Trash of the Titans

Today’s Lesson: Remember what a story is and what makes it resonate.

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**Warning: mildly offensive language in this post (most of my posts are foul-language free so I am just letting you know…)**

In the remake of “Clash of the Titans” (the one from 2010 starring Sam Worthington), Perseus (our hero) is rallying his team to fight Medusa who, with one look, can turn a person to stone. He says at the end of a mildly moving speech, “Trust your senses… (dramatic pause)… and don’t look this bitch in the eye!” Cue big swell of music and team roaring in approval.

I imagine a room full of tee-shirt wearing, pimply writers practically ruining their frayed jeans when they laid that gem down. No doubt there were chest bumps all around and someone shouted, “Man, that is SO Badassss!”

But no. It is not. It is just bad writing.

It is supposed to add punch to the speech, but it pulls the viewer out of the film in a couple ways. I am not sure if the word “bitch” was around during the time Greek mythology was created, but it is a contemporary word nonetheless and immediately draws your attention to it and then to the context. “Trust your senses,” followed by, “…And don’t look (her) in the eye!” is terrible advice, considering vision is one of your senses. Not to mention, “trust your senses” is terrible leadership advice. It is like saying, “Okay, team. The situation is bad. Here is our strategy for success, though: do your best.”

Finally, most people in the movie’s target audience know the story of Medusa and Perseus and how it turns out (this is a remake of a movie that was a retelling of a story that is nearly a thousand years old and part of basic elementary school education). Those lines add no “punch” or value to the unnecessary foreshadowing of what is to come. Why not choose clever writing instead? Or just fair writing. Anything that is a step up from groan-inducing.

Apparently, in the 2010 version of the story, instead of having the power to turn people to stone, Medusa had the power to turn writers to Dumb.

When you tell a story (even if you are not a writer), keep in mind one thing that makes it compelling is that the hero faces increasingly challenging choices, with more at stake at each turn.

In fact, a story (if you ask me) is mostly a series of set-ups for bigger and bigger choices. Consider this: “I went to the store yesterday,” is not a compelling story. But, “I went to the store yesterday and saw the tattooed woman in line ahead of me had her hand in her torn denim jacket pocket, around the butt of a gun…”

That probably compels someone to say, “Oh, wow. What did you do?”

You would want to know what choice I made. Did I confront the woman with the gun? Did I pretend not to notice and walk away? Did I call for help?

“I waited until she was at the register and when she moved to pull her hand out of her pocket, I grabbed her elbow and pushed it back so she couldn’t actually extend her arm. Confused, she looked at me, and then looked directly at the cashier…”

Now, you have to know what happened. The stakes just went way up. What did I do? Did I try to subdue her? Did she succeed in pulling the gun anyway (and then what did I do)? When she looked at me, did I slowly shake my head, indicating she better not try anything? Did I call for security? What happened next?

Realizing that she and the cashier were now eye-to-eye, I did the only thing I could do. I shouted at the cashier, “Don’t look this bit*h in the eye!”

But it was too late. The story had already turned to Dumb.

 

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The Story of Bominicious

Today’s Lesson: Listening closely and not being afraid to ask questions is a responsibility on both sides of a conversation.

*****

This is a great story to make a point about effective teamwork, leadership, or just being courageous enough to speak up and ask questions.

I first heard this story on a television sitcom from the 80’s called, “Designing Women.” I tried to find a link to the video but was unable (if somebody knows it or finds it, please send me a message with the link). I do not remember exactly how the original version of the story went. I have adapted it over the years and it usually comes out sounding something like this:

 

In the early 1900’s, a widowed Southern Belle hired a handyman to fix odds and ends around her big colonial home. As she was not prone to chit-chatting with her hired help (she felt it was beneath her social status to fraternize with staff), she did not converse with the young man outside of pleasantries and having learned his odd name. The man said, “Call me Bominicious”.

Bominicious turned out to be, in fact, the best handyman she had ever seen, and he remained in her employ until the day she died, more than 40 years later. Over that time, of course, the Belle warmed up to Bominicious and by the time she was ready to meet her maker, they were the best of friends.

Sitting beside her deathbed, Bominicious held the Belle’s hand as they reminisced. Eventually, there was a friendly silence between them. After a minute, the Belle spoke up.

“Bominicious,” she said. “You have been such a great friend and employee all these years. You know, there is something I have always wondered but never stirred up the courage to ask. Maybe I am too proper, being an ol’ Southern Belle, but I did not want to impose on your private affairs.”

“Ma’am,” Bominicious said. “I know you’re my employer but you’re also my dearest, best friend. Ask whatever you like.”

“Okay, then,” she said. “Bominicious… why did your parents name you ‘Bominicious’?”

Bominicious was quiet for a moment, obviously trying to muster the right words. “Well…,” he said delicately, “That’s the thing. You remember the day we met all those years ago, when I applied to be your handyman?”

“Of course,” she said.

“Well, that day you asked me what my name was. I said my name is Tony but you can call me BY… MY… INITIALS.”

 

Never be afraid to ask a follow-up question or think you are too good to talk to the hired help!

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The Truth About Why I Went Vegan

There is a documentary being made about how regular vegans live regular lives and why they decided to stop eating animals and animal products in the first place. I shared my story with them and I thought the vegans (or veg-curious) people I know might like to hear it, too…

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I became vegan mainly for religious reasons. I am not religious now but about 20 years ago I remember reading the Ten Commandments and noticing there was no asterisk after the statement, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”.

It got me thinking. Murder is obviously condoned in the Bible (blood of sheep over doors, “an eye for an eye”, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc.) but I noticed it was always done by men and never with God’s explicit instruction. It was always based on hearsay. Somebody said that God said… The only 10 irrefutable rules God provides in the Bible directly are His Commandments (and not for nothing, but He calls them “Commandments”, not “guidelines”, “recommendations”, or “good ideas”).

I could not help but wonder if God intentionally did not have any asterisks there. The First Commandment does not say, “Thou Shalt Not Kill***” with a footnote elsewhere that reads… ***except on burger night or if a fly is really annoying you, or if there is clear DNA evidence to support it. Other restrictions may apply.

He just says, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Period. End of line. There is no way to dispute the commandment, no loophole, no misinterpreting it, no ambiguous double meaning. This is one of the few places the Bible and God’s demands are crystal clear and irrefutable: Thou Shalt Not Kill.

I thought also, how interesting that of all animals on earth, God chose only one–only humans–to give both free will and the choice of whether or not to murder for food. Maybe it was a test, I began thinking. Maybe God really is watching and placing a tick-mark for every one of His flies that we swat, each spider we squish, or cow that we chop to pieces and grind up into bloody patties.

The animals themselves seem to be warning us. A fly avoids a fly swatter. You have to sneak up on the fly because it clearly does not want to die. A spider jumps away from the swipe of a hand. A cow fights and tries to flee just as a human would when it smells the blood and gore of the slaughterhouse and senses imminent doom.

To put it plainly, there is no merciful way to murder something that chooses NOT to die.

Of all creatures on Earth, only humans are burdened with the responsibility of choosing and living with their actions. Interesting.

So that is how my vegan journey began.

I have since traded my Faith for Reason and Logic but the conclusion on being vegan is the same. I remain vegan for one simple reason: I have not come across a good enough reason not to be. No one has yet presented a single valid, logical argument for murder or eating dead things.

There is no vitamin, mineral, or nutrient that comes from other animals that I can not find from plants, fruits, vegetables, legumes, or other plant-based sources (even B12–the toughest of the vegan vitamins to obtain, I can easily get without killing animals). There are not too many animals on the planet. We do not need to “cull the herd” (but we do need to cull the factory farming of herds). There is no environmental reason to support a carnivorous diet. There is just no reason to avoid being vegan.

Think about this. We humans are burdened with the responsibility of being kings and keepers of the Animal Kingdom, whether we like it or not. To say we are at the top of the food chain is an understatement. We have removed ourselves from the food chain. We have no predators. We do not live in fear of being hunted and eaten. This also means, however, we are the default stewards for the safekeeping of this planet. Because we are the only ones with choice, we are also the only ones with responsibility for our choices. We are the kings of the world.

What kind of kings should we be, then? Benevolent and kind or brutal and merciless? How well has the “brutal and merciless” approach worked for any king so quick to end the lives of his subjects throughout all of history?

Unlike plants, animals have a brain and nervous system; they experience pain and emotions and do not wish to die. It is not the same for plants. They have automated defense systems against pests but their very design is to be food. When you pick an apple from a tree, you do not murder the tree. In fact, the tree is counting on you to help spread its seeds and grow more apple trees. The same is true of nearly all plants and non-animals. Our relationship is symbiotic with them.

Moreover, there are clear health benefits for being vegan, and arguably environmental benefits as well (you can Google those–to keep this post from becoming a book, I will just leave it at that–as always, though, check your sources and only accept actual peer-reviewed literature as worthy to base your opinion on).

The bottom line is, going (or being) vegan is a win-win.

 

Today’s Lesson: If I can choose my diet and be perfectly healthy without killing or causing pain to other animals, then… why wouldn’t I? 

 

P.S. If you want to support or share your vegan superhero origin story with the Vegan Movie people, visit this link.

 

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Why We (Think We) Fail, Pt 3 of 3

Do successful people really feel motivated and inspired and have limitless energy all the time?

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Do you sometimes feel like a failure? There are moments when I am not grateful for what I have or ignorant of what I have accomplished while also being envious of what I don’t have and aware of what I have not accomplished. I sat down to consider what sometimes makes me feel like I am not doing a good job living my life. I think there are three big reasons. I wrote about Comparing Yourself to Others and Defining Success in Context. Let’s explore another one:

Lost (or never found) passion. 

Follow your dreams. Do what you love. Find your passion. There are many variations of similar trite phrases and heartfelt quotes meant to inspire people to pursue lofty goals based on personal intuition and emotion. The problem with the idea of following one’s destiny is that many of us, including me, are not so passionate about a single thing we will pursue it doggedly until we find absolute success or die trying.

It has taken me nearly three decades to accept this ubiquitous advice is plain bad. It provides no tools to find your “passion”. Most people do not have a specific, concrete dream they are interested in following. For example, I love music but not as much as Prince, who devoted his life to it. I love writing but I am not as passionate about telling stories as Stephen King. I want to do more than write all the time. I love living a vegan lifestyle but not enough to devote years of my life defending animal rights or trying to bring down the entire factory farming industry. I have strong emotions about all those things and many others but there is not one that lights me up so much I wish it was the only thing I could do the rest of my life. I do not wake up and go to bed every day solely thinking about any of those things.

There are people who are passionate about a single thing and that is good for them, I guess, but I see no reason for anyone to feel bad about not having the energy, time, motivation, inspiration, or wherewithal to devote large swaths of their life to a singular, primary purpose (when there are infinite things and purposes to explore).

 

Today’s lesson: You do not have to chase your dreams, especially if you do not have one or if you have too many. You do not have to follow your passion, especially if you are not that passionate about anything yet. Maybe you will find your passion. Maybe you will never find something you are particularly passionate about. Either way is okay. Just make time in your life to do things you love. There is no requirement for you to become a slave to your ideas or ideals. Do not feel guilty for being anything less or more than you are willing to be in this moment.

 

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Why We (Think We) Fail, Pt 2 of 3

Who is more successful… you or Colin Hanks (Tom Hanks’ son)?

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Like most people, I sometimes feel like a failure. There are moments when I am not grateful for what I have or not cognizant of what I have accomplished but rather envious of what I don’t have and aware of what I have not accomplished. So I sat down and considered what sometimes makes me feel like I suck at living my life. I think there are three big reasons. Yesterday, I wrote about Comparing Yourself to OthersLet’s explore another one:

Defining Success in Context. 

Stories about success are prevalent in the media. I love to read stories of how people overcame obstacles and attained something they pursued. Unfortunately, sometimes I am so caught up in the stories of others that I neglect my own. I want something more, better, or different from what I have and the longer I want something or the further away it seems, the more I feel like I am failing at living my life. This is especially true if I see other people enjoying or attaining the thing I want, whether it is something small like owning a new product, or something big like a relaxing scenic vacation, or something really big like having a mansion on a private island and an exotic vacation home.

One problem with this mentality is allowing myself to have a skewed definition of “success”. Rather than judge my success on its own merit, I sometimes judge it by my perceived success of others. That would be fine… if it was not so frequently wrong. I do not know the lives of others and often they do not know their own life story that well. I suspect none of us do. After all, we are busy living our lives! This means I do not know the cause of anyone’s success. I only see the effect (and, really, only a small part of the effect because I am not involved in every moment of someone else’s life).

For example, who is more successful?

…The son of a wealthy, famous actor who goes into acting and has a hit movie, thanks to the proximity of resources, time, and support to chase his acting career. OR…

…A homeless, recovering alcoholic who has lost everything, but faces and eventually overcomes her addiction, working her way back into lower-middle class society and settling down with a supportive family in the suburbs?

The actor’s son started with a network of people at his disposal to help him. With a little luck and moderate talent, it would be nearly impossible for him to fail. He might have an expensive house, fancy car, and a lot of money, but I would not consider someone who started at the top and stayed there more successful than someone who started at the bottom and made greater progress against greater obstacles. The irony here, of course, is the recovered alcoholic who rebuilt a life from nothing will likely look at the celebrity as an example of success.

 

Today’s lesson: Success is not a tangible, rigidly defined product to attain. Your success is different from mine. I do not know what you overcame to be where you are and you do not know every experience that defined who I am today. Remember, your success is relative to you, and only you. Ultimately, the single act of taking a breath is a success: it is the profound accomplishment of life itself over death. When you realize that, you realize everything is pretty much a win from there.

 

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Why We (Think We) Fail, Pt 1 of 3

How successful are you compared to Beyonce?

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I sometimes feel like a failure. There are moments when I am not grateful for what I have or not cognizant of what I have accomplished but rather envious of what I don’t have and aware of what I have not accomplished. I certainly know others who have “woe is me” moments from time to time. Feeling like a failure is agonizing so I sat down and considered what sometimes makes me feel like I suck at living my life. I think there are three big reasons and today I want to explore one of them:

Comparing myself to people I have created fantasy stories about. 

Sometimes I think of successful celebrities and the stories I have read or heard them tell about their success. I have heard sports stars and rap stars and movie stars talk about rising from poverty or broken households and overcoming adversity by practicing relentlessly, sacrificing sleep, friends, and wealth to do what they loved until they became the best in their field. In my mind, I imagine them having limitless energy and commitment to perfecting their craft over years, while diligently working their way up the ladder of success, motivated and inspired every moment of the way. I think they might sometimes imagine it happened that way, too!

Of course, that is just a story I made up to fill in the gaps of all the years and moments I was never there to see. I was not there to see the bouts of self-loathing or the day their more-talented friend broke an arm and was unable to show up at practice… which was the same time the talent scout did. I was not there to see the lucky moments, the support from others by chance or circumstance, or the frequently random dumb luck that led to a life that looks great from the outside (but maybe is not so great when you actually live it). Not having lived a second of their life, I have created an entire life for them based on my fantasy of the story I would like to write for myself.

The truth is I have no more insight into the real lives of others than they have into my life. I sometimes misjudge myself by comparing my story to the stories I create or accept about the success of other people.

 

Today’s lesson: Stay in your own story. When you compare your life to people you think have it better, you are setting yourself up to only see your failures. Instead, look objectively at your own life and count your successes based on their own merit rather than on the stories you create about others.  

 

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Today’s Lesson: Person See, Person Do [141013]

All of a sudden, I realized no one was doing anything!

 

The entire team was productive a few minutes ago and now the 6 of us were standing around, chatting, doing nothing while on the clock. I can understand being idle for a minute or chatting while doing busy work, but the entire business was at a stand-still and had been for at least a minute. Even the maintenance guy came down from his ladder to enroll us in another story.

How did this happen? I thought. We were rocking and rolling just a couple minutes ago. I replayed the last few minutes in my mind. I stopped first, to explain a process and that led to a quick story with one employee. Two other team members were eavesdropping and then turned to listen, stopping what they were doing. One was passing by and, I think, just wanted to know what the crowd was gathering for, and the remaining two did not want to be left out and, apparently, the maintenance guy–who is always up for a good story in front of a crowd–wanted to entertain us with one of his own. Naturally, that led to another team member starting a story.

Realizing the problem started with me, and not wanting to punish anyone for following my example, I knew exactly what to do. I picked up a box of merchandise and started stocking items while listening to the current tale by one of the team members.

Within seconds, the entire store was back to work cleaning, organizing, or calling customers. It was like magic. I did not have to say a word, no one felt punished, and everyone was still laughing as they worked.

 

Today’s lesson is, be aware of yourself as a leader, first, before noticing others. What you are doing now signals what they are going to do next.

 

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: The Cause of Half Your Suffering [141012]

My feet ache.

I feel tired and groggy.

I don’t have enough money to fix my car.

I hate looking at the scale each morning.

The house is a mess.

Work sucks.

My girlfriend is not talking to me.

 

We all have complaints. What we do not realize is they are usually only half-complaints. We like to focus on the effect but avoid the cause. I think that is because the source of our suffering is almost always the same: it’s us. At times, we all wait (or wish) for some superhero to swoop in and save the day and we forget that we are responsible for being the hero in our own lives.

If your life were a story (and by the way, it is–it is the story you tell other people every day)… would you wish to be the hero of the story of your life, or the villain, or the damsel-in-distress on the train tracks, helpless and crying for someone to rescue her? When we take responsibility for our lives and actions, we have access to knowledge and power to help us succeed. We see the other half of the complaint and accept the responsibility of our actions and our lives.

 

My feet achebecause I never stretch them or wear comfortable shoes.

I feel tired and groggybecause I stayed up too late and drank more than I should.

I don’t have enough money to fix my carbecause I spent it on clothes, put it on credit cards, and never save enough.

I hate looking at the scale each morningbecause exercising and eating right is harder than not exercising and taking control of my diet!

The house is a messbecause I put cleaning off until I absolutely have to do it.

Work sucksbecause I do not want to read books on how to be more effective, or I don’t want to ask for help, or I do not want to find value in my team, or finding a better fit somewhere else is too much… work.

My girlfriend is not talking to me because I am too stubborn to say I am sorry first.

 

 

If you are tied to the train tracks and hoping for someone to rescue you, are you going to wait for the train or start working on those knots?

 

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