Didn’t Patty Smythe once sing, “I am the worrier?” No, wait…
This one goes out to the worriers, the procrastinators and those like me with a propensity to gaze inward rather than outward.
Introspection is one thing, but sometimes the inward gaze is insidious. It can take us into dark imaginings and a landscape from which escape is dicey.
How many times have we fallen down the rabbit hole of indecision, mulling over every scenario we can possibly dream up until we wind up lost, confused and in much worse shape than when we started?
Have you ever stalled so much that an opportunity simply passed you by?
Inaction robbed you.
I can’t begin to count the hours I have wasted, waiting for the “right time” to do something – and the sad thing about this is that the something in question might not have been consequential to begin with.
It’s mountains-out-of-molehills, worst-cast-scenario thinking at its finest.
As the years go by, the more I am convinced that action is far superior to inaction, and that executing even an imperfect plan is head-and-shoulders above a well-intentioned delay.
Because we can usually correct course as we go.
A good plan doesn’t have to be perfect – but without action, any plan is useless.
The magic happens when we take action.
Take it from “Old Blood and Guts” himself, General George Patton:
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”
There comes a time when we must put the ball in motion, to “pull the trigger,” as they say.
I have experienced firsthand the benefits of taking action – and it could be as simple as making that phone call, attacking that overdue project or simply showing up where you need to be – and it feels good, every time.
As we slouch into 2021, I have so far resisted the urge to participate in my usual self-imposed orgy of navel gazing…
I don’t know if I can hold out much longer, but I hope to take a different tack this year by being kind to myself instead of running down what I did wrong or failed to do altogether.
Should I enumerate all of the times I have been disingenuous this year? Did I fail to show compassion to others? Was I greedy? Was I selfish? Was I arrogant? Did I talk more than listen? Did I procrastinate?
Yes on all counts.
But given the duality of humanity, I don’t think I’m putting together a laundry list of personal shortcomings in my journal this year.
Have I been kind? Have I loved? Have I laughed with others? Have I hugged (Damn you, COVID-19)? Have I been sincere? Generous? Gracious? Of service?
Were my intentions understood more than they were misunderstood?
The longer I live, the more I realize that I have been lucky – and this is coming from a man who has been through the proverbial wringer more times than he would like to admit.
To any thinking person, the choices I have made resulted in the obvious outcomes, positive and negative. The old saw from the bygone commercial, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” is a bit erroneous.
We can’t fool mother nature. And as much as our magical thinking would like it to be true, there is no skirting of universal laws. If you think this is not so, give it a bit more time.
“My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”
I have written here before about my moments of mountains-out-of-molehills, worst-case-scenario thinking that runs counter to my predilection for personal development – and I know that concocting scenarios can come to no good end. At best, this thinking saps my energy and makes for a “blah” day. At worst, I might be summoning a wave of negative energy that could be very difficult to quell.
Which brings me to a contrasting question:
When something good happens in your life – especially something that you have been wishing, hoping and praying for – how does that make you feel?
It could be something as simple as an unexpected check that covers an overdue bill, a passing grade on a daunting test, a phone call you have been waiting for – or as dynamic as a job offer from the ideal employer or a much-needed reconciliation.
When cool things happen like that, I feel a rush of joy, well-being and gratitude.
It’s important to be grateful.
If you are like me, you have experienced so many wonderful and serendipitous moments in your life – so many blessings – that, in the moment, you know these to be brushes with divinity.
I have experienced too many of these “God moments” to ignore them. That being said, however, why do we sometimes have trouble realizing that the “troubles of the day” can be met and overcome by the same cosmic presence?
Memory is a funny thing.
If we know that many of our worries never come to pass and that we have experienced examples of what I’ll call divine providence, why is it so easy to revert back to limiting beliefs and overthinking?
I want so much to remember once and for all that we have the power to choose our responses to any situation. We have complete control in this realm, whether we believe that in the moment or not.
When I was 12, I “gambled a stamp” and sent away for details on the Charles Atlas course.
Those of a certain age surely remember the above ad that appeared in comic books for years, featuring a guy who finally had enough of being marginalized, bullied and having sand kicked in his face.
While I can’t say I was physically bullied, somewhere in my childhood I was made to feel less-than by certain kids at school – and a daresay some adults I encountered outside of school. With apologies to my twin brother, he and I were the ones left standing when teams were being picked in phys-ed – until each side begrudgingly accepted one or the other of us.
We were different, Chris and I. Old souls, and literate before we started the first grade. (Math is another story. I still gaze slack-jawed when faced with a seemingly easy fractional equation.)
I never understood the sis-boom-bah – rah-rah-rah mentality attached to sports and foisted on kids who have absolutely no interest in participating. Most of the other boys embraced this mentality, but I wasn’t having any of it. Neither was my brother. I still don’t, and Chris doesn’t either.
But the Charles Atlas ad appealed to me in a visceral way, and when I got the booklet in the mail, I was ecstatic…
Here were success stories (modern marketing would call these case studies) of young men who had transformed their nerdy bodies into chiseled and rugged masterpieces.
I just had to order the course – if only to get even with those who ever doubted me. Not that I wanted the chance to compete with the other boys on the athletic field, but rather possess the ability to be ready and able to kick their asses if they decided to ramp up their disrespect.
But nobody actually beat me up or even tried to. Me and my brother never got jumped by marauding bands of street toughs. But it was enough for me that some of these kids were dismissive and that, if given the chance, they would exclude us from their reindeer games.
They didn’t understand different. And we were different in spades. The fact that we were finally embraced by kids like this after we started playing music is another story.
The course was expensive for that time. If I remember correctly, it was thirty dollars, payable in installments of five dollars each time a new component arrived. The course itself arrived, I believe, every couple of weeks or so – with each mimeographed section no more than like ten pages of instructions followed by what looked like ancient photos of Charles Atlas performing the “Dynamic Tension” exercises. These looked simple enough – and each installment focused on another part of the body.
“Dynamic Tension” was what many would come to call resistance training. The course also covered nutrition, grooming and some advice about the dangers of smoking and drinking to the physical specimen. I also recall advice from the strongman about being careful not to dissipate one’s energy on promiscuity. He didn’t use that word, but the gist was the same.
The first lesson was all about building up the pecs – and was supposed to continue throughout the three-month program – and then we were to add additional body parts as we went along. I can’t tell you how often I started, stopped, and started again.
I never finished the program, but even at 12 and 13, my chest was pretty well developed. I still have the course somewhere, and it would be fun to see it again.
At 57, I can tell you that the biggest bully I ever encountered was myself – and he beats me up regularly.
There are so many avenues to explore – but be mindful about the potential rabbit hole of having too many options – or believing you do.
There is only so much we can accomplish in our lives, but what we can accomplish is likely vastly more than we believe we can.
Someone once said that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a week but underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. That makes sense. We cram so many activities and “busy work” into our to-do lists that we always have items left undone at the end of the week. But many people surprise themselves by the progress they have made at the end of the year – especially when it comes to the action they took toward a specific goal.
But we can also crash and burn if we lose sight of our goal, failing to see that consistent action throughout the year would have brought us the result we were after.
We all know about how crowded gyms are at the beginning of the year and how attendance usually flattens a short time later. Bloomberg cited an analysis from Strava, a fitness-tracking app developer, that found most Americans giving up on their fitness resolutions as early as mid-January.
We give up so easily.
What if we made consistent progress on that one thing– the overriding thing that keeps us awake at night – the dream we can’t shake…
Just a bit of progress every day…?
One of my favorite writers and broadcasters, Earl Nightingale, “The Dean of Personal Development,” is attributed with the following quote, but he might have found it somewhere else:
“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.”
Makes sense to me. To-do-lists are one thing – but taking daily action on that one thing can make all the difference in the world.
Remember: Successful people get that way by doing the things that others are not willing to do.
Of course, success means different things to different people.
This could be about getting exercise every day, saving money, or waking up an hour early (or going to bed an hour later) to learn a new skill or write that story, or devoting quality time to your family.
Can being a generalist be better than specializing?
That’s a good question. Being a specialist makes sense in some ways because you are laser-like in your precision when it comes to your area of expertise. But it must also be true that we become so caught up in our respective niches that we fail to see the options.
There are blogs about blogging – and presumably there are blogs about petunias. And many hard-at-it bloggers extol the virtues of a niche.
If there was some one thing I would blog about as a niche, it would be personal development. I am drawn to this because we are all on paths that could culminate in a zenith of self-aware bliss. Of course, another outcome could be the train wreck of nihilism.
But could I really add to this conversation? You bet. Anyone drawing breath can do the same. We all have something to bring to the human party, and we all come to it in varied ways and with diverse perspectives. And we all have a platform – a group of friends, perhaps, to share our views with.
Hell, some crash the party looking for free drinks or company with nothing to give in return. But at least they showed up.
But there has to be such a thing as too many options.
All my life, I would thrill to what I perceived as an endless supply of available options. I would love to be able to explain the excitement that welled up (and still does, for that matter – only in smaller doses) in the face of such intangibles. And it seemed (and still seems, although I am keenly aware of the inexorable march of time) like anything was possible – as if one could order and consume every existential item on the menu.
You might be able to order everything on the menu, but there’s no way you could finish it in one sitting. Let’s say this “one sitting” is your life. You now have all of these options sitting in front of you. It doesn’t matter to the restaurant owner what you do with them. In point of fact, the lion’s share of that stuff will wind up in the trash.
I was recently patting myself on the back because I thought I was procrastinating less. I’d like to think that I take care of things in a much timelier fashion than I once did. That includes handling deadlines, paying bills and getting where I need to be when I am supposed to get there.
Perhaps this is because I am 57, and somehow I’m acutely aware that the clock is ticking and that I had better get cracking on the things that matter – and I’m much better on that score.
But on closer examination, there is still a great deal of kicking-the-can-down-the-road going on.
For decades, efficiency experts have extolled the virtues of handling a piece of paper once. If that paper is important and needs to be retrieved later, then file it away with a “tickle” on your calendar – but by no means let it get lost in a jumble of mounting paperwork…
I get it.
But my digital life is another story. I have an email folder called “reading list – emails,” into which I have stuck everything that I’d like to revisit that isn’t urgent. Sounds like a good idea, but is it really? I also have an app called Pocket, a really useful reader. Every article I find interesting at a given time goes in there.
Here’s the thing. My list in Pocket is bulging at the seams – and only because I have been making a concerted effort to whittle down my email reading list, I’m proud to report that I have only 150 items in that queue at the moment. But if I hope to get that to zero – I need to handle my incoming emails only once – unless they need to be addressed later, much like the paper that the efficiency experts talked about.
Don’t even get me started about my photos and assorted cloud storage. I am about as fragmented as I can be.
Thank God my Word files are properly tagged for easy sorting and retrieval. That’s a win.
But I have been storing photos for more than a decade – and a great deal of them have not been properly renamed.
Much like I do with other keepsakes, I have these photos squirreled away for enjoyment later, but there is no rhyme or reason at play when it comes to finding something from a certain time period.
I have gotten wiser over the years and have tagged most of my newer photos for easy indexing.
I am guilty of not only procrastination but of digital hoarding as well.
But here’s the thing. These things are not half-eaten boxes of cereal or expired Spam. I’d like to get these things organized.
I suppose my flawed thinking centered around the “one day” when I would have the leisure to go through it all. I am beginning to sense that that “one day” may not come in the way I imagine it would come. Compound this with the march of time and all of the “live in in the now” rhetoric (I really should try that sometime), and you have the makings of a perfect storm.
As soon as I am done with my email reading list, I’ll be reviewing my notebooks – mining for potential gold, getting my digital hoard into a manageable state and working on my Pocket reading list.
No matter how long you have been on this planet, there’s something you still need to do.
I remember when my father started going through old papers, notebooks and letters he had stored in my aunt and uncle’s basement in Crestline, California – 5000 feet up in the San Bernardino Mountains…
I found that odd, but I knew what he was up to. He had recently emerged from the hospital after suffering a fall in the shower and developing subdural hematomas, which rendered him incapable of doing basic things like using silverware, holding a cup of tea (his favorite) or even walking.
He had fully improved by the time decided to get rid of that stuff.
I couldn’t have been more than twenty, and I just watched him as he discarded item after item. It was as if he had an agenda, and it seemed to me then that he had a taste of his own mortality and wanted to make sure he “cleaned house.”
He died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm soon after that. That day also happened to be my 21st birthday – the day my twin brother and I were set to party it up. Our friends had a limo ready for us. Let’s just say that was a bust.
The above is not so much a digression as it is a story about what my father felt he had to do, and I kind of wish I had those discarded items to shift through to make better sense of his life and the man he was.
Do the Thing
But this post is not just about getting your house in order before you die; it’s about making sure we don’t depart this mortal coil with our work unfinished – our purpose unfulfilled.
I’m going to be 57 in July. That number is almost unbelievable – and if I let my thoughts run rampant, I am afraid that they will take me to a place of regret – the cursed domain of “should-haves,” “would-haves” and “could-haves.”
I have written before about the value of reconnecting with our inner 12-year-olds to see what resonated with us then. Forget the conventional wisdom that a pre-teen doesn’t yet have the ability to intuit what they want from life. I have a feeling that we all have an inkling of what moves us long before that. It’s only after repeated exposure to those who tell us to stop daydreaming that we begin to lose – or sublimate – our innate and God-given talents.
Look at the people who told you to grow up. Did their lives show any indication of fulfillment? Of joy?
Chances are good that somebody else told them to grow up, thereby continuing a generational beat-down – a downward spiral of error, if you will.
Conform or die.
Always remember this obvious fact: Death is not the exclusive domain of the old. The bell could toll at any time. Earl Nightingale, the Dean of Personal Development, once said something to the effect that if we are on course, the end could come like a snapped piece of film in a reel as we are going about our business.
What do you need to finish?
What do you need to start?
What thing have you talked about for years, for decades, that you never got around to starting?
Believe me, the urge to complete that thing will not stop dogging you. No matter how much you try to avoid it.
The result – bitterness. Regret. Failure to launch. The void.
There is something inside you that needs to be realized – something dear to you that you have cherished since you were little. It is my hope that you dust that off and begin in earnest to nurture that.
From my heart to yours: Start the thing. You will be glad you did.
In Disney’s “The Lion King,” the shamanistic mandrill Rafiki instructed Simba to look deeply into a pool of water, revealing his father to him. Mufasa appears in a cloud, dispensing what was to me the best advice ever: “Remember who you are.”
I would like to get through this blog post without naming the source of the global pandemic currently at play. Rather, this is an opportunity to touch on a subject that might have become muddled for many boomers over time – myself included.
Seclusion offers a chance for reflection. In some cases, this reflection gives birth to an agonizing reappraisal – a reordering of priorities and beliefs and an existential reset.
THE EYES OF A CHILD
I knew who I was when I was a child. My favorite years were likely ten and 17.
“Mad Does Smell / Mad does smell / Prices raised too high
First ten cents / Now fifty / Not worth it to buy
Trashing all the Mads / In a single garbage can
Might be pretty tough / ‘Cause there’s too much to stuff…”
You get the idea.
Note that I said I was writing and submitting. As far as selling – well I might still have those rejection slips in storage. I hope so. But I loved to write. I identified with it.
I was also a voracious comic book collector and budding entrepreneur. I used to place classified ads, calling for neighborhood people to sell their old comics. My “business” name was Mr. Comix, and I bought up a lot of books on the cheap. I got more interested in keeping them than selling them.
In my late twenties, the cares of the world and my own bad decisions let to my decision to sell off my comics to Golden Apple Comics on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood – for a fraction of what they were worth. I needed to make in-arrears payment on a 1988 Harley-Davidson Sportster I had no business buying in the first place. Eventually, it got repossessed. No bike. No comics.
I don’t care about the Sportster. I still wake up with a start when the comics pop into my mind.
I was an enthusiastic ten-year-old, and the world was my oyster. I liked nothing better than writing, in no small part because my father was then a screenwriter – and he encouraged me when he saw that I had taken an interest. Dad never got the break he was looking for – but he was prolific, and I still have his screenplays.
At 17, my twin brother Chris and I had already been playing music for several years and we teamed up with a French kid named Pascal Srabian – a great, natural guitarist – and formed a trio called Yale. We played out at places like the Bla-Bla Café in Studio City and actually won a Battle of the Bands at Gazzarri’s on the Sunset Strip. Our dear friend Lee Newman managed us, and we were all inseparable.
Lee is busy these days running his family business, Jimmy McHugh Music. McHugh was Lee’s great-grandfather and gave the world such priceless tunes as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “I’m in the Mood for Love” and so many more. Lee is the real deal. Hollywood royalty. His other great-grandfather was Eddie Cantor. Think about that for a moment.
Sadly, Pascal was gunned down one morning in 1981 as he was about to get into his Firebird. A jealous husband found out that Pascal was sleeping with his wife. The husband fled, presumably to Mexico. I don’t think there was ever any closure.
But our late teens were heady times. Chris and I believed we would be rock stars. Unfortunately, we partied like rock stars but failed to do enough work. We had several bands in Hollywood after Yale, and our failure to launch haunts us to this day. That’s almost as painful as losing my comics.
It’s no use pining away for what might have been – and it’s never too late to correct course.
If we get in touch with our inner 10-or 17-year-old selves, we might be able to salvage some of those old hopes and dreams.
What makes you want to get up in the morning? What do you remember doing when you were a kid that lit you up like nothing else? What were you certain about? What would you be doing now if you stayed true to those nascent plans – those stirrings that urged you on?
My world centered on writing and later, music – and although I am not getting rich with either, I am happy to report that I’ve been again engaged in those things for more than a decade – and I still get lit up about it.
A byline, a show completed. There’s still a thrill attached to both.