Success by Failure

Each of us will take a direction in life depending on who we see ourselves as. For some people this leads to obscurity, for others it leads to great fame, but fame should not be mistaken for success just because it’s more visible. That’s just their job. People’s personal lives will all share the same sorts of ups and downs, so we shouldn’t either lament that we aren’t famous, nor should we be jealous or envious of those who are.

Just the other night my parents were watching America’s Got Talent, and a young singer noted that to pursue his dream of being a famous singer, he left home and moved to New York and for a few years he slept on couch that smelled like cat for $30 a week. Britney Spears has had jobs since she was about eight years old. Olympians rarely see their friends so they can work out instead. And there’s only so many of us who think the result is worth that effort, just like some people don’t think cooking a fancy meal is worth the effort when they could just fuel up. We’re all different.

1207 Relax and Succeed - Believe in yourselfI remember I’d been working in film and television for about 10 years before the first time I ever heard anyone say that they wanted to “be famous,” rather than note what they would want to be famous for–as in the case above, where what he really wants to be is a singer, not famous. In my experience, the ones that want to be famous never have that cat-sofa dedication and they eventually surrender that idea for something that actually suits them better. In that way their failure is a success.

A very talented film student I taught wanted to be an A-list cinematographer on big budget superhero blockbusters. But after close to 10 years climbing his way up and seeing Hollywood work, he concluded that the reality of the job wasn’t what he wanted and he surrendered that and went to do smaller, but much more meaningful documentaries. And he’s much happier doing it.

Cases like the one noted are often seen as a failure by the person approaching the decision. All they feel is the separation from their previous identity. It feels like they surrendered in a bad or weak way, when it’s actually the smart or strong way. Once that student crested the hump into his new identity, he got to work at his new career and it turned out he loved it the way he’d assumed he would have loved the Hollywood blockbuster job. It wasn’t a fail. It was a discovery. You’ll make them your entire life.

As I’ve noted before, if you want to know where you’re at, imagine your life as a big continuous sine wave that completes each wave about every 7-9 years. At each peak you have slowly rewired your brain to be fully efficient at being that version of you. But of course, once you’ve maximized why continue? Been there done that, as the saying goes. And so it’s not really disappointment that disrupts success, it’s the inklings of our next success.

The sooner we start to embrace that downslope the shorter it gets–although it can never be fully removed, otherwise you can’t have your peaks either. This is why a Buddhist monk on a train once lead me to conclude his encapsulation of life: everything changes. If it’s good, enjoy it–it’ll get worse. And if it’s bad, don’t lament–it’ll get better.

Find where you are on your wave and surf that. It’ll include the pain of those downslopes, but wherever you are, wishing you were an an upslope is the literally the definition of suffering. But if you surrender instead, it’s actually flows pretty nicely.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Victims of Fashion

Not so long ago at all, a bride in Northern Europe would have been chosen because she had a strong upper body for churning butter. Today women are far compelled to feel equally concerned with their bodies but they also must add what they dress them in. There are few things that torture a teenage girl more than her wardrobe or lack thereof.

In trying to understand the illusion we all live under it is helpful to look at the idea of fashion itself. What is it to be fashionable? In the photo above a model shows work designed by students at Central Saint Martins Art and Design College, which is connected to the University of the Arts in London. These are some of the top design students anywhere.

These students are learning to be at the forefront of fashion. People would pay a lot to see these pieces shown. And yet most of the people reading this will look at the photo and deem tucking one’s suit coat into one’s athletic shorts is simply silly. It feels like that thing we all do when we’re young artists and we try to make ourselves distinct by trying to out-weird our classmates. And we’re right about that. But we’re also wrong.

The point is, fashion is just what’s in a magazine right now. I’ll change with the certainty that capitalism gives it. They can’t sell you a new shirt if you’re still satisfied with your old one. And so when we’re young and peacocking, the fashion seems worth it. Later when we’re juggling kids it falls to the wayside as other priorities dominate.

Some people stay in fashion and that’s wonderful. It’s an artful expression and like any field, only the very best and most dedicated and those most willing to make other life sacrifices make it to the top. But most people simply stop thinking , believing or caring that it’s more important than your happiness. Because there are a lot of people unhappy over their clothing and that just shows how paper thin our understanding of true happiness is. A wrinkled blouse can destroy it.

The fact is, every person you walk by will think different things about your hair, your face, your body, your clothes and any other identifying mark on you. No two people will react identically. We’re all snowflakes looking at snowflakes. It’s only words and language that forces us to group people together. If we looked more closely, we’d split most of those people apart for being so different. It all depends on what level you focus at.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel good. It’s not unnatural. Even old-world people like the Wodaabe tribe have standards for beauty, although in their case they apply more to the men than women. They also don’t enact their most fashionable selves all the time and leave it instead for special occasions. The rest of the time you’re allowed to be human.

While enjoying fashion is fine, we also must remember that a six year old would be willing to give a speech with a giant soup stain on their shirt and there would be zero self-consciousness about it because they’d be focused on the microphone and their amplified voice and the podium and everyone watching them. They wouldn’t even consider the shirt. It wouldn’t enter their consciousness.

We should all try to be healthy like that. We should all hear any clothing judgments as being from one snowflake to another. It’s like one grain of wheat telling another grain of wheat how a grain of wheat should look. It’s silly we ever fall for it but that is a part of discovering ourselves. We start life trying to be like everyone else, and with any luck and some awareness, we leave it only wanting to be ourselves.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Wishes Redux

143 Relax and Succeed - Sometimes you can't see

Amy hates her curly hair. She wishes she had long, dark, straight hair like Bonnie’s. Bonnie hates how fat her legs are. She wishes she had legs like Caroline’s. Caroline hates her knees. She wishes she could run like her brother Dean. But Dean hates running now. He wishes Evan, his recently deceased friend, was still around to run with him.

Evan didn’t like running with Dean because it made him look even shorter than he already was. He always wished he was really tall, like Fez. But Fez hates his height. He loves Gurpreet, but she loves a well dressed man, and it’s hard to get clothes that fit a guy that tall. But Gurpreet hates her addiction to fashion. It makes her a slave to her job. She wishes she had the freedom of her friend Henry.

Henry’s a self-employed writer, but he hates that because he has no health care plan. He wishes his brother was a dentist so he could get free care like his friend Isaac gets. But Isaac hates having a brother who’s a dentist. His parents are always wishing he would do as well as Jacob. But Jacob is divorced and rich, so he can never trust any of the women he dates. He wishes his life was like Kevin’s. Kevin got married at 18 to his high school sweetheart. But part of Kevin has always wished he’d played the field like his friend Larry.

143 Relax and Succeed - Stop comparing

Larry got a few girls pregnant and it’s ruined his financial life. He wishes he would have inherited a lot money like his friend Mary. But Mary hates her life. Her father was a tough, ruthless businessman, which made him a tough, ruthless father. She wishes she had a Dad like Nathan. But Nathan has never been able to tell his dad that he’s gay. He wishes he had the freedom that his openly gay friend Orlando has. But Orlando hates being gay because sometimes it just feels like everyone hates him for no good reason.

Orlando wishes his life was like his comedienne friend, Patti. She gets to stand in front of an appreciative audience every night. But Patti hates going on stage. She so nervous she’s usually sick to her stomach. She wishes she was like Quan. He can stay calm no matter what. But Quan hates being a comic. Being on the road all the time is what lead to his painkiller addiction. He wishes he was still a healthy young man like Ron.

Ron doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He wishes he was like Stephen, where he’s already well on his way to a good pension. But Stephen hates how safe a life he’s lead. He wishes his life was more exciting, like Terry’s. But Terry’s addiction to adventure has cost him a marriage to a woman he loved. But his ex-wife Ursula doesn’t feel loveable at all since she put on all that weight after the divorce.

143 Relax and Succeed - We are all in long-term

Ursula wishes she was skinny like Velma. But Velma hates her bulimia. She wishes she ate healthier, like her friend Wayne. But Wayne hates himself because he lies to his friends about how good his diet is. He wishes he had the humility of Xavier. But Xavier hates that he can’t advocate for himself at work so he never gets a raise. He wishes he was more like Yan, who is paid extremely well. But Yan hates that pay because what goes with it is lots of responsibility. He wishes he had a life like Zara. She’s an artist that works from home, but she also has cancer. And she would give anything to have hair like Amy’s.

Do you get it? Are you enjoying your life, or are you wishing for a better one? Because you can live, or you can wish. Which one do you do? Because that crazy chain of people pretty much represents what every ego does, all day long. Egos always want something other than what they are or have. And there is no way to feel good when you’re in a state of wanting. You need to start appreciating what you already are. That’s how you create a worthwhile life.

Listen to yourself. Stop wanting things you’re not. Start celebrating what you are. It’s not wrong, it’s not silly, and it’s not meaningless. You are uniquely you. You bring things to the universe that which no one else could bring. Literally. Without you the universe is missing something. So stop worrying about what’s missing from you, and start appreciating your own value. Because it’s a lot easier for other people to do that if you do it first.

Respect yourself. Love your own life. And live that love into a beautiful day. 😉

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

The Challenges of Scarcity

242 Relax and Succeed - Scarcity by Mullainathan and Shafir
Tonight I had the pleasure of listening to a fascinating interview with author Eldar Shafir about his book, Scarcity, Why having too little means so much (with co-author Sendhil Mullainathan). While I haven’t yet read it, through the interview I was able to tell that the book points out a very disruptive aspect of what I’m trying to impart here.

Eldar Shafir is the William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. His book starts off with my fundamental point here: we all only have so much “bandwidth.” For instance, when we’re in the car, we all turn down the radio when we’re looking for an address. You can only do so much thinking—so much processing—each day, and your life will be made up of what choices you make within those individual moments.

For Shafir, the point is that the very poor have to spend a lot of their processing power on pure survival. There are no casual decisions. They have no expendable income. They are the ones that know that a $1.60 coffee each workday is $8.00 towards groceries at the end of the week. And they’re the ones that end up suffering from decision fatigue.

242 Relax and Succeed - May your choices

For the poor, there isn’t enough already so life is always a matter of choosing which form of pain they will experience. Shafir’s research showed that those conditions literally deducted a serious number of points off people’s IQ’s. Not having enough money was equivalent to not getting any sleep. Just the brain-stress of all of those calculations was leaving them with less time and caloric energy to make forward-thinking plans that might actually improve their future. And this applied to everyone equally. It doesn’t matter what your education is, what your previous capabilities were, the simple lack of bandwidth results in more difficult days and less odds of success for whoever is in the situation.

Obviously the poor are left with fewer basic choices. Under the right circumstances fewer choices can be a very healthy thing because it can leave you with more time to simply be, and there is great value in that. However in deep poverty there is no time to be. Every choice is critical. Every choice involves the very foundations of Maslow’s Pyramid. Every choice must be examined for its possible financial effects. Wasted money or time is literally dangerous. Any pause is a lost moment of sleep or a lost opportunity to bring in or save more money.

Where there is perpetual shortage there is a non-stop scan of the environment for any opportunity that you can fit into your morals. And in this world, the more moral you are the more you go without. If you won’t steal, you have to watch the clock like a hawk because you know that there’s this one person at work that often doesn’t finish their lunch, and you want to be there when they give the rest of it away.

242 Relax and Succeed - Blessed are those

Or you put $20 dollars worth of fuel into your old car—the one you can’t afford to pay to fix—and then when it breaks down you cry because you realize you’ve trapped $20 worth of food in the gas tank. Or when you miss the bus and have to wait in the snow for another half hour it’s much more difficult because there are holes in the bottom of your shoes. Holes no one else can see. And these people will routinely hear people complaining about problems they would love to have because there are people around you every single day and this sort of poverty is their daily reality. They work alongside you without you ever wondering why they never go to the birthday lunches at restaurants.

Shafir sounds like a very compassionate doctor to me. And all of his research makes sense with what I learned about the human brain through my studies. On top of the pure energy and expenditures of effort, it’s also important to remember that these are calculations with potentially disastrous effects. You’ll make each calculation a few times just to make sure because the downsides are so profound. And that’s more energy again. And stress hormones as you rightfully recognize some very real potential consequences. If you’re walking on the edge of a cliff it’s a good idea to be extra wary.

Strangely enough, these sorts of times are when it’s most useful to be able to see the best in the world. A wise man once told me that the more we sweat in peace the less we bleed in war. So practice whenever you can. Get good at looking for the positives in all situations. You’ll still have plenty of opportunities to be sad. But you won’t waste any time being sad when it’s no longer what you want to experience. Because sadness, fear, worry and anger all eat up energy that could be better used moving forward.

242 Relax and Succeed - Give generously

When you’re in the position of facing something that is not only challenging, but also something long term—something you may have to face alone or with dependants for years or more—then you must be able to call upon your connection to the world around you. If you can learn to be grateful in circumstances such as the ones described then you have mastered this life.

Surely you will waver in and out of your health for no other reason than fatigue. And some days you may feel like simply caving in and crying yourself into oblivion. But those tears stream down one of the many faces of strength. Because the only way out is through, and if one accepts that fact early on then the entire experience can be about building the sort of strength that does not require material trappings.

True character isn’t cool clothes or cool car or a cool job. Character is when the individual person is able to convey a cool confidence that has emerged from tested, fundamental knowledge; they know they can survive tremendous hardship. And that knowledge of self is worth more than all of the gold in the world, for as Lao Tzu said, “He who is contented is rich.” 

242 Relax and Succeed - We rise by lifting others

Take a look around your world. There’s probably people around you every day that would benefit enormously from the smallest gestures. And by giving you would be proving to yourself that you have more than enough. But fair warning: in the vast majority of cases the act of helping will simply feel wonderful. It’s why people work in refugee camps or with organizations like Doctors Without Borders. And that’s actually why I would suggest you consider adding more generosity to your day. Because it’s good for you.

Yes, it’s great that a seriously struggling person gets a hand, but it’s even better if they get valuable assistance and yet you also get the wonderful feeling that goes with helping others. It’s a win-win. The poor are aware of this, which is why—as a percentage of income—they give away more than anyone. Their own life experience keeps them very empathetic to the hidden challenges of poverty and it is through that connection that they share their love and support. Often the rewards that go along with that generosity are one of the few feelings keeping them going.

Our culture does not feel fortunate enough. Too many people literally do not have enough while others struggle to manage their excess. Mixing these two groups gives one group a chance at relief while the other gets to experience gratitude. And when our priorities are focused on creating that kind of wealth in our society, we will truly have advanced as a culture.

Be kind out there today. You just never know how heavy a load everyone is carrying. And you just never know how much your patience, love or support might help.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.
Here’s the link to the radio interview. I highly recommend it:

CBC One – The Current – Project Money – Scarcity

Facing the World

154 Relax and Succeed - The harder you are on yourself

A few years back I had a client that would have told you that she came to see me to overcome feelings she had about her hairline. She actually felt that her hairline was stopping her love life, her professional success, and her social life.

I know it might seem strange for someone to worry about their hairline, but it truly was this woman’s constant concern. In her thoughts everyone noticed it and everyone judged it as unattractive. But of course, almost no one actually noticed it, and even those that did barely gave it a moment’s thought. They were too busy thinking about how they thought she would judge them! Such is the crazy world of separate realities created by individual thoughts.

Do you see her central conceit? Can you see how important she made herself? Can you see her ego standing up and yelling look at me! look at me! The truth is, no one walks up to people and looks at their hairline unless they themselves have concerns about their hairline. People don’t do that any more than they compare the size of your two eyes, or the length of your eyebrows, or the thickness of your lips. That is not how people look at other people. You see a face. You don’t see skin, a nose, two eyes, two eyebrows, cheekbones etc. You see a complete face. Believing that people think about you more than that is simple egoism.

154 Relax and Succeed - We are what we believe

What is unhealthy ego? Sitting around thinking about yourself all day. Thinking that everyone thinks about you, or cares about the size of your nose or the angle of your teeth. What do you think an egomaniac does? Do you think they brag about how great they are? No, egomaniacs hide because they think everyone is thinking about them, when in fact their salvation is in the fact that almost no one does. It’s a bit sobering, but almost no one in your life has ever even noticed whatever you think your central, defining characteristic is, whether that’s if you think you have a big nose, or if you’re too shy.

People might be aware of something about you but, again, their thoughts are doing the same thing everyone else’s are: they’re trying to figure out how you’re judging them. Haven’t you ever noticed that if you rub your nose while you’re talking to someone that they’ll do it too? That’s because they’re thinking about themselves, and rather than thinking that you had something on your nose, they assume you’re signalling to them that they have something on their nose.

Of course, the woman I’m referring to did not come to me to deal with her hairline, she came to see me to deal with her thoughts about her hairline. Because when I met her, she assumed that I had noticed her “issue” right away, when in fact it took me several minutes to understand it even after she confided it to me. Even then, I still didn’t get what the big deal was. It just looked like a face. Maybe her hairline wouldn’t permit certain hairstyles, but so does curly or straight hair.

154 Relax and Succeed - Make sure your worst enemy

If you want to feel better about your life, stop thinking about yourself all the time. It’s very exhausting for the people around you. They don’t even see the value in having the conversation in the first place, and yet you have everyone’s lives revolving around a fear that exists no where but inside your head. It’s not a nice thing to do to people you claim to care about—to force them to give you unnecessary support—to leverage their love for you in such an ugly way… Maybe it’s time to just stop whining and start living, huh? Because they take the same amount of energy. Thoughts are thoughts. You can energize or enervate yourself with them. The choice is always yours.

The woman that originally came to see me is fine now. Even her own thoughts about her hairline seem strange to her now. They’re foreign, as though they belonged to someone else. And in a way they did. They belonged to someone who had selected a less appealing self-image to face the world with. Here she thought she was putting an ugly face forward to the world, when in fact she was just putting forward ugly thinking. She thought people didn’t hang around her because of her face, when in fact they weren’t hanging around her because she was so depressing.

I’m sorry to break the news to you, but you really and truly aren’t anywhere near as important as you’ve convinced yourself you are. I know we grow up in a culture that suggests that standing on a mountain top and tooting your own horn is seen as being egotistical, but in fact the most common form of gross and damaging ego is for someone to forgo their life to instead sit around depressed, claiming their life is bad because of how everyone else thinks of them.

154 Relax and Succeed - We either make ourselves

Your problem isn’t what other people think of you. Your problem is what you think of yourself. So if you choose to talk to yourself as though you’re unhappy because you’re “unattractive,” then I won’t coddle you because you’re simply being silly. If you think other people are happy because they have more than you, or are more than you, then you don’t understand where happiness comes from at all. Because everyone has insecurities. The only question is, do you feed them regularly or not?

Here’s your choice: enjoy life by living deeply, or wallow in self pity as a part of a tiny, sad life. Look around you, there’ll be plenty of examples of the latter. In fact, if you function like the woman above, then we can almost guarantee that one or more of your parents was similarly afflicted. They too sat around with a woe-is-me attitude and they innocently and accidentally built themselves a crappy little life of suffering. But that was their choice too. So recognize that. Because no one can save you from this suffering but you. No one thinks your thoughts for you. So unless you start taking responsibility for them, don’t ever think you’ll feel better. Because that’s not how life works. If you’re not prepared to be responsible, you surrender happiness in the process.

Happy people are not happy because they have no challenges. Happy people are happy because they aren’t busy wanting and wishing for something else. They simply appreciate what they already have. And no matter who you are, if you’re reading this you have more than enough for a happy life. If you don’t have one, stop blaming your genes, or your parents, or your history, or your hairline. Because Now is made up only of your thinking. And that’s always in your control.

The only question now is; are you going to steer yourself onto the comfort of the road of appreciation, or are you going to steer yourself down a painful, damaging path through a ditch of insecure thinking? Because you will decide. And you’ll know which one you chose by how your life feels.

Enjoy your day.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.

Wishes

143 Relax and Succeed - Sometimes you can't see
Amy hates her curly hair. She wishes she had long, dark, straight hair like Bonnie’s. Bonnie hates how fat her legs are. She wishes she had legs like Caroline’s. Caroline hates her knees. She wishes she could run like her brother Dean. But Dean hates running now. He wishes Evan, his recently deceased friend, was still around to run with him.

Evan didn’t like running with Dean because it made him look even shorter than he already was. He always wished he was really tall, like Fez. But Fez hates his height. He loves Gurpreet, but she loves a well dressed man, and it’s hard to get clothes that fit a guy that tall. But Gurpreet hates her addiction to fashion. It makes her a slave to her job. She wishes she had the freedom of her friend Henry.

Henry’s a self-employed writer, but he hates that because he has no health care plan. He wishes his brother was a dentist so he could get free care like his friend Isaac gets. But Isaac hates having a brother who’s a dentist. His parents are always wishing he would do as well as Jacob. But Jacob is divorced and rich, so he can never trust any of the women he dates. He wishes his life was like Kevin’s. Kevin got married at 18 to his high school sweetheart. But part of Kevin has always wished he’d played the field like his friend Larry.

143 Relax and Succeed - Stop comparing
Larry got a few girls pregnant and it’s ruined his financial life. He wishes he would have inherited a lot money like his friend Mary. But Mary hates her life. Her father was a tough, ruthless businessman, which made him a tough, ruthless father. She wishes she had a Dad like Nathan. But Nathan has never been able to tell his dad that he’s gay. He wishes he had the freedom that his openly gay friend Orlando has. But Orlando hates being gay because sometimes it just feels like everyone hates him for no good reason.

Orlando wishes his life was like his comedienne friend, Patti. She gets to stand in front of an appreciative audience every night. But Patti hates going on stage. She so nervous she’s usually sick to her stomach. She wishes she was like Quan. He can stay calm no matter what. But Quan hates being a comic. Being on the road all the time is what lead to his painkiller addiction. He wishes he was still a healthy young man like Ron.

Ron doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He wishes he was like Stephen, where he’s already well on his way to a good pension. But Stephen hates how safe a life he’s lead. He wishes his life was more exciting, like Terry’s. But Terry’s addiction to adventure has cost him a marriage to a woman he loved. But his ex-wife Ursula doesn’t feel loveable at all since she put on all that weight after the divorce.

143 Relax and Succeed - We are all in long-term
Ursula wishes she was skinny like Velma. But Velma hates her bulimia. She wishes she ate healthier, like her friend Wayne. But Wayne hates himself because he lies to his friends about how good his diet is. He wishes he had the humility of Xavier. But Xavier hates that he can’t advocate for himself at work so he never gets a raise. He wishes he was more like Yan, who is paid extremely well. But Yan hates that pay because what goes with it is lots of responsibility. He wishes he had a life like Zara. She’s an artist that works from home, but she also has cancer. And she would give anything to have hair like Amy’s.

Do you get it? Are you enjoying your life, or are you wishing for a better one? Because you can live, or you can wish. Which one do you do? Because that crazy chain of people pretty much represents what every ego does, all day long. Egos always want something other than what they are or have. And there is no way to feel good when you’re in a state of wanting. You need to start appreciating what you already are. That’s how you create a worthwhile life.

Listen to yourself. Stop wanting things you’re not. Start celebrating what you are. It’s not wrong, it’s not silly, and it’s not meaningless. You are uniquely you. You bring things to the universe that which no one else could bring. >Literally. Without you the universe is missing something. So stop worrying about what’s missing from you, and start appreciating your own value. Because it’s a lot easier for other people to do that if you do it first.

Respect yourself. Love your own life. And live that love into a beautiful day. 😉

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.