Friday, July 6, 2012

Selected Meaningful Quotes, Must Reads, Must Sees & Practical Rules for Living

For Baelyn...before I forget. 

Lately the 80s movie classic Teen Wolf (one day you will recognize its genius) has been airing on cable, and I keep stumbling on the scene where slacker basketball coach Bobby Finstock pulls his star player Scott Howard aside for a word or two of advice.  Finstock tells him, "There are three rules that I live by: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese."

I think it's incredibly cool to have this kind of a list on demand and at your fingertips, and the ecclectic nature of his rules is just...well...awesome.  

So, Baelyn - probably since I just turned 40 and feel reflective, definitely because I want to be a good Dad, and absolutely because I want to be as cool as Bobby Finstock - I decided to make you a list of my own.  

Of course, my wisdom at this point is not nearly as well-developed as Coach Finstock's, so I reserve the right to update my list until such time as it feels appropriately wise, or sage, or simply complete (perhaps when I can narrow it to only three?)  

Also, my rules are clearly not as colorful as his...but then again, unless you move to Vegas at some stage in your life, mine will probably have more practical value.  

Regardless, this was a valuable exercise for me, and I hope one day you can appreciate it too.

In random order...

Selected Meaningful Quotes, Must Reads, Must Sees, and Practical Rules for Living.  

Embrace the concept of evolution, both in the massive biological sense but also in the small-scale genetic sense:  actively take the best traits of family and friends and push them forward in your own character.  Ignore the worst traits, and push those the way of the Dodo bird, dial-up internet service, Zubaz, and the Betamax

When you think about “little white lies” or if you find yourself in a moral dilemma at some stage in your life, consider the words of Oscar Wilde:  a true friend stabs you in the front.  

Be wary of the “grass is always greener” trap.  It’s tempting.  But instead, develop the understanding that happiness is not about getting what you want…it’s about still wanting what you already have

Stay away from debt.  Prior generations earned first, and then spent.  Respect that.   

Similarly, resist things that come too easily.  It’s often a trap.  Eventually you will take pride and perhaps even pleasure in overcoming the struggles and challenges you face.  The pay off for working hard at something is considerable.  Enjoying something you’ve actually earned for yourself is far, far different from enjoying something that comes easily.  

If I gave you the choice to lead, follow, or get out of the way, which would you choose?  My hope would be for you to lead...and if you were to do so, lead first by example.   

As a corollary, don't trust people who say "do as I say, not as I do."  Actions, not words, are the true measure of character.  As such, those who do have the courage to follow their own convictions are often worth your respect and your time.  

Words should count for something, however, so choose them wisely.  Also, don't be passive aggressive:  have the courage to plainly speak your mind.

When faced with a challenge, borrow from an unofficial saying of the United States Marines:  Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome.

Pursue a well-rounded education.  Is there a better way?  The ultimate measure of success may be the ability to speak to any person, anywhere, and find some common ground:  food, travel, literature, art, history, science, music... 

Resist the temptation to "sell out" (career-wise) for as long as you possibly can.  But chances are, you won’t be able to resist forever.  That's ok:  money, after all, buys time.  (And nothing is more valuable than the time to do what you want.)  But while you are able, there is also something to be said for the theory of "pursue what you love, and the money will follow."  There is no guarantee, but it just might. 

Stand up for yourself:  Don’t take crap from anyone, and it’s ok to recognize that sometimes bad people have it coming to them if they push too far.  But also be as kind and as generous as you can; and especially to taxi drivers, janitors, waiters/waitresses, and the like.  Don't assume that you were born to be served by others.  Appreciate their efforts and their honest day's work. 

When given a choice between watching a game and playing a game, always play.   
Participate in sport of any kind.  (Unless, of course, it involves killing something.  Please skip those.)  The friendship, loyalty, rivalry and camaraderie earned; the discipline, sacrifice and effort learned; the challenges and pressures overcome; and the intensity and passion enjoyed are all incredibly valuable by-products of the sports experience. 

Study Sun Tzu and understand that the battle is won or lost before it is ever fought.  There is no substitution for preparation.  Also consider Muhammad Ali’s colorful spin on it:  The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights. 

Extending further into Sun Tzu's argument, I would also offer that winning is great, but it’s nothing compared to the absolute calm – yet strangely euphoric – feeling of knowing you will win before it happens; of saying to yourself “I got this” or “this is my moment” or “this race/game/match/point is already won.”  Of course, to ever feel that way – especially under the intense pressure of the moment and before the victory is actually secured – you will have to have done hours and hours of work to “earn” that confidence and certainty.  But it’s worth it.  There is no better feeling than “I have already won this, this is my time…and no one here but me knows it yet.”  Yes, in my opinion, that feeling is better than actually winning.  And it’s certainly more rare. 

Waste some amount of time making sure people like you, but not too much.  At some point, it becomes a bit unctuous.  And, also at some point, maturity means accepting the fact that you can't be all things to all people.  It's ok if not everyone loves you.  

Similarly, check out the cheesy movie The Last Dragon.  (Or at least the first 60 seconds below.)  Don't always seek positive reinforcement from externalities.  Or at least don't depend on it to the exclusion of all other input.  And sometimes,  especially if you have "done the work," recognize that you may already be "the Master."  (Also read my blog about Canisius High School basketball and Coach Dave Butler for a more relevant example of this.) 

Speaking of mastery, read Musashi, the epic biography of one of Japan's most famous swordsmen.  It has it all...struggle, hardship, success, failure, love, passion, discipline, agony, honor, and loyalty.   Musashi said many great things, but here's something that stands out:  This is the Way for men who want to learn my strategy... Do not think dishonestly. The Way is in training. Become acquainted with every art. Know the Ways of all professions. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters. Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything. Perceive those things which cannot be seen. Pay attention even to trifles. Do nothing which is of no use.  Another of my favorites relates to training and preparation, which is obviously a theme here:  Learn the principles, master the principles, forget the principles.  It's a great feeling to have learned something so well - whether algebra, a vocational skill, a sport, etc. - that it becomes easy and mindless.  Once you hit that point (also see Malcom Gladwell's book Outliers), success generally follows. 

But when you are good at something, resist the temptation to show off or boast.  As Bruce Lee noted in Enter the Dragon (see first 25 seconds below):  “Boards don't hit back.” 

Know when to call it a night:  recognize that nothing good happens after 1:00am... unless you are with family, sitting in your own backyard, in your dorm room, or just finishing up dinner in Italy, Spain, or France (and within walking distance of your bed).  And as a tangent, terrible things happen on roads after be careful, please.

Similarly, get at least 8 hours sleep as often as possible…but don't waste too many mornings by sleeping in. 

Of course, while the early bird does sometimes get the worm, it is always the second mouse that gets the cheese. 

Whenever you are on the fence of whether or not to roll out of bed for that morning workout, always go for it.  You will never regret the post-workout satisfaction and endorphin high.  Go!

Watch The Wire.  Like, immediately.  You will dig Seasons 1 and 2 but make sure you stick with it through some dry patches...because they are merely a set-up and a preface to the greatness that is Season 3.  It’s only the best television show ever created and a seminal work on the slow crumbling of the American Empire from the inside (urban centers) out.   And Season 3 is the pinnacle of the accomplishment.  Face it, we almost named you Bodie.  

Read Cat’s Cradle.  Recognize the absolute genius of Kurt Vonnegut.  Be wary of organized religion; yes, it may have had a place once in "civilizing" barbarians and giving our forebears a "higher purpose" than constantly raping and pillaging their neighbors, but that time has past and the entire construct currently borders - in my opinion - on the ridiculous.  And, unfortunately, the destructive.  Vonnegut makes his case more elegantly than anyone ever has.  Across the body of his work, his ability to satire the foibles of humanity make him required reading for anyone truly seeking to be "self-aware."  

Watch the entire Band of Brothers epic.  Recognize the bravery and sacrifice of those honorable men who fought to purge the world of evil, back when the difference between good and bad were fairly obvious.  (Of course, since my "family rule" is that we enjoy a Band of Brothers marathon on Thanksgiving - in order to truly "give thanks" and understand - then you'll probably have this covered already.)  

Yet also read David Hackworth’s About Face and understand the dangers of misguided, political wars.  Be true to yourself, despite the consequences…never be a “yes man.”  At the same time, recognize the honor in loyalty while perhaps at the same time not understanding it:  Hackworth took one painful path regarding Vietnam, while John McCain took another equally painful – while perhaps completely opposite – track.  But both men were heroes. 

Study Colonel Glover S. John’s Basic Philosophy of Soldiering.  There are valuable leadership tips within, including several of my favorites:  Strive to do small things well…Never be satisfied; ask of any project, how can it be done better?...The harder the training, the more the troops will brag…Yelling detracts from your dignity; take men aside to counsel them…and Stay ahead of your boss. 

Understand that “champions are made when no one else is watching.”  There is a right way to do things; and do them right simply because you want to extend the concept of “right” into the universe.  If the Buddhists maintain that you can find spirituality and divinity in the concept of repetitive menial tasks (“chop wood, carry water”) then you can make the effort to use your turn signal even though no one is around…you can touch the lines when you run sprints…you can wash the extra spoon, lift the chair when you vacuum, properly footnote the research paper, etc.  Do things right.  Be that person; just because you can.  And while I have my issues with the Jesuits over their dogmatic religious teachings, there is value in the concept of magis.  (Loosely translated as "do more”…just drop the "for Christ" part.) 

Check out  John Wooden's Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court.  The former UCLA coach and legend positively impacted millions of lives - both directly and indirectly - as a teacher of the game of basketball...and life.  One of my favorite quotes from Wooden (and he has many) is "never mistake activity for achievement."  Even though he used this while coaching UCLA to multiple NCAA titles in the 60s, it holds up incredibly well, especially in today's frenetic, quantity-over-quality, shallow, information-overload world.   Just as blindly running around a basketball court at a rapid pace (activity) hardly qualifies as achievement (execution, scoring...or winning), hyperactive media coverage or rehashed Hollywood movies (which seem to get dumber and dumber) or frantic on-line blog posts or reviews create the illusion of activity, but hardly count as achievement.  This reminds me of the physics concept of velocity, which - in my mind - is much more powerful that pure speed, simply because velocity is speed in a particular direction, implying it is directed and focused toward a particular goal.  Incidentally, Wooden was also a major proponent of the "yelling detracts from your dignity: take men aside to counsel them" sentiment of Colonel Johns above.  He never berated players in front of others, but instead took them aside to explain what they might have done wrong and what they needed to do to correct the mistake and thus improve.   

Read David Foster Wallace’s This is Water.  Recognize his brilliance and his honesty.  See and understand the "water" all around you, and learn how to navigate it.  In particular, try to see yourself as something other than the center of the universe.  Make the effort to include someone else's perspective in your world view.  Said another way, seek first to understand, before you would be understood

Laugh your way through The Princess Bride, but also take away valuable lessons:  the strength of true love, the code of honor, the power of loyalty, preparation, and well-roundedness.  And remember Wesley’s line:  We are men of action, lies do not become us.  

In fact, do not lie, cheat, or steal.  Be better than that.  But do it because you can, not because someone tells you that you have to.   

See Cinema Paradiso and commiserate with the sadness of leaving the known and the comfortable for the unknown and the difficult.  The pain is enduring, yes, but the payoff is huge.  

Similarly, pay homage to the Mark Twain quote Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.  I will be sad to see you go one day, but I will also rejoice in your pursuit of life’s opportunities.  Life is in the living.  Be a doer, not a watcher.  Go and be…don’t stay and wish. 

As a corollary to the above, remember that the only thing permanent in life is change.  Keep yourself off balance, revel in the adjustments, and recognize that it makes you wiser, stronger, and better.  

Consider this throw-away line from the movie Men in Black and see it for something profound and insightful:  Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat…Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.  Remember, perspective is everything.  And it's also important - in fact, required - to constantly question the "concrete assumptions" everywhere around you.

In fact, John F. Kennedy made note of a similar concept in a speech at Amherst College - his last public appearance before his assassination, actually - in October 1963:  "The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the Nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us."

And here’s another solid tidbit from Men in Black (who knew?):  A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky animals.  (Now go back and re-read Cat’s Cradle and consider that religion may be the greatest hoax ever propagated on the human race.) 

Realize that being a contrarian is harder said than done, and it’s often falsely – and hypocritically – romanticized.   Not to say one shouldn’t aspire to contrarianism…but it’s just that far too many people claim – with the obvious benefit of hindsight – that they would have been honorably struggling on the front lines of progress and change than is actually plausible.  For example:  It’s more than likely that if you were alive at the time, you would have been a slave-owner too.  Or at least sympathetic to the concept.  The same holds true for women’s rights, Native American rights, and a myriad other examples.  Have the integrity to admit that, and thus to more deeply appreciate true anti-consensus thought or action as it happened.  Although it is often worth it to “go against the grain,” it is also incredibly difficult and rare in practice.  Said another way, be as self-aware as possible, and don't succumb to the disingenuous temptation to pretend to be someone you are not, or someone you would never have been.   

As a natural follow-up to the previous thought...Resist the temptation to do what everyone else is doing.  Taking a moment to stop and think is always worth it. 

Been thinking about marriage lately...and how lucky I am to have found the right partner.  I'd guess most people would put their happy marriage partners in two categories:  those spouses that take care of you...and those spouses that push you to be your best self possible.  But a partner that does both?  I think that's a rare thing.  Hopefully you'll be lucky enough to find a person like that too...

Indecision is dangerous.  I was thinking back on Hanoi & Saigon, Vietnam.  There, the streets are so crowded and so chaotic that crossing them takes courage and conviction in equal parts.  The key is to take a deep breath and cross...right into the snarl of infinite on-coming traffic.  And what happens - if you can muster the courage - is actually magical.  Like a stream navigating a rock at its center, the traffic gently diverts (albeit it at high speed) and flows around you.  The effect is probably what it's like to be in the eye of a tornado. But beware:  be sure not to waver...not to mis-step...not to hesitate...not to fake out that guy on the scooter coming at you at 70mph.  Because if you falter, and cause him to wobble, then he takes out 4 bikes next to him, two small cars, and 14 other pedestrians!  So:  Once the decision is made to wander into the Vietnamese street madness, stay the course, maintain pace, and don't waver...and the traffic will adjust.  Pause, falter, waver, or panic and it's all over!  Life in general is kind of similar, right?!  

Another great quote, often attributed to Albert Einstein (even though never proven):  insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting a different result.  

Finally, seek to constantly change and improve the world around you, starting with the things at your fingertips and moving outwards.  The most dangerous combination of words in the English language might be ...because that's the way it's always been done.