…No, It Is Me

How often do parts of your life  not go as expected? When that happens to me I question why. External forces, some person or machine not working as expected…or is it me.

While most of the time I save this introspective analysis for the really important things. Sometimes not.

For me, biking is somewhere in that grey area between important and not. Life threatening, life changing, on the same scale as illness, work, family or plague? No. But it remains a focal part of my personal story. So it is not just something I do but part of who I am.

Two weeks ago I fell. Last week I just had no energy. No idea if the fall was more traumatic to my system than I initially thought or what the deal was. There were times last week when it felt as though the legs pumped hard and my speed was good and then I would glance at my trip computer to sees that I was more than 2-3 mph slower than usual. That’s a lot.

There were two potential reasons why the computer was showing a slow speed. One, that I was riding normally and the computer was damaged in the fall, this could be a technology issue.  Two, that it was me.

I held out hope for the former explanation all week. I rode this morning and discovered truth.

It was me.

I Am Who I Am

The title paraphrases that great sailor philosopher Popeye. His more earthy version is, “I Yam What I Yam”. Well said, so simple and so true. (Visit Popeye here).

Many of us try to be something we are not. Such an attempted transformation rarely lasts and is often transparent even to the most myopic observer. Think lipstick on a pig.

More realistically many of us strive to push beyond our natural limitations. This is generally quite admirable. My caution is to be self-aware enough so that when you fall back to your natural state, for a moment or forever, you recognize that every moment you have surpassed your natural state has been a grand moment and that falling back into your natural state does not make you less.

So, where is this coming from and where is it going you may rightfully ask. Over the last week or so I have had to face some facets of my self that I work hard to overcome because they limit me and what I can bring to the world. Lately I have fallen and I tend to beat myself up pretty hard for it–this, by the way is one of those facets. Writing about my foibles is partly a cathartic exercise. However, I work under the general assumption that feelings I have, others have. The sum of me is unique but many of the parts can be found elsewhere.  So the other reason to write is to connect to the community of people who share parts of me.

<Warning, Warning. Major tangent ahead. Feel free to skip the italics.>

So now I am thinking about why I write this blog. Lets share the perspectives of some friends. Not long after I started I shared the fact that I blog with some long time friends. M, a woman, said something to the effect of ” Isn’t that a bit narcissistic. Why would anyone care what you write?” Maybe it is but so what? I harm no one. No one is required to read what I write. Yes if I was doing this strictly for me I could write a journal and not publish. However, I want to become a very good writer. The feedback helps for one. And for two, I enjoy the community, however small, that this blog creates.

Now back to the regularly scheduled topic of the day.

So what about who I yam has come to the fore lately. The main one is my biggest personal challenge. I am a Man Of Fear. Big and small, too often big. How did this come about? Inherited or learned behavior from my maternal grandmother. She was The Worrier. Some families have warriors, ours had worriers. (Example. We lived 15 minutes from her house. After a visit, the phone would be ringing as we walked in the door. She wanted to know we made it home safely. Every time.)

So how does this fear thing work with me. I see disaster around every corner. In small moments such as being in traffic and imagining accidents about to happen–all the time. In big moments it freezes me momentarily from doing things I know I should do. Left to my natural state I might not do them at all. I have learned to face my fears and then push through them most of the time. It takes its toll. It is a tough and tiring way to live.

I am also a procrastinator. Many of the people who know me well know that one. I don’t know why. To do what I do for a living well, which I do,  I need to be organized and to juggle multiple assignments. Here too I have learned to push through and to do tasks now, at least work tasks I am less good at personal tasks.

What recent event brought on this wave of self awareness that I am taking my sweet time to share? My car shook.

Starting on the drive into work Wednesday morning and on the way home from dinner, it shook constantly. Never before Wednesday. My Fear–I had screwed up the engine because  was months late in getting an oil change. It may have been as much as 6 months (procrastination in case you missed it). I could hardly sleep that night and I was sick to my stomach all morning as I waited at the dealership. I was convinced that not getting a $30 oil change i was going to cost a $30,000+ car instead. Not a good time financially to do that.

It ended up being some coils that were covered under my extended warranty. Replace the coils, get an oil change and fork over $89 and I was done. This is how most of my fears turn out. Much ado about next to nothing. However, I Yam What I Yam.

If only something as simple as a can of spinach could change everything. Instead we persevere, being the best us we can be.

Being Black: Nature Or Nurture

Especially given the race of the democratic nominee for president and his mixed race parentage I found this article especially interesting. A man was raised by his white mother and step father in a white life in a white neighborhood.

In his adulthood he searches for his biological father. He finds him and discovers that the dad is African-American. He has this whole other family that is black. In the article titled Incognito, published in the Chicago Tribune, he explores a little bit of how he begins to think about who he is. Is he a white kid because that is how he was raised or a black man  because of who his father is?

If he never discovered this would the truth be different? Are you who you because of how you are raised or your genes? My unscientific poll of all the people in my home office writing this article think that it is a bit of both. Nature and Nurture.

“Monkeys Rival College Students’ Ability to Estimate”

I am 10 ideas behind in my blogging, buried in work and sick as the proverbial dog. And yet, when I read this article title on npr.org I just had to drop everything and share this with all who read me but do not keep up with NPR.

A brain researcher pitted 2 rhesus monkeys against college students. Both groups were shown 2 groups of dots on a monitor and then needed to quickly select between two choices which choice was closest to the sum of the first two sets of dots.

I feel a need to put the Duke University college students in a fair light given that they, and the University, are probably the butt of an inestimable number of jokes right now. (Actually there is evidence that the monkeys may be able to estimate the number of jokes of which the students are the butt of.) So here are some things you need to know about this scientific study:

  1. These were Duke and not Stanford students
  2. The students did outperform the monkeys, just not by a lot
  3. Had the students been given more time, they would have done much better–according to one of the researchers. (No comment was made as to what might have improved the monkeys’ scores though I suspect that there were motivational differences since the monkeys only received Kool-aid when they scored a correct answer and the students got cash)
  4. Monkeys are skilled at “fuzzy math” (don’t we have a President that referred to this type of math?)
  5. They monkeys chosen had attended an elite primate prep school. Many of the Duke students had attended public schools

Here is my favorite quote from the story. It puts things in great perspective given the elitist nature of humans generally and Americans more specifically:

“When you take away language from a human during a math task like this,” Cantlon said, “they end up looking just like a monkey.”

I could not have said it better myself.

To hear the radio version click here. To read the article click here. I just wish there was a YouTube version.

Complaining: Doctor’s Orders

NPR airs a great series titled This I Believe which is a project getting people to write, share, and discuss the core values that guide their daily lives. The essays are archived and some are selected to become 3 minute orations on NPR.

This latest one struck a cord with with me especially after reading Frank’s post last Friday, Three Cranky Frankie Moments in One Day . In this post Frank complained a bit, justifiably I might add. However later in the comments he seemed apologetic about complaining. He was working on “mood improvement”.

My view is that a little complaining, even with a modest amount of wallowing in self pity, goes a long way to help get you through certain days. Sure if you go overboard it won’t help you and definitely not the ones forced to listen to you. But in moderation…

The next thing I know my amateur psychology is legitimized. By a psychotherapist no less. Professor Barbara Hand is the author of my soon to be favorite book “Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching”.  An excerpt from her essay for This I Believe follows.

Many Americans insist that everyone have a positive attitude, even when the going gets rough… The problem is that this demand for good cheer brings with it a one-two punch for those of us who cannot cope in that way: First you feel bad about whatever’s getting you down, then you feel guilty or defective if you can’t smile and look on the bright side…

I believe that there is no one right way to cope with all of the pain of living…I know that people have different temperaments, and if we are prevented from coping in our own way, be it “positive” or “negative,” we function less well.

…sometimes a lot of what people need when faced with adversity is permission to feel crummy for a while”

This last line says it all for me. Look, if you can be perpetually happy, more power to you. For me, I am on my way to find someone who will listen to me kvetch for awhile. 

It’s Hot! It’s Not? It’s a Burqini!

I get excited by something that allows a person to both respect their religion and better participate in the modern world. A burqini allows Muslim women to stay covered but be in the water at the beach or with their children at a pool. 

A burqini is a lightweight, non-clingy, water-shedding tunic with attached hood in a high-tech polyester sports fabric. It covers the body. This creation came from the mind of a 38 year old Lebanese Muslim woman named Aheda Zanetti after watching her niece struggle to play volleyball in a traditional burqa. The burqini has won the Australian Islamic Council’s approval and is being bought by women across the world.

This is no typical Sports Illustrated swimsuit –though maybe in the Saudi and Dubai editions it will be one day. But who cares if the typical western male would rather see more skin. This creation gives millions of devout Muslim women freedom and comfort that they did not have before. What could be better on a planet that could use more ways for the devout of all religions to be modern, moderate citizens of the world?

I am nominating the burqini for the Nobel Peace prize.

Trust Your Instincts

I prefer to analyze things.  Therefore I don’t often trust that little voice inside my head. Too bad. Alot of years of some great experiences have helped shape that little voice.

I was reminded of this recently when I let a significant business opportunity slip away.  I had what I thought was a good meeting with a CEO. My goal was to convince him that I was as good or better than the competitors of mine he was considering. As he walked me out he asked a question that was strange given the context of the meeting. Would I be the team lead if they hired my company? He knew that I was in his office because that was exactly what was contemplated.

Loud warning sirens began to go off in my head. Danger! Danger!  At that moment I should have asked for 5 more minutes since by asking the question it seemed that he may not be comfortable with me. Later I realized that his asking the question meant that I was still in the game. He could have not said anything. The bull should have been taken by the horns. Instead, I mumbled something and left. I did not get the work.

This actually happens to me less frequently in business situations than in the rest of my life because I trust my work instincts more than those honed in other social situations. 

Tusting my instincts. Another area for potential personal growth. Yeah.

Enough? or Enough!

Is there such thing as enough? If the appetite is there and the spirit willing and wanting, then why hold back! Should we not get all out of life that we can? If so, then Enough? should dictate, not Enough!

I am an Enough! kind of guy. I may be wired that way or just too accustomed to not push for more– especially for my self. I have self imposed rules. Work before play is a big one. It means that I will do the job that pays, take care of the house, kids, finances, etc. first. With the time left over, not so much I might add, I play. So what would happen if I built more play into the fabric of my life? I do not know but a large part of my brain says that the world would fall apart.

How does one really know if one is being responsible or just anal? Upstanding or just dull?

I sure don’t know.  As with all great questions–I can label this as a great question since this is my blog– the right answer may be somewhere in the grey area. More likely the right answer is different for different people. Or maybe there is one right answer.

Enough already!…or is it Enough already?

Head Exploding

explosion.jpgWell not yet but it seems as if it may happen any moment. Three times this week I have been so angry that a nuclear explosion became the very next step. CSI would have had to scrape grey matter off surfaces for miles in all directions.

I seem to have no safety valve or relaxation technique that works for me. I surmise that this is because for much of my life I had a calm soul.  My body and mind  never built the coping mechanisms others have.  If I am in a position to leave the source of the irritation, I will go walk it off. However, this requires walking for several miles until exhaustion sets in. Not always an alternative.

I am open to suggestions though drugs, legal or not, will not be considered. Alcohol maybe, but up to now I have not been much of a drinker. I have tried deep breaths and yoga to no avail. Surely someone has a solution.

Virginia Tech

I don’t know how to feel. 

Yes it was tragic . Yes my heartfelt sympathies go out to those who knew the now dead or were physically or psychologically wounded. Angry, saddened; sure. More confused then anything. I do not in any way comprehend a human being who can act this way. Who kills randomly and senselessly?

At first though it seemed so distant. Not unlike hearing about suicide bombings in Iraq. This was fewer miles away but had the same lack of personal connection. I was going to avoid reading about it or even listening to stories on the news. The facts were not going to help me, provide comfort or even understanding. None of the reporters or commentators has any greater insight than I do.  Keep my distance. 

But then on Tuesday I spent the day with a client in Tennessee.  One of the women killed was an intern and was scheduled to come to work there upon the graduation she would now never have. One of the people in the room had personally recruited her.

O.K. I had to learn something about what happened. I read a day’s worth of newspaper articles. I learned some facts.

I don’t know how to feel.