My first girlfriend was smart. It would begin a trend. Mostly being attracted to smart girls. Even in first grade, I could tell who was smart and who wasn’t. I never felt smart except in one area – people. I always had a knack for spotting and knowing the smart people. But not the brainiacs. The smart people who were also like me, people smart. As I grew older I realized it was an endangered species. Our numbers appeared to be dwindling.
Nobody knows everything. That includes people who smash your hope with doubt. And people who fuel your excuses by feeling sorry for you. And everybody in between.
I’m jotting down a few notes for today’s show while listening to Mark Knopfler’s new record, Down The Road Wherever. I can highly recommend it. Fact is, I can highly recommend anything he puts out. I envy his talent.
I once aspired to be creative. Whether in music. Or cartooning. Or in writing. I always wanted to pursue such things, but I was too practical to let the thoughts loiter around too long. So I wound up in business. Selling things. Serving customers. Pursuing business growth rather than something more soothing or joyful to my soul.
Nobody knows everything. That includes me when I’m willing to smash my own hopes with doubt.
I set about as a young man to pursue wisdom. Others can judge whether I chased it with enough vigor to catch it. But I’m still running hard. These days, mostly breathless, but still pursuing.
The road isn’t always clear. Much of the time it’s densely fogged over, creating doubts that you’re even between the lines – much less on the road to where you want to go. And if you’re life is like mine, some days you’re not really clear on where you want to go. You’re just pleased to feel like you’re still on the pavement, and not veering into the ditch.
Nobody knows everything. We’re all working to figure it out. Give yourself and those around you a break, the license to be wrong.
“Tomorrow will be better.” I grew up hearing folks say that a lot. Eventually, I found myself saying it quite a lot, too. Too much perhaps.
But it’s at the heart of hope. And hope is at the heart of today’s theme – nobody knows everything, including anybody or anything that would rob you of hope. I also know it’s at the heart of discontentment, too. Hopefully in a good way though. A way where you realize you’ve not arrived. Full well knowing you never will arrive so you may as well enjoy the journey. And whatever scenery you pass. That is if you can look up from your phone long enough to look out the window of life’s journey.
Nobody knows everything. Nobody sees everything. Nobody understands 100% of the context of your life and what you’re chasing. News flash: you don’t fully understand their story either. But we often think we do.
Okay, let me pick up the pace. And insert some positive energy because I know you’re thinking – “Man, what a downer today!” No, not at all. So brace yourself. Hold on. Make sure your seatbelt is tightly fastened. I’m going to make a really hard left turn but trust the suspension. It’s gonna hold. And I know what I’m doing.
Life may not always turn out as we hope, but it can turn out as we need if we’ll devote ourselves to wisdom. It’s not a matter of what should have been, or what could have been, but what must be for us to grow, improve and transform into a better version of ourselves. Hopefully on the route to becoming the best version of ourselves.
Only hope remains…hope that indeed we can lean toward wisdom and make wise choices, decisions and behave in ways that will lead us the best life worth living. But it’s not merely hope. It’s practical. And real. If we make it so!
You make the difference. Or you make excuses.
I know you heard the show title today and had instant thoughts. That’s why I did it. I know it provokes images and ideas in everybody.
There’s a friend for that. Our life is a trainwreck, but we’re surrounded by people who support us. Of course, that’s because the world is filled with rubber-neckers who take solace in knowing somebody’s life is more messed up than theirs. And it gives them an opportunity to feel superior, too.
There’s a friend for that. We enjoy complaining and making excuses. They’re quick to gather around us and give us sympathy. Sometimes the sympathy spotlight is better than no light at all.
There’s a friend for that. We only have one viable option as we live today and face tomorrow. To devote ourselves to the effort. To work our hardest to make the most positive difference we can. No excuses. No blaming others. Or anything. Just chasing the wisdom so today’s decisions will lead us down a path of improvement. A path where we know enough to know how firm our hopes are…they’re our beliefs. We can surround ourselves with people who lovingly and caringly challenge us, not because there’s anything in it for them, but because they know there’s quite a lot at stake for us.
Of those three options, I know that last one is rare, which is why I wanted to talk about it today. I don’t think it should be rare. Certainly not as rare as it is.
The real topics are optimism, hope and true friends. Not merely sympathizers, but people who are devoted to helping us be our best. Even if it means telling us the truth so we can grow. Even if it means nudging or pushing us to uncomfortable places.
It also means discriminating against those who don’t serve us because they’re focused on serving themselves. Perhaps through us.
It’s knowing enough to truly believe we can get it done. It’s our willingness to face our realities – even our poor behavior and choices – so we get busy fixing what ails us so we can move forward. It’s learning, knowing and doing.
Learning. Knowing. Doing.
People surround us who cheer us on toward whatever idiocy we embrace. Why do you think people can easily remain in dreadful, even life-threatening circumstances? Because we can all find people who think our choices are a good idea. Wanna dive into alcohol? Drugs? Theft? Immorality? There’s a friend for that.
One stooge is just sad, not funny. But three…three stooges is hilarity because foolishness loves a crowd. Fools travel in big packs, cheering each on in their idiocy. Wisdom is willing to stand alone. Or with just a few invaluable friends who are fully committed to the cause. The cause being growth, improvement and where necessary…transformation.
Dark Side. Bright Side.
Pessimism is rampant. Always has been. Probably because it’s easy. But I’m hopeful that we can make some changes in our little part of the world. I’m constantly trying. Failing mostly, but only hope remains so I’m going to keep on trying.
You make the difference. Or you make excuses. I don’t feel like making excuses. I’d rather try and risk failing at making a difference. I just don’t see any upside to the dark side.
Failing is hard when you’re staring down the pessimism that surrounds you. People who don’t have the hope you do. People who don’t believe. Worse yet, people who disbelieve. It’d be one thing if our detractors were just neutral, but they never are. They’re against us and our hope. And they’re anxious to let us know about it, too.
Fight back. I do. I call it out at every turn. It doesn’t likely convert them, but I figure I’m likely the only voice challenging their dark view of a thing. Or their dark view of me. I just refuse to surrender to them and their darkness. If they choose to embrace the darkness of hopelessness, that’s their business. But I don’t have to let them force me onboard. So I don’t.
That’s a darkness that’s pretty binary. It’s just black and easy to spot. But there’s a greyer darkness that isn’t so easy to see.
It’s the darkness of consent. It’s more insidious than overt pessimism because it looks like sympathy, support, and care, but it’s not. How do we know? Well, that’s hard. Really hard.
There are a few tricks we can use to figure it out if people are serving us or enabling us to continue down a foolish path.
Consider the source. Do they defend us? Do they foster our complaining and feel sorry for us? Do they assist us when we blame others? We all enjoy a degree of this kind of enabling because these are the people cheering us along.
Do they challenge us in a healthy, caring way? Not that we’ll always feel that way, but deep down – do we believe they have our very best interest at heart for the long haul? Or are they most interested in keeping us happy at the moment? Fearful of challenging us because they may not care that much about us, or because our shallow friendship matters more than our improvement.
What’s the cost to them? It may not be universally true, but it’s a fairly solid barometer. People who love us, or care deeply about us, tend to have the most to lose if we embrace foolishness.
Do the people who surround us help us avoid responsibility or do they push us to accept it? How willing are these people to help us by holding up mirrors so we can honestly see ourselves? Or to challenge us when they believe we can be better?
There are friends for all of that. Friends so-called who will enable us to continue to behave poorly. Or friends who will help us face the realities of our circumstances, choices, and behaviors so we can grow, improve and transform. Even at the risk of knowing we won’t much enjoy the experience in the short-term.
These friends can be our biggest supporters, defenders and positive challengers. Positive challengers are the people we all need. People courageous enough to help us avoid destroying ourselves with foolish decisions or behaviors. Sometimes only people who love us deeply can muster up the bravery to take us on. Challenge us to face our own foolishness so we can save ourselves from ourselves. We all need people who will never let us down. (Colbie Caillat recorded a great song and released it on her 2014 album, “Gypsy Heart” – Ain’t Never Gonna Let You Down)
There are friends for that.
Friends who feed us with hope. And belief. Friends who enlarge our will to lean more toward wisdom, and away from foolishness.
Last month (October 2018) I saw an article entitled, “5 stages of psychogenic death or ‘give-up-itis.'”
You can die simply because you give up the will to live? Sure it’s rare and difficult, but it happens. We mostly hear of it or suspect it when an elderly person loses a lifelong spouse, and within days they die, too.
One element is Aboulia, which literally means “will.” Dr. Leach, the expert cited in the article, describes this condition as when a person not only severely lacks motivation but also has almost no emotional response to the point of not wanting to speak. The sufferer becomes extremely withdrawn into themselves and has no desire or ability to help themselves or others. They simply give up and will their brain into standby position.
This is the 3rd of five stages the doctor describes. Smack dab in the middle of the process of give-up-itis’. It’s preceded by social withdrawal and apathy. While something traumatic is most likely the cause of psychogenic death or giving up to the point where a person dies, it seems to me that each of us can die a little bit when we’re surrounded by Negative Nellies, people who just don’t believe in us, or perhaps are inept at expressing a belief in us.
I’m increasingly fascinated by observing people – people in my life and people who aren’t in my life – who are so incredibly incompetent at expressing belief in others. Well, maybe a more accurate declaration would be my fascination with people seemingly incapable of accurately serving others. I witness is constantly. It sometimes feels like I’m bombarded with apathy, sympathy or negativity — no matter how hard I try to limit or restrict their presence in my life.
Sometimes I’m accused of expecting too much from others. Not expecting them to do something for me, but expecting that they can grow, improve and transform. I’m optimistic for most people. Not in a judgey way, but in a deep belief way. It’s how I’m hardwired I guess because I don’t feel like I necessarily choose to live that way. It’s just how I am. It’s my view of the world and people.
Let me explain, somebody gets up to give a presentation. It’s lackluster. Boring. Dull. Drab. But I know this person isn’t stupid. I have this deep belief that they could perform much, much better. Somebody will ask how I felt about the presentation. I’ll be honest and use those terms: boring, dull, drab. I’ll also say something, “I know he could do so much better.” Quite often, it’s that comment that sparks this retort. “Oh, I don’t know. I think that may be as good as he’s capable of.” Am I right? Are they right? Mostly we don’t find out. The next time I watch them present, it’s no better than the last, but I hang onto the notion that if they had the right person challenging them to be better, they could be better! Maybe I’m the idiot for not being that person for them, but we’re not always the right person for the task! Context and relationships matter. There are friends for that…at least, there can be.
Human potential isn’t limitless, but I suspect very few of us have pushed ours to the limit. I did a Google search on this phrase, “how much of your full potential do most of us use.” Up popped 1,280,000,000 results. The first result was an article published in Forbes in 2011 – To Unleash Your Full Potential, Do These 3 Things.
Here are the 3 things:
- Train your brain to learn new things by embracing uncomfortable situations
- Don’t believe what people say you can’t do
- Set small goals to achieve big results
I’m a bit focused on that middle one today – don’t believe what people say you can’t do. And people includes yourself. What you say to yourself isn’t always spot on. It’s often excuse-making. “I did my best,” isn’t necessarily accurate. I refuse to think the boring, dull presenter is incapable of doing better, even if it’s only marginally better! He’s not working on it. He’s not being pushed to be better. He’s stuck being dull and boring, clearly unable or unwilling to self-assess. (I’m constantly urging people to record themselves and listen or watch. Proof that people can be incapable of seeing or hearing reality because these same folks claim they do listen, but their performance continues to be poor. Maybe it just proves that they need more than observing the truth in order to improve.)
This is all about higher expectations and optimism. The belief that things can be improved. Even if by just a little bit. And the belief that it’s up to us, coupled with the positive influence of friends who will help us.
I’m practical, but I’m still filled with dreams, high hopes, and elevated expectations. Sure, I disappoint myself. Sure, others disappoint me, too. I’m not convinced it’s greater disappointment than if I weren’t optimistic or hopeful. But even if it is, it’s worth it because it fuels my belief in others and in myself. People are mostly good, wanting to do even better. Sometimes we just don’t know how…and that’s why there are friends for that.
In the past 2 years, I’ve spent considerable time reading and studying about our ability to change our mind. Not our ability to change our opinions, but to literally make changes in our mind. To shift our thinking. To change our beliefs. Particularly our self-beliefs. I wish I could report I’ve mastered the art, but I feel like I only know enough to realize how dreadfully inadequate I am at the art or science of it.
Here’s what I can happily report – we’re in control of how we feel. We’re also in control of how we think. Put it in a big mixing bowl, stir it vigorously and it means we’re in control of our destiny to the degree that we’re in control of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. That truth alone is life changing or should be. Why? Because it’s the foundation of what I said earlier…
You make the difference. Or you make excuses.
That’s the whole point of today’s episode. To encourage you to embrace and fully believe that. And to nudge you as firmly as I can to pick the former even though others around you may influence you to do the latter. Find friends who will help you grow, improve and transform. Ditch the friends who are simply devoted to making you happy with your current condition.
As kids, we played follow the leader. As adults, we play it, too. I don’t think it’s foolhardy to say most people make excuses and not a positive difference. In their own lives and in their service to others. It’s the paradox of my optimism. I think most of us want to make a positive difference. We just don’t. For whatever reason. Maybe we believe it when people tell us we can’t do something. Maybe we believe the voice in our own head that tells us it’d be stupid to even try. So we don’t. Maybe we just don’t know how.
Meanwhile, we’re surrounded by people making excuses. We learned to do it as little kids. Sometimes, maybe most times, it worked. It’s like complaining. It offers us almost immediate comfort. It garners sympathy from others. Yes, it wrecks us in many other ways that have long-lasting negative effects, but it’s a habit hard to break.
Our individual and collective challenge is to rise above our first instinct to follow the herd with complaints or excuse-making. I know it’s hard. But again, I have a deep belief that we’re all capable of it. And we’re all capable of more. I don’t care what the people around me say, think or do. Neither should you!
There’s a friend for that. It’s our job to find them and let them serve us…and it’ll give us the opportunity to be that friend for others, too.