The impression we make matters. For the times we've got to wear a suit, we should make sure we look good in one. Here's a great graphic to help us do just that. And when a suit fits as it should, it just feels better.
They called him Sleepy Steve. I was at the party after a fraternity initiation a few years ago. There was concern about a friend and brother. He'd apparently drunk himself into such a stupor that those about us with some medical training had concerns. His immediate brothers (he was from a different chapter) said not to worry; he does this all the time.
The party was winding down. The few people left wanted to go out. I was not one of them; so I had the privilege of watching Steve. He was on a couch, I in a chair next to him. He had been the one who drank the earliest, drank the most, and acted inappropriately as proceedings were coming to their conclusion, long before the party where we all intended to tie one on. His friends were mostly amused; this was Steve.
His shirt lay in such a way that I could see the slightest movement with every breath. I imagined how a mother might have hung on every one. Knowing a bit about alcohol, I wondered what break, what tragedy or story about himself brought him to this state time and again. Though we like to hope that the circumstances will change and the man outgrow the pain and confusion that drives his younger self to such excess, my experience is that - without some help from the outside - all that usually happens is a moderation of behavior to hide that which is so obvious today.
Neither graduation, nor a job, nor marriage and a family will fill the void he is using alcohol to fill. There is only one way, and that is to make peace with oneself, to confront doubt and insecurity, to find that which there is to be thankful for and build on that.
I am reminded of this today because I just received news of another brother who has passed to the stars as we like to say, a bright and beautiful human being who was going to be a doctor. I don't know if he finished college even (he was a few years behind me), but I remember him being too fond of the bottle. It was only on weekends, he'd aver, but we all saw the signs. I had wondered about him from time to time. Last I'd heard, he was working in the college dining hall. I'd thought about contacting him when my sister headed out on her ten year journey to become a doctor, thinking that if she could do it, so could he.
I'd thought about it, but I didn't do it. Now another dream has ended, a once bright future foreclosed. I don't know if Mike drank himself to death, or if he had gotten his act together and died from other causes entirely. But I do know that for at least the time I knew him, he missed who he was to others and the love that the people around him had for him. He could not see in himself the greatness that we all knew was there.
As far as I know, Sleepy Steve still walks this earth. My guess is he has no idea how great he is, and instead of getting the contribution that he is to this world, he's stuck in some crap story about how he isn't enough. I'm no expert in this field, but I'd guess we've all got a Sleepy Steve somewhere in our lives. In our own way, we might even be him, one of the legion of the walking dead who can't exactly be happy, who don't deserve to be happy, because of some circumstance in our lives - neglect, divorce, abuse, suicide, the failure to meet some expectation - or rather the story we tell ourselves about it.
So this is an invitation to Sleepy Steve, or perhaps the Sleepy Steve in me, to take some stock, make a list each morning of what you have to be thankful for, thank people, get their love for you, set your doubt aside for a moment and act boldly anyway. I promise you you won't look any sillier than you do when you are a few drinks in, and you might actually cause some miracles in this world.
For the friends of Sleepy Steve, be his friend dammit and don't let him get away with his shit. If you do, all you have to look forward to is another buddy who went too early to his grave because he couldn't get out of his own way, and you didn't take the initiative to help him.
I just love Simon Sinek.
Recently, my wife asked for a raise. She got one, but not in line with what she deserved or the going rates for her profession (Sharleen is a dentist). One of the reasons in the background was that the organization that employs her has seen its revenues fall recently and is tightening budgets across the board. One of the companies that Kibbutz Lavi runs is
Lavi Furniture Industries. So I figured if I could get them making more money, more money would be available to pay my wife. (We will leave aside for the moment that the dental clinic has actually become more profitable with my wife there. A Kibbutz is a communist organization and the regular rules of business don't always apply.)
As I'd recently seen and been recommending Simon Sinek's TED presentation on How Great Leader's Inspire Action, I looked at Lavi's site through the Sinek lens. Mr. Sinek highlights Apple Inc. and suggests it is successful because it doesn't bill itself as a computer company, but rather identifies itself as the company for those who "think different." Looking at Lavi's site, all one is left with is that it is a company that builds synagogue furniture. I searched on-line for synagogue furniture and found Sauder Manufacturing Co. They "reachHIGHER." So which would you want, furniture or a closer relationship with G-d? All things being equal, I find myself more inspired by Sauder, even if its homepage shows a pew with a cross on the end.
I called Lavi and spoke to some of the folk there. They didn't seem moved. The economy is still slack, this affects synagogue donations, and there just isn't the same call for furniture there once was. I was in the states a few weeks ago. In an orthodox synagogue (in a community where many of the people have stayed at Lavi (it also has a hotel), and which probably should know of its furniture company), I turned over a chair to find it was made by Sauder. I wasn't surprised.
Sauder - or its marketing people - got Simon's point. People don't buy what you do. They buy why you do it. Lot's of companies make furniture. How many help you "reachHIGHER?" I find that taking a look at the why isn't only good marketing, it's good for inspiring us. I can say I am a lawyer, or I can say I am about helping people move past the conflicts and trouble spots in their lives. I can say I am an English teacher, or I can be about helping people to communicate and powerfully express themselves. I can say I am a Coach, or that I help people live bigger lives, dream bigger dreams, and produce unprecedented results. I can say I am a politician, or that I am about restoring our freedoms and creating the space in which all Americans, and by extension all the world, can live bigger, more fulfilling lives.
I find when I define myself by the purpose instead of the role, I am called differently into action, and am more satisfied with the difference I make in the world. My invitation to you is to look at what you are about. The thing is that you can bring that to any job. If I am about making the world a better place, all that takes sometimes is a smile, even if I were doing a job I hate.
So many of my mentors suggest that it is important to take stock of the things one is grateful for that I figure it's about time I share some of mine:
- My kids: They are simply the best. and I am clear of the part my wife and I have played that they have come out the way they have.
- My darling wife and partner: She is the epitome of love, commitment and support. I am privileged to be able to choose her again and again and again.
- My curiosity and good sense: I suppose I have a long history of teachers, educators and friends to thank for this but mostly I thank the almighty for giving me the mix of those things that has brought me to where I am.
Less than complementary comments on things a person can't change at the moment should be avoided.
However, they occur, and all too often from those close to us. This comment is about how we react, and comes with a suggestion that we should not let another's words subvert our own intentions.
When I was teaching, I used to ask my students to choose my class. This is an incredibly grown up concept. I gave them this example:
You wake up one morning and you look about you and decide that your room is a mess. Not only that, today is the day you are going to do something about it.
So you spend the whole day thinking about how you are going to reorganize your room, what you are going to keep, what can go to your younger siblings, what boxes you are going to put stuff in, how you are going to make the space in your closet, where you are finally going to hang up that poster you just had to have.
You start wonderinig about all the stuff you have under the bed, what you seem to have lost that you might find again. Maybe you even figure on cleaning the window. While you are at it, you think about how much you'd really like to paint your room, but first things first.
School ends and the plan is in place. You're already thinking how nice it will be to get to your bed without tripping over stuff. Maybe you'll even figure out where that trail of ants is leading or that funny smell is coming from. The thought "Won't my mother be surprised" even crosses your mind.
You get home, grab a snack from the kitchen and run into your mother.
"How was your day?" she asks.
"Fine." (You're a teenager after all.)
"None to speak of."
"You seem happy with yourself today. What's up?"
"Not too much really. How was your day?"
"Well, I'll tell you how my day was. I needed a phone. The portable that was supposed to end up on the charger last night was dead on the coffee table in front of the TV. So I paged the other one, and after searching for I don't know how long, I finally heard a faint beeping when I opened the door to your room. I almost killed myself trying to get to your bed."
You: "It's funny you should mention that, I was going to . . . "
"Going to what? There was one bar left on the phone. Do you have any idea how important that call was? Do you know that there is a trail of ants in your rooom eating who knows what from I don't know what rotting food that must be."
"But mom, I was just telling you . . . "
"What? No, I'll tell you. Give me your phone. I don't want to see you again until your room is spic and span, and no more of this shoving stuff under your bed. No TV, no dinner, I don't want to see you. Do you know how much junk you have in there?
So what? What was it you wanted to tell me? You've wasted enough of my time. Out with it. WHAT?!!!"
"Come on, out with it already."
"It's nothing really."
"Yeah, that's what I figured."
Here is this kid who wanted to make his own world, and even his mother's, a better place, and who's now sitting in his room thinking "How f@$%ing unfair." So he gets on the computer to tell his friends, only to find he's been locked out. "What a b$%^&."
He clears a path, and half way through stuffing all the stuff from under his bed into his closet, he gives up. The prospect of the satisfaction he anticipated from having his room as he wanted has evaporated. While before he had anticipated surprising his mother, now he can't give her the f-ing satisfaction.
With my students, I ended this with a request to choose my class in spite of all the idiots telling them they had better be there, and creating all sorts of coercive mechanisms to try to force them to learn. How much different a class could be if all of the students chose to be there instead of making rational decisions about how much they needed to do to get the result that would serve their purposes.
So, I told a friend (we're well into our forties now) to stop making her father wrong and let him love her. Our parents know how to push our buttons. They put most of them there, but we can choose how to react.
"My, you've gotten fat" came up as an example. There is no knowing all that is behind a comment like this, but boy are we good at coming up with evil motives. My friend's context is a conversation called "My father treats me (and my sisters) as lesser human beings." Perhaps the comment is taken as evidence of his objectification of women, or of him judging them on a basis other than intrinsic values. Perhaps he is simply and irredeemably stuck in the dark ages. He is a little bit more conservative than they.
But I wonder if we can be a little more honest with our reactions. What's his sin? He said out loud that which she might have said to herself in front of the mirror that morning. Her response - likely unverbalized - was probably something like: "Oh shit, why do you always do that. Why can't you just accept me as I am?" and her reactions from there on out might have come from "Well, if that's all you can think to say, I'll show you!"
What if her sister, best friend, husband, or even I - a distant friend from many years past - had said such a thing? The response might have been, "Dammit I know. My weight's been creeping up and I really don't know what I've been doing differently. Got any ideas?"
I can't imagine anyone who could be more committed to her than her father. That said, I am a guy, and I know we can do and say some pretty stupid things. Some of us missed the training on tact and sensitivity. We say things like "My, you've gotten fat" when we mean "Where is that bubbly happy girl I used to know? I hope she's not depressed," and somewhere under that is "I don't know what the f- to say. I wish she'd friggin' talk to me. If she'd only tell me what I did so I can apologize," or "Doesn't she get I only want the best for her? I wish I could find the words," or "I give up, she won't let me in anyway."
So first, I am here to apologize on behalf of my sex. I am sorry, we should know better and be more sensitive. We should get that our comments can hurt and distance. We should admit our own pain in realizing the distance that has come between us, acknowledge that and take responsibility for it. We are slowly becoming aware of this, and ask your forgiveness and patience as we work through this.
In the meantime, know that we love you with all our hearts and only want the best for you. Sometimes our ideas and yours of what is best differ. Our ideas come from our experiences. We get that they differ from yours. We ask again your forbearance, but also that you take on that there might be some wisdom there. We have learned things too, and are still learning, we are a little slower than we used to be.
Second, please get that the people who raised us are just as screwed up as we are. They are still someone else's hurt little child who never heard the stuff we wish they'd say to us, and just don't know how to say it. And now here are we - presumably as adults - and demand that they grow up so that we can complete our childhood. Perhaps instead we should grow up so our parents can complete theirs.