Thursday, May 28, 2015

There is Nothing Wrong With Failure

It's not a simple solution. Failure plus failure doesn't necessarily equal success. Nor does failure plus failure plus failure definitely equate to some higher plateau. So how many times do we have to fall or fail before we overcome, before we triumph? I don't think there is any certain number, nary an exact equation that will reveal when success or victory will come. And that can be outrageously frustrating.

The petulant reality is we don't know for sure if this so-called success will actually arrive. We don't know if the odds will ever be beaten. And that is okay. Life is not an exact science. We cannot measure all our suffering and sweat and somehow determine the prize that we deserve. Failure may come in waves, and it may seem more like a way of life. So how do we find solace in having our face in the dirt?

Though I am not certain that failing again and again will lead to the precise outcomes we ultimately desire, I know they are not all for nothing. Not all of us have the mental dexterity to turn dozens of failures into winning ideas like Thomas Edison or Albert Einstein, but what we can do is find beautiful lessons and moments of love and clarity in the heat of our defeat. Maybe we will never be as wealthy as we want, and perhaps we will never stick to that diet like we know we should. But if our desires are important, altruistic, and rooted in passion we will find joy in the journey, and we will learn to embrace failure. Because all failure means is that we are trying. If we never fail, we aren't trying hard enough, or we aren't expanding the talents and abilities we were blessed with.

Like I said, there is not a certain amount of perspiration that will turn into results. But perspiring, opening up our lives to the attempt of things, shedding tears, loving with everything we have, these things are what success really is. So, in a painfully ironic way, failing is succeeding. The true failure is being scared to fail, and wallowing in a sad cesspool of mediocrity for the rest of our days.

If your heart is broken, let it be broke again. If you can't lose that extra weight, look for a new way to fail. If your career is not where you want it to be, take courage in knowing that many failures await you. As much as the vision and allure of success should motivate us, it is often a glass ceiling. Let failure motivate you. Failure will never really go away, so let it give you joy and push you further than you ever imagined.

"If Failure don't hurt, then failure don't work." ~Boy & Bear

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Perfect Week

Last week I attempted an impossible feat. But I think it is important to attempt the impossible. I tried to have a completely perfect week. I didn't even have in mind exactly what that would entail. But I knew I wanted an excellent seven day period full of triumphs, new friendships, unforgettable moments, with only a modicum of folly. I wanted to minimize error while maximizing joy and efficacy. I scribbled down a handful of specific goals, and thought about my basic loop of things I need to accomplish. But then I started to think more abstractly. I thought about the experience of the week in lieu of a check-list of accomplishments. I decided the first step in achieving a perfect week was in realizing that it could be perfect. I had to change my thinking. Instead of dreading the idea of waking up and going to work, I looked forward to the moment the day could start, another fresh canvas begging to be painted. Adjusting my attitude didn't change facts. Work is work, and any problems I have in my life are not vanished from existence just because I look at things differently. But the experience is wonderfully better with a slight change in perspective.

Monday started out great. I got a large amount of things done, and managed to toss in some fun. Tuesday and Wednesday came and went with even more victory. I met some wonderful people, and found tiny moments of joy that I would not have even noticed had I not been in the search of a perfect week. For a perfect week, to me, was more than making no mistakes and dominating to-do lists, it was about observing and appreciating. A perfect week can be much easier than we think.

Thursday and Friday as one could expect brought a few moments of weakness, some tarnished edges to the painting I was creating. But I quickly jumped out of the gulch I had slipped into and decided that perfection was not about endless bliss and cloud-hopping, it was about learning, about growing, and about being better.

As the week came to a close I stepped back and looked at what I had. I stared into the canvas now rich with thick and vibrant colors. It wasn't perfect, but it was beautiful, and it was something I created.

The great expert of meditation Burgs speaks so eloquently on the subject of experiencing, and observing. For these are the things that really give us happiness and open our eyes to the greatness around us. He reminds us that,

"The invitation is not to show how inventive and imaginative you are, but how much you can notice what you're already part of. And appreciate it and share it, and care about those that are around you, look out for their welfare while looking out for your own. That's it. Then you'll come to the end having had an awesome time."

He goes on to explain how most of us came to earth and in the chaos of life we forgot what was most important, and started focusing only on ourselves and our own problems.

"When you came here, you came here with a sense of awe and wonder, dying to just see what it's all about. Like, 'What would it be like to be down there, to be a part of it.' And you came here with that sense of wonder, and somehow the wonder of it wasn't enough or you stopped wondering, and started wondering about yourself, and in your wondering about yourself you forgot what you came here for, what you came to be a part of."

I guess for me, the key to this "perfect week" is not in all that YOU accomplish, but it is in seeing things like you never did before, and experiencing each day as a gift. And I hope you can realize that a perfect week does not have to start on Monday, and it doesn't have to start when you wake up. It can start this instant. And maybe you just search for the perfect day first, and move forward from there. At any rate joy and goodness create momentum that can carry you much further than you realize. A "perfect" day can turn into this "perfect" week, which over time can become a "perfect" life.

I will end with one of my favorite quotes by Neil Gaiman. This is the sort of quote you read over and over as you start your New Year's Resolutions. It pertains to the future, but I think it can be broken down to weekly and daily increments as well,

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks your'e wonderful, and don't forget to make some art--write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can and I hope somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself."

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Next to Diamonds

A favorite refrain of mine says with a hint of melancholy, "I'm no good next to diamonds." I think we all feel like that sometimes. We feel like unpolished pebbles rubbing shoulders with the fine diamonds of the world. A dirty stone lined up next to a perfect gem can be terribly intimidating, even disheartening. How can a dusty little rock shine and make a name for itself when compared to a glistening diamond?

All of us have talents and unique abilities, idiosyncratic nuances about ourselves that distinguish us from any other human on earth. Alas, it is still difficult to feel proud of your individuality if you are constantly surrounded by people that you only see as taller, prettier, skinnier, smarter, and inexplicably cooler. Truth is, many people will have more natural gifts than us, this is the nature of genetics and the universal law of unfairness. So what is our solution? Remained bummed over our inadequacy? Seek out friends that are shorter, uglier, dumber, and less talented than us? No. The solution is twofold. First we must embrace the diamonds around us. We must realize that being next to something beautiful or skilled takes nothing away from what we offer the world. If anything it is a built-in teacher, a built-in mentor, and a built-in motivator. The second part that we are already arriving at is attitude. If we are easily discouraged in seeing others succeed there is little hope for us. Seeing others succeed and win in life should imbue us with our own source of energy to likewise dominate life. But if we do nothing but compare our lives to those around us, we will end up with the chronic thought, "I'm no good next to diamonds."

I have not been immune to this thought process myself. I have been blessed with a litany of friends that have talents and traits that I will never acquire. I have friends that are more attractive than me, and friends that are better athletes than me. I have friends exceeding expectations at every corner, and sometimes my life seems like something forgotten and left behind. I envy their skill sets and their God given talents. They are diamonds. But I don't consider myself a worthless rock of no value. I too am a diamond. I did not arrive at this conclusion years ago, rather it has been an evolution of understanding. Sure, I will never be as muscular, as well spoken, or as charismatic as some people I know, but that matters not. What I don't possess should only motivate me to create and have more of something else.

Every day I stand next to diamonds because they inspire me, they edify me, and they remind me that I too am a diamond, just of a different cut. Every diamond is different, every one found in a different corner of the earth, mined and refined in different manners.

Maybe you still don't feel like a diamond. Maybe you feel like a cheap version found in 25 cent machines. If this is the case, don't run away from the giants of society. Seek out leaders, heroes, and champions. They will not subtract from your light, but if you let them, they will only add to your glory. Do not let the goodness encircling you to detract from your own happiness. Find diamonds, and be diamonds.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Yom HaShoah- Reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day

As usual I am a day late and a buck short, but the sentiment remains the same. Yom HaShoa, or the Holocaust Remembrance Day is celebrated annually from the evening of April 15 to the evening of April 16. Maybe it is a celebration that tax season is over, but in reality it is a solemn holiday of reflection and mourning. I am not Jewish, but having studied and written much pertaining to the Holocaust, and having visited Auschwitz in Poland, I feel like I too can and should take a day and remember. It just so happens that I am almost done with my second book that centers on the Holocaust. It is a not a history book, but rather a personal look into history. Many people ask me why I study the Holocaust, or rather how I could possibly be so intrigued by such an abhorrent event. Well, here is a partial answer and an excerpt from my new book. Stay tuned for release dates, and please take a moment after reading to reflect, even if for just a few seconds. 

I often get asked the following questions when I tell people I love studying the Holocaust: Doesn’t that depress you? Isn’t that sad to read about all the time? That’s kind of morbid isn’t it? The truth is there are long answers to these simplistic questions, they are answers that are heavy laden with philosophy and existentialism. Unfortunately I am not always in the mood to philosophize every time someone asks me about my hobbies.

But I can understand where these people are coming from. The majority of people, even educated people do not read historical texts as much as I do, and most people I come in contact with do not consider and ponder on the implications of certain historical contexts like I do. So I shouldn’t be offended when they ask such ignorant questions. But I am, just a little bit. To me, telling me it doesn’t make sense to study the Holocaust because it elicits depression is like saying, “why do you read your late mother’s journals, isn’t that deeply saddening?” Of course it is sad, of course it depresses the mind and soul. But is that such a terrible thing to feel sadness? One would argue that reading a journal of a loved one who had passed away was cathartic and in a way connected them with their past, and though it brought about feelings of remorse and melancholy, it was worth the experience. This is what I believe about the Holocaust. No matter the amount of sentences that break my heart and make me weep, it is worth the experience. Though it is not family history, I am not reading about perished members of my own family, every person or group I read about is part of the human family. And from this family, from this aggregate of humanity we can find the same connections, the same catharsis and the same sense of joy.

The same could be uttered about watching the news. Why view a program that just reiterates the evil of mankind, a show that shows us the depressing state of the world? Because it informs us, it teaches us, and it reminds us that there is another side to every story. For every act of hate and oppression there are stories of heroism and compassion to be found. The news is nothing but a present form of history. People are so bored with the facts of yesterday, but so enamored and intrigued by the headlines of today, and what will come tomorrow.

So we are brought back to the query. Why do I study the Holocaust? I have never been put behind bars. I have never gone days without food. I have never been bludgeoned or beaten in public. I have never been covered in lice and blood. I have never had loved ones killed. I have never felt a true hopelessness. So how can I relate? How can I look at the suffering of millions and apply it to my life? How can I learn from an experience I will never endure? The answer is quite simple. All I do to make the Holocaust relevant in my life is alter the scope, and adjust the scale. Sure I have never lain in bed at night aching from hunger and disease. But who hasn’t been hungry before? Who hasn’t felt physical, debilitating pain? Who hasn’t known someone that has suffered through, or been victim of a crippling disease?

Of course I have never been held captive behind barbed wire unable to escape. But I have felt similarly trapped. I have felt like the metaphorical escape into the woods nearby was nothing but a dangerous dream. I have felt like no matter my actions, I would remain in one tragic locale. It is not the same thing. And I am not attempting to compare my plight with those of Holocaust survivors. But when I read about someone’s mother being taken away from them in a split second, and the very next moment the father is executed, I relate. I relate because I have a mother, I have a father, and though I haven’t experienced such ineffable pain, I can imagine, I can empathize. And the second those words jump from the page to my head an immense feeling of gratitude hits me. I think about my mother’s smell, and my father’s embrace. I’m immediately thankful for the safety net they’ve provided for me my whole life, and I wonder how I would react if they were ruthlessly taken from me. As a sentence like that is punctuated I say a silent prayer of thanks that I will not ever have to lose my parents like that.

I am well aware that I have not been forced into feeling the extreme hopelessness that the Jewish people felt during the Nazi reign. But I have felt true hopelessness in fleeting moments, moments I don’t quickly admit to, in moments when I thought the darkness would never subside. Just because my lack of hope at times is so much smaller and so less intense than that of Holocaust victims does not and should not minimize my experience. In fact it only enhances that education process for me. Having been through what I only know as hard times, and what to me has felt catastrophic, I feel like I can relate to those who have suffered through unspeakable acts. Everyone has been through things that at the time seemed insurmountable, and unequivocally painful. And reading or learning about others who have been through much more doesn’t subtract from our pain, and it does not mitigate our memory. What it does do is connect us. It reminds us that everyone suffers at different times and at much different degrees, but at the end of the day, we all need a little hope, and we could all use a little more compassion. 

"Tragedy is more important than love. Out of all human events, it is tragedy alone that
brings people out of their own petty desires and into awareness of other humans'
suffering. Tragedy occurs in human lives so that we will learn to reach out and comfort
~C. S. Lewis