Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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Archive for November, 2017

Textpectation

I am the world’s second worst texter. I’m not sure who is the worst texter, but I’m pretty sure that there can’t be more than one person who is worse than I am. I’m not too concerned about that, though, nor am I all that interested in making much improvement. I just can’t stand the pressure.

Haven’t you noticed? Unlike a phone call where it’s totally OK to let it go to voicemail, there’s an expectation that a text is going to elicit an immediate response. Actually not so much of an expectation as a demand. Call it “textpectation”.

How do I handle the pressure of “textpectation”? Easy. I simply continue to aggressively suck at texting. I have effectively lowered expectations so far that any response at any time is considered something just short of a “visitation”.

YMMV, but if you’ve sent me a text, don’t take it personally.

Success Comes With Gratitude. A Thanksgiving Musing

[On this Thanksgiving day once again I offer this piece on the importance of gratitude, on being truly thankful. Indeed, it may very well be that it is impossible to be successful without also being thankful.]

So much we could talk about this morning. Religious extremists and their violence. Intolerance of various kinds expressed in various ways and in various places. Friendship, and those who would impose restrictions thereupon. Financial models both micro and macro, and how they affect those downstream from the “decisioners”. I could go on and on before I even start.

Rather than contemplate any of these in the kind of depth they deserve, let’s rather consider a bigger theme and look at it from different altitudes. My friend Dave posted a little thoughtlet on “success”, and it started a very nice conversation about what actually constitutes success and why. Thinking about success may provide us with a platform from which we might think about the other issues that may be orbiting our little personal planets.

Dave’s post was this: “Successful people have a sense of gratitude. Unsuccessful people have a sense of entitlement.” To parse this one must begin with a definition or at least an understanding of what success is, and equally importantly, what it is not. There are many terms that are often associated with success, things like wealth and power and fame. Is it necessary to have any, or all, of these to be a success? Can you be successful in the absence of any, or all, of these? Where would one fall on the gratitude/entitlement continuum if one were to have any, or all?

This is really tricky, and I’m afraid that when I’m done you will likely have more questions than answers, maybe even more than you had when you started. That may actually be the point now that I think of it. Success probably relates to what I shared last week about “All” or Everything” in that the proper definition of success emanates from within, not without, and this I think is what Dave is implying when he makes the distinction based on gratitude vs. entitlement.

Let’s use an example, a very famous example, to try to illustrate this and prompt some thought: Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs as you know was cut down in the prime of his life by a disease that has no known cause. Was he a success? He was wealthy, famous, and wielded great power both inside and outside his company. He was married to his only spouse, and together they had healthy children (2, if memory serves). A life to be envied, no? One to which many (most?) might aspire.

A deeper dive at least suggests another story, though. It appears that Mr. Jobs, unlike his one great peer Bill Gates, had few if any close friends. Indeed, within his company and his industry he left behind a trail of despair. All one reads about is how hard it was to work with or for him. He won…for sure he won way more than he lost…but did he succeed? Was he successful? I never once read or heard anything from Mr. Jobs that implied that he was grateful for either any of his wins, or any of the spoils of his victories. There were a couple of whispers about an end of life wistfulness about a paucity of connection, though.

I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Jobs, and Heaven knows his family surely misses him. I think his example might soften the “entitlement” part of the equation a bit as I never really got a sense of that from him (as opposed to, say, your favorite rich and famous Kardashian). Being grateful, however, bespeaks connection, a very certain acknowledgement that the concrete parts of success–money, fame, power–are without any real value unless they somehow allow you to share them. This, in turn, brings with it the humility that comes from realizing that you can’t be truly successful if success is only something you can count rather than something you can feel.

No one is entitled to victory, let alone success. In order to feel successful you must be able to admit that you neither did it alone, nor can you truly enjoy it alone. The gratitude felt by the successful is one born of thankfulness for the opportunity you must have been given, and borne aloft by the desire for your success to be one that is felt by not only you, but by others you are thankful to have in your life.

What does being successful mean to you? Rich or poor, famous or anonymous…are you successful?

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from me and all of mine.

Darrell

The Enemy is the Couch

One of the repeating themes in all of my writings on fitness is that it is exponentially more important that one gets off the couch than it is what one does after getting up. To be sure, we in the CrossFit community have been reasonably and accurately accused of being zealous in our support of our chosen post-couch activity. Unlike “Fight Club” it has been observed that the first rule of Crossfit must be that you ALWAYS talk about CrossFit. Fair dinkum. Still, while we may be proven more right than not in the end, there exist other effective fitness options.

My nephew, a retired hockey and lacrosse player, has found his post-collegiate sweet spot in one of the cycling/spinning communities. His preferred version is “Soul Cycle”, but that’s probably more like saying Ben & Jerry’s when you really mean ice cream. You and I know all kinds of folks who swear by Pilates, Barre, various and sundry types of Yoga, and the legions of people who lace ‘em up and run at all kinds of levels at all kinds of times in all kinds of places. In the end even the most zealous among us has to admit that each and every one of these non-CF activities are substantially better than continuing in an unhealthy relationship with your couch.

Fitness, and by extension health, are profoundly complex entities. Hence my own personal difficulty in arriving at a single integer that can be used to measure relative health. It also explains the abject failure of the collective whole of the health wearables industry to come up with a single meaningful, actionable measurement. Still, we ought not dismiss the wearables industry entirely if for no other reason that putting on that Fitbit, or launching Health on your Apple Watch more often than not is like magic; it levitates your ass off that couch.

Simplifying our discussion about fitness and health along the straight line between relatively high intensity exercise versus what could be called long-slow aerobic exercise blinds us to both the essential value of forsaking the couch, while at the same time limiting our ability to explore why it is that there doesn’t seem to be that one, single best approach. Part of the genius of CrossFit is that it starts with a definition and then demands measurement. CrossFit proper has enjoyed explosive growth, growth which is now also occurring in a parallel universe of derivative programming offered by trainers who got their start owning a Box. Is it, are they, better than everything else out there?

Does it matter?

Zero sum games require that someone lose in order that another wins. Likewise, a zero sum grading of ideas means that one eventually must become axiomatic at the expense of the demise of another. Zone/macro quantitative strategies of nutrition vs. Paleo and similar qualitative strategies, for example. A complex system demands that we constantly assess not only the “games” themselves, but also the relationships between the various “games”. Perhaps the greatest gift that I have received from my discovery of CrossFit and the CrossFit community is my ongoing curiosity about all things fitness, and by extension my willingness and desire to pursue the inquiry. By extension I have learned that what works for me may not necessarily work for you.

Is it better to do my CrossFit Rx or my nephew’s Soul Cycle? The answer of course is ‘yes’. Should one do the “Taking Back Eating” macro program or find health in “The Paleo Solution”? Likewise: ‘yes’. Broad acclimations await better measurement followed by the evaluation of those measurements across very large groups of people. However, you and I need not await those conclusions because we can embark on a highly actionable study of our own, n=1.

All it takes is getting off the couch.

 

Meaning in an Indifferent Universe

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent.” –Stanley Kubrick

Man is the only species, on Earth at least, that seeks meaning in life. Once food, clothing, and shelter are secured, Man then turns his attention both inward and outward, in the quest for for some understanding of why we exist, a quest to make our existence meaningful. Alone among all creatures, we do not subsist (I eat, therefor I am) so much as insist (I think, therefore I am).

The great Religions of the Near East and Near West define a meaningful life in terms of fealty to a deity and His edicts. Further East and meaning is acquired by coming ever closer to enlightenment. New World religions assign meaning to the achievement of harmony among all life forms. But what of the emerging worlds in which the great Religions hold little sway?

Death is immutable, and it is death against which all meaning is measured. What came before can be ever and always dismissed as abstract, but what comes after is inextricably tied to what constitutes a meaningful life. Again, Kubrick: “If we can accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death–however mutable man may be able to make them–our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment.”

How is this necessarily so? Why would it be so? Is it because Man as a species can and does sit down to think? If the universe is indeed indifferent and it is Man who introduces meaning, must it not be that our universe is man-made? Whether through acts of omission or commission, consequences intended or unintended, it’s hard to escape this conclusion. Herein lies the essential challenge of seeking meaning in life: meaningful for whom?

Adherents to the great Religions are set here. Meaning is parsed by some higher being. For the rest of us an epic societal tug-of-war exists externally. The furthest to one side posits that meaning ends at the tip of a nose, while the other extreme holds that it knows better and will tell you what you should find meaningful. The truth, at least the actionable truth, lies as always somewhere in between.

Once more, to Kubrick: “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” Herein, I believe, lies the lesson. Meaning, writ small or large, can only be created within. The light of meaning is self-generated, but like all light it can be shared. Must be shared. It is in sharing whatever light we might have or create, however dim we might find it, that makes a meaningful life. What light we create is what separates us from all other life, for Man is alone in his ability to shine that light for others, then see and act upon that which is illuminated.

In the end, the Universe may very well be indifferent, but we need not be. Meaning, in life, may be as simple as the absence of indifference.

Let’s Drop the Hyphen

Have you dipped a toe into the whole 23 and Me world? You know, the company that will analyze your DNA and tell you about your heritage. What percentage you are of this or that. Think for a moment about how your answer the question “what are your?” when someone is asking about your nationality. How do you respond? It’s a terrifically important question, more precisely your answer is terrifically important, especially in these fraught times of machine gun-toting police officers in airports.

How do you respond?

Confession time first, or course. Up until yesterday I typically answered with something along the lines of “I’m a mutt, but I’m mostly Irish.” Accurate enough, at least in terms of heritage back some long time ago, if just the tiniest bit dismissive of my maternal grandfather who was a first generation American of 100% German lineage. And there, in that last word–lineage–we find the linguistic accuracy necessary for each of us to begin to structure a better answer. Better for us, and better for everyone who shares a country to begin to think about how we answer the “what are you?” question.

Henceforth I shall interpret that as a question about my nationality and my answer shall be “I am an American*.” Full stop.

To be sure I will be happy to engage in a conversation about lineage because there are some pretty neat stories about my grandparents and their parents to be told. But me? It’s been many, many generations and much more than 100 years since my ancestors left whatever shores and became Americans. As soon as they married outside of their ancestral tribe they became, and more importantly identified, as American. Isn’t it time the rest of us follows suit?

Put me down as a vote to drop the hyphen. You know, the ( – ) between “X” and “American” we so often hear when “what are you, what nationality are you?” is floated. Wether born here or bourn and chosen, you are an American. This is not a “my country right or wrong” or “love it or leave it” kind of thing. Not one bit. It’s about how you identify, and then by extension how you support. I am an American. I live here, work here, vote here, and pay taxes here (boy, do I pay taxes). Sure, it’s a big country, and the experience of being an American is certainly different in NYC where I am sitting, Cleveland where God willing I will dine at home tonight, or in LA. But Americans we are, one and all. I hope for and will work for a better America, as I hope you will, too. We can keep the entire spirits and coffee industries afloat discussing what “better” means.

As Americans.

*Or Irishman, or Pakistanis, or Canadiens if the shoe (or skate) fits. Rejoice in what is good about your country. One need not disavow one’s lineage to embrace one’s nationality.

The Solo System: Friendship and their Orbits

Friend: a person who has a strong liking for and trust in a another person. –Miriam-Webster’s

This weekend my wife and I will visit my closest (non-family) friend. Friendship has been on my mind of late. Truth be told, some version of that sentence accurately describes some part of my day pretty much every day, just a bit more so of late. You can never have enough friends and all. True enough that, but one should reflect a bit on what it is that constitutes friendship, and what it means to be a friend.

Once upon a time in college I embarked on an adventure, a hitchhiking journey to meet up with mates from college, eventually landing on the beach in North Carolina. My Dad was dead set against it. It was time for me to go to work for the summer, and quite honestly the itinerary was more than a little “skinny” on details.

Me: “But Dad, these guys are my friends!”

Dad: “Probably not. In 10 years you may not even know a single phone number for one person who was there. You are lucky if you have a single friend in the world.”

Man, I hated him for that. I left angry and returned triumphant (God watches over fools and Irishmen). Sure enough, only one among that group remains, and he only a warm afterthought. My Dad, of course, was spot on.

Each of us lives in a galaxy of people who swirl around us as if we were a pre-Galilean Earth. Think Brian Regan’s famous “Science Fair” bit: “The big yellow one is [me].” This very center of this solo system is made up of our friends, however few. They are close enough to touch, always in view. Surrounding this inner circle is a slightly larger one filled with friendly acquaintances, people who may once have been friends or may yet become friends, but at present a group of people we are genuinely happy to see but don’t necessarily go out of our way to do so. Next is that mass of people we’ve met, a group not notable for anything; we don’t think of them at all. There are enemies, too, but for now let’s leave them be. All of this floats in a universe of beings we’ve yet to, or will never meet.

What is it that moves one from the orbit of friendly acquaintances into that innermost sphere of friends? The mechanics of it are really quite banal: shared experiences, a kind of proximity (geographic or in our modern world electronic), enough values held in common that you can forgive those that are different. It’s subtle, the difference between a friendly acquaintance and a friend. Heck, you may have some friendly acquaintances who like you, like who you are just as much as your friend. Maybe more. The difference, I think, is not so much in the liking as it is in the trusting and the caring.

Your friend cares about you. Cares what you think. He pauses before he acts or speaks and takes a moment to think about you before he does either. Someone with whom you are friendly might meet you halfway on something, but your friend will go way beyond that toward you because he cares a bit more about what you think than maybe even what he might. While your friendly acquaintance will likely never hurt you your friend will protect you from hurt. Might even take the hit for you and suffer so that you might not.

Because of this you trust your friend in a way that you trust no one other than your closest family. In a sense you’ve pre-forgiven him because you know…you just know…that he not only will he not hurt you, but he will be ever vigilant against doing so even by accident. My Dad was right. You don’t get very many of these. Indeed, most are fortunate to get one at a time.

Your little solo system is ever-changing; people move in and out of orbits, sometimes inward and sadly occasionally out. People grow differently. They change or they move. The work of friendship is hard because it requires looking outward at the same time you allow another to look in. It’s a high wire/high risk enterprise, being someone’s friend. In many ways it’s as if your very soul is in the harness, and your friend is on belay. And in your hand you hold the rope that allow’s YOUR friend’s soul to soar.

Right beside yours.

Yours ever in friendship,

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