It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

What’s the Point?

Him: What’s the point? You’re 40, when are you ever gonna get into a fight, let alone a sword fight?
Me: Why do you play the guitar? You’re never gonna be in a band.

Spent most of the holiday weekend traveling around the city – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island – and New Jersey as I did work, saw my rents, and the wife’s family as well. Exhausting.

Was debating going to the gym last week because my leg was killing me but I ended up going, knowing I’d be eating my weight in complex carbohydrates.

While I was there, a buddy, who forgot my leg was injured, was goofing around and kicked my knee. I went down like a sack of bricks. Still not a 100% now so I’m using it as an opportunity to catch up on some work and my social media.

Speakinga which, I’m genuinely amused by people that are so critical of the whole Black Friday shopping frenzies.

The way I look at it, everyone’s got a thing. Something that makes no sense to anyone else, but matters to them.

One guy whom I’m friends with, wakes up at the crack of dawn to hit the gym, goes to work, goes to the gym again, and lives to punch someone in the face or get punched in the face. To anyone else not in the life, this probably seems crazy. “What’s the point?”

To him, there’s a point.

Yet he had this whole rant as to people waking up at the crack of dawn to get a good deal on a television, essentially saying, “What’s the point?”

I remember my parents waiting in line for a 13″ black and white TV for me years ago. It was my favorite possession as a child. It made me feel less poor.

For all I know, that’s why these people braved the cold and the sneers. What does he know? For that matter, what do I? And who really cares what people hang meaning upon?

There’s a hypocrisy with people that point out the inane in someone else’s life while not realizing it in their own.

I know it’s a bit ridiculous that I spend so much time either rolling around the floor or whacking someone with a blunt object. Yet to me it has meaning.

And look, I think it’s nuts that someone would want to risk life and limb to try to get a cheap toaster. But I’m not them. And they probably think it’s nuts that I spend so much time icing my leg because I can’t accept I’m 40.

Sir Edmund Hillary, the fella that climbed Mount Everest, once noted that, It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.

Personally, that someone has a goal – however silly I might personally find it – is a laudable thing in and of itself. It’s better to have some passion for something than live life as if in a haze. Even if no one else understands it.

Me: Spent Friday upgrading the two computers. I installed about 40 updates and a wireless 802.11n card into the living room MCE. We can stream full HD wirelessly.
Her: That’s nice.
Me: FULL WIRELESS HD! Not 720 like a chump. 1080p!
Her: …
Me: Clearly, you’re not affording this the attention it deserves.

Location: icing my leg at home
Mood: amused
Music: I have to climb Up on the side of this mountain of mine
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Core belief 4: There’s no such thing as willpower

There’s only varying degrees of what you actually want

Just wrote two large checks to the government. It’s because, those that live in an eat-what-you-kill life here in the US, have to send in what they think are going to be the taxes every three months.

It’s a bit annoying and sometimes stressful because (a) you have to make educated guesses and (b) you have to be ready to write those checks.

Mentioned this to a buddy the other day and he said that I must have a lot of willpower to not spend the money. Likewise, when I mentioned to someone else that I was once super fat, she too remarked that I must have a lot of willpower

So, I figured now was a good time to present another core belief of mine to you: There’s no such thing as willpower.

It doesn’t exist.

What does exist are value judgments as to the relative worth of things.

For example, when I was a fat kid – whether I realized it or not – I was making a choice of choosing the pleasure of chocolate cake over the discomfort of being teased; the pleasure of sitting on a couch watching television versus the discomfort of exercise.

In other words, I was getting something out of being fat that was worth more to me than not being fat.

It was only when I went to junior high school, where there was a pretty girl named Eve, that it flipped. Suddenly, it being fat wasn’t worth the cost to me.

Isn’t it always about a girl?

In any case, had a co-worker of mine, years ago, who just complained about the work he did all the time.

He was offered a promotion and he declined, saying that he was worried no one else could do the job as well as he could. Everyone else thought this was so noble, but I realized that he was getting something out of his current job that was worth more than the higher title, more than the additional income, more than the additional responsibilities.

He liked to complain.

He was getting more out of being able to complain than he would have gotten out of all the other things.

Should note that I never did summon the courage to ask Eve out. Just as well.

There are few people who can actually put up with my idiosyncrasies.

Me: (dropping something) CRASH!
Her: I’m really worried about your ability, as a rational person, to hold onto things.


Core belief 3: You are what you decide to be
Core belief 2: You’re not who you could be because of the lies you tell yourself<
Core belief 1: I’ll judge you for what you do but never for what you are

Location: the start of a new week in an old chair
Mood: sore
Music: like a dream, make me feel crazy
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From the Archives: Doing well in school and speaking a foreign language

Two older posts about academia for this holiday weekend

Since it’s the start of a new school year and Labor Day Weekend, I thought I’d take a cue from Jocelyn Eikenburg in Speaking of China and pull out some stuff from the ole archives.

Public Service Announcement
I had a specific way to take notes in college, which I think helped me out greatly. It might help you. This is what I did.


How to learn a foreign language as an adult
Learning a foreign language as an adult is different than how you do it as a child. Here’s how I try to do it – with advice my wrassln coach gave me.

Workmen fixing an escalator in a metro station in Washington DC


Back to the usual nuthin on Wednesday.

Location: my very clean apartment room
Mood: impatient
Music: Du fric en masse que tu caches dans tes gants
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Good is the enemy of Great

Sometimes I wonder if I’m settling for my good life

Was driving the other day when I saw the food cart above. We have these tiny little cafe carts all over Manhattan in the mornings from 7AM to about 11AM that sell coffee and breads – like croissants, donuts, and muffins.

In any case, this enterprising fella took it a step further by offering office work. If you can’t read the sign, I’ve blown it up for you below.

It reads, “Photo Copy” – evidently he’s a one-stop shop for all things coffee, biscuit, and Xerox.

While it’s funny, I’m not mocking him. I always respect the people that dream bigger than the fish bowl they’ve been given.

After all, it’s why I like aged rum. It’s the little things we do have big impact in our lives.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if all my drive has left me. I used to have all these grand plans but my life is quite good. But, as Jim Collins put it in Good to Great:

Good is the enemy of great. And that is one of the key reasons why we have so little that becomes great. We don’t have great schools, principally because we have good schools. We don’t have great government, principally because we have good government. Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life.

As for me, sometimes I wonder if I’m settling for my good life.

Suppose the fact that I’m sleeping regularly for the first time in a while is a major reason why I’m not sure I should even want more out of life.

Everything has a price tag. It’s all about what you’re willing to pay.

Location: waiting for the summer heat to return
Mood: anxious
Music: Slow down my beating heart, a man dreams one day to fly
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Picasso and his napkin art

Effortless things take years of effort to accomplish

Female client: This bill is outrageous! Who do you think you are?
Me: I think I’m someone that needs to get paid for the work I do.
Her: For four pages of work?
Me: Let me tell you a story: Picasso was sitting in a cafe one day when someone asked him to draw something on a napkin. He did and asked for $12,000. Like you, the man said that it was outrageous because it only took him a minute, to which Picasso said, “Actually, that took me 40 years.”
Her: So you think you’re Picasso?
Me: No, but I did spend the 15 years learning how to write that four page document you’re holding in your hand. If you could have done it, you would’ve. You came to me, not the other way around. You don’t work for free, why do you expect me to?

It’s a never-ending thing in the service industry: explaining the difference between value and price.

Igor Stravinsky and Pablo Picasso collaborated...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Location: back from the gym
Mood: irritated
Music: my brush would take me there But only If I were a painter
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Jaws or Poetry is in the limitations

Jaws was the world’s first blockbuster because of what it couldn’t do

Me: What about Wednesday?
Her: (looking at calendar) I think I’m free Wednesday night.
Me: Cool, it’s a date. (laughing) This is like when we were first dating.

Planning out a date night with the wife, we discussed what film to see.

Years ago, summer was when Hollywood put out its shlock. Their very best films they brought out in wintertime – the holidays – and the dregs of what they had was reserved for the summer.

That is until Jaws.

famous poster
famous poster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jaws was such a massive success that it actually created the modern meaning of the word, “blockbuster” as well as the entire summer movie season.

And the reason why it was a blockbuster was because of a mechanical shark named “Bruce” (after his lawyer!)

Bruce was built specifically for the film but the problem was that it was so experimental that it broke down constantly. All these scenes that Spielberg had envisioned in his head, Bruce couldn’t do.

And a pivotal scene was when a girl is attacked by the monster.

So Spielberg decided to not show the the shark/the monster/Bruce at all. Instead, you see the girl being yanked under and dragged about.

If you’ve seen the film, you’re seeing this scene in your head as you read this. I saw the film 25 years ago and still remember it vividly.

Partly because of that scene, and a number of other changes Spielberg made because Bruce was so persnickety, Jaws became that first blockbuster.

Art is in the limitations.

When I wrassle, there are a number of things I can’t do because of my injuries. And there are some things my fencing students can’t do because of injuries or physical limitations. So we find other things to do. Cool things. Artful things.

I’ve reached a point in my life where, when things don’t go my way, I think, OK, what can we do differently here? And more times than not, it’s better.

I suppose it’s a plus of being older. Which is good, because there are a lot of negatives.

Barber: You know, you should wear a hat.
Me: I do in the winter.
Her: Good. Hats make older people like you look distinguished. Plus you can hide your bald spot.


Location: looking for air conditioned rooms
Mood: steamy
Music: Well, might as well give it another day
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Why are Poison Dart Frogs posionous in the first place?

We become what we consume

Poison dart frogs are well known for their bri...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The most poisonous thing on the planet is a frog; more specifically, it’s the Golden Poison Frog with enough venom to kill between 10-20 humans or two elephants.

But the interesting thing with the Golden Poison Frog – or any poison frog for that matter – is that they aren’t inherently poisonous. They become poisonous from the specific things they eat; if you took baby frogs and fed them things that didn’t have the poison, they wouldn’t be poisonous.

They become poisonous because of what they consume.

On a related note, I’ve come to realize that I know people that consume a steady diet of outrage, and because of that they’re outraged all the time. Or perhaps it’s reversed and they’re outraged all the time and then consume a steady diet of more outrage.

Still others have a steady diet of stupidity, and they’re stupid all the time. And it goes on.

Young, broken people grow up to be old, broken people and after a while you can tell who’s going to end up which.

And I’m finding out that they’re every bit as poisonous to me as those frogs. So I keep my distance.

After all, a frog in a well knows nothing of the ocean and I like to know of oceans.

Conversely, however, I’m also finding that I have more optimistic, worldly, and ambitious people in my life than I might have otherwise expected. And these people consume those things that make them more optimistic, more worldly, and more ambitious.

These people I don’t keep at a distance.

Finally, I’ve been dreaming of the other side again. Just this past weekend, had a dream I lived in Gibraltar.

I’ll tell you about it someday.

Location: the start of a NYC heat wave
Mood: relaxed
Music: again, and again, I think I will break but I mend
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We make 15 decisions a day

To relieve stress, you should try to make less than 15 decisions a day

Read once somewhere that people can make 15 decisions a day. That sounds about right.

In fact, I’ll take it one step further, the fact that:

  1. we can only make 15 decisions a day and
  2. must make 15 decisions a day,

…leads to the stress in our lives. Because sometimes we have to make more. And we’re not really equipped/built to do so.

IMHO, that’s the real reason that we miss childhood; back then, someone else made the decisions for us.

While still young, we fought to make more of those 15 decisions, and then as we got older still, we found we had to make those decisions.

Well, that was dumb.

English: Decisions Decisions (Horton, Point or...
English: Decisions Decisions (Horton, Point or Green) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bearing this in mind, a few years back, I tried to minimize the number of decisions I had to make on a daily basis.

You know why you have rules? You have rules so you don’t have to think because you’ve already thought about it before.

That’s why I have rules and a schedule. It minimizes the discrete decisions I have to make each.

  • Is it Monday? That’s when I usually have client meetings and phone calls.
  • It it Tuesday? I pop over and see my parents in midday and have my fencing class at night.

When the weather’s cool, I wear a suit because it’s easy. I don’t wear a tie even though I have more ties than pretty much anyone I know. One less decision to make.

The problem with this whole plan is when I have a new decision to make. Usually labour over it for a while before I make a decision. But once I do, I try as best as I can not to go back.

After all, we all wanna keep going forward don’t we? I’d like to, anywho.

Location: it’s Wednesday, so that means more meetings and the gym
Mood: steamy
Music: It’s a beautiful bright day outside the door.
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You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with

We become like the five people we spend the most time with

This fella named Jim Rohm, whom I’ve mentioned before, said something once that is the inverse of what I believe.

I believe that our friends mirror some quality of us. After all, people become our friends precisely because they see some part of the world we see.

For example, I don’t have any rabid football fans as friends because I’m not a rabid football friend.

Most of my friends are rum-swilling, chili- and gyro-eating, ambitious nerds because I’m a rum-swilling, chili- and gyro-eating, ambitious nerd. It’s my tribe.

But Jim Rohn said that we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with.

We become like the five people we spend the most time with.

I think this is true too and yet another reason why I end up cutting so many people out of my life – because I want to be around people that point me in the direction I want to go.

Wanna be at least half as good a writer as my writer friend, at least half as a wrestler as my coach, at least half as good a lawyer as my boss, at least half as good a fencer…

Oh, you get the point.

I have 11,680 days left. I want them to matter.

Looking at the silliness I call my life, had five tickets to give out. Think I’ve chosen wisely.


Location: caught in rain again, dammit
Mood: wet again
Music: I’ll admit I’m just the same as I was
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Pathological Altrusim

When kindness hurts

Perhaps one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever come across in my life is the true story of the victim that almost escaped Jeffrey Dahmer.

It’s so disturbing, in fact, that I’m unable to summarize it here. If you want to know more about it, google him and “escaped victim.” I caution you to think twice before you do, though.

In any case, had another night of insomnia recently and thought about a report I read recently by Oakland University professor Barbara Oakley, who coined a new term for something I’ve seen myself repeatedly: Pathological Altruism.

Simply put, it’s when being kind is the worst thing one can be. The Dahmer story is an extreme example but it’s an almost daily occurrence – like soccer trophies for just showing up.

We think we’re doing something kind when in fact we’re doing the exact opposite.

The wife and I watched Jamie Oliver’s TED talk about nutrition over the weekend where a grossly overweight woman came to the realization that she was – literally – killing her own children with a diet of fast food and soda.

She and I also talked about a friend I cut because he ended up being that one drunk idiot at our wedding amongst other questionable actions. He’s also had a string of really bad relationships and I’ve tried to explain that the common denominator in it all is…him.

But he keeps doing what he does and keeps getting what he gets. And I can’t surround myself with people that have no interest in being better than they were yesterday.

More on that Wednesday.

Getting back to pathological altruism, a buddy in college once came back from spring break and told me this story:

He’d been speeding home when a cop pulled him over and wrote him a ticket. The cop said he was sorry he did it but my buddy was going 50 in a 35 zone and it was foggy, as it often is in upstate NY. Stepping back into the car, my buddy continued on his way, depressed and irritated. Suddenly, a deer jumped out in front of him and he slammed on the brakes.

He said that the ticket probably saved his life, and at the very least, saved the life of the deer and his car.

Best ticket I ever got, he said.

In any case, one thing I can summarize here is a joke that goes something like this:

A bird was flying south for the winter when he became tired and fell out of the sky, landing in snow. Almost freezing to death, a cow happened to defecate on him. As the warm dung revived him, the bird began to sing. A wolf, hearing this, immediately dug him out of the dung and devoured him.

There are three morals to this story:

  1. Not everyone who craps on you is your enemy.
  2. Not everyone who pulls you out of crap is your friend.
  3. If you’re buried in crap, it’s best to keep quiet.


Location: caught in rain immediately before a 90 min phone call
Mood: wet
Music: Don’t take to heart the words that he says
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