Friday, February 25, 2011

A Good Way To Be

"He was a good hard worker, and he would make a good husband.  He drank enough, but not too much; fought when it was required of him; and never boasted.  He sat quietly in a gathering and yet managed to be there and be recognized."

Steinbeck's character, Connie, from "The Grapes of Wrath"

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Now I'm Old

I turned 30 last week, and celebrated by joining my Mom in attempting (and succeeding) in her first half marathon.  I was very proud of her for working so hard over the last few months to get herself into shape for such a demanding test, and was honored to be able to accompany her during her accomplishment.


I was going to list the 30 things that I have learned in my first 30 years of life.  How trite.  Unfortunately, I haven't learned 30 things, so you get 9 things, and even that was hard to come up with, so no complaining.

You don't have to make all the mistakes on your own - Seems like no one ever wants to listen to other people's advice.  We all think that our own situation, whatever it may be, is so unique that no other person's could be relevant enough to to listen.  Our love is stronger, our difficulties more trying, our situation more desperate.  Slowly and painfully, I have learned that a lot of trials and tribulations can be avoided by just recognizing that other people's situations were often close enough to at least pay attention to.  Certainly, we need to make up our own minds, but we should at least consider learning from other people's mistakes. 

Slow is smooth and smooth is fast - Admittedly lifted from Mark Whalberg's sniper movie, "Shooter," this expression has really struck me as a truism.  Used by Whalberg's character as a way to go through each step of loading, aiming and firing while taking incoming fire and amidst incredible distractions, I repeat it to myself all the time.  When I rush (anything), it doesn't get done well.  When I take my time without wasting my time, concentrate and focus on each individual step, things get done right.

Usually, but not always, you get what you put in - When you work hard, dedicate yourself, and try your best, usually you get what you want.  But not always.

Saying "yes" opens up more opportunities than saying "no" - Within reason, of course.  I defer to Sam Sheridan, who says it much better than I can: "If it comes to doing something or not doing something, you have to do it, because you have already tried the "not doing it" part."

Money, unfortunately, matters - I wish it didn't, but it does.  Money doesn't buy you happiness, but to some degree, it at least allows the possibility of it.  Life is a lot more stressful when you're not sure if you will be able to make rent on the 1st.

My mind and body can get used to, and put up, with just about anything - We don't need to baby ourselves.  Our bodies will keep going long, LONG after our mind tells us to stop, that we are too tired, too sore, too sick, too hungry, too lazy, too whatever.  We don't need to "test our limits," because we can just rest assured that we will never reach them.  Just keep going.

There is such a thing as luck, but I should live like there isn't - If you are reading (or writing) this, we have been blessed with being born into a lifestyle that is far more comfortable than the vast majority of the world.  That I was not born into a life of desperate poverty is as pure a proof that there is luck as we are likely to find.  But now that I am here, I should ignore luck.  "The weak man believes in luck and circumstance, the strong man believes in cause and effect."  I should act and believe that I am responsible for the good and bad that comes my way, refuse to blame others, and control what I can.  At the same time, I must remember that not everyone has had it as easy, and remind myself that sympathy and understanding is often in order.

Consistency is more productive than a frenzy of activity - "Life isn't a spurt, but a long, steady climb."  We can't "mistake intention for determination," and use all of our energy in the first day, eventually losing passion and excitement along the way.  Day after day, year after year of consistent work adds up a lot quicker than a sprint.

The best social circle is the one where it's easy to be the person you want to be - Some people can bring you down, and some can build you up.  The best allow you to be the person you are trying to be.  I have found that it is very difficult to maintain the values and morals that I care about when around certain groups, and that is because they do not care or respect these values.  They value different things.  We are truly the company that we keep, if not immediately, then over time.

I have also learned that no matter how much sushi you eat at one sitting, you will be hungry again in an hour.  Good beer is worth the extra cost.  My parents know a lot more than I thought they did at 16, coming up with excuses should be considered an art form, three days in the woods centers me more effectively than just about anything, and that we learn best by doing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Generational Search for Meaning

"The fool, with all his other faults, has this also, he is always getting ready to live."

What a tragic statement.  What could possibly be more tragic is how readily I can identify with it.  It is so easy to wait for the right time, to start fresh "tomorrow," to feel the need to "research" something first, and while we wait for the right time, time continues its steady march forward. 

We all want meaning.  We all want passion and presence and feeling and fulfillment.  This yearning has birthed the bucket list generation, where we list out all of the accomplishments and goals and plans that, once completed, will indicate that we are now happy and passionate and present and fulfilled.  I propose that life doesn't really work like that.  It is more than just a string of accomplishments and goals checked off of a list.

I have also found that trivializing the things that I am passionate about by relegating them to just another item on my to-do list has the detritus, but perhaps predictable effect of eliminating my passion for them. I want to get to the top of Pyramid Peak, Mt. San Gorgonio or Mt. San Jacinto for the joy involved in the acts of doing so; for the companionship with friends, for the hardship that sharpens my mind and body, for the feeling of accomplishment that reaching the summit provides, and not merely to consider it over/done/finished/completed.

None of us have the time, energy or wherewithal to hop-scotch from one amazing event to the next without any time between them.  If I go on an amazing backpacking trip in early January, and then run a marathon in February, there is still a vast majority of down-time in between those memorable events.  If I just live for those note-worthy experiences, then I am merely coasting a lot more than I am actively living.

Which begs the obvious question; how do I actively live if not directly involved in something exciting, demanding and challenging?  More and more, I feel that we have to work to find the excitement, the meaning and the challenge in everything that we do.  People who know me personally would probably be surprised to know that I sometimes get requests for life advice, career advice, or information on how to live the kind of life I talk about here.  While I have strong doubts about how much help I can actually give, mostly due to the fact that I don't know what the hell I am talking about, I do have opinions on the professional and existential dilemma that so many people my age are going through.

College counselors and career advisers urge us to find what we are passionate about and make our career based on that.  If you are so lucky as to know what your greatest passion is, then you owe it to yourself and all of us folks who are jealous of you to follow that passion as far as it will take you.  Most of us don't have a burning passion for any one obvious thing.  My brother's girlfriend has known since she was young that she would be a doctor, and she is becoming one.  She has worked unbelievably hard for many years to follow that passion and she will be rewarded at the end of that day for her persistence.  I am incredibly impressed with her work ethic and vision, and I am also incredibly jealous that she would be granted this insight into what her "calling" is so young in life.  Most of us do not fall into this boat, and we are therefore left with two choices.  The first and easiest option is to resent our work, this imperfect and meaningless yoke that takes our time, demands our sweat and tears, and prevents us from following our heart.  As you can imagine, this path does not end in happiness.  The second option is to find the meaning and passion that we can in this imperfect vocation.

I have no great passion for the apparel and fashion world.  In fact, I am about as far from being cut of this cloth as it is possible to be, but I am successful in my work.  While I do not personally care for fashionable clothes, designer names or the trendiest colors and patterns, I take great pride in being known as an ethical and competent professional in the industry.  I am proud that I can help a designer take the "picture in their head" and make it a physical reality in the form of a perfectly-developed prototype or a successful production season.  Because of this pride, I can find the meaning, passion and challenge in an industry that on the surface does not stir my soul.

Looking back on every job I ever had, there were lessons to be learned, meaning and metaphor to be found every day, and a chance to find some sense of the passion and presence that we are all looking for.  I strive on a daily basis to adopt this mindset to every act and thought that I engage in, and if I have found any success in creating the kind of life that I value, I owe it to this commitment.          

Currently Listening To: "Kiss The Sky," by Sean Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra
Currently Sipping On: Cold Can of Pabst Blue Ribbon