Secret Life of Pets and Toy Story. In Toy Story you don’t even need a living creature. Toys will do. No big shock, Frosty The Snowman is a longtime favorite of mine!

I love the modern animated movies produced by Pixar and Illumination Entertainment (they did the Despicable Me series and The Secret Life of Pets). The voice acting is great. And the music is, too. I mean when Bill Withers start singing, A Lovely Day, at the end of The Secret Life of Pets – you know these folks know their stuff. And when Randy Newman starts to sing during the many animated films he’s produced music for…well, it’s hard to imagine it getting any better.

Growing up, the Warner Brothers’ cartoons with Bugs Bunny were my favorites. I’m not happy that the violence in those is being criticized by the current ninnie culture.

Yosemite Sam with the stupid dragon is another favorite.

Today’s title is a quote from Piglet of Winnie The Pooh fame. ” I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

I think of that quote whenever I encounter some hidden habitat of critters. Like the little escape path in the photo. It’s easy to imagine these animals as they encounter humans pretty regularly. I mean, there are houses all along the backside of these woods. There’s an open pasture on the other side where people walk. Some with their pet dogs.

I’d imagine these rabbits encounter lots of people every single day. Is it exciting every single time? Would seem so. Exciting enough that they run away, fearful we’ll do them harm. That seems like too much excitement in the wrong direction though. But maybe not. I’m reminded of a passage written by the late Hunter S. Thompson.

“People who claim to know jackrabbits will tell you they are primarily motivated by Fear, Stupidity, and Craziness. But I have spent enough time in jack rabbit country to know that most of them lead pretty dull lives; they are bored with their daily routines: eat, (a’hem, reproduce), sleep, hop around a bush now and then….No wonder some of them drift over the line into cheap thrills once in a while; there has to be a powerful adrenalin rush in crouching by the side of a road, waiting for the next set of headlights to come along, then streaking out of the bushes with split-second timing and making it across to the other side just inches in front of the speeding front wheels.”         ― Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72

I’m no rabbit expert. I don’t know how many different breeds of rabbits there are. These rabbits I encounter every day are brown with whitetails – cottontails. I won’t insult them by saying they’re primarily motivated by fear, stupidity, and craziness. Fear? Sure. Aren’t we all? Well, come to think of it, Hunter could have easily been writing about people. Stupidity and craziness seem to be the order of the day during this pandemic of 2020. Likely all other times, too.

If you’ve driven in the country much you’ve experienced what Hunter wrote about. When I first read it – more than a century ago – I laughed out loud because of how true it seemed. I had always wondered why – on a lonely dirt road where probably no more than six times a truck or car would pass – I’d always encounter some darting rabbit crossing the road right in front of me. Hunter gave me the answer. Excitement.

“I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

I find myself getting excited in the morning to spot the rabbits, if only for moments. Catching them outside their micro-forest is a pretty good way to start a day. By the time I arrive near their home I’ve been walking 30 minutes or more. I’m only disappointed if somebody – usually somebody with dogs – has already passed by coming from the other direction. I know the rabbits won’t be out. They’ll have already scampered back into the brush for safety. I hate it when that happens. Thankfully, due to my early morning schedule, it doesn’t happen often, but once is too much. My disappointment is palatable when it does. It ruins the entire walk for me. Well, that an not finding any baseballs. But I love the rabbits way more than the baseballs.

For new listeners, part of my walking route involves two baseball fields. As I walk the perimeter of the fields I find baseballs. Some days I don’t find any. On my record-setting day, I found 18. I now have a pretty big bag of them. Guestimation? Around 300.

Pretty exciting stuff, huh? 😀

My morning rabbits are likely pretty excited to find enough food for the morning. When I get too wrapped up worrying about the future I think about them…living in the moment. Every morning when I encounter them I sorta hope that I’m the most exciting thing that happens to them because I’m not a threat to them. But rabbits are skittish for good reason. They have plenty of enemies. Predators. They have no way of knowing if I mean them harm or not. Sometimes I’m saddened by that, but I realize as critters of the field and woods, it’s necessary. Their very lives depend on it.

I surmise that the rabbits don’t spend any time thinking, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” If anything, I’d imagine them thinking, “I sure hope nothing exciting happens today.” But what do I know? Maybe rabbits are like us. Maybe some of them are thrill-seekers while others are contented to sit still as often and as long as possible.

Those woods across the way are where the rabbits live.

We’re now into August. This begins month 6 of this global pandemic if you figure it began at the start of March. That’s part of the context of this episode and the question, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

It’s common for any of us to lose track of the day of the week during this pandemic. Practically everybody I know admits to having some Groundhog Day (the movie) moments where we feel like every day is identical to the prior day. As for excitement, I recall getting excited in month one or this ordeal when I found toilet paper and power towels. And even more excited when I found Clorox Wipes! I’ve still yet to score hand sanitizer. That might just be too much excitement for me.

I started thinking of some exciting moments I’ve had in the last 5 months. The list will likely be depressing, but I’m betting you can relate.

• I watched the entire series, from beginning to end, of Boston Legal. I was excited to begin it. Sad when it ended.
• I get excited to run the dishwasher, do laundry and vacuum. An empty sink provides me a moment of euphoria.
• Keep the pool clear is exciting. Especially after a night wind has blow leaves into it.
• I bought a $7 knife at Walmart to cut vegetables with. Very exciting!
• Finding a new recipe for ground beef, or potatoes, or sausage, or pasta – that’ll elevate my heart-rate.
• Discovering new music, or getting a new release from a favorite artist.
• Scoring Zatarain’s New Orleans Style Original Red Beans and Rice in the grocery store always feels like I’ve found a hidden treasure.
• During one 3-week period when pasta was impossible to find, I scored some whole wheat pasta buried back in a shelf and felt like I had stumbled onto something illegal.
• Finding at least 1 baseball on my morning walk. Finding more adds to the thrill.
• Seeing the rabbits every morning may be as good as it gets for me these days. I’m horribly disappointed if somebody or something has scared them before I get there. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen very often. I make sure I’m early.

Back some time ago I did an episode where I talked about simple things. It was episode 5045 entitled, Many Thieves. I mentioned how much I loved one bowl, one fork and one cup. Three items that wouldn’t likely cost more than $15 total. But they bring me joy. Sure, I could lean toward excitement about them because if I didn’t have them, life wouldn’t be quite the same.

Right about now you’re thinking, “How pathetic!” 😀

But no matter, I was excited about that episode – recorded October 19, 2019. I’m still sorta excited about it, but we’ve proven I’m fairly easily excited. 😉

Excitement

the state of being emotionally aroused and worked up
the feeling of lively and cheerful joy
something that agitates and arouses
disturbance usually in protest

No, I don’t mean excitement like that last definition – disturbance usually in protest. We’ve seen lots of that in the past few months. I’m not saying it’s not properly founded or directed. It’s just not what I’m talking about today.

I’m not terribly excitable. Never have been.

When I was growing up people accused me of being stoic. Sober. Serious. I guess mostly I was. And still am.

I don’t remember getting excited too often. Truth is, I don’t recall ever being as excited as lots of the kids around me. So I’m the worst person I know to ask such a question as I’m asking today.

“I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

But I’m not the worst person to ask such a question if we broaden our definition of the term “exciting.” In fact, let’s stick with that first definition and go no further – the state of being emotionally aroused. It’s not cheerful or joyful. The rabbits aren’t excited in a good way by my presence. I wish they were, but they’re afraid.

Emotional arousal can include lots of things. Like crying. Or sadness. Or sympathy.

July was bad month for lots of people. Every month is, I suppose. But I knew too many people who lost family members in July. A young man killed in a tragic car accident. A husband. A father. An older man. Suddenly stricken by a heart attack. A husband. A father. A grandfather. A 40-something man. A husband, father and son. As I was preparing today’s show I realized the list of people who died last month was a long list. Longer than usual.

I was emotionally aroused by too many deaths in July. Too many children lost a parent. Too many parents lost a child. Too many spouses lost their mates. Too many siblings lost a brother or sister. Death often creates that kind of excitement, but we don’t use that language to describe it. Even though few things arouse our emotions like losing somebody we love.

“If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day…you do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”   

-Jim Valvano

Laugh.

Think.

Cry.

Those are all things I’d categorize as excitement. It’s not the stuff of The Secret Life of Pets. Or Ice Age. Or even the short burst of excitement I provide the cottontails every day. But it’s human. Remarkably human. And real.

I’m fairly certain that I’ve done what Jimmy V urged people to do. Maybe not every single day, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of a day where I didn’t do all 3. They’re not hard and they constitute all the excitement I could ever want.

Have you seen that video of the firemen who take the grate off the drainage ditch to rescue the little ducklings who fell in? Mom and one lucky duckling that didn’t fall into the drain are anxiously watching as the firemen rescue the others. Mom isn’t going to leave until they’re all safely back beside her. I watch wondering what she’s feeling. Wondering if there might be something more than animal instincts happening. Wondering if she knows how many there are. I suspect I’d like to think she’s got more human qualities than she truly does. But even if she doesn’t – she knows her young are in danger and she’s going to wait to retrieve them. I watch them scamper to get as close to her as possible it’s evident they know she’s there to protect them. That’s enough excitement I suppose. Falling into a drainage ditch is the kind of excitement they could all do without. Especially momma duck.

Nobody craves the kind of excitement that buckles your knees. That’s too much sorrow and sadness. Too much loss. Too much crying.

I’m sitting here inside The Yellow Studio late one night – wide awake, as I am wont to be around 3 am or so – and I’m thinking of the TV commercials that have peppered us during this pandemic. Sure, every major advertiser – and even minor ones – have modified their commercials to not show hoards of people. But have you noticed how basic commercials have become over the past months? Far fewer spots depict people doing thrilling things or going to thrilling places. Or so it seems to me. What I’ve noticed more and more are families eating a meal together. Kids playing in the sprinkler. Old folks being visited by children. People with their pets. Hardly the things that would get a thrill-seeker’s adrenaline going.

Then there are the movies. Most have an over-emphasized element of excitement. Like Smokey & The Bandit. 😀 I can’t help it. It was on the other night. I’ve only seen it a couple hundred thousand times. (I was in the consumer electronics business during the CB radio craze when that movie was made. It’s super corny, but back in the day it was another Burt Reynold’s hit.) What’s one more time gonna hurt? A constant thrill-a-second kind of a show. A stunt man’s delight! I’ve done tons of driving throughout the Deep South. Admittedly, I’ve never hauled a tractor-trailer load full of illegal cargo, but even so, I can’t imagine going from Atlanta to Texarkana and back with anywhere near that kind of excitement. Of course, I never did travel with Burt Reynolds or Jackie Gleason either. 😉

Highs and lows.

Ups and downs.

The roller coaster of life is spent with both, but mostly it’s spent going up or coming down.

Some of us might be more attracted to the climbs and the descents than the actual highs and lows. For myself, I feel pretty equally attracted to all of it. It was a late-night epiphany. A moment where it dawned on me I am likely “in the moment” much more than I thought. Like those rabbits. Kinda sorta.

Except I live much better. And don’t have to forage for my food. Well, I do forage, but I just walk into the kitchen to do it. And nobody walks near me, threatening my safety while I eat. I sometimes wish they would. I could likely lose that 30 pounds or so that I desperately need to lose.

“I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” Maybe it’s the question of a naive Piglet, but if we would embrace the broader notion of excitement, then we might find some deeper experiences in our daily lives.

Homeostasis helps animals maintain stable internal and external environments with the best conditions for it to operate. It is a dynamic process that requires constant monitoring of all systems in the body to detect changes and mechanisms that react to those changes and restore stability.

The cottontails, like most animals, are constantly monitoring the environment, scanning for potential threats. They’re wired to notice movements. Things that are out of the ordinary. Enter an old galoot walking by and homeostasis has been disturbed, causing the rabbits to scurry back into the brush for cover. And safety.

Comfort zones are part – a big part – of homeostasis. We’ve demonized “comfort zones,” making it seem that they’re our enemy when the reality is we need them. Desperately. The excitement caused by possible threats, making us uncomfortable, indicates we should react to protect ourselves. My presence in the morning routine of the cottontails isn’t some thrill they’re looking for. I just happen to make it my business to catch them out feeding because I’m selfish like that. I really want to see them. But even in my intentional disturbance, I take care to show the rabbits I don’t intend to harm them. Some days they scamper away quickly. Other times they seem to sense that I’m the guy they saw yesterday without incident, so they keep their eye on me but continue to forage out in the open. Some days it makes me wonder if they’re being unintentionally conditioned to not see people as a threat. They shouldn’t trust everybody though. It’s likely best for them to trust no one, keeping homeostasis as it was…but that adjustment in their comfort zone may not be safe.

Ordinary. Routine. Comfortable.

These are vital to our survival. And our daily existence. The cottontails have a routine. I only know what a small portion of their early morning is like. And I only see them when they emerge from the woods to forage. Do they spend all day every day looking for food? Do they nap? I don’t know. I didn’t even Google it. Partly because I’d rather imagine them in the woods conducting business, having conversations, solving the problems of the woods, discussing the morons they’ve seen walk by that day. Google isn’t going to rob me of those imaginations with mundane truths about how cottontails live.

What about learning, improvement, and growth? 

Those moments of excitement can help. Those extraordinary events, circumstances, and instances serve us – if we use them properly.

My daily presence conditions the rabbits to remain wary of me, but they also learn that I’m not there to hurt them. They’re not going to abandon their foraging nearly as quickly as they once did. They usually still leave once I get within 10 feet or so, but not always. Maybe they’re onto something too tasty to leave so soon. Maybe I catch them in a moment of laziness where they figure the food their on is worth the risk. At least, right now.

Which makes me wonder about the different excitements that come our way. I know they’re not all created equally. For instance, to the rabbits…my presence isn’t equal to the presence of a wolf or coyote. I’m betting they know that, too. I’m also betting they have holes in those woods where they can quickly scurry to avoid being eaten. With me, I watch them go into those little pathways into the woods, but they know with me, they don’t have to go deep into the woods. They can keep their eyes on me, and return to their foraging when I pass. Not so with another beast ready to make them a meal.

Balance is the trick. And it ain’t easy.

Without change (aka excitement) we don’t learn.

Too much change (aka excitement) we risk desensitization, which hampers our learning. It can make us reckless.

We need enough change (aka excitement) to provoke us to learn, improve, and grow. This is why I’m using the terms “excite” and “excitement” in the broadest way possible to include those things Jimmy V talked about: crying, thinking, and laughing.

Too much crying and we grow depressed, desperate, and despondent. Too little, and we lack empathy.

Too much thinking and we neglect to act. Too little and we’re impulsive.

Too much laughing and we fail to take serious things seriously enough. Too little laughing and we’re unpleasant, lacking joy.

There’s no recipe I know of. We take each day as it comes, like the rabbits. Whatever life presents, we hopefully approach it with optimism instead of panic or dread. I imagine the rabbits are excited about breakfast. Once they settle down from the excitement created by my passing, I’m confident they return to their breakfast.

If I were a small critter I might be excited to find a place like this

When is the last time you went into the kitchen and got excited ’cause you found food? (No, finding some stash of chocolate you forgot you had doesn’t count!)

I envy the rabbits. Each morning they begin with excitement – finding food.

But then again, I’m pretty blessed myself. Because each morning I begin with the excitement of greeting the rabbits.

Together, we’re maintaining the cycle of excitement.

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