On Or Off The Hook?

“Our vanity, our self-love, promotes the cult of the genius,” Nietzsche said. “For if we think of genius as something magical, we are not obliged to compare ourselves and find ourselves lacking. . . . To call someone ‘divine’ means: ‘here there is no need to compete.”
― Angela Duckworth, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”

If you want to be let off the hook, just assume that the reason you’re not doing the thing you want to do, living the life you want to lead, is because it’s just not in the cards for you. Certain people are more gifted than you, they’re “born to do this” and therefore you shouldn’t even waste your time trying.

If you want to be ON the hook, take responsibility and give yourself agency. Be awed and inspired by other’s great achievements. Not jealous or envious. Decide that this is what you love to do and you will do it, no matter what. (I’m not talking about commercial success by the way. I’m talking about love of the thing for the thing itself.)

If you’re looking for a mantra (and a role model) to repeat over and over….

“To hell with circumstance. I create opportunities.” -Bruce Lee

“What’s My Intention?”

Before you do ANYTHING (running an errand, making a phone call, driving a car, etc…you name it) ask yourself this question…

“What’s my intention here or what do I want to happen?”

It immediately focuses you. Makes you present. And ultimately will save you a lot of time and grief.

If you can’t answer the question or forget to ask it, you’re not ready for said task. Proceed at your own risk.

Shoshin

The famous duel between the swordmaster Miyamoto Musashi (left) and Sasaki Kojiro (Ganryu) at Ganryu-Jima island. Artist: Yoshifusa Utagawa (active ca. 1840–1860). Source: Wikimedia Commons

“It is difficult to understand the universe if you only study one planet.” -Muhashi, The Book Of Five Rings

Bill:
Socrates – “The only true wisdom consists of knowing you know nothing.”

Ted:
That’s us, dude.

One of my favorite albums of 2021 is “A Beginner’s Mind” by Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine. (Great headphone album!) In an article here, the duo reveal their writing process…isolating themselves in a friend’s cabin, watching films at night and writing songs loosely inspired by the movies the following day.

“They wrote in tandem — one person writing a verse, the other a chorus, churning out chord progressions and lyrical tapestries willy-nilly, often finishing each other’s sentences in the process,” according to a statement. They channeled the Zen Buddhist concept of “shoshin” which means having an attitude of openness and a lack of preconceptions toward a subject regardless of expertise. One approaches all study like a beginner.

I’ll leave with you a story that perfectly encapsulates shoshin…

There once existed a scholar named Tokusan, who was full of opinions on philosophy.

One day, in search for debate, the scholar Tokusan knocked on the door of a famous Zen Master. The master’s name was Ryutan, and he bid the scholar welcome.

As per tradition, Ryutan served Tokusan tea before the conversation began. However, Ryutan did not stop pouring even when the cup was full. Piping hot tea begun to spill over its brim, falling on the saucer, the low desk and finally coming to rest on the robes of the scholar Tokusan himself.

In a panic, Tokusan yelled, “Stop! What are you doing? Can’t you see that the teacup is full?”

“Exactly.” Master Ryutan replied. “You are like this cup; filled to the brim with ideas. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.”

Action

“Your actions reveal not what you want, but what you choose.” -Shane Parrish

“In our world, it is becoming harder and harder to communicate with each other simply and honestly, on a gut level. Yet we still go to the theatre to have a communion with the truth of our existence, and, ideally, we leave it knowing that kind of communication is still possible The theatre can put forward simple human values in hopes that the audience may leave inspired to try to live by such values. Seeing an individual doing [their] best against impossible odds and without regard to [their] fears allows the audience to identify that very capacity within themselves. That iron will is the will of the actor bringing not some “magnificent performance” to the stage, but [their] own simple human values and the actions to which they drive [him/her]. When truth and virtue are so rare in almost every area of sour society the world needs theatre and the theatre needs actors who will bring the truth of the human soul to the stage. The theatre may now be the only place in society where people can go hear the truth.” -“A Practical Handbook For The Actor” by Melissa Bruder, Lee Michael Cohn, Madeleine Olnek, Nathaniel Pollack,. Robert Previto and Scott Zigler

“Always tell the truth, it’s the easiest thing to remember.” -David Mamet

“A Practical Handbook For The Actor” is one of my all time favorite acting books because it’s…well….so…practical. My very first acting mentor/teacher, Kurt Naebig, introduced me to it in his class way back in Chicago. It then led to me seeking out the Atlantic Theatre Company and their classes in Los Angeles which then led to the founding of Vs. Theatre Company (Another blog post for another time.) I constantly revisit the book.

I recently re-read the chapter on “physical action.” It states that there are 9 components or requirements to a good action. I won’t go into detail here as the book (get it, read it!) does a great job explaining each one. But I’ll list them below.

An action must…

  1. be physically capable of being done.
  2. be fun to do.
  3. be specific.
  4. have it’s test in the other person.
  5. not be an errand.
  6. not presuppose any physical or emotional state.
  7. not be manipulative
  8. have a “cap”.
  9. be in line with the intentions of the playwright.

Pretty terrific life advice too, don’t you think?

They’ll Miss You When You’re Gone

“I have had it with the deathbed. We burn a lot of fuel thinking about the deathbed. How long do you plan to spend on your deathbed? A day, a week? Maybe a couple months, at most. You got a whole lifetime before you get to the deathbed. Maybe live your life the way you want and just accept that, whether alone or otherwise, the deathbed is not going to be the high point. You’re all alone on your deathbed? Cheer up, you’re about to die.” -from the play Linda Vista by Tracy Letts

You certainly can’t control being missed, but it’s a worthwhile thing to strive for. Because it means that you contributed something to a group of people. You did something meaningful for others.

So, how might you be missed someday? Here’s a little primer…

Demand excellence of yourself.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Risk!

Don’t need to be thanked or praised.

Be generous to a fault.

Be exacting with your why.

Get super specific. Who’s it for? What’s it for? Find your smallest viable audience and radically delight them.

Be consistent. Show up. Show up. Show up.

Finally, don’t really care about being missed. Care about giving everything you have to the change you’re trying to make and the people you’re trying to serve.

And maybe, just maybe, they’ll miss you when you’re gone. More importantly, you’ll miss them!

Second Mountain Thinking

“In contrast to what I saw happening in my own circle, where the whole of life is spent in idleness, amusement and dissatisfaction with life, I saw that these people who laboured hard throughout their entire lives were less dissatisfied with life than the rich. In contrast to the people of our class who resist and curse the privations and sufferings of their lot, these people accept sickness and grief without question or protest, and with a calm and firm conviction that this is how it must be, that it cannot be otherwise and that it is all for the good. Contrary to us, who the more intelligent we are the less we understand the meaning of life and see some kind of malicious joke in the fact that we suffer and die, these people live, suffer and approach death peacefully and, more often than not, joyfully.” -Leo Tolstoy, “A Confession”

Another mountain analogy this week…

David Brooks in his excellent book, “The Second Mountain” writes about two mountains that everyone encounters in their lives. The first is the one dominated by ego in which we seek fame, fortune and personal accolades. The second is the mountain whose summit can only be reached when we share, give back, and help make others better. We get to the second only after we realize that scaling the first didn’t make us one bit happier.

If we know this to be true, it begs the question…can’t we just bypass the first mountain and head to the second right from the start? We sure would save ourselves and others a whole lot of pain and anguish.

A Terrible Idea

Tommy Caldwell on Climate Change and POW's “Outdoor State of Mind” | Teton  Gravity Research

“This obsession is a curious thing. Sometimes I wonder about the merits of devoting so much of myself to a singular climbing objective. Much of the time it beats me down, leaves me hanging my head in despair. But then there are the moments that bring me to life. When excitement wells up inside my chest in a way that doesn’t happen in every day life. Today my fingertips were cracked and bleeding. I made no progress despite great conditions. Now I am on the ground and can hardly contain my excitement to get back on the wall. It’s a crazy rollercoaster and I owe my family and partners a great deal for encouraging me through it all.” -Tommy Caldwell

Mountain climbing, especially free-climbing, is a terrible idea. Unless you’re world class like Tommy Caldwell (and even then it’s limited) you won’t make any money or get accolades. The training and conditions are brutal. And…you could die.

Producing a play is also a terrible idea. While you won’t die, the training is rigorous, it’s a ton of un-fun yet necessary work, you’ll most likely lose money, you probably won’t get any accolades, and it’s really freakin’ hard to get people to come.

But. When you truly love something, when you’re obsessed, when you just have to do it…you do it anyway.

P.S. Check out this excellent New Yorker profile on Tommy Caldwell. And fantastic documentary “The Dawn Wall.”

Extraordinary

If you want extraordinary results or lead an extraordinary life, you must be willing to do the extraordinary.

Not superhuman things. Ordinary things actually. Things that anyone can do if they have the will. Things like…

-being disciplined

-being focused

-practicing when you don’t feel like it

-saying no (a lot)

-being generous

-being honest

-striving for excellence

-honoring your word

-taking risks/not being afraid to fail

-being organized

-setting and meeting deadlines

-being willing to lead

-trying to solve hard problems

-being vulnerable

-staying open-minded

-being willing to learn new things

-having empathy

And many other ordinary, human things.

What will make you extraordinary is…

Can you sustain? Can you do some or all of these ordinary things, consistently, over a lifetime?

Nothing From Nothing

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take – Wayne Gretzky – Michael Scott”  – The Campus Activities Board – Grand Valley Lanthorn

“Nothing will come from nothing. Dare for mighty things.” -Shakespeare

“Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’. -Billy Preston

“Nothing comes from nothing. Nothing ever could.” -“The Sound Of Music”

You could take the biggest number in the world-let’s say infinitillion-and if you multiply it by zero, you get zero.

Do nothing. Get nothing.

Do something. Might get something. At the very least, you’ll learn something.