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I’m not sure when the exact moment hit me, to be honest with you. The great epiphanies in life, while radical and perspective changing, can often sneak up on you over a period of time before you suddenly have it all up in your face with complete and utter clarity. But this happened to me… when I realized Taylor Swift is a Stoic.
Oh sure, even as I sit in front of my computer and type these words out in a blog post that is only at its outset, I can sense your total skepticism in the future and across the Interwebz. But that’s my magical superpower…umm, pre-guessing skepticism. Yeah, I got it… it’s not adamantium claws or super strength or anything wicked cool like that, but we seldom get to choose such things, OK? I make the best use of the gifts bestowed upon me.
See, I’ve been rather enamored with the lessons set forth by Marcus Aurelius in his timeless Meditations (my favorite translations thus far being this one) and recently began reading “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday, a more modern take on applying the wisdom of the Stoics to the modern day notion of using your trials, failures and obstacles as the means to personal success. Nothing quite like using ideas developed more than 2,000 years ago to tackle things in our hyper-connected world of today, right?
If you were to boil down Stoicism to its most basic elements, it’s the view that while you have no control over the events of the world or the actions of others towards you, you always have a choice on how you react to those events/actions and the decisions you make in living your life. No one can take your free will from you for anything – your freedom is always your own and you hold responsibility for that at all times. In doing so, reason and knowledge make up your inner fortress where you move beyond being shackled to the whims of pain and pleasure. It’s all on you… which is a profoundly liberating way of thinking of things.
So, at some point in the combination of reading Holiday’s book and popping through one of my Spotify playlists that some T-Swizzle hit my earpieces and it struck me… Ms. Swift is actually a Stoic.
I feel like it should have been clear all along, really. The parallels are there if you are willing to open your eyes to them.
For example, Epictetus wrote:
Don’t let the force of an impression when it first hit you knock you off your feet; just say to it: Hold on a moment; let me see who you are and what you represent. Let me put you to the test.
Contrast this to Ms. Swift in “The New Romantics”:
We are too busy dancing
To get knocked off our feet
Baby, we’re the new romantics
The best people in life are free
She’s living her life, dancing away as she so chooses and because of that, has no time to be knocked off her feet. I’m sure Epictetus could turn quite a jig back in his day as well (OK, this is utterly wild conjecture) and would appreciate that (a) she’s not getting knocked off her feet; and (b) she recognizes that those who live freely are the best kind of people. And what is Stoicism if not these two things?
Oh you need more? Then I submit for your consideration the following:
Yup – T-Swift has no time for your tomfoolery and jibber-jabber and unto all of that she will drop the universal sign language for “Suck it” on you, endlessly in the magic loop of this GIF. (As an aside, if you pronounce as JIF like the peanut butter, you are an awful person who takes themselves with a level of seriousness that I cannot abide). For her, it matters not the slings and arrows of the world nor the endless hollow praise heaped upon her for she finds only respite within reason and clear thinking. And telling punks to suck it.
I can sense it… I can sense you beginning to see the parallels between Swifty and Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca. Now it’s time to bring this all home rapidly… quickly…dare I say…swiftly. I present to you the capstone of my argument and the magnum opus of Ms. Swift’s artistic canon… “Shake It Off”:
I mean, where to even begin with such a rich trove of philosophical nuggets?
First off, regardless of the negativity brought her way from those who speak ill of her intelligence or dating life, she’s going to (a) keep cruising; (b) can’t stop and will not, in fact, stop moving; and (c) has this music within her affirming all of this.
Sure, the players may continue to play, the haters continue to hate, the heartbreakers continue to break and yes, the fakers continue to fake as they are wont to do…but Tay-Tay? Oh, my friends, she will only shake it off, shake it off. That’s the benefit of never missing a beat and being lightning on your feet, in the end. It’s an entire song devoted to taking the negatives that come your way in life, those things over which you have zero control and letting them slide right past because you are the only one who can choose how to observe those events and place them into their proper context. Seriously.
In the end, Stoicism can seem like the drab, humorless philosophy of a bunch of Romans from a few thousand years ago and confined to musty tomes or Intro to Philosophy courses in your first year of college. But in reality, it’s not at all – you can still have moments of sadness or elation, but you act not to be ruled by such things entirely, especially when they come at the whims and interests of others. Stoicism is a remarkable way of creating resiliency within yourself and while it’s not easy (mild understatement), it is effective.
And sometimes you just need to widen your perspective a bit and realize while probably was always in your heart all along, even as you fought against admitting it…that T-Swizzle is not just the philosopher you wanted, she’s also the one you need.
James Altucher is an interesting guy. That’s a pretty understated way to describe someone who is a serial entrepreneur, author of a number of books, creator of many podcasts and who now lives a nomadic existence with no home of his own and all of his possessions carried with him 24/7.
He had a post recently where he talked about the people Walt Disney surrounded himself with that enabled him to be successful. While Altucher does not fully buy into the “five people you surround yourself with notion” (something I wrote about recently with my “Those Five People” post), he did provide what I found to be a very solid infographic about this topic. While the people in your life do have an effect on who you are quite a bit, they aren’t the sole influence in your life. As I wrote previously, you don’t always have complete or immediate control over those 5 people you spend all of that time with, save for very radical life changes. However, the things he points out in his 5×5 rule is to clearly highlight the other areas you do have control over and their key impact on you:
I like this tweak since it’s a more accurate reflection that accounts for things well beyond people… and while the people piece is hugely important, it’s good to keep front of mind all the other factors which we each have the free will to effect upon ourselves each day.
And if you are reading this and chose to make this a small slice of your content for the day? Well, then I appreciate the heck out of you and hope I earn that every time these posts come out. I think all of you total more than five, but I can assure you that you’re a big piece of my positive influence every day and I’m hugely grateful for that.
I had more thoughts on the idea of trying to stay in the mindset of a beginner… so why not do it as a snappy vlog on the YouTubes? Plus it would give me a chance to use “piqued” with curiosity so I can finally address my pet peeve of people spelling it as “peaked”. Important stuff, friends.
Enjoy the video magic and if you’re in the Northeast, stay toasty.
There’s a technique of framing arguments (which is really a bit of a cop-out) by dividing THE WORLD into 2 camps. You’ve probably seen it before and used it as well – Lord knows I have.
There are two kinds of people in the world, man. People who totally understand why pineapple on pizza is amazing and then there’s barbaric heathens, destroying the foundations of Western civilization with their disdain of this culinary delight.
It’s dramatic and eye-grabbing. I mention it because of how tempting it was to use here for this because here is something I do wonder about whether there are two camps:
People who seek to learn for life and those who mail it in once formal schooling ends.
There’s definitely shades of interest and intent between these two positions, but sometimes it doesn’t seem it.
Now, as I title this post “The Forever Student”, I don’t mean this as that one guy you knew from college who seemed to be trying to figure out a way to never graduate, much to the chagrin of his parents or eventually his credit rating as he amassed a student loan debt that would rival the gross domestic product of many first world nations. (Side note – Why is there always talk about first world and third world countries, yet no one even mentions second world? These things bother me… and yes, bother me way more than they should).
All of this swirled in my head a little bit yesterday as I attended a strength training seminar at my gym. Two exceptional coaches/lifters in Swede Burns and Greg Panora came through for a 7+ hour seminar covering any topic you wanted to throw at them, as well as hands on coaching on the “big 3” lifts of the squat, bench press and deadlift. It was the second time I’ve been to a seminar they put on and it was exceptional – they could not have been more generous with their time, knowledge and teaching. I’m a better lifter today for having been part of this. Without question.
The reason this idea of the forever student jumped out at me was noticing the people who weren’t there versus those who were. Why, you undoubtedly ask? Simple – there are plenty of lifters in that very gym who could have gotten a ton out of this somewhat rare opportunity to pick the brains of two of the best around while having them give direct feedback on the finer points of their lifts. But they weren’t there… and that baffles me. Because they absolutely needed to be… which isn’t an insult to any of them (unless they are one of those people who actively thinks they are better than the coaches who came… and they absolutely are NOT). It’s just stating a fact – none of them hold all-time world records and the funniest thing is that those who do will admit to all of the top-notch coaching that allowed them to get there.
I just don’t understand the mentality of “No thanks…I’m good as-is and have it all figured out.” You know the types. The ones who cannot accept any advice, no matter how learned or proficient the person providing it because…hey, I cannot imagine fixing anything.
Now, before I get accused of virtue signaling (a term that gets trotted out… and incorrectly… way too often), it’s quite the opposite. This isn’t me giving myself a self high five – I just cannot imagine anything but being a student because I know that there’s mountains of things I don’t have figured out in any way, shape or form. Why wouldn’t I want to listen to pros and hope to get even incrementally better than yesterday? I will be the first to admit I need work in any of a number of areas.
I think at a fundamental level that a big reason for my position on this is I refuse to think of myself as a static person where everything is sit, never to change… which also means to never improve.
Hence, I hope genuinely hope I kick my silly ego out of the way as often as possible and embrace the fun of not knowing how much more there is to learn… but giving the effort to try and find out.
On the mornings where I am out of coffee at home and need to venture forth to Starbucks, I’m usually in a bit of a fog until I get that sweet caffeine-laden goodness into my system. That was a little different thing morning during the quiet of the drive just after 6AM. I looked around and noticed all the business of my humble town… which made me consider a personal resistance point I’ve long held and why it’s been such a hurdle for so long. I thought maybe a video would be a better way of describing the moment… plus ya know y’all love seeing my handsomeness in motion combined with that glorious baritone. Or so I tell myself. Either way, some video shenanigans for you.
As the sun shines and the wind blows on this chilly Sunday in Connecticut, I stand at the cusp of Day 5 of Lent and my social media diet. This diet is comprised of no Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for the 40 days of Lent…and I will confess that list clearly does not include Snapchat since I find it silly, fun and not nearly the level of distraction that those other apps prove to be. It’s my social media diet, damn it and I will do it how I wanna.
This isn’t my first ever foray into doing this kind of social media clear out for Lent since I also did this with just Facebook several years back. Not surprisingly, the first few days are the most interesting and the most telling.
It’s funny to begin to truly notice how often when a moment of delay, boredom or small time gap in my days occurs, I reach for my phone for instant distraction before even realizing I’m doing it. It’s only as the phone effortlessly slides into my hand from my pocket and I get read to click the Facebook app do I then realize… ohhhhh, right. I deleted that sucker on Fat Tuesday.
Or the moments where I have a thought that pops into my head, whether an observation about the day or something utterly silly to share for a mild guffaw…and I remember that I won’t be doing that.
And even more importantly than the idea of I won’t be doing that, I begin to think “Huh…why do I feel the need to always do that?”
By virtue of writing this blog post for others to read, I clearly am not against the sharing of thoughts and ideas to the world at large. Heck, that’s something I enjoy doing quite a bit…but the reasons behind all of this do matter. Am I doing it because I have something to say, regardless of whether there is a defined response? Or is there a desire to have someone validate my ideas? Like most things, it’s probably a combination thereof.
The time away from these social media platforms is spurring me to reconnect, live and in-person, with my family and friends to a great extent. If for no other reason, this alone makes it worth it. Sure, I could have done this while keeping up my steady stream of inane babble on Facebook about Lord only knows what, but there is something impactful about combining the time away from one with the concerted effort to be more connected with the people I care about. This has been lunches, dinners, phone calls and any a number of ways of being with important people and truly present in those moments without a temptation to check what else is going on out there.
And as the photo suggest, I’ve also found a lot more time to read and catch up on news straight from sources and without the argumentative precursors that have become the norm in my Facebook feed the last year.
I encourage anyone else thinking about this to try it (and this article from the always excellent Eric Barker at Barking Up The Wrong Tree has research-backed ideas). The hardest pull is a combination of fear-of-missing-out (the weird acronym of FOMO that prompts an eyeroll from me every time) or thinking you will lose touch with people. You won’t – you just adapt to a different way of connecting. (But the irony of the fact that when I post this blog it will automatically post to my Facebook page is not lost on me.)
And perhaps the greatest thing I am noticing in this period of time? That maybe… just maybe…when Lent comes to a close for 2017…that I will stop, look around and realize the fear-of-missing-out was just a fear…and I should have been far more concerned of missing out on the important things right in front of me…not on my phone screen.
A common piece of guidance that people mention a lot is you are the company you keep. It’s meant to be both a reflection on who you are based on the choices you make of friends, associates and colleagues, but it’s also about the influence those people you spend so much time with have on you. It’s summed up nicely by Jim Rohn as follows:
You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
(Side note – If you are one of those high-minded goobers who get twitterpated over the idea of ending your sentence in prepositions, y’all need to take a deep breath and reassess your priorities. You should also read this.)
From a macro level view, this advice makes sense, provided you take it as general guidance to be reflective on who gets your precious time. We should all be mindful of that since, let’s be frank, some people get far too much time from us who simply don’t deserve it.
However, the thing that’s always struck me in a weird way about this phrase is when it’s used as advice, it implies you then have complete choice over who those people are. We often cannot choose our coworkers. Are you going to upend your career every time there are less-than-awesome folks in your immediate work groups? Every workplace has them in some form or another and while you shouldn’t settle, you also probably shouldn’t think you will eliminate those kinds of people 100% of the time.
And what about your family, especially if you are a parent with kids? I don’t think protective services is going to cast a kind eye in your direction if you sit down with your middle schoolers to tell them they need to go away because they are seriously harshing your mellow, bro.
So the question is what to do in those situations since we all likely have some of those Fab Five who aren’t that fabulous or don’t add positive value to our lives.
I think it’s one of three approaches:
- Replace those people if you can. (And that’s a bit IF).
- Reduce the amount of time you do spend with them.
- Increase the positive content you bring into your own life.
It’s #3 that I have been thinking about the most because while it has it’s shortcomings, I think there is often more value here than people may realize.
If there are people who occupy time in your life that you cannot simply get rid of, you can still proactively bring good things into your life. I am continuously surprised by the extent to which reading the right things, listening to the right things (lectures, podcasts, etc.) and spending the right time (prayer, meditation, quiet time, etc.) can blunt the effects of negativity.
It’s better to have the right 5 people, I do think, since I think their impact is hard to match, but given that we live in a time when we have more options available on the kinds of information and content we bring into our lives, why wouldn’t anyone fill their gray matter up with that as much as they can? Because even if you cannot choose those 5 people freely, you certainly can choose freely that content in your life.
In fact, this is a big part of my upcoming social media break for Lent because I am finding the amount of negative I get from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. is high (drama, negativity, habitual need to check for updates and likes and mentions and comments while not spending enough time being present with the people right there in front of me) and dwarfing the positive I receive. I would even argue that, for most people these days, one of those five people may be a social media presence… or perhaps Facebook as an entity is one of those five. It has been for me.
So assess the people most in your life and think about if they portray who you are and want to be. That’s good for any of us to do… provided we do it without a sense of smug superiority like we are a queen choosing suitors for our clearly much-desired attention. But remember we can each make more subtle shifts to change what the daily content of our days can be.
Come Ash Wednesday on March 1st, mine will change quite a bit. Time to see where it goes.
Change comes in a lot of forms. Sometimes it is the blinding flash of light epiphany like Saul on the road to Damascus, but I think a lot of times, it’s more of a slow build over time. For me, the latter tends to be true much more often than the former. It certainly was the case recently when I finally accepted for myself that powerlifting was not the draw it once was for me.
While the change was slow and over time, I can think of two more distinct moments that helped drive this path.
The first was returning to playing indoor soccer a year or two ago (before being driven off by nagging injuries). I thought I was in fine shape – I was stronger than I had ever been, I had been working back in conditioning and I thought I was ready to roll. Then, I hit the field and stumbled around, moving with a grace that could be described as “wooden” if we were being highly charitable about it.
The second was when I went out to EliteFTS for a training session and seminar. I went heavier on deadlifts than I had in a long time… and in the days that followed, my training felt crushed. My recovery was just not great and I felt beat up for the umpteenth time.
In the days that followed that, I realized that returning to my athletic roots as a focal point moving forward was what I wanted. I thought I was always training to be a strong athlete and realized I spent a lot of time on the strong and not nearly enough on the athlete portion of that mix. Maybe I came to this realization because I was older and wiser. Maybe it was because my body was yelling loud and long at me “Bro…this ain’t working out like you think it is.” Maybe age was catching up with me (although I fight this notion with every core of my being that age should ever be an acceptable excuse for not doing what you love).
Regardless of the reasoning, I knew that at 44, it was time to change course for myself and get back to what I knew would be enjoyable for me in the long term.
The funny thing about all of this is part of the reason I struggled with making this change over the last year or two was how easy it had become to be too concerned with a neat and tidy label for what I was as a lifter. I was a POWERLIFTER. That was a distinct classification and readily identified me as part of a community of likeminded folks. There is comfort and power in that kind of identity – we’re social creatures and community matters.
But what happens when, as the cliché states, the juice is no longer worth the squeeze? That the enjoyment you derive from that has gone way down for what you get back from the work and sacrifice?
What if I went back to training that did not have that neat and tidy little box that had become so cozy for me? The opportunity to provide a ready answer when people asked what kind of lifter I was? How would I answer that question?
In the days following that lifting session in Ohio, I smiled and realized exactly how I would answer that question… any damn way I really wanted. I’m a lifter and an athlete. No other details needed beyond that. I lift heavy weights. I throw things around. I row. I do yoga. I play golf. I sprint hills. I push Prowlers. I will, hopefully, start running again. I may even play soccer again (if my right knee will stop being an obstinate pain in the ass and get on board with this plan).
Those boxes are tempting for everyone and often we slide into them without even realizing it’s happening – they can be lovely boxes, perhaps velvet-lined and gorgeous. If you want to be part of that group, that’s clearly not a bad thing at all. But when you realize it’s more convenience or comfort than conscious choice, that’s when things get interesting (and something I’ve thought about before when I wrote “Your Pathetic Little Box” a few years back). And that’s why this Churchill quote hits home so much with me:
I’ve chosen a new path and I must admit the details of a lifting program aren’t terribly interesting to anyone but the person writing it or training under it. The interesting part is assessing your why and seeing if it’s what you want or just part of a sitting in your neat and tidy little box.
Because the thing about those boxes? They are a certain shape and a certain size… and you can only grow in them just so much.
And I never want to stop growing.
I spent this past weekend in the Columbus, Ohio area for some lifting-related shenanigans. One thing I’ve found with traveling, is I get really reflective during my trips. There’s nothing miraculous about the fact that travel changes your perspective – it’s been written about countless times on the power of seeing other places to broaden your worldview. What’s interesting is that I think this occurs regardless of whether you travel to the other side of the planet or just a few states away… at least, if you are open to it.
During my trip back home to Connecticut, I received a Facebook message from someone that completely caught me off guard, but really in the best possible way. They hit me with a series of extremely kind compliments, just as an observation of what they saw of me and how I live my life. Now, the details of what they said are immaterial and, quite frankly, listing them out just really amounts to me giving myself a high-five for being awesome… and not in the typical snarky way I like to do in not taking myself seriously, but in a fashion that feels braggy. (Is that a word? “Braggy”? No idea… but I’m running with it).
Upon this person telling me that “you have your shit together”, I said “I might need to remind myself of that, then, on occasion”. This is a big understatement. Like hyooge. I am inordinately hard on myself – hell, a lot of us are.
The response – “I’ll give you some help. Name me all the things you love most.”
OK, I am down for this – I like to have a little bit of a thinking challenge, certainly as I am sitting in an airport waiting for my next flight. I began by thinking of this in order and working my way down.
I started typing back via FB Messenger “My family, especially my nephews and nice. My closest, true friends.” At this point I was thinking over what #3 would be… my health or the experiences I have been fortunate enough to have had in my life… what else would I put in there?
Before I could finish the response back, this note was sent to me:
“How long would it take for you to name yourself?”
I sat there for a minute or so, just looking at that message. I understood the words, how they were structured and all of that good stuff drilled into me from an early age about how English grammar operated. However, I honestly did not get what was being said.
That’s when it hit me – the notion of putting myself on that list was never, ever going to occur to me. Seriously. For all the bluster I like to create with my grandiose self-compliments in my writing, they are done so over-the-top so as to actually be self-deprecating. But to really and truly put myself on a list like that? Yeah, no… would never happen.
The crazy thing is that despite how narcissistic the world can seem these days with how social media creates a look-at-me environment, I think most people are in that same boat. If I may play truly amateur psychologist for a brief moment, whenever I see people going deep down the rabbit hole of self-aggrandizement, I cannot help but see someone who is putting up a brave front in an effort to convince themselves that they deserve that praise. They are trying to make themselves believe it far more than they are trying to make their audience believe it.
Hence why I post this picture, profanity and all (yeah, sorry about that Mom)… because in the moment I took this a year and a half ago, I felt what the shirt said and felt pretty-darn-fantastic about myself… without any sense of guilt over that fact. While I share it with you, the photo was really more for me and enjoying the fact I had that moment.
I will never be the person who boasts about himself – I am just simply not wired that way and I am glad for that fact. I do hope to work on that for myself, quietly, in the background and with as little fanfare as possible.
I share all of this because so much of this blog is to, hopefully, give you something to think about in my own personal challenges. In any sense where this blog is about advice or coaching or guidance or counseling, it is only that in so much as I am trying to lay bare how I am fighting to achieve the same things I speak of. I have an inherent distrust of people who speak from a place of self-claimed expertise without any sense of struggle. It feels horribly inauthentic to me.
Rather, I prefer to show you how I am putting in my own work… even if it is to allow myself an occasional self high-five.
One of my favorite things at work these days is the fact that my company is in a strong hiring mode. Times like this put me in a good mood because they’re about growth, something I always feel hugely positive about, whether personal, professional or in the business sense. Being stagnant tends to make me feel itchy… I mean, not like literally. I don’t get hives from it and need a soothing balm. And yes, I went with that entire analogy just for the sake of using the word “balm” since it’s soothing on its own just to say it.
What’s been great about this hiring push is that it’s brought in so many new employees just out of college, which is a big change for how we do business (at least in many parts of our company – our engineering group regularly hires right out of college). In my row at work there are 4 colleagues where the senior-most of them is maybe 3 or 4 years removed from college. Honestly, it’s great because they bring new ideas, fresh perspectives and really challenge a lot of our company’s commonly-held thinking on issues. We need all of that.
The gym I train at, when not at Fierce & Mighty, is also on the much younger side too. Nothing quite like talking to a few of them and realizing: a) they are literally half my age; and b) one that is a Cowboys fan has no idea what it’s like for our beloved team to be… well… GOOD.
Being surrounded with people much younger than me does make me reflect a lot on my own life, where I have arrived at age 44 and what lies ahead. Our culture definitely celebrates youth in a big way… and why the heck not? There’s such energy and vibrancy in every younger generation that comes along.
But for me? If I was somehow afforded the chance to become 25 again via means mystical or otherwise, I would never take it. Ever.
For all of the things that are a downside of aging (such as the amount of mobility drills I need to do every day to battle against being in deskbound jobs for 20 years), I am such a stickler for the benefits of perspective I’ve gained, I cannot imagine ever relinquishing that for anything.
I cannot imagine giving up the level of comfort I currently enjoy about being me and living in this skin of mine, which may involve me lifting in a bright pink shirt all alone in my basement.
I cherish the things I’ve learned (which I hesitate to call “wisdom” since I am not one to pat myself on the back with such a weighty notion) that allow me to value what is truly important in my own life versus what is not, while constantly trying to give more time to the good and less time to the useless.
I enjoy a level of personal freedom to be myself, say what I think, know when to relent and know when to dig in and fight like hell that I never had 20 years ago.
Giving up those things for the sake of springier knees and a full head of hair is not a trade I would ever make.
(Although springy knees are something that should never be underestimated. Ever. Cherish those suckers. HARD.)
We should continue to celebrate youth with the fresh perspectives, ideas, energy and general change-the-world positivity that accompanies each generation on the cusp of its stepping to the forefront of the culture.
Roger Daltry can sing about hoping to die before he gets old… and we can endlessly debate about what age that constitutes…but I refuse to take the value of the years and diminish them like some kind of trash or some inevitable decline in life.
I am still in the process of getting a little better than I was yesterday…and I don’t see a cap on that any time soon. The only thing that makes you old, in my mind, is when you decide growth is over… and that’s not an inevitable consequence. That’s a decision.
I’ve decided to keep going.