Your Authentic Self

Your Authentic Self

Stories create and lose unimaginable wealth.  Stories start, fight, win, and lose wars.  Stories build and destroy whole cultures.  Stories inspire, and stories heal.  How can I learn the art of story?

Copy The Pros

In James Mitchener’s book “Poland” he recounts that nation’s birth.  Births are necessarily painful, in all forms.

In a few simple sentence strokes he paints such a scene of pity and despair that little else can enter the mind.  It’s panic on terror; nothing sensational; just “this happened then that.”  But redemption lurks in the darkness, just before dawn.

When it comes to story telling, Hemingway had a saying:  “Don’t say it, make it.”  But what could be harder?

In the novel, Poland is the product of Eastern hammer swings against the anvil of the West.  The result is unrecognizable through any average western cultural lens.

Its where medieval castles and Knights collided with Mongol warriors and unspeakable cruelty.

These are not fairy tales.  Maybe western culture fashioned such notions as post-traumatic stress therapy to deal with the horror.

I’ll never know.  But, as with every story worth telling, there are pockets of redemption where light batters back at the dark.

The best stories are found where salvation of any kind, whether of morals or of life itself, seems least likely.

In this story, a nation in it’s infancy, lurches towards it’s authentic self, though throttled by repeated and savage attack from afar.

The Price Of Authenticity

What’s unique is the victims are not portrayed as happy and content prior to the terror they face.  They are shown through a realistic lens, as tired, hungry, poor peasants with little chance of long life.

And the Knights who protect them are, in their own way, as desperate as the peasants.  They pine for stature and relevance.  But, things can always get worse.

Suddenly, one morning from the east, like a Tsunami, waves of miniature horsemen explode from the dense, black forests separating the hard monotony of western agricultural survival from the even harder frozen steppes of Asia.

Terror of terrors befalls the poor peasants.  “Inherited” fear sends many scrambling from their beds careening into the forest without even alerting their families.  It’s not easy to convey the quandary of certain extinction but Mitchener is game for page upon page.

Zero quarter is given.  It’s a picture of widespread, systemic rape and horror on earth.

Of course, any modern reader of this narrative can’t really comprehend the cruelty.  You have to accept a different reality.  Reading these stories is a form of acceptance of narrative.  How could they be so cruel?

These warriors must have believed that dying from disease, or hunger, or exposure, or lighting, or old age, or bears, or the swords in their hands were all one and the same.  They must not have seen the morality of it.

They were hard on themselves as well.  They slept in the frozen air for months with little more than a blanket.  A piece of dried meat the size of your thumb would last three days on campaign.

Do we suppose we are superior?  Or are we simply the recipients of a different story?  Of a different history and morals?  These are difficult questions that a novel like Mitchener’s hurls you upon.

What comes out of these stories of survival is the authenticity of those that lived through those trials. In this sense, an entire nation.

The Meaning Of Authenticity?

I believe we are all seeking our authentic selves.  The irony is that when we find them we aren’t around to celebrate.  We are changed.  I remember, as a child, desperately wanting to be authentically someone or something else.  Cowboys or Indians.  Civil war heroes.  Pioneers.

Then it was time to go to school, and daydreaming only gets you bad conduct.  But if you survive school you get to start dreaming again.

Then enough things happen that you wake up mid-life and realize you’re not pretending anymore.  You’re living the life you always wanted.  But you learn that doesn’t remotely look like anything you always dreamed of.

And it has nothing to do with status, or possessions, or relationships.  It has to do with what is inside your chest.  What do you carry around with you all the time?  That is your authenticity.

You’re just vaguely aware that all that trial and error and all the experimentation resulted in the man or woman the world needs right now.  Then you have a choice.  Be that person or pretend you never learned those lessons.

Decision points come when you learn there is no backup and there is no second lap around the track.  Fashion says tattoos are forever.  But, a friend taught me he gets tattoos to remind him that nothing is forever, not even tattoos.

The Buck Stops Here

It starts gradually throughout life.

It’s the marine commander who tells his troops there is no one coming behind them, and turns around to look at the empty desert to emphasize the point.  His young troops eyes dazzle at the prospect and the chilly reality, somehow exhilarating.

Then you start to remember the aphorisms.  “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And when you are very much not that change you catch yourself.  Its self-awareness rather than self-consciousness now.

You learn that people are not thinking about you.  They are thinking about themselves.  But you can be aware of your own thoughts.

The Faustian Dream

When we finally become our authentic selves, we don’t get to enjoy the fruit directly.  Because being authentic is not to enjoy the thrill of being authentic.  It’s liberating but something is lost at the same time.  To learn to be comfortable with that loss is the redemption.

Every story of redemption has a villain.  Usually that villain is our past selves that live dormant in every tendency we currently have or resist.

And all this from the opening chapters of the book.  Maybe that’s why he sold 75 million books and didn’t publish his first until he was 40 years old.

The next chapter after authenticity starts now.  Just when we feel beaten, we have achieved that coveted state.  That’s the story of Poland.

We can’t take any of this with us.  Least of all money or possessions.  But what can we leave behind?  Money yes.  But money is green.  That means its replaceable and comes from many quarters.

What can’t be replicated from my life?  What is unique about the random set of experiences only you, in the history of the world, experienced.  Once you embrace that fully, and are least aware of it, you have become your authentic self.

Like no other.

-Paul

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It’s Jerry’s World

It’s Jerry’s World

Rare people make incredibly difficult things look incredibly easy.  In one episode, Seinfeld attempts to impugn an entire continent, with utter impunity.  And he pulls it off; makes it look easy.

Jerry Seinfeld was being interviewed on stage last week.  They asked him if anything like “Seinfeld” could ever happen again.  Would the entire country ever tune into a single TV show, the way they had with his epic sitcom?

Not a chance, I thought.

“Sure,” he said, “it could happen again.  It just has to be funny enough.”  I guess that’s why I sit in the virtual audience.

They asked him where his sense of humor came from.  He said he was never interested in normal everyday things.  It was all very odd to him, he said.

What exactly did he mean by that? asked the interviewer.  “Any of it”, he said, looking around the room waving his arms.

We’re Just Living In It

Jerry isn’t, exactly, a humble guy.  But, if all of America knows a person by their last name, and that person is not the president, they get to brag a little.

But he was serious; and not wrong.  It could happen again.  It just has to be good enough.  He seems to follow his instincts, keeping his own counsel.  He’s not impressed with all the technology and changes happening.

He shows me people still want to hear stories, and people still want to laugh.  If it’s good enough, they’ll tune in.  He keeps things simple, so he can focus on his passion for comedy.

There’s a video showing a time on the red carpet when another huge star, who was legitimately star struck, ran up to him while he was being interviewed and leaned in for a hug.  Jerry shuffles back, just out of reach, saying “no, thank you, no, thank you.”

I’ll never know if that was comedy or just Seinfeld being Seinfeld.  The actor ran away with hands over her mouth, mortified.  Jerry turned back to resume the interview.

Disbelieving, but amused, the interviewer asked what that was all about.  Jerry just said, “I have no idea who that was.”

Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It

On stage they asked if he was concerned that the politicization of everything was making it hard for comics to do comedy. He said no. When one door closes another one opens.

In one episode, Jerry and George are mistaken for being gay.  He said while that was edgy at the time, it isn’t now.  And that’s a good thing.  There is a role for comedy to open us up.  But it has to be the right time.

Laughter heals wounds, but only when everyone is laughing.  Hard to disagree with that.

Different Strokes

Jerry’s shtick is to feign disbelief.  He’ll act surprised at little everyday absurdities as a way of bringing our attention to what’s funny, so we can see it too and laugh.

A biography of Johnny Carson was published by Johnny’s lifelong attorney last year.  He tells the story of his job interview with Johnny.  Johnny’s partner opens the meeting by saying, “kid, Johnny Carson is the unhappiest person I know.”

That doesn’t sound like Seinfeld.

Johnny dominated people; roasted them and was roasted by them.  He teased out their insecurities to create comedy for the audience.  It was like a cult of personality.  And it was a lot tougher.

Jerry’s approach is completely different.  But the times are different.  Popular comedy is more sensitive and inclusive.  Jerry is a man for his time.  But, he’s as much philosopher as comic, which makes him a man for all times.

There is nothing brutal or crude about his approach.  That takes a lot of skill–to get laughs without being shocking.  Then again, what percentage of Carson’s audience were combat vets from WWII?

The comedy changes with the times.  America, maybe, needed something a little edgier in those days.

Public Philosophers

It’s said that France has public philosophers while America doesn’t; that that’s one big difference between the two cultures.  This was one of the ways they explained our disagreements and differences in our responses to 9-11.  Remember freedom fries?

I can’t agree.  I think Jerry is our country’s Voltaire.

Jerry isn’t calling for revolution, though.  He’s just saying, in his own way, it’s all going to go just the way it should.

I wouldn’t doubt it if I’m biased.  I grew up with his comedy.  Thursday nights were for Seinfeld; get the homework done before primetime: 7:00 to 7:30.

Will my nieces and nephews still think Seinfeld is funny?  I think so.  He notices what’s human in us.  That doesn’t change.  Shock jocks have to stay current, poking fun at particular people or choices they’ve made.

But philosophers, like Jerry, show us how some things change, and others don’t.

I hope he makes another show like that.  One America can all watch together.

-Paul

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Tell Your Story

Tell Your Story

I drove cross country last week.  This time it was Texas.  I’d forgotten what seeing America can do for you.  I’m back now and everything looks different.

The thing about tunnel vision is you don’t know you’ve had it until you lose it.  I need to remember to see America every once in a while.

Speaking of America, I read Bob Dylan’s autobiography.  It appeared, unexpectedly, on my Kindle for free.

I’m not sure what I expected him to be like.  The last I’d heard of him was in Seth Godin’s blog.

Seth lives in New York and describes how he knows dozens of people who have a story about someone, who knows someone, whose had some random encounter with Bob Dylan.

Dylan must be some sort of a superman, I thought.

What Is The Magic?

Before reading it, I remembered the first time I heard one of Bob Dylan’s songs.  It was like seeing Lonesome Dove for the first time, in the mid-90’s.

Robert Duval talked about pigs and whiskey the way Dylan sang about “Napoleon in rags and the language that he used.”

I also remember when Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature last year; how he declined the invitation to the ceremony; one of the requirements for receiving the cash prize component.

I think they eventually made an exception for Bob Dylan.

Before reading this book, I thought he was the standoffish celebrity who had better things to do.

Now, it seems more likely one of his grand kids had soccer practice.  Or something like that.  After reading the book that seems like a reasonable thing for Bob Dylan to do, instead of attending the ceremony to receive his Nobel prize.

It, also, seems reasonable, now, that if he weren’t that person, he wouldn’t be receiving the prize in the first place.

The question is how to make that seem like a reasonable thing for us to do.  How to do what makes us so happy we don’t need the prize.

Take A Break

Going to his grand kid’s soccer practice, or taking a motorcycle ride, south, out of New Orleans, to Thibodaux, Louisiana, in the middle of a recording session, appears to be as much a part of Bob Dylan’s art as actually recording hits.

If he stopped what he was doing to react to all the things his success created, he would have lost touch with what he loved a long time ago.

Sometimes, we just need a break to recalibrate.  It’s amazing what a change in scenery can do for creativity or inspiration.

He’s A Believer

He doesn’t rock the audience with his voice or amaze with his guitar skills.

But, in the book, he describes the first time he heard a Woodie Guthrie song.  It’s probably very similar to the way most people feel the first time they hear a Bob Dylan song.  It’s a feeling he believed in.  A story he believed in.

He believed in that sound.  He knew it when he heard it.  And, eventually, he made us believe it too.

Somewhere, here, there is the “follow your heart” lesson.  I hate to say it that simply.  But, reading the book, that’s what it sounds like he had–the courage to follow his heart.

He’s extraordinarily observant of everyday detail, and believes in his own eye for quality.  But, he has a good filter.  You can’t obsess over everything.  There is too much.  The filter is key.  I think reading can help us learn to filter out the wheat from the chaff.

By doing this, Dylan seems to express that what’s important to him is what is in front of him at any given time.  Soccer practice and motorcycle rides out of town.

Food, Shelter, Story

As people, we crave these three things.  So, it follows that there are economies built around them.  Supply and demand.

Bob Dylan tells stories.  And, there is nothing as specialized as a good story teller.  They can’t mechanize it or digitize it.

Whatever industry you are in, you can fit it into one of the three foundations of food, shelter, or story.  Go ahead and try it out.

Sports is all about story.  What is a team but the story of caring for each another while in the pursuit of a common goal?  In sport, the goal is fictionalized prize (a trophy is meaningless in itself).

But the story is always real.

Take any profession.  Engineers, for example.  They design shelter.  Or, they design the infrastructure we need to get food to people or people to food.

But, an engineer turned manager?  That one’s a little trickier.  But, a closer look shows it falls under story.  To lead, you have to tell a story about the world your people believe in.

But it goes deeper.  In all three pillars, there is a story you tell yourself about what you do.  Whichever of these three you are working in, there is a use for good stories.

Even if you are in the business of food or shelter, the story you tell yourself–your “why” for doing what you do–makes a ton of difference.  “Find Your Why.”

This is what Dylan can teach us.  He didn’t fight a war.  He wasn’t persecuted or forced to overcome some incredible disadvantage.  He simply weaves stories out of the, seemingly mundane, stuff of everyday life.

Fine-tune The Story

I needed to recalibrate my story.  It needed a tune up.  So, instinctively I took a trip with a friend.  We saw some country.

Maybe you’re in the business of story.  Leaders, managers, teachers.  Or, maybe, you build shelter, or grow food, or serve dinner at a restaurant.

Nine times out of ten, the outlet for those skills exist in your job already.  If I get stuck, I just need to rework the story; always remembering that the most important story is the one you tell yourself.

Mark Cuban says excellence does not follow passion.  Passion follows excellence. A good story can turn a seemingly mundane thing, dragging your fingers over taught metal wires, into Like a Rolling Stone.

I think we’d like to believe we aren’t confined to one path in our career or lives.  We’d like to believe we can control our destiny at any given time.  You can.  Just write your story.

-Paul

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Consult Your Inner Stoic

Consult Your Inner Stoic

I turned a routine layup into a turnover.  One of two job offers was from a small, flexible start-up, which in hindsight was perfect.  Perfect.  But I went, instead, for the firm that was a little more formal and business-like.

The chemistry was wrong and no job offer materialized after a trial period.

Fail.

I used to tell myself failure was not an option.  That’s how I’d stay motivated.  I didn’t know how right I was.  It isn’t an option.  It’s forced on us.  It doesn’t ask.  But we still have a choice.  We can choose how to respond to failure.

I’m fascinated by entrepreneurs that consistently turn defeat into victory.

How?

The only lasting failure is when we focus on the failure, which of course is always in the past.  What happens in life was made specifically for you and could not have happened otherwise.

Anyone can go to school.  But you’re the only person in the world with the opportunity to learn from the unique combination of challenges you face in life.  A school for one.  Steel is forged in the fire.

That’s the lesson of an ancient book called “The Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius.  Marcus Aurelius’ character was the elderly emperor murdered by Commodus in opening scene of the movie Gladiator.

It’s Stoic philosophy.  It’s the book General (now Defense Secretary) James Mattis carried with him while on campaign in Iraq.

It’s easier to listen to than read.  It translates from Latin into a kind of old English.  Get the translation by George Long.  Google the LibriVox app and download it onto your phone for free (both the app and the audio-book).

What Is Stoic Philosophy?

It’s business philosophy.

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” That’s stoicism.

I can’t turn back time, and stoicism teaches that we shouldn’t want to.  The way things happen is the way they’re supposed to have happened.  This doesn’t mean we have no choice in the matter, however.

Stoics have a parable for this.  It tells of a dog chained to a horse drawn buggy that takes off down the road.  One way or another the dog is going where that buggy is going.

But in life we still have a choice; we can choose to run with the buggy or be dragged along the ground by it.

Stoicism Is About Acceptance

There is something going on in the American economy where people are being forced to evolve.  A lot of lemonade is going to be made.

Part of that process is taking what life gave you and owning it; making it a part of your story.  In this video Simon Sinek shows how Apple beat out all the other computer companies by doing this.

It shows how they used story to connect with people who shared their vision of the world.

It’s too simple.  It can’t be true.  It says Apple’s answer for why they did business was so good people would wait in the rain for days to buy their product.

What do you think?

What Does Bitcoin Have To Do With It?

Seth Godin never talks about Stoicism.  But he appears to practice it.

He said that in 2008 he wrote an article about why Bitcoin was going to be a big deal.  Why it made sense to buy.  The article did well.  But he didn’t buy Bitcoin.

Had he bought $1000 of Bitcoin he would now have Bitcoin worth $40,000,000.

He points this out, not to howl at the moon in pain.  Maybe a little?  He says it’s to show the difference between knowing and knowing for sure.  In 2008 he knew enough to write a popular article about where Bitcoin was headed.  But he didn’t know for sure, he says.

That’s a powerful lesson.  From the jaws of defeat, some remnant of a victory.  He wasn’t, obviously, meant to own Bitcoin.  If he was, he’d own Bitcoin.

Find Your Why, Find Your Value

What you are paid does not represent your value to the market.

What you could be getting paid represents your value to the market.

In economics, the difference between what is and what could be is known as positive vs. normative value.

When I read this there were numbers, equations, and Greek symbols, that I’ll never understand, to prove how they derive this principle.

I’m truly grateful they know how to do this.  But for me the how is not what’s most important.  We know it’s true on a gut level.

We know, instinctively, why this is true.  So much of education is teaching us how.  But we are moving in the “why” direction.  Macs started flying off the shelf because Apple told everyone why they made them, not how.

They said it was to “challenge the status quo.”  They invited potential customers to “think differently.”  We respond to “why” on a gut level.  Kids learn how to walk, and talk.  They are always asking “why.”

Why?

In a world dominated, more and more, by computers “why” is increasingly more important.  Computer’s can’t tell us why.

The Marines have taught this for a long time.

Any mission order has what’s known as the “Five w’s.”  (Who, what, when, where, and why).  The “why”, the Marines teach, is by far the most important.

If I know why I’m going through that mountain pass at 0300 hours, then if the mountain pass is snowed in, I can figure out another way to accomplish the reason for going through it in the first place.

Just call back and ask?  Not always possible.  The first thing to fail is communication.  Isn’t this true everywhere?

What?

The following is a way too simple list of how we spend our lives:

  1. 1/3 of it sleeping
  2. 1/3 of it earning a living, and
  3. 1/3 doing whatever we want.

I’m always trying to figure out how to make two and three look more alike.

People who can aren’t working late because they have to.  They’re working late because that’s what they would do in their free time anyway.

I was looking for a job where number two would look totally different from what I already knew I like doing in number three.  I’ll never make another decision based on money.

A Bird In The Hand

I always remember a story about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  It’s said that at age 22 it took him two minutes to turn down a quarter of a billion dollars.  That was going to be his share of Yahoo’s offer to buy Facebook.

After making the offer, the Yahoo execs left the room to allow Zuckerberg, and his two investors, to decide what to do.  Zuckerberg turned to the much older partners and said “Ok, obviously were not selling so lets just spend the next 10 minutes talking about some things I want to do with Facebook.”

Zuckerberg’s point was simple.  He said he already owned an internet company.  If he sold, and made all this money, he’d just go looking for another internet company to buy.  He said he kind of liked the one he had.  His confidence inspired the much more seasoned execs to give him a shot.

The offer was for a billion dollars.  Facebook is now worth over $500 billion.

Maybe you’ve already got a bird in the hand.

Cuddly Old Poppa Bear

James Altucher says Warren Buffett looks like a cuddly old poppa bear–who happens to be one of the two or three most wealthy people in the world.  He says, news flash, those two have never gone together and never will.

Here’s another thing about Buffett, though.  He still eats at Mcdonalds everyday, drives an old car, and lives in the same middle class house in Omaha Nebraska.

I think I understand what James means.  I think he respects Buffett tremendously.

For this reason.  Warren Buffett says he skips to work every day.  He says that’s how much he loves his job.  The point isn’t that everyone is going to turn what they love into a gazillion dollar company.

The point is that if you do what you love, every day, you can’t lose.  Bruce Lee taught that he fears a fighter who has practiced the same kick 1000 times more than the fighter who has practiced 1000 kicks one time.  That’s Warren Buffett.

After The First 85 K Were All Equal

Here is what’s more amazing.  Buffett, himself, points out that science shows that after $85,000 in income, more money has no measurable increase in happiness.

That’s why Buffett lives an $85,000 lifestyle.  His business decisions are based on his love of sound business principles, not what is going to increase his material wealth.

The irony of course is that is, precisely, where his enormous value add is.

Deciding what that thing is, for lots of people is difficult.  Not because they don’t have that thing, but because it’s hard to isolate into one single concept.  I didn’t know it when I turned down the perfect job.

In a way, yes, we’re unique snowflakes.  But in another way we are very much not.  We are wired to do what we love.  When we find what we’re passionate about, and do it a little, or a lot, everyday, and that thing also helps other people–that’s when we’ve arrived.

-Paul

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